Friday, January 29, 2016

Mangrove Grove

Floating down the river among the mangrove trees.
Floating down the river at Xel Ha...

During our day at the eco-park of Xel Ha, we leisurely floated down a river on tubes lined with mangrove trees on either side (the river, not the tubes).

Mangrove trees are unique in that they are able to grow in salt water. The rapid growth of the tourist sector in the area has meant that vast stretches of mangrove trees have been removed to make way for resort hotels. The effect of this on the local ecology is unknown. There have been suggestions that it may have contributed to the huge masses of brown seaweed that washed up daily on the local beaches last year. As it rots it produces this pungent, vaguely sewage-like smell. It's a problem for an area that hopes to continue growing its tourist trade.

During our fall stay in Playa del Carmen, we witnessed teams of labourers sent out each morning from the hotels to clean up the beach areas in front of them. Their job was to dig deep holes in the beach sand into which the seaweed was buried and covered over.

At Carmen del Playa, labourers bury the daily mounds of seaweed.
Labourers bury the daily mounds of smelly seaweed...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

SUPERINTENTCITYZEN

Tent City's ad hoc information booth...
No information to be had at the information booth.

The tent city that I spoke of previously seems to have become a semi-permanent installation in downtown Victoria. To no one's surprise, it has become a social problem with two stabbings and an overdose death already taking place within its borders.

At one corner of the field the population has erected an information booth of sorts, identifying themselves as SUPER/INTENT/CITY/ZEN.

Super Intent Cityzen? Super Intentcity zen? There's some sort of word play at work here, but I haven't been able to work it out.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fog and snow

Fog and snow on Mt. Washington...

This photo is noteworthy for what YOU DON'T SEE... namely a mountain in the background.

A recent ski weekend at Mt. Washington turned into a scary/exciting adventure with white out conditions. Heavy winds, blowing semi-wet snow, fog... it was all there. My ski partners were barely visible grey ghosts in an otherwise completely blank landscape. It was impossible to see where the horizon ended and the sky started.

As we raced down the mountain, I was simultaneously scraping at my goggles with my hands while trying to stay on the main run.

At one point, I almost skied over a lip and down into the steep off-limits back country, I was so disoriented. That would not have ended well at all.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tents and tarps

Victoria's courthouse overlooking Tent City...
Victoria's courthouse overlooks a sea
of tarps, tents, mud and refuse...

Like a lot of cities across North America, Victoria has a homeless problem. Several years ago, a provincial judge ruled that it was illegal to prevent people from sleeping in public parks, if there weren't enough shelters available to them.

Victoria responded by crafting a bylaw that allowed the homeless to sleep in parks, but they were required to pack up and be gone in the morning.

A few months ago though someone in the ranks of the homeless discovered a loophole. By camping on the grounds of the provincial courthouse in downtown Victoria, they were on provincial land and, hence, exempt from the city bylaw. In a short time the word spread among the street community and within a matter of weeks a tent city was established in the heart of Victoria. It is estimated that there are now more than one hundred people living at the site.

I went down yesterday to view the situation myself. The combination of people and torrential rains of the past few weeks have turned the once green lawn into a field of mud.

The edges of the field are littered with piles of junk. Bike parts, random bits of unidentifiable metal, discarded wheels from shopping carts, worn out tents and tarps... Fortunately, the city has installed outhouses adjacent to the field.

Christ Church cathedral overlooking Victoria's Tent City...
The far end of the tent city
is overlooked by Christ Church Cathedral...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The bright lights have faded to blue...

This is a departure from my normal style of post to note the death of another of my 70s-era music icons... Glenn Fry, co-founder of The Eagles. At 67, he died at an even younger age than David Bowie who passed away recently at 69. The cause of death was reported as complications from a variety of health issues.

The Eagles' easy, often melancholy, country rock was a staple at our house parties. We'd play their tunes in the dark and in our minds each of us was The Desperado, riding wide open ranges on our horses, stoically enduring the pain of our loneliness and our hunger for the love of a good woman who understood our strong, silent demeanours. Somewhere in that vision, a slow burning Marlboro cigarette always hung from the side of our mouths.

Of course, the reality was that we were just dumb-ass high school kids who knew nothing about ranges, horses or cowboys. Still, the songs hinted to us that life was deeper and richer than the few square urban blocks that we inhabited.

