Monday, August 20, 2012

The Great Canoe Adventure

On two sunny days in May, I had a truly Canadian experience. The first day, my friend Marty and I built a 17-foot, red canoe from scratch. Yes, in one single day! The second day we paddled our new canoe down the Thames River through the centre of London, Ontario. I was enthralled for canoes are mythical symbols of Canada. Birchbark canoes were used for millennia by Native peoples and then by voyageurs and courier-do-bois to open up this mighty land. Today, the canoe continues as an icon, connecting recreational paddlers to the rugged and vast wilderness of Canada.

Marty and I arrived early at the Nova Craft Company in London. The large building had racks of canoes everywhere, and about 20 workers were in various stages of canoe building. There was a bustling intensity for this was Nova Craft’s busy season, and they produce over 2,000 canoes each year.

Supervised by the smiling, knowledgeable Ray, we started by hauling a large sheet of special laminated plastic called Royalex into a large oven. Once the heat had softened the plastic, we pulled the sheet out the opposite end and into a mold in the shape of the Prospector canoe, based on the old Chestnut lineage. The two halves of the mold were clamped together and then the plastic cooled and hardened. Next, we removed the plastic, now in a canoe shape, and trimmed off the excess plastic with a router. Soon we were busy riveting on the gunwales, installing the seats and yoke and placing the registration tag. After five hours, our canoe was complete and Marty and I were as proud as new parents.

Next morning we launched our new baby into the Thames River, just upstream from the forks in downtown London. Happily, our canoe was seaworthy and behaved perfectly. Paddling lazily with the current under an azure sky, we passed the Jet d’Eau with beautiful arcs of water creating sparkling little rainbows. We continued downstream, surrounded by greenery. It was like being in the countryside. Fish jumped, a goose family paraded past with more than 20 little fuzzy goslings, birds chirped and a fisherman cast a long looping line into the water. It was hard to tell that we were in the centre of a busy city, and very apparent why London is called the Forest City.

Too soon it was over and we pulled our canoe from the water. No voyageur could have been happier!

(Photos courtey of SNAP London)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Brunswick’s Acadia — A veritable feast

I recently toured New Brunswick’s Acadia. Coming from the west coast it was fabulous to visit this pocket of Canada that has preserved — very proudly! — its French heritage.

The Village Historique Acadien was an excellent introduction. We wandered through houses, barns, a hotel, a blacksmith’s shop and much more that dated back to the 17th century. A volunteer in period costume demonstrated how she spun and wove wool. I was envious of her nimble fingers and ability to switch effortlessly between French and English.

That evening we lodged at the historic Hotel Paulin, a delightful small inn in Caraquet and discovered the Acadien’s love of food and wine. Chef Karen Mersereau enthusiastically served an outstanding six-course dinner featuring salad with crab claws and shrimp and a main of duck and lobster. The mushrooms for the wild mushroom soup were picked by the restaurant’s own mycologist.

Next day we toured the dramatic New Brunswick north coast passing fishing boats, villages with Acadian flags flapping and the world’s largest lobster. We visited the large white Sainte-Cecile Church, aka the Bubble-Gum Church, on Lamèque Island whose interior is painted in garish, childlike pastels as though the priest/painter was on a psychedelic trip.

Lunch was at Déjà Bu in Caraquet, probably the best wine bar experience east of Montreal, where the host, Robert Noel, demonstrated the Acadien joie de vivre and love of good food. We worked our way through French onion soup, fresh oysters, steak frite, mussels, lobster truffle macaroni and cheese and a house special, clam poutine, all chased down with superb wine pairings. Our tummies distended, we motored on.

With the sun low in the western sky, we stopped at Maison Tait in Shediac. What a gorgeous, historic inn! And dinner was, of course, another treasured Acadian ritual.

Next morning we strolled a long boardwalk to Le Pays de la Sagouine, an island, which is an attractive rendition of early Acadia with two stages for performances. This cultural centre is based on Antonine Maillet’s novel, La Sagouine, which depicts the hard-scrabble life of an Acadian woman.

Racing to the airport, we only had time to stop for a small four-course lunch and wine before I waddled onto the plane and, very sadly, departed.

Kelowna – The Heart of Canada’s Garden of Eden

The Okanagan Valley slices like a surgeon’s incision in a north-south direction through B.C.’s mountainous interior. Blessed by sunshine and bounteous vineyards and orchards, it’s Canada’s Garden of Eden, and a place I love to visit. This time I was drawn by the occult and mystical: the pyramid at Summerhill Winery ( As Stephen Cipes, the winery’s proprietor, the creator of the pyramid and an aging happy hippy explained, “This is the world’s most accurate model of Egypt’s Great Pyramid. Due to its sacred geometry it channels energy and enhances the wines we store there.” We tasted his sparkling wine, and I could only agree.

