2015 (in Pictures)

I generally have more adventures than time to write about them, but last year was so spectacular I don’t want to forget it. I saw the northern lights for the first time and I narrowly missed seeing the Southern Cross while we were hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, I drove on an ice road and did two speedy drift dives through narrows in BC and Washington, I made it (barely) up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,700′ and down to about 130′ underwater to see Gorgonian corals…but most of the summer was spent on the road – either on my motorcycle or camped on the ground beside it. Between commuting, camping with the Rainier Ravens and going on a couple of trips with Matt, I put a lot more miles on my bike than I have in a while and ventured down the Oregon Coast, near to Mt. Adams, around Crater Lake, over to the Olympic Peninsula and through Joshua Tree National Park.

I also got a job I loved, hit publish on my 500th blog post on my food blog, made a coffee table, and cooked an incredible amount of delicious food. I had set a goal for myself of eating less meat last year and inadvertently completely became a vegetarian again…except for a handful of meals, I found I just didn’t want meat anymore. We ate some truly incredible meals in Lima then closed out the year by buying a home in Seattle and moving into our lovely blue house in the last few weeks of December. Phew! I crossed so many things off my life list that I’m tempted to sit back and take it easy for a while but knowing me that won’t last long.

Here are some of my favourite photos:

SUNSHINE COAST

Dive boat

Egmont

Red Irish Lord

Early in the year (so early I almost forgot), I went on my yearly dive trip to Skookumchuck Narrows – one of my favourite places – with Porpoise Bay Charters and my Vancouver dive crew -some of my favourite people. We revisited all of our favourite sites and had a bit of a more exciting time than we intending, surfacing at night in the middle of the channel. Skookumchuck means ‘strong water’ and it’s not a place you want to be too far from shore or the boat. Afterwards, we warmed up with port and cheese and the telling of tales.

YUKON

Yukon

Northern Lights 2

Northern Lights

Yukon

Yukon

I am only beginning to understand the nuances of night photography but what I experienced in Dawson City couldn’t have been captured on film anyways – bright colours streaking and dancing across the sky, then dipping below the horizon only to come back around and surprise you. One of the most profound experiences of my life.

EATING

Boat Street Cafe

Vegetarian

Field table

Outstanding in the Field

We’ve had a lot of excellent meals this year, both out and at home but one in particular was at Outstanding in the Field.  It’s been a dream of mine to go for a while but I have always put it off because of the expense. Matt surprised me with tickets for my birthday and I can’t say it’s a great deal in terms of value but the food was excellent and we had a lot of fun wandering around the farm and meeting new people.

AUSTIN

Austin

Sisters

My sister and I are slowly exploring the US on little city breaks – for my birthday it was Austin and we had an absolute blast. Between cocktails, food trucks, cocktails, live music and more cocktails, there was maybe more laughing than remembering but that’s just fine with me. Next year we’ll go to Memphis, Nashville and Chicago.

OREGON

Jellies

Jellies

Riley

We took Riley to the Oregon Coast to play on the beach. Oregon is so civilized that dogs are allowed off-leash on all the beaches and there are just no sad dogs to be seen anywhere. Riley literally played until she couldn’t stand up anymore – she looks drunk in this photo! – while Matt and I celebrated our anniversary drinking Champagne on the sand.

Oregon Coast

A few weeks later I was back down on two wheels although I didn’t actually get down to the beach.

School of Rock

Matt joined a band program with another friend with ours so for the first time I had the opportunity to see him perform on stage instead of on our couch!

OLYMPIC PENINSULA

Ravens' campout

Hurricane Ridge

Hot tub

Summer really ramped up in August where I felt like I was on a motorcycle trip every weekend. Lucky me! The Rainier Ravens (my motorcycle group) put on a spectacular camp out event where we had about 50 women join overnight to Port Townsend on their bikes. I’ve done some camping on a bike before but certainly not on the Ducati so it was a fun project to get it all loaded up with gear. We camped out in the trees, road up to Hurricane Ridge, went to a drive-in movie, had a hot tub and basically the best time ever. These women are incredible.

MT. ADAMS

the Dream Roll

Dream Roll

The Dream Roll, another (larger) all-women moto camp out, was happening the following weekend so some friends and I headed down for that and luckily brought our rain gear because that was some of the wettest riding I’ve done in a while. The countryside was beautiful and the roads were amazing but I had to keep reminding myself that it was August and not October. That’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, I suppose!

CRATER LAKE

Painted Hills

Crater Lake

In September some friends and I had planned to ride to Glacier National Park but sections were closed due to snow so we headed south and went to Crater Lake in Oregon instead. It was still incredibly cold on some of the mountain roads and as the roads got dark and full of deer we pulled over earlier than we had intended. The views didn’t disappoint though – the lake is deeply blue and serene and the ring road needs to be done (despite crappy pavement and an abundance of RV’s).

JOSHUA TREE

Nevada

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Desert

I thought I might have had enough of women’s motorcycle campouts but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride through the desert to Babes Ride Out in Joshua Tree (now in its third year, it is one of the inaugural events that are inspiring all the others). Some friends and I flew to Las Vegas and rented Harley’s, rode down to the campground, pitched tents and then got up and rode almost all the way to L.A. on some very sweet roads. In the morning we got up early to ride through the park and take a look at the strange-looking Joshua Trees. Amazing trip. Next year Matt and I will go to a co-ed camp out in Moab, Utah.

PERU

Lima

Lima

Lima

Maido

Lima

Cusco

Peru

Sacred Valley

Cusco

Inca Trail

Macchu Pichu

There’s not much I can say about Peru yet…I’m still processing it (and Matt’s still processing photos). We went to Lima to eat and we ate exceptionally well at the 4th, 14th and 44th best restaurants in the world – Astrid y Gaston, Central and Maido – then flew to Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before riding motorcycles around the Sacred Valley and hiking over the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Despite all the photos you’ve ever seen, being there is absolutely magical with the clouds coming in and out and hiking for four days to get there made it a prize well deserved.

HOME

Degan

Finally sitting still, on the stoop of our new home. This winter is going to be a quiet one but here’s to 2016!

Never Say Die! Oregon on 2 Wheels

Goonies Ride 9
Not long after my last trip to the Oregon coast, I was back with my pack of lovely moto-babes, the Rainier Ravens.  It was roughly-themed as a “Goonies” ride because (although I had neglected to recognize the landmarks or remember this fact on any of my prior trips) large parts of it are filmed there. The ‘Goon Docks’ home that the kids were trying to save is in Astoria, as well as many of the street scenes, and I don’t know how I didn’t recognize Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach from the end of the film… there aren’t many like it.

Goonies Ride 8
But as much as I loved the film as a kid (second only to Gremlins), I wasn’t there for nostalgia but rather for the road and spectacular scenery, to be enjoyed by motorcycle. It’s long been a dream of mine to travel down the coast to California by bike so I jumped at the chance to take a trip at least part of the way down the coast.

