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The place we used to call home.

9 Sep

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

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

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

Float planes of all sorts are common in Campbell River.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of the Foreshore path on Tyee Spit

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

The back of one of many carvings all around the city

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

 

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

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

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

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The Illusion of Time

1 Jun

Out on a drive today, on our way to return a borrowed item, we started to talk about how much time we had left up here and how it should be parcelled out. Wow, who knew how busy our lives would become, after we retired!

Yeah, I know how trite that sounds. You’ve heard it said on a thousand ads aimed at the retired crowd in hopes of separating them from some of their money. But it seems, in our case to be true, even when we strive to reach the exact opposite. Life conspires against us, or so it seems. Or maybe it’s just our desire to spend as much time as possible with each of our daughters and their families.

Just another Island lake.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Island, most of the people I love  live there.  It’s beyond beautiful. I just can’t take the climate anymore. It rains a lot, that’s why it’s so verdant and green. It’s also cold; coastal influence, you know. This makes me sad as I grew up and spent the better part of my adult life on the waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean, but when I say I can’t stand the cold anymore I mean it. If the temperature drops below  21C or 72F and the air is damp, I start to seize up and suffer from pain in my joints. Hence the reason why Baja was a no brainer when it came to where to spend our winters. The problem comes with where to spend our summers and what to do while we’re back in Canada.

Me, back in my working days.

I miss not seeing views like this regularly anymore!

Our kids and their families are very important to us and we want to spend as much time with each one as we can, but therein lies the problem. One lives on Vancouver Island, in the temperate rain forest, the other lives in Penticton, an arid, fruit growing area, in the desert interior of BC, about 400 km from the island. Plus it requires a ferry ride every time we wish to get on or off the island. A not inexpensive ferry ride, especially when we’re towing the dingy.

Our doctor also lives on the island, so we spend a lot of time going back and forth, visiting with our relatives and friends and lately, seeing the doctor a little more often as minor and a few major medical problems have crept up, lo these last couple of years.

We also eventually, go a little stir crazy. We’re used to being on our own a lot, way down the path less travelled, so getting back to civilization,  all the people and noise start to wear after a while and we need to get away. A couple of years ago, it was a trip around Alberta, this year we’re heading to the Arlington Air Show, just south of the border in Washington State. That’s after I go to the island for 2 weeks to help my youngest daughter while her husband is at a conference, get a medical test done, see my doctor, visit with my sister and maybe get up island to see a few friends. Then back to Penticton, where Richard will be in the process of building a wooden privacy fence along the back of the kids yard.

Some of the land around Penticton

We will then get into Grummy and head back over to the island again so Richard can have a visit with everyone, then back to Penticton as it’s easier to get to Arlington from there.

While we’re doing all this to and froing, there are repairs to the Grummy and our little Asuna that must be undertaken, plus re-provisioning of supplies and spare parts that we can’t get in Mexico. There are jobs we undertake for the kids, that they don’t have the time or expertise to do, as well as babysit once in a while to give the kids a night out, alone. Add in when we light out on our own for a while, and the time seems to fly. There never seems to be enough to go around before we realize it’s time to start thinking about heading south again.

According to Einstein’s  Theory of Relativity, the passage of time in a faster moving reference frame is slower than the passage of time in a slower moving reference frame. That means that if you were standing on the event horizon of a black hole, even though movement of energy is tremendously fast, time for you would be passing very slowly. Now I don’t have the qualifications to argue with Einstein, but it always feels to us as if the exact opposite were true. Time spent in civilization where everyone seems to be moving at the speed of light, moves so fast for us, that we feel like we’ve only just arrived somewhere, when it’s time to leave again. Time spent on the beach in Baja, where civilization such as we know it seems to be a million miles away, slides by  so slowly  that when it’s  time to leave, it almost comes as a surprise.

What are we going to do today?

23 Feb

When people find out what we do every Winter, they exclaim, “Wow, that sounds wonderful!” Then you can see them start to think about what they would do to occupy themselves day in and day out for 5 to 6 months. Eventually they come to the conclusion that it must get pretty boring here after a while. Well nothing could be further from the truth. When we get asked what we do all day, our standard answer is, “I don’t know, but it takes all day to do it!”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Our days are filled with activity! We do yoga 3 mornings a week and after that anything could happen. Maybe we’ll go hiking up any 1 of the 3 huge canyons in the Gigante Mountains behind us. Perhaps I’ll climb the hill beside us, cleaning up the trail and checking to see that the rock steps are still in good repair, while Richard goes to collect firewood or do some work on the road coming into Rattlesnake Beach.

A small portion of Wow Canyon

We might decide to go into Loreto and pick up a few things we can’t get at the local store and to have lunch. Perhaps a Torta or maybe a Mesquite grilled chicken, Mmmmmm!
If the winds are cooperating, kayaking might be a good bet. Watch a few whales and dolphins, try for a fish for dinner or just find and explore a new beach with nary a soul in sight.

