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The Next Adventure

On the road again, and no I’m not going to visit Willie Nelson 😉 This time, we are off to South America, specifically Argentinian Patagonia. We have someone moving to our place to look after the dogs. We drove to Sydney and boarded a Qantas flight for Buenos Aires. I hadn’t flow Qantas internationally for a lot of years. I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth checkin, loading of the airplane, a 747 in this case and the in-flight service.

It is a long flight to Buenos Aires as we skirt the edge of Antarctica. Mariola has brushed up on her Spanish and I’m very impressed by her progress so far. I remember a bit of my high school Spanish and a bit of a refresher course a couple of years ago.

I’ll attempt to keep the blog updated as we go but there may be some quiet days along the way as there are places where we won’t be able to get Internet access.

Karijini – Oxer Lookout

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Karijini National Park in Western Australia is a amazing location. I am finally getting to process my images. So, back at the end of April, I was at Karijini National Park with a bunch of other photographers. It was a great time and the park is a photographer’s dream Great open landscapes, tight colourful gorges, great company, what more can you ask for. The workshop was organised by Christian Fletcher. I had met him briefly in the past and had been following his blog. He is a great photographer and I certainly learned heaps while at the workshop.

On our first day in the park, we made our way to Oxer Lookout. The colours in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are fantastic. We have these deep reds, blue skies, yellow spinifex. This made for a great start to the workshop. Christian helped work this image in Photoshop. With my new found techniques, I hope to really improve my post-processing skills.

Las Vegas

Well …. only one word can describe this huge! Everything here is done on a huge scale the hotels are massive, the fit outs are extreme, the neon lights are blinding, the excess is excessive and the gambling must be legendary. I wonder how much green gases could be saved if Vegas participated in Earth Hour!!!

There apparently has been a down turn here as well although it is hard to notice. Our hotel is brand new and is fitted with state of the art technology including weight detectors in the fridge so that if you lift any of the fridge contents for more than 60secs a scale automatically registers a purchase to your room.

The streets are packed with people and all seem to be having a great time. We quickly learn not to have breakfast at the hotel when a cup of coffee and a bowl of muesli sets us back $50US. You get charged for anything that moves and some things that don’t including putting a water bottle in the fridge as it confuses the weighing system I think? The one thing that is free which is initially surprising, is parking in the hotel, until we realize that they do want to encourage patrons to come and visit the casino. We are in good company as Jamie Packer is staying in our hotel.

On the other hand the choice of shows is pheonominal . We buy tickets to “O” a Cirque du Soleil performance and its grandeur and skill of the performers is awe inspiring. We also get to catch up with Kate who has flown in to celebrate a significant birthday. Its all good fun.

Last days now as we gear up to fly home in a couple of days. See you all back home, it has been a life changing trip with exceptional people and wonderful experiences.

Florida

Visiting Andre’s Dad in Florida and catching up with the rest of the family has been a lot of fun. We get to see how much the construction industry has been affected by the economical down turn and how much unemployment this has resulted in. People are very nervous about their jobs and the unemployment has soared. Housing prices are a fraction of what they were and it takes a rapidly responsive company to manage its assets in these times.

There are some good real estate bargains to be had! The season is starting for this neck of the woods. We have some great times with the family and we sample a truely awesome set of BBQ ribs, melt in your mouth. Everything in Florida is on a big scale and somehow, every building looks like its just been built.

Family visit

The adventure side of the trip is now at an end and we look forward to catching up with all the family.

First leg takes us to Ottawa where we fill up on Tim Bits (the middle section of a donut), cinnabon which is a freshly backed , dripping with yummy cinnamon filling. I am sure we support the Canadian economy with our eating exploits. The last favourite thing is cheese curds this is something that you can only get here, fresh squeeky whey product left over from making cheese. YUMMY!!!

The house we have rented in Calabogie turns out to be perfect, we fit all the relatives and its a joint effort at getting through all the food that has been prepared. Andre’s Mum has been baking for weeks , so between the Thanksgiving turkey and all the pies, the pat au cauchon, and ragout we do not run on empty.