Ducati
We met at Dick’s Drive-in and, after a series of communication debacles, got on the ferry at and filled up with some of their awful coffee in Styrofoam cups. The ride down was nice but uneventful until we got to the coast. The first sight of the ocean always takes my breath away, even though I haven’t lived or worked more than a few blocks from the sea in quite some time. Coming around the corner before Astoria and seeing the white caps on the water, then from the monstrous bridge is just amazing. For a few of the new girls, it was the longest they had ever ridden so we took it easy and it ended up being a bit of a long day. Eventually, though, we arrived in Manzanita where we were rewarded with gorgeous sweeping vistas of the sea, a dip in the pool, and dinner and drinks at the local watering hole.

Manzanita
The next day we were meant to meet more Ravens at a roadside restaurant but we had some time to kill so we rode along the beach and then up through Astoria (where we could hear the sea lions!), through all the beautiful long curves and seaside vistas until we reached our turnoff and just as I – bringing up the read of our group – made the turn I caught sight of a group of women coming down the hill towards us…more Ravens! It was an amazing experience as we all joined rank together then piled into the restaurant parking lot, giddy and excited at the timing. It could not have been more perfect.

Goonies Ride 7
I’ve been riding motorcycles for a long time…15 years or so, but to be out riding as part of such an amazing group of women was just amazing.

Cannon Beach
We were all excited on the ride back, cruising through the forest-flanked twisties, up into the mountains and then as we approached Seattle it was like any of the 80’s cult movies – Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Karate Kid, Goonies –  where an epic summer adventure ends and each individual peels off with a wave towards home.

Manzanita

Austin

Austin
One of the great things I love about our temporary US home is how diverse it is. Last fall we went on a road trip through pelting rain and evergreens, forests of yellow and green Aspens, geothermic landscapes, the view from 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, red sandstone for days, ancient Pueblos, more than one amazing canyon (as well as the Grand one), the suburbs of Las Vegas, from 230 feet below seawater to the hot desert heights of Death Valley, the cool granite and forested landscapes of Yosemite and finally back to the rain and evergreens. We saw moose, a Grizzly, a herd of Pronghorn antelope, a whole lot of Elk, deer, chipmunks, Bison, and met a lot of cool people too. And that was only the western states. With my birthday coming up I wanted to do a quick city break with my sister and we narrowed it down to Savannah, back to Denver, or Austin. Since Savannah was a bit too far for a weekend and I had just been to Denver, we were soon on our way to Texas.

Austin
Austin is adorable and so fun. I only knew it from Slacker and SXSW and from my friend Mel who lives there now, but America has a thing that Canada does not, which is a relatively even spread of people and culture across the country, and inhabitants that move around between cities. So even a college town can seem larger than life when in fact it is about the same size as Ottawa. In a matter of hours, we had seen the lake (actually a river), the grassy knoll that rises above the town, the party district and, well…I don’t really remember much after that.

If someone asked me what there was to do in Austin, I would have to be honest and say “drink” with maybe some eating thrown in for good measure. We did walk up to the Capitol building one day and Mel suggested stand-up paddle-boarding on the lake but we mostly explored various restaurants and bars.  If Austin had a theme it would be “cocktails and music” which are basically two of my favourite things and it kind of blows my mind that what I consider real jobs seem like an afterthought here. We had an AMAZING time but this was definitely a case of needing home for a rest.

Austin
Our weekend started off in East Austin with dinner at Qui. We were late because our taxi driver didn’t speak French and so took us to Key Bar, a raucous, divey looking thing on a party street. My sister looked alarmed and the taxi driver asked me if I was sure when I said we weren’t in the right place but soon we were speeding off in the other direction and sitting down to an amazing dinner. I would go back to Austin just to go to Qui again but from there we walked back to the hotel, hopping through cocktail bars and food trucks, and ended up at the East Side Show Lounge where a trio featuring an incredible vocalist was playing. I adore live music and I know that Seattle has a lot of it but there is something about just stumbling upon it happening that makes it that much better.

Food trucks
The next day we went for brunch and I tried to untangle the local vernacular for bodies of water (lake, river, swimming holes, etc.) over a Caesar and then a series of patio bars for the afternoon. Our dinner plans at Wink turned into a whole evening affair when the sky opened up and a thunderstorm took out the power. We were one or two tiny courses into a tasting menu so we worked on our wine. Eventually, the rest of dinner arrived and we carried off on some further adventures.

Austin
Sunday we spent on Rainey Street at the recommendation of one of the locals. It’s a street of converted houses where each house has a different theme – one is a sports bar, one is a cocktail bar, one has a crazy amount of sausages, one has hammocks to chill out in…many have live music. It’s a great place to spend a day and Austin was a great place to spend a weekend – especially as I don’t get to see my sister nearly enough these days and spending days listening to music and drinking cocktails was the perfect way to catch up.

Degan and Stacie
Next trip we’re thinking Nashville. I can’t wait.

Yukon adventure

Dawson City

I have wanted to go to the Arctic for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid my aunt and uncle went to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories for a year to work with Inuit artists and they came back with two huskies, a cool nickname for my cousin, and a pack of stories. I’ve been hooked on the north ever since but it’s not a travel destination that many share. When I suggested that I wanted to spend my birthday ice diving in the arctic, Matt just laughed at me. So I went to the Yukon instead.

ice road

It’s practically the Arctic…parts of it are. A few good friends had taken serial trips to Dawson City to photograph the Northern Lights and I figured that my penchant for taking photos (mostly with my iPhone), combined with my fondness for adventure plus my obvious expertise as a Nat Geo explorer wannabe made me an obvious candidate for the trip. I packed my camera and tripod, my warmest toque, and the Pacific Northwest equivalent of a parka and found myself on top of a mountain at 4 AM, jumping up and down with my fists jammed into my armpits trying to keep warm.

Yukon wallpaper

It occurred to me – not for the first time – that I am not cut out to be a landscape or wildlife photographer. Too much sitting around. I am more the type of photographer that takes a selfie out of a train window on a mountain switchback and hope it works out.

Dawson City

But first, we landed in Whitehorse.  I was surprised by the desolateness and big-town-in-the-outback feel. Instead of advertising the usual spas and kiddie attractions, the brochure in the hotel room was a mining directory. There was also a Tim Hortons, a CIBC bank, lots of government buildings and monuments and (of course) a bar. It’s called the Dirty Northern Bastard and we spent the majority of our time in the city there – all of us keeping watch on the cloud cover and refreshing the NOAA forecast for the Aurora Borealis in the hopes that we would get lucky.

