A Canadian Interlude

Wherein we sit back and chillax for a while, partake in some very excellent food, socialise with incessantly polite and nice company, become slightly more educated on Van City planning, have a fandom experience, meet some wolves and make new friends and meet up with old friends.

Just read what I wrote and realise it sounds awfully busy for sitting back and chillaxing but really we have done a lot of that. We’ve been in BC, Canada since the 13th of August and I honestly didn’t feel the urge at all to blog until now. It’s not that there wasn’t anything to blog about it was just that we seemed to be moving as such a leisurely pace I kept thinking I’ll get back on my blog soon and now here we are TWO months in to our constantly surprisingly long, 6 month holiday and I haven’t blogged in about 18 days.

Vancouver is indeed a very nice city. I’d totally live here in a heartbeat. In fact it is under consideration thanks to some new information that has come to light since our sojourn here. More on that later. My Nikon has hardly been touched except for today, the most recent weekend including Friday and Thursday last week. So the pics in this post will be a combination of phone photos and little canon digital pics and the most recent Nikon pics. One camera is never enough you see.
We flew in from Alaska and took a cab to our apartment in East Van as they call it. We were staying on East 13th Ave and we found this place quite by accident but very happy accident indeed. I googled apartment rentals short term or something like that and this website turned up: http://www.airnb.com. Turns out this website does holiday rentals, private rooms and sublets for the private person who wants to rent out a room or apartment or sublet for short term people on holidays. This site is available all over the world. Anyway we knew we were staying in Vancouver for at least 15 days – 5 of which would be in a hotel downtown where the Supernatural convention was being held and the rest where ever we could find cheap and decent location as we would be using public transport. This apartment turned up on this website – very handy and local to downtown Van City and lots of cool places and we managed to score it for under 55$ per night. It included the entire top floor of an apartment – kitchen, lounge room with sofa and decent size flatscreen, plus master bedroom. A key to come and go as we pleased. It was no 5 star hotel but better than a Super8 and centrally located. Not an easy feat to find cheap but decent accommodation in near downtown ‘Couve City.

First couple of days we did a lot of walking to explore the area. We needed to find the usual mundane things, Canadian sim cards (Canada your mobile networks are about as good as Australia’s – which is to say – shite, Rogers really should not have the audacity to call their customer service actual you know service because there isn’t any), laundromat, supermarket, bank etc etc. So we did all that and also managed to get a couple movie viewings in (The Campaign and the latest Bourne Movie – both entertaining but sadly Jeremy Renner is no Matt Damon, I like my Bournes taller and with less stubby fingers) and eat in some very good food making places.

Lily the cat came free with the apartment and made herself very comfortable on our suitcase once she realised she didn’t have the queen bed to herself anymore. She was a very sociable tortoiseshell domestic who certainly made her presence known. Tim quite liked her and was pleased to note he didn’t have any outbreak of the usual cat fur causing allergies. Maybe he’s built an immunity now (Simone starts plotting a cat shelter visit for when we’re home).

We visited Gastown district, Yaletown and Stanley Park and Granville Island markets, we also checked out the centre of Downtown and wandered through a number of other waterfront locations whilst in East Van.

The view from Granville Bridge. This was part of a three hour I-need-exercise walking tour I did one morning and then also did it again with Tim when we walked the Seawall trail after doing the Rainforest trail in Stanley Park.

Taken from the Seawall path.

Granville Markets were nice, we had lunch there and a good look around, they reminded me of the Fremantle Markets quite a bit but much bigger and clearly more important since they had their own island.

The view of the Granville Markets from the bridge.

One of my favourite shops on the Island and no they didn’t have tee shirts! So would have grabbed one.

On a Saturday afternoon outside City Hall downtown there was a huge gathering of all kinds of Zombies. They did a Zombie march at 4pm. Pretty entertaining watching adults dress up and play make believe, all the while wondering one day if historians will look back and wonder why we decided to treat such a threat so lightly. Oh I bet zombies will happen one day. It’s just a matter of time, place and disease.

It was all rather fitting considering the following weekend the place would be over run with Supernatural fans who take the demon, monster, zombie hunting thing all very seriously. Bunch of wannabe Winchesters out there I’m sure.

Some people were very method about the whole thing. Glad to see those acting class dollars didn’t go to waste.

Japadog food trucks were everywhere and from all reports this was definitely a treat not to be missed. I managed to resist until the day before we left Van City.

I enjoyed one of these…it’s called a Terimayo and it had seaweed on top and it tasted VERY GOOD. Too good. I burnt some of my tastebuds cos I was in too much of a hurry. I never learn.

We got out to Lynn Valley before the Supernatural Convention started and we walked the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. It is indeed one of the prettiest places in North Vancouver and again – I’d live there quite happily. Everywhere we went up there I was all – I would LOVE to take the dogs free walking up here. So green and pleasant and not raining;)

We caught a lot of buses around the place and definitely saw all the different areas of Van City because of that. There is quite a lot of begging that goes on, more noticeable than other cities we’ve been too, also within the first few days we noticed that there is a very visible drug addiction problem too. I know all major cities have drug problems but I was a little shocked and saddened to see so many unwell, strung out people on the streets and public transport. I chipped in and gave change when I had it to those who were homeless, who looked healthy and who also were looking after a dog.

This, would you believe it, is a window display for a store. You’ll never guess which store. Luis Vuitton. Yes indeed. Tentacles, bright red and all wriggly looking. I have NO IDEA how this relates to LV stuff but I bet it does and I bet it’s a ridiculous amount of money too.

This is a diner – Lucy’s Diner that was round the corner from our apartment in VanCon. The man behind the counter there? His name is Joshua. He’s from Frankstone, NSW. Been in Canada for several years now. Has had a ball but now wants to live in Costa Rica. Says he spent two days there and has decided it is the best country in the world after that two day experience. He was a nice Aussie bloke who gave me extra smoked salmon in my scrambled eggs that morning so I liked him immediately. Plus he seemed to be doing a good job improving the positive image of Aussie males overseas.

