Hawai’i: Maui and Kona

Flying

Hawaii was nice. How can Hawaii not be nice?! Unlike Kiev and Prague, this trip has been on the books for a while – it was Matt’s pick after we got back from the Bahamas last winter and he has especially been looking forward to going somewhere beachy and warm so a quick trip to paradise to get in some sunshine, downtime and great diving was just so nice.

Hawaii

It had been a long time since I was last in Hawaii last and probably a decade for the time before that, but my grandmother used to live in Makaha on Oahu part time and so we went what seemed like often when we were kids. I remember falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean, crawling the beach to collect little knobs of coral and digging big pits (instead of castles) in the sand. When we were still too small to swim in the surf my my grandmother used to hold us and body surf us through the waves until our homemade swimsuits were full of sand. When we came inside, she would cut up fresh papaya for a snack and these things must have made an impact because I have never lost my love of the sea and fresh fruit.

Honoloa Beach

Matt had never been to Hawaii so we split the difference between Maui (which I thought he would like best) and Kona (where I wanted to go on the manta ray night dive) and that worked out well except that we both wanted to spend more time in both places. Ah well, next time.

Honokowai

MAUI

I was pleasantly surprised to find Lahaina less horribly touristy than I remembered (although we did have a couple of terrible meals there and why does every restaurant or retail shop in Hawaii seem to have a T-shirt for sale?) but we were still happy to be staying in quiet, tiny Honokowai, with a lush garden in front of our condo and the ocean working its endless magic steps away from our door. The first night after we got settled in to the condo we went and sat by the ocean until we lost all the light and could only hear the waves lapping at the seawall beneath our feet.

And then went to bed because we had a 4 AM wake up call to go and see the sunrise on Haleakala. Diving and flying gets complicated on an archipelago with 10,000 ft peaks so we decided to get the heights over with first thing and booked in our diving after that.

Haleakala

Thankfully we had the time change on our side because it actually didn’t seem that bad when we were stumbling around getting dressed. The summit is a polar region and we hadn’t packed accordingly so I just wore all the warm things I had; a t-shirt, my rash-guard, a paper-thin windbreaker…and flip flops. Matt had said so many times leading up to the trip that he just wanted to sit under a tree and read that I hadn’t even bothered to bring shoes or socks. That’ll be my lesson learned.

 

Haleakala

The last time I climbed Haleakala I made it about an hour’s hike into the valley before I was overcome by altitude sickness. I didn’t know what it was, just that I felt like I was moving through toothpaste and my boyfriend was getting farther and farther away no matter how hard I tried to keep up. Finally I just sat down next to an alien-looking tree and cried. We eventually figured out what was going on but then we still had to climb all the way back up to the visitor’s centre. It wasn’t fun and I wasn’t anxious to repeat it so I made Matt go slowly and stop whenever there was a pullout which made the two hour trip drag. By the time we got the to summit, the morning light had illuminated the clouds and brought some definition into the crater. Several people had assembled, wearing whatever warm things they could collect from their rooms – beach towels and house robes were common – and I was not the only one with toes showing! What a motley crew we looked like to greet the rising sun!

Walterses

Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and in Hawaiian history, the summit was only accessible to priests. It’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred space. We were on top of the world, high above the clouds and the light reflecting off of them and into the moon-like crater was incredible. Through the occasional break we could see all the way to the sea and in the distance far below us the West Maui mountains that had seemed so large when we drove past that morning.

I’m not normally one for sunrises but when there is in fact something magical in watching the first ray of sunshine break into the day and even more so when a park ranger chants a mele oli” (chanted poem) in honour of it:

Haleakala sunrise mele oli

Dolphins

The next day we headed out to sea. After discussing with Lahaina Divers, we decided to do the Cathedrals – beautifully formed lava caves – off the coast of Lana’i and the hammerhead sharks dive off the coast of Moloka’i. Later we added a couple of dives on Maui to round it out but even before we got to our first dive site we were joined by a pod of 40-50 dolphins. They surrounded the boat when it slowed but as soon as the captain resumed speed they sped up excitedly to ride our bow waves then dropping back to leap through and do flips in the wake. I laughed out loud at the site of such pure and obvious joy – they are truly the puppies of the ocean.

Cathedral

The Cathedrals were as beautiful as I remembered and we got to see the rare albino black coral “chandelier” that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a testament to the dive shops in the area educating divers that it’s still intact…we saw much coral-kicking on this trip but at least the stony reef-building corals are a little heartier.

Fish

We were enjoying the chill diving so much that we decided to just stay on the boat for the afternoon dives too. That turned out to be an excellent idea because our last dive on at Mala Pier was one to remember!  It’s a collapsed pier so it has the air of a shipwreck with all the beams and boards piled on each other and provides some great swim-throughs for divers and/or hide-outs for turtles, sharks and schools of fish – we saw all of them as well as a squadron of spotted eagle rays.

Urchin

Perhaps because it’s a busy site also accessible from the shore, or perhaps because there were so many places to hide the creatures didn’t seem to be bothered by us in the slightest. One giant turtle kept a baleful eye on me while he surfaced for a breath but a moment later I turned around to see him swimming by right behind me. And I hurriedly snapped a photo of the eagle rays on the first pass, expecting them to bolt but they cruised by so many times afterwards that I got tired of pointing them out. Even the sharks were chill.

Matt

It’s a stunning dive site and I look forward to diving it again some day – hopefully at night.

Walterses

The next day we headed out to Mokuho’oniki Rock off the coast of Molokai to dive with hammerhead sharks. This was a life-list item for me so I was really happy that we were in Hawaii on a date that the shop was going out. They considered it an advanced dive so Matt had some detailed questions about depths and current and etc. but it turned out to be me who needed to be nervous because getting there involved crossing the dreaded Pailolo channel – Hawaiian for “crazy water.” In the briefing the captain warned that meds might help any people prone to seasickness on normal trips but on this one we were pretty much “f——“. Yikes!

Hammerhead

I wouldn’t pass up a chance to dive with hammers even if I had to be dragged behind the boat so we signed up anyways and it turned out to be not too bad at all. The first site of these majestic creatures made it all worth while anyways and we were lucky enough to see three hammerheads and a Galapagos shark gliding through the blue water on each dive, with two of them swimming along together on the last one. It was just so beautiful to watch and I only wish that we were a little bit closer or that the photos had turned out a little better but I think Matt got some video as well. At any rate, life list item #64 completed!

Degan

One drawback  of all that sun and salt is that my hair had almost no red in it by the end of the trip (more like a pinky coral colour) so I love this photo that Matt got of me underwater where I look like some kind of tropical fish (also showing off the new octo tattoo in its natural element!).

Jeep

Maui is pretty spread out so we spent a fair amount of time in the Jeep driving around. On one of the days that we were going to Lahaina there was an accident and way too much traffic on the road so we decided to just take the long way around the West Maui mountains and see what we could see. We had an Adventure-Mobile, after all.

Honoloa Beach

As we drove north from Honokowai we came up to stunning Honolua Beach where there is good surfing and snorkeling / diving on alternating days. Then the road narrowed and as we got into some seriously lush countryside we passed several signs that warned we were on a one lane highway (as if that wasn’t obvious) and that we had left the official roadway behind. We learned later that this was also the point you weren’t supposed to take the rental cars past but it was great to see the rugged coastline and rural communities up there and it took a lot less time than driving to Hana.