Yukon

The first time I went to Las Vegas I drove from Phoenix and the city appeared out of the desert like a lit-up oasis. To compare Dawson City to Vegas would be ridiculous but the surprise reveal was similar; after driving for an hour through a bleak and desolate landscape, we turned a corner and entered a gold rush town, revived. I roused myself from the nest I’d made in the back seat and started oohing and ahhing at all the old buildings.

The top 10 things to do in Dawson include drinking at Diamond Tooth Gerties’, looking at Robert Service’s log cabin, visiting the Jack London museum, walking by the S.S. Keno (an historic steamboat displayed beside the river), walking by the dilapidated St. Paul’s Anglican Church partially sunk into the ground due to the permafrost, and eating at the Greek restaurant (one of the only places open through the winter – we went twice). Aside from eating and drinking, all this doesn’t take very long and it still wasn’t dark yet so we added in a drive across the ice road and hanging out with some sled dogs. And then we had a nap.

Northern Lights

Finally, it was time to head out into the night. We bundled up went to a mountain top outside of town notable for its height, lack of streetlights, and good view of the sky show. It was all of those things and also seriously cold. I set up my camera on the tripod, hopped up and down a few times to get warm, and then stared at the sky. I didn’t have to wait long – a green glow appeared on the horizon, stretched out into a curtain and then hung there shimmering – it was utterly magical.

Northern Lights

Words like ‘awesome’, ‘mind-blowing’, and ‘extraordinary’ were invented for wonders like the Northern Lights but they have become dull and common with overuse. So we have no words for what happens when the sky comes alive and dances with colour. The Inuit have a myth about the lights being spirits of the dead kicking a ball (or walrus skull) around the sky, and others have mentioned aliens in an attempt to understand the phenomenon. Staring skyward for the better part of the night with my friends, it all seemed believable. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Northern Lights

Yukon

New Mexico Redux

New Mexico
My mom had airline tickets to Albuquerque and I had travel points so we set off after Christmas for a few days. Matt and I had been to New Mexico for the first time on our road trip last October, travelling through Taos Pueblo, Farmington and Chaco Cultural Centre to see the ancient pueblos. We were mesmerized by the landscape and the history so I was excited to see what Albuquerque and Santa Fe were like.

New Mexico
The immediate answer is that it is cold. Much colder than we expected. We looked out the window and saw the sunny courtyard so walked out in sweaters…then promptly headed back to the hotel for jackets, toques and gloves. The sunshine was nice but at -4 degrees it was significantly warmer in Seattle! Historic Albuquerque is beautiful and was still all decked out for Christmas with wreaths and ribbons and a creche at the church. The red chiles hanging everywhere are surely not seasonal but if you want a mix of red and green on your enchiladas you ask for “Christmas”.

New Mexico
We took the train to Santa Fe and that was a beautiful ride through the state and up to 7,000 feet elevation. Needless to say, it did not get any warmer and the plaza in the Old Town district was still covered in snow – gorgeous against the sandstone pueblo architecture. We walked everywhere, ducking into art galleries and boutiques, finding little cafes to warm up in and eventually sitting down to a beautiful lunch at the historic La Fonda hotel. We saw the Georgia O’Keeffe gallery but there’s not much there; we were more impressed with the light and the landscape, the architecture and the Puebloan craft markets. It’s easy to see why so many artists have found themselves here, and how so many beautiful things have come out of this area.

New Mexico
Here are some photos from the trip:

New Mexico

New Mexico

New Mexico

New Mexico

Experience Your America (Our NPS Tour)

Olympic Peninsula

After we got a new truck, we went to Dick’s Drive-in to celebrate, and then Riley and I went to Mount St. Helen’s for a mini-adventure. I had never been (neither had she, obviously) and it planted a bug of wanting to explore more National Parks. She and I went on a mini road trip around the Olympic Peninsula to see the Hoh Rainforest, Hurrican Ridge and Rialto Beach, and we also visited Neah Bay, Cape Flattery, Ruby Beach and Grayland before heading back home.

When it came time to plan a vacation for the fall, Matt and I were still enjoying being local and didn’t want to leave the dog behind so we decided to road trip it down to the Grand Canyon through Montana, Yellowstone, Colorado, and New Mexico. On the way back we went through Death Valley and Yosemite, then home through Oregon. It was a great way to see so much of the western states, as well as so many parks (and wildlife), but we weren’t equipped to camp and many of the trails either didn’t allow dogs or it was too hot to take her for long, so it was a good sample tour of places I now want to go back to. I collected a lot of stamps for my National Parks passport, but didn’t write much but here are some photos.

Road trip

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Hoh Rainforest

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Mammoth Caves

Yellowstone

Bison

En route through Wyoming

Farmland

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Colorado

Elk

TAOS PUEBLO

Taos

Riley

CHACO CULTURAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

Chaco Cultural NHP

Arizona

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly

Arizona

HUBBLE TRADING POST

Hubble Trading Post

PAINTED DESERT / PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK

Painted Desert National Park

Sunset

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Death Valley

Death Valley

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park

And finally home.

4468 miles, 9 National Parks and monuments, 10 states. My favourites were Yellowstone, Hubble Trading Post (how I wish I could afford some Navajo weaving!) and Canyon de Chelly. Matt’s were Chaco Culture NHP and the Petrified Forest. Riley liked the dog parks, jumping on hotel beds and sampling sticks in all locations. And the Xterra held up exceptionally well. In fact, we christened it Wade Davis, after my favourite explorer.

Sand & Sea Adventures

Grins

OREGON

Most of July was spent on unpacking and setting up our place in Seattle, hanging art and preserving fruit – because the farmers market is only a block away and I can’t seem to help myself. But I have picked up the Washington State Visitors’ guide and made all kinds of notes in it in preparation for exploring. I thought that would happen on my own, later, so it was kind of funny that my sister came down to visit and right away suggested we go to Oregon to ride dune buggies.

Oregon Coast

I was thinking that we would tour around the Woodinville wineries, maybe go for a bike ride and check out a new neighbourhood but I am always down for both a road trip and an adventure and both together is just not something that I need to be convinced of. My friends, knowing that I love adventure, took me snowmobiling for my staggette and I’d been ATVing before (and of course I ride my motorcycle on a regular basis) but neither of us had been in a dune buggy or on a sand dune, and Ally hadn’t even been to Oregon! So we were very excited.

Oregon Coast

We took Highway 101 for maximum coastal scenery, through such funny little towns as Centralia, Pe Ell and Lebam, past a hundred antique shops and drive-through espresso booths, and stopping at every third pull-out so that I could take a photo.

Cannon Beach

Of course, we stopped at Cannon Beach, and I was agog at the size of it. I had visited about 10 years ago – long enough ago that I was not surprised to see how much the town had grown – but I was surprised that I had so drastically misremembered the size of the beach. It’s the kind of beach that makes you want to play; run and do giant leaps across the sand or twirl or fly a kite just to try and consume a little bit of it. When I was last there it was winter and no one was on the beach but my boyfriend and I bought toy airplanes and ran around throwing them until they were destroyed and we were freezing.

