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Big Wild Life

Adventures in Alaska

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Wednesday 3 Sept. The drop-off place from the cruise boat in Anchorage was well set up and we got ourselves organised fairly quickly and got some accommodation booked for when we get back and got collected by the RV rental place. When we got there though the only RV they had for us was a 30 foot one and we had ordered a 22foot. I just burst into tears because I was anxious about driving a 22foot. In the finish they got a 21 foot one organised with another company and took us over there and we got sorted and under way by 3.30, even with some grocery shopping done. We started driving down the Kenai peninsula and the scenery was simply stunning. The colours were really gorgeous. Alaska fall colours are lots of shades of dark and light green, yellow, orange, lots of red flowers and leaves at low levels, white (snow and glaciers) and lots of different shades of grey (rain, mist, fog). The mountains are beautiful and have amazingly green meadows on them, even with glaciers coming down through meadows. The only wildlife we saw was a raven and a duck. We have decided that moose is a fictitious animal and certainly don’t expect to see any. We may be the only people ever to travel in Alaska and not see moose – I think its just a ploy and everyone else is just pretending they exist. We stopped for a while by a beautiful river (where there were lots of warnings about moose crossing) and got our house sorted out and set up and our things unpacked. Then we carried on and stopped for the night in a nice roadside pulloff with a beautiful view down a valley to the river and with mountains all around. camper_spot.jpg We had a fairly ok night but the over cab bed is not very comfortable so I had a very sore back the next day, and it was fairly cold in the camper. We had breakfast, read through a whole stack of brochures to decide what we wanted to do, and got going really late to Seward. We found the tour places on the marina and booked an 8hour trip for tomorrow then drove along the waterfront for a while and looked at the sea. We also saw the spot where the Iditarod dog-sled race starts, which was quite neat. Its right on the seafront but they obviously get plenty of snow to start a sled race there. We headed up to Exit glacier and went for a walk to the edge of the glacier. It was pretty stunning to be up so close to a glacier, and the colours and shapes of it were stunning. There were lots of wee waterfalls coming out of it and we spent quite a while just sitting and watching it and listening to it. The rocks we were sitting on were all scratched from the glacier having been moving over them in the last 5-10 years. It was amazing how much it has retreated in the time that we have been travelling the world. It would have been a different experience if we had come at the beginning of our travels. We stopped for the night at a beautiful carpark with a view of the glacier and the river in front of us and lovely mountains all round and just rested for the afternoon. We went for a stroll along the resurrection river trail for a short distance and picked some blueberries. We came back and realised the lights were on in the camper and the battery had gone flat. Steve got a lift down the road with some passers by and phoned the company and we found there is an emergency start switch so it was all ok other than a bit stressful. We took the camper for a wee drive along the road to charge the battery a bit and saw a black bear strolling along the road about 400m form our camp. We made our dinner and then just before dark went out to the toilet in the carpark. We both went out to check for bears and closed the door behind us so the bears didn’t go in and eat our reindeer sausages leftover from dinner. When we came back the door was locked. We were completely locked out of the camper miles from anywhere with a bear just down the road and not in sensible clothing. We managed to flag down a car which was the last vehicle leaving the glacier park and they very kindly took us to a resort 5 miles down the road where we phoned for someone to come out and rescue us. The guy that picked us up was one of the worlds wonderful people and was really concerned about us and that it would cost us a lot and that I was very upset and frightened and our trip is proving a bit of a disaster so far. He gave us his name and number and, hidden behind the card, some money for the locksmiths. We ran after him to give it back but they sped off in the car. We eventually got back into the camper and cleaned up so we could leave quickly in the night if we got scared. We had found out this is a place known for not only black bears but also brown bears (grizzlies) and the locksmith guys said it was quite likely they would be around our camper and bumping it in the night. However we eventually got to sleep and there were no unusual bumps in the night. That had been far too much adventure for one day.
We woke early to look for wildlife on Friday morning and a black bear strolled by along the road in front of us and we saw a stellars jay who was very put out with us for not giving him scraps. We had wild Alaskan blueberry pancakes for breakfast with a fantastic view of the glacier exit_glacier.jpg then relaxed for a while and headed back to town. We took in a couple who had been camping overnight in the park and hiked up to Harding icefield. They have not seen a bear in Alaska but have seen plenty of moose. Our tour left at 11am and we saw a couple of sea otters before we had hardly even got out of the harbour. They were really cute and just constantly rolling over and preening to keep air in their fur which is what keeps them warm. Sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction here for their fur, which is the densest of any animal with up to a million hairs per square inch. They have no blubber like other sea mammals so have to constantly tend and aerate their fur. sea_otters.jpg We saw lots more sea otters but didn’t stop to visit with them. The scenery was absolutely stunning with mountains all around and sea mist hanging round their bases and cloud draping over their edges and down valleys. Everything has an amazing colour, its either bright green or sparkling white, nothing here lacks intensity. We had a lovely visit with a pair of bald eagles sitting on top of a rock eagles.jpg then met a pod of Orca. Apparently they were AK pod and are resident orca but haven’t been seen in this area for some time. They were right up beside the boat and it was fantastic to watch them. They are so graceful in the water and were coming out of the water far enough to see us and keep an eye on what we were up to. orca.jpg We also visited colonies of harbour seals and stellar sea lions and saw a few puffins. Next was the visit to Aialik glacier, which is about 2 miles across and very clean and blue. It looked like it had baby blue powdery sandcastles on top it, with amazing shapes of the spires. galcier.jpg There was ice floating all round us in the water and the boat had to push through the ice to turn. There were a few small calves broke off while we were there but the noise was nearly constant of cracking and groaning and creaking. Here the calving should be called blue thunder rather than white thunder because the glacier was so blue. We were about a quarter mile from it but it still looked immense towering over us, the size of glaciers is very deceptive from a distance. On the way back in we went to a colony of seabirds and saw hundreds of both horned and tufted puffins. We are sure both are bigger than the Atlantic puffins we are used to but they are still very cute. It was funny to watch them try to take off away from the boat and flap along the top of the water then finally abort and dive under. They are such ungainly little birds when not actually in the water or the sky. A group of Dalls porpoise came and played with the boat for a while, they are like miniature orca (although actually the orca will eat them) and are really really fast in the water. The speed they can keep up with the boat is amazing and they just weave in and out around the boat. They have a backward facing spout so when they come up all you see is a splash of white as the spray covers their backs up to their dorsal fins, so it was impossible to get photos of them. Dalls_porpoise.jpg They were really fun to watch though. Next we had an encounter with a mother and calf humpback whale, who obliged us with beautiful fluke shots. fluke.jpg There were a few more humpbacks on the way back in but we didn’t stop because we were already late back in. We stayed out on deck most of the day, just going in occasionally to warm our hands around a cup of coffee. We went inot the captains office on the last part of the trip back and were chatting with him for quite a while. He was a very friendly and lovely guy and had been watching us enjoying ourselves all day because we were right up the front most of the time. It was very cold a lot of the day and we had plenty of layers of clothes on but just standing still in the cold wind does get through layers. When we got back to the RV we were a bit disturbed to find a thing for breaking into vehicles sitting on our front bonnet. There was no sign of damage and nothing missing so we assume it was something to do with our angel from last night but it was a bit weird and gave me the heebie-jeebies a bit. We drove out of Seward in search of a stopping spot Steve remembered from the way in. it turned out to be very very beautiful tern_lake.jpg but virtually in the middle of the highway junction so it was certainly not a quiet night and not much chance of wildlife.
On Saturday morning we had breakfast and set off for Homer to do some more sightseeing. Homer is our most distant point so we thought we’d get that out of the way and have less driving to do for the rest of the time. Homer spit is a really interesting place with lots of little buildings on stilts and boardwalks, and all wood and very shanty looking. We had been thinking about a day trip by boat across the bay to Seldovia or Halibut cove and possibly kayaking but we were told there was another storm coming up and they may not be going. All the kayak trips had finished for the season and actually it is pretty cold so wouldn’t have been very nice anyway. So we abandoned Homer after much discussion about plans for the rest of our time and looking for an RV park in Homer to stay in overnight. They actually charge around 50 to 80 dollars for a space in an RV park and we were astonished that people will actually pay that given the point of RV’s (we thought) is that you have all your facilities with you and have more freedom than with a car and hotels. So we kept on driving looking for somewhere that was free and quiet. There’s a wildlife viewing place in Kenai which we thought would be good but it turned out to be the main highway. We were still driving at 8pm having turned down a few state recreation areas because they cost $10 then finding nowhere at all for ages. We eventually stopped in a fee park by the sea but could find no-where to pay the fee so settled in for the night. A hatch in the bathroom on the van has broken so we have to be careful which way we park or the rain and wind come in, and one of the stone chips in the windscreen has started to split and we have a big crack across the window. Its pretty difficult to heat so we don’t really have somewhere warm to come home to if we are doing outdoor stuff. Its proving more difficult than we thought to find places to stay on this side of the peninsula and we had a fairly miserable day. The scenery however was still amazing and the colours are only getting more intense. The landscape is quite different though, with no mountains or hills and just endless spruce forests. They reckon moose crossing the road here is extremely common and moose are everywhere – well we still never saw one. We did see plenty of bald eagles and some seals.
