Thursday, December 23, 2010

Banks, Tigers, and More

Banks, Tigers and Related Matters — Sierra Club of BC: "Banks, Tigers and Related Matters"

"we may have crossed the boundary from being a part of nature to being apart from nature"

"The environmental crisis presently confronting our planet is a variant of the one confronting our financial system. The time scales are different but the dynamics are the same. So are the denials, the rationalizations, the failed oversight, the paucity of regulatory constraints and the public's naivete. The collective values that have engaged people in the busy enterprise of making money and amassing wealth have kept them so busy with the industry and commerce of production and consumption that they have failed to notice that the ecology of the planet is unravelling."


Saw a small flock of waxwings eating berries in a bush when I was walking across the university campus. I love their coloring - the black bandit mask and bright yellow trim on the tail. I thought they were Cedar Waxwings, but we're more in the range of the Bohemian Waxwings.

Not my photo, didn't have a camera handy :-(

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And they call it democracy

We are the majority! | Sierra Club Canada: "In every poll done over the last five years, an overwhelming majority of Canadians are in support of climate action. In the last election, 68% of voters voted for parties with plans to take significant steps to address this issue. The last pollster even told me we have the best numbers she’s ever seen for a public issue. Yet, somehow unelected senators can block the will of the public with sneaky parliamentary games."

[previously posted in my software blog by mistake]

Monday, December 20, 2010


Yesterday, walking home in the wind and blowing snow, a bald eagle came soaring down the river, riding the updraft off the river bank. He was gliding quickly, barely moving his wings. They are impressive birds. I don't recall seeing one inside the city before. And I thought they would have migrated south by now.

Today, walking home again, I spotted something up in a tree on the riverbank. Was it a big bird, maybe the eagle, or was it a plastic bag snagged on a branch? As I got closer it looked more birdlike, but it wasn't moving at all, even when I clapped my hands. Eventually it must have got tired of me and it tipped forward, unfolded it's wings, and slid away into the night air. It was too dark to get a good look, but I don't think it was the eagle. Maybe an owl.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Climbing Video

I really like this video. For me it really captures the essence of climbing big mountains. It evokes many memories. (not that I ever was in this league) The early morning starts in the dark, the strange food, the banter between partners, the incredible views, the fear, the happiness, the exhaustion.

And I really like that it's very low key, laid back. So many climbing stories, especially those aimed at the general public, push the melodrama way too far. Everything has to be extreme, on the edge, "into thin air", in the "death zone", about to die, bodies scattered about. Blah! To me, that's not what climbing is about.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Heads in the Sand

"People are caring about—and believing in—climate change a lot less than they used to. A recent Pew study found that less than a third of Americans think that climate change is a very serious problem. Even scarier? Only 59 percent of Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that the planet’s getting warmer at all, down from 79 percent in 2006."

from: Best and Worst Environmental Moments of 2010

Not that it should be surprising. Look at how many people don't believe in evolution.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Money Isn't Everything

My last post on my computer blog was a quote about how the big threat is not losing your job, it's doing work you aren't passionate about. Jen commented:
Unless you are poor, and then it is losing your job! The only people who say money doesn't matter are the people who have it.
I don't think it's anywhere near that simple, and it bugs me every time I hear that kind of thing, especially from people that aren't "poor", except perhaps in their own minds.

I "have money" now, but for a good chunk of my life I chose to do work I was passionate about and be much poorer than if I'd just gone and got a regular job. In fact, I quit a regular job to do what I wanted, in full knowledge that I'd be much poorer. Coincidentally, that ended up with me being reasonably well off. But money was never my goal, and if it hadn't worked out the way it did I'd still be happily doing what I enjoyed, just poorer.

And my sister Penny is happily doing what she enjoys, rather than taking a regular job which would pay much better.

So no, it's not just people with money who say there are more important things than money.

By the standards of the majority of the world, none of "us" are poor. We think "poor" means having trouble making the payments on an oversized house, multiple cars, trucks, SUV's, ATV's, jet skis, snowmobiles, multiple big screen TV's, computers, video games, and on and on. That's not "poor" by any stretch of the imagination. Poor is not having enough to eat.

Money doesn't make you happy. Twice as much money won't make you twice as happy. Buying more "stuff" won't make you happier, no matter how much the people selling that stuff would like you to believe that. "Rich" people aren't happier than "poor" people, usually the opposite.

The people who are "poor" are the ones who spend more than they make, buying stuff they don't need. Having more money than you need is as much a matter of how much you spend as it is a matter of how much you make. It doesn't take an accounting degree to figure that out.

Are Shelley and I less happy because we live in a small house and share a single vehicle? I don't think so.

We all want to be happy. And we all want to find shortcuts. More money seems like a shortcut to being happy. Finding what you enjoy and are passionate about, and then sacrificing to do it, that's hard.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Photos of the Day

early morning fog

snow creature perched in a tree

oops, moved the camera, but the effect is interesting

Definitely pushing the low light (ISO 800 and 1600) capabilities of the G12.  The noise reduction in Lightroom is a necessity. The stabilization is also impressive, for example, the fourth photo with the path beside the building is hand held at .8 seconds!