Cannon Beach

The other thing that surprised me is that it’s not even close to the most beautiful part of the coastline. I guess the last time I was there we just got back on the I-5 and didn’t think much of it, but there is a Long Beach in each province and state on the Pacific Coast and (with few exceptions), it seems like it’s really just one long beach from Canada to Mexico, twisting and rolling through amazing pockets of scenery that can only be described as spectacular. I am definitely going to have to go back and do it again on my motorcycle.

Newport

We crashed in a beachside hotel in Newport and woke up in a cloud – there were people on the beach but I could barely see them. Even so, it was wonderfully peaceful and the kind of thing I used to dream about when we lived in the city. Sitting outside drinking my coffee and listening to the waves would have made the trip amazing for me all on its own but we were only an hour away from the dunes so the day just kept getting better!

Oregon Coast

Oregon Sand Dunes

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Oregon Sand Dunes are ridiculously fun. We were a little dismayed that they wouldn’t rent us a dune buggy (too expensive for them to maintain as rentals) so we hired a professional driver who took us out on the dunes for an awesome ride and then we rented an ATV and went back and did the whole thing over again ourselves. I’m glad we did both and I’m also glad that they hadn’t rented us a dune buggy. We told them we wanted to go fast and so they let us take their sole high-powered machine (and I suddenly had flashbacks of the high-powered snowmobile ending up in a ditch) and even so we still managed to almost fly over a sand cliff AND get stuck. I think when the operators give their fast machine to two women they assume it’s going to be babied. Not in this family!

Ready to rock

HOOD CANAL

We were barely back in town when it was time to go on the next adventure – a combination camping, diving and crabbing trip. I have been bugging Matt to go camping with me and Riley for a year now and I’ve been trying to go crab diving for way longer than that.

Shine Tidelands 1

We drove down to a place outside of Sheldon in Hood Canal – about 2.5 hours south of here and camped in a state park and it was pretty fun – Riley LOVED the tent – but we were literally closer to our neighbours than if we had camped in our backyard, which I thought that was pretty funny.

The next day we drove up the peninsula to Shine Tidelands State park to meet some divers and get some crab.

Diving

Crab

I managed to catch some females and a few males that were too small but came back empty-handed for the barbecue. Luckily the others had better luck and we had a wonderful feast of crab, clams, mussels, foraged blackberries and cold beer. Ah, summertime!

Crab

Up next: Mount St. Helen’s, a loop around Olympic park, some more visitors, sailing, then Japan.

June Trembled Like a Butterfly

Hammock

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.” ~Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Sometime in June while I was living in my car, I saw that piece of poem written on a sign. I sighed happily (as I often do when I encounter unexpected poetry) and then wondered if June was trembling because of anticipation, or fear, or just speed…and then it was gone.

Maceo
I don’t remember the first time I saw the city of Vancouver. I was probably too young. I was born there, in Grace hospital (that burnt down and was rebuilt as Women & Children’s) but grew up in the suburb of Langley. The first few visits to the city that I do remember felt like a long journey – over the big orange Port Mann Bridge and then a seemingly endless stretch of nothingness until we were off the freeway. But even when I was asleep (probably most of the time), I always knew we had reached the city because I woke up when we stopped at 1st and Commercial and I would marvel at the gritty urbanness of the gun shop at that intersection, fiercely gated and barred up. Much later I lived right across the street from where it had been and felt completely safe, always wondering if I had just made it up. Our trips into town seemed to revolve around something my dad had forgotten at his office on Hastings Street or a Chinese food dinner at either Wok With Yan or the Beijing House. I remember trying so hard to get my hands around the chopsticks and playing next to the koi pond in the floor, but I am suspicious of memory. Even though I can picture Wok With Yan’s restaurant where the White Spot is now on Georgia Street, I know I was very young. I feel like I must be getting something wrong – not least because I haven’t seen either of my parents eat Chinese food in maybe 25 years. To think of them making such a long drive into town with small children to eat it boggles the mind.

Vancouver
The last time I saw Vancouver was at Crab Park early in the morning. I took a photo because it was gorgeous out and it felt poignant but I have so many photos of that dog park – a place that I have been to almost daily this past year. This last time though, we were in a rush. We had cleaners to deal with, cars to pack, and then a whole lot of paperwork to fill out at the border because finally, after a long wait, we were moving to Seattle.

Riley
I’ve always thought of Vancouver as my home. I read a poem once in which ‘home’ was defined by wherever you had your heart broken and in a way, I feel that that is true…home is where you had your formative experiences. I lived in the West End, East Van, Cambie Village, Commercial Drive, Main Street, Oak Street and Gastown. I ate at SO many restaurants (sometimes even consecutive businesses in the same storefront) and blogged about a great many of them, hiked in the forests, dove all over the coast, got married, worked for several different companies (as well as started my own), and made lots of friends…for all of these reasons Vancouver will be home but for many of those same reasons, it was also a good time to leave.

Moving van
It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and I’ve dabbled in it (multiple home-stays in France and Germany and a lot of travel) and prepared for it (I’m a certified TESL instructor and a divemaster and I have a filing cabinet worth of books and maps) but there has always been something holding me back…a relationship, finances, poor timing.

Lake City
But we are finally here, just barely abroad, and that’s ok. It’s a step. From here we can go elsewhere and even this border hop has had its share of paperwork and problems. Had we moved to say, Poland or Japan, we would currently be standing in a drug store hoping we were buying toothpaste and not hemorrhoid cream, walking everywhere for fear of driving (or taking transit and ending up in another city), and eating all kinds of interesting new food. Instead, we are driving around in our same cars (minus one motorcycle and one truck), speaking English, eating sushi and burgers at the two decent restaurants in our neighbourhood and when we get lost, we pull up google maps to tell us where to go. Easy Peasy. We are glad of the adventure, in any case and ready for all the next ones.

Seattle

A better quote for this month might be this famous one:

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

~Anais Nin

Home
Wish us luck. And come visit.

Spain (Revisited)

Walterses

Travelling through Europe, taking photos of doors and writing in cafes has made me think a lot about our trip through Spain last year (May 2012). We had such a good time, hanging out in Barcelona for a week before heading up to Girona and eating the dinner of our lives at El Celler de Can Roca and then motorcycling around the country through France to Andorra, then Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Jerez, Gibraltar, Ronda, Granada, Costa del Sol, Valencia and back to Barcelona again. That was before I had a place to keep travel notes and the like, so they’ve been floundering around in my phone and – for lack of a better idea – I’m just going to post them here, largely unedited.