Driving

KONA

Life list item #67 was to do the manta ray night dive in Kona and it seems a bit incredible to check two things off in one week but we only had two days on the big island – one to do the manta ray night dive and one to get the nitrogen out of our bloodstreams before flying – so that meant we weren’t able to summit Mauna Kea or see the lava fields on Mount Kilauea or do the pelagic magic night dive… so while I may have checked some things off the list,  I’ve also added a few to it as well.

manta ray

The build up to the manta dive terrified me. The boat was full of both divers and snorkelers and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on but they were all doing it exuberantly. When we got to the dive site we found that we were not the only ones, but apparently one of several such boats all decked out with lights and surfboards rigged with PVC pipes ready to see some manta rays. The idea was for all 70 – 90 people to be in the water all at about the same time. Matt saw the incredulity in my eyes and asked out right, “this is going to be worth it, right?.” The dive master assured us that it would be but a few minutes later when he asked who was on their first night dive I thought it was a joke because I could not imagine putting new night divers into that chaos.  And then we were in the water, trying to keep one eye out for manta rays and another on our guide.

The idea is that the divers stay low to the ground and shine their lights up while the snorkelers hang on to the surfboards and shine their lights down. Plankton is attracted to the light and then the rays come to feed on it. It all started when a hotel (now the Sheraton) was shining lights into the bay for their night swimmers and noticed that the rays were gathering. While the hotel was closed for renos the site moved to the current location where we were diving but they seem to travel up and down the coast – we went to the hotel for dinner later and saw a couple of manta rays from the patio!

We only saw one manta ray on our dive – Eli, the same juvenile that we had seen on our check-out dive – and I found out later that the record number of rays they’ve seen there is 44,with the norm being somewhere between 17 – 20.  So I consider ourselves just a tiny bit screwed on the manta ray front but by the same token it was such a spectacular dive with an octopus and several trumpet fish and eels hunting off our lights and I also consider myself very lucky to have been so close to the manta ray so frequently during the dive. Many people didn’t see him at all.

Degan Walters

On our last day in Hawaii we didn’t have a lot of options. We couldn’t dive or go above 2000 feet (so no horseback riding or ziplining or summiting volcanoes), we didn’t have a car (so no plantation tours) and we needed our gear to dry (so no snorkeling) so as a pretty awesome last resort we walked into town and hung out at the Kona Brewing Company for lunch. We had been in love with the Big Wave golden ale since the day we landed in Maui but I tried a couple of blond and wheat variations and Matt dug into the IPAs and we were both pretty happy about that.

dog camp (1)

Riley was at Camp Good Dog for the first time and it seems like she may have had as much fun as we did.

Here are all of the photos from our trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157637717057644/with/10897388444/

Prague

Charles Bridge

After Kiev, Prague felt like fairy tale. Not a candy-coated one Disney one with their plethora of princesses, but more of a dark Brothers Grimm one, with something a bit sinister in it. The book I’m reading cautions about applying too much myth and mysticism to the city but it’s hard to avoid. Walking from the Hradcany castle district, over the Charles Bridge to the old town (a walk that I did every day I was there, for various reasons), there are secrets and mysteries tucked into every corner; in the almost unpronounceable language, behind the ornate house insignia in the upper old town, and of course in the architecture.

Hradcany

Prague was one of the few cities in Europe that was never bombed or burned and so you can see how the city has grown over time; Gothic, then Baroque, then Renaissance, then Neo-Gothic, then Modern…all crammed up against each other. Like most European towns, there is a castle on the high ground but in Prague the castle is a relatively modern addition and really more of a palace so what you see towering above is instead St. Vitus Cathedral.

We were staying in Smíchov, a non-touristy neighbourhood about 40 minutes away from the Stare Mesto old town / down town and while there is a good transit system in place, I like walking and was too busy to get in any runs in Prague, so I just walked to town along the Vlatava river every day, and then up to the Hradčany castle district. I didn’t mean to go every day…the first day we were exploring as a group and then the second day I went to spend more time on my own. Later I went to check out the Loreto of Prague, a baroque Catholic church and cloister and Strahov Monastery, with its grand library and Cabinet of Oddities a little farther up the hill but it got so that I enjoyed the slow transition from bustling everyday working Prague, through the dog park and past the art gallery along the river to the Charles Bridge and then into the tight meandering and steep streets up to the castle, and so I just walked.

Tyn Church

From there I would walk down through the maze of paths and streets back over the bridge to the Old Town Square. This is a beautiful spot, with Tyn Church (above), the  Astronomical clock (below) and Town Hall, several street food vendors, a Baroque church, a carriage stop and many restaurants. It’s also a fine time to mention the tourists.

Weddings

I know it seems like after Kiev, I may have been pining for a tour bus but not only do I don’t care for swarms of tourists, but I generally don’t like a lot of tourist attractions either. I hate eating non-local food when I’m travelling (unless it’s somehow relevant and culturally important), I don’t get the point of 90% of souvenirs and tourist escapades and reenactments that take advantage of / bar you from seeing historical buildings and sites fill me with rage. Prague has a reputation for being a bit of a tourist trap so I was a bit worried about it, but it turned out to be just fine. That’s not to say that I didn’t see the potential and preparedness for the tourist hoards – in the multitude of tiny museums, menus with pictures and 6 language sections and wide open spaces in restaurant back rooms and in front of ticket kiosks – so I know they must come, but during a rainy week in September it was really quite manageable.

Astronomical clock

I crossed the bridge several times a day, at all hours, and was never stuck in a bottleneck of tourists, I had no issues with scams (other than being given a heaving plate of Prague ham sold by weight when I had asked for one order – but it was delicious), and I criss-crossed town square almost every day without tripping over anyone. Yes, there were bagpipes and some offensive thing being done to Mozart on an organ and plenty of tourists taking horse-drawn carriage rides but they were easy enough to avoid and so worth dodging for the sake of looking at this beautiful church. On one evening we ate on a patio in the square and as the light got dimmer and dimmer, I kept taking “just one more photograph” until I had a collection but the beautiful black powder towers with their sky-reaching spires are straight out of that fairy tale I mentioned, especially when golden hour hits.

Charles Bridge

I had the same relationship with Charles bridge. Our first sighting of it was midday with the whole group of Matt’s coworkers so we only saw a small part of it at it’s most crowded but I came back to it several times over the next few days. One magical evening when I was rushing home after a day of wandering and shopping (Matt was sick at the hotel) I saw that it was golden hour and tried to catch the light on the bridge for some photographs. I just missed it but saw that glass-harp player Alexander Zoltan was setting up in between the artist stands and could not help but stay for a bit of his performance. He played Air on the G string exceptionally well – on water glasses! and he was funny too. So I stayed and listened then continued on my way back to the Smíchov neighbourhood, only to see that the lights had just come on on the bridge and a full moon was rising over it, white swans gliding silently by underneath. It made for some gorgeous imagery but between the swans and the music and the lovers leaning into corners and the just-right temperature of the air, it was almost too much so I got an ice cream and walked home the long way, stopping to listen to more street musicians with a dopey smile on my face. I will never forget it.