On Sunday morning we left and went to look for somewhere nice to have breakfast. We tried the Beluga lookout (where apparently beluga haven’t been seen all year) and ended up on the riverbank at a fishing spot. It was peaceful and quiet other than fishermen coming and going and someone showed us the brown bear footprints from the bears he had seen go by early in the morning. Then we got stocked up with petrol and food and set off into the wilderness again. We drove in a dirt road for 6 miles to a camp on the edge of Skilak lake and got the best spot and stayed there for lunch. We chatted with a couple of really nice guys who come there often and we had got their spot so we reassured them we were only there for lunch and then left them to see the moose that would surely appear an hour after we left. They couldn’t believe we’d been in Alaska for 5 days and seen no moose. We stopped for the night at the campground at Petersen lake after checking out a couple of others. They were all free ones with only long drops and water pumps, which suits us fine, and it was very beautiful at Petersen lake. We were parked right on the lake front looking at the waterlillies and across to the far shore of the lake and the mountains behind. It rained for a lot of the afternoon so we learned to play a game we just bought about ocean food chains and then cooked our special treat dinner. We had found some cheap lobster tails and sockeye salmon in the supermarket so decided to treat ourselves. The lobster was some of the best we’ve ever had and it was really interesting to taste the sockeye salmon. Its supposed to be the premium salmon on the market and is certainly different to salmon we’re used to but we found it quite dry and with a much more meaty flavour than regular pacific or Atlantic salmon. I imagine if you’re a steak person its right up there but if you’re a fish person I’d prefer nice Orkney salmon. By the time we finished dinner and our dessert of strawberries and moose tracks ice cream (chocolate with chocolate fudge trails through it) it was getting dark and we sat and watched the view to see if anyone interesting was in it.
When I looked out the window on Monday morning there was a wee disturbance in the otherwise completely calm water and it was a beaver! We watched a wee family of beavers coming and going just in front of us until we had to leave to go to the toilet. We thought when we went down on the lakefront they would leave but one of them just stayed right by and carried on with his business (breakfast of part of the tree he had cut down in the night). beaver.jpg He was completely undisturbed by us but did keep swimming over to have a look at us – it seemed like he was people watching. When we actually looked at our surroundings we should have known he was there because they had cut down most of a stand of trees just beside us and the nights work had been continuing with cutting the latest tree into logs. There were wood chips everywhere and very distinct cone shaped tree stumps. After he disappeared we had our breakfast and I painted a picture and we got organised very slowly. We left the camp at about 11am and set out to look for a new home. We had a look at a few camps and the one we had been planning to go to was a charge one with no river view although we think it may have been a good spot for watching bears fishing in the evening if you walk down to the river, however we weren’t sure what part of the river. We stopped for a few views along the way and read a sign board about moose that said the area we had been in for the last 24 hours was the highest moose sighting area in Alaska, so we figured we are defiantly not going to see a moose if we failed with 24 hours in the highest sighting area. We ended up at quartz creek campground which had finished its season so, like a few others was “no fees, no services” which also included toilets and water (neither of which we actually need anyway. It was beautiful camp and we got a spot right on the lake and the colours have really changed in the last few days and it really looks like fall. kenai_lake.jpg After lunch I spent a while painting – mountains and spruce trees again but with lovely yellows and oranges on the birch trees. There was hot chocolate after painting and we warmed up indoors a bit then decided to have a BBQ dinner. Of course it started drizzling when we started cooking and Steve also made a fire in the fireplace. When it was time to eat it actually rained so we retreated indoors for bison burgers, baked potatoes, BBQ corn and rice. It eased off again after dinner and we went for a stroll in the dusk (moose being fictitious, there’s no need to be afraid of meeting one on the trail) around the camp area. We had dessert outdoors and sat by the remnants of the fire.
On Tuesday morning we went for a walk along to the boardwalk on quartz creek and saw a bald eagle and beautiful scenery but no other wildlife. We had breakfast of pancakes outdoors and the sun even had a go at shining for a short while. We drove slowly north, feeling somewhat reluctant to leave the peninsula and disappointed not to have seen any moose. By stopping in just about every parking area on the way out we managed to have it take till 3pm to reach Beluga point. The wind really howls along the turnagain arm and it was foul. Never-the-less we managed to sit and look for beluga for 2 1/2 hours without success. We did see a moose in the far distance on the way there but it was in a zoo so I’m not sure that that counts. We also looked at the earthquake effects from the 1964 9.2 earthquake which included forests that had been flooded by seawater when the land dropped by 7-10 feet. trees.jpg Two towns were abandoned and we could see a few remains of them as partly submerged old sheds. After Beluga point we headed back into Anchorage and tried to find a place to park for the night at Kincaid park, where there’s supposed to be lots of moose, but it didn’t allow camping so we headed north. We found a nice spot at eagle river and paid for a park for the first time but we got a nice spot in the woods with long views, and in moose country again. Of course we didn’t see any moose and it was fairly late by the time we got there so we had dinner of leftovers as Mexican (with tortillas and corn chips) and went to bed.
On Wednesday morning we watched for moose for a while, had breakfast and got our stuff packed up for the next stage, and the camper tidied up. We had a wee stroll round the camp in case of seeing moose, then headed back to Anchorage to return the camper. We got dropped off at the hostel but couldn’t get in our room so went for a look around town with the intention to cycle the coastal trail. We got a reindeer hotdog for lunch which was very good and then popped in to the land information centre for a free movie. We ended up watching 4 free movies, although they were only 15 – 30 mins each, about Alaska wildlife, land conservation and the northern lights. Then we checked the weather forecast, which of course said cloudy with a chance of showers and a chance of sun, and headed to the cycle place. We left on our cycles at 3pm and really enjoyed the coastal trail. Its amazing to have such a wild place virtually in the middle of the city, but Anchorage is a very green city. We had views of the mountains down Cook inlet, mudflats, estuaries, lakes, cliffs and rainforest. There were information boards up all along it and also a display about the 1964 earthquake, from which the tsunamis destroyed Seward and Whittier with 40foot 100 mph waves covered in burning oil from oil tankers that had exploded. On a more pleasant note we saw a bit of wildlife, lots of birds and squirrels and then finally saw a moose! It was a huge male moose with an amazing rack just munching away across the field. In fact it didn’t feel as momentous as I had expected to finally see the moose but he was a long way away and just quietly doing what moose do. He looked at us and thought ‘oh no, more tourists taking my photo’ so lay down in the long grass to get out of our view. Someone said they had seen another moose just beside the trail a few corners back so we finished our trip and then turned back and had just given up on a moose beside the trial when we met him. He was a young male and very close to the trail. moose1.jpg It was a much more momentous encounter. We stopped to take his picture and he graciously came out in full view so we started walking past rather than cycling to take pictures on the way. When we got quite near he started flicking his ears back at us, which is moose for ‘you’re in my personal space so I’m going to think about charging you’, so we hopped on our bikes and went a bit further away. Apparently we were still too close because he kept flicking his ears and started towards us. moose2.jpg We decided discretion was the better part of valour and left. It was very cool to have seen moose finally but rather frustrating that we have been in the highest density moose areas and seen nothing and then saw two moose in Anchorage city! We returned the bikes at 6.30 and had a nice cheap halibut chowder for our dinner, looked in a couple of shops and headed back to our room. Its very basic but quiet with a decent bed and we got a good nights sleep.
On Thursday morning we spent some time catching up with chores, like diary, washing, emails and blog, had breakfast then went exploring the city again.We watched a couple more movies at the parks centre and again were really impressed with them. Lunch was halibut and chips at Humpy’s bar and it was possibly the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten and a nice atmosphere too. We went back to the parks centre and met Daisy the porcupine from the zoo who came to visit. She was an orphan rescued by a kid who wanted to be a vet and practised dissecting roadkill. He dissected her mother who had been killed by a car and found daisy in her womb, still alive and due to be born. Daisy is a great ambassador for porcupines and for the zoo and clearly loves her outings, especially because she gets to eat lots of bread which is her favourite food. We looked around the shops a bit then went to collect our stuff from the hostel and had to wait an hour till they opened at 5pm. There is a free shuttle that takes you to the wild berry farm and will then drop you at the airport so we went there for a couple of hours. We had a stroll around the nature trail, the river and the shops where they have the tallest chocolate fountain in the world. Then we had dinner at the goldmine and just ordered two appetisers which was absolutely huge and we couldn’t eat it all. Apparently people eat an appetiser followed by a main course and still have room for the free ice cream buffet. We had some corn fritters and a plate of fried halibut and potato skins and again the halibut was delicious. We got to the airport and got checked in and settled in for a fairly long night of a flight to Denver and then another to San Francisco.