Gaudi

12-05-03 – 12-05-09 (Barcelona)

Coming from the airport we passed a hillside graveyard and fields and the general unused land around airports, but then the landscape closed in tighter and tighter as we got into Barcelona and then into Barri Gòtic – the Gothic quarter or Old town where what used to be paths hundreds of years ago has now been cemented into streets by years and stone. The taxi driver tried to tell us where our hotel was (we were not in front of it) but not understanding any of his Catalan dialect, he shrugged and pulled the mirrors in and then drove us to it down an impossibly small street.

Barri Gothic

The lock was broken so we called the landlord and waited a while but then the locksmiths broke the spare lock that they brought with them so finally we left them to it and went out to dinner. We were tired so we choose poorly and ended up at something too touristy close to La Rambla (the main street, a wide promenade full of shops and tourists) but it gave us an idea of what to expect.

Sagrada Familia

I loved wandering the labyrinthian neighbourhood, navigating to our street using graffiti on closed security doors and public art in seemingly out of the way squares, and passing jamón shops with legs of ham hanging in windows every 50 metres. On the first day, we walked to see Gaudi’s masterpiece basilica, the Sagrada Familia (above) and passed three of his other works – Casa Mila, Casa Amatller, and Casa Batlló. On the way back we passed a restaurant I wanted to check out – Tapas 24 – and we ate pa amb tomate and jamón, croquettes and the best dessert I’ve had in a long time – rolls of chocolate ganache topped with sea salt and olive oil. 

We found a cava bar we liked in El Born (the trendy restaurant district near us) called Xampanyet and ended up going there 2 more times, we visited the Boqueria market twice and ate at the Bar Pinotxo. I had made both lunch and dinner reservations at Tickets, planning to cancel one of them, but we ate there twice too and tried everything on the menu.

And so our first week in Spain passed this way, feeling easy and comfortable, being amazed at how small and compact and beautiful it was but happy to already have favourites and a familiar routine.

Motorcycles

12-05-10 (Barcelona / Girona)

When I first told Matt I wanted to eat at El Celler de Can Roca I explained that it was in Girona, a couple of hours north of Barcelona and he said no problem, he would sort out how to get us there. I assumed there would be a bus or maybe a train but a couple of weeks later he had rented us some motorcycles – a BMW R1200GS for him and a BMW F800ST for me – and planned a little romp around the countryside. Because he likes driving and I like seeing things, it turned into the epic adventure that follows but our first leg was pretty short – we picked up the bikes and drove to Girona, checked into our hotel and ordered some surprise dishes off the entirely Catalan menu, and then I went to bed because we had spent a little too long at the mezcal bar the night before and I wanted to be in good shape for dinner.

El Cellar de Can Roca

The evening at El Celler de Can Roca was the best experience I have ever had in a restaurant. Everything was perfect. Afterwards, we met the chef and he thanked me for my sensitivity – what I had called “our gushing” about how good everything was.

Cadaques

12-05-11 (Girona/ Cadaques /France / Andorra)

The next day was a long one. We wanted to ride through the Pyrenees and we had seen on Google Maps that the road through Andorra was a good one. But to get there we first needed to go north along the coast and then through France. A small town (Orriol maybe?) smelled so fantastically like cheese it made me grin, and later a low-flying plane crossed over the road above us to land in a field which was delightful. It can be a bit lonely riding a motorcycle because even when you’re riding with someone you can’t be sure they’re sharing the same experiences, but on the other hand it makes you appreciate the moments a bit more and try to remember them for later.

Roses, the town where El Bulli used to be, was even more strange than Girona. It was tiny and felt somewhat like Osoyoos, with hills and windy roads and dry scrub and heat..not to mention the run-down go-carting place and crazy mini-golf parks. I guess a seaside town is a seaside town is a seaside town.

But that road! We laughed all the way to Cadaques, twisting in and our of beautiful corners, bright yellow broom all over the place (with that particular cellulose smell), catching our first glimpses of the Mediterranean and were still smiling over beers and bacon-cheese sandwiches oceanside when we stopped for lunch. Cadaques is all square white buildings and square blue windows reflecting light off the ocean and Gertrude Stein was right – this is a perfectly cubist village. Cubism was created by Cadaques.

Cadaques

And then we got to ride that road back out again! Aside from a small stretch of boring highway slab in France, the twisties continued all the way to Andorra. We passed a whole bunch of beach towns with intense azure water, a castle with a moat, the vineyards of the Languedoc-Rousillon wine region, several small medieval towns with towers and walls and meadows and orchards, and some beautiful horses grazing as we rode through a river valley. It’s neat to think that these towns would have been about a day’s journey on foot between each other and we just whipped by them.

Andorra

The approach to Andorra looks so much like Bavaria or BC – or like a mountainous region, I suppose – but with stone huts and more horses.  And then suddenly it was all snow and duty-free shops. As soon as we crossed the border, it felt like we were in a mall. But the scenery was pretty glorious, and the road up and down the summit was incredible – the switchbacks were so severe that Matt and I were almost facing each other a couple of times. Andorrans drive like assholes, though, and there were several tracks off into the air so I took it pretty slowly. It’s hard to believe that we went from sea level to glacier on the same day, through 3 countries. By far the best day riding of my life.

By then, I was ready to be off the bike – I was tired and thirsty and headachy, and my shoulders were quite sore from getting used to the ergonomics on the bike. Matt’s back had been bothering him for hours, but we were almost in Andorra la Vella and then there was another small town, and another, and another and then finally we had arrived in town, but there was a river and such a long, drawn-out town you never did see.  Finally, we arrived at the hotel after 14 hours of riding but in going around the block, got ourselves stranded at the top of an incredibly steep, narrow dead end. The road just ended at the top of a hill so steep that Matt had to back into a corner to turn around and I had to ride up on to and off of the sidewalk, through some bollards and around a car while Matt held my bike and I freaked out because I couldn’t touch the ground. It sucked so much, especially to be dealing with it when we were so exhausted, but we got back down the hill without issue, and then almost got into a fight with a horrible Italian man who told Matt, “traffic is not bad, you are stupid!!” after honking at us then driving around us and over the median and reversing through the intersection. We checked in, ate dinner across the street and threw ourselves into sleep.

Leaving the next day, Matt didn’t yield at a courtesy corner, braked too hard and came off his bike. He was ok but we were definitely ready to move on. 

Madrid

12-05-12 (Andorra / Madrid)

Nothing much to report on the journey down the super-slab highway from Andorra to Madrid. It was even more boring than we thought it would be, although there were some bits of interesting scenery (including an area that looked for all the world like Utah…except for the fields of windmills and huge toro silhouettes periodically placed on hillsides. I guess they don’t call it the Sierra Nevada in both counties for nothing). We met an excited truck driver at a gas station near Zaragosa and had quite a long conversation…while actually exchanging very little information. He was a motorcyclist too, and we watched some Moto GP videos of Rossi on his phone.

