From Canola to Art

Yellow canola fields here are a revelation! I remember watching the first episode of the British version of detective show Wallander, featuring vast fields of electric yellow against a brilliant blue sky, not knowing what the crop was.

Well – canola! Apparently the fields are only yellow like this for a few weeks before harvest. I took these pictures of the fields along the Montney Road north of here, on the way to an art day at Lorna’s farm overlooking the Montney valley.

During the summer the Flying Colours Art Group does a lot of plein air painting and Lorna invited us to her hacienda and farm in Montney to see her little piggies and paint. Their property is on the crest of a hill and below is the view from her gorgeous front veranda, a panorama out over the Montney Valley. The three photos below are a panorama of the valley from Lorna’s veranda, a large porch that surrounds the hilltop house on three sides.

Lorna and her partner are getting out of farming, so they rent out their fields; right now the fields are in peas; this is the brighter green you can see behind the line of spruce trees. They still have some pigs, though, and we all were treated to an inspection of the pigpen and piggies as she fed them. Below some of our group traipsing across the field to the pen.

And the pictures below show the hungry critters at the trough.

Here Lorna and Miep are checking them out more closely.

Here is a photo of the garden area around the house, with the potable water tank (the water is trucked in) surrounded by pink flowers.

Along with art, we consumed a lovely lunch provided by the group, most of whom made their contributions – wonderful food!

These pictures of me in action on the veranda were taken by Miep.

As were the photos below of Lorna and Sasha on the trampoline and the piggies in their pen enjoying a mud bath.

When I saw these guys, I was momentarily amazed at the size of their ears, but then I remembered the pigs ear treats that Brubin used to consume …

After enjoying our time with the pigs, we set up shop on the veranda overlooking the valley to draw, paint, and carve on what was a lovely sunny summery day. Ken, a retired school administrator and teacher, has taken up relief carving and works on wildlife images.

Most of the others favour landscape; below Diana is giving her plein air kit a workout.

Sandy specialises in landscape and was sketching the valley in preparation for an acrylic on black canvas painting that she later completed in the Gallery when she was Artist-in-Residence.

Round hay bales are everywhere on the hills here, and more pictures of the brilliant yellow canola fields on the drive back to town. I could not resist stopping every once and a while to document this vision.

Back at the Gallery, our second artist-in-residence Sandy spent two afternoons painting and interacting with visitors. Here she enjoys a visit with Audrey Bodnar, one of the pioneering painters in the area who has been involved in the arts her entire life. Now 92, Audrey is back in FSJ after many years down in Kelowna and interested in getting back into painting.

Painting in acrylic on black canvas is one of Sandy’s trademarks and she very generously showed Audrey and others how it was done.

Below is the painting she is executing from the sketches done from Lorna’s veranda.

She managed to almost complete two paintings while in the gallery, the landscape from the deck of Lorna’s house, and a 12 x 12 inch sunset-scape, pictured below. Sandy is going to give a workshop on this painting style at the Cultural Centre this Fall.

Ty and I joined Sandra, Sharla, and others for a birthday BBQ in Sharla’s backyard, where we sampled steak and ribs, and the joys of patting Sharla’s old tomcat. (Ty & I are both missing our animal family)

 

On a variable-weather Sunday a group of us headed out to Beaverlodge, Alberta (about 2.5 hours east from here) for the Euphemia McNaught Homestead Festival, a day of art, food, music and more at Euphemia’s country estate. Before coming up here I had never heard of either Beaverlodge or Euphemia McNaught but Euphemia painted with the Group of Seven and left her farm and all its buildings to the Province to be restored and kept as a place for arts and culture events. Below is her painting studio which Miep, Charlie, and Mary set up to display prints.

Lorna, Mary, and I had a table in the sun to display prints and printmaking paraphernalia.

Below is my end of the table with a couple of lino and wood blocks and some mixed media works.

Other artists were there, too, including Dan Arberry, a painter from Grande Prairie, who chats below with Irene, Lorna, and Mary.

Along with art was an owl; a wildlife officer brought his barred owl to the Festival; she only has one wing so can’t be returned to the wild but what a beautiful bird. Lots of people were very interested in her.

Another fun part of the day was riding in the old homestead wagon out to the lake on the property, where a group of folks had fundraised to build a boardwalk and bird-viewing blind.

We rolled slowly through the hay fields, drawn by two large horses.

The boardwalk travels out over the wetlands and culminates in a viewing platform, from which one can see, if lucky, many varieties of waterfowl, dragonflies, butterflies, and … mosquitoes.

Two telescopes have been donated and people took turns gazing with them out over the lake beyond.

I saw a Bohemian Waxwing, the yellow and black bird below, and was able to get a couple of pictures of it.

Later on in the afternoon the clouds rolled in, the wind came up and, seeing rain approaching in the distance, we rolled back to town. Below is a view of Dawson Creek and fields from the truck bypass road.

And a view of the Peace River Valley coming down the highway into Taylor, about 20 km from FSJ.

The landscaping around our neck of the woods is slowly, very slowly, coming together, as is the elementary school being built around the corner from us.

Another day, another trip into the countryside: Sandra invited us to come along on a fishing trip and visit to her property at Upper Halfway, a remote valley about 2.5 hours north along the Alaska Highway – here’s a view from somewhere along the way.

Below is the Halfway River that comes into the Peace down by Hudson’s Hope at Bear Flats.

While we waited to rendezvous with other members of our party, we took a walk through one of the recreation areas up here; Ty points out a board nailed onto two trees for campers to put their food out of the way of bears.

Sandra’s old dog Kaiser enjoyed snapping at the river’s waves.

After cruising along through valleys, fields, and woodland we arrived at the property which Sandra had described as having a “cabin”. I imagined a tiny very rustic wooden shack … well, this cabin was an enormous fully-furnished log house with two smaller outbuildings. The furnishings included quite a few animal heads on the walls.

Atfer unpacking our gear, we drove through the fields down to the river where Ty and Heinz set up shop to fish while the rest of us hiked through the fields.

Sandra has given this property to her four children and their kids: it is 161 acres of fields and pasture along the Halfway river. Below Gus the dog, Sharla, Jane and Sandra walk through one of the pastures, heading south-east. Long grasses and tiny flowers cover the ground here; poor old Gus was just about able to see over them.

Lots of goldenrod plants here, very attractive to these black and white butterflies.

The old RV in the pasture below was used as a game blind, where hunters could set up shop hidden from the various animals that come through here.

Below Sharla carries her container of bear spray, very prudent considering the bear skat evident in the fields.

Along with flowers, the fields have wild strawberries, tiny and delicious red berries almost hidden under the plants’ leaves.

Amazingly, to me, the guys did catch some kind of river trout which they BBQ’d for lunch.

After a lovely lunch we cruised back towards the highway, making one additional turnoff to a riverfront property somewhere south west along a gravel oil road to visit one of Jane’s friends and see her food garden. This property, in the back of beyond as far as I can see, used to be used as an oil and gas camp, its flat field a former air strip for small planes and helicopters.

Marcia works this garden everyday, giving its produce away to charities such as the SPCA.

Below is a picture of the area that was formerly an airstrip.

While there, we took a walk around the perimeter of the place, stopping to check out the wildlife viewing platform that Marcia and her partner have built.

It looks like a tree-fort but is actually quite a large space from which to see out over the fields and trees.

In the trees below we saw a grouse and two babies.

Tiny pink and purple flowers carpet the area. Being an urban character as I am, the feeling I get from being out here in what I consider to be an extremely remote area is a bit of anxiety. Not sure whether it’s a kind of agoraphobia or claustrophia – maybe both!

Back in town, Irene Gut, an encaustic artist originally from Switzerland but here in northern BC for about 28 years, was our Artist-in-Residence, letting people in on the magic of painting with wax.

She demonstrated how she creates works with a hot iron, cubes of beeswax, and specially prepared paper, melting the wax on the iron’s surface, then running it over the surface of the paper, then scribing into it or using paper to make textures in it. She is making a Swiss mountainscape triptych at the moment.

Our weather has been very variable this month, from very hot, dry and sunny, to monsoon-like downpours and lightning storms, to dust storms in which we have to run to close all the windows so the soft sand particles do not settle themselves on every surface, adding to the already dusty ambience in our home.

But the other evening we enjoyed a lovely mellow evening in the garden at Linda and Rick’s Charlie Lake abode, dining Tuscan-style in the garden.

Photos below are by Famous Amos: Two moose in a canola field and sunset over a canola field in northern Alberta.

Image may contain: nature and outdoor

Image may contain: sky, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: cloud, sky, twilight, outdoor and nature

See more of my photos here.

Out and About in June

Summer in FSJ: Dust Advisory

About half an hour north of here is Rose Prairie, a small homesteaders’ community where some of the people that I’ve met here grew up. 15 human members and 3 doggos from the Sunday hiking group headed out there last weekend on a beautiful warm, sunny day to explore the area.

Sandra grew up out here and it was her family’s land, now belonging to her brother, that we hiked through. Here she is unloading one of the two dogs with one of her daughters and grandkids. There are lots of new animal babies around the place, including these small cattle.

Northeast BC is oil and gas country and most of these plots of land have small pumpjacks on them; these ones still have melt water around them.

Since we were walking through private land, there were lots of wire fences to make our way through.

At the bottom right in the picture above, and below, you see Gus, a 13 year old black Miniature Schnauzer who accompanied us, a lovely little dog who reminded me of Brubin.

After we left the road, the first part of our hike was bush-wacking through the trees and underbrush down the hill towards the Beatton River from the high ridge where we began, looking for a cave that Sandra remembered from her past.

The white flowers that you see here are Saskatoons, from which many Saskatoon berries will emerge at some point. I’m hoping that someone I know is a good baker and will make some berry cobbler!

The underbrush was quite thick and it was a bit tricky to navigate, especially as we came closer to the cliff edge and it was quite steep.

We stayed back a safe distance from the edge, noting that the ground had sloughed away in places from the heavy rains this past year.

After coming close to the edge of the cliff and not finding the trail down to the cave because it was too overgrown, we headed back up and over, through the aspen trees and deadfall back to the ridge along the top of the valley.

This trail was a beautiful open scenic walk with the river below.

