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Road Trippin’ in Alaska

After a four-day ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska, we embark on the maiden camping voyage in my new Toyota Tacoma. The plan is to drive the Alaskan roadways with at least an equal amount of camping and motel stays. It’s early May, and it has been a late spring, so snow and road conditions may be a factor.

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Beating the Crowds – Camping in Beaver Creek

Brrr…, we wake up to snow in Beaver Creek, Canada off the Alcan Highway. It’s warm enough in sleeping bags under the truck cap, but those nighttime bathroom trips are brutal!

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Driving the Alcan

Gigantic mountain ranges in the distance resemble a winter wonderland Christmas card.

moose

Just one of many

Moose and herds of caribou crossing the road remind us that being in pristine wilderness has no substitute.

caribou

Blurry, but you get the idea

Well, it often rains in pristine wilderness, so we decide to “motel it” in Anchorage for a few days. Ah, creature comforts abound. We make friends during Kentucky Derby day at Darwin’s, a local pub. We’re lucky to be here in the off season, before crowds of cruise shippers take over.

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Derby day at Darwin’s Bar

Burn off those guilty pleasures with a “snow hike” up Flattop Mountain, where icy wind will awaken all the senses.

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Hiking the Flattop Mountain Trail

This great walking town offers many mountain hiking trails, along with civilized walkways and bicycle paths at the water’s edge.

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Walking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Combine friendly folks and endless outdoor activities with an excellent craft beer scene and the best food options Alaska has to offer, well, what’s not to like?

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Enjoying the craft beer scene in Anchorage

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Oysters and Champagne at the Bubbly Mermaid

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Man does not live by seafood alone

On the way to a seafood market to buy fresh halibut cheeks, we mingle with the biker crowd at the annual “blessing of the bikes” that kicks-off riding season. We could live in this city.

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The Blessing of the Bikes

Time to hit the road for some more wilderness. We have the free, rustic campground in the historic town of Hope all to ourselves.

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Watching the tide – Turnagain Arm in Hope

On the edge of one of the lowest tides on the North American continent, we find plenty of logs for our first “hillbilly fire” of the season. Good thing that we have left-over halibut cheeks for dinner tonight.

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Camping in Hope

Rain pours again as we drive to the town of Homer, which has become quite the tourist carnival since we were there 20 years ago. However, the bars maintain a friendly feel and the fishing is still great.

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Halibut in Homer

We decide to get a room for off-season rates at the Land’s End Hotel on the end of the Homer spit. Heck, with a view like this let’s make it two nights instead of one. Hmm, the paper-thin walls allow us to hear all conversation and bodily function of the young couple next to us. When they have late night intimacy, repeatedly, we can’t get the Paul Simon song “Duncan” out of our head: “The couple in the next room are bound to win a prize…” Okay, we cancel reservations for the following night, so we can go camping in the cold rain and get a good night’s sleep!

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Homer Harbor

Onward to Seward, where a short hike brings us to the edge of Exit Glacier. This hike gets longer each year, as the glacier melts more quickly than ever.

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Exit Glacier near Seward

Scenically, Seward reminds us much of Haines, Alaska. However, it’s much bigger, and with more cruise ships, two of which just docked. Augh! Time to get out of this town.

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Seward

Although we’re getting used to camping in cold rain with 30-degree F nights, it does not mean that we like it. Weather forecasts up north show temps in the 60’s, so it’s off towards Denali we go!

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Time to get out of this rain!

Thank you Abundant Universe!

 

All Aboard to the Aleutian Islands

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We get bird’s eye views of the rugged, volcanic chain of the Aleutian Islands during the flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak island in Unalaska, Alaska.

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In the northernmost part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the westernmost portion belongs to Russia, we expect harsh weather conditions.

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However, we didn’t expect to be held captive in our hotel room!

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Once on land, brutal wind blows rain sideways, pelting our hotel window and making eerie howling noises.

