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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!

Nothing is ever easy!

11 Aug

Well, it was a fairly normal summer up until the middle of last month. We’d come home and helped the eldest daughter plant the summer garden, and put in a new floor in their garage, (it’s both the workout gym and her husbands Man Cave). Not to mention lots of Grandma and Grandpa time!

Spent lots of time to-ing and fro-ing on these this summer!

Spent lots of time to-ing and fro-ing on these this summer!

Then it was off to the island to help our youngest and her family settle into their new home. I spent the month painting, replacing electrical outlets and switches, trimming trees and planting a raised bed garden, while Richard was putting in a new hot water tank, faucets, toilets, cutting down cedar hedges run amok, ripping out plants gone wild, building an indoor chin up bar for their garage gym and a chin up/rings bar outside so they could keep up with their Crossfit training and of course, more Grandma/Grandpa time!

A Chin-up and ring box for Crossfitting

A Chin-up and ring box for Crossfitting

Oh, and he installed a solar system on Rosie, so our van now has all the power we could ever need! Having a son-in-law who works for one of the foremost solar companies in the world was handy. He works for Carmanah Technologies and they’ve finally decided to build portable systems for the general public, perfect for vans and small RV’s, simple to install and use. The system is call GO POWER and if you’re interested, check it out here: gpelectric.com

We also visited with Richards Dad, sister and brother-in-law as well as my sister and niece. It was busy but lots of fun, and then it was back to Penticton. Once back we stuffed our faces with cherries and Richard built a new fence and Alena and I stained it. Work, work, work, work, work, work, work!

Then about half way through July, our youngest Liz, called us to ask when we were coming back to visit as her son Cohen had asked one night before bed. Well, we really didn’t have anything pressing for the next 3 weeks so we decided to head for the island again, but this time we took a longer and slower route, not much longer and not much slower but very pretty and we hadn’t been that way in a quite a few years.

A couple of young Big Horn Sheep ewes.

A couple of young Big Horn Sheep ewes.

We headed north towards Kelowna, then took Highway 97C to Merrit, also known as The Connector as it meets up with the Coquihalla Highway just east of Merrit proper. We, however, were not going that way. The Coquihalla is a high speed route, over the mountains, very steep and really nasty in the winter, but it cuts 30 minutes off the trip and it’s the shortest land route from Vancouver to Edmonton. Not really our cup of tea! There are some spectacular sights along the way, but there really isn’t anywhere to stop to admire them and the high speed limits preclude tootling along. So we continued through Merrit along Highway 8 which runs through the Nicola Valley, a very pretty, slower route.

We saw a couple of Rocky Mountain Big Horn ewes, pretty close up and personal as they didn’t seem to be to concerned about our presence and we camped the night at a Forestry Campsite along the river. These types of sites are everywhere in BC, run and maintained by the Forest Service and can consist of simply places to rough camp with outhouses, all the way up to campsites with picnic tables, garbage collection and fee collection. The rates run from nothing to $10.00 per night.

The view from our Forestry campsite in the Nicola Valley

The view from our Forestry campsite in the Nicola Valley

If this is the way you like to camp get yourself a book called Backroads Map Books. I think there are 6 for all the different areas of BC depending on where you want to go and they will show you all the back road, logging road and off road routes, Forestry as well as Provincial campsites and fishing areas. If you spend a lot of time wandering around BC or you might in the future, these books are a necessity!

After leaving our lovely campsite we headed further west until we met up with Highway 1, at Spences Bridge and turned south onto Highway 1, the Fraser Canyon. This was just after all the big floods in southeastern BC and western Alberta so the water was definitely high!

It was kind of a sad trip down the canyon though, we were there in the middle of July and there appeared to be not a tourist in sight. Everywhere we looked, businesses were closed, private Campsites, Motels, Restaurants, even gas stations, certainly nothing like I was used to seeing! Up until that point every time we’d driven the canyon the traffic was so thick nobody managed to even come close to the speed limit, with vehicles pulled off everywhere to stop and take pictures. The place was alive with White water rafters, tourists of every descriptions and Hells Gate usually had so many people waiting to take the tram and view the rapids that you had to be extremely careful driving past so you didn’t run anybody over! This year there was no one to be seen and traffic was so light as to be almost non-existant!

This is sediment heavy water from the Fraser River mixing with the sea waters of Georgia Straights after all the flooding in Alberta and southwestern BC.