Friday, December 03, 2010

McNally Winnipeg Annoys

I really hate petty bureaucratic small minded rule spouters.

Shelley and I are in Winnipeg on our way back from her conference in Grand Forks. One of the stops on our list was the McNally Robinson book store.

I'm browsing through the books and I find one that looks interesting. I try hard not to buy every interesting book I run across, so instead I was snapping a picture of the cover with my iPhone camera, as I've done numerous times before. Some guy comes along and says "hey buddy, you can't do that, it's illegal, breaks copyright law". I stare at him, thinking up wise ass responses, but keeping my mouth shut, as is usually wise in such situations. He sees I'm just staring at him and says, "I'm Andrew, I work here." I fight down the urge to say, "I'm Andrew too, and I'm the customer that pays your frigging salary, bozo."

Having said his piece, he left. Leaving me annoyed. First, I really doubt that copyright says it's illegal to take a cell phone snapshot of a book cover for personal use. Even if some lawyer could argue that it's against copyright, is it really something bookstore employees need or want to enforce? Or even something authors would want? Book publishers and authors spend large amounts of money and effort trying to get their books mentioned and the covers displayed anywhere and everywhere they possibly can.

I have no doubt that it pisses off bookstores when people browse the books and then just write down (or god forbid take snapshots) of the titles. I'm sure they imagine we all immediately run home and buy them from Amazon. But regardless of how annoying they might find it, abusing the customers who actually made the effort to come to the store won't help.

Nor does sticking to ways of operating that are helplessly out of date. The last time I asked for a book at McNally they said it wasn't in stock but they could special order it for me and it would only take 6 to 8 weeks. And they wonder why people order from Amazon when they get their book in 3 or 4 days? It seems to me they'd be better off taking the order, ordering from Amazon themselves, and getting the customer back in the store in a week to pick it up, even if they didn't make much profit on the deal.

I love bookstores and I don't want to see them go out of business. Yes, I buy books digitally because of the reduced impact on the environment (and the reduced impact on my basement stacks). I also read books from the library. But I still do buy books, and when I can, I try to buy them from local bookstores like McNally.

The people that care enough about books to be keeping wish lists are the very people they should be cultivating and encouraging, not pissing off.

You might say this is just one employee and not necessarily representative of the store itself. But the employees are the public face of the store. And this kind of behaviour and culture spreads. If one employee is acting that way, chances are good he's not the only one.

Needless to say, I didn't buy any books at McNally in Winnipeg.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset

More photos walking to and from (the last one) work. As much as we might dislike winter, it has a certain beauty to it. I've taken these shots multiple times, but each time it's a little different angle or light or reflections. Every day is different.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Winter arrived yesterday with a pile of snow and cold temperatures. Penny pointed out the snow piled up on the berries on a tree at Innovation Place. I only had my iPhone though, so not a fancy photo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

Another great video. Ken Robinson is always entertaining and thought provoking.

This planet is finite

Feds slammed for stance on Mackenzie Valley project | Sierra Club Canada

God forbid we should "constrain development". Maybe they should wake up to the fact that we live on a finite planet that inherently "constrains development". We should be smarter than bacteria in a petri dish developing without constraint - until they crash.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tea House Trek

We're in Banff for the Mountain Book and Film festival. We had the day free Wednesday so we went to Lake Louise and hiked the 12 km roundtrip up to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. It was a beautiful day - clear blue skies and fantastic views of the mountains. It was a little icy down by the lake where it had been melting and up at the tea house there was 4 or 5 inches of snow, but overall the trail was in good shape.

It was nice to actually get outside in the mountains. It's always frustrating, and more than a little ironic, to go to the mountains and then sit indoors hearing about the wonders of the outdoors! Especially when the weather is beautiful.

We probably would have walked right by but luckily another hiker pointed out a mother and a young mountain goat just beside the trail. I think I got some good photos of them. (I'll post some photos when I get a chance.) For a change they were close and there was plenty of light. Impressive creatures.

A few minutes later we ran into another couple and we told them to watch for the mountain goats. They asked if they had been "aggressive". The question puzzled me at first but then I remembered there had been a recent freak incident where someone had been killed by a mountain goat. A new thing for people to get freaked out about, despite the fact they're far more likely to get killed or hurt driving than hiking.

We passed a woman on the trail who had just arrived on the bus from Bellingham Washington that morning. She'd had a few days left on her bus pass and decided to take advantage of it. She told us her husband had passed away earlier in the year and since then she had been traveling by bus and train all over the United States. You can imagine either her husband hadn't liked travel or else his death had made her realize that if you put things off too long you may never do them. Good for her! There are many ways to have your own adventures, it doesn't have to be the big name National Geographic style adventures that we hear about at the festival.