Glenn Fry's personal favourite song was said to be Peaceful Easy Feeling, but my favourite Eagles song was always Take It to the Limit. Although he didn't sing it, Frey was one of the writers of the song. (Frey is the one playing keyboards in this video...)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The stars look very different today...

Saying goodbye to Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke...

David Bowie
I was depressed to hear about the death of singer David Bowie this past weekend.

In high school, songs like Fame, Young Americans and Golden Years were the background soundtrack of our lives. In the 1980s, his more mainstream hits - Under Pressure, Modern Love, China Girl, Blue Jean - had us swaying under the serious moonlight of nightclubs everywhere.

On the side, his various quirky roles in movies such as the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth, the chic vampire in The Hunger and the Goblin King in Labyrinth only added to his mystique and other-worldly aura.

His seductive theme for the movie Cat People, Putting out Fire, with its eerie lyrics and disco jungle beat is still one of my all time chillout tunes. Quentin Tarantino even revived it for his movie Inglourious Basterds.

The nature of mass/pop culture means that his memory will last about as long as it takes for the story of his death to disappear from the bottom of the screen on Facebook newsfeeds. Still it was gratifying to see at HMV this morning that all his music had sold out in the last 48 hours as fans old and new decided to re-acquaint themselves with Major Tom...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sunset at the Edge of the World

warm glow as sun fades
surf hissing over the sand
a perfect day ends
The sun sets over the beaches of Tofino...

Friday, January 8, 2016

Stingray

A stingray at rest...

No, not the classic Corvette...

During our day trips to the local eco-parks of Playa del Carmen we encountered a few stingrays while snorkeling. The creatures are attracted from the ocean and into the lagoons with the promise of free food, but they are otherwise free to come and go as they choose. They are related to manta rays, but, unlike mantas, they have whip-like tails equipped with barbs and venom.

The particular specimen above was about two to three feet across. As soon as I approached, it swam to the bottom and tried to bury itself in the sand by vigorously flapping its "wings".

They achieved notoriety when one killed Steve Irwin -- Australia's popular Crocodile Hunter -- a decade ago. He was swimming over the creature while filming it and it flicked its tale at him in a defensive gesture. It wasn't the venom that killed him though. It was the physical trauma done when the barb punctured his heart.

Normally they are passive creatures. The ones that enter the lagoons of the eco-parks have been habituated to humans to the point that they allow themselves to be handled and fed by visitors. Still it was a bit surprising there were no signs advising visitors to exercise caution when around them.

A stingray lying in wait... for ???

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dig that Mayan Mambo

A re-creation of a Mayan ceremony...
Play that funky music like you mean it...
Today we return to Mexico...

The Mayan culture originated in the region about five thousand years ago and reached its peak about one thousand years ago. For unknown reasons their civilization started to die out and they abandoned many of their prominent villages and towns.

And once the Mayans came into contact with the newly arrived Spanish invaders, it was game over for them.

One of the highlights of our day excursion to Xcaret Eco-Park last November was the recreation of a Mayan ceremony. It was all whirling dancers, smoke and fire, chanting and shouting, and the beating of drums. The energy put out by the performers was impressive and we weren't surprised to see them with a good sweat on by the time it was all finished.

Getting the Mayan stink-eye...
Getting the Mayan stink-eye...

Monday, January 4, 2016

A 'peak' of things to come?

The snow settles on the top of Vancouver Island's Mt. Washington.
Snow as far as the eye can see. :)

The snow has returned to Mt Washington!

The island's most popular ski resort suffered from a snow drought last year and the year before. This year though the thick snow that has already fallen promises a great season for ski fans.

My wife and I spent two days on the mountain and sharing some time with our oldest son and his gf visiting from Edmonton.

This is the view from the very top of the mountain looking south-east down the length of the island.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy 2016!

A Parksville family prepped for the Polar Bear Swim...
Prepped Polar Bears...

Polar Bear Swims are a 1 January tradition across Canada. My wife and I were in Parksville -- about two hours north of Victoria -- and we were two of about 240 local people who jumped into the ocean to welcome the New Year hardcore-style.

The air temperature was a brisk 2 degrees Centigrade while the water temperature was a numbing 8 degrees. Yes, we ran out of the water in less than a minute, squealing like little girls, to whip our comfy hotel bathrobes around us.

This local family was all decked out in costume for the event. The mom explained that every year the family chooses a new theme for their costumes. This year they went with a (mostly) canine motif.