At this point poor old Gus had disappeared from the group; he had gotten lost in the underbrush and his human, with several others, went back to find him. (Gus was found, exhausted but otherwise ok, and those folks headed back home). The rest of us carried on down to the river, accessed by a looonnnnng trail down through more aspen trees.

Once at the bottom the valley opened up and we walked along the river’s edge, with lots of freshly deposited soft gray sand, to a shady, sandy spot beneath the trees for lunch.

It is true what “they” say about the northern mosquitoes; they are everywhere and enormous (the size of small birds!), although quite slow-moving at this time of year. Industrial applications of Deep Woods was necessary to try to keep them at bay. I keep trying my selfie shots but the optimum picture continues to elude me – I look somewhat deranged here but this was the best of the lot.

Another day, another walk: Pro Tip: when deciding to go for a walk in Northern BC, do not go into the forest – ever – without massive doses of Deep Woods. I forgot that important point when Eliza and I went walking north of town the other day. My forearms were bare and bug-spray-less when we ventured in and by the time we quickly beat our escape out again I counted 18 mosquito bites on my forearms alone – yikes!! Eliza showed me the spruce tips that she was going to make jelly with.

Fish Creek is still running very high for this time of year.

We passed by the old truck graveyard, previously seen only in the snow. Now that I’ve been doing research into the Alaska Highway building of 1942, I recognise that these vehicles are that vintage and probably came up here with the highway. However, I still don’t know what exactly they are doing in the trees here.

Across the East Bypass Road at the edge of town, Eliza showed me the path to another part of Fish Creek that I had not seen before. Here the creek is even wider as a result of several beaver dams.

As we were walking Eliza pointed out a tiny frog on the path.

June is Arts Month in FSJ: below is a report on what’s happening from the local news source.

(An artist works on a sand sculpture at Sand Sensations B.C. in Taylor back in 2013. File photo energeticcity.ca.)

As part of the North Peace Cultural Centre’s 25th Anniversary Celebrations next week, Peter Vogelaar returns to Fort St. John to create a huge sand sculpture in the centre of town. This sculpture will be 16 feet long and 10 feet tall, and will be built during the week of June 3rd – June 9th in the corner of the NPCC parking lot. Fellow sand carver Denis Kline will be doing the finishing touches on Saturday, June 10 during the Big Print Day Art Market from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

On Wednesday, June 7, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm the NPCC will be welcoming the public to come down and witness this masterpiece take shape. The event will also feature a demonstration by chainsaw carving artist Ryan Cook, who will be competing in the Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Competition the next day.

The sand sculpture is slated to be finished for the Bright Nights Gala Reception and Performance on Friday, June 9 at the NPCC.

The Big Print

In the studio folks are working on their big woodcuts for Jun 10. Here they contemplate Miep’s howling wolf.

This project has had a big learning curve for people; the scale, the logistics of carving an MDF plate, and the whole inking and printing process remains to be figured out. Below are some of the tools that Miep has been using, discovering that the large electric drill with diamond tips was better by far than the small hand woodcut tools. Since I’m sure you will be interested to see how it all turns out, I will report on these arts events in my next blog post.

Irene, Regula, and I headed south on a beautiful sunny Friday evening to Dawson Creek for the opening of the Peace-Liard Regional Arts Council’s 35th Annual Juried Show, held this year at the Dawson Creek Art Gallery. On the way, we made a quick side trip to the Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge, a curved wooden trestle bridge built in 1942 that used to be part of the main Alaska Highway.

This show is open to artists who live in the Peace Liard Region – Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Fort St John, Hudson Hope, and Fort Nelson, and it travels to a different community every year. Possibly the weather helped, but the turnout was great for the opening; the event included a great spread of nibblies, live music, a welcome and drumming from Treaty 8 First Nations representatives, and awards and speeches by local sponsors.

180 or so works were included and the diversity was breathtaking. Many landscapes, as was to be expected, but also some very interesting conceptual pieces, including the one below by Mary M,

and “Something for Leonard”, below, by Barb Daley, a wonderful mixed media homage to Leonard Cohen. On a Chinese kimono base, the piece includes 8 layers of material, each of which can be lifted up to view. Each of the layers deals with a different aspect of Leonard’s life; the materials include all sorts of fabric, stitching, photography, paint, beeswax, and actual objects such as feathers and the like.

I really love everything about this piece. Other interesting works were the blue Picasso with aliens, below, and

this beautifully-done landscape oil painting by Peter Shaw,

and this very strange wizard with pipe and squirrel piece. The figure reminded me of Ty.

Now that he’s shaved off his beard, leaving only a goatee, the resemblance is not quite as striking but with the full beard – yes, definitely, Ty in a cape.

A number of awards were handed out, including major cash prizes, and I was very glad to see Barb’s work recognised as the Best Conceptual piece. In addition, a number of pieces were sold; the community really supports its artists in this part of the world.