Arriving in Madrid was busy but sane. Drivers are assertive but logical and there is respect for motorcyclists. The city seems electric with energy. We were surprised that we felt so good after such a long ride and had some energy after a shower, beer and food, so we decided to walk up to the Reina Sofia museum to see Picasso’s Guernica. This is a painting I have been wanting to see for a very long time and so I was full of gratitude and appreciation to be able to see it in person. It’s one that really requires a visit to understand its utter immensity. It’s enormous and the effect of all those layers and textures of wood just does not come through in photos. His ability to convey emotion like that through form is sheer brilliance. I could have sat there for hours.

The museum has several other Dalis, Magrittes, Miros and other famous pieces, and we saw quite a few of them but Matt was getting tired so we didn’t stay too long. We left and found a nice spot overlooking the city where we could rest and have a beer before dinner. The light was amazing and the thing that I already love about this city is that there are almost no tourists. It was nice to hang out with Spaniards and watch the footy game that was happening in a field down below. Later we tried to go out for dinner on the Calle de la Cava Baja – Madrid’s tapas row and we were astounded at how many people were out milling and eating, streaming out of streets like water. We thought there was an event on but it turned out to just be just a regular Saturday night. This city is so alive! Every bar was packed to the gills and we could hear music and people out partying until almost morning. We were in bed early though – 700km and a museum and tapas was enough for one day.

Madrid

12-05-13 (Madrid)

We toured the Prado today. The whole thing. We were not as impressed with Velasquez’s portraits as I had expected, and I’m not a huge fan of Goya but it was good to see the original Las Meninas after seeing so many of Picasso’s studies in Barcelona. Also, I hadn’t realized that there were so many (or any, for that matter) of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings in Madrid, so it was a real treat to see the Garden of Earthly Delights and 4 others up close… so much crazy detail in those.

We were tired afterwards but decided it would be better to press on and eat instead of napping, so we had a couple of beers and then headed back to the bottom of the Calle de la Cava Baja where we had been the night before, ready to tuck in.

The first place we went was a chain called Toma Jamón that (obviously) had jamóns hanging all over the place and one ready to be sliced sitting on a barrel in the doorway. Gin and tonics seem to be the drink of the moment in Madrid – every bar was promoting them, including our hotel – but I had vermuth again (Matt stuck with beer) and we ordered jamón, pulpo gallego (octopus), and gambas (prawns). I tried to order more but the proprietor waved me off with a laugh and then brought me to the counter to show me the prawns – there was a choice between ones the size of my hand or some that were even larger! He also brought out an order of tomato bread and small but meaty green olives so I worried that we were going to fill up on our first stop. Matt laughed at me for being up to my elbows in prawn but they were so delicious – meaty and flavourful and not like any prawn I’ve had in recent years. We were pretty full by the time we got to the octopus but we didn’t much care for it anyways – it was thinly sliced on top of thinly sliced potatoes and doused in smoky, meaty-tasting paprika. It was fine as a protein but not good enough to warrant eating my beloved octopuses.

Gulas

Bar #2 (TxoTolia Pinoteca Madrileño??) was packed but we squished in and Matt got a table while I ordered drinks and scoped out the tapas. I told Matt that there was one of the best looking ones I had seen so far (a fist-sized bomba with potatoes and mushrooms) and one of the grossest (a pile of tiny grey eels – “gulas” – on toast with a lone slice of red pepper for garnish). He told me to get one of each and I stared at him in disbelief for a moment before running to the counter and ordering before either of us changed our minds. Surprisingly, the eels were even better than the bomba that ended up coming warmed with mushroom gravy or the morcilla sausages wrapped in a fried egg on toast and even the Spaniards were shocked at us – most of them were eating tapas that looked like little cheeseburger sliders.

We were pretty satiated by this point but decided to try one more place, and unfortunately, the one we tried wasn’t great. But we had some anchovies (tasted as expected) and croquettes (tasted of oil), some hazelnut ice cream (delicious) and some terrible service before stumbling home.

Cordoba

12-05-14 (Madrid / Cordoba)

Madrid appears to be surrounded by farmland and the only ways in and out are via massive freeways. This leg to Cordoba was even more boring than the last freeway jaunt but we did see some vineyards and olive groves. It’s pretty cool to be able to smell olive oil in the air.

It is SO hot. I am melting in my leathers. Matt says him too but I look at his canvas jacket that unzips to practically nothing and think that he just has no idea.

We arrived in Cordoba and parked on the sidewalk, peeled the leathers off and left them in a damp pile on the sidewalk. The hotel was nice and we got settled in then decided to go out and see the mosque-cathedral.  Possibly it would have been better to wait until later because even in a summer dress, it was still so hot. We were cranky and sweating before we had even made it all the way across the river.

The mosque-cathedral (way more mosque than cathedral despite the altar in the middle and the various chapels around the perimeter) was stunningly beautiful with its rows of candy-cane arches and forest of pillars.

Seville

12-05-15 (Cordoba / Seville / Jerez)

The agriculture between towns is now predominantly olive groves, (with a few cattle ranches and garlic farms). The air was full of the smell of olives, and Matt smelled sherry too. Sevilla was bigger than we expected and apparently had hosted the Olympics at some point. It’s much cooler than we expected (32 degrees instead of 38, at least for now) and we’re so grateful, but also astounded to see guys walking around in the sun in black suits or a FUR shop! There are orange trees with fruit on the growing everywhere on the streets and beautiful purple flowering trees that I think must be jacarandas. We didn’t have much time in Sevilla, unfortunately, but we headed to Zelai for lunch where we had jamón and manchego cheese (both delicious, but possibly a poor choice to fill up on), patates ali-oli with saffron, tuna tataki and croquettes. For dessert, we had a PB & jam pudding with a chocolate top that was also delicious. Simply prepared, for the most part, but it was some of the best food we’ve had in Spain. Driving out of Sevilla I was so distracted by the incredibly beautiful architecture and wished we were able to stay longer to explore. Gorgeous palace after bull ring after manor houses…even the tourist information booth was in a beautiful building. I often say I want to return to places to see more but Sevilla is high on the list.

Andalusia

Back in the open countryside, we passed several castles. We seem to be in the part of Spain (mountainous but near enough to the coast) that has one on every hilltop. The heat was rising continuously and out in the open fields, bugs were sticking to the bikes.  We stopped in Arcos de la Frontera but we were cranky and couldn’t find anything other than a local town, so we pressed on, melting.

We had made reservations at the Sherry Park hotel which cracked me up for its Britishness, but it is apparently the best-rated hotel in Jerez. We must have looked sunburnt, sweaty and miserable (never how we must have smelled!) because the clerk, Kino (who turned out to be awesome) joked with us that riding a moto in this weather, with this gear, is more like riding a sauna with wheels. So true. I would have laughed but all I could manage was a weak smile. In the room we cranked the AC and drank 2 beers and 2 waters each before hopping in a cool shower. When we felt human again we went down the tho pool and I ordered some fino sherry (Tio Mateo). Our new friend, Kino, had recommended a little walk into town so we could get some photos and sample some Jerez cuisine – and sherry of course).