These are Albacore Tuna Poke Nachos with a side of Maple Glaze Syrup. They were yummy to the point we went back to this place three times. The place is called Earls and it’s a Vancouver foodie stalwart. I only knew of it because I follow a guy called Russ Hamilton on Twitter (location manager for the show Supernatural) and he doesn’t shut up about the place (pretty sure he has shares in it too he’s in there that often tweeting about it). Luckily Russ wasn’t talking out of his arse and Earls is good food, good service and good people. Tim definitely approved and given Tim’s impeccably high standards when it comes to food – well it’s met all our criteria 🙂

On the 21st my friend Morgan from New York came to stay with us, crashing on the couch in our apartment for two nights. I met Morgan at the Toronto Supernatural convention last year and we seemed to hit it off quite well and we met again on that same holiday when we went back to NYC and she got us in to see the exhibitions at the American Natural History Museum where she works in the anthropological research department there dealing with bones. We had talked about meeting up again in Vancouver for this convention and luckily I was able to convince her this would be a great idea and so she signed up for it. On our first day together we had to go check out the studios in Burnaby where our show is filmed. We dropped off some postcards to the crew wishing them all the best for a fantastic season 8 and then checked out the area to see if we could spot any filming going on. No such luck there. But still we got to see the place where it all happens. Quite surreal really – you see this 42 minute episode of television once a week when the season begins and get fully invested in the stories and the characters, suspend all disbelief whilst you escape reality for a while and then BAM! Here we are in the city, at the studios where they make all the magic happen.

After this trip out to Burnaby where we also spotted the Backlot – a set purely built for The Watchmen movie but now used by multiple shows in Vancouver, we took in a meal at Earls before heading home, we had to get up early the next day as we were part of a Supernatural Location Tour, which left on a bus in the morning from the Sheraton Wall Centre where the convention was being held.

This is a pretty swish hotel I must say. The view from the rooms was great, the beds super comfy, pillows oh so soft with enough of them for me to build a pillow fort. I love building pillow forts and feeling like royalty. I’m sure that’s what the Queen does you know. If I had her kind of money I would totally just sleep in a pillow fort all the time.

THE BUS! We called it the Russ Bus since Russ was the dude you see in the purple shirt at the front who was managing the tour.

We’re on a bus! We’re on a bus! We’re on a M@#$%^*G Bus! From left to right – Nicole from Calgary (who we’re gonna meet up with again in a few days because that right there is the magic of Supernatural Conventions), Morgan from NYC, some blonde chick being cliched and Jules! Jules is from Melbourne and she is the guru of the Superwiki. The Supernatural TV Show has a Wiki and this lady is like the mothership of such Wiki. It is indeed one of the most comprehensive fan run and owned websites ever made about a TV show.

Group photo of tour attendees (minus me taking the photo). This tree is SIGNIFICANT Y’ALL. Look it was used here:

Well not in this shot – but in this episode, directed by Kim Manners (RIP). It was in Season 1 around Episode 5 I think. Called Scarecrow and about these villagers who liked to sacrifice unsuspecting victims to appease the pagan gods so they could have their orchards thrive and their apple pie be freaking worth it.

We spent all day on the bus being driven around to different locations where they film many of the show’s scenes. Definitely a fan-made tour for sure. It was neat though to see the actual places where we recognised scenes from the show as having been set in. The Art Department does amazing things to dress these locations to make sure we all believe that the stories we watch totally take place in America. The Vancouver area is amazingly versatile in terms of providing production companies with lots of choice.

So that was Thursday. Friday the actual con started up with the actors on stage doing Q&A sessions and then signing autographs and doing photo ops. I decided at the last minute, after watching and listening to her panel that I would definitely get a photo with Kim who has been back on for about four episodes now as Sheriff Jody Mills. She’s unique in that she’s a female character who is still living and is not an evil demon. This is a rare creature in the show.

I was just going to go for the whole let’s be cool stand side by side and smile at the camera but Kim had other ideas 😉 Apparently I’m some long lost friend she’s thrilled to see and she just threw her arms round me and gave me a huge hug. Totally cracked me up. She is one classy lady who has actually added this humble blog here that I write to her own blog roll here at: rhodesideattractions.vuxe.com If you get a chance read her blog – very little is to do with her job and it is VERY entertaining for the most part.

Later that day we saw another panel – Mr Julian Richings who plays Death came along and answered lots of questions.
He apparently got right into the Karaoke night and jumped around on stage singing Rebel Rebel. He certainly had Moves Like Jagger. Mick eat your heart out.

He was a very jovial sort of Death.
As opposed to Death on Show – who was rather menacing.
See below:

Following this panel from Death we thought it only fitting to go to Hell’s Pizza for dinner. Great pizza place on Davie street in the heart of the LGBT district.

We are all sitting round waiting for our order of pizzas when this young bloke comes in. Gives the room a cursory glance but then does a closer look. We’re all chatting loudly and he’s like – are you guys all here for the Supernatural Con? YES came the chorus. Oh cool I worked on that show for three seasons. Instantly he was the most popular guy in the place, offers to buy him pizza and drinks all worked and he sat and chatted to us a long while.
He is now followed on Twitter by us all and we hope to get some inside info out of him soon! If you look closely at the photo below you’ll see Morgan in the glasses at the back giving the thumbs up. Underneath that is about one third of my face! I was there honest!

The next day was more panels and autographs and photo ops. No photos for me today but as I was in front row for the panels I got to take some photos. Jim Beaver on the left and Misha Collins on the right – Bobby Singer and Castiel in the show.