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Ah, saved by the complimentary shuttle, and we are off to the Harbor View Bar, which is attached to the only other hotel on the island.

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“What should we see here?” Mare asks the bartender. We often get better information at bars than visitor centers.

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“Nothing.” She frowns at us. “I mean it, there’s nothing to see. Though Summer Bay Road is a pretty drive and you can see wild horses. I like horses.” She looks down the bar. “Hey Bob, what’s there to see here for a couple of tourists?”

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“Some folks like the visitor center and museum,” Bob says. “But they’re closed. The Russian Church is the oldest Russian built church in Alaska, or so I’ve been told. I’m sure it’s closed too.”

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Another patron lifts his head and with a mouthful of fried halibut he says, “You could walk up Bunker Hill to see bunkers from the Second World War. That’s about it.”

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The rain turns to a sprinkle, so we take advantage and walk back to the hotel. Hoards of Bald Eagles spar around topless trash bins along the way. A fishery worker has to shoo them away in order to toss out trash.

eagles trash

I hunt and gather at the hotel restaurant where a bottle of wine costs thirty-five dollars. Better make that two bottles, because we’re being held captive. For some strange reason, Marilynn and I love this. It goes back to what our friend Jack said, on a hike around Lake Baikal in Siberia, “Some folks just got to see it.” Click on these links to see those posts:   Lake Baikal   Siberia

Rained-in the next day, Eagles and Sea Otters put on a show in Margaret Bay outside our window. Small fishes, Hooligans I suppose, fill the bay where eagles steal catches from each other, and sea otters dunk underwater when the big birds try to steal theirs. More wine over here!

 

 

Viola! The sun sneaks out the next morning! We bite the financial bullet and rent a jeep for $125 to ride all 28 miles of Unalaska’s roadways. Feels so good to escape the confine of our room.

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It seems that the land population here do nothing but work most of the time. There’s no hunting to speak of, little wildlife, and no bears in this barren land. Wages are high and many include room and board due to the high cost of living.

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No trees either. Just mountainous rock covered in tundra up to the snow line. Rugged beauty. Fresh air.

fox

And on Summer Bay Road we’re lucky to spot a fox. No wild horses.

eagles dump

We thought that there were lots of eagles at the trash bins, but the city dump marks the grand finale of the show. Eagles wait on the forklift for the next load.

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The hike up Bunker Hill gives great views, close contact with WWII memorabilia, and a long overdue heart-pumping. The Battle of Dutch Harbor was fought here in June 1942.

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We simply leave the rental jeep at the ferry dock, next to the abundant crab pots, the following morning. “Just leave the keys in the cup holder and please don’t lock it.”

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Fans of “The Deadliest Catch” will recognize this dock and the “Cornelia Marie.”

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Only 28 passengers ride on the Kennicott ferry, which could hold 499 max. Seas are relatively calm this first day’s ride, with spectacular views of countless tundra covered rock islands.

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We forgo renting a stateroom, and sleep on a cold, hard floor in the aft sun room the first night. The next night we head to the solarium, which is warmer, but the chairs were as hard as the floor.

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Other passengers remind us repeatedly why we travel the way we do, for as long as possible:

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An 80-year-old man from Oklahoma recently had his knee replaced. “I can’t walk so well or long anymore. So, we figured to take this ferry out as far as it goes. At least I can sit and see this fascinating area I have always dreamed of visiting.”

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A 70-year-old woman traveling with her 90-year-old mother walk around the deck every morning for 30 minutes. They are taking this same journey for the second time, and already planning a similar trip for next year.

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A 75-year-old, obese woman in a walker says with a smile, “I have always wanted to take this journey. My body doesn’t seem to have much time left, so I better do it while I can.”

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We swallow Meclizine the second day, on advice from the Captain over the loudspeaker: “We’re facing 25-foot seas for the next 24 hours or so. If you need medication, take it.”

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The man from Oklahoma advises us to put an earplug in one ear. “I don’t know why, but it seems to help.”

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With the exception of a brief stop at the town of Chignik, we bounced around all night inside of our sleeping bags on top in the enclosed, heated solarium.

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The next morning greets us with calm seas, and an early arrival to our destination, Kodiak Island, where we feast on “the deadliest catch.”

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Yes, there is a little more to our travels than just needing to see it. We’re in a race with time as well. Thank you, Abundant Universe!

Bada Bing Bada Boom, Bats & More in Battambang

Nobody knows exactly how many bats exit a cave in Phnom Sampeu, southwest of Battambang, Cambodia. Check out this short, albeit amateurish, video of the phenomenon.

The bats fly out each day at dusk to hunt insects most of the night. Some say millions of bats, other say tens of thousands. The mass exodus takes about 45 minutes to complete and attracts both tourists and locals.

Family outing

A tragic and more significant site, the Killing Caves, sit nearby. This area was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge during the nightmarish civil war of the 1970s. Over 10,000 Cambodians were tortured and bludgeoned to death, and then thrown into the caves.

Horror 1

A horrific statue display of these acts, followed by the cave itself filled with the skulls and bones of the victims, serves as a somber reminder of Cambodia’s troubled past.

The killing cave

Let’s lighten things up with a visit to the circus. Phare Ponleu Selpak, an arts education program for poor children, puts on performances several times weekly.

The circus dancers

The student’s performance provides for a most enjoyable evening. Filled with music, dance and acrobatics, it’s like a mini Cirque du Soleil.

The circus 2

The following day, we sweat almost as much as the circus performers after climbing 358 stone steps in the stifling heat, to the temple of Prasat Banan.

Going up the 368 steps

Locals claim that this temple, built before Angkor Wat, provided Angkor’s plan.

Banon Hill Temple

Walking around the city of Battambang wraps up our three-week travels in Cambodia. The French colonial architecture and peaceful riverside setting make for a fitting finish, as we prepare for the long trip back home.

Battambang

There is much to love about Cambodia, including easy, affordable, comfortable travel. But foremost is the genuine kindness of its people. The combination of magnificent, ancient spiritual sites and a barbaric recent history, touches us down deep. Thank you, Cambodia. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

Kampot, Siem Reap & Temples of Angkor

As the hot Cambodian temperatures drain us, we head to the town of Kampot, known for its pepper.

Kampot pepper chicken

Chicken with Kampot Pepper

Before the Khmer Rouge Regime destroyed all pepper farms in the 70’s, Kampot pepper adorned tables of the finest restaurants in Paris. Today it has made a comeback, infusing delectable sauces with a variety of dishes.

Views from Kampot riverside

Outside of the pepper, we’re mainly here to walk, drink, eat, and people-watch in this laid back river town. We walk in the mornings, then hit one of the numerous restaurant/pubs that line the river later in the hot afternoon.

Kampot city

People watching never gets dull. We see many older white males with young Cambodian women. Other elders just roam around aimlessly, left over from either wars or the hippy era, and of course the young backpackers with dreads or the hair-in-a-bun (I Dream of Jeannie) look. Not a whole lot to do here. Not sure what they do every day, but the locals continually work with a smile.

Ron Riding

Enough laziness. We rent a motor scooter for a ride up Bokor Mountain through the National Park. When riding in Cambodia, size matters. The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way. Rare red lights and street signs have little meaning. I have 30 years of experience riding a big Harley Davidson, but this little automatic 125cc scooter with Marilynn on the back gives me all I can handle. Trucks, tuk tuks, carts, and other scooters pass on the left side, while scooters and whatnot approach head-on from the right shoulder, all on a dusty road full of holes and bumps. Exhilarating! Like being in a live video game.

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Once in the park, the road transforms to smooth pavement with little traffic. And guess what? As we twist up the mountain, the relief of cool wind blows us around! A monument of Lok Yeay Mao, the goddess of protector, greets us near the top. Hope she protects us on the way back down into the heat of pepper town.

Kampot riverside views

We chill along the river and enjoy a few sundowners (cocktails) and more local fare, lok lak (beef prepared in a sauce that includes Kampot pepper and garlic). Better than the tarantulas in the previous post.

Lok Lak

Time to travel north to Siem Reap and visit the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This enormous complex of temples sits on 402 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

We climb into a tuk tuk at 4:30 am to catch a glimpse of the largest temple at sunrise. At first, we’re a bit dismayed by the hordes of tourists, like Disneyland or something.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

However, after sunrise the crowds dilute into this massive temple complex.

Angkor Wat

 

In eight-hours we explore four temples. First, Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest religious building in the world. Despite its overwhelming size, the details and carvings draw us.

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We hire a tuk tuk for the day for transport between sites. However, locating your driver among a sea of tuk tuks can be a challenge.

Bridge

The scenic ride rolls through forest, past lakes, and over picturesque bridges.

Bridge

In Angkor Thom we visit Bayon, a temple full of mysterious, smiling faces (216 faces to be exact) on 54 towers.

Bayon Temple

Every corner or window holds surprise or a smile.

Bayon Temple

Our third ruin, Ta Prohm, reminds me of how nature eventually reclaims everything, as the fig, the banyan, and kapok trees slowly swallow this structure with their massive roots.

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Angelina Jolie’s character Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower in the movie “Tomb Raider” at this location. (We haven’t seen the movie)

Ta Prohm temple

Our day’s exploration ends at a massive Buddhist Monastery, Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdel  Temple

Here, bright colors of lichen appear to paint the decaying walls.

Banteay Kdel Temple

I also received a Buddhist blessing here for the health and welfare of my parents back in the states.

Ron receiving blessing

Entrance fees recently rose to $37 USD for a one-day ticket, or $67 USD for three days. After eight-hours our minds could not comprehend much more temple stimuli, though you could spend a week here and be continually amazed.

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Time for drinks on Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Pub Street during the day

It’s still daylight, so we’ll start off with traditional Cambodian barbecue – frog legs, crocodile, pork, beef, chicken, and fish grilled at our table.

Cambodian BBQ

The bright lights inspire a round of drinks.

Pub Street Siem Reap

Then maybe a bit more barbeque from a fiery wok.

Street cooking

More drinks can lead to all kinds of chaos. Like how about ending the evening with our feet tickled by a school of dead-foot-skin-eating-fish? (Fish Can Do Massage)

Yikes!

Fishy foot treatments

 

Thank you, abundant universe.

 

Getting Our Travel Legs in Cambodia

After 24 hours of flying time (plus three stops), we arrive in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, around midnight. Full bore jet lag symptoms (nausea, exhaustion, and insomnia) accompany us to the comfortable and affordable G Mekong Hotel.

Not able to eat much of the included, fantastic breakfast, we walk in zombie-like state the next morning through a blast of infinite scooters that mingle with an array of vehicles. Traffic apocalypse. You must watch your footing on uneven ground with holes full of sewer water, look ahead for opportunistic gaps in traffic, and a “rearview walking mirror” would come in handy as sidewalks are not made for walking.Phnom Penh Somehow this mayhem works. Few accidents occur and road rage does not appear to exist in this gentle culture. We already know from similar experience in Ho Chi Minh City that you must walk with a steady stride so that traffic can adjust to your pace, and flow around you like a school of fish. Of course, we’re lost.  Phnom PenhWising up the following day, we take a tuk-tuk on a mission to walk along the Mekong River, where there’s a sidewalk. Slowly getting our legs back, but still delirious, we wonder if we’re getting too old for this type of travel. Nah, bring on the freaky food! On a walk back to the hotel, we do a reconnaissance mission seeking a restaurant that serves tarantula and red tree ants. Pure Cambodian country fare.Phnom PenhWe get bad news from back home in the states, as my father is hospitalized with serious health problems. Not sure if we need to fly back now or later, we debate our future. Finally, we decide to play it by ear and not make any long-range plans. Another night of insomnia, surely caused by jet lag combined with worries. Either way, it is time for an afternoon beer on a street known for its nightlife.