This is sediment heavy water from the Fraser River mixing with the sea waters of Georgia Straights after all the flooding in Alberta and southwestern BC.

We made it over to the island, sat and talked with the kids and grandkids, then after dinner, we headed to the local park to take the kids for a bit of play time and the dogs for a walk. My kids have taken up Crossfitting and so have I, just not to the extent they have. While we were fooling around on the play ground equipment, I grabbed a chest height bar and and leapt up planning on landing on my stomach, but I miscalculated and missed by about an half an inch. I smacked the bar right between my two lowest ribs on the right side. Ouch!!

Great, we’d been on the island for 2 hours!

We headed back, with me feeling foolish and not really sure of how badly I’d hurt myself. The next morning, with me moving cautiously, I made breakfast for us. Richard took one bite  and then exclaimed, “Oh, oh”. He’d broken a tooth! ALL of Richards teeth are capped and this one had broken  under the cap and below the gum line!

Great, we’d only been on the island now for barely 12 hours!

We spent the next 3 weeks with Richard going back and forth to the dental surgeon for x-rays, exams, more x-rays, cleaning, then finally extracting the tooth, not to mention the two of us hanging with the kids, and me wincing, playing with the grandkids and me wincing, dog and house sitting, oh, and painting one more wall. and me wincing! He was supposed to have an implant but due to insufficient bone mass, and a really difficult extraction, that’s not going to happen until next year.

Why is nothing ever easy?

Our first night on the way to Carmanah. It's amazing the places you can find to camp just off the road on Vancouver Island!

Our first night on the way to Carmanah. It’s amazing the places you can find to camp just off the road on Vancouver Island! Notice the Carmanah “GO POWER” solar set up!

While we were waiting for the final appointment, we decided to hit the road for a couple of days, just to relax, turn the phones off, and be alone. So we decided on a circle route that not many people know about, from Victoria to Duncan, via Port Renfrew with a stop in the Carmanah Valley Provincial Park, then back to Victoria, via Highway 19.

We headed for Langford then hit Highway 14 which took us out to Port Renfrew. This is a gorgeous drive that parallels the Juan de Fuca Trail. Just before you drive into Port Renfrew proper, you’ll see a road and a sign on the left hand side that says “Lake Cowichan”. This is the part of the route that few actually know about. It meanders towards the south side of Lake Cowichan and Honeymoon Bay. When we reached the intersection of Honeymoon Bay and Nitinat Lake we turned right towards Nitinat.

A view from one of the many bridges along the way.

A view from one of the many bridges along the way.

Part of Nitinat Lake

Part of Nitinat Lake

If we’d been following the signs for Carmanah Valley Provincial Park we never would have found it as the signage got smaller and less noticeable as we got closer. Not to mention, once we hit the intersection we needed to take just before the village of Nitinat, the road conditions deteriorated drastically and the signage continued to shrink in size and noticeability.

Carmanah Valley Provincial Park was created, in reality, by those who literally fought to stop the valley from being logged. It contained some of the last standing old growth Sitka Spruce (including one that is considered to be the worlds largest) and Cedar forests on Vancouver Island and was the site for what became known as “The War in the Woods”.

Just one of the many giants in Carmanah Valley.

Just one of the many giants in Carmanah Valley.

Opposition to the logging was expressed in several peaceful protests and blockades of logging roads from 1980 to 1994. The largest event occurred in the summer of 1993, when over 800 protestors were arrested and many put on trial. Protestors included local residents of the area, First Nation bands, and environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Clayoquot Sound.
The portrayal of the logging protests and blockades received worldwide media attention, and created national support for environmental movements in BC and fostered strong advocacy for anti-logging campaigns. The park was officially created in 1995 which was the first time I visited it.

The 3 Sisters, a grouping of giant Sitka Spruce.

The 3 Sisters, a grouping of giant Sitka Spruce.

The accessible area makes up only about 1/100 of the park and there are walkways so you can get over numerous springs and bogs to get to the largest trees without having to walk over their roots which are susceptible to damage.

This fallen tree was more than 7 feet in diameter and it's one of the smaller ones in the park.

This fallen tree was more than 7 feet in diameter and it’s one of the smaller ones in the park.