Posted by lyndalb 09:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A bit of luxury

Cruising Alaska

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We woke again early on Friday 29 August and realised the clocks had gone back and so the sun had already risen and we’d missed the early part of the morning. The boat was also already in port at Ketchican in Alaska (the time had changed because we’d crossed time zone into Alaska in the middle of the night). We got up and did our 5km walk on deck and had breakfast then went ashore to explore the town. We found a town walking map and had a look at a few shops then strolled to Creek street, which is an old boardwalk street that used to be the brothel area. It is built over the creek and the creek is full of salmon. ketchikan.jpgfish.jpg We followed the salmon up the creek and watched them leaping up the falls and all the way to their spawning area. They were pretty dopey by the time they reached the top and were so close you could reach out and touch them – in fact we could reach out, tickle their bellies and lift them out of the water! fishing.jpg We also went to the Totem heritage centre and learnt a lot about the meanings of totem poles. They have the biggest collection of original totem poles and some really interesting traditional artworks too. totem.jpg The world being a very small place we actually bumped into someone we knew in Ketchican! It wasn’t so surprising as it was one of the girls from the Orca camp so just another person travelling in the area but it still felt a bit surprising. We carried on around our town tour and back to the shopping area. There are heaps of very tacky tourist shops and jewellery stores aimed at cruise ships and expert at the hard sell. Steve was collecting a set of free souvenir coins but had to go through the hard sell each time to get one and we decided it was easier if I wasn’t there so I waited around outside. I got tired of shopping fairly quickly and we had a few tacky souvenirs so went back on the boat and had a late lunch. We left port at 5pm and we went up on deck for a Jacuzzi as we left port then to finish off our remaining 5km walk and watch for wildlife. We had dinner at the buffet and got a reasonably early night.
Saturday morning began with our walking for the day – all 10km before breakfast, as the ship came into Juneau. Then we went for a stroll in the town and looked at the shops till midday when we met Michelle to find out about a whale watch trip. Her friend is the naruralist for one of the trips and said they were not seeing much so we decided not to go. We all went back to the ship for lunch then we headed off on the town bus to Mendenhall Glacier. The views of the glacier from the bus were amazing. We had to walk a mile from the local bus stop to the glacier and fortunately didn’t encounter any bears on the road. However, when we got to the glacier there was a wee bear wandering round in the bushes and he caught a salmon and munched on it in the trees just in front of us. That was very cool to see and after he wandered off we had a look at what was left of the salmon but there wasn’t much. Then we went for a wee hike up in the woods, talking nonsense loudly to ourselves so the bears knew we were there. mendenhall.jpg We got a nice view of the glacier then headed back down and along the shore of the lake to the base of a huge waterfall, which was as close as we could get to the glacier. After that we looked for Michelle and found her just as we were about to leave for the bus. We strolled around with her for a bit and met a few folk who work locally or on the cruise boats. The bears came and went and it was beautiful evening light just for watching scenery and sunset colours on the mountains, never mind the bonus black bears and a beaver dam, porcupine draped over a branch for the night and coho and sockeye salmon in the river. mendenhall2.jpgbearexit.jpg It was an amazing day, at the end of which we had seen heaps and walked 14 miles and only spent $3. Michelles friend, Dirk, gave us a lift back to the ship and we grabbed a quick dinner before everything closed, then had a Jacuzzi. We finished off the day with a glass of wine listening to a wee classical group in the lobby, who were lovely. We got a call in the middle of the night from Michelle to say there were northern lights out so we went up on deck for a look. There was not much but it was still lovely to see them again and they were even dancing a little, like they do in Orkney.
It was a little hard to wake up on Sunday morning and we both had fairly sore muscles but we got up and had breakfast and we off the ship at Skagway by 7.30am. We started off with another wee hike hoping it would loosen us up. We went about 5 miles and did a 168m climb to a lovely lake up behind the town. It was a calm day and the water was still and a lovely green colour and reflecting perfectly. lower_dewey.jpg The vegetation around it was also really interesting, with heaps of different and beautiful mushrooms, and big bank of wildflowers and so many different looking areas of forest it was hard to keep track. By the time we finished that walk and got back down into town I was shattered so we had a quick look in town and headed back to the ship. Its actually a really interesting town and was the heart of the gold rush in 1898 and the buildings are still the same wooden goldrush style buildings. It’s a bit like walking back in time. Back on the boat we had lunch (Mexican theme with homemade tortilla chips which were great and made fabulous nachos), a Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, then just chilled for a while till it was time for our party. It was another party for past guests and the draw was free alcohol and appertisers. Michelle had told us just before that a special bear in Skagway had been shot and her and I were both a bit upset by that so we needed a drink. We got a couple of drinks in the party and left with another after about ten minutes. It was really cold out on deck so we had to go back downstairs to put all our clothes on and braved the wind on the front of the boat. There was no wildlife other than a couple of very distant mountain goats, but the scenery was spectacular. There were heaps of glaciers and amazing shapes in the mountains carved by glaciers. The cliffs down to the sea were really steep and yet there were still quite flat islands out in the middle of the channel. We stayed out till it was nearly dark and had dinner upstairs to we could keep looking and then get to bed early. We woke again at 11.30 to go and look at the elaborate midnight buffet, which had spectacular decoration made of food and some beautiful looking food too. We didn’t wait around till it was time to eat it but just went back to sleep. Michelle had told us we pass the migration zone for some land birds and they often get stuck on the boat so we had volunteered to help rescue them. Fortunately that was not needed and we got to sleep the rest of the night.
It was a bit of a struggle to wake up on Monday morning and we had a slow start, a leisurely breakfast and got ready to go ashore at Sitka. We had to transfer by little boat and even after our slow start we were on the first boat. We had seen someone waiting an hour earlier but they don’t send the wee boats till they have 80 people on them. Sitka is a nice little town with plenty of atmosphere and a beautiful location. It has a very strong Russian heritage and we wandered around town reading all the signboards telling about the history and Russian and Native lives and the modern fishing industry. There is a salmon hatchery that you can actually go to for free. They do salmon ranching rather than farming, which means they raise the wee fish then let them go and 5% return to spawn two years later. We got a bit of a tour from a really interesting guy there and I fed the baby fish. fish_ranch.jpg When the salmon return they breed them artificially by removing the eggs and raising them in a tank. They give away the dead fish (the salmon die anyway just after spawning) and any undeveloped eggs (actually salmon caviar) to the locals as fish bait. They are not sure yet about the impact on the ocean floor of ranching but it certainly seems much more sustainable than salmon farming. We watching the completely wild salmon in the river for a while too and strolled around the national historic park, which tells a lot about Native and Russian history and has lots of totem poles and a beautiful rainforest. Back in town we had a look at a few more historic sites and bought a Russian Christmas decoration – a Father Frost nesting doll. Sitka was the site where the sale of Alaska from Russia to America took place in 1867 for 2c an acre! The native people say that particular place in Sitka is the only part of Alaska that Russia actually owned to be able t sell and the land claims continue. By the time we finished in town it was getting pretty wet and we headed back to the boat for some lunch and a rest. Lunch was great – there was stuffed quail, which was gorgeous and japonaise (French patisserie) for dessert. We had a nice relaxing afternoon and I made a wee troupe of towel monkeys to hang beside the one our room steward had made last night. The boat went out into the open pacific ocean and there was not much to see but we did pass by really close to big group of humpback whales. We saw at least nine at one time and there were at least three others on the other side of the boat. Michelle said that was the biggest group she’s seen this year, although this year has been unusual, with colder temperatures and less whale sightings. We had dinner in the dining room because the dinner upstairs didn’t look great and had a nice meal then went to bed.
On Tuesday morning we were still out in open ocean so we slept in then had breakfast in the dining room. Michelle did another talk on whales, which was really interesting. we had coffee and cake with Michelle and then did our walk on deck till lunchtime. After lunch we just stayed out and about on deck to look for wildlife although we saw not very much. Michele had arranged for us to go onto the bridge so once we got into college fjord we paged her and got to watch the really spectacular part of the glaciers from in the bridge, which was very very cool. bridge1.jpg There were several tidewater glaciers on the way in and the big Harvard glacier at the end, which is over 1 1/2 miles wide. harvard.jpg We got within a half mile of it and even got to watch it calving a few wee bits. The noise that happens with the calving is huge. Its easy to see why the natives call it white thunder. We saw a wee sea otter in the distance leap off an iceberg and there were heaps of icebergs in the water. The bridge sticks out a bit on each side of the boat and there is a wee window that looks straight down so we could look down on the icebergs. The captain is Italian and very welcoming of guests to the bridge and is also a bit of a joker. He was always winding Michele up and playing tricks on people. He also has a garden along the front of the bridge which seemed quite out of place with all the high tech equipment and such a serious looking place. Michele joined us for dinner in the dining room and we had a really nice dinner then had to get packed up and leave our bags outside to be collected.
We arrived in Whittier, our final destination in the very early hours of Wednesday morning. We left our room at 6.30am and had breakfast and waited for our turn to depart the boat and get the (very expensive) transfer bus into Anchorage. We saw a sea otter swim by during our short wait and couldn’t see anything during the transfer as the bus was all steamed up and it was also foggy and wet outside. Apparently it rains 360 days a year in Whittier, but it was fine by the time we got to Anchorage.