Strahov Monastery

Another favourite stop was the Strahov Monastery library at the Loreta of Prague. The chapel and cloister were closed so I missed seeing the statue of St. Wilgefortis in the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows which made me so sad, but I did get to see the library’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The cabinet of curiosities is the precursor to modern museums with their collections of oddities. I’d never seen one before and I was surprised to see that more than half of the collection was marine-related, including many extinct species. This collection came to the monastery from the estate 1798 when Prague’s access to the see would have been very limited, so it makes sense that there would be a fascination with those kinds of objects.

Trdelnik

Czech food is ridiculously heavy and clearly meant to stick to your ribs; goulash (gulášovka) with both bread and potato dumplings (knedlíky), fried cheese (smažený sýr), sausage (klobása), Prague ham, lots of pork and other roasts, fruit dumplings (ovocné knedlíky) and lots of beer. There is occasionally a vegetable, although it’s usually cabbage. It all comes in enormous sizes and quantities and costs virtually nothing so it’s hard not to over-order every single time – especially as it was almost universally delicious. I had read an article before we left about a regional specialty involving marinated head cheese and Matt was trepidacious but even that turned out to be tasty.

On my last night I had to order something that I’d seen on all the menus but hadn’t had the stomach space to order yet – a Bohemian pork knuckle braised in beer with apple horseradish, mustard and pickled vegetables. It comes to the table on a tray, an absolutely massive thing with a knife simply sticking out of the top of it. I did my best but if we lived in Prague that would have come home with me to be an entire second dinner.

There is a strange round pastry called trdelnik (above) which is sweet dough wrapped on a roller and dusted with sugar and almonds before being cooked over an open flame. It’s usually sold on the street and there are trdelnik shops all around the old town so we had it a couple of times.

Patio

Czechs drink more beer per capita than anyone else in the world and so it’s easy to come by. The beer is as plentiful (and enormous, and cheap) as the food and I truly don’t understand why everyone here isn’t obese or at least very stout. Pilsner Urquell and seems to owns this town with buddies Budvar and Staropramen and every square has at least one (but usually several) patios filled with umbrellas and signs indicating the particular brewery loyalty.

Beer

But the real fun is in the beer halls. U Fleků beer hall is the oldest in Prague and seats 1200 so I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hofbräuhaus in Munich, although here their only beer is a special 13% dark beer that they’ve been making since they opened in 1499. It’s not heavy or overly flavourful, just nice and strong and the guy with the tray comes by often, handing them out to anyone who makes a move. There was also a choice of honey or herbal “aperitif” that turned out to be a shot, handed out by an adorably pushy waiter and a series of rotating accordion players, including one that looked like Super Mario.  I also went to U Černého Vola – a tavern where the decor is medieval, the beer is good and dark, and the barmen are the appropriate combination of friendly and surly – and U Medvídků.

Smoking inside is strangely permitted for such a modern European country but after picking up an ashtray in Andorra last year and looking at it from all angles before deciding it was some kind of weird vase, we were at least a little more prepared for the possibility here.

Ossuary

One of the days found me in the  small town of Kutná Hora, east of Prague, where I went to see the Sedlac Ossuary, a.k.a. the bone church. The ossuary has 40,000+ bones stacked in the basement of a church. They had been dug up from surrounding lands (that were to be used for something else) and brought to the church where they were washed by a half-blind monk and later they were made into artful piles and decorations. It looks cool but there wasn’t much of a story there so I was surprised to find myself more interested in the rest of the tour.

Kutná Hora is an old silver mining town that dates back to the 10th century. It had the deepest mine in the middle ages – 500m deep – and the only way in and out was by climbing up and down a ladder single file. A mint was created and all that silver coming through town meant that it was the second richest city in the Czech lands. It competed with Prague for centuries during which time they built a gorgeous Gothic cathedral (that still has Gothic and Renaissance paintings on the wall), a beautifully decorated Gothic home and even a Gothic water cistern. As the town became richer they moved the town hall to the Italian Court with intricately painted walls (especially in the gorgeous – but not photos allowed! – Chapel of St. Wenceslas) and built a promenade reminiscent of the Charles bridge in Prague.

Cesky Krumlov

On our last day Matt and I went to Český Krumlov, a small town that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Like all towns, the castle is front and centre but being so close to the Austrian border and at the valley’s entrance leading to Prague, this one is actually quite well fortified. The castle uses the river partly as a moat (and live bears at the gate) with sheer walls rising up from the water. Inside the walls are painted to look like architectural details, a technique that I liked but Matt found distracting. The bus trip took a couple of hours which didn’t leave us much time to look around, but it’s a small town and by the time we walked up the tower and through the grounds and down to the town we were pretty much done. It would have been nice to spend an evening checking out the pubs and restaurants but we hopped back on the bus to Prague instead.

Cesky Krumlov

We loved Prague and the Czech countryside and can’t wait to go back and explore it  some more. The people are generally pretty awesome, but they are not universally nice (which is okay because between the $2 beer and fairy tale towers there are enough tourists). People smile and say good morning to you, and there is a genuine warmth. They were out enjoying the September days, drinking beer on patios or walking dogs in parks…it was just wonderful.

Charles Bridge

Here are the rest of my photos from the trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635563944293/

Kiev

Nesting dolls

Things I knew about Ukraine before this trip included: the painstakingly decorated Easter eggs,  the traditional women’s dress is a heavily embroidered white tunic with garlands of flowers (sadly, it occurs to me that I probably know this because of the Olympics), it is a former Soviet republic and this is the land of perogies, borscht and vodka and Chicken Kiev.

I had wanted to travel somewhere I had never been this fall. And more than that, I wanted to travel somewhere I didn’t know much about. I was searching for a place to explore and in doing so spend some time exploring myself and thinking about what my next steps are for my career and work. I had narrowed it down to Japan, India and Israel when Matt proposed another option: Kiev and Prague. He was going on a business trip and invited me to come along. Obviously I jumped at the chance.

Kiev

After being in Kiev for a week I feel like I know a lot more but I’m still not entirely sure where to start. It’s a strange town. In place of the easter eggs, flowers and Soviet stuff (although there traces of those too) is some incredible architecture. I’ve been running every morning that it’s not been raining and even on the side streets outside of town there are enormous, beautifully decorated and colourful buildings, some recently revived, some in need of repair and some in progress – with printed scaffolding over top to shop what the building is meant to look like. Probably there are modern buildings somewhere in the city but I haven’t seen many.

Lavra

The next thing of note are all the churches. The beautiful golden domes of the Russian Orthodox churches peek out from the colourful buildings at every turn, or at least it seems so from our hotel, which is positioned right between St. Sophia’s cathedral (an almost 1000 year old cathedral with its wedding-cake bell tower) and St. Michael’s Golden-domed monastery. St. Andrew’s is a short walk away and looks like it should be some giantess’ jewelry box but the inside is not my favourite – it’s too red and ornate and comes off looking a bit gaudy. Instead I love St. Volodymyr’s which on the outside is a pretty standard issue Neo-Byzantine cathedral but inside is all black and gold and candlelight, making it hard not to feel the glow.

Icon

But Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery / Kiev Monastery of the Caves is HQ for Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine. They believe it is one of four places in the world where the Virgin Mary lives and there are also 73 “imperishable relics” – the bodies of saints who were buried in the caves and who have been deemed uncorrupted. That belongs firmly on the list of things I didn’t know about Ukraine before this week. The top part of the complex is maintained by the church but feels fairly secular – there are many churches but also souvenir stands and a series of museums. I wandered around there for a bit and then went to the lower part, it was obvious that something very different was happening…by now I had noticed that women cover their heads when they’re in the church and so I had been trying to do the same on my visits but here all the women’s heads were covered and everyone bowed and crossed themselves coming through the gate. But there were no tourists, no English words anywhere and I had no idea what was going on, so I went back up to the gate and bought a tour.

Church

The first order of business was getting dressed to go underground. Women have to have covered arms, a covered head and wear a long skirt and there are wraps to be bought or borrowed for this purpose. My tour guide was lovely and patient with all of my questions but as she explained all the mysteries of the saints to me and how they died and how to pray to them, I couldn’t help but feel awkward. It was unbearably hot in the catacombs with all the people and my jeans / skirt / shirt / wrap / headscarf combo, not to mention that there are no lights – just a few candles above the relics – so everyone carries a candle in their hand, trying not to get beeswax all over the place as people jostle against each other in the narrow corridors. But that’s not what made me uncomfortable , it was because I was the only tourist in a place packed with pilgrims waiting patiently for me to get out of the way so they could access the relics.

I’m so glad I went but I will be processing it for a while….what it means to be a tourist and what a privilege it is. No photos were allowed down there (and I wouldn’t have taken any in any case) but Wikipedia has one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Iliya_Muromets_Kiev.jpg.

Dumplings

There is PLENTY of perogies, borscht and vodka. Actually they are no perogies but varenyky (or vareniki), the difference being that perogies seem to be baked or fried after they’re cooked and varenyky are simply boiled or steamed. There are no perogies that I have seen but varenyky are all over the place, in all kinds of flavours, as well as pelmeni – which are filled with raw meat and then cooked whole. So far I’ve had mushroom (pelmeni and varenyky), and cabbage, potato, meat, sour cherry and blueberry varenyky and you would think that I would be getting tired of them by now but I assure you that I have a very high dumpling threshold. My favourite by a long shot are the sour cherry and I want to try the poppyseed ones before we leave but I’ve had sour cherry three times now and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come away from it.

Borscht is predictably delicious and slightly different everywhere but it always comes with a side of garlic brioche and sour cream. Actually everything comes with sour cream and you always get a basket of bread with a meal (including with the borscht and brioche). Chicken Kiev is apparently Russian in origin but Ukrainians have either adopted it or they share a common love of cutlets because there are plenty of similar items on the menus under different names. All of the fried things I’ve had in Kiev thus far have just tasted like oil though, so I am not a fan.

And of course there is vodka. We have had lots of local beer and been happy with it (Stare Misto and Bitburger are the favourites) and there is wine from the area but vodka is everywhere. So far we’ve had regular, organic, honey-pepper, cranberry and horseradish. The horseradish smelled like it came out of a barn but on the palate it was beautiful – infused with horseradish for certain, but also honey and raisins and some other things. I’ve been told that no one drinks vodka for the taste but I might have to argue for this one because it was amazing. Unfortunately it is house-made and not available in store but our other favourite is honey-pepper. It’s infused with honey and a bird’s eye pepper and is so perfectly balanced between sweet and spicy that shooting it feels smooth and natural. This one was hard to find but I was able to source a couple of bottles. I guess it really wouldn’t be that hard to make either.

What else? There is so much bread that I’m beside myself, lots for breakfast along with cold cuts, sausage, cheeses and two kinds of smoked herring. There is also kasha, a mushy Russian granola / porridge which is interesting. For lunch I’ve been having beer and dumplings and in between there are amazing pastries – my favourites are raspberry or the new-to-me combination of pineapple and ricotta or cottage cheese. Sounds weird but it’s delicious. Almost every restaurant has shashlik – barbecued shish kebabs – cooked over an open fire and salo (lard) shows up a lot too. Basically it is just pork fat, so that takes some getting used to but it does help with all the vodka.

Embroidery

The thing that has made me the most sad is that the people have not been kind. My favourite thing about travelling is meeting new people and finding out how they live but in Kiev Matt has been working and I have spent most of the week alone. It might be that I have bright red hair now and tattoos (although I’ve tried to keep both of those covered) or that we’re staying in a luxury hotel that alienates us from both the hoi polloi and the nouveau riche, or that I don’t speak a word of Russian OR Ukrainian…or that they don’t have a culture of tourism here. But I don’t think so. I had been warned that smiling was not part of the culture but I thought that people would still be nice under their stoicism. I know many Ukrainians in Canada who are incredibly warm and I have no doubt that they are friendly with each other so I have spent a lot of time thinking about it as I move from park to cafe to park with my book.

The season has definitely turned here and there has been a beautiful fall breeze rustling the chestnut trees. For the most part I’m happy to be outside and I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking. What must it take to make an entire nation of people shut down and turn inward? What has the cost been of being kind to strangers? We come from a place of enormous privilege in North America, not only because we are able to afford to travel and stay in a golden hotel and speak our own language to the locals but because we can even afford to have a culture of tourism that enables us to travel to places only to see them. Being part of a culture that is welcoming to strangers is a privilege. Smiling easily is a privilege. I purposely skipped the Museum to the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the Chernobyl Museum and the Babyn Yar mass grave site because I am too sensitive but being sensitive is an enormous privilege. I have a lot more thinking to do about this but there will be no sitting in parks today; it is pouring rain in Kiev and we leave for Prague in a few hours.

Art market

Here are my photos from Kiev:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635493893362/

I

Gastown

I’ve always loved Gastown, even when it was seedy – maybe especially when it was seedy. My friends and I used to come downtown from Langley and sit for hours in the Talking Stick Cafe (now Cork &Fin) or La Luna (now Smart Mouth) with our sketchbooks and finish off the night at the Irish Heather (now l’Abattoir). Ah, we were always at the Heather, except when we were at the Cambie. In more recent years I have dearly loved and frequented all the cocktail bars that go so perfectly with brick and cobblestone and ghost writing and secret spaces and history in this town. Now we live here and we got married across the street because we love it so much. Of course I write about it often.

Gastown

But while it has changing and growing, I’ve realized that I am really starting to like it as a community. The fact that people live here is probably missed by most of the photographers in front of the Gassy Jack statue and that’s okay – I love hearing all the different languages in the street while I’m walking my dog and I even love catching snippets from the tour buses going by under our window in the summer. I could not give a Vancouver recommendation to a tourist that didn’t involve a stop in Gastown, but I also love the locals and the pace of the neighbourhood.

Salmagundi West

Since we got Riley we’ve spent a lot more time hanging out in alleys. I’d already seen all the gritty things that New York writers put in their books to be shocking, but now I know the names of some of the people and I leave jackets and toques out on days it isn’t raining.

Gastown

Recently I thought I should do more and I wanted to spend a night working in a soup kitchen so I signed up for the Union Gospel Mission’s volunteer information session. On my walk to the meeting in the DTES I passed several people who offered me drugs, and then a flurry of ERT lights in front of a meth lab that had blown. At one point I yawned, nothing remarkable here. From a nearby bus stop a woman standing in the pouring rain yelled, “hey that’s contagious!” I looked around for the onslaught of germs and it took me a moment to realize that she meant my yawn but when I found her face in the night she gave me the warmest smile I’d seen all day.