I was very disappointed with the state of both the road and the park itself. The logging road has been allowed to deteriorate to such a degree that I’d say anything bigger than our van, Rosie, will not be able to make it down the road in the very near future as the trees have grown over the road and are closing in from both sides. The park itself looks like not a cent has been spent on the place for the last 30 years, the walkways were broken or shoved to the side, areas where water has damaged the paths haven’t been fixed, and the whole place has a aura of neglect and decay. It almost feels as if the government is hoping either the public will forget about the place, so that they can turn it back over to the logging companies, or they are trying to create one of those parks that exist  to protect a rare ecosystem while being inaccessible to the public.

(There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the plan, but our Provincial government which has been in power since 2001, and is very definitely pro logging. They have produced many “papers” over the last few years that suggest logging in our Provincial parks is necessary for the health of the logging companies. No so much interested in the health of the parks though!)

The condition of the road into the park. In another couple of years the road will be so overgrown, nothing will be able to get down it!

The condition of the road into the park. In another couple of years the road will be so overgrown, nothing will be able to get down it!

Either of these things would be a slap in the fact to all those who fought to save this beautiful area from destruction and bring it to the attention of the general public and make it accessible all those years ago!

Our last night camp before heading back to Victoria.

Our last night camp before heading back to Victoria.

We visited the park, then found a very pretty hunters campsite to spend our second night, just down the road from the park. The next morning we headed out intending to spend one more night somewhere around Lake Cowichan before we had to back for Richard’s surgery, but we made the fatal mistake of turning on the cell phones! Lo and behold there was a message from daughter #1 telling us Richard had a prescription waiting for him in Sidney that he needed to start taking it 24 hours before his dentists appointment, so we reluctantly headed back down the island.

On the Friday, Richard had his surgery and the next morning we headed back to Penticton. We’ll stay here now till the beginning of September, picking up the last little bits of things we need for Baja, then after the Labour Day weekend, we’ll head back to the island. We’ll stay for a while visiting and picking up the things we know we can only get in Victoria, then say our reluctant goodbyes to our kids and grandkids, then on to the Port Angeles Ferry, down the Olympic Peninsula, and off to Baja.

Next time we talk, we’ll be back on our beach and I’ll tell you all about our adventures getting there.

TTFN

THE LONG ROAD HOME

13 Mar
Just another shitty day in Paradise

Just another shitty day in Paradise

 

Yeah, I know this post is late. That’s becoming an ongoing theme, isn’t it? Well, I am retired and I run on Baja time, which mostly entails, “Manana”. Why do something today, when there’s no rush and tomorrow is soon enough? Besides, the days all flow into one another and I’m always amazed at how quickly they pass. That’s the biggest reason why my posts are always late from here. I suddenly realize that I haven’t written for a while and when I check the calendar a month or more has gone by.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t really want to write this particular post because it’s the last one from the beach. Yep, it’s that time of year again, when those of us who have a life somewhere else, start to prepare for heading North.

 

The Rattlesnake Beach community started to break up last week with the first 2 campers leaving but the trickle is about to become a rush. By the 16th of March there will be only 5 of us regulars left here and Richard and I will be hitting the road by the 22nd at the latest.

 

Bougainvilla in full bloom! It's Spring in Baja

Bougainvilla in full bloom! It’s Spring in Baja

The big push comes from Semana Santos, or Saints Week, the week of celebration before Easter Sunday, when all the locals who can, move out to the beach and take over every square foot of available camping space. A few of the regulars have friends in the local communities who come every year and camp with them. They apparently enjoy the excitement of having a small city descend upon them for a week!

 

Richard and I feel that since we basically have the use of the beach for 6 months, the least we can do is get off it and let the locals enjoy it without having to share it with a bunch of Anglos. We also camp at the far north end of the beach where the launch ramp is and it gets incredibly busy and noisy during Semana Santos. After 6 months of peace and quiet the last thing we want to take away with us is the stress of absolute chaos, loud noise, music, Skidoos, Pangas, cars, trucks, kids, dogs and people and garbage everywhere!

 

So we’re already in prep mode, deciding what to take, what to leave, packing up stuff we aren’t using, unpacking it again when we realize we are still using it, trying not to purchase too much food so it will all be used up when we leave, rushing to the store when we realize we don’t have enough for dinner and saying goodbye daily to friends we won’t see for another 6 months. It evokes a kind of sadness; since we know that next year will not be an exact repeat of this year. Some folks will return, some won’t. There’s one thing in life we’ve all learned to accept and it’s that change is constant.