This past sunny Sunday saw a small group of intrepid hikers and one dog make their way to Battleship Mountain, a climbing area between Hudson’s Hope and Chetwynd. Leaving at 8:30 in the morning, we first went to the Bennett Dam to try and access the site, but the road over the dam was closed for repair. We then had to backtrack to Hudson’s Hope, then head for the Johnson’s Forest Service Road on the way to Chetwynd. This logging road is a 67 kilometer gravel treck from the highway into the bush, with loose rocks and lots of sand – sort of like driving through snow, especially on the corners. Luckily, we only saw three other vehicles while we were traversing it; each kicked up a huge plume of dust that blanketed everything from sight. Along the way we passed two burnt-out vehicles in a grassy clearing.

After an hour of bumping along, finally we saw the trailhead sign just past the Carbon Lake Recreational area and pulled over to park. We had left at 8:30 and it was now noon; the sign indicated that the 10 km roundtrip hike to the top would take 6 hours … I was thinking that we had started too late in the day for that. But anyway, after having loaded up our packs, we headed off into the bush for the steep climb upwards.

The route was pretty well marked but STEEP – I was worried and not sure that I could make it. But, having started, I just put one foot in front of the other and ascended, stopping every so often for a rest, my heart pounding and breathing laboured – the ol’ aerobic conditioning was not as good as it should have been for this route!

Luckily, there were few mosquitos and the trail led up through the forest so it was not too hot. Periodically, a nice stiff breeze cooled things down as well.

You can’t really get a sense of how steep the climb was from these pictures, because I could only take photos when we reached places where I was not scrambling up with my hands as well as my feet. The group was very kind to me, stopping and waiting while I recovered my breath.

After two hours of steady upward, we were rewarded with this great view of one arm of Williston Lake.

We paused here for a bit to rest and enjoy the view. I got somewhat nervous when the dog – aptly naked Bear – got too close to the edge.

Speaking of which, all of us had bear spray – I was terrified at the beginning of the route at heading into bear country wilderness but soon forgot about it – just too difficult to actually walk to think about getting eaten by bears!

From this viewpoint, I imagined that it would take not much time at all to get to the alpine lake from which the summit ascent began … wrong! First, after another quite long walk still upward through damp areas and snow, we came to what Sandra called “the swamp”, the first small body of water.

I was quite excited, thinking that our labours were at an end but it was not to be … off we trudged, again upward through water and snow, towards the unnamed lake which, since I was very tired, I began to think was an apparition, like those desert oasis mirages that ever recede into the distance.

But, after an additional hour, lo and behold – the lake!

The hill in the distance is the summit of Battleship and I was glad to hear that everyone thought we did not have enough time this day to attempt it. I would not have been able to do it.

We enjoyed our lunch of cheese, nuts, fruit, and protein bars lakeside.

Bear the dog looked pretty tired, too.

I am so glad to have met these folks and joined in on the hikes; I’m seeing a side of British Columbia that I never would have seen otherwise. And they are all really lovely people.

For more info on the Battleship Mountain hike, click here.

For more photos, click here and here.

Walkin’, Walkin’, Walkin’ III: Hummingbird, Malgretoute, and Anse Mamin

A couple of days ago, we walked over to the end of the bay at Soufriere and checked out the Hummingbird Resort. It sits right at the water’s edge on a not very nice beach with exceptionally clear water. Local guys hang around here and dive off cliffs for money.

Dressed in red shorts so they can be seen from the boats which arrive, two people dive, while several others swim out to the boats for tips.

Meanwhile, back at Malgretoute, our favourite local beach, many sailboats and catamarans were moored and fishermen waited for a bite.

I tried to feed my favourite little beast a piece of apple; he sniffed it but was too shy to take a piece.

We’d been planning to head up to the next bay north around the corner from Anse Chastanet for a while, and today, being a beautiful breezy sunny day, was the day.

Packing up the bags, we headed out and up the steep road early in the morning, trying to avoid the midday heat.

This time the walk seemed less onerous than the first time and before we knew it, we were heading down the hill to Anse Chastanet, along the beach and onto the road leading along the water and below the cliffs towards Anse Mamin.

Anse Mamin is a small black sand bay which is also a part of the Anse Chastanet resort.

When we arrived, there were only a couple of others there; the beach started to fill up around noon, just as the grill was getting going – this place is famous for its great grilled food at lunch.

The water was clear and fresh, the sun was hot, and we enjoyed a lazy St Lucian day. After a beer at the Anse Chastanet bar on the way back, we inquired about a water taxi, only to be told by the bartender, who’d phoned someone, that it would cost $150 US, an outrageous ripoff. I suppose that the boatman thought we were staying at the resort and reasoned that, if we could afford $500 – $1,000 a night, we could afford his ridiculous price … not. We snorted and walked back instead.

The view out over the bay to the Petit and Gros Pitons is gorgeous from this road; down below we could see a convoy of French catamarans making a stately progress through the water along the cliff face.

The view from our balcony at sunset is gorgeous; we love to drag out the chairs and sit watching the action in the streets below and the clouds blow across the blue sky towards the west.

Soufriere has its share of lost souls, some of whom can be seen sitting on the sidewalks below us every day.

See more pics here.

 

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ II: Tet Paul Nature Trail, Soufriere, St Lucia

St Lucia is a “soft adventure” travel paradise, which means that there are hiking, walking, and biking opportunities galore here. We decided to check out the newish two year old Tet Paul Nature Trail, located in the farming community of Chateau Belair, since visitors had described it as having the most amazing views of the two pitons (peaks).