Gastown

Unfortunately the UGM turned out to be entirely too religious for my taste so I’m looking around for some new opportunities (work and otherwise) but more and more I’ve been sticking close to home.

Gastown was built on a bar so it’s only fitting that so many of the best ones are here and we’re not in them as often as we used to be but still love  l’AbattoirWildebeest, Alibi Room, Pourhouse, Clough Club, Boneta, the Diamond, Bambuddha and Cuchillo. The Irish Heather is still here, thank goodness, it’s across the street now. We even have a David’s Tea and our own East Van Roasters coffee roaster now while we still frequent Milano and Revolver for coffee. I am in Opus way too often for art supplies and then in Salmagundi West and MacLeod’s Books for wandering and art inspiration. My One Yoga studio is only a block away, as is Gastown Tattoo and have a dog park with a beautiful beach just on the other side of the tracks.

Kiss

The Ballard neighbourhood is on the top of our list for when we move to Seattle and in many ways it reminds me of Gastown but I’m sure going to miss this when we’re gone.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

summer

You know those summer days when you were a kid that stretched on an on? You would ride your bike to the store and then a friend’s house and entire days would pass where nothing happened except being hot. And then just when you thought you could not be more bored, it was time to go back to school and you instantly wanted to take back all the bad things you said about sitting around doing nothing. My summer was not like that at all. So much happened this past spring – we decided to move to and did all the prep for moving to Seattle and then deferred it until next year, I applied for and was accepted to the Masters in Digital Media program at the Centre for Digital Media in September, I went to Tofino for an epic spring break to go surfing and diving, and we got a dog and closed our company – that I planned a summer off to recover from the burnout.

I’m not very good at sitting around, I know this about myself, but I planned to hang out at the dog park every day and read books, except for the days that we went on hikes in the mountains and swam in lakes. It was going to be lazy, hot and glorious.

But let’s start with the basics – small white puppies can’t spend all day outside at the park. They get sunburnt and are too excited to sit on a blanket while I’m reading. They also don’t know how to swim and can’t go on hikes longer than an hour (although we did get in a couple of laps around Buntzen before I learned that). So I did a lot of reading, but it was mostly on patios close to home while she was having a nap. (Ah, the joys of being a new parent!)

I can’t blame it all on the pup though. I am an awful person to travel with if you like beach vacations. Before the tickets are even booked, I will inevitably have a long list of places I want to visit and have no problem zig-zagging across town or eating 2 or 3 lunches in order to fit it all in. So I should have known that faced with a vast expanse of summer days, I would get antsy and start finding exciting ways to fill them up. We went to puppy training and we learned to sail, I started Crossfit, deferred my MA until next year, took about twenty classes online, and read a lot of books.

We had some adventures too (see below). It was, in fact, glorious.

Summer

Diving Skookumchuck

So in June I went on a dive trip to Powell River with friends. We did a couple of dives in Mermaid’s Cove at Saltery Bay before heading to Egmont and doing some wreck, drift and wall diving at Agamemnon Channel, the wreck of the HMCS Chaudiere, and the rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. I find the mermaid statue (the star attraction of Mermaid’s Cove) to be a little creepy and for all the talk of Skookumchuck being some of the fastest water in the world, I think one of our dives in Browning Pass last year was faster but this was a fantastic trip.

Warbonnet

We were in the water with orcas not very far away (although we didn’t see them underwater), I got a chance to try out my new underwater camera that Matt had just bought me as well as to test out my new Deep and Wreck PADI diving specialties. The life out here is amazing and the hospitality at Porpoise Bay Charters is so homey and welcoming I could have easily stayed.

Barnacle

Here are the photos from the Powell River trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634176861753/

Temple

Visiting the International Buddhist Temple 

I was at a bit indecisive at the beginning of summer – get a dog or go travelling – but I figured with Matt working so hard getting a dog would be some joy (and pee!) that he could share. I was (and still am) hungry for travel though, so I took myself to Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple for a mini-adventure. It has the largest gold Buddha in North America and many beautiful murals and gardens and once inside, I really did feel transported. I would have loved to stay and read my book or meditate by one of the pools. There’s also a restaurant on site where you pay by donation and that was pretty exciting for me although they brought me way too much food.

Walterses

Riding Highway 20

In July we checked an item off of Matt’s life list – to ride Highway 20 through the Cascades to Osoyoos and then home through Manning Park. He wasn’t in it so much for the stunning mineral-rich turquoise lakes, beautiful wastelands of flooded river banks, mountains or valleys but rather for the sexy S-curves and the lack of stop lights. When I stopped to take a photo of the scenery, Matt took one of the road. It was hot but we were both so happy.

Osoyooos

We stopped for lunch in Winthrop, a delightful gold-towny surprise and then stayed in Osoyoos, which is much more of a dump than I remembered. “Are those real leathers?” the guy at the front desk asked when we checked in and then goggled a bit when we wrote “Ducati” on the vehicle registrar. Needless to say we had not made it up the valley to any of the wineries but we wouldn’t have had anywhere to put bottles anyways. – same problem with fruit from Keremeos – but we were just there for the road so next time we’ll stay in Winthrop and ride it all the way back too.

Keremeos

Here are the photos from our Highway 20 road trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634953729684/

Quadra Island

Visiting Quadra Island

We had tried and failed to go camping a couple of times so Matt finally found us a cabin on Quadra Island for the August long weekend. Quadra Island is pretty far away but in exchange for a bit of a car ride (which Riley would give half her breakfast for anyways), we got an enormous house (sleeps 10!) with an enormous patio, a hot tub and a bbq. Hell yes, this is the life! We were so stoked about it even before we saw how clear the water was (I could see urchins 60 ft down and REALLY regretted leaving my dive gear) and the porpoises playing in the channel or went canoeing out to our little island and exploring the bluffs. Riley was equally stoked about being able to run around outside by herself and explore under the deck and she did go in the canoe and in the water with a little coaxing but we weren’t there long enough to get the ‘city’ out of her – she still peed in the driveway every morning.

Walterses

We liked it so much that we’re planning on coming back next year, although it’s going to be even more of a slog from Seattle…we might have to come for a week. And I still want to go camping at some point.

Sea

Here are the photos from our Quadra Island trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634951331674/

art

Nick Bantock Art Workshop

The next weekend found me on another ferry, this time to Sidney-by-the-Sea by the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. I went for an art workshop with Nick Bantock that was even more awesome than I could have imagined. It was less technique heavy than the workshops I’m used to with Jeanne Krabbendam but provided enough ideas and energy to get me started on several projects – which I will probably have to revisit in winter.

Browning Pass

Diving Browning Pass on the Mamro

I lasted about seven months after the last trip to Browning Pass before I had to book it again, this time on a liveabord. I wanted to go back with a camera but now I think I may just have to go back every year. I’ve been diving in some amazing warm water places but this has got to be one of my favourite places in the world, mist and mountains (and more orcas!) topside and a world or colour down below – corals and sponges covered in fish and invertebrates – stretching as far as the eye can see.

Undersea

There were only 6 of us on the boat which was nice and cosy. We had an opportunity to stop at Telegraph Cove  – an old whaling station – on the way up to Port Hardy and have a look through the museum. The whole town is on boardwalks around the cove and the museum has whale skeletons of all varieties. You think you understand how big whales are but it really hits home when you can stand inside a jaw with other people or use a vertebrae as a stool.