Later that evening was the cocktail party. Apparently there was a table centrepiece competition. Jules had spent four minutes at an airport so she bought an inflatable kangaroo, We tried to make it Supernaturally related by having demon Koala minions surrounding the bottom of the pagan flesh eating yowie/bunyip thing.

It drew a lot of comments and attention especially when the souvenir kangaroo scrotum bottom opener was placed in the anatomically correct position but alas it did not win.

Jules did manage to score a CREATION tee shirt (organisers of the Con) which we promptly defaced. Then Misha came over to the table and started dismembering the kangaroo – sadly he deflated it. But he signed the shirt as “Kangaroo Killer” We all got into bed by around 2am by the time the drinking and shenanigans were over.

Then it was time for J day as they say, the two main stars of the show – Jared Padalecki (aka Sam Winchester) and Jensen Ackles (aka Dean Winchester) were here for breakfast, photos, panels and autographs. This is where my Nikon got a full work out and my left shoulder blade muscle turned numb from holding a big ass lens all day.

The day was GREAT, I had a ball not just because of the guests who attended but also because of the friends I made, friends I renewed acquaintances with and the general non stop Supernatural talk all day. My face was hurting by the end because that was just how much I was smiling all day. People will knock these sorts of things without having attended them, saying they are a waste of money or whatever but you know, you can’t make that call until you actually have attended a con and had that common passion for a story and shared that experience with lots of others who enjoy that same story. Because it was in Vancouver much of the crew from the set came and made an appearance and it was great to chat to the producers, the assistant directors, the wardrobe department, the locations crew, the art department, all the people that work together throughout the year to bring us the show. It’s a very rare relationship in television where these people can interact directly with the people who are fans of their work and talk about it like that. All in all it was definitely a highlight of this holiday for me.

The next day there was no rest for the wicked. Which brings us to the Monday just gone. We said a good bye to Morgan, we’ll be seeing her at Christmas when we get to NY (plus a number of other fellow friends fans scattered around the US) and checked out of the Sheraton. We then picked up our RV after a taxi and ferry ride. I took a phone pic of the ferry before it left. It’s all very dark now I realise. But I assure you all that is the front of the boat.

On the boat was a tiny arcade which had this EPIC CHILDHOOD NOSTALGIA game. I LOVE Galaga. Was so chuffed when it was used in the Avengers to make a great line for Tony Stark.

We picked up our RV at the jetty from Happy Holidays and then got back on the ferry. First time I have ever driven an RV onto a ferry. Was in the van towing a caravan on the euro chunnel train this year. And now I’ve driven an RV onto a boat. Cross that off the list then!

The RV park we stayed in on Monday night was called the Holiday Motel in a place called Hope. FANTASTICALLY fast Wifi connection but weird signs in the toilet.

I confess. I put toilet paper in the toilet. Now I’m not one to be a rebel normally but in the interests of some semblance of sanitary hygienic practices I revolted against this sign. Which I figure in the end is better than just being revolted. Which is where this sign leads.

We moved on the next day and made it to Salmon Arm and last night’s RV Park was called ViewPoint. Great shower facilities, lousy power. Well I mean it cut out after a bit of rain so not even lousy. Just non existent for a few hours, it was pitch black outside. Tim and I played Rummy with cards. Desperate measures and all that. I practically ran my laptop battery to death. We were even contemplating going to bed EARLY. Luckily it came back on and everything got charged. I’m such a child of technology. I can’t even recall Before Google (BG) times anymore.

So today we have landed in Golden. Prior to that though we stopped in and saw the Wolves at the Northern Lights Wolf Wildlife Centre. Did you know that Alberta actually pays people $300 if they bring in a dead wolf? There is NO ban on hunting them. They can be hunted all year round in some territories. A hunter can just wipe out a whole pack and be reimbursed for it. I actually knew that wolves could be hunted but I really thought there were some sort of restrictions in place, like only a limited number and only for certain times of the year. They are now apparently STERILISING wolves and sticking them back in the wild after 24 hours. Sounds brilliant doesn’t it? Wolf weakened from anaesthetic and surgery, now stinking of humans being thrown back in with their pack. Okay maybe not thrown, that was a little sensational license there but still it’s bad enough. I was honestly shocked and then depressed to hear how retrogressive Canada is when it comes to wildlife management. I would have thought the Yellowstone debacle would have shown how the entire ecosystem is shot to all hell once you remove one of the keystone species. There are definitely some massive misconceptions out there in the world to do with Canada and Wildlife. So I signed a petition up there, I’m putting it here on my blog. But awareness needs to be raised. Humans can still have their money, their oil, their gas and keep the environment and the animals that live in it in a sustainable balance. It’s just got to be worked on. Here have some wolf pictures I took today:

If you want to know more or even Adopt A Wolf you can check out the website here:
Northern Lights Wildlife Centre.

And this is where we are tonight, Happy Campers RV in Golden. Why are we happy? Well for one thing it’s so serenely quiet out here, we feel like we’re in nature…and yet here I am blogging away using the RV Park’s Wifi Connection. Seriously this is like a little man made mother nature combined miracle right here. They can go together after all. We are using technology to raise awareness of the need to look after Mother Nature and all her creatures. This relationship could practically be symbiotic in importance one day.

Tomorrow we head to JASPER! Where we’ll need the long johns out since it’s in the minus degrees in the evenings apparently. Ooooh we might experience cold in Canada. I’m always one for the authentic experience. Then onto Banff and visiting friends in Calgary. Which friends? Oh just a new one I made the Con. 😉 Her name is Nicole so I trusted her right off the bat – little sisters have ensured this.