 

Stand up John playing around the fire

Stand up John playing around the fire

It’s not all sad because at the same time excitement is building about getting home and seeing our kids and their families again. There’s nothing to give you that kick in the butt to get moving like having one of your Grandkids ask when Grandma and Grandpa are going to be getting home. There is always some trepidation however, since we all know that the weather will not be the warm 85F that it is here.

 

We won’t be rushing home this year like we did last spring! Grummy will be put to bed properly and tucked in for a long summer sleep. Then we’ll meander our way home in Rosie taking our time and visiting ruins and parks in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the ranch of friends we spend the winter with. We were supposed to go last year but, well, fate intervened. Plus, just because we leave here in March doesn’t mean we want to get home in March. We like to wait long enough for Spring to have have sprung. At least that’s the plan so far…

 

There’s something a little strange about watching the season’s go in reverse as we head home. We leave here and the trees and flowers are in full bloom. All through the southern U.S., everything is green and the trees are in leaf, then gradually as we continue north the leaves slip back into buds and the greenery declines until we reach home where the buds are just starting to show and the landscape has that look of anticipation, just waiting for the right moment to burst forth with the new spring.

 

 

In some ways we’re going to be swept out of our campsite this year as the winds which were mostly gentle for much of the winter have come back with a vengeance. For the last little while we’ve had tremendous blows, one that lasted 2 full weeks, with average wind speeds of more than 20 knots and gusts pushing 35.

 

I know that at home those wind speeds are not considered very big. Hell, I guided regularly in winds over 35, but with the geography here, winds of that speed push the water to deadly proportions. This is the height of the tourist season so there are Kayakers everywhere and due to heavy winds, we had an almost fatal accident just off Rattlesnake Beach 2 weeks ago. Everything worked out thanks to a very experienced Kayak guide from one of the local companies and a Pangero (a panga operator) who braved the heavy seas.

 

It pays to go with an experienced guide when pursuing a sport in areas that you are not familiar with. The group that got into trouble were experienced kayakers at home but not here, and local knowledge is worth its weight in gold. We’ve become friendly with all the local kayak guides and the companies they work for, and we’re impressed by the qualifications, experience and dedication these people show to their chosen profession. It’s the same where I guided, a professional fishing guide can keep you safe, show you the best fishing grounds and put you into the big fish, most of the time. It’s certainly worth spending the extra money; otherwise you’re taking chances in waters you know nothing about.

 

It’s been blowing now for the last 3 days, making the van rock and roll, scouring the last remaining sand from the beach. Tomorrow it’s supposed to drop down to a reasonable speed then down again to almost nonexistent, maybe we’ll get one last trip out in our kayak before we wrap her up and put her in her cradle, on top of Grummy.

 

Eventually the summer winds will come in from the opposite direction and hopefully blow all the sand back onto the beach so that by the time we all return, there will once again be a sandy beach.

 

There’s still a few social get-togethers coming up, my birthday and the last meeting of the Costillo de Puerco club, but in a few short days we’ll be on the road and slowly making our way home. Next time we talk it’ll be from Penticton, where I’m sure I’ll be complaining about the cold, but it sure will be nice to give my family big hugs and spend a few months visiting back and forth with them.

 

Hold on kids, here we come!

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!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…

6 Nov

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression in the title of this blog and you all know the next part, “ because you just might get it”. Well, I have to say that I’m never going to tempt fate again and having been involved in the fishing industry most of my life I really should have known better.

Our campsite on October 3rd

Let me back up a bit here. Before we arrived in Baja we knew that this year the rainy season had lived up to its name in spades. We were still astonished though at how green everything was and how many bugs there were. We had hit the beach a day or two after a heavy rain and the temperature, humidity and bug life was pretty overwhelming.

What the campsite looked like on the morning of the 14th

Rattlesnake Beach came as a very pleasant surprise however, because over the course of the summer it had become a true, sandy beach, from one end to the other. We’d been told that the nature of the beach changed fairly regularly and were thrilled that for the first time since we started to camp here, we’d get to enjoy a tropical, sandy paradise, and we did! We were having difficulty getting our kayak out of storage in Loreto as the caretaker was away, but with the water temperature at around 90F we spent a lot of time in it simply because it was a great way to escape from the heat, humidity, (which was in the 70 to 80 percent range) and the bugs. We swam and snorkeled at every opportunity.