Posted by lyndalb 21:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Going Wild

Searching for wildlife in Canada

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We left at 6am on Sunday 17 august and Celia drove us to Gatwick. The drive was fine and we got there on time and found out our flight was delayed till the afternoon. So we sat in the airport for the day until we finally got going. It was a 9-hour flight to Calgary and then another hour on to Vancouver. You get what you pay for and the flight had been cheap and our sound systems didn’t work so only one of us could listen to one channel of the movies and they messed up our meals and the silly hostess tried to tell me that if I wanted a meal without aubergine I should have ordered a vegan one! It was a pretty turbulent flight in parts too and we were inside the thunderstorm on the last bit to Vancouver, which was fairly bumpy but it was otherwise uneventful. We got in at 7pm and then had to get the local bus down to the ferry at Tsawwassen to go across to Vancouver island and another bus down to Victoria. The driver of the airport shuttle was lovely and after saying he couldn’t accept a note for payment, gave us the fare all the way to the ferry ‘since we were tourists’ and he also hopped out of his bus and came to show us the right bus to change to at the bus station. Fortunately the hostel waited for us and we finally got to bed at 12.30 local time, which was 7.30am British time after a 26hour day with only naps. Needless to say neither of were exactly cheerful by then, but at least we made it which we thought earlier in the day we wouldn’t.
We woke up, fairly late, to a nice sunny day in Victoria on Monday 18 august and took our time getting organised, both being still really tired, then went out in search of pancakes for breakfast. We strolled about for a while and looked at menus of all the great restaurants and cafes as Victoria is famous for its food and there were some pretty great menus and very long queues for breakfast. We found a nice cheap wee deli that did great pancakes and waffles and just chilled while we ate. They messed up our order so we got a free coffee. We strolled around the town and looked at the major tourist sights, parliament buildings govt_house.jpg and the Empress hotel, which is famous for its high tea for $60. Empress_hotel.jpg I looked at the menu for it and wasn’t sufficiently impressed to part with even half that but I think a lot of the cost is reputation and being able to sit in the elegant surroundings of the Empress tea-room, which certainly was nice but still not worth $60. We walked around the point to Fisherman’s wharf and looked at all the posh waterfront apartment buildings on the way. Its quite a lot like Vancouver with all the lovely waterfront stuff and walkways all round. Fisherman’s wharf is really pretty and has houseboats like the house in ‘sleepless in Seattle’, which are really cute. Fishermans_wharf.jpg We had a portion of fish and chips for our lunch which were pretty good but also famous and therefore expensive. There was a wee seal hanging around for fish scraps so we watched him for awhile. He had life sorted really because if he popped his head up out of the water and cocked it and blinked at the people someone was bound to buy fish scraps to feed him. seal.jpgseal_2.jpg We got the little harbour shuttle back to downtown and had a nice and really informative trip back. The bridge across the harbour is particularly ugly but was designed by the same guy that did the Golden gate bridge in san fransisco and this one represents a horses head. bridge.jpg We also saw the yaucht owned by Winston Churchill after the war. We strolled along the waterfront to get back to the hostel and through Chinatown. chinatown.jpg It’s the oldest Chinatown in Canada and is nice but very small. We rested for a while at the hostel then got steamed buns from Chinatown for our tea, which were really nice, and got an early night.
Canada wildlife count: seal - 1
I woke up feeling pretty lousy on Tuesday as I’d only got 4 hours sleep. We had a basic breakfast at the organic woodfired bread bakery across the road and got packed up to move out of the hostel at 11am. We left our bags and strolled round town and had a pizza for lunch form the same deli we’d eaten breakfast at yesterday. It was a salmon, avocado and caper pizza and was really yummy. We had a look at the lovely cakes in another coffee shop and then went and picked up our rental car. They didn’t have a small car for us so had to give us something else instead and all they had was a convertible mustang. We can hardly believe we turned that down but it was going to be fairly expensive on fuel and we were leaving it parked with all our gear in for 4 days so thought it might be a bit of a target. However the only car they could get for us was at the other depot so we had to drive across there and the car they wanted us to take was a Cadillac! So we parked the Cadillac outside the hostel to load our bags and headed north. After exchanging cars we drove up to Campbell river and got a few groceries and caught the 7.30 ferry to Quadra island. We got to the ferry with 2 minutes spare before it left but got on and even one car came on behind us so I guess it works like Scottish ferries used to. We found our accommodation which is in a wee boathouse down on the water near Heriot bay. There is a house as well but the boathouse is private and we have our own outdoor shower and can lie in bed and look at the sea from a little secluded spot in the bush. We made nachos for dinner and went to sleep listening to the ocean and the rain.
Canada wildlife count: a few raptors flying overhead, none of the elk or deer promised by the road signs.
We had a great sleep and woke to the ocean lapping and lay and watched the view for ages. Then we sat on the deck and had breakfast and watched the view, then we had showers in the outdoor shower (which was divine) and watched the view. Steve went out for groceries and I literally sat and wathed the tide go out and the Cortes island ferry going back and forth and pleasureboats and seals cruising by. This was briefly interrupted by a sea eagle landing on a rock in front of me to eat the fish he had just caught. That was just a bit exciting! eagle.jpg
Canada wildlife count: oystercathers, seals, sea ducks, sea eagle, fish (dead)
Thursday we woke fairly early and had breakfast watching the view, then got packed up & on the road. We got the ferry back across to Campbell River & slowly everyone got organised for our Orca trip. We saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree by the ferry & a sunflower starfish & a huge red jellyfish in the harbour. The boat transfer was 2 hours up to the camp on the edge of the Orca reserve at Robson’s Bight. It was a pretty & interesting trip up the inside passage. We arrived at camp & got the boat unloaded & reloaded with the previous groups stuff. They had not been out on kayaks at all till today because of bad weather & a guide with a sore neck who didn’t want to get wet. Once we were organised & orientated we went out for a paddle, which was gorgeous. The sun had come out by the time we got up here & there was virtually no wind so the water was flat calm. We can only paddle east from where we are because we’re not allowed into the Orca reserve. We paddled along the kelp forest, which is amazing & the cliffs & coastline are rugged & steep, and the water is really clear. It was some of the nicest paddling ever and got even calmer on the way back so we could see reflections in the water and with the sun shining on the drips from the paddles. kayak.jpg The group of kayaks in the sun against the rich green of the sea & hills in the evening shadow was gorgeous. We got back & dried off and watched the view till dinnertime. We can see a long way in both directions & the layers of hills are lovely with the gradually lightening shades of blues & the shapes of the cedar trees on the hilltops. Dinner was wild salmon. After dinner we sat around a campfire and chatted & a few people were playing didgeridoos made from kelp, which actually made a really good sound. It’s a really nice group pf people. There’s eight of us & two guides – Bill & Josh, who are both really good guys. There’s an Aussie couple that are travelling the world for a year & just got married (Jo & Alex), a Canadian couple just moved to BC (James & Nicole), an Aussie girl (Lisa) & a girl from Seattle (Barb). We went to bed shortly after dark.
We slept pretty well despite a ridge of rocks across the middle of our ‘bed’. We sat on whale watch & had our morning coffee with James till breakfast & then went for a paddle. The wind had come up a bit & there were fairly big waves & the guides described it as ‘pretty gnarly’. We didn’t go very far although it took a fairly long time & we got pretty wet. There were far too many white caps for my liking & too many of them breaking on me. However despite that it was really great fun & I came back a lot more confident in rough water. We had a bit of a play about in the waves doing some surfing before we had to head in. I was really impressed with both the guides & how well they managed a group in pretty rough conditions. We went back to whale watch with James again & the boys threw rocks at a tin & we just sat & enjoyed a bit of sunshine (& fairly cold wind) & watched the view. There was a storm forecast so we made the most of the sun & being outdoors. We spent the afternoon basically the same way – sitting on the beach watching the waves & looking out for whales. Part way through the afternoon we heard there were whale watch boats in the area & the orcas were in the reserve. We did see them but they were several miles down the reserve & all we saw was some sprays & a few fins with binoculars. We looked out for ages but they disappeared in to the rubbing beach & never came any closer. Bill took us on a wee interpretive walk in the forest & showed us lots of plants & talked about their uses & a bit about native folklore. A couple of us picked a bunch of huckleberries for pancakes for breakfast & we also had a taste of salmonberry, which was quite yummy. We had dinner & sat around the campfire till it got dark again just chatting & relaxing. cruiseboat.jpg