In search of solitude

No one knows what they are, but they sure did taste good!

Visiting with other campers on the beach is a great way to spend the day, learning about each other, discussing philosophy, or current events, or simply shooting the breeze. Sometimes we have pot luck suppers with many of us gathered together to celebrate the full moon, a birthday, the arrival of family for a visit, the departure of friends, or for no particular reason at all except a fire is always nice when you share it with someone.

Nothing like a good fire to share with friends

Or maybe we’ll just hang about lazing away the day in the Grummy or lying in the hammock, reading, relaxing, watching the birds and trying to identify who it is that comes to our water bath or sings so beautifully in the bushes beside us.

He thinks this is his exclusive drinking fountain

This fellow comes by every couple of days to check out our campsite

Sometimes we just sit and watch the beach and ocean, kayak groups getting ready to leave for the week, sail boats coming or leaving Puerto Escondido, dolphins, seals, schools of fish being chased by cormorants or unseen advisories below, friends launching their boats, pelicans and boobies diving, even whales going by on their mysterious journeys. We sit with coffee in hand and simply enjoy the passage of the day and the constantly changing beauty all around us.

The view from my hammock, looking up through the Mesquite branches

Sometimes beauty can be found in a patch of sand!

We have so many things to occupy our time, our biggest problem is deciding which one of them we’ll do today!

A Sea in crisis

19 Jan

Richard and I set out yesterday for a couple of hours of random kayaking, with no specific destination in mind. We had only covered a mile or so when we were witness to a most marvelous spectacle, 2 adult Humpbacks feeding vigorously, with a very young calf in attendance. There was only 1 other kayaker who noticed them and we were given a private showing for over 40 minutes of a sight most have seen only on nature shows. We sat still as they moved around us, feeding on the massive amounts of krill in the water. A couple of times they were within 30 to 40 feet of us. We watched them until they had moved a long ways away before we continued on our journey. Regardless as to how many times I am privileged to witness whales in their natural habitat, even after all these years of being on the water; it still takes my breath away!

Humpback feeding on her side

We’ve seen Blues, Fins, Seis, Greys, Humpbacks and Brydes, many dolphins, Basking Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Turtles and have always considered just a glimpse of these great creatures to be very special, yet there are some down here who could care less. They see not the beauty of the Sea and the creatures within it, only what they can take from it…

Up until the 1950’s, the Baja and Sea of Cortez was a virtual unknown to the rest of North America. Then Ernest Hemingway discovered the fabulous sport fishing that was available here. Extremely large Sailfish, Swordfish, Wahoo, Yellowtail, Grouper, and Rooster Fish swam in the waters here and were completely undisturbed by any fishing pressure, until then. It became a wealthy mans play ground, with large World Record adult fish extremely common.

Foreign commercial fishing fleets introduced change beginning in the late 1970’s with monofilament gillnets. A new road was built down the peninsula during those years, creating much easier access and with it came a dramatic increase in sport fishing activities, spearfishing, as well as a large population increase, producing for the first time ever a flow of pollution into the Sea.

A decrease in size and number of fish species was very noticeable by the late 1980’s. Fortunately by that time the Mexican Government had started to introduce regulations and set aside areas that became Marine sanctuaries and parks.

Not only do fish live here but a great many of the worlds whale populations come into the Sea every year as part of their southern migrations. Greys and Humpbacks both use the lagoons and bays of the Pacific side to give birth and mate, as well as the warm salty waters of the Sea of Cortez. Minke, Sei, Bryde, Blue, Fin, Humpback, Right, Grey, Beaked Whales, Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales, as well as their full sized relative, and Orcas, not to mention at least 11 species of Dolphins and 1 Porpoise, are all here at some time during the winter months, and some live here year round.

On a calm day, whales can be found just by their blow sound!

These mammals come here to mate, give birth or simply to feed in the rich waters of the Sea, and therein lays the problem.

For those Rorquals or baleen feeders, life is pretty good here because the massive amounts of krill hasn’t been affected much over the years, though it has decreased somewhat due to pollution runoff. There is still enough of it out there to look like a Red Tide and has been mistaken for it, from time to time. When out kayaking it looks like the surface of the water is alive. It is this banquet that brings in the massive Whale Sharks over the winter and there is more than enough to share around.

Humpback feeding on krill

The toothed whales are the ones having the problems here. They are fish eaters and the fish they eat are quickly disappearing.

Sport fishing is still one of the biggest tourist draws here and it brings in a big chunk of change to the local economy. It contributes to the decline in baitfish and there is also a correlation between losses of feed fish with those that predate on them. Without something to eat, the bigger fish and whales either move to new feeding grounds or die out!