PS I forgot to mention. One of the ladies at the Con I met is a teacher from Australia. Doing a year long teacher exchange in Alberta. She’s from over East and teaches primary school. She told me that you get paid your AUSTRALIAN salary even when you teach in Canada AND they actually teach 9 less days than the Aussie teachers do. This is news to me. I’d always thought about it and then knocked it back thinking I’d have to take a pay cut. But it seems I don’t. But then I thought about my job – and realised they would definitely have to match school and clientele types. I don’t see the private school 8th grade teacher in a very well to do suburb being able to cope in my 8th grade classroom back home. But still I bet schools like mine exist in Canada. Maybe even Vancouver. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Now I just have to find a job for Tim and make sure the dogs can come with!


Where the Wild Things Are…

The sign as you drive in on the main access road, I’ll concur Halibut is big business down here.

Our little Cessna 206. Smallest plane I’ve ever been in but our pilot Michael exuded such quiet, experienced confidence I had no concerns whatsoever. I do marvel at these little beasts being able to lift off and land in just about any environment. That’s a neat trick amongst the aviation world I bet.

The view out my window as we taxi down the runway heading for a take off position.

The view from my window once we’re in the air.

Such grandiose landscapes are in abundant supply in the neck of the world. I did wonder if it ever loses it’s wonder for the locals – or if they just go on holiday to some city and it all comes rushing back once they’re home again.

First pretty close viewing was of a Mama Bear (they call them Sows but I always feel vaguely scandalised referring to such magnificent creatures as Sows. A Sow is a pig. So Mama Bear or Girl Bear or Matronly Lady Bear they shall be for me) who was on a mission to get some fishin’. 😉

Her three children were less than exuberant about matching her determined strides. They rather reminded me of surly, sulky teenagers being hauled along to do the grocery shopping.

Cub #1.

Cub #2

Cub #3

And then to get a little perspective on sizes here…

There were PLENTY of bears to watch in this area. Which was not always the case with this location apparently. The guides were saying the morning trip didn’t manage to see this many.

This young guy got subtly pressured into moving by another larger bear just ambling in to his fishing spot. He decided that he would walk right by us. And when I say “by” I mean within five meters, and close enough that Jared, our guide, felt the need to stand (we were all kneeling, crouched down). As soon as Jared stood, the bear just took an extra angled step away and carried on. But he gave us all some brilliant photo opportunities.

He’s sooooo fluffy!

I’m not apologising. I loved this line from Despicable Me. Favourite movie moment. And therefore relevant to all future fluffy moments of note.

This was another guy bored with the grass chewing. He was heading out to the beach to do some fishing.

He passed right between us and the other group that was part of our three plane trip. Just a mesmerising, never to be forgotten trip. The guides were all very up and happy with the luck they’d had. As Michael said when it’s just nothing but wildlife like this – every time you go out it’s a new moment because you never know what sort of trip you’re gonna have. This one was a good one he said. I reckon his ‘good’ is my ‘utterly brilliant’. Simone is rating this Bear Viewing Experience 5 out of  5 Extra Deep Impressionable Bear Paw Print Stars. 🙂

The link to this company is here:
Alaska Bear Adventures with K BAY Air
We both can strongly recommend this tour company with complete confidence, it’s not cheap but it is worth every cent for this pretty special experience.

Where mountains fall into the sea

Today was a brilliant day in Paradise 🙂 We’d booked a cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours and we cruised the Fjords from about 9am this morning till we returned around 6pm. It was a good choice for a tour and I happily filled in the customer survey card saying that I would recommend this tour to my friends without hesitation.

A Fjord, in case you were wondering, is the valley formed when glacial ice recedes enough to let the sea water fill it in. And glaciers have been around for millions of years and so when they recede they leave quite a mark on the surface of the earth. Geography is so much more interesting when you can actually live in it 🙂 Here endeth Simone’s very brief Fjords 101 lesson.

The weather today in Seward was just stunning, perfect in fact and a rare day in the recent weeks according to our boat captain Sherry. They’ve had nothing but rain the last couple of weeks but today the sun was shining, a few wispy clouds in the sky and you could see for miles. A photographer’s dream you might say….well said photographer nearly cried this morning. I gave Tim my camera to hold very briefly while I stowed a back pack. You can see where this is heading I’m sure. Yes my brand new Nikon D3200 with the 1000 dollar lens hit the deck of the boat with a loud bang. One smashed UV lens later which had dented itself on the side so hard Tim can’t remove it now without proper pliers and this was one photographer decidedly pissed off, but doing well not to offend too many of the other passengers with all the expletives she really wanted to say. Tim and I had some quality alone time on the boat *vbg* whilst he sat in the cabin and tried to save the day by pulling out the UV lens glass piece by piece. The rim of the UV lens is still wedged on but mother of all mercies I could still use my 18 – 200 magic lens (I call it magic because honestly can’t believe I’m that good a photographer yet to take full credit for the photos it’s producing). Which is a good thing because Tim handed me his 24 – 70mm lens to use in the meantime and whilst I tried it, I could see even in just the viewfinder that this was no 18-200! So the day was saved camera wise which was great because the amount of wildlife we sighted on this tour was phenomenal! And yes Tim and I still getting along just fine….but this one will keep for a little while 😉

One of the favourite things Sherry (the Misty tour boat’s Captain – who started off as a Reservations chick and worked her way up to Captain) likes to do in the mornings is mess with the Gulls. They all have to scatter to make way for her.

The morning sun was like a blanket of warmth and I soaked as much up as I could as I knew it was definitely going to get colder on the boat.

Random rock island photo number 1.

We were leaving some sort of cove, I turned around to look back and this was just shouting to be framed in a shot. I love interesting landscape outlines.

How trees grow this big on a rock is still baffling me.

First Orca sightings! This wasn’t very long into the 8 hour cruise at all and the morning light was perfect. This was a Mama up front named Chevelle. She has her offspring with her, including a grown boy who doesn’t want to leave home yet.

First glacier sighting of the day is one called Bear Glacier. Maybe if you squint really hard you can interpret a Bear’s paw or something. Sherry did say sometimes the names make perfect sense and other times they do not.

