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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.

Orcas

It is the 16th of September and our 20th wedding anniversary. It seems that the guides have been given some pre-warning and after dinner everyone gathers around as the desert surprise gets brought out including candles. A huge fruit platter and chocolate fondue-yummy!

Just as we enjoy this standing on the edge of the cliff a pod of orcas including a young one swim right by. Steve the guide just grins as if this was all planned to make the night special for us.

Through the night the wind picks up and by the morning it is very wild on the water. The decision is made not to paddle as it is too dangerous. We get introduced to the dice game of “Farkle”. All of us can play and we laugh so hard our core muscles are very sore the next day.

I enquire as to the origin of Steve’s nick-name. Everyone looks strangely at me as it is Stevo, so?

I actually had been hearing “Sea-wall”, so guess what Steve’s nick-name is now?

Through the night the wind and rain are massive we are the protected tent and it seems like the roof is being blown off. The other tents are exposed to the full brunt of the wind and we hear next day that their platforms were being lifted with the gusts with them inside.

As we open the flap of our tent in the morning right in front of us on the pebble beach is a fully grown black bear. This is about 10-15 m away. It is low tide and the bears come onto the beach to roll over the boulders and check for any tidal crabs to eat. He looks up at us gives us a good sniff and carries on lifting boulders. It is a total thrill to just watch him for the next 20min. It is our last day and the weather is even worse, one of our guides never made it to camp as the float plane could not land.

The day we leave wind gusts are up to 35 knots. The water taxi gives us an incredible roller coaster ride with runs of big waves that throw us into the air off our seats up to 50cm air-borne, I think of a very good friend of mine and how much she would enjoy this ride. No-one gets sea-sick and we even manage to eat lunch on the way watching another larger pod of Orcas.

Sea-kayaking Johnson Strait

We move into our new home and get a briefing on the bear safety at camp. Make lots of noise as you go to the loo and at night go in pairs.

We head out for an afternoon paddle. André and I get a double. My back is not 100% happy with getting into the kayak but continues to behave.

As we paddle out to the next island in a northerly direction the wind starts picking up and the waves start changing into short runs of white caps. Paddling feels easy but we are going with the wind. When we get to the next island our guide decides that it is getting too rough and we need to paddle back. By now the wind is blowing some 25 knots and water rushes over the front of the kayak we try to keep some momentum and a full frontal bearing on the waves. We are paddling hard but I notice we are making no progress. One of the single kayaks is having trouble keeping up so we are asked to wait for them to catch up. This is not a good idea as we very quickly start being pushed back with the wind away from home. The slower person needs to be towed by the guide and everyone else paddles as hard as they can to get back.

All is well, we get back to camp and a black bear is spotted over on the next beach, by the time I get there he is gone but later he pops up on the beach where the kayaks are and I can get a little bear fix.

Next morning is a beautiful day, we pack snacks and lunch and head out in search of creatures. A sea lion follows our course popping up checking on our root. There amazing star fish here with quite bright colours. The camera casing for the G10 comes in handy and we get some nice pictures of the sunflower star fish. On the way back the wind is picking up again but this time it is with us on the way back so progress is easy.