At Father Pandosy Heritage Mission (, we strolled among old log buildings, recalling the early days of the valley, when life was much simpler.

Later along the concrete of downtown, I mounted a paddleboard, handcrafted by local artisan Derek Frechette (, who also gave riding pointers to this aging duffer. I rolled along slowly and tentatively as youngsters raced past, but with a huge grin.

The accommodations at Manteo Resort (, right on the banks of the lake, were comfortable, and the food at its Wild Apple Restaurant ( was great. The second evening I feasted at the popular Cabana Grille.
In the morning we hiked high on Knox Mountain. The air had an intoxicating freshness, arrowleaf balsamroot flowers bloomed bright yellow among the dry grasses and Kelowna and Lake Okanagan were laid out below us like feast. Turning a corner, we unexpectedly encountered a rock cairn and then another and another. An anonymous sculptor had erected about 50 rock cairns, like Inuit Inukshuks, here on a ridge. Some loomed over two metres in height and took unusual shapes, often like dream-land creatures. They were mysterious and spiritual.

No question, Kelowna rocks!

For more information:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fredericton: Warmth, Whiskey & Gourmet Cuisine

The tediousness of flying across our vast land to reach Fredericton was quickly washed away by New Brunswick’s warmth and hospitality. What a TMAC conference! Who would have thought the city would throw open the doors of its historic Government House, which we reached by a lovely, sun-warmed stroll alongside Canada’s most storied river. En route, Andrew and I even encountered some delightful rascals, one of whom wore a scarlet tunic and kept ringing a loud brass bell.

To the screech of bagpipes the horde of TMACers entered the not-so-modest domicile of the Lieutenant Governor. Sipping a cranberry sparkling wine I wandered through three floors of history encountering an attractive belle playing a harp, painters painting and a duo playing fiddle music. Everyone was smiling and laughing; Government House overflowed with good cheer.

But the best part was the food! Gourmet culinary stations were sprinkled throughout this formidable manse. Freshly harvested oysters, shucked right before me, slid down my throat. I tried to concentrate — unsuccessfully — on the chat of a striking lady representing Manitoba, or was it Edmonton, or perhaps Montreal, while the tastes of poached lobster topped with caviar cream lingered on my palate. Around each corner awaited scrumptuous gourmet snacks: fresh smoked salmon, succulent crabcakes, bacon-wrapped turkey – all produced locally. Finally, I reached the desert table. Nirvana! Ecstasy! Calories be damned, I dove into the truffles, devouring about ten. Oh yes, the cheesecakes and chocolate tort weren’t bad either.

As the crowd began to thin, Andrew and I headed into the town centre, lured by rumours that a certain pub, the Lunar Rogue, served 400 different whiskeys from around the globe. Soon we were happily sipping a dram washed down by a pint of best bitter, chatting, somewhat incoherently, with the locals.

Stumbling back to the hotel with the moon reflecting from the still waters of the St. John River, I emitted a small belch. A memorable evening indeed.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Namibia has the Largest and Most Beautiful Dunes in the World

Namibia stunned me. It is so dry, hot and barren, yet so picturesque, a rich visual feast. From Little Kulala Camp we drove into the Sossusvlei region surrounded by immense, deep-red sand dunes stretching to the horizon, their sharp ridges curving sinuously, dividing the landscape into bold patterns of bright redness and velvet shadow.

Barefoot, we trudged up the spine of one of the largest dunes. From the top, I could see for miles in the hot, dry air. Sand, sand lay everywhere and in starkly beautiful patterns. Accustomed to lush rain-forests of western Canada, I found this terrain naked, yet, it had a powerful appeal and its own splendour.

Later, we flew along the coast. An immense desert of dunes, known as the “sands of hell”, lies along the entire Atlantic Ocean. I could see how wind constantly shifts the geography, creating incredible designs. We passed over a shipwreck with its skeletal ribs protruding from the sand, now far from the sea.

Surprisingly, this barren landscape harbours and sustains life. We saw a herd of desert elephants sliding down a towering dune. Beetles, spiders and snakes leave patterns in the sand.

At Swakopmund, Land Rovers — modern-day camels — carried us deep into the endless sand dunes. The guide raced up the crest of a tall dune and then dove down the other side. It was wilder than a roller-coaster ride. Parking in the lee of a dune, our guide set a table with white linen, fresh oysters, calamari and salads. I sipped a wine and gazed at the tall dunes marching into the pounding surf.