We get to recelebrate Andre’s birthday and the autumn colours are just perfect. There is a ski hill here and we are able to take a chair lift up with all the kids to check out the lake and colours. It is really beautiful. We also managed to introduce the family to farkle that made for a lot of fun.

Then a visit with friends that have restored a 1906 cedar log cabin of their grandfathers. It hs been a labour of love but a beautiful result. We enjoy some great home baked dinners and pies and keep on loosening our belts. Last day with the family in Ottawa and then a very early flight brings us to steamy Florida. The last couple of days in Canada we were scrapping ice off the windscreen and here its a balmy 32C!!

Grizzly Bears

For the second half of the week we moved into an area that is known to have grizzly bears feed on the spawning salmon as they swim up the creek. The reason one area is black bear vs grizzly is determined by the grizzly bears. These bears are larger and more “energetic’ than the black bears and have been known to feed on black bears when times are tuff.

This turns out to be a magical place when we arrive. A small inlet surrounded by steep mountains and a creek flowing out. We are also incredibly lucky to encounter in total about 13 grizzly bears including a Mum with a cub from this spring. The way we view the bears is by zodiac boat. We are able to come in within 3 metres of the bears as they gorge themselves on salmon, which by now has spawned and is lying dead on the bottom of the creek. No fishing effort required just scoop them off the bottom of the creek. We get to take part in a range of bear behaviour as the grizzly bears allow us to take part in their life. There is the favourite rubbing tree, the small pool where the salmon just cover the bottom and it is very peaceful to eat. The Mum is the most amazing bear, she is a dark cinnamon colour with a blond mane and big beautiful brown eyes. A mother with cub is supposed to be the most aggressive encounter you can have with a grizzly and yet this bear allows us to follow her for hours.

One morning we witness what happens when a wolf starts howling from the cliff above, both Mum and cub snap to attention. The baby bolts to the protection of Mum and she is all ears and nose checking the direction of the potential threat. Shortly after we see her climb up the steep cliff with her back firmly against the cliff and the cub right next to her. This way she can protect herself and the cub from an attack. All ends well and in the afternoon we see them again as they swim across the estuary the cub trying to get a free ride on Mum’s back and Mum promptly shaking him off.

This has been an absolute highlight of the trip, almost mystical to be taken into the world of these majestic creatures.

Oceanlight II

It is the beginning of the Spirit Bear trip. This is a photography workshop trip run by Brad Hill of Natural Art Images, with the help of Tom of Oceanlight. The morning is cloudy but dry so our 45 min flight by Beaver float plane is made in really good conditions. Our pilot with a steady hand flies within meters of towering peaks now beginning to be sprinkled with snow, we see gorgeous mountain lakes nestled in little depressions on the hills, a few mountain goats and even an impressive glacier up close. The pilot tells us about some of his flights in including the hunting parties. It is clear that he feels eco-tourism and not hunting is what should happen in the area. He has a standard line to the hunters he brings in. ” You shoot an animal and all you bring is a trophy and not the whole carcass, make sure you know how to walk out of here!”

The water landing is very smooth and we board the Oceanlight II a 71 foot yacht to start our 7 day journey through the Great Bear Rainforest – Spirit Bear.

As the only couple André and I get the double bed room in the bow of the boat. It has some 6 foot clearance at the hatch level. We settle in and already Tom the captain has the boat moving at 12 knots. Weather is fine and no rain so far. We get to our destination where we will try and see some Spirit bears. This is a black bear that is born white when two black bears with a recessive gene mate.