This is what it looked like just before Paul hit

In a normal year here, the hurricane season is considered to be over by the beginning of October and we had a few conversations with those who live here year round about what it’s like to experience one. It was during one of these chats that I made the fatal error. I said that I’d experienced massive storms and hurricane force winds at sea and every year very large gales whipped the shores of eastern Vancouver Island where we lived. I’d even been in Vancouver when the tail end of Hurricane Frieda slashed through in 1962, but at the age of 7, didn’t really remember all that much about it, and then I said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to be here and experience one?”

The next thing we knew, the weather reports were tracking a storm in the southern Pacific that was gathering force and heading for the Baja. Eventually it grew big enough that they gave it a name, “Paul”, and it became apparent that it was going to hit the peninsula, though no one was sure exactly where it would make land fall.

Same spot right after Paul passed

We had arrived on Rattlesnake Beach on October the 3rd and gradually, over the next 2 weeks, the temperature and humidity level declined slightly and even the bugs seemed to be leveling off, but come October the 14th it started to rain. The weather gurus explained that Paul wasn’t going to hit us directly but would make landfall further north, That didn’t mean that we weren’t going to be affected by it, just that we wouldn’t experience the full force of it.

This is a spot on our road into the beach called Five Corners. This was on October 3rd. It’s the same spot in the photo below.

This gives you a pretty good idea as to what our road into the beach looked like, and this was only Monday morning before Paul hit.

As I said, on Sunday, the 14th in the morning, the rain started and continued to fall until the afternoon of the 15th. Now I realize that if you live anywhere on Vancouver Island or the lower mainland, at this point you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, “So what? Sometimes it rains here for weeks on end!” and normally I would agree with you, but during that 36 hours it rained 10.29 INCHES of rain and that was what fell here on the beach, that doesn’t include all that fell on the Gigantes, the mountain range that sits just behind us.

 

It rained so much on Sunday alone, that one look outside Monday morning told us we were all going to be in trouble. Our campsite had a lake in it, the road behind us was flooded and the old arroyo beside us was starting to run. We had already discovered a couple of leaks in Grummy, including one of our skylights, two other small ones that had bowls under them, nothing we couldn’t deal with but we were worried about some of the older campers.

This was our lovely sandy beach north of us just before Paul hit.

It’s hard to explain just what it was like actually. The temperature was in the low 90’s and the humidity level was at 95 percent, everything just felt wet. We even turned the heater on for a couple of hours trying to dry things out a bit but it was too hot to keep it running.

And this is the same beach after Paul, nice eh?

We put on minimal rain gear and headed out for a walk. Come on, we’re from the Wet Coast and a little rain wasn’t going to stop us, besides there was hardly any wind blowing and we wanted to make sure the rest of the folks here were doing OK. We walked from our campsite to the arroyo to the south of us, which was flowing pretty good, and everywhere we went was flooded. The roads weren’t roads anymore they were rivers! Richard carried a hoe and we tried to dig trenches to funnel water where it would do the least amount of damage. Everyone was doing all right, though most had some small leaks, mostly they were all hunkered down waiting Paul out. It rained so hard during the day and was so warm that both Richard and I had showers outside. Hey, why waste it right?

Paul didn’t hit us with a lot of wind, only about 30 to 40 miles an hour, mostly because the vast expenditure of water and wind was thrown at the mountain range at our backs. Thanks to a nasty convergence that was still to come, we were to eventually experience some fairly nasty repercussions!

Over the years I’ve written about the canyons that we hike on a regular basis in the Gigantes, but these are canyons in name only, what they really are, are vast water collection systems designed to funnel it and pour it out in the arroyos that fan out from the base of them, like the one at the end of our beach. When you sit out on the water and look back at the beach, it’s obvious that this entire area is a vast flood plain created by the erosion spewed out of the Gigantes over eons. Most of the time these arroyos are dry and are used as roads to get from place to place where real roads don’t exist, but not on October 14th. Just after noon on Monday, the arroyo to the south of us filled to capacity and broke through a sand dam that had built up over the last 10 years, spewing everything in it and everything that had come down from the Gigantes, out into the sea. The one beside our campsite just kept getting bigger as more water and debris flowed down it.

Around 3 PM the rain stopped and the clouds parted, but it wasn’t over yet. The wind that we did get, combined with the storm surge, high tide and the huge amount of water pouring off the Gigantes into the arroyos came to a head. I don’t know how deep the water coming out of the big arroyo south of us was but the amount of debris it was carrying was tremendous and as the sun started to come out, that debris started to spread. The waves pounded the shore throwing up mountains of woody debris and continued all through the night. The water had so much force that it ended up scouring rocks off the bottom and tossing it up on top of the debris burying it under tons of rocks and gravel.