The pod on the move.

First Otter sighting! They look like they laze their days away but grooming that magnificent pelt takes time and effort. Floating on your back is the best angle apparently.

Our first sea lion sightings of the day (we saw Harbour Seals as well but they were a bit far and not great lighting – Tim probably got better shots of them). This whole tableau for some reason vaguely reminded me of the staff room meeting scenes at the end of the school day. Can’t think why.

There’s always one that has to be the centre of attention.

Gratuitous sky shots – it was just such a vivid blue with a paint brush splash of white.

See now Alaskans would be perfectly within their rights to use the whole “That’s not a Gull…this is a Gull” line when they see our gulls back in Australia. Alaskan Gulls – big, loud, with wings longer than your average arm span.

See now there’s one trying to give the impression he’s the lord of all he surveys, but then there’s always the sycophant imitator in the back trying to sneak in to grab all the glory and power. The rest of them are clearly of the “Carry on, we really don’t give a shit” variety. I like them.

Still trying to lord it and impress the passersby. I’m with the one having a snooze combination sun bake on the comfy seaweed covered rock there.

Sometimes I wonder if the dinosaurs ended up being pretty dextrous with their tiny arms and hands and used a giant chisel on the earth’s surface to make these fabulous looking monolithic formations. Then I go “Wow that’s a fantastic idea for a children’s book I should write this down” and promptly forget to do any of it.

I couldn’t help it in the end, he was just trying so hard to be all regal and important looking I thought “Fair due….I’ll snap a photo then you magnificent bastard.” The background is only fitting.

This is a Puffin. Evidence that when it comes to birds evolution had already grasped the concept of clown makeup. There are women who pay to have fake eye lashes that thick. There are three types of Puffins round here. All three look bizarre and they also totally suck at the flying part of being a bird but are extremely good at the fishing and diving and the swimming and the holding their breath bit. They are nearly as good as penguins but since they can actually fly (once they’ve psyched themselves up to it, flapped their wings frantically and generally looked completely comical for several hundred meters) they do actually beat penguins in the flying department so it would not do to give them the ultimate diving, swimming ability too. Penguins have enough insecurities as it is.

A ha! A flying Puffin up high! I had to try and catch this because once you watch them trying to get up off the water into the air you have great suspicions that this is even really possible. Not bad for a non-action, not so speedy fast lens 🙂

Here’s one of the other varieties of Puffin in the midst of trying to convince himself he really can use these wings for more than just a sponge bath. Honestly though, I watched several attempt take off and I saw several just go “Arghhhh! Stuff it…I wanted to swim round here a bit more anyway” and just quit the whole attempted lift off game then and there. I’m not sure they were motivated enough, I suspect that if there were large sea lions, sharks or Orcas around they’d all of a sudden find hidden reserves of persistence and determination.

One of the highlights of the cruise for me, a school of Dall Porpoise (black and whites – the best kind of course) came and played with the bow of the boat! It’s was fantastic! My face hurt by the end from grinning so hard at their exuberance and playfulness. I tried to take pics but again Tim’s lens was the best for this activity so I grabbed these and then did a video. These are all on Tim’s blog here. You’ll also find the Humpback whale shots in that post as well.

This Otter pair are madly in love with each other and probably a little ticked off that a bunch of humans came blundering in and interrupted their canoodling. They were canoodling too, no hanky panky, just sweet romantic, floating on their backs in near freezing cold sea water snuggling.

The final glacier of the day is the biggest in the area – called Aialik Glacier and this really was a mountain falling into the sea. Sounds of ice crashing into water sounded very much like thunderclaps. We stopped here for a bit hoping to catch a big chunk falling off.

So we waited.

And waited. I suggested poking it with a stick….anyone good with the archery bow?

Got my one and only reflection shot for the day here. Can’t believe this is the ocean! Captain Sherry turned the boat off and every one was still and quiet just willing the glacier to deliver us a great splash down. So whilst we were waiting I snapped this one.

Finally pay dirt!

Not absolutely massive but enough to make quite a splash and a noise.

We turned back to harbour after this and saw a couple more Orca and humpback whale sightings. This area really is a seriously prolific whale watching area and the great thing also about the weather today meant the surface was pretty flat so much better for photo taking and for those prone to sea sickness. We saw heaps of wildlife:
Humpback Whales
Dall Porpoise
Harbour Seals
Sea Lions
All manner of bird species which the “birdies” on the tour just loved.

A great day in all, I can grab a new UV lens in Vancouver and despite being dropped the Nikon 3200 is working fine and my lens is intact so it could have been much worse. Tomorrow we have no plans as such, other than a desire from me to go hiking again. This is indeed one of the nice things about being on holiday. If we don’t have a plan it’s no big deal 🙂




So as promised on Facebook here’s my little addition to our last couple of days in Denali.

This here is the helicopter that we didn’t get in. Weather too crappy but we both agreed we’d rather not spend that kind of money on anything less than perfect conditions.

This little guy, an Arctic Ground Squirrel was just snacking away on something at Eilson Point the final point of our Green Shuttle Bus ride.

Waterfall by Denali, photo by Nikon 🙂

There really are some pretty flowers round this park.

I was glad I wasn’t the bus driver taking the shuttles along these pretty winding, numerous switchbacks, unpaved roads.

Finally snuck a few lake reflection shots in after taking a drive past the Creekside Cabins.

So today we checked out Exit Glacier in Seward which is a couple or so hours south of Anchorage.

This was the start of our Exit Glacier Edge trail (2.2 miles round trip), so pretty I had to stop and snap a shot of our trail. I decided not to take my Nikon camera – with the view that I wouldn’t want to lug it on the Harding Ice Field trail later on.

This image shows the Glacier water flow off. All that melting ice has gotta go somewhere!

EXIT GLACIER! In 1998 you could walk up close enough to touch the ice. Not so much these days.

You can hear the water trickle through the crevices. It’s amazing to think how long this ice mass has been there.

Such a VIVID blue. The colour was surreal.

After we did the Exit Glacier Pass I decided to do the more strenuous Harding Ice Field Hike. I must admit I did read the What To Do When Bear Encounters Happen section fairly carefully before embarking 🙂

If you enlarge this photo or even if you look at this one closely you will see a small red circle I’ve put in the frame – this was the destination of our first hike out to the Exit Glacier edge. The red circle was where I left Tim to hike back to the RV as I continued on up to do part of the Harding Ice Field trail. It’s a 22km hike all the way so I just did half since we started a little late in the day.

There were several spots along the hike on the way up where I braved the prolific and persistent mosquitoes to stop long enough to take a shot of the scenery.

This one is taken by my phone camera – hence the very crappy resolution!

Same place as the one above – just from the other side AND with the little Canon Powershot.

This is the shirt I bought in Denali – a total of four hikers commented on it as I hiked up. It elicited a few laughs. I had to laugh myself – this must be a fairly serious hiking trail as the number of “professional” looking hikers I saw was quite high. There’s me in my Levi jeans, tshirt, Asics sneakers, a single 600ml bottle of water and everyone else in right proper hiking boots, not a pair of jeans in sight, trail stick thingys, fully covered clothing and back packs very full of no doubt important hiking survival gear.

I saw a couple of these little creatures on the way up and down the trail…wasn’t quick enough to snap one though apart from this exiting bottom right frame picture – I shall dub him Exit Glacier Mouse!

The Harding Ice Field – is in the top left of the screen.

Once I reached the Top of the Cliffs I took a pic of the whole Exit Glacier – but it wouldn’t fit! So this is Exit Glacier – Top

This is Exit Glacier Bottom 🙂

You could really see the turquoise blue ice of the glacier up here.

This was a pretty special experience on the way down – as I was trekking back down the trail I rounded a bend and just saw a body and tail disappear into the foliage. I had no idea what it was and briefly wondered if there were any small furry lynx like wild cats up here. So I walked on and could hear rustling in the leaves. So I stopped and turned to look back and within a few seconds this guy came bustling out onto the big rock. We both froze, staring at each other. I was just willing him to stay still enough for me to snap a pic and I was thrilled to get this shot. He apparently is not a Beaver like I thought but a Hoary Marmot or as the locals like to say a Whistle Pig! Largest ground squirrel in the world!

Before I could double snap and make sure my pic was good he was on his way.

And the last image I saw of him was this one, a furry whistler tail disappearing down the mountain foliage. Was totally moved by this whole encounter.

There were several very pretty waterfalls on this trail, it was at this point I did wish I’d lugged my Nikon with me but in the end the little Powershot did an alright job.

Tomorrow we drive into Seward and go on a cruise out the inlet and onto the Kenai Fjords Peninsula. Hoping we’ll get lots of sea wildlife so the Nikon will be ready to go!

MOOSE! On the Loose!

I’ll come clean. I have eaten Moose before. In Swedish Lappland. And whilst it was ohhhhhkay I can’t say I’m a fan – in fact I prefer my Moose in this version. In the wild, minding their own Moose business, levelling slightly disconcerting stares (or is it a Moose glare I wonder?) at the irritatingly noisy humans in those stinky machines. A Mama Moose doesn’t have the soft brown doe eyes of other ungulates like cows or deer or horses – rather her gaze is dark and steely with the distinct impression of keep the hell away from my kids. A moose expression can indeed speak a thousand words.

We went driving in a four seater ATV today – All Terrain Vehicle with a student from Serbia named Lucian. Lucian was a fairly young guy with not so bad English getting paid 10 USD per hour to take clients out on these tours offered by the Black Diamond Adventure Tours. We did something called the Treasure Hunt. It was probably more aimed at kids but still we managed to see Moose and even more of note, I found the “Treasure Box” first. 🙂 Scored ourselves some Alaskan Gold! (Think much like the Olympic “gold” medals they’re handing out) and I had the honour of being the victor in this treasure hunt which was more like drive round the backwoods trails of Black Diamond Mountain area. We did have a very nice cooked breakfast though – I tried Reindeer sausage – which was very tasty (so far much higher up in my favourite meat rankings than Moose which to be honest doesn’t even rank really) and biscuits and gravy. Which were not biscuit like or the least bit gravy like. If I was to call it I would have named them soft savoury white scones in some sort of white cream sauce. But apparently biscuits and gravy is what it is. Who am I to rename an American breakfast staple?

It was pretty cold but we were lucky in that the rain held off until we got back when it started to drizzle with a little more intent and was definitely hitting the annoyingly wet factor of things. Managed to grab a few landscape shots as well.

I felt the need to pay tribute to the amount of pretty coloured rocks there are in Denali. They seem ubiquitous. And I am constantly struck with this vague sense of disappointment that they are not being utilised in some way. They’re too pretty just to sit there like every other mundane dull coloured rock in the world.

Tomorrow we go on my first ever ride in a helicopter. I might just be a little bit excited for that. 🙂




Alaskan Days, musings on America and an Iditarod Insight.

It’s raining on a Thursday afternoon in summer time Denali National Park. Holed up in our cabin I am forced to turn to other things to occupy my time. Now is a good time for a more than just a travel blog post. Which is in this post as well don’t worry but I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the state of America and Americans.