On Saturday the storm came by in the night & the wind was fairly blowing so the surf was pretty big in the morning so paddling was out of the question. We saw quite a few orcas go by on the far side of the channel but all we could see was spray & it could have just been wave spray. We had huckleberry & blueberry pancakes for breakfast with maple syrup & bacon & they were great. Bill talked about taking a couple of people out surfing & after much debate & soul searching I decided it probably wouldn’t be smart for me to do & no-one else wanted to either. So we basically spent the day sitting on the beach or around the fire & watching the storm. Fortunately it didn’t have much rain to hit us but the sea & changing skies were fabulous to watch. In the afternoon Bill set up the sauna, which is just a tarpaulin hut on the beach with a pit that gets filled with hot rocks. We close the door and then switch cold water onto the hot rocks with spruce & it all steams up & gets warm. We also had a tea made from liquorice fern & spruce & afterwards jumped in the sea to cool down again.
We got up early Sunday morning & watched for orca as day broke. Then we went for a paddle just after 7 for a couple of hours. There was just us, James & Bill & it was a spectacular paddle. The water was calm & there was mist rolling around in the bays & drifting down the hillsides to silhouette the spikes of cedar trees. We paddled along the shoreline looking for bears on the beach & on the way back surfed on the waves of a cruise ship. Breakfast was cooked when we got back (eggs Benedict) & then the others turned down another kayak trip so I stood on the beach to spot orcas. They actually finally showed up & there were six including a baby, although they were not close to us at all & we weren’t allowed to even get in kayaks & sit in the kelp. They travelled straight by without even pausing but some guys we’d met while we were kayaking followed them back towards their camp. We got packed up & waited for the water taxi but eventually found out there had been a mix up in communication & they thought it was too rough to get us. We eventually got picked up about 3pm & then the boat broke down on the way back. After a boat transfer & no sign of any whales we got in to Campbell River about 6pm. We got straight on the road north & our drive up to Port McNeill was uneventful. The hotel was fine & we had a glass of wine & got organised for tomorrow & watched a little bit of the Olympics closing ceremony.
On Monday we had a quick breakfast & got on the road at 6.15 to Telegraph Cove. On the way in we saw a black bear & an elk on the side of the road. Our day trip to Knight Inlet started with a 2 hour boat ride across Johnstone Strait & through the islands of the Broughton Archipeligo & up Knight Inlet. It was gorgeous & we would have loved to have been kayaking around the islands. The water was mirror calm & a light sea fog was hanging around with the sun breaking through in places. We transferred to shore & drove up to the salmon river & the group split in half. We managed to avoid the awful English children & went to the second platform. When we arrived there were 5 grizzly bears just under the first platform, 2 mothers & 3 cubs. There was nothing by our platform so we watched from a distance as the mother of 2 chubby 5 month old cubs caught 2 salmon & the mother of a very scrawny 18 month old cub caught nothing. bear1.jpg As we were about to change platforms a mother with 2 chubby 18 month cubs crossed the path in front of us & down into the river just under our platform. We decided to stay & we watched her diving in the salmon pool & chasing fish around & coming up with lots of fish. It was hilarious to watch her fish & when she dived down there was a big splash of her hind legs as she pushed her bum under. bear2.jpg She’d come up looking very bedraggled & shake to remove the water from her head, bear3.jpg which left her looking somewhat bewildered for a few seconds. bear4.jpg Probably 50% of the time she came up with a salmon, which she munched in the river just in front of us. bear5.jpg One of the cubs swam out to ask for some bear7.jpg & both the cubs pretended to fish on the riverbank, bear6.jpg but apparently they are still breastfed at that age so it’s most important that mum eats. A few other bears strolled by & we saw 12 in total. Eventually the mum with the scrawny cub got a fish too. bear8.jpg The bald eagles sat in the trees & waited for fish scraps. eagle1.jpg We went back to the boat for lunch then went out on a flat bottom boat on the estuary & watched another mum & cub crossing the river & feeding on grass. bear9.jpg It was a beautiful trip back in the boat as well & we saw 2 black bears on the shore. As we were leaving Telegraph Cove we saw the ranger with a dead wolf, which had apparently been shot. It was quite distressing to see & they were about to remove the bullet to try & find who had done it because it is illegal to kill a wolf. We drove south as far as Sayward Junction & found a nice cheap room there, which was quiet & pleasant. We cooked some dinner & tried to dry some clothes.
Tuesday we had a sleep in & got our bags organised for the cruise. We got on the road at 10am & pretty much just drove south to Victoria on the coastal route, slightly more scenic. We tried to stop for salmon & chips in Campbell River & tried to visit wineries in the Cowichan Valley but all were closed! We got to the hotel & our room had been given away so it took a couple of hours to get that sorted & the rental car returned. We got upgraded to a deluxe room (which was still grotty as it’s a grotty hotel) & went out for some dinner. We had a fantastic meal sitting outdoors right on the inner harbour. I had a seafood fettucine & Steve had a grilled seafood salad & we had a glass of lovely BC wine each. The food was magnificent & the setting lovely despite it raining. We looked in a few shops on our way back to the hotel for a quiet evening.
We got an early bus on Wednesday morning to the ferry terminal and got the nine o’clock ferry back across to Tsawassen, followed by another local bus to Vancouver. You can do that same transfer taking about a half hour less (3 1/2 hours instead of 4) for an extra $ on top of what we paid, and we got to have a wee tour of all the local communities and see how they build their houses and stuff. We got dropped virtually at the cruise boat terminal and got our VIP check in and were on board by 1pm. We had asome lunch and tehn were allowed into our room and got unpacked and organised. The room smelled a bit smoky so our room steward organised a fumigator. We spent some time exploring the boat to try and orientate ourselves. We went to a talk by the Naturalist on board about wildlife on the trip. We decided to make ourselves known so went up and asked her a bunch of questions afterwards. She was really helpful and promised to bring us some extra info after her talk tomorrow. Dinner was in the main dining room and we are at a four person table with an aussie couple. The food was pretty decent but not fantastic. It was a bit of a shame to go in to dinner becaseu it meant we missed some of the scenery leaving Vancouver, however it was fairly open water so not too bad. It will be harder when we are in narrower channels. We were last to leave the dining room and headed to bed for an early start in the morning.
When it got light at 6am on Thursday we were just passing Robson Bight, where the Orca camp was, so we were out on deck with binoculars looking for the camp. We saw a couple of Orca in the reserve in the far distance. It was a day at sea and a lot of it in narrow spaces so was great to look at. We passed knight inlet where we had also been a couple of days before. We had decided to try to walk 10km a day to counteract all the food we are planning to eat, so we were walking on the walking deck until we passed all the areas we knew. Walking on deck is a really social activity and we met a bunch of nice folk who we had serial conversations with each time we passed them going in the opposite direction. We had breakfast from the buffet then went to another naturalist talk about glaciers, which was really intersting. Her name is Michelle and we spent quite a while chatting with her afterwards. She gave us lots of tips for places to go to save a bit of money and still see stuff. She also gave us her number and called us later to organise a possibility of a orca watch trip together with a friend of hers in Juneau We went out on deck again and watched for wildlife and in the course of the day saw several pods of whitesided dolphins including a superpod of over 400. We also saw three humpback whales near the shore humpback.jpg as well and a few different seabirds and a few sea lions. We had a Jacuzzi and watched an icecarving demonstration on deck. There is a minigolf course on deck too so we had a couple of rounds which were somewhat impaired for me by the wind blowing my hair everywhere and the boat rocking quite a bit so you could never quite tell which way the ball would roll. There was a welcome aboard party with free cocktails so we partook of a few of those and it was also formal evening so everyone was dressed up a bit. It was interesting that people don’t dress up as much on this cruise as the have on the ones we’ve done in the Caribbean and what would have been normal dress for an evening there is slightly overdressed for an evening here. As it got towards dusk, we were on deck walking our remaining 5km and we were quite near the shore and actually saw a white wolf trotting along the rocks. It just followed along beside us for quite a while and I was really excited to have seen a wild wolf. wolf.jpg We had dinner in the dining room again and there was lobster for a main course so the whole four of us asked for an extra lobster course and actually got it. lobster_dinner.jpg It was rather delicious and we were last out of the dining room again and off to bed.