Next day I joined a desert nature tour, kicking off my shoes as the guide let air out of the tires to give his big Land Rover better traction. Then he drove into the dunes, stopping whenever he spotted a clue. “This is the desert newspaper,” he said pointing at tiny tracks in the sand. “During the night spiders, lizards and beetles come out. In the morning before the wind comes up you can read their tracks.” He followed a faint trail, scooped sand furiously and triumphantly held up a translucent Palmetto gecko. Later, pointing at the bizarre tracks of a sidewinder snake that travels sideways, he noted, “It’s poisonous.” I wished I had not removed my shoes.

Sitting high on a dune, I realized my lasting memory of Namibia, this parched piece of paradise, would be of seductively beautiful desert dunes.

*** To learn more about this amazing country and see over 130 colour photos, view my on-line book Impressions of Namibia at: ***

General info on Namibia:
Wilderness Safaris operates lodges throughout southern Africa with 18 camps in Namibia:
Travel Beyond makes bookings for Wilderness Safaris in North America:
Namibia Tracks & Trails makes travel and accommodation arrangements in Swakopmund and throughout Namibia:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poverty: The Other Side of Africa

Namibia is the best country in Africa to visit. You will see amazing wildlife, especially exotic big game, and the natural setting is spectacular with sensuous desert scenery and a stunning coastline. Best of all, the people are friendly and travel is safe.

But Namibia, and Africa as a whole, has another side, which includes high unemployment and poverty. To gain insight into these problems, I took the Swakop Township Tour while visiting Swakopmund. Beetle, a large African with dreadlocks, picked me up at the guesthouse and we set off to see the township and informal settlement. He explained how the former was set up by under apartheid rule and all blacks were forced to move there. The informal settlement houses new arrivals from rural areas and has no electricity.

He parked and we walked past small, shabby homes through sandy, treeless streets. Outhouses were shared with two or more homes. Children played in the street and Beetle, who grew up here, explained that because everyone knows each other and life is lived mainly on the street, crime is low.

We entered the home of Ouma Lena, a distinguished-looking 83-year-old lady, the chief of the Township, she spoke in the Damara click language with Beetle, who translated. Next we visited the tiny one-room hut of Auguste, a Nama herbalist, who showed me the plants and potions she uses to treat ailments. Wooden, painted figures like voodoo dolls were poised over her medicines.

The tour closed with a traditional meal of traditional beer, spinach dish, millet paste and fried grubs, which, surprisingly, tasted good.

Driving back to the town centre, I was surprised at how eye-opening and thought-provoking the tour had been. Yes, it was depressing, yet it is a tour that every person from a developed nation should take. Perhaps it will help us seek ways to more equitably share the planet’s wealth.

*** To learn more about this amazing country and see over 130 colour photos, view my on-line book Impressions of Namibia at: ***

General info on Namibia:
Swakop Township Tours:
Namibia Tracks & Trails makes travel and accommodation arrangements in Swakopmund and throughout Namibia: www.namibia-tracks-and-trails

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Namibia has the Best Big Game Safaris in the World

My heart was thumping as I sipped a glass of wine right next to a pride of five large, powerful lions. Dusk was settling, the temperature was dropping and the cats were restless, starting to think about a snack, and here we were, sitting in an open Land Rover looking just like five tasty hors d’oeuvres.

We were in Ongava Game Reserve, bordering Namibia’s world-renowned Etosha National Park. Earlier we had watched a herd of desert elephants amble along a dry, dusty riverbed. An ostrich raced across the sparse landscape. Three white rhinos foraged, huge and ponderous. Zebras, a tangle of attractive black-and-white patterns, drank at a water hole next to springbok and oryx.

Namibia, Africa’s third largest country and sparsely inhabited, is making a strong case for becoming the go-to country for seeing big game. It hasn't been easy for exotic animals, such as rhinos and elephants, were being decimated by hunting, but progressive anti-poaching and rhino translocation programs have made a big difference. Elegant safari camps offer fascinating views of lions, cheetahs, rhinoceroses, giraffes, kudu, oryx and much more.

Best of all, the Namibian people are friendly and travel is safe.

*** To learn more about this amazing country and see over 130 colour photos, view my on-line book Impressions of Namibia at: ***

General info on Namibia:
Wilderness Safaris operates lodges throughout southern Africa with 18 camps in Namibia:
Travel Beyond makes bookings for Wilderness Safaris in North America:
Namibia Tracks & Trails makes travel and accommodation arrangements throughout Namibia: