Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: On a clear day...


This photo first appeared here over eighteen months ago during the winter of 2013/2014. Two winters ago was the last time that Islanders enjoyed a decent ski season. Last year's record warm temperature shut the resort down after a mere three weeks.

So far this year things are looking up for our local mountain with lots of snow and new owner/operators who are flush with cash apparently.

In fact, as you are reading this, I hope to be skiing down the slopes. You can normally see a live feed of the inner tube runs here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Wave-ing goodbye to nice weather...

Waves and wind pound Victoria's breakwater.
Wind and waves pound the breakwater.

Vancouver Island had a rough December, setting rainfall records and enduring a goodly number of wind storms that kicked the stuffing out of us.

During summer, the Ogden Point breakwater is a must-do activity when the sky is clear, and the ocean is a rich sun-kissed blue.

In the winter when the cold wind is howling and grey frigid waves and spray are breaking up and over the concrete blocks... not so much.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raptors

A Cooper's hawk pays us a visit.
A Cooper's hawk...
We live close to a nature sanctuary so it's not unusual to see less common birds in our yard. We keep a lot of bird feeders around to attract them. It's always especially thrilling to see a bird of prey up close.

The bird above is a Cooper's Hawk, one of the smaller members of the hawk family. S/he landed on our patio lamp a few days ago looking around for a small mammal to eat. 

We were once sitting in our backyard on an early summer evening when we noticed a small mouse exploring some of the rocks in our garden only a few feet away from us. The little creature was entertaining us with his scrambling when WHOOSH... one of these hawks came screaming around the corner of our house barely five feet off the ground. The little rodent had only enough time to let out one quick squeak before the raptor snatched it in a blur and flew off, leaving us stunned at how fast it all happened. The unfortunate critter was barely an inch long. I still wonder how the bird even saw it from around the house.

The bird below landed on our garden fence a couple of months ago. It's a red-tailed hawk. They are frequently used for falconry. If you've ever watched any Hollywood movie that featured the sound of an eagle or a hawk, you were probably listening to the cry of one of these birds. We have a lot of fat grey squirrels in our neighbourhood that like to raid our bird feeders. In a weird way they are also bird 'feeders' for raptors like this who come around looking for the squirrels.

A red-tailed hawk looking for a meal in our yard.
A red-tailed hawk...
Finally, here is something I learned while looking up this pair of birds... a group of hawks has many collective nouns, including a "boil", "knot", "spiraling", "stream", and "tower" of hawks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lights of fancy

Strands of Christmas lights at the Victoria Bay Centre..
The glow of seasonal lights at the Victoria Bay Centre...
Christmas 2015 is only a couple of days away, but the local malls have been uncharacteristically quiet for this time of year.

Perhaps I don't get out enough, but people this year don't seem to be caught up in rampant consumerism as they normally are. Even Black Friday in the United States seem to come and go without the usual shopping riots that are a staple of media in late-November. And that's a good thing...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Creepy critter

Creepy aquarium critter...

All legs and feelers, an alien creature emerges from its cave at the Xcaret aquarium. Actually, he's pretty small... only about eight inches wide.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Aquaman My Friend...

Taking a stroll along the lagoon floor...
Taking a stroll along the lagoon floor of Xcaret...
Not far from Playa del Carmen is Xcaret Eco-Park. Among its attractions is this one which allows visitors to don a modern-day diving helmet and walk along under the water via handrails.

No, your monitor is not out of focus. The fresh water of the river mingles with the salt water of the ocean producing this blurred effect. Even with our snorkeling masks on we couldn't always see clearly through the effect and certainly my camera's optics weren't up to sorting things out.

You can read about my impressions of Xcaret here...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Royale-ty on the Mayan Riviera

Our resort in Playa del Carmen...
Early morning at the resort...
The Royal Playa del Carmen is located along the waterfront resort strip of Playa del Carmen about sixty kilometres south of Cancun on Mexico's east coast.

It's considered one of the smaller resorts although my wife and I found it plenty big. If you're curious about our impressions of the resort, check out my Tripadvisor review...

Sunrise over the Royale...



Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Modesty of a Lady


Victoria's Empress resort under renovations...
Victoria's Empress undergoes a face lift...
Under the gray drab skies of winter, Victoria's landmark Fairmont Empress Hotel is undergoing a $30 million dollar makeover from new owners, who bought it a couple of years ago. Custom tarps that mimic her normal appearance hide the fact of her face lift.

Around the corner the Hotel Grand Pacific -- seen in behind the recently updated Steamship Terminal on the Inner Harbour -- is also under wraps, hidden under more traditional white tarps.

These tarps represent some kind of engineering voodoo to be able to resist the high winds that have been buffeting Victoria for the last week.

Another local hotel under wraps...
The Grand Pacific under wraps...



Friday, December 11, 2015

Sunny Hola-days in Mexico

Carvings celebrate The Day of the Dead.
Carved masks celebrate Mexico's Day of the Dead.
So far Victoria has been having a wild and wet winter. Still it was nice to recently spend a week down on the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico.

We stayed on a resort in the VERY tourist-y town of Playa del Carmen. Many of the nearby tourist shops featured wood carvings of this sort that are a theme of El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a traditional Mexican holiday that coincides with Halloween in North America.

Whereas our version of the holiday is all about scary things that go bump in the night, their version is more uplifting... it's the time of the year when spirits of departed family members can briefly unite with their still living loved ones.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: Santa Claus is comin' to town..

Colourful floats of the Santa Claus parade...
Colourful cars and trucks in the 2013 Santa Claus parade...
2015 Santa Claus Parade in Victoria a couple of weeks ago. We found it... well, sort of boring.

Maybe it had to do with the fact we chose a location near the end of the parade route from which to watch it. Normally we pick a spot much closer to the beginning of the parade route.

There were large gaps between the floats. Few of the floats seem to have the customary seasonal music coming from them. Also, there were way too many special interest groups in the parade that seemed to consist of a banner held aloft followed by a milling group of ordinary people walking along and vaguely waving at the crowds on either side. Sometimes it was impossible to tell if they were part of the parade, or just spectators marching along the route.

In the end, we left before seeing the big man in red himself.

A couple of weeks later we attended the Santa Claus parade in nearby Sidney and enjoyed it much more. It was short but entertaining... no gaps between floats, no groups of random people to act as parade 'filler', mercifully just one military band with their wretched bagpipes...

As I didn't take any blog-worthy photos at either parade, I'm recycling these photos from the Nov 2013 parade instead.

Children look on as the parade goes by...
Kids enjoying the spectacle...
Santa Claus waves to the fans...
The main attraction!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Overdue thanks...

A pair of Mikes, post-repair...
A pair of Mikes...
Today I need to express my way-too-late thanks to some people who stepped up to help us during our recent trip through Oregon. Almost from the start, our vacation was plagued with technical problems.

On the day we were due to leave Cannon Beach, our bike rack which mounted to the bumper of our trailer suffered catastrophic failure.

Although I'm smiling in the photo above, it was a different situation an hour or so before that. I found myself at the side of the road trying to jury rig a repair while my wife walked back down the road to our campsite to seek help. Four-letter words were flowing freely from my mouth I'm embarrassed to admit.

Suddenly a passing car pulled off the road and in behind me. The driver leaned out his window and asked if he could help in any way. That's how I met Mike and his family.

After surveying the situation, Mike went way out of his way to drive me to the local hardware store. He helped me to locate some of the bits and pieces that I needed to effect repairs. Once we got back to the trailer he also provided the tools and some of the labour to get us fixed up and mobile again.

During this ordeal, his wife Katie and their kids patiently sat in the car waiting for the two Mikes to sort things out so they are equally deserving of a shout-out.

Thanks, Mike, for all your help, patience and advice... you saved us from a vacation disaster...


Friday, December 4, 2015

High over Portland

US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
The 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower in Portland is home to the award-winning Portland City Grill which offers the best views of the city skyline.

Portland towers...
Portland towers...


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Keeping it weird...

A sample of Portland's public art...
A sample of Portland's public art...
Portland, Oregon's unofficial motto: "Keep Portland Weird" appears on billboards, bumper stickers and walls throughout the city. It perfectly summarizes their quirky, funky attitude. Portland has become a favourite destination for my wife and I.