Jerez

We hadn’t expected much of Jerez, just a place to sleep and maybe some sherry but we ended up falling in love with it. It has such a character all its own and I can’t help but think that that’s what Barcelona was to be like before all the tourists arrived. The first place we stopped was called Tabanco Plateros and I ordered a palo cortado sherry (which Matt admitted to liking although he still ordered beer for himself) and some delicious fresh cheese – payoyo, I think it was called – with morcilla. The morcilla was hella oily but the flavour was excellent. Same with the plate of green olives that arrived with the sherry. The place was packed and full of excellent energy and an accordion player came by for a while. I could have stayed there for a week but I wanted to see some more of the town before dark.

Sherry

We had a lovely wander through town, took some photos of the cathedral and the square and the crazy swallows flying and chirping all over the place (feeding, I guess), and the sherry bodegas that are right in the middle of the old town. The restaurant Kino had recommended was a gastro bar called Reina something or other and was so adorable. It was still too hot to eat inside, so the staff brought a table out into the street for us, along with a bottle of wine. Lorenzo our waiter was so clumsy he kept tripping over Matt and stepping on his feet but we all laughed a lot and had a really lovely evening.

Gibraltar

12-05-16 (Jerez / Gibraltar / Ronda / Granada)

So much wind today! We were tilting at windmills for real as we got buffeted around. And it’s mercifully cool – down as low as 19 degrees today which is a shock after seeing almost 40 inland. The Rock of Gibraltar was significantly more impressive than we expected; coming down the hill into town we could see it shrouded in mist and all the ships in the harbour, but the “town” is pretty much nonexistent so we rode through.

Ronda

The roads from Marbella up to Ronda were SPECTACULAR; cold, warm, cold, warmer, hot, hotter / oceanside, foothills, pine tree scrub, shale, farmland, village / sea level to 3500 ft, etc. and us grinning the whole time. Ronda is a beautiful little village with the oldest and most beautiful bull ring in Spain and the Medieval bridge spanning the gorge. It seems like a popular spot for tours because there were a lot of tour buses in the parking lot, but we didn’t notice too many people as we walked around the town.

We rode through more crazy wind as we pressed on to Granada, and  then through some crazy traffic before we arrived, butwe were agog with the old town even before we got off the bikes.  We had reserved at a beautiful Moorish hotel but many of the reviews said that it was “tricky to get to”. We soon realized what was meant by this as we rode up and down and around – and also backtracked several times – on ancient, steep, slippery cobblestones. At one point I was watching to see which way Matt was going to turn and realized that the road only went one way – and the other way was stairs! Our hotel was amazing – a 600-year-old manor house on the hill overlooking the Alhambra. It had a decorative pool in the courtyard and lovely wood detailing everywhere with heavy ornate metal latches. To preserve the effect, the parking garage had an elevator that we just rode into, so that was pretty neat too.

Alhambra

We hadn’t bought our tickets to Alhambra in advance because we weren’t sure which day we would be arriving, but we also knew that passes sold out quickly, so as soon as we were settled, we walked down the hill that our hotel was on (in the Albayzín district) and up the hill that the Alhambra was on. We got the information that we needed – to come early the next morning – and so were able to enjoy the walk back and take in the beautiful gardens, imposing gate, and all of the shops and restaurants and urban details of the neighbourhoods. For dinner we made the mistake of asking the hotel for a recommendation, and the concierge sent us to a super touristy place whose patio looked out to the Alhambra. It was very lovely and romantic but the food was predictably mediocre.

Alhambra

12-05-19 (Granada / Calahonda)

The hours that we spent waiting in line disappeared pretty quickly once we got inside the grounds of the Alhambra. It was a fortress and a palace through several generations so there are different areas to visit that are interesting in different ways. We saw the beautiful rose gardens and fountains with the ancient water delivery systems (turned over roof tiles joined together to form a trough that takes water all over the hill) and the old dungeons and watchtower and then we had a bit of a wait before we could get into the gorgeous Nazarene palaces. I sat Matt in the shade and got him a beer and a jamón sandwich, most of which he ended up feeding to the feral cats (who figured out pretty quickly that we were a good mark).

Alhambra

The palaces are incredibly gorgeous. It’s hard to imagine the work that must have gone into the detailing, where every surface in some of the rooms had been covered. In others, the focal point was a beautiful fountain and pools or a quiet garden that looked out onto the town. I’ve been in love with this aesthetic most of my life and to see it in person was almost overwhelming. I could have spent days in there.

Calahonda

We decided not to stay another night in Granada but instead head out to the coast where we expected it to be cooler, so we got packed up and put the bikes in the elevator. It turned out to be one of our less good ideas because we were hot and tired from walking around Alhambra all day but also because the ancient cobblestones had become slick with oil and heat during the day and were at their absolute worst by mid-afternoon. As the parking garage was at the top of a steep hill, this made it something akin to riding a motorcycle down a ski hill – with cars on it. Matt did okay but my boot slipped while I was balancing on a slick part of the street and I dropped my bike. That made me cranky but even worse was that we changed our plans and just ate at a tourist shop facing Alhambra at the bottom of the hill and for the second time in two days we had a bad meal in Spain.

But once we got out of the old town, the drive to the coast was not long and it did mercifully get cooler as we got towards the water. Apparently, Spain (and us) had been in some kind of heatwave that was almost over but it seemed like maybe poor timing now that we were finally at the beach. We stopped in the first hotel in the first town (Calahonda), happy to be off the bikes and out of the heat, then went down to the bar on the beach. We just sat there until the restaurant opened (right where we were sitting – in the same space as the bar) and thought that we would see a menu but the waiter just brought me more wine and then started bringing us food. There was a lovely salad with smoked salmon followed by a fish casserole (caught right in front of where we were sitting) and some toro (bull) meat. When we were full, we told him and he brought us some fruit and an after-dinner drink. It was so easy and unpretentious and lovely. Also one of the best meals we had the whole trip.

Peniscola

12-05-20 (Calahonda / Benisanó) 

As we started riding up the Costa del Sol, two things happened – the “sol” disappeared into rain and we arrived at the part of Spain that is familiar to German, French and British holiday-makers. We started to see tri-lingual picture menus and huge billboards advertising patio furniture rentals, etc. We had thought that we would just ride up the coast until we found another cute little town to stay in but the roads have been expertly designed to get traffic in and out of these small towns quickly and so there isn’t really a coastal road – you turn off of the superhighway onto a smaller one and then onto the road that leads to your town. To get out or even to get to the next town you do the same in reverse. That sucks for motorcycling and the rain isn’t great either so we just kept going until we got to Valencia – the next town that I knew I for sure wanted to visit.