Most people take a tour bus to get to this place but, since we’re on a shoe string here, we decided to take local minibus transport; after all, a fleet of them are parked right outside our hotel every single day. After a filling cooked breakfast at the new coffee shop kitty corner to the hotel, we hopped on the old red van headed down to Vieux Forte in the south; after it filled up with 15 people, all crammed into a claustrophobia-inducing tight space, we were off down the incredibly winding main highway.

After a ride of about 15 minutes, we were deposited at the entrance to Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, and followed the signs all the way up a long, winding road to the top on which we found the Tet Paul entrance hut. Along the way we passed a couple of munching cows who lowed at us plaintively. Before entering into the site, we had a cup of coffee to cool down from the 2 mile trudge up the road.

Our guide Pascal, a young local guy, took us through the six acre site, pointing out all the local vegetation and explaining how they work the plantation. An “antique house” – small wooden two room hut – and a cassava flour-making area also give an idea of local life back in the day.

From the trail are some of the most spectacular views of the South of the island, the Jalousie Bay, Petit Piton and Gros Piton, as well as Martinique and St. Vincent on clear days.

The gentle ascent features a variety of exotic fruit trees, (e.g. guava, soursop, avocado, pineapple, okra) as well as medicinal plants and trees. Work on the plantation is done by local rastas, one of whom was lounging in the shade as we passed by.

Two viewpoints in particular give fabulous views, one out over Gros Piton and the panorama of green to the Maria Islands offshore from Vieux forte and the other over the Jalousie Plantation and Petit Piton.

From the top of the “Stairway to Heaven” we could see the great Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy’s villa right below us, its huge blue pool glinting in the sun like a jewel.

The local community, with the help of landowners in the area and the Soufriere Foundation, worked for six years to get the funding for this nature walk and it provides employment for local youth who are trained in hospitality and tourism and given the necessary background to be able to conduct tours of the area.

After a tour of about an hour or so, we headed back down the hill to the main highway, intending to wait for a returning minibus. While there, I chatted to a guy also waiting; when a friend in a pickup truck stopped to pick him up, we also were offered a ride. Sitting in the back of the speeding pickup truck as it careened around the sharp switch backs almost did me in but we reached the turnoff to Jalousie Beach without incident. Just as we were clambering out of the back, another van rolled up whose occupants were kind enough to offer us a ride part-way down to the beach – huzzah! We didn’t make it to Jalousie, though, but back to Malgretoute and into the refreshing pounding surf. On our way back, we saw not just the usual mom and baby goat, but also another mom and two tinier babies, born not very long ago. The two very little ones, hearing us coming, tried to hide in a crack in the rock cliff but as we approached closer, were frightened into running back to mom.

A huge five masted sailing ship, dwarfing all the other anchored sailboats and catamarans, cruised into the harbour and anchored for the afternoon, which meant that the town was much busier than usual with both locals and tourists milling around the downtown area.

See more pictures here.

 

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ … in Soufriere, Saint Lucia, West Indies

We love it here! The day comes early in Soufriere: about 3 am, we hear the dogs start to bark; next, at 5, come the roosters with their strangled cries; then, about 5:30, the men yelling at one another across the plaza beneath our windows. By 5:30 all the fruit and vegetable vendors have their wares laid out on the sidewalks.

Needless to say, we are up at 6. Every day the weather has been the same, dark clouds atop the hills behind the town and a brisk wind blowing them seaward, where, just as they float above our hotel, they break up into tiny whisps and disappear over a cloudless ocean. Occasional rain bursts of a few minutes at a time freshen the air – wonderful! The temperature ranges from about 20 in the morning to 25 or so midday.

Soufriere is a poor town; quite a few folks hang out on the streets trying to sell transport or trips to various places. But these are very expensive. We’d heard that the water taxis stop right near the hotel and were imagining taking them daily to various places … Well, the reality is that we can’t afford them. A trip to one of the two most famous beach areas near here is EC$150. return for two people (that’s about $60). Paying $60 a day for water taxis is just not in the cards for us. So … walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ …

The second day here we saddled up the backpacks and headed off north in the direction of Anse Chastanet, one of the two good beach and resort areas around here. Along the way, we passed the town cemetery, in which a gravedigger was whistling while he worked, surrounded by holes in the ground and mounds of dirt.

Just past the cemetery, the road becomes a semi-paved, pitted, rutted one lane track that heads precipitously up into the hills that surround the town. It is steep!

As we walked uphill, a few cars and vans passed us, loaded down with tourists headed for the resort, the undercarriages of the vehicles just barely clearing the rough ground. Along the top of the ridge, several expensive villas sit, some with their grand walls, vases, and flowers reminding us very much of Fiesole, Italy. We could see Malgretoute Beach at the foot of the Petit Piton from the road. After about an hour, we arrived at Anse Chastanet resort, a four-star property on the small bay.

This place is extremely expensive; one night here will run you from $600 to $1,000 a night. And within this resort is another called Jade Mountain, a concrete bunker on the side of the hill that looms over the bungalows below.

We had a beer at the beachside bar and then rented a couple of loungers beneath a palapa on the public side of the beach (the larger beach area north of the restaurant is reserved for house guests of the resort).

Apparently there is pretty good snorkelling and diving here and all day long boats of various sizes came and went, depositing people from visiting cruise ships on the beach.

On this trip, we have seen hardly any Americans anywhere; now we know where they all are, on cruise ships in the Caribbean. It was actually strange to hear so many American accents in one place.

After several hours of fun in the sun, we packed up our gear and headed back up the road from which we’d come. Luckily, after walking not too far, a van stopped and offered us a ride back to town – huzzah!

Yesterday, our destination was once again Malgretoute beach, just south of town along what used to be a road and is now pretty much a goat track (literally!). We think that perhaps the road was destroyed in the last hurricane that ripped through here in October 2010. We enjoyed a quiet day of beach combing and snorkelling – lots of sea urchins here – a great lunch of creole chicken at the restaurant, and a chat with a visiting French couple.

Walking back, we purchased a small carved calabash pot from a local rastaman.

Goats, cows, pigs, and chickens roam freely here, running in between the playing kids and working adults.

Back at the Downtown ranch, we pulled our chairs onto our balcony and enjoyed a drink while listening to the sounds of the town below us and gazing out over the Petit Piton and the sea.

In the downtown area, there are three or four restaurants and a couple of bars. Mostly, tourists do not stay in Soufriere itself; they come on cruise ships to Saint Lucia for the day or they stay in expensive resorts out of town. Other than us, there may be 4 or 5 others staying here.

See more pics here.

Ubud: Rice field walk and more art

The rice fields in Bali are the most incredible bright green that I’ve ever seen – my pictures don’t really do it justice. And the contrast between the green of the fields, the darker green of the palm trees and the blue of the sky is magical. Before we moved from our house in Penestanan to our current pad, the Merthayasa Bungalows on Monkey Forest Street (still in Ubud, but “downtown”), we ventured out on a walk through the rice fields near our place.

Climbing up the hill to a swanky hotel on the side of the river gorge, we turned left following the “Up the Hill” sign, and snaked our way up and along a small paved cement path into the hills.

The path travels up and along a ridge between two river gorges, one side of which is planted with rice and the other with villas and hotels terraced down to the riverbed.

After a walk of half an hour or so we reached a small village at the crest of the hill, seemingly every house of which belonged to artists and all selling paintings, carvings, and drawings from their home galleries (as well as renting bikes, motorbikes, etc).

Some of these places were very elaborate and also contained rental units; others were much more modest in scale.

As we walked along we could hear the hordes of ducks honking in the fields as they nosed in the cut rice for critters to eat.

We’d worked up a sweat from our climb and so stopped at one small home and gallery for a beer and to admire the view. While there, we had a look at all the paintings on display and decided to purchase one small painting on canvas of a barong dance and a stylised drawing of three figures dancing. Prices for the paintings here are incredibly inexpensive and if we had untold funds and untold room in the bags, we would probably buy more.

Further along the path we came to a newly-opened cafe situated in a lotus pond with a view over rice terraces, a perfect spot for lunch, after which we continued through more artists’ villages and onto a main road.

I had thought that this particular path returned via a loop to town but it became increasingly obvious as we went further along that it did not. Several cycle tour groups had passed us on the way and, luckily, one small group was just loading up the bikes to return to Ubud as we approached. After inquiring about how far the road went, and realising that, at 20 km, it was too far to finish that day, we asked for a lift back to Penestanan which they were kind enough to give us at no charge – huzzah!

Now that we’ve moved to the epicentre of Ubud, Monkey Forest Road, there are innumerable cultural options open to us just outside our doors (I can hear Ty sighing …).

After a torrential rain yesterday morning, we headed out down the road to visit the ARMA, Agung Rai Museum of Art, about two km from our place. This, along with the Neka and a couple of others, is one of the main art venues in town, set in several acres of beautiful gardens above and along the river.

In addition to the museum, and two open stages for dance performances, the compound includes a resort area with what looked to be rather swanky bungalows fronting the rice fields. The caretaker told us that the place had been neglected for some years and was only now seeing some money come in to refurbish some of the buildings. Few people seem to visit this place; other than us, I saw two others and they did not make the journey down to the rest of the compound. It’s too bad because the collection is interesting and the grounds are fantastic.

See more rice field pics here.

Read more about ARMA here.

A ferryboat ride and a stroll through the gardens – Sydney!

Sydney – what a grand place! I have never had any inclination to come to Australia before and if we hadn’t had to travel here to catch our flight to Bali, I probably never would have come. But that would have been a mistake. Sydney, at least what I’ve seen of it so far, is beautiful. We arrived last night, being transported by Steve in his limo (!), at the Waterside Apartments in Manly, a lovely beach town about 45 minutes north of the city. According to Wikipedia, Manly was named by Captain Arthur Phillip for the indigenous people living there: “their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”…

Our home for the week is a studio apartment one block from Manly Beach – the location is fabulous, just off the Corso, a pedestrian area with many small shops, coffee bars, delis, restaurants and bars, and the Manly Wharf, with ferry service to downtown Sydney in 30 minutes. After having spent the last five days in a hotel, I’m really glad to have our own place – I like the anonymity of an apartment and, best of all, being able to cook our own meals. I do get tired of eating out. The apartment is small, one longish box with a small kitchen at one end and a large terrace at the other, but it suits us just fine.

This morning dawned slightly overcast with the promise of sunny periods (jeez, I do sound like a weather reporter …) and so, after a couple of cups of delicious coffee and pastries from the coffee bar around the corner, we headed out to check out Manly Beach. Along its length people were walking, running, skate-boarding, surfing and swimming. After Ty had picked up a new pair of flip-flops (his $8 ones having given up the ghost in Nadi),

we investigated the inline skate and bike rentals, determining that we’ll do that this weekend, and then headed towards the Wharf and the ferry.

After having purchased a weekly pass, we hopped on the boat and cruised along the coast to and through Sydney Harbour, passing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and anchoring at the Circular Quay right downtown. Much of the land along the coast is undeveloped, with a long, low coastline and interesting shale rock formations with the occasional golden sand beach.

After getting off the ferry, we followed the Writers Walk, a 50 person bronze plaque trail along the harbourfront, including plaques for Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, took pictures of the iconic Sydney Opera House, and then entered into the Royal Botanic Gardens, an amazing park stretching out along the water.

Some philistine had parked his car on Umberto Eco’s plaque – the indignity!

The Botanic Gardens, established in 1816 and home to over 17,000 plant species, has, for us, really fascinating flora and fauna; almost every creature and plant we saw was one we don’t have at home.

Funny Ibis birds with long curved beaks, Noisy Mynah birds (cheeky beggars), red-beaked ducks with tiny babies (it’s Spring here), and other interesting varieties of birds captured our attention, as did the trees full of Flying Foxes, an indigenous variety of large fruit bats. These creatures have colonised several trees in the park, from which the wardens are trying to remove them, with little luck, as far as I can tell. The Mynah birds have incredibly sentient faces.

We were lucky enough to be able to check out the Artisans in the Garden art exhibition at the Lions Gate Pavilion, an interesting show of sculpture, pottery, jewellery, and ceramic art in a garden setting. Especially enjoyable were the silver sculptures of lizards and dragons whose alert faces and expressions really intrigued us.

After spending some time there, we wandered through the fern pavilion, in which beautiful varieties of tree fern were displayed – these are really amazing – and the Palace Gardens, whose sculpture reminded me very much of the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

We decided to venture into the Opera House and purchased tickets for the Tuesday night showing of Puccini’s La Boheme, which I’m very excited about. Satiated with grooving on foliage, we caught the ferry back to Manly, picked up some steaks to throw on the terrace barbie, and enjoyed a feed of red meat (first time on the trip for me – I’ve been eating mainly vegetarian). Mostly the prices for things such as cappuccinos, beer and wine, and groceries are more or less the same as in Vancouver, but some things are noticeably cheaper; for example, jars of peanut butter and jam are 1/5 the price.

Read more about the Royal Botanic Gardens here.

See more pictures here.

Raffles Gateway Hotel, Nadi – waiting to fly

Nadi, Nadi, Nadi – not the nicest town, I’m afraid, but here we are in any case, for our last few days in Fiji. For the remainder of our time at the Beachouse, Ty and I walked for miles along the coast road looking for a change of scenery and finding it in  the Warwick Fiji resort five kilometers west of the Beachouse.

After a hot and sweaty walk, with no respite in sight, the “Approaching Hotel” sign was a beacon in the wilderness for Ty, dying of thirst.

Much more grand than our humble abode, the Warwick is huge, cavernous, and not unlike the gigantic hotels we wandered through in Waikiki. We made our way to the pool-view deck bar, sampled a couple of beverages, and then headed down along the beach to the souvenir stands run by the Korolevu villagers.

This day, being overcast and humid, the resort’s patrons were not interested in these goodies, preferring instead to consume vast quantities of chips and burgers (that quintessential Fijian dish) and the stands were bereft of customers. After perusing the jewellery and carvings, we strolled back through the village and were lucky enough to get a lift from one of the fishermen back to the ranch.

The last couple of days on the Coral Coast were rainy and we decided that we’d had enough of this particular venue, opting instead to jump in Hari’s van for a lift to Nadi, the site of Fiji’s international airport, and the Raffles Gateway hotel, conveniently located right across the street, literally, from the airport out of which we’ll fly to Sydney on Wednesday. Raffles has two pools, one quite large with a big slide, large enough to do some serious lap swimming which I proceeded to do.

The food, judging from our lunch, is decent and the place is pleasant enough; our room has a great shower with strong pressure and hot water, both of which we missed at the ol’ Beachouse. For dinner we headed into Nadi Town by local bus, about nine kilometers from the hotel. We walked along the few rather decrepit blocks of the downtown area, asked for a restaurant recommendation, and were directed to a curry and seafood restaurant which, unfortunately, had bad food. The downtown area was pretty much deserted on a Friday night, which I found somewhat surprising, but the whole place seems depressed, desperate, and depressing – we won’t miss it when we leave.

Today, while overcast, was not raining and the sky seemed lighter so we elected to head out to the beach by cab. The driver dropped us off at the “New Town” beach – no new town was in evidence, nor was any beach – but the Nadi Airport Golf Club, of which the great Vijay Singh was a member and the club’s sole claim to fame, was there so Ty had a beer while we contemplated Vijay’s name on the members’ board as directed by the proprietor.

From there we walked back along the road and noticed a path heading off towards the ocean through a muddy field. We followed the path and – voila – the beach, along which we found, after walking a bit, a few small resorts, including the Smuggler’s Cove, in front of which we plopped ourselves in plastic loungers. Eureka – Nadi paradise found.

The few people on the beach were staying at Smugglers; along with them, the resort boasts three mangy dogs and a guy riding a horse accompanied by a lively cantering foal. As we enjoyed our coronas with lime, we watched two separate speedboats from the small islands offshore come in to the beach and disgorge their passengers; to me, being paranoid, it looked as though they were overloaded, but what do I know …

See a few more pics here.

Desert Island and Plantation Walk

A glowing golden orb woke us this morning – lo and below, the sun! We’d decided to take a boat trip should the day be good and, yes, it was good. After our usual great breakfast, Ty and I walked with our snorkelling gear to the wharf to wait for the boat to the small island of Caqalai, south west of Ovalua. This island is owned by the Methodist Church and the one budget accommodation here (can’t call it a resort – it’s very rough) is run by local villagers. (Ty told me to avoid the bathroom at all costs …)

While we were waiting for our boat, we watched a boatload of old village ladies row one man out to the reef to fish for the day. Our boat was an 18 foot aluminum deep water skiff with a large outboard motor onto which the captain brought several cans of gas. After we headed away from the dock, Ty made a joke about smoking around gas cans and, sure enough, our captain lit one up right next to many gallons of gasoline. Needless to say, I was unhappy about it, having visions of explosions and wondering whether I’d be able to jump overboard in time, should the boat blow up. It didn’t happen.

The boatman snaked his way through barely visible channels between coral outcroppings, heading for a break in the reef and deep water. Once we were out beyond the reef and into the open ocean deep swells rocked the boat as we jetted our way along. The first brief stop was Motoriki Island, where a woman came out of what looked to be uninhabited jungle to pick up a few bags of groceries from the boat. On our way we also passed Snake Island, a tiny mushroom shaped bit of land with one palm tree, the quintessential cartoon desert island.

We were deposited on the golden sand of Caqalai (pronounced something like Thungalai) where we snorkelled, walked the beach, swam, read, and had lunch with the two people currently in residence at the “resort”. While snorkelling, Ty was followed by a large fish with whom he swam for a bit (not a shark, although there are reef sharks here and tiger sharks somewhere in Fijian waters). As the afternoon progressed, dark clouds rolled in and on our way back again, the heavens opened and we were absolutely soaked with torrential (luckily warm) rain.

See more pics here.

Wed Sept 28

We’d decided that, if Wednesday was sunny, we’d go with Nox on his plantation tour; it did look good in the morning, so after breakfast, we headed out down the road towards the cemetery. Climbing the stairs to the top of the graveyard, we walked towards the mountain, passing a small plantation of cassava (tapioca) and corn on the way.

Each of these small planted areas belongs to a single person, and the produce from each plot is shared with the village and, sometimes, sold at the market in Levuka. On the far side of the cemetery a work gang of youth from the Methodist church were looking after a plantation; these folks come to town for a week and spend a day working on each of several plantations in the area. We could hear them laughing and singing across the grave stones.

We followed a small goat track up and up the mountain, passing small planted plots of cassava, cava, cabbage, tomatoes, taro, plantain and bananas, as well as gigantic mango, breadfruit and popo (papaya) trees laden with fruit.

Resting for a bit under a mango tree, we chatted with two men carrying machetes heading barefoot up to their own plantations higher in the hills. Nox explained that at age four boys begin to work on their own plantations and are given plots close to the village to make it easy for them and encourage them to work hard. They begin with small machetes and work up to the full size scythes carried by village men.

Along with food crops, Nox also pointed out medicinal herbs and plants; for example, a vine called mile-a-minute is used, when crushed, for diarrhea.

This vine, quite similar to morning glory, grows amazingly quickly and can be seen covering almost every tree and plant in the forest. We also came across wild pineapple and two different varieties of chilli, as well as a red-flowered plant whose small round seeds are used for children’s games.

After a walk of about two hours we came to Nox’ uncle’s camping cabin at the top of one hill, next to a peak called Gorilla Mountain. Here, rather than go back and forth to the plantation each day, family members camp out for a week at a time to get serious work done sowing and planting. This day seven members of Nox’ family were hanging out at the cabin while his cousin Mary prepared food for them over an open fire in the very rough cabin kitchen. After spending some time there sampling some of the produce, we headed back down the mountain and through Nox’ village back to the Homestay. On our way down the hill, cane toads and lizards hopped and slithered out of our path back into the bushes with every step.

As an aside, cane toads are an invasive species, first introduced into Australia to eat some kind of beetle in the sugar cane fields and then spread throughout the South Pacific. As is often the case with these well-meaning ideas, this one back-fired big time; cane toads can grow to enormous size, have poisonous glands on the backs of their necks, and are voracious consumers of all the small local fauna – big pests.

See more pictures here.