Whale vertebrae

Here are the photos from my Browning Pass dive trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635245601126/

wedding

Jenn & Jordan’s Wedding

And then even before my gear was dry we were off to Salmon Arm for Jenn & Jordan’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony with lots of lovely people in attendance and the rain just made it a little more interesting.

Here are the photos from the wedding and our trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635239166625/

 

I had planned to settled in in September and get a job but Matt’s going to Europe for a couple of weeks so I’m going to tag along! We’re certainly going to need home for a rest after all this.

Sail Away, Salty Dog!

Sailing

I have wanted to learn how to sail for approximately forever. There had to be a boat somewhere in amongst my many forms of love for the sea and power boats just seem like marine cars to me so I have known since I was a child that at some point, I was going to learn how to sail. Having time off and no real direction seemed like the perfect time to start checking things off my life list so Matt signed us up for the Crew course at Cooper Boating on Granville Island.

Matt & Degan

We had done a half day “see if you like it” sail with them back before we got married. This is us about to go out, pretty sure we’re going to like it.

Sailing

And we did like it, in spite of the grey days and having to be rescued on the way back in because the engine had run out of oil. Of course sailing through the Bahamas didn’t do anything to dissuade us either so we rode our bikes down and prepared to learn the ropes with two other women in our class.

Vancouver

Most of the what we learned in the crew classroom sessions was what was required for the PCoC (Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card) exam but we also learned the language of sailing.

I thought I already knew how to talk like a sailor but there is a different name for every single thing on a sailboat and many parts of that language have made it into this one. Some people would find that infuriating but I think it’s delightful and I have lit up with a big smile in the middle of several conversations lately when I come across a new crossover term. Some are obviously nautical, like knowing the ropes or loose cannon and some are so lost that we only know the expression –  like the only thing most of us know about gunwales is that they can be either full or packed – but the really glorious ones are the ones you say all the time, without really thinking about they came from. Like, slush fund or bitter end and so many more: taken aback, hand over fist, high and dry, by and large, hard and fast, make my way home, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever used between the devil and the deep blue sea but I love it so I’m going to have to rig a conversation where I can work it in.

Matt

We also learned how to sail, in spite of being out in 21 knot winds (a storm warning) on our first day and almost ramming another boat. We got through it though and brought our bruises and rope burns to Day 2 where our instructor filled in all the knowledge gaps and we got to know our points of sail, how to recover a object (man overboard) from the water, how to tack and how to dock. It was very exciting but we still only knew the basic basics* and weren’t really qualified to do anything other than crew on other people’s boats. So with Matt’s urging, I impulsively registered for the Skipper class the week after. He was unfortunately in Seattle, so he’ll have to take it next month.

Well! The Skipper class was a whole different ball game (there’s got to be a nautical term for that), because instead of just knowing what to do when the Captain asks, now we were learning to make the decisions and call out to the crew to get things done. This involves knowing your points of sail, knowing your  plan, knowing your boat and keeping close watch on the sail, sheets, lines and tell-tales to make sure everything is ship-shape. I have no trouble giving orders but I discovered quickly (with the help of the instructor yelling at me) that I am tiller challenged. Tillers work in the opposite way that steering wheels do and being tiller challenged means that I invariably move the tiller in the opposite way that I want to go. On a tight turn with the sails hardened, this can be pretty dramatic and by the end of the day I was exhausted, embarrassed and questioning whether I should even bother going back the next day.

Bowline

 

It’s hard to not be good at it when you’ve wanted to do something for so long and I was so frustrated that it didn’t come naturally. I thought maybe I needed to crew under some good skippers for the summer to get the hang of it but Matt was very encouraging and especially as the other girls had spent a lot of time on boats it seemed at least worth trying. And a day sailing has got to be better than a day at home on the couch so I practiced my bowlines and studied up on my theory.

Skipper Degan

And the next day I got my Day Skipper certification! Thanks to Drew, a much better and very patient teacher.

I was still embarrassed but pretty proud and when I got home I saw that Seth Godin had published this:

The ludicrousness of embarrassed: I understand why we may have evolved to have the automatic, out-of-control feeling of embarrassed in some situations. But is it useful? Has being embarrassed ever helped you accomplish anything useful? We can (and should) work to eliminate it from our emotional vocabulary. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth not being embarrassed about. And if it’s not worth doing, don’t do it. One reason to avoid doing something is because it leads to embarrassment. A better reason is because it’s not the right thing.

It was the right thing and I’m really glad I went back to finish it off. I still need to spend a lot of time practicing and Matt needs to get his certification but we’re making way. We’ve got time. And when it’s time for us to buy a sailboat, well, we’re just going to get one with a steering wheel.

 

__________

*Our instructor told us the 4 stages of learning, which I hadn’t heard before but quite like:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. Conscious incompetence – you do know just how much you don’t know
  3. Conscious competence – you can do it but you have to think about it
  4. Unconscious competence – you know it so well you do it without thinking

Let’s Save Sharks – Now

stop_shark_finning …Actually, it’s more like 100 million and could be as much as 273 million. That’s 11,417 sharks killed every hour, primarily for their fins – a fuck of a lot. It’s hard to imagine killing that many mosquitos every hour, never mind an apex predator / endangered species / animal that has survived for 400 million years (but there’s a handy infographic at the bottom of this post that will help a bit with visualization). We’ve been warned that if declines in marine species continue at the current rate, the world will run out of seafood by 2048. Susan Carey, author of ‘Devil’s Teeth‘, puts it another way:

“The aquatic environment is being altered radically before we’ve even begun to understand it, an insane game of brinksmanship with potentially catastrophic results. And even as $10 billion is allocated for interplanetary exploration, ocean conservationists – monitoring 71% of the earth – struggle for funding. Meanwhile commercial fishing remains a zero-sum game, habitats are being destroyed, species lost forever.”

This is obscene. I didn’t know whether to start with the facts or with a heart-felt plea but now that there are several statistics in play, here’s the plea: let’s save sharks NOW. We are killing them faster than they can reproduce and we are well past the point of a sustainable shark fishery. We have to get on this before there are no sharks – or fish! – left at all and while the issue of over-fishing and the collapse of regional fisheries is a big one (and well worth being informed about), sharks are close to my heart so I’m starting here.

Finning is a barbaric where the dorsal and pectoral fins of a live shark are cut off and the shark is tossed back into the ocean where it drowns. 90% of the meat is wasted. While shark meat is not uncommon in some cultures, most of the sharks being killed now are killed by being finned in order to maximize the ship’s haul with the most valuable parts. The fins are destined for shark fin soup, a centuries-old Chinese delicacy that used to be reserved for royalty but in more recent years the demand for shark fin soup has risen exponentially with the rising nouveau riche to a point where it is severely impacting the balance of the ocean.

Stop Shark Finning

Sharks grow very slowly and have a long gestation period, sometimes only birthing a couple of pups every few years, so they don’t stand a chance when they’re being killed off in such record numbers. Not surprisingly, many shark species have declined by more than 90% in the last 50 years and more than a third of all shark species (more than 500 in total) are facing extinction.

For a soup that apparently doesn’t even have a distinct taste, this is just not okay.