Cambodians are genuinely nice and non-threatening. Even in the large cities, robberies and violent crime are rare compared to the west. Ironically, our largest “threats” have come from “white” guys either on strange drugs or damaged by something we can’t begin to imagine. Being Adult Probation Officers in a previous life, every older white guy traveling alone must be a child molester in our mind’s eye. Perhaps an unfair assessment, but hard to shake those types of thoughts based on years of training and experience. Tarantula for lunchOkay, a few beers later we visit “Romdeng” restaurant to dine on tarantula with black pepper lime sauce, and red tree ants with beef filet and spicy basil stir fry. The sauce dominates the ant dish, and we have no need to eat tarantula again! This restaurant is staffed by former street youths with teachers that present kids with career training. We’ll return to support this worthy cause but will skip the creepy crawlies next time.Tree fire ants in basil stir fryHealth news from back home gets better, so we book a minivan for a five-hour ride to the small beach community of Kep.KepWe sit in our assigned seats, when two other travelers approach with the same seat booking. Turns out that I booked this ride on internet without noticing that the next available opening was several days away! If we were in the US, we would simply be kicked off the bus. In Cambodia, the driver says, “Oh, problem.” He then removes some cargo, flips out a bench seat for two in the luggage area, and squeezes us in. Resolves problem. Love Cambodia. Never been so happy to sit on the bumpy bench in the back.Views Kep NPKep. Wow! Laid back town with a small beach, surrounded by jungle covered hills and national parks. It has wide streets with sidewalks and an inviting waterfront where a person can sit with a cold beer and watch folks gather bamboo crab pots.  Kep Crab MarketA very welcome calm from city mayhem. We sit on the porch of our fabulous bungalow at “Atmaland,” and relax. As my father’s health slowly improves back home, we start to get our legs back. Kep Crab Market blessingKep, actually known for it’s crabs, lives up to the hype. The crab market has, well, crabs, everywhere, along with squid, octopus, fish, shrimp, sting ray on a stick, and other things we cannot identify.Kep crabsThese tiny blue crabs infused with Kampot pepper sauce demand a good bit of work for little payoff in meat. But then, we are spoiled as far as crab goes, from hanging in places like Oregon and Alaska. While the crab disappoints, the Kampot pepper sauce rocks.Kep crab with Kampot pepperTime for a shaded, mountain hike through a rainforest complete with monkeys and ocean vistas.Kep NPOur bungalow backs up to the Kep National Park. For only one dollar the Park’s five-mile loop trail makes for the perfect morning walk.Kep NPAfter four days of peaceful bliss, we’re hopping a minivan to the nearby town of Kampot. I got the booking date correct this time. Thank you, abundant universe!

 

Where Eagles Soar

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Chilkat River

Cold wind blows down from glaciers that separate jagged peaks surrounding the Chilkat River. We zip up and seal the gaps in our clothing during a brisk walk along the only river in Alaska that does not totally freeze solid, due to a glacial sediment alluvial fan.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThis stretch of unfrozen water provides spawning ground for the final salmon run on the north American continent. That’s why an estimated 3,000 bald eagles converge here annually for a final feed every November, in Haines, Alaska.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverMarilynn and I have volunteered as caretakers at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines for two separate summers (Eagle Caretakers), and have seen many of the 400 resident bald eagles, but we have never witnessed the November convergence.  C’mon, 3,000 eagles? We’re skeptical, and expect that this phenomenon is probably over-hyped.EaglesHigh-pitched screeches in the distance call for us to pick up the pace, and break free of the woods obstructing our view. Viola! There be eagles, hordes of them!EagleSome soar down to the river to snatch a swimming fish with their talons, while others line up along dead-end channels that trap Coho and Chum.EaglesMany eagles perch in the trees to rest, or wait for an opportunity to steal another’s catch. Perhaps they conduct business in a language we cannot understand.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe eagles have arrived at their annual convention/feed. I’m not sure exactly how many have come. How can you count them all?Chilkat River during eagle festivalOutside of a few serious photographers, this week we have the place to ourselves. A handful of hearty humans shall arrive next week to enjoy this amazing event, and participate in the Bald Eagle Festival activities in Haines Borough for a final economic boon before winter.eagle eating and refelction 3We experience the gathering of eagles in one of the most pristine settings on planet earth. If anything, this phenomenon is under-hyped.Eagles on the Chilkat RiverThe cold wind blows down from glacial separated jagged mountains, and we seal the gaps in our clothing, looking forward to stoking up the wood burner back at the cabin.Chilkat River

Thank you Abundant Universe!

 

Newfoundland, the East Side

We hit it lucky. Had no idea that Canada was celebrating its 150th anniversary. That means free admission to all National Parks and National Historical Sites all year. Our costs have been cut in half.Gros MorneUpon our return from Labrador, we backtrack to Gros Morne National Park, and catch the last campsite available on this busy Labor Day weekend.20170907_170620Onward to the east coast of Newfoundland. Near the town of Twillingate, we camp in the rain at Dildo Run Provincial Park. From there we hike to Nanny’s hole. Some dirty minds are at work here. We must ask about this.Hike Twilingate“You’re the first ones to ask me how we got the name,” the ranger jokes. “Dildos are the pegs around a ship’s steering wheel.” I didn’t want to ask about the nearby Nanny’s Hole or Cuckold trails. I read that Captain James Cook had a sense of humor back in 1763.hike cupids On the way to Butter Pot Provincial Park, we stop at England’s first colony in Canada. The town of Cupids boasts the gorgeous Burnt Head trail, (I’m not making this up), lined with billions of wild blueberries, upon which we walk and feast.berriesInstead of Cupids, it’s the nearby town of Brigus that grabs our hearts.BrigusFull of historical significance and charm, (during WWI Rockwell Kent the American painter lived here, before being deported for suspicion of spying) we marvel at the waterfront and the Brigus Tunnel.tunnelConstructed so that Arctic explorer Captain Robert Bartlett, the town’s most famous citizen, could easily access his ship, the tunnel was cut through rock in the 1860’s. Brigus waterDriving around this Province we notice huge and abundant piles of wood along the road. “What is with the wood?” we ask a local man.woodHe explains that each “NewfenLander” gets 10 cords free yearly, with permits for specific areas. Yes, they must chop, stack, and haul their own.20170910_064534Back at the Butter Pot campground, moose roam in the fog of morning mist.easterly pointOn the way to the city of St. John’s, we fulfill our fascination with extreme geographical points. Cape Spear marks the most easterly point in North America. (Nome, South Africa, Portugalhike cape spearA trail hugs the cliffs and weaves inland where again, wild blueberries abound.cape spearAfter all this camping and hiking, it’s time for a hotel splurge. Besides, the truck needs servicing and the rain has returned. 20170910_110356The JAG Boutique Hotel in the city of St. John’s is the hippest place we have ever stayed. What could be better than a hotel filled with images and uninterrupted music of an eclectic array of musicians and bands?20170910_110255It’s hard to pull ourselves away from the JAG radio station on our TV to watch football. Now that is saying something!St JohnsWe fall in love with the city of St. John’s immediately. An attractive city with a small- town feel. Colorful houses sit on hilly streets surrounding a sheltered harbor. Full of innovative restaurants, friendly pubs, and live music, what’s not to love?

Labrador

Our guidebook describes the Labrador Straits as cold, wet, and windy. Even so, we could not drive this far north in Newfoundland without seeing it.20170909_111103After a turbulent ferry ride, thanks to remnants of hurricane Harvey, we can’t wait to drive off the boat. Bring on the wind and rain.20170901_161329We quickly abandon plans to camp, and wild ideas about driving the 775 miles on the mostly gravel road to Labrador City.RoadInstead, we find a cottage with a sea view. There must be a sea out there somewhere beyond the rain and fog.red bay 2Fortunately, the beauty of this pristine, rugged land reveals itself to us the following morning when the skies clear for several hours.road 1Let’s drive north as far as the paved road permits, which isn’t very far.signArtifacts from Basque whalers at the Red Bay National Historic Site describe how this area was the largest whaling port in the world during the 16th-century.red bayHard to imagine how fishermen braved the wind in these icy waters. Many shipwrecks lie under this ocean. Shoot, even the mud puddles have wind-blown whitecaps!shipwreck betterFew restaurants in these parts, so we cook comfort food in our cottage. Fresh cod tongues sauté with scallops in the kitchen tonight. Melt in your mouth.dinnerLabrador’s population is under 27,000 people. We think half of them attended the wedding held in our hotel. As the party spills into the parking area we receive numerous invites to join the celebration.River Time to catch the ferry this final morning. A clear, sunny day allows us to see what we missed when we first drove in from the dock.

Lab 2We have only scratched the surface of this cold, wet, and windy land and its hearty people. So grateful to have seen it.
 

 

 

New Found Land, the West Side

The NFLD Ferry swallows our Toyota Pick-up for a smooth, six-hour ride to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.Port au BasquesWe waste no time finding a Provincial Park, and light a campfire before dark. Brrr…, taking a pee under the stars in the cold night reminds one that they’re alive.

sunriseIn the morning, forget about cooking coffee. A brisk 42 degrees Fahrenheit convinces us to hightail it to “Tim Horton’s.” If you’re on a road trip through Canada, remember that Tim Horton’s is your drive-through coffee/snack friend!Tableland campsiteWelcome to Gros Morne National Park, where glaciers, frost, and flowing water have carved deep lakes and fjords out of bedrock. Some of these tectonic plates, the earth’s mantle, have traveled here from as far away as the equator to heave mountains into place. Plants can’t even grow on some of this strange rock.20170830_124623  A steady upward trail passes meat-eating plants. The Pitcher Plant is the floral emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador.flowerThe mountain top views of the area remind us of the Mt. Riley trail in Alaska, but geographically older, thus minus jagged, snow-capped peaks.

LO trail view Lookout trailHiking/walking coastal trails surround the working port of St. Anthony. Fresh air and rugged wilderness leave us lightheaded.Hiking St. AnthonyEven local folks come out to the lighthouse in the morning to sip coffee with a view. One man teaches me how to pronounce the name of his province, “NewfenLAND.” He tells a story about the boat being tugged in the bay.boat tow“My brother was on that fishing boat,” he says. “He was stuck out at sea without a rudder for two days before being rescued. Can you imagine being at the mercy of wind and tides for two days?”Cod tongues 2

Instead of going fishing for cod, we order at a restaurant. I order cod tongues, which are the fleshy lower jaw lightly fried, while Marilynn gets fish’n brewis, which is salted cod, hard tac, onions and scrunchins (fried salt pork!). Excellent!Fish n brewisTo the top of the island with you, Viking! Yes, Leif Erikson first landed right here.

LeifThe Vikings constructed sod buildings for living and storage.sod house 2Decomposing plants from bogs and fens in this area produce acids, which leach iron and other minerals from the soil and bedrock.Leif areaWhen the iron rusts, it adheres to sand and peat particles, forming nodules of bog iron. The Vikings forged bog iron into boat rivets. Could this be Newfoundland’s first blast furnace?Leif area 4A young couple gathers bakeapple berries (cloud berries) that grow in the bogs and fens. They spend a lot of time gathering wild berries to make jams and other delights to supplement the fish, moose, and caribou that will fill their freezer for winter.picking cloud berriesWe could spend more time with these friendly folks, and have much more to see in Newfoundland, but first will ferry over to explore Labrador. Stay tuned!

Nova Scotia, Loving New Scotland

Tide coming inWelcome to the highest ocean tides in the world. Folks around Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia adapt to tides from 47 to 54 feet.

IMG_2389We start to set up camp in Advocate Harbour, when a woman calls us over to her car, which contains seven small yapping terriers. “I know a campsite with much better ambiance,” she says. “Get your money back and follow me. It’s a bit hard to find. I’m Glenda. I’ve had three concussions.”Eagles on Bay of FundyOkay, how can we refuse that offer? Fifteen minutes later we set up camp on the edge of the Bay of Fundy at low tide, and watch eagles feast on easy prey. Yes, this former shipyard turned campground turns out to be a gem. Thank you, Glenda!Camping on Bay of FundyIn the morning as we watch the tide return, two women walk past our campsite carrying bags full of what we surmise to be clams. “Oh no,” Jan says. “This is dulse.” She grabs a handful and shows us. “Seaweed?” I ask. “Yes. We come here every year during a new moon to collect enough to last all year.” She explains that you dry it out in the sun until it gets crispy. “I like to leave the sea salt on it, but some people wash it first. It’s good for the blood.”Drying DulseDulse contains a bunch of minerals like potassium and iron. Supposed to improve vision, immunity, bones, thyroid, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the brain. We now carry a bag of it in the truck and chew some every day. Thank you, Jan. We need all the brain help possible!Cape dOr LighthouseAfter an outing to explore the Cape d’Or Lighthouse, we return to camp and watch the tide surround us. Soon we sleep to the sound of waves lapping within a few feet of our truck.Cape Chignecto 2Let’s hike part of the Coastal Trail in Cape Chignecto, an isolated wilderness area. Filled with many sea cliff views, this heart-pumper provides a sweaty workout.Three sistersDuring the drive back to camp, we must wait in the truck for the road to clear from high tide. Good opportunity for a cold one. high tideWe have lots of fun driving around Nova Scotia, stopping in cool fishing villages for tastes of local craft beers and seafood delights.LunenburgMarilynn finally finds some oysters to her liking, and I find scallops. As you can tell, folks are beyond friendly. Nova Scotia scallopsAfter a week of camping, the rains decide to pour, presenting perfect timing for some luxury. We splurge on a harbor view room at the Cambridge Suites in Halifax. The hotel feels so good that I don’t leave it, not for one step, except from the parking lot. Marilynn walks around town in the rain, while I write in the luxurious room.

20170824_064542We happen to hit the hotel on Wednesday, when they have free drinks and hors d’oeuvres for an hour in the evening. Of course, we make friends with the free drink guy. Follow up in the morning with free breakfast, a gym workout complete with sauna and jacuzzi, and we’re strong, clean, ready for more camping and hiking.WhycocomaughDriving the Cabot trail offers diverse scenery and excellent hiking opportunities.

Driving

Driving 2Perhaps we expect to see more dramatic vistas due to the hype, but it’s still nice and will be spectacular when the fall colors come.IvernessAlong the Celidh Trail, the scenery reminds us of Scotland. Of course, we have never been to Scotland, but almost feel as though we’re there.

Skyline Trail 2The Skyline Trail wraps around an easy five-mile loop through boreal forest and coastal views. Fenced-off areas keep moose out so that the forest can grow.Hiking Skyline Trail 1Otherwise, moose consume the saplings, leaving the terrain barren. Our good luck continues when we spot a mama moose eating the forest, despite the crowds and fences. MooseBack at camp, to hell with lobster utensils. We have an ax!LobsterThe first lighthouse in Canada was in Louisbourg. It’s no longer there, but they built one to replace it. Louisbourg LighthouseThe Lighthouse Trail traverses about 4 miles, weaving between boreal and Acadia forest, over bogs and fens, and Precambrian polished granite on the coastline.HIkeThe French fought off the British here, and many shipwrecks lie somewhere under that ocean.MareOkay, it’s time to clean-up again, this time at Mountain Vista Seaside Cottages in Bras d’Or. We’ll cook our own food and reorganize the truck for the morning ferry ride to…, drum roll…, Newfoundland!