On Tuesday morning our beautiful sandy beach had vanished and in its place was a horrific mess of deadwood, torn up trees, cactus, weeds and vines, in many places buried almost completely under the rocks and sand.

We had to remove as much out from under the rocks as we could because we realized the smell from the rotting vegetation would be overwhelming if we didn’t. There was no sense waiting for the local municipality or the government to help. We were a pretty low priority as they needed to deal with the damage done to the local area which included destroyed water mains, downed power lines, washed out roads and the approaches on a few of the nearby bridges. The highway, Mex #1 which is the one and only main artery on the peninsula, was closed amazingly, for only one day as they rushed to fill in gaping holes and missing pavement and make the road as safe as possible in as short a time as they could. We were very impressed at how fast the work was completed, especially since the water didn’t stop flowing in some places for a couple more days.

The road into Rattlesnake was severely damaged and though those of us with 4-wheel drive could get in and out, we knew there were a few more campers due to arrive soon. It was a very uncomfortable, bumpy ride that might have proven dangerous for motorhomes and trailers, so we all chipped in and hired a local from the nearby village of Juncalito, who owns a loader, to come in and fix it.

We have only just finished cleaning up our beach and the boat launching area beside us. For days the only way we could get rid of anything was to burn it and for a week, day and night, the fires burned. Everything was done by hand using rakes and shovels.  Considering the size of some of the debris, without a chainsaw, some spots had to be left for the elements and time to deal with.

The continuing trouble for us has to do with the well that we draw water from. The pipes that carry the water and the power lines that run the pumps both crossed the arroyo that drains to the south of us and both were ripped away by the massive runoff out of the Gigantes. This arroyo starts in Tabour Canyon, which I’ve written about before, so Richard and I decided to go up and have a look and what we saw stunned us! The drainage canal that had been built to funnel the water down into this arroyo and away from Puerto Escondido had been about 12 feet deep, only now it’s level with the ground, filled with rocks and gravel. The canyon itself bears no resemblance to anything we remember. The ground that we had walked on before was buried anywhere from 10 to 15 feet below us and from the damage to plants and trees, what little was left, meant that the water level ranged from 25 to 35 feet high as it crashed down off the Gigantes. There is almost no vegetation in the canyon anymore, all of the palm trees are gone and massive rocks bigger than houses, not to mention smaller ones have been tumbled around like toys.

One of the campers has been coming here for 30 years and has a 50-year-old book that explains how the canyon came by its name. The pictures in it show the canyon as we all knew it and this is the first time that anything this dramatic has changed in Tabour. She calls it a Millennium Storm and considering all the damage done by it I think she’s right. At least we can all be thankful that there was no loss of life!

We’re still waiting for the well to be repaired, though water isn’t really a problem since we can buy purified water in Loreto for virtually pennies. It just requires a carrying system. The really big problem has to do with the huge areas of sitting water that has created a plague of mosquitoes, fly’s and no-see-ums, so bad that you can’t go outside for even a few seconds unless you’re covered from head to toe, including your clothes, in at least a 20 percent solution of DEET, preferably 30, and even then it doesn’t keep them all away. There’s been talk of spraying since Yellow and Dengue Fever are carried by some of the varieties of mosquitoes here, but this is a Third World country and it might happen or it might just be rumour, we’ll just have to wait and see. Thank God, I bought no-see-um netting to fix our screens with; it has definitely proven it’s worth this year!

In the meantime our kayak has finally made it to our campsite and we find ourselves, all of us on the beach, for the first time ever, preying for wind! At least out on the water there are hardly any bugs so most of us are spending as much time out there as we can. This is the reason why I’ve been communicating so little lately. It’s no fun sitting under a Palapa roof trying to send off a couple of e-mails while the mosquitoes are descending on you in hordes and the only places we have access to the internet are all outdoors.

You try typing with one hand and waving the other one in the air continuously trying to keep the bugs at bay!

Though now that we’ve got the air conditioning going in the car and can sit right outside the Internet café, I’ll be talking with you a little more!

Did I even tell you how the Sea of Cortez is a continuation of the San Andreas Fault? Good thing I didn’t tempt fate by mention anything about wanting to experience an earthquake eh?

TTFN!

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!