My father used to say, “Any idiot can catch a fish using bait, it takes a fisherman to catch a fish on a lure!” and he was right. It is much easier to catch a fish using bait and over the years the number of anglers has increased dramatically, putting huge pressure on the various bait fishing stocks. Anything small enough to constitute bait has been fished almost completely out. Some folks down here have complained bitterly that they can’t find any bait this year, and the fishing is very bad!

These are the same folks who have fished out their own waters and since they can’t catch anything there, see nothing wrong with moving somewhere else and using the same methods that devastated their own fisheries.

Day after day, all winter long they are out there taking anything and everything they can catch. They can hundreds of pounds to take home with them, so they can have cheap fish all summer until they return next winter. They are so fanatic about it that they can’t bring themselves to release anything. Many have been known to bring fish that are inedible back to the beach simply to give to their friends to use as dog food! Catch and release is not in their repertoire and it doesn’t occur to any of them to use lures. If asked why not they’ll tell you that lures cost too much and bait is free!

And so the toothed whales find themselves having to compete for their very existence with arrogant, greedy, unthinking humans, who also complain that there sure isn’t much whale activity this year. I guess that old saying really is true, that we see only what we want to see and we hear only what we want to hear.

Sorry for the rant, but after having spent most of my adult life in the fishing industry at home in the so-called “Salmon Capital of the World” and seen it’s demise; it’s hard to watch the same thing happening here in “Paradise”.

What’s that line from the old Eagles song? “Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Yes, I made a living from the Ocean, but I was always aware of the impact I was having and tried constantly to compensate for it. When we do go fishing, which doesn’t happen very often anymore, we take only what we can eat in the next couple of days and are very careful to release anything we don’t intend to kill.

The Mexican government is trying; fishing licenses are required and there are strict regulations, including limits and number of rods allowed, but there is no money for enforcement and a great many of the gringos here simply ignore them. They get incensed when they are expected to follow the rules and seem to believe that laws in foreign countries don’t apply to them. The Government has also stopped all foreign commercial fishing and has taken control of what commercial fishing there is, but it may be too little, too late. The locals are very poor and the last financial crisis made it even harder here to earn a living, so they fish illegally. They take any fish or shellfish they can find and it’s hard to blame them when all they’re trying to do is eat and feed their kids. We are talking a Third World Country here, and they do have much bigger infrastructure problems, but it would be nice if those visitors who are big users of the resource would step up to the bat and help, instead of simply helpingthemselves to everything they can lay their hands on while whining about lost fishing opportunities.

The big adult fish are few and far between now and only occasionally are really large fish brought to shore. The big Dorado tournament held in Loreto every summer was won this year by a 16-pound fish. Dorado used to run up to 90 pounds. Not many of any species are seen in that range anymore. Sure, once in a while a fish over 60 pounds is landed but before Baja was “discovered” 60 pounders were the norm, and they were plentiful. Now anything over 10 pounds is considered a good catch, if you can find anything to take your hook.

All, however, is not lost, as the expert consensus seems to be that though the Sea is in crisis, it’s still salvageable. Keep your fingers crossed because otherwise we can add the Sea of Cortez to the list of seas, oceans, rivers and lakes that we, as humans, have managed to destroy based on nothing more than our own greed!

Yoga on the beach

11 Jan

 
A couple we’ve come to know well, here on Rattlesnake Beach, is Klaus and Parvin, who’ve been coming to Baja for more than 20 years. Parvin ran her own Yoga studio at one time and down here on the beach she has been persuaded to head a group for those of us who are interested. Both are in their late 60’s but you sure couldn’t tell by looking, as the two of them are more active than a great many 30 year olds we know. Not only do they do yoga 3 times a week, they also guide groups on the 3 nearby canyon hikes. We’re not talking flat, easy walks here either; all of them involve a great deal of clambering up and over gigantic boulders, crossing almost sheer rock faces and squirming up rabbit holes, taking on average of 6 hours to complete. They’ve been known to walk 20 year olds into the ground.

 

Our Rattlesnake Beach Yoga group, Parvin is on the far right.

 
They also kayak and are well known by all the professional kayak guides who  often see them in the coves and on the beaches of Islas Danzante and Carmen. They leave our beach in the early hours of morning so they can be on the eastern side of Danzante to watch the sun come up. These 2 were also the reason we ended up buying a double kayak, after some very convincing arguments as to why it would be a good idea.

 

The other day, Klaus asked us if we would be interested in going in a group with 3 other single kayakers to Isla Carman, where we would do our yoga on the white sandy beaches of Playa Blanca. The weather was supposed to be good, with little wind and since we hadn’t ventured that far on our own yet, this was a great opportunity to go with experienced paddlers. We of course said, “YES!”

 

Up before the sun!

 
We were supposed to be ready to go at 8:30 the next morning and so of course were up at 6 and standing around waiting for everyone at 8. Watching the sky brighten and looking towards the islands we noticed splashing headed our way from Punta Coyote just north of us. We at first thought we were looking at pelicans tearing into a school of fish, but as it got closer we realized we were looking at a pod of about 60 Common Dolphins. “Let’s go!” Richard yelled and we piled into the kayak and started stroking out from the beach. 50 feet was all we needed to be right in the middle of them as they raced by us, leaping and splashing as they pursued their breakfast. The old time sailors believed that seeing dolphins before a trip was good luck and we certainly felt that way.

 

A very good start to the day!

 

 

As we sat and watched the dolphins disappear, the other paddlers slowly made their way out to us and once we were all together, we set off for the north end of Danzante and the very tight pass between it and Still Point Island. Still Point isn’t really a separate island as it’s joined to Danzante by a finger of sand and rock, but at high tide there is a narrow pass only big enough for a kayak. Without Klaus leading the way, we never would have found it and would have had to paddle quite a bit further to go around the top end, but some years ago, Klaus and Parvin had dug out the small passage that exists. Lucky for all of us!

 

Is everybody here? Then let's go!

 
After making sure we had all managed to get through the opening, we aimed for Punta Arena on Carmen. There is a lighthouse on it and it’s easy to see from a distance so we paddled leisurely towards it, enjoying the water, and weather, yakking with one another as the boats jockeyed back and forth.
Stopping at Punta Arena, for a quick pee break, we noticed that the sand on the beach was totally covered in Hermit crab tracks, and one of the paddlers, Lance, said they had counted more than 60 of them in about 5 minutes when they had camped here a couple of years ago.

 

Tracks everywhere!

 
These islands are part of a huge Marine park and are protected, so everyone who visits them must have a Park pass and obey the rules, one of which states that nothing is allowed to be removed. Consequently, those who visit here have a tendency to create these treasure piles. Places where interesting and unusual things are left for those who will come after, to see and admire. The Trigger fish in the photo is the biggest one any of us had ever seen, and you’ll notice that it was rock hard. Things don’t rot here as it’s too dry. Dead things may be predated on by Turkey Vultures but anything they can’t or won’t eat, simply mummifies and Trigger fish skin is way too tough for them.

 

A common sight on the islands

 
Heading off again, we paddled only for a few minutes more and made it to this beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, or White Beach. It’s easy to see how it got it’s name. Here in the warm sun and sand we did our yoga, led of course by Parvin, with Klaus taking pictures. The Sun Salutation pose was of course the first one we did.

 

Yoga on the beach!

 

 

Afterwards, we pulled our lunches out of our dry sacks and settled down for a lovely picnic, enjoying the warmth, and beauty that surrounded us, not to mention the great conversation. At one point, we all stopped to watch this yacht go by and speculated on who was having the better time, us or them. We decided it must be us of course!

 

Who's the lucky ones?

 
Eventually, when everything had been eaten and drunk and all were becoming drowsy in the heat, it was decided we had better move on, or we wouldn’t be able to. Everything was picked up, stuffed back into the kayaks, and we hit the water to paddle a little further down to the very south end of Carmen. There are 2 palm trees here that have, against all odds, managed to grow and survive and this is one of Parvin’s favourite spots, so we had to at least see it before we headed for home.

 

How's that for a glimpse of paradise?

After a short stop to look around and talk with another kayaker we had met up with, a decision was made as to which direction we would take to go home and off we went. Like horses headed for the barn, we started moving faster, with the double kayaks leaping into the lead and pulling further away from the singles with each stroke.

 

 

Hey! That's us!

 
Half way across, Richard and I noticed whale blow in front of us, along the shore of Danzante, moving slowly north. It’s path and ours looked like they might intersect so we paddled a little harder hoping to see what it was. There had been few whale sightings this year, so we were excited to see one. Almost across, we lost sight of it.  We gave up looking and applied ourselves to paddling as the wind had come up and the waves were starting to reach 3 feet, with the occasional one breaking near us with a startling crash. Suddenly the crashing sound changed in pitch and there, close behind us was our whale. It was the blow that we were hearing, so that gives you some idea of how close it was. It turned out to be a she, a large Sei Whale and her calf. We sat with them for about 10 minutes as they surfaced and blew, ignoring us completely as they headed up into the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez.

 

Momma Sei Whale.

The waves continued to rise, reaching 4 foot and becoming chaotic. It was a good experience as we realized that our kayak was built for this, so we stopped worrying and just paddled a little harder. As we all finally approached our beach, a tired goodbye was exchanged with all.
So ended another day spent with good friends and filled with the wonderful surprises that we’ve come to expect here on the Baja. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?