We’ve been here over a month now and whilst I have not spoken to countless numbers of Americans I have spoken to more than a few. More than I can count on all my fingers and toes. Americans that I have spoken to have all come across as individuals and unique however there has been a sense of something similar between all of them and after some thought I have come to identify this common feeling – it’s an air of apologetic disappointment in their country. Preconceived notions are often inaccurate but mine were not completely off, more just a little skewed when I assumed this air would only come from those who have managed to travel and get outside their country every now and again. But this tone of apologetic disappointment reflected in their voices has come from all walks of life. To the guy in his 30s from Arkansas who has supported himself from the age of 16 and lives his life in an RV, splitting his working year between Alaska and British Columbia, the young college graduate who grew up just outside of San Diego who is barely in her 20s, the semi retired Texan ladies, the middle aged successful magic entertainers who live in Las Vegas, the born and bred Portland girl in her 20s who just graduated dental hygienist college who wants to see the world.

They are all such vastly different people too – with different backgrounds, upbringings, socio-economic status and yet there is the common element amongst them (and many others that I have conversed with) and that is one of apologetic disappointment in their country, or more specifically the people in their country. I understand why of course. I can see how frustrating it must be to see their countrymen and women refuse to inform themselves, to educate themselves, to better equip themselves with the tools they need to make important decisions about who to put their faith in to run the country. I can empathise with the levels of apathy when it comes to politics and politicians once they have informed themselves and I can certainly appreciate the levels of cynicism being so high that even a generation as young as the pre teens would be passing acerbic comments about their political representatives, dripping with the weight of bitterness as they watch the divide between the haves (now just simply referred to as the rich) and the have nots (now called the poverty line) get ever wider and deeper and insurmountable for anyone with less than a 6 figure annual salary. I get all these things and at the same time feel incredibly fortunate for my position in life and also for where I live. Yet at the same time I feel an urge to reignite the passion and love they have for their country. To remind them of all the things they should feel proud of, to let them know that this United States of America is a special place and a country that people aspire to come to for a whole plethora of reasons (not all of them entirely wholesome of course) and that there are good things here and huge numbers of good people.

We have good people in Australia don’t get me wrong. But I’m still marveling at the level of decent respect, courtesy and kindness that is as natural to people here as breathing. We do polite and friendly in Australia. But not like the Americans do and that is a feature of the people of this country that America deserves to be proud of. Back home there is a sort of natural wariness of the new, the unknown and yes we’ll treat you with civility but you need to work a little harder if you want to be welcomed like an old friend. So often here over the past month I have felt like an old friend in terms of the greetings, I have felt like nothing is too much trouble, I have felt that if I had a problem it would be solved with the help of some new found friends. There’s comfort in that thought.

So I’m making a list of some of the things Americans should be proud of about their nation. (Not all of them obviously – but the ones that stand out to me)

1. On the whole, as a collective group of people, Americans are amongst the nicest, friendliest, courteous people in the world and they extend that respect to their dogs.

2. Your country is so massively vast that it’s an amazing experience just travelling from state to state – because you have such different cultures, environments, sights and people from state to state.

3. Nature and wilderness. Nobody does National Parks like America. It’s one of the best things about this nation. Even when not in a National Park there are areas in most states that are just visually stunning and will serve to remind this country of what’s important.

4. Food. (And okay this goes into the bad column too in terms of realistic portions, harmful cheap diets etc) BUT in terms of choice and quality and service – amongst the best in the world.

5. Also part of the collective mind – your demonstrative love for your country (in the face of the apologetic disappointment still) – you maintain a pride that is visible to anyone with eyes, in your flag and especially in your military.

6. As a group you managed to vote in Obama. That was an unbelievably progressive step. A light that many people needed and still do.

7. The Arts – music, television, film, writing, festivals, fairs, performance arts of all kinds. These are things that are clearly cherished and nurtured in this country. The rest of the world reaps the benefits of this respect.

8. Your love of Sports (albeit this is an Australian thing I would mention too) – the variety of sports played, the passionate enthusiasm for it. (Yes I acknowledge this is not on the good side always)

9. The response of the general populace in times of crisis and trauma. The reactions of the communities surrounding such events is not just reported on TV – it is done, in actions, by everyday people responding out of a basic human trait of caring for another person when they go through misfortune. It’s another example of the respect thing you have going on.

10. Your success borne out of poverty stories. People who have not had much to start with, who start often behind the eight ball, no leg ups from family or other avenues and yet through their own tenacity and wits manage to succeed in life and contribute above and beyond to society. There’s a large number of these stories.

I know there’s an opposite list out – likely pages long but as is my nature I like to focus on the positives. Doesn’t mean I don’t embrace hearty long in depth discussions about what’s wrong with a country but I am more fond of spending my life focusing on the good in the world. There’s so much out there but sometimes it feels like you have to look really hard for it. It’s at those times, when the sometimes bleak, harsh realities of situations unfolding around that leave you feeling as about as significant as a leaf floating in a fall forest of redwoods, that you struggle to find your love in your country. I’m going to keep this list here and update it as I see fit on our travels because there is bound to be more.

In the meantime, Alaska. Denali National Park, Photo tour and a Husky Homestead visit.

Wednesday we met with a Photographer named Terry Boyd who luckily turned out to be a Nikon man. We were concerned about potential conflict if it turned out he was a total Canon guru instead 😉 But all was good. Well not all. The weather pretty much sucked. It’s the middle of summer here – and it’s cloudy and raining but apparently (and rather unhelpfully) they’d had four days of beautiful sunshine right before we got here. So it was difficult for us to do decent photo ops but we persevered.

The skies decided if there was going to be no blue then the clouds would do their best dramatic impressions.

We had our eyes peeled for any sightings of bear or wolf but this was about as wild as it got. Which is still pretty cool – Mama Moose are pretty protective of their calves, but she was across the water at least 60 meters from us so she felt safe enough that we could snap away for a little while.

We went hiking in Savage River later that afternoon – hoping the wind would settle down and the sun would come out. Sadly she only made a very brief appearance when I was here.

The theme of the above hike was gale force winds so I must say I found it very bracing out there. We decided it wasn’t so much the river that was savage after all – just that the valley it lay in was conducive to Savage like winds.

More clouds doing their best foreboding impressions – with a touch of sun beam thrown in.

We did like the creek shots though. They were fun to work on.

So photography tour done, an a bracing three hour hike up Savage River and we were ready the next day for something different. So we hopped a bus and travelled down the road a little to Jeff King’s Husky Homestead tour. Jeff King was won the Iditarod four times. So he knows a little about dog sledding 😉

I’m cheating here. I took my camera but Tim ended up taking all the pics, hopefully I can steal a few and put them here. I think this is a great tour for those who are brand new to the idea of dog sledding which was the people who came in on the three other buses that arrived. However our voucher specifically described – “Step back from the crowd and enjoy and intimate experience with …. etc etc” We didn’t think the group would be so huge and I will admit I was expecting a little more in terms of personal interaction with the dogs. That said it is definitely a tour worth doing if you have any interest in dogs whatsoever and the Alaskan dog mushing – their state sport. We’ve done dog sledding before and spent several days with a couple in Swedish Lappland being very hands on with the care of the dogs and in learning the ropes of mushing. We had prior knowledge – we know the idea of the Husky is mostly Disneyfied in the general public’s mind with movies like Snow Dogs and Eight Below contributing to the misconceptions.

The dogs we saw were exactly what I expected – Alaskan Huskies (not Siberians and not Mals) – however the rest of the crowd were receiving this news for the first time. I think the most interesting part of the tour for me was when Jeff gave his talk on the intricacies of competing in the Iditarod – there was plenty of stuff there that I had wondered about and that he answered and getting it from a four time winner was invaluable.

We were not allowed to touch the older dogs (which I kinda felt disappointed about and I suspect had a lot to do with liability they perhaps might not have been covered for) except for one named Deets who was walked on a leash by the crowd. He decided that Tim and I were “his people” and seemed settled in before his handler insisted he moved on. They had five litters on the ground right now and this was common for a big kennel like this – they don’t want to take their great racing females out of competition for breeding during the height of competition season so they have their litters happening in the summer months. The five week old puppies were handed around and photos were religiously taken in case you wanted to purchase them later of course. To be honest all the puppies being handed about and I only felt drawn to one little black and white smooth coated tacker of course. He was bright eyed and sassy and looked a little glum when I was made to hand him back so others could hold him. True – I could see it all in his eyes!

The dogs still train behind an ATV but obviously for shorter runs given the warm weather. The initial presenter gave a lot of background about the Alaskan Husky breed and explained how they were named and trained. She explained how they are purebred with long ass pedigrees not recognised by AKC because of the lack of standard – which suits sled dog race breeders just fine understandably. I spotted two dogs up the back – there were probably around 30 kennels with dogs on tethers in the area – that definitely had Pointer in them and spoke to one of the trainers later on and she said yes, after commenting on my observant eye, they are experimenting with combining top sprint mushing dogs who have GSP in them (only very little, one eighth or one sixteenth) with a couple of Jeff’s top racing dogs (long distance good speed) to try and get more speed over a longer distance and to also give the sprint dogs longer endurance.

I imagine that’s a line, a delicate balance that all top Alaskan Husky breeders aspire to, get a team of 9 or 10 dogs who will travel the long distances at more than the currently winning speed of 10.5mph. Put too many of those fast twitch muscle fibers down and the endurance will be lacking – make those slow twitch fibers work a little quicker and you’ll increase the speed. I spoke to Jeff about their potential (if they don’t make the caliber of race team dog he’s looking for) in the agility arena. He stated he and his ex wife had once placed an Alaskan in with the BC puppies, raised it just like them, trained them just like them but there was just something that never quite worked with the husky. I’m curious to know exactly where it didn’t work. They seem to want to please but then there is that “don’t give a shit if you fall off the sled” component as well. You often see in agility if the handler falls on their arse badly (as in can’t quite get up quick enough) our dogs will automatically turn back to us to check if we’re okay. As Jeff said his dogs only give him a check in look when they pull in to stop at a check point just to make sure the guy that’s handing out the food is back there still. I get the feeling if you got an Alaskan Husky pretty fired up and revved for agility there might be some battles with the whole team thing, we do this together, I can envision once the Alaskan figures it knows and it can do everything really fast then following the designated course may become an issue! 😉 However I’d love to see someone experiment with breeding an Alaskan with a Border Collie. That explosive speed to start running and pulling could only be beneficial, their athleticism only adding to the BC style.

I very much like the cheap Fit Furlife Treadmills they had going for puppies and adults alike – I did wonder if I could convince my guys that making that wheel spin round and round under their feet could be the best fun in the world! LOL!

They have to leash this guy or he runs himself ragged.

This is Jeff and his favourite dog Salem (he’s 12) and he is the resident puppy trainer but has also won the coveted (by the silly humans not the dogs of course) MVP award of the Iditarod by being voted best dog of the race one year.

Siblings practicing CPR techniques. Or it’s a case of “Hey do I still have that horrible halitosis?”

This is Deets. He was a cool dude.

He showed great taste in people. One of the ladies we travelled with declared, seconds after coming off the bus and being offered a puppy to hold, “Oh I’m not really a dog person, no thanks”. Um. What? I see crazy people. They’re everywhere. Also you paid over 50 bucks for this. *Shrugs* I’m not spending any more time working on that.

So that was it. It was all very slick and commercialised and feel free to purchase X, Y and Z and that’s fine, the guy’s gotta make some money to support his dog habit so I can relate. Although I don’t think I’ll ever spend quite as much as 100 thousand in one year to get a team ready for the biggest agility event in the world 😉 I think the dogs are amazing and to me they are the pinnacle of athleticism in the canine world – our top agility dogs have nothing on these guys when it comes to endurance, speed and all round fitness. The way these dogs can run and can pull and their sheer heart and instinct is just something very special to see. I hope I get to ride behind a sled again one day. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever tried…..and you better hang on.