Posted by lyndalb 17:46 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Back in Blighty

Tying up our loose ends in England

View Returning Home & UK and Europe on lyndalb's travel map.

We arrived in Plymouth at 6.30pm on Tuesday 5 August and took ages to get through passport control and various diversions but eventually got down near St Austell to look for a campground. It was raining and we couldn’t find any of the dozens of campgrounds marked on our map so we ended up in a nice wee B&B. The lady heated up our tin of cassoulet for us for our dinner and then it was bedtime.
The weather was still not great on Monday morning but we had our full English breakfast and headed to the Eden Project. The Eden Project is a group of huge bio domes that have been built in a disused quarry to showcase the plants and environments of rainforest, Mediterranean and temperate climates. Eden_project.jpg The temperate section is outdoors and the gardens are fantastic. Because Cornwall is in the Gulf Stream they can grow an amazing range of stuff including chillies, tomatoes, palms and a huge range of vegetables from all over the world. They also had really interesting information about using plant products and how plant products can be used to improve the sustainability of our existence on the planet. The rainforest bio dome was really hot and had fantastic displays of rainforest and culture from all over the world and again great information about food production and sustainability. The Mediterranean bio dome was also interesting but not as fabulous as the other two for us. Eden_2.jpg We spent pretty much the whole day and learnt lots although we got a bit wet in the afternoon outdoors. By the time we finished it was tipping down with rain and the forecast was terrible for tomorrow too so we phoned Lisa and Rob and asked if we could come to them a couple of days early rather than stay in a B&B again and have a wet day at the lost gardens of Heligan. It took us three hours to drive up to them including a stop for fish and chips and a Cornish pasty while we were still in Cornwall. We were very impressed with the fish and chip shop as they had 3 sustainable fish on their menu and we had Pollock, which was delicious. We had a nice quiet evening with Lisa and Rob and got a good nights sleep.
On Tuesday we pretty much just relaxed for the whole day but with a wee shopping trip into Nailsea. We saw a fabulous dolls house shop and spent some time at the library reading and then had bangers and mash for dinner and a wee chocolate tasting with Lisa and Rob.
Wednesday was another very quiet day. We puttered about and then met up with Liz for a walk in a woodland, which turned out to be a badly signposted mud trail. We had thought it was an ecocentre but it had been inaccurately portrayed in the paper and there was nothing much of interest there except some very beautiful, if muddy, woodland and a good crop of blackberries. We had coffee at a garden centre and went back to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.
On Thursday we had another quiet day just relaxing and watching Olympics and went into Nailsea for some shopping and to read some books at the library for a while. We had a curry and blackberry crumble for dinner and Lisa and Rob went out for dinner and left the boys with us.

I went with Lisa to see to the horse she looks after on Saturdays and had a walk around in the countryside tehn the two of us set up for the day to watch the equestrian at the Olympics and Steve went out with Rob and the boys to the library and to a castle on the top of a hill and to the museum. We all had take out curry for dinner and a relaxing evening.
We left fairly early on Sunday morning and got across the Severn bridge to the toll booth when we realised we had left something behind. We got escorted from the toll booth and round a secret road to get back onto the bridge going in the other direction.and we went back to Lisa and Rob. We decided to skip the toll and drove up through England and to Hay on Wye, which is famous for its bookshops. We spent a few hours bookshopping and got a good selection of books for good prices to go in the shipping back to NZ. Then we carried on to the coast of mid Wales to the CAT centre and set up our tent in the compground next door. We got the tent up dry although the ground was wet and we could feel it through the bottom of the tent. We got some dinner cooked and were finishing off eating when it started raining again and we had to adjourn to the car for the rest of the evening. fortunately we had plenty of books to at and then went to bed and listened to the rain.
We woke in a puddle and a tent full of midgies on Monday and made coffee by running from the car to the cooker and back in the rain. We spent the day at the Centre for Alternative Technology and there are heaps of displays to look around and it took us from 10 till 4 just to do the audio tour and read the stuff we were interested in. They have displays about all sorts of technology like solar, wind and water energy, eco building, waste management and composting and transport management. We also had a look in the bookshop but resisted buying full price books. We had decided it was miserable for camping and we headed a day early to Welford. We were supposed to have camped for 6 days and have managed one because of the weather. Its pretty miserable summer weather and I think the weather is about the same in NZ’s winter at the moment.
Tuesday was wet again and we were pleased to wake up dry and have a tele for some Olympics. We drove into Birmingham for someone to look at the car and he bought it so we were pretty happy about that, and got the amount of money we wanted too. We also got a few other chores done then went to my old work to visit with folk and get a lift home with Lynnie at the end of the day. It was lovely to see people and it actually felt not too terrible to be back in Birmingham.
Without a car we had a good excuse to do nothing for a few days except watch Olympics and a few chores and get packed. Wednesday was wet and miserable but Thursday was nice and we walked into Welford village and along the canal for a while. I went to the doctor at the village hall where they run a rural surgery and we were really impressed. It was really friendly and everyone was chatting while waiting and the doctor was very thorough and they had their own little pharmacy so you didn’t have to go to a pharmacy separately and all the villagers came in to collect their prescriptions and chatted. Friday was also fine and the moving man came and packed up all our stuff for shipping. Jay also came over from Cambridge to visit and we had a very pleasant afternoon. The evening was just the three of us and lovely to catch up a bit with Lynnie.
On Saturday Celia came up to visit and we had a lovely day just taking it very slowly, chatting, watching Olympics and went for a walk along the canal at Foxton. canal_.jpgcanal_2.jpg We had lunch in the garden of the pub first overlooking the canal and the sun even shone a bit. We walked up the staircase of ten locks and watched the boats going through and chatted with walkers and boaters and a fisherman with a very cool rod. He was doing well but the fish is not edible and none of us could understand the idea of fishing if you don’t at least end up with your supper. We stopped for a drink in the pub garden again on the way back then just chilled for the afternoon at home and got finally packed up. Lynnie cooked dinner and the family and dogs came by to say goodbye.
We left at 6am on Sunday 17 august and Celia drove us to Gatwick. The drive was fine and we got there on time and found out our flight was delayed till the afternoon. So we sat in the airport for the day until we finally got going. It was a 9-hour flight to Calgary and then another hour on to Vancouver. You get what you pay for and the flight had been cheap and our sound systems didn’t work so only one of us could listen to one channel of the movies and they messed up our meals and the silly hostess tried to tell me that if I wanted a meal without aubergine I should have ordered a vegan one! It was a pretty turbulent flight in parts too and we were inside the thunderstorm on the last bit to Vancouver, which was fairly bumpy but it was otherwise uneventful. We got in at 7pm and then had to get the local bus down to the ferry at Tsawwassen to go across to Vancouver island and another bus down to Victoria. Fortunately the hostel waited for us and we finally got to bed at 12.30 local time, which was 7.30am British time after a 26hour day with only naps. Needless to say neither of were exactly cheerful by then, but at least we made it which we thought earlier in the day we wouldn’t.

Posted by lyndalb 06:39 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

French Finale

Smallholding in Brittany

On Thursday 24 July it took us ages to find the house in Plevin but we eventually arrived with Dan and Ann on their smallholding. We had a look around the property and sat and lay on the nice shady lawn and read books then had a glass of wine and homemade kir till dinner. The food here looks like it won’t help us to lose weight either as dinner was pretty good. Dan and Ann are really nice and they have three kids and are all fluent in French except the 2year old girl. We are staying in what will eventually be the bathroom of the big old stone house they are doing up. Consequently the table in our room is actually a bathtub.
We had a more thourough tour from Ann in the moring after breakfast and they had written a big list of things we can work on. We can just pick anything off the list and do that and they showed us all the tools and stuff and what needs done for everything so it was really well organised and we can easily just get on with things as suits us. They are a well set up smallholding and have plenty of veges that are all just coming on now, 2 geese who just failed to hatch and set of eggs, 2 sheep for the freezer, a sow with 11 piglets who are for sale and for the freezer, and some chickens. Two of the chickens are broody and sitting on lots of eggs of all different ages. They take away any chicks and hand rear them so the hens can carry on sitting. They make their own sausages, pate, and other charcuterie from the pigs and have a smoker, and make their own jams and stuff too. We started with fencing a couple of vege gardens that the rabbits had got into. Then Steve mowed under the electric fences around the sheep’s yard and I mucked out the chickens and geese. We got called for lunch and sat out in the garden in the sunshine for the afternoon reading books. We got a scything lesson from Dan as they don’t have a strimmer and there’s stuff to be cleared. He prefers it as its quiet and peaceful and a more natural way of doing things. He also showed us the book on how to scythe so we could get more tips. There are visitors here now too and increasing daily as all the English friends and relatives come out to France for their summer vacations. Dan's sister and husband are very nice and have 2 more kids and are here for a week. So dinner was a bit more hectic but still delicious and one of those great French meals that just drift on forever, although they don’t eat in courses like the French do.
On Saturday morning we started with the scything of the sheep yard, which is a bit of a huge chore. The field is really too big for two sheep and consequently they can’t keep the grass down and now there is grass as tall as me and huge dock plants going to seed. We took turns at scything and collecting out the dock seedheads and by the end of the morning were starting to get the hang of the scything a bit. We also got a bit more done on the mowing and another wee fence built. They have a great system of fencing, most of the fences are just electric movable ones driven by solar packs. The chickens and geese have a permanent enclosure and the fences for the vege gardens are just rabbit height chicken wire on portable posts. It makes it very easy to manage the fencing. We spent the afternoon after we finished work just relaxing. Its nice to be somewhere where they don’t actually expect you to carry on working after your hours are done so we can have some time to relax and the garden is lovely except for the flies and lots of children at times. I read the scythe book a bit and picked up a few more tips including that’s its much easier to scythe before sunrise and much harder after the dew is gone so all scything should stop then. More guests arrived so we were 8 adults and 8 kids at the dinner table but it was very pleasant and we ate outdoors. We had aperitifs and then a bbq with plenty of different pork things and starters of langoustines. There was plenty of wine and tisanes after along with some local drinks that we eventually concluded were a quince fortified wine and a local apple brandy.
I got up early on Sunday to try out the new scything tips and it really is a very pleasant workout. The book likens it to tai chi so I've decided it’s my morning exercise and it certainly is much easier then. Steve did a bit more after breakfast but by 9am it was too hard so we quit and went on with collecting hay and then using the push mower on the sheep enclosure. That was fairly hard going and it was a pretty hot day and I retreated out of the sun by 11.30 and weeded a nettle patch and got stung all over. There were some roses buried deep in the nettle patch. Its also a nice break to give the pigs a shower and they really like it so we filled up their wallow and tried to shower the baby pigs but Lulu, the mum was having none of that and wanted all the showering for herself. She is a very smart pig but is also getting s bit sick of her 11 babies and wants the attention back on her. She is a Tamworth, an ancient breed of pig that’s really hardy but doesn’t have much ham on it so the babies are half Gloucester old spot and have nicely developing wee hams even at 3 months old. We had been told that Tamworth’s are aggressive but she is certainly not and is a great mum too. One particular piglet stands out and is more curious than the others and keeps trying to chew my trouser leg till I squirt it with the hose and it squeals and runs away but is back a minute later for more. Steve discovered that you can make the piglets go to sleep by rubbing behind their ears and had 2 piglets fall over in a heap on top of each other. They just closed their eyes and fell over! The pigs also get fairly spoilt with their food as once a week they get the leftovers from the patisserie and even though its old it looks delicious. They ate more patisseries in a week then I have in the whole time we’ve been in France, but at least they are fairly discerning and go for the best bits first. pigs.jpg Our lunch was outdoors again and pleasant and long then we relaxed for the afternoon in our room out of the heat and in some quiet and out on the lawn before dinner.
On Monday morning we both got up early for scything scything.jpg and to start digging a pond (finally someone who thinks it’s a good idea for me to dig them a pond!!!) for the geese to be able to swim. The geese are really nice and were very curious when we were digging and stayed close watching us and occasionally came for a good look. They are the friendliest geese we have met. We are getting ok at scything too and I have an 8foot arc and Steve has a 9-foot arc and we make quite nice straight lines with pretty stacks of hay at the side, although we are still pretty slow. It is a really interesting activity and I find it quite enjoyable particularly when you have those occasional moments of Zen scything when it’s effortless and goes beautifully. It was another hot day and we were pleased to have started early so we could finish at lunchtime to get out of the heat. Just as we finished lunch it started training and the rain basically set in for the afternoon. We had a quiet afternoon indoors and looking at books on farming and cooking until dinner.
On Tuesday morning we went with Dan to the market at Rostrenen to buy some more birds. They wanted some turkeys to fatten for Christmas so we got 4 turkeys and since there was now a pond we also got 4 little ducks and now we were on a roll so got a couple more geese. It was a nice wee market and we were really early before anything much opened so got the pick of everything. We also got some interesting veges and some nice bread. It was really nice to go to a market where we were there specifically to buy things rather than just to look around and it was especially fun to buy the birds. The bird man had a little dog who liked to sit on the birdcages and tap the birds on the head with his paw if they were misbehaving in his eyes. It was really cute. We got our birds home and popped them in the house for the morning so they’d know where to go home to at night. We carried on with work for the morning and let the baby birds out in the afternoon. They took a bit of persuading but were ok once they got out. It was hilarious to watch the big geese because the babies quickly decided they were the parents and started following them round. The big geese thought they were being chased by aliens and ran away so the little ones chased faster. They went round and round and the poor big geese didn’t know whether to attack or run and usually chose run, and the babies couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to be mum and dad. The turkeys were above all this activity and instead decided I was mum and followed me around and whenever I wasn’t right beside the fence they just stood there crying. Fortunately they have bird brains and after I left them for an hour they thought they’d never seen me in their lives before and I was terrifying. They all discovered the pond and the ducklings led the way in going in. it took the baby geese a bit longer and the adult geese just fell in in a very undignified way and immediately got out again looking embarrassed. Later in the day the girl goose fell in and started pretending she’d meant to which was just as funny as shed look up and around in an embarrassed way then fluff her feathers and have a paddle about. geese_1.jpgducks.jpgbaby_goose.jpg We relaxed in with the birds for some of the afternoon and had dinner outdoors again. Dan got his smoker going and put in some mackerel we’d got at the market and some cheeses to see how they went. It’s a really simple smoker with just a firebox outside the barn and a pipe from the box into a tall wooden chamber that you load from the top with a ladder. Its cold smoking so you leave the food in it for a really long time and just occasionally top up the fire so it keeps on smoking and it just got left overnight. smoking.jpg