The creek the viewing platforms are built above is full of spawning salmon, this is the Coho variety of salmon. We don’t have to wait long before the first black bear wonders out of the bush and starts fishing. It is such a treat to watch these fat bears balance on logs and rocks, sauntering along the creek and with ease fishing the salmon out. They stay where they catch the fish and with great dexterity consume the bulk of the salmon in a few bites. We get to see many bears sometimes as many as three at once, all tolerating each others presence as they stock up for winter hibernation. The bears give us the occasional sniff but are totally not bothered some come up close to where we are and I get some great fishing video footage. We also get to see 3 separate white Spirit bears. An amazing experience it is hard to believe that anyone could or would want to pull the trigger on these magnificent creatures.

For more information on protecting this amazing area, see Pacific Wild.

Prince Rupert

This is a small but very important community which was built to give the interior logging access to the coast. It is also a bit of a tourist destination because of Alaskan cruise ships stopping in.

We land buffetted by 35 to 40 knots winds and take the car ferry from the airport in crashing waves. Its not very far but makes for an interesting ride. We all get dropped off in the foyer of the big hotel in town and need to make our way to our B&B. The thing that becomes imperative to buy is a pair of gum-boots. This is a hot item in Prince Rupert, even the supermarket  carries them here and there is a shop that is exclusively dedicated to rain gear, Rain Slickers. That says a lot about the number of sunny days here a year. The rain-gear shop has a pair of amazing non-rubber but PVC boots so light you don’t know you are wearing them. Normal price $120, we both choke on the price but after some good Aussie haggling we get down to $55 a pair including tax and we are set. They end up serving us extremely well over the next 8 days.

Prince Rupert has a fantastic First Nation historical Museum and of course a Tim Hortons so a small dose of Tim Bits is had. We get a full days photography tuition from Brad and I learn a lot about ISO, aperture and f stops. I am inspired to make my little point and shoot Canon G10 excel and start shooting in raw format.

Granville Island

It is time for both of us to get a bit trimmed up and descruffed. André chooses the $15 barber option and I check out the local trendy BT Shears salon. We end up both happy although at significantly opposed cost scales!

We then make our way to Granville Island which is always a mecca for us when we visit Vancouver. It is small island separated by a bridge from Downtown Vancouver and is filled with markets and galleries and lots of yummy things to have. We spend most of the day there walking around to justify each next sampling course.

We buy a slab of beautiful wild red sockeye salmon and I manage to offend the vendor when I double check that “this salmon is wild and not farmed” . “We don’t sell anything but wild here Madame!!!!!! “

This with fresh new potatoes and local delicious raspberries and blueberries with whipped cream makes for dinner with our friends. Thanks to Calvin’s great fish expertise the flavour of the salmon is enhanced by a beautiful garnish of sun-dried tomato, lot’s of garlic and olives-yummy. We polish off the whole kilo of salmon fillet.

We leave early the next morning on our flight to Prince Rupert which is carrying a weather prediction for the next week of rain, rain, rain, rain you might be getting the picture.

Quadra Island

This is a quite a large island with its own vehicle ferry service. It means that you can live here and not own a boat as the ferry runs every hour from quite early till 10pm.

We stay one more night on the island and enjoy some hiking before we leave. This is a pace of life one could get used to. André just looks at me and shakes his head. We decide to make our way along the scenic coastal route back on the east coast of Vancouver Island and then traverse in the middle to a place called Tofino on the west coast.

We are shocked by the number of people around, it is a surfing mecca for Canada and lots of surfers are about. This is also very popular for whale watching trips and black bear viewing. We find some very groovy eateries including a bakery that we frequent a lot as they also make a very good latte.

One of the nights we find a restaurant that serves duck confit pizza with locally made blue vein cheese and walnuts. it is simply divine!

We do lots of walking through the pacific rim rainforest which still has some incredible trees. Some of the cedars are over 1000 years old. In the 80’s they had quite a lot of protests here to stop logging these giants out and have been successful in making it a reserve.

On our last day we seriously underestimate how long the drive through the mountains will take back to Victoria, so most of the way we are hanging onto the edge of our seats as we get pulled up at multiple road-works and a multitude of traffic lights that seem to be synchronised on red. We do make it and get to catch up with some old friends in Vancouver.