Sharks are important to healthy marine life because as the ocean’s apex predator, they keep the food chain in balance and the oceans healthy by preying on sick and weak animals, keeping the next lower level of fish stock in good shape. Without sharks, the lower carnivore classes would bloat and become disease-ridden, degrading the species and over time these species will die out and we’ll be left with only algae and jellies. Susan Carey writes in ‘Devil’s Teeth’ that, “Monkeying around with the balance of nature is the ultimate fool’s game. Strip away the top of the food chain and the bottom is likely to sprawl with opportunistic animals dominating and breeding unchecked. Worms, viruses, parasites and their ilk having a high old time. Oceans without sharks would be a pest-filled affair, and that’s only the most obvious side effect.”

shark

This is happening. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to go and see what there is to see under the sea but in the years that I’ve been diving, I’ve already noticed the decline and I spend far less time in shark-infested waters than other experts. One of the first times I saw a shark was in 2005 at the Blue Hole in Belize. And I didn’t just see one shark. As we descended to 130 feet we saw huge sharks all the way down and back up again (with a couple of huge groupers thrown in for good measure). They were interested in us divers as a curiosity, swimming past at a distance to get a better look (or smell) but posed no danger. I wasn’t afraid. Instead, I was grinning into my regulator but the dive master I was swimming beside me was going out of his mind, pointing to all the sharks and making the sign for “shark” and then “big fucking shark” over and over again. On the surface later, I learned that despite coming to this site regularly for work, he had never seen so many sharks. Neither had I, obviously, and sometimes I think that I’m not likely to again. This shark research program (that I hope to participate in) writes about Belize, “My team has deployed baited remote underwater videos (BrUVs)—underwater video traps to count sharks and other fish—on reefs where gillnets and fishing are allowed, and found that sharks are nearly absent on these reefs.” In the Bahamas we scoured reefs that, while healthy, were quiet. No sharks for days and when they did show up it was a handful of tiny ones. And this in a place that has banned shark fishing in favour of promoting shark tourism.

Why are we allowing this to happen? Is it only because we can’t see to the bottom that we assume the sea will keep providing, no matter how much we take out of it? Is it because sharks have an image problem and no one cares if they’re killed by the thousands? No one eats lions or gorillas any more. Worldwide awareness have helped to protect them enough that those species are stable. Whale populations have been able to bounce back from the brink of extinction now that most of the world has agreed to stop whaling. Sharks can be the new whales

There’s been some progress. CITES  (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) have granted three hammerhead species, the porbeagle shark, the oceanic whitetip, and both types of manta rays protected status along with the basking shark, whale shark, and great white shark on Appendix II, which requires permits to export.

CITES plenary today accepted Committee recommendations to list five species of highly traded sharks under the CITES Appendices, along with those for the listing of both manta rays and one species of sawfish. Japan, backed by Gambia and India, unsuccessfully challenged the Committee decision to list the oceanic whitetip shark, while Grenada and China failed in an attempt to reopen debate on listing three hammerhead species. Colombia, Senegal, Mexico and others took the floor to defend Committee decisions to list sharks.

In addition to protecting those shark species, this plenary has generated a lot of increased awareness in sharks and shark conservation. There’s hope.

sharks

An interviewee in The End of the Line (a documentary about over-fishing) says, “Man is not going to change and the sea is going to be dead because man is crazy.” I don’t believe that. I can’t. I believe that people are generally good and that they’l make the right decisions if they’re informed. I believe that if enough people are informed the social pressure will change culture. I believe we have a chance, but we don’t have very much time.

 

What You Can Do

 

Sharks killed 12 people last year. We killed 100 million sharks – that’s 11,417 sharks killed every hour. Joe Chernov created this infographic to help visualize that number: Shark-Attack-Stop-Finning-Infographic

The God of Frolic (and Naps)

Riley

The last two months have been an exercise in decision-making, with so many options brought out to help decide so many things. It’s tiring! And while it’s hella exciting, it’s also pretty unsettling not knowing what your life is going to look like from one week to the next. With all of the uncertainty and change, I needed something constant – and so we got a dog.

All the dog books will tell you that when your life is in chaos is the last point that you should consider adding a dog to it, but we’ve been talking about getting one for a while now (that is, I’ve been talking and Matt’s been listening) and we wanted to wait until after the Bahamas and then that became after the move to Seattle but at some point it just seemed like a little routine and a lot of love wouldn’t be the worst thing right now. Plus, I’ve got lots of free time for training now that we’ve closed our company.

Riley

So after a few false starts we picked up Riley on our way back from Seattle. She’s an American bulldog, which means that she gets mistaken for a pit bull or a Boxer puppy about 80% of the time, with paws so big that she trips over them fairly regularly. She was 10 lbs when we got her at 8 weeks but she’s been growing steadily and won’t stop until she’s somewhere between 90 and 110 lbs. That’s a lot of dog!

Riley

Having a dog has been good in all of the predictable ways; being around something so pure and full of love, getting up early, going for lots of walks and spending time outside, taking lots of naps… and I maintain that even though many days we’re wall-eyed with fatigue and have gone through many, many paper towels. And she’s been keeping me busy, which was one of the stated purposes. With all the walking and hanging out in parks I’ve had plenty of time to spend thinking about what I want to do next for a project or career (although I’ve not decided yet) but not much else. I always thought that I wasn’t any good at just hanging out but dogs are experts and Riley is already teaching me that being close to home and slowing things waaaaay down has been alright. It is the mark of a mad person to attempt to plan one’s day around a puppy and that has been good for me too. I am looking forward to going on longer hikes and being able to put her in the crate for longer periods of time so that I can go diving or out for dinner but I feel the calm settling in.

Riley

And slowly, decisions are being made and things are becoming less certain. We’ve decided to wait until next June to move to Seattle because the visa is that much better but that opens up some new options; whether to move houses or stay in Gastown, where and when I will work or go to school but we have a dog now, and I have started Crossfit in an attempt to get into some kind of shape. Next I’m going to start working on the creative bits.

Time Defeated by Hope and Beauty

CelebrationIt was my birthday earlier this week – I turned 37 – and while I don’t really begrudge the start of grey hairs, wrinkles and extra pounds, I do resent the contributing factors. 2012 was a hard year. I’m tired. Every year on my birthday I set a theme for the year and try to pick goals from my life list that match it. This year won’t have any epic travels or key milestones checked off but if all goes well we’ll have a new country, a new city, a new home, new jobs for both of us, a new dog and some new friends. That’s enough.

It’s going to be busy; we’re getting a dog and moving to Seattle. Jenn and Jordan are getting married, I’ll be travelling to Port Hardy and California for diving, I’m working on a new art project, will probably start grad school in the fall and already have some exciting ideas about What’s Next. Additionally, I’ll be working on building personal strength through vulnerability, building physical strength by getting back into shape and re-defining what success means to me.

Time Defeated by Hope and Beauty is a painting by Simon Vouet that caught my eye in the Prado last year (it also appears to have a different translation in the online catalog) because I like the idea. Living an unfulfilled life has always been my greatest fear and now that my grandmother is deteriorating so quickly in her care home, it’s become a regular reminder to approach everything wholeheartedly and live life to the fullest. This month alone has been full of some incredible adventures.