We had a day off on Wednesday and after feeding the animals headed south towards the coast. We went through Pont Aven and to the coast at Belon and walked along the coast to the rocks. We were all kitted up with oyster knives and bags and spent a couple of hours collecting mussels and oysters off the rocks. It was a bit tricky to start with but when we went around the beach a bit further we could just pick the oysters off the beach or small rocks. The odd one broke as Steve was prizing it off the rocks and so he had to eat it there and then. He ended up eating 2 dozen just on the beach. oysters.jpg I had a couple but I’m not a big fan of raw oysters and they were pretty salty too so I stuck to collecting. We ended up with about 5 dozen oysters and 110 mussels and felt rather greedy but we did have potentially 7 adults to feed. We headed to the beach afterwards but stopped in Pont Aven for a wander around because it was a really pretty town with lots of stone buildings and flowers everywhere. Pont_Aven.jpg It was pretty touristy but that meant that the biscuiteries had lots of free samples so we helped ourselves and had quite a decent snack as well as a good education on the different biscuits and cakes of Brittany. Biscuits are a speciality here and they are pretty good at them, but unfortunately don’t have lots of recipe books to share the recipes for them. The beach was nice but certainly not somewhere would choose to go on holiday like the hundreds of English tourists there. The beach was nice enough but there was lots of seaweed in the water and the water was certainly not warm, probably because it’s the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately the weather was really warm and after we had a swim we lay in the sun and had some lunch while we dried off. We headed back home again to get the shellfish out of the heat and then had to get cleaning them. We opened a dozen each of oysters and mussels and put them into the smoker, which was still going. Dan's sister was cooking them a special meal so they didn’t want to have any shellfish tonight so we left them in their shells to have the next night. We had dinner outdoors with the children and then stayed outdoors cleaning shells and watching the baby birds for the evening. They had a pretty good night and were up late and drinking quite a bit in the kitchen through our wall so we didn’t get to sleep till fairly late.
They also had to get up early on Thursday morning to go and get a ferry back to England and everyone looked a bit shabby. We got started on more scything and collecting hay. Steve also started on trimming the hedge and clearing around it. We spent a fair bit of the afternoon shelling the oysters in the barn because the weather was not very nice. In the afternoon Dan picked up a new WWOOFer to share the oysters etc with and she turned out to be vegetarian so there was only four of us to eat all that seafood. We had an extensive aperitif menu of smoked oysters and mussels, oysters gratin, ceviche, and wrapped in spinach in a butter sauce. Then we had moules mariniere as a starter and I really enjoyed the cooking and especially getting to try out some recipes form my French cookbooks. Dinner was fairly time consuming and very pleasant.
Friday was an uneventful day with just work and then resting in the afternoon as I’ve got a cold again.
We had another day off on Saturday and started off going to the market with Ann in Carhaix. It was a fairly small market and the weather was damp so it was even smaller than usual. We also stopped at the supermarket and a wine shop for Steve to get a few bottles of wine for while we are camping. We also stopped at the boulangerie/ patessierie and we got a few macarons just to taste them as we’ve now heard so much about them and never tasted real ones. They were really good and worth all the fuss. We tried a citron, chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry one and shared them round us all. It was about lunchtime when we got back and then we went for a walk along the Nantes-Brest canal, which is just along the road from the house. There were some pretty lock houses and we also managed to collect some flowers for making tea. I also helped make gnocci to Dan’s Italian grandmothers very strict recipe and it was one of those fun activities for a group of women around the kitchen table and also a good learning experience. Ann made Bimbimbap for dinner, which is a Korean dish of leftovers – rice, vegetables and an egg fried on top with Korean hot pepper sauce and some beef bulgogi. It was really good and a great way of using up leftovers.
We were going to have a day off on Sunday but the weather was not so nice. We had planned for the whole family to go collecting oysters again and go to the beach but it was really not beach weather so we worked for the day and got the scything in the field finished and plenty of weeding and hedge trimming. We had slept in so worked for a bit of the afternoon too. Then we went with Dan to go and collect a baby boar for Lulu. It was an hour’s drive to Jan’s place and we got coffee and fresh scones when we got there and a free consultation on pig breeds and what’s going to be best for us. Then we got a tour of all her pigs before collecting Dan’s baby Gloucester/ large black pig. She breeds rare and ancient breeds of pig and we learnt heaps from the short time with her. Getting the pig away from its mum and into the car was interesting and then it kept trying to escape for the first part of the trip home so we kept having to hold it down in the back compartment of the car. baby_boar.jpg Once it was home we got a nice cosy enclosure set up in the barn for him and he settled in quite well. We had pork mole for dinner and tortillas, which just about completed our tour of world cuisine while we’ve been here. Ann also bakes cookies or brownies pretty frequently so there’s always a full American cookie jar.
It was a bit clearer on Monday morning for our day off and we planned to head out for the Crozon peninsula. But first we had to introduce the new pig into the existing family, which went pretty well. Lulu certainly didn’t see him as a desirable suitor but just a nuisance to be chased off and he just wanted to play with the babies. He’s not big enough yet to do the job anyway and might have a bit of a rough time for a while. By the time we got to the Crozon it was lovely and sunny but not too hot and there was a cool breeze. There was a good viewpoint from the highest ‘mountain’ in Brittany, which was about 300m. It was quite pretty with views of the coast in several directions and we watched some learner para-penters and hang-gliders for a while. We stopped at a beach for a walk and ended up staying ages because it was a gorgeous beach and we collected mussels and clams for dinner then went for a swim. The water was not too cold but not exactly warm either but it was lovely to sit on the rocks in the sun to dry off. Then we carried on out the peninsula, stopped at a couple of biscuiteries for free samples for morning tea and lunch and went into the town of Crozon. It’s a quaint wee town and very typical of the area with wee white cottages and stone churches and really all quite Celtic. We got a baguette and cheese and had a galette for lunch and looked in a kitchen shop, which as often happens, was fatal for our budget but we got a good bargain on a bilik, which is the thing on which you make galettes. We headed to Pen-hir at the end of the peninsula for an amazing view of the cliffs and coastline with beautiful white of gold sand beaches dotted between steep and rugged cliffs. Pen_hir.jpg It was really beautiful and so much to explore and wander around that we could have stayed a week. There were also lots of rock climbers, which must have been fun in such a spectacular location. There was also a stone alignment just along the road and we stopped for a look about and some bread and livarot cheese. The alignment is interesting and peculiar as its not clear at all what its there for but was originally 600 stones and similar to Carnac. Now there are just remnants but its still pretty cool. stones.jpg By then it was time to head home and we got home just in time to clean up our mussels and make moules mariniere for dinner, which we had with galettes and cider – a real traditional Breton feast. Our galettes were with bacon cheese and egg and were delicious. Of course there were sweet crepes to follow with chocolate, crème de marron or jam. I got to have a go on the serious bilik and it’s really not as easy as it looks at all. We ate out in the garden and had a very pleasant evening. bilik.jpg The new little pig seems to have settled in nicely and although he is still being chased by Lulu he’s getting right in to dinnertime warfare with the piglets.
We got all packed up on Tuesday morning and said our goodbyes and headed to Roscoff to get the ferry back to England. We did a bit of shopping on the way and got dinner and some stuff for our kayak trip from a sale at a sports store. The ferry crossing was just long and tedious with far too many loud children and not enough seating space for everyone. We found a quiet spot in a nice civilised bar for a while and had some lunch and spent our few remaining euros on coffee. There had obviously been a music festival in Brittany because there were lots of musicians on the ferry and we were treated to a wee concert for an hour or so. Other than that we read and planned our farm and made the decision that we’d like to try and go totally off grid for power – a big commitment, but partly funded by not having to dig 250m of trenches and install cables for the same distance. We arrived in Plymouth at 6.30pm and took ages to get through passport control and various diversions but eventually got down near St Austell to look for a campground. It was raining and we couldn’t find any of the dozens of campgrounds marked on our map so we ended up in a nice wee B&B. The lady heated up our tin of cassoulet for us for our dinner and then it was bedtime.

Posted by lyndalb 06:28 Archived in France Comments (1)

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