You'll find a lot of public art throughout the core of the city. Most of it is off-the-wall and some of it is downright strange in keeping with their motto.

Kinetic art in downtown Portland...
Kinetic art sways in the wind in downtown Portland...
The kinetic art installation above is located across from their famous bookstore Powell's Book Store. The centre piece rotates and sways in the wind.

Elsewhere we encountered this bizarre thing that looked like a cross between an angry root vegetable and that damn creepy guy-in-a-rabbit suit from the movie Donnie Darko.

Weird or angry art?
Bizarre art piece in downtown Portland...



Monday, November 30, 2015

Risky Business

The "nose" route to the top of Mt. Arrowsmith...
Climbing the "nose" to the top of Mt Arrowsmith...
Last night I saw Everest in 3D at our local IMAX theatre. It's based on the 1996 disaster that resulted in the deaths of eight climbers who were caught in a blizzard near the top of the mountain, including team leader Rob Hall.

There's a quick scene in the movie where Rob Hall is showing off the base camp to his latest group. He motions to one side to indicate the 'IMAX team' tents.

Coincidentally, that would be the same IMAX team that eventually found Rob Hall's body while they were making their documentary, also titled Everest. And in a case of 'snake eating its own tail' the makers of the Hollywood version replicate some of the documentary shots that swoop from Everest's base to its peak.

Last summer I hiked to the top of local Mt. Arrowsmith with this same group of friends. It's the tallest mountain on Vancouver Island at a little over one mile in height.

Yes, it's only about one sixth the height of Everest, but it can be a challenging multi-day climb in winter, requiring some technical expertise in climbing. In the summer though it is possible to reach the top by hiking via some of the easier routes.

On our particular climb we chose a more difficult route that can sometimes require climbing skills and gear. Not being a climber myself, I chose to let the others do the final ascent by themselves. If there is one lesson that the movie demonstrated, it's the importance of respecting your physical limits. Recklessness is not the same as calculated risk.

My three friends appear in the photo above on their way to the top. Can you find them?

As I waited for their return I cautiously bum-crawled to the edge of a cliff to take the photo below.

Staring into the abyss...
At edge of the abyss...



Friday, November 27, 2015

Seaside Seaside

Lewis and Clark immortalized at Seaside, Oregon...
Lewis and Clark on the Seaside boardwalk...
Seaside, Oregon is a small tourist-centric community located south of Astoria. You have to wonder how much time the city's founders spent coming up with that name for their community? About the length of a coffee break, I'd guess.

The sculpture above on their boardwalk commemorates explorers Jerry Lewis and Dick Clark. They were Siamese twins who explored Oregon sometime in the early 19th century.

Kidding...

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's exploration of the Pacific Northwest eventually led them to the mouth of the nearby Columbia River. They are a big deal in the history of the region.

Sunset over Seaside, Oregon...
The sun sets over Seaside, Oregon...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rust Never Sleeps

The wreck of the Peter Iredale on an Oregon beach...
The rusting bones of a ship wreck on an Oregon beach...
Fort Stevens State Park is close to Astoria... in fact, it marks the extreme northwest corner of the state. On the beach near the park, visitors can climb the rusting remains of the shipwreck Peter Iredale.

The vessel ran aground in 1906 while trying for the mouth of the Columbia River during a squall. No lives were lost. All of the crew were rescued.

The captain's final words to the ship were: ""May God bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands."

His understanding of metallurgy was a bit murky, I guess. For the past 150 years, the bones of the Peter Iredale have been quietly turning to rust.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Re-hearse-ed

A re-purposed hearse...
A re-purposed hearse...
We spent a day and night near the city of Astoria in Oregon. Astoria is located in the northwest corner of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

We spent a morning exploring the beach at the mouth of the river. We came across this re-purposed hearse in the parking lot. Inside and out it was retro-fitted to carry the owner's fishing gear. It was an older vehicle, but in immaculate condition. No surprise perhaps... hearses aren't normally driven very fast or very far.


Astoria itself has a picturesque waterfront that features this old time trolley. It runs from one end of town to the other. What's clever is that at the far end, the seats easily convert to face the opposite direction simply by swinging the back of the seat up and over to the facing bench. In this way the trolley doesn't have to do a turn around... it simply goes in reverse.

The Astoria waterfront trolley...
The Astoria waterfront trolley...




Friday, November 20, 2015

The Magic is in the Hole!

Voodoo Donut in Portland, OR...
Voodoo Donut in Portland, OR...
Voodoo Donut is a popular Portland must-do activity. It is famous for its off-the-wall donut flavours. A few years ago, they even featured a donut flavoured with Pepto Bismal until they were slapped with 'cease and desist' by the city's health officer.

Enthusiastic patrons line up for their sugar bricks...
A street musician entertains the customers...
On any given day, there's typically a lineup of 30 to 45 minutes. Fortunately, on the day that we were there, we were entertained periodically by a shop employee who would circulate among the waiting crowd and entertain us with little bits of comedy.

Voodoo Donut... where the magic is in the hole and good things come in pink boxes! Who could argue with that?  ;)

"Good things come in pink boxes..."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: Justin Beiber... anti-Christ

Justin Bieber is the anti-Christ?
(First published in May 2013...)


Thank to the recent federal election here in Canada, Bieber's status as our most visible Canadian on the international stage with the first name of Justin has been overtake by that OTHER Justin -- Justin Trudeau who won the election and ended a decade of Conservative rule.

The combination of election and the first name of Justin, prompted me to re-publish this photo for today's Wayback Wednesday. At the time this photo was taken, I was coaching a local candidate in public communications during our provincial election. On the day of the election, I was part of a two-man team tasked to oversee the counting of ballots at the polls. As we raced to and fro across town, we encountered this sign in a yard.

It inspired me to compose several haiku which I offer up (again) for your appreciation and/ or ridicule.

your anger is clear 
the message is boldly drawn 
i still don't get it 

your sign is horrid 
highlighted font hurts the eyes 
nice pink flowers though 

ssh the beiber sings... 
wait, what the hell is that noise?! 
it is auto-tune... 

beiber is satan? 
what did he do to wrong you? 
besides sing badly...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Oregon: Multnomah Falls

Tall falls in Oregon...
the tallest of falls
you can see right here
no taller falls
are anywhere near
Not far from Beacon Rock on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, is the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area which features Multnomah Falls.

At 611 feet high, it is the highest waterfall in Oregon and the second highest year-round water fall in the United States.

The photo below is taken from the span that you can see in the photo above. The lower pool is 70 feet below the span.

Feet dangle over the lower pool of Multnomah Falls...
Feet dangle over the lower pool of Multnomah Falls...



Friday, November 13, 2015

Figures in the Mist

Mist rolling off the sea and into the trees of Vancouver Island...

It's a typical Vancouver Island West Coast scene... tendrils of heavy fog drift ashore from the ocean, slipping between the trees like wraiths and reducing fellow beachcombers in the distance to barely visible silhouettes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: Playa del Carmen

The ruins of Tulum not far from Carmen del Playa...
The ruins at Tulum...
My wife and I are off for a week to catch up on our vitamin D in Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Caribbean coast.

During our last stay there three years ago we toured the ruins at Tulum (above). It's the remains of a Mayan settlement that flourished about 700 years ago. It sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean to the east.

While there we also snorkeled to see some of the local sea turtles. I very nearly became intimately acquainted with particular guy?gal? who apparently was too near-sighted to realize that I was directly in their flight path.

A sea turtle on a collision course with me...
Close enough to kiss!



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bridge of the Gods

Most awesome name for a bridge, ever...
Just by crossing over it,
you'll feel like Thor crossing into Asgard...
To get to Beacon Rock, we crossed over from Oregon to Washington State via the Bridge of the Gods. Which has to be the most awesome name for a bridge ever, right?

If you saw the movie 2014 movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, you've seen the bridge. It's where her character, Cheryl Strayed, ends her soul-searching hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had seen the movie and during our trip had mentioned to my wife that I hoped to see the bridge. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the name or the location of it from the movie. It was only AFTER our trip when I was doing research for this blog that I discovered that we HAD crossed the bridge... several times in fact.

The bridge is named after an ancient legend in local folklore.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Human racing...

The human race... don't be too anxious to get to the end...

In the First World, we are obsessed with setting goals and then chasing them with single-minded determination. That finish line beckons us to run faster, to beat everyone else in the race to reach it... and as soon as we sprint past the line what do we see? Another finish line in the distance. And so we race onward with grim determination.

When you are chasing a never-ending succession of finish lines, you can lose sight of the beautiful things -- big and small -- that are passing by you. Sometimes it's okay to slow down, leave the track, take your shoes off and enjoy the feeling of cool grass tickling your toes and warm sun on your face.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock of Washington State overlooks the Columbia River...
The imposing Beacon Rock...
The Columbia River is the physical boundary that separates Oregon from the state of Washington. 

Beacon Rock is an eye-catching geologic feature that overlooks the river about an hour east of Portland on the Washington side of the river. At 850 feet high, it is the solidified remains of the core of an ancient volcano. The explorers Lewis and Clark arrived here in 1805 and gave the rock its name.

Visitors can climb to the peak via a boardwalk that switchbacks across the western face of the rock. Along the way there are impressive views of the mighty Columbia River in both directions.

Hiking to the top of the rock...
Switchbacks take you to the top of Beacon Rock...
On the day we hiked to the top my wife and I shared the trail with a family of four, including two teenage girls. At the top, we were horrified when the youngest girl jump over the handrail and scrambled down to a ledge below us to peer over the edge. If she had slipped... or a bit of the cliff had given away under her weight... she would have plunged eighty stories to her death. 

Her mother screamed and swore at her to get her back to safety and it was all I could do not to add my own panicky voice to hers. Fortunately, the girl had the sense to turn around and climb back up to us and we were all able to start breathing again...

The view from the top of the rock...
Looking down the length of the Columbia River...


Monday, November 2, 2015

Joseph, Oregon

A dramatic sculpture on the main street of Joseph, Oregon...
A dramatic sculpture on the main street of Joseph, Oregon...
The website for Joseph, Oregon refers to itself as the "Little Switzerland of America" due to its location nestled in the Wallowa mountains of northeast Oregon. That image would seem to be at odds with the distinctly American West sculptures that line the main street of this picturesque little town.
The town itself is named after a historical Native American tribe leader.

One of Joseph's street sculptures...
Another of the sculptures found
along the main boulevard of Joseph, Oregon...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dawn of the Dead

A zombie from Victoria's Zombie Walk lying down on the job.
"When there is no more room in hell, 
the dead will walk the earth..." 
--- Dawn of the Dead

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Season of the Witch

A seasonal witch flies past Victoria city hall.
witching time is near
demons and devils emerge
bring on the candy!
Out here on Canada's left coast, we're known for being a little bit on the eccentric side. Victoria apparently has a healthy population of practicing Wiccans, more popularly referred to as witches.

Contrary to Hollywood and the Church, witches are not associated with Satanism. Nor is Wicca some sort of ancient religion as some people believe. It was largely 'invented' in 20th Century England and many variations of it exist today.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Riding the Rails...

Smoke from wild fires obscures the afternoon sun...
Day into night... smoke from forest fires
obscure the afternoon sky in central Oregon...
From the Alvord Desert and the Steens range of southeastern Oregon we pushed hard to get to the northeast corner of the state.

The numerous forest fires throughout the state closed two of the three routes available to us, forcing us to make a detour.

Just before our eventual destination of Joseph we stopped at the almost-nothing station of Minam to Ride the Rails. It's a leisurely four hours or so pedal through the Oregon countryside on a bike specially designed to ride the local de-commissioned railway.

Riding the Rails on the way to Joseph, Oregon...
Riding the Rails near Joseph, Oregon...



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dark side of the Steens

Parts of the Steens range look other-worldly.
Parts of the Steens range look extraterrestrial.
In some places, the view from the top of the range looked positively extraterrestrial, while other view points were green with vegetation.

Green views from the top of the Steens range...
Views of the valleys from the top of the Steens range...