Keeping busy is not time defeated by hope and beauty though – it’s time flattened by my usual means of filling it full to the brim with exciting things so that sometimes it feels as though I’m living 6 lives instead of 1. I’ve just finished Brené Brown‘s book, “Daring Greatly” after being enthralled with her TED talk on the power of vulnerability and I will probably write more about that after I sit with it for a while but one thing that she wrote that resonated with me is that, “Hope is a function of struggle.” People who have experienced adversity are more likely to have high levels of hopefulness and so it’s not just for style that Vouet’s Hope is brandishing a weapon in his painting. It also speaks to the process – of letting go, of being grateful for what you have, of learning to be joyful. The hope I feel like I have always had in spades and the beauty is something I’m always working on; to live my life with my whole heart, to be open and connect with people, to be grateful for all the moments and not just the exciting ones.

Along with all of the busyness, I’ve been gifted a lot of time. Unexpected, unstructured time of the sort that spins me right into a panic but my theme for this year is to take that and turn it into something beautiful for what it is, not for the amount of things I can fit in it. Bear with me, I’m not good at this, and if I see a cheap enough flight to Africa I’m not saying I won’t get on it, but I’m trying. It’s a process. While I was shopping for cards the other day I saw one that resonated in amongst all the self-depricating ageist ones. It said, “Some people call them decades. I prefer to call them my life’s work.”

I forgot to take a picture of myself on my birthday but here is one that my friend Cyndi took of me with Matt and Stacie. We are in one of my favourite cocktail bars surrounded by friends while in the background one of my favourite bartenders is whipping up a delicious custom cocktail that he created for my birthday. Take that, Time.

Spring (break)

Long Beach

Certainly somewhere girls were going wild last week but I spent my spring break being relaxed and restored; surfing, sleeping, diving reading, walking in the woods and on the beach. I had a trip planned to go surfing in Tofino with some girlfriends that got extended into a dive trip to Barkley Sound with some personal time at the Black Rock in Ucluelet in between. Spoiled, right? I know. I often lament that I don’t spend enough time exploring B.C. and in a way that seems laughable because more than anyone I know, I am the one who will hop in a car and head to Cape Scott (just to see what’s there) and who has stopped to fill up my motorcycle at most of the small towns within a day’s riding distance. But where I excel at going, I lack at sitting and soaking. Holidays for me are a time to see all the things there are to see, and then write about them on the train to the next place. This drove me nuts when I was a kid, that we would vacation over and over again in the same place and stay for weeks at a time, but it’s come to be something I appreciate and it feels good to settle in to some of the places that I’ve been visiting for a long time (starting with Seattle) and settling in a bit farther into myself too.

Good friends

Spring means ducks and bunnies and flowers and rain and enough cat hair in my apartment to make an entire second cat but of course it also means new life. The Persian new year celebrates spring and renewal and I just think that makes so much more sense than trying to be resolute and rejuvenated in the middle of winter when everything is dead. I may adopt it. I LOVE spring and inevitably I change my Facebook picture to the one of me playing in the cherry blossoms and post something about the world being mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful and run around all giddy, but I found this quote recently that I just love:

“Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1805.”
-George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

because everyone loves spring!

Sunset

And you could see it on the island. There were many people out on the beach and in the waves, shedding winter. The goats weren’t on the roof in Coombs yet but the dogs were bounding up and down the beaches, full of joy and later in the week I saw grey whales on their migration north, a black bear out of hibernation and a transient mother orca with her calf.

Wild Pacific Trail

Surfing in Tofino felt like summertime, it was so nice out and we had a beautiful cabin with a hot tub and filled it with great people and lots of wine. I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I was surfing last and I was quickly reminded that I’m out of surfing shape but surfing is one of the only activities where you can have fun no matter how good you are. Even just bobbing in the water in the sun, it feels like a great day. But I decided take a lesson a few days later and not only was that very educational but my instructor was great and we had a fantastic time in the surf. We even saw a grey whale breaching.

Birch

Then the weather turned stormy and I sat on my deck at the Black Rock (or in the hot tub) watching waves pound the rocks over and over again. I read my books and wrote. I also tried to work in a hotel room without a desk but just never mind that, the rest of the week was great. I was hoping to be able to dig deep and think about some things on the horizon; my acceptance into grad school and the MDM program and how that would shake out with our move to Seattle and Adience, an art project I’m working on, etc. but all I realized was how burnt out I am. Whenever I tried to think about what I wanted to do, all that came to mind was surfing and diving (because I am almost never too tired for that), making bread and reading and walking dogs. So more resting is on the horizon, as well as a puppy.

Bamfield

For stage 3 of the adventure, I went to pick up Talia from Nanaimo so that we could go diving in Barkley Sound. When I was hiking around the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, I realized just how close we were to Bamfield (16 nautical miles across the bay) and that just made me laugh* to think about driving all the way across the island and back to almost the same spot but there you have it. The drive was beautiful in any case and although it’s an active logging road with several clearcut areas on it, there are also many stands of silver birch and some rivers and lakes. On our way out we saw some beautiful deer in the trees.

*Now that I’ve seen Revolution about how I’m not laughing anymore. Go and see it please, it’s important.

The cut

Diving in Barkley Sound has been on my radar for a while but there are no operators in the area any more so you have to team up with a trip going from somewhere else. We went with Amanda, a photographer I know, and Ogden Point and stayed in a cabin owned by the operator. The town is divided into east and west, with the west side only accessible by boat and has some interesting amenities – there’s the marine research station which puts on talks and events and a bunch of cat cabins built for the feral cat colony. It was my first time in Bamfield since I hiked the West Coast Trail in university and I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Of course back then I didn’t even get out into the sound, which is where I really fell in love. By the end of the weekend I was noting prices and locations of cabins for sale. It’s a bit far from Seattle but I’m still thinking about it.

Undersea garden

Underwater was even more beautiful. Incredible surge on the first dive so that when we were sometimes moving 6-9″ back and forth through the water, and rounding the rock to swim through the cut where the surf anemones are, we were flung through so quickly that all we saw was the wall of green. I was tempted to go around and do it again but surge in another direction pushed me too far up to the surface (this was a very shallow dive) and I saw a wall of mussels and kelp blocking my way back down again so I waited for Talia and we went over to the another rock for a similar ride. I described it afterwards as like being at the aquarium and Playland at the same time and kept giggling into my regulator I was having so much fun. The rest of the dives were considerably calmer (although far from flat) with still the same amount of colour. Pink and purple urchins up against blue and orange sunstars, bat stars, leather starts, lime green surf anemones, soft purple corals, pink and purple hydrocorals, iridescent blue seaweed, green eelgrass and red-tinged kelp, huge abalone, lurid orange scallops, nudibranchs the size of rabbits and so many more things.

Orcas

For dinner the first night we had a moose roast (my first time eating moose) and then we were back out again in the morning for more of the same underwater splendours. A huge sea lion came and played with us for a while, jumping completely out of the water three times after we had surfaced to see where we were at, and then on our way to the next dive site, we encountered the orcas and spent some time with them before moving on. In every photo of me coming out of the water, I have a big grin on my face. It was just so incredible and I can’t wait to go back. Our captain described the sound as a place where you could dive every day for a year and still not dive the same site twice (see my earlier comment about buying a property there).

Beautiful BC

A friend described it as a perfect B.C. vacation (especially if I could have snuck in a trip to Whistler!) and it was just so wonderful to spend that much time out on the water surrounded by amazing beauty with some great people. I’m very grateful.

Here are all of the photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157633215145771/