Valencia is the home of paella. There are several types of paellas and each region does theirs a little bit differently (and also claims that it is the best), but Levante, in the suburb of Benisanó is widely heralded as the best, so that’s where we went. There’s only one hotel in Benisanó (a classy joint that has a potted plant in front of the  2-Star plaque), and so that is where we stayed – in a room that felt like the spare room at an estate museum or something. There was a dresser that looked like it had been acquired at a garage sale and although I think we and the people next to us were probably the only four people staying in the whole place, they had put us right next to each other. The walls were so thin that we could hear the guy yelling at his wife from the shower. But we were excited about having paella for dinner and left to check out the rest of the town.

We arrived at the restaurant in time for dinner, but it was closed so we found a bar a few doors down and ordered some beers. A little while later I went to check but it was still closed. We had learned that the Spanish eat much later than we are accustomed to, but after being in the country for weeks we were pretty on-schedule but every time I checked, it remained stubbornly closed.  Finally, we asked the hotel proprietor and he said in very limited English that he thought it wasn’t open. That was disheartening but tried to order some from the hotel restaurant, which frankly also seemed closed.  Later we learned that paella is usually cooked outside over fires made with orange wood and that it’s traditionally made by men who were out working in the fields. For this reason, it’s usually a lunch dish rather than eaten for dinner. Try again tomorrow.

12-05-21 (Benisanó / Peníscola / Barcelona)

We checked out of the hotel and parked ourselves at the cafe next door to Levante. We tried not to get cranky or fill up on snacks while considering that it might not be open at all. Not this weekend, or not this month, or something else altogether.  Eventually, we hopped on the bikes and headed out.

As we rode out of town, we passed orange grove after orange grove and the smell was intoxicating. I always tell people that motorcycles are the best way to travel because you are so connected to the land – the terrain, the climate, the smells – and travelling from Barcelona through Madrid and then Andalusia we passed through the countryside experiencing the things that we would eat at the next town; fields of garlic, olive orchards, orange groves, etc.  Some of these things weren’t pleasant (the pig farms in particular) and when we crested a hill outside Valencia and saw a fire filling the sky with black smoke, we prepared to ride fast through it and hold our breaths against the acridness. The opposite thing happened though. It turned out to be a fire in an orange grove and it was the smell of smoky perfume, spicy potpourri…the smell of our denied paellas cooking on an open fire of orange wood…If it weren’t for the ERT vehicles we may have turned around and ridden through it again and again. It didn’t quite make up for not eating paella but that was a pretty amazing experience.

We stopped in Peníscola (another poor Spanish town about to be overrun by sun-seeking tourists) for lunch and had a lovely meal of cuttlefish, cheese and Albariño on the beach before pressing on to Barcelona. We were so tired and achy and just desperately wanted to be off the bikes but as we were riding through Penedès (cava wine country), I couldn’t help but signal to Matt that I wanted to pull over and buy some. He looked pretty incredulous – we’d been travelling around Spain for weeks with strangely-shaped, un-flexible luggage the size of overnight bags and in every town I had found something that I wanted to buy. Matt would hold it up against his hard case (he had a bigger bike so therefor bigger bags) and tell me I could get the smaller one. About 2/3rds of the way through the trip he threw out some of his underwear to make room for some regional delicacy I couldn’t live without. So in Penedès he told me I could have ONE bottle of wine and that was it. The proprietor showed me around his operation, through the cellar and the storeroom and finally told me about each of the different wines. He was doing it in Catalan though, and so when he said that the bottles were €60, €70 and €90 each and I just about died because it was the most expensive cava I had ever seen in my life, he actually meant €6 – €9. I wish I had a truck.

Matt had rented us a nice hotel on the water in Barcelona so we just cruised up to the door and parked our filthy, bug-encrusted bikes on the sidewalk beside the luxury cars and went inside to drink our wine. I had been trying to get to Cal Pep for tapas but it hadn’t worked out and here it was closed again, so we ducked out of the rain around the corner in a super cute tapas place that we hadn’t seen yet called Bastaix. We had fava beans with jamón iberico and mint, piquillo peppers with goat cheese and honey, morcilla sausage on toast with roasted apple and cheese, a plate of manchego, and some nice Albariño. For dessert there was that gorgeous chocolate ganache / EVOO / sea salt dessert that we had had earlier in the trip and more PX (from Alvarez this time) which  Matt enjoyed. He seems to be a convert.

We had an unexpected couple of days in Barcelona that we thought were were going to spend along the coast but we were tired and the  jamón iberico at the hotel was excellent so we laid low and feasted, shopped, and started planning our next trip…to Northern Spain.

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 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 but we were 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 into 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 we 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 needed to do the high stuff first.

Haleakala

HALEAKALA VOLCANO

Thankfully we had the time change on our side because the early morning wake-up call 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. Eventually, we figured out what was going on but 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 this time we went super slowly and stopped often. By the time we got to the 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 – what a motley crew we looked like to greet the rising sun!

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

DIVING

The next few days we spent diving the Cathedrals – beautifully formed lava caves – off the coast of Lana’i,  diving with hammerhead sharks dive off the coast of Moloka’i, and some exploring some local dive sites on Maui. On our way out 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 sight 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 enjoyed 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 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 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 someday – hopefully at night.

Walterses

Mokuho’oniki Rock off the coast of Molokai to dive with hammerhead sharks was a life-list item for me, so I was really happy that we were able to go. They considered it an advanced dive so Matt had some detailed questions about depths and current, 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 any people prone to seasickness should take precautions.

Hammerhead

The waves turned out to be not too bad. The first sight of these majestic creatures made it all worthwhile anyway, 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.

Degan

One drawback of all the 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.

Honoloa Beach

We also spent a fair amount of time in the Jeep driving around the island. One day there was an accident on the road so we decided to just take the long way around the West Maui mountains and see what we could see. As we drove north from Honokowai we came up to stunning Honolua Beach where there is good surfing, snorkelling and diving. Then the road narrowed and as we got into some seriously lush countryside. It was great to see the rugged coastline and rural communities up there.

Driving

KONA

We only had two days on the big island so we had to choose between climbing Mauna Kea and diving with the manta rays at night. The manta rays were the clear winner but I would like to come back to see the observatory, as well as the lava fields on Mount Kilauea, and I would also like to do the ‘pelagic magic’ night dive where creatures come up from the deep ocean to feed at night.

manta ray

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 with a lot of enthusiasm. We were one of several boats at the site, all decked out with lights. It seemed like chaos, but 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. We only saw one manta ray on our dive – Eli, a juvenile – but it was cool to see him swimming around and eating, and it was such a spectacular dive with an octopus and several trumpet fish and eels hunting off our lights.

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 snorkelling) but as a pretty awesome last resort we walked into town and hung out at the Kona Brewing Company patio for a while. Great selection of beers, and good food too.