Bulls in a China Shop

People on this planet are like the proverbial bull in a china shop.

At best, the "enlightened" bulls are starting to think maybe they should leave some china for their children and grandchildren to break.

The idea that maybe they should just leave some parts of the place alone, for good, doesn't seem to occur to them.

Even when we do protect things we have a "funny" way of going about it. Banff National Park is great, but what kind of "protection" includes a large town full of McMansions, many hotels, a golf course, multiple ski resorts, and a four lane Trans-Canada highway?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Historic Landmark ... in Handwaving

The "agreement" reached last week at the Convention on Biological Diversity is making headlines about its "success". But the only "success" is in committing to nothing and spinning it as a huge step forward.

And according to A Ghost Agreement they haven't even published the "landmark" agreement. Gotta love that kind of openness.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Edison Ahead of his Time

I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!
I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.

Thomas Edison, 1931, shortly before his death, to Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Work Narration

I enjoy reading Flight Level 390, a blog by an airline pilot. It's not a topic I would have said I was interested in, but somehow he makes it interesting and funny, like the last post I read, Precision.

Part of it is that I enjoy people who are thoughtful about their work. Not just doing the job mindlessly. Not even doing the job thoughtfully. But thinking about the doing of the job. What it is you enjoy, what's important, what's not important, the big issues, and the small pleasures.

Jon Udell makes a good case for this, calling it "work narration" in one of his blog posts. It's part of the reason why I blog about my work on my Software Life blog.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


People support conservation, but few want to sacrifice anything for it. Certainly not our disposable consumer SUV gas guzzling commuting lifestyle.

Conservation International Blog: "But how can we protect biodiversity without sacrificing human interests?"

Win-win scenarios that don't require sacrifice are great when you can find them, and I'm all for looking for them.

But there are times when you just can't have your cake and eat it too.

Harrison Ford on Conservation

“I see opportunities to preserve the natural world slipping away, and I want to be involved in correcting the balance between the pressure of human population and the potential benefits to humanity of a healthy biodiversity. We are the problem; we are the solution,” he said. “Nature doesn’t need people; people need nature. So we’ve got to protect this most important resource. We’ve got to recognize our opportunity, we’ve got to recognize our responsibility and we have to take action now.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Less Stuff

Here are some thoughts on how to deal with one of the big problems with our culture - consuming too much. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, Annie Leonard does a great job of explaining the problem in The Story of Stuff. Consumption uses up non-renewable resources, fills our environment with waste (much of it toxic), and uses large amounts of energy in manufacture and shipping which in turn releases a lot of greenhouse gases.

Why do we consume so much? How did we end up characterizing ourselves as "consumers"?

If you watch TV, read newspapers or magazines, drive by billboards, or walk through a mall, you're getting inundated with marketing aimed at making you think that consuming is not only natural, but good and necessary. It's understandable that people selling stuff want you to buy more. But even our economists and governments tell us that consumption is what drives our economy and we don't dare slow down. What no one wants to think about is that if we don't slow down, if we all keep accelerating, then sooner or later we're going to crash.

Apart from the environmental issues, another reason to aim for less stuff is to be happier. Our culture tells us more stuff will make us happier. But study after study shows that's not true. Happiness has much more to do with what you do with your life, not what you have. There's a lot to be said for simplicity.

There's more to life than shopping. Shopping is not a hobby. It won't make you happy in the long run. Go for a walk. Go to the library. Go for coffee. Read a good book. Take up a real hobby. Spend time with friends or family.

When I get the urge to buy something, here are some things I ask myself:
  • Will it actually get used in the long run? Or will it just end up gathering dust, or worse, in the garbage.
  • Will it let me do things I couldn't do otherwise? (Preferably something enjoyable, useful, non-destructive.) 
  • Am I just keeping up with the Joneses or getting sucked in by advertising?
  • Is there an alternative? Can I get it from the library or digitally or online? Can I borrow or rent? I get all my music digitally rather than on physical cd's. I buy almost all my books digitally. (with the exception of books of photographs)
  • What future costs will it entail? For example, buying a car means big expenses for insurance, gas, and maintenance. Buying a pet means pet food, and vets, and responsibilities.
These questions apply just as much when you're buying gifts for other people as they do when you're buying for yourself. 

Some more suggestions:
  • Avoid ads. Get a DVR and skip the commercials. The less brainwashing you're exposed to, the easier it is to resist. I guess I should stop looking at Apple ads :-(
  • Take advantage of the natural inclination to procrastinate. Even if you decide you really do "need" something, wait till next week to get it. Maybe by then you'll change your mind.
  • Set yourself quotas - for example, one book per week, or don't replace your computer or camera more than once every two years.
  • Don't buy another if you've already got a shelf full you haven't used. In my case, don't buy more books when I've got a stack of them I haven't read yet.
  • Buy better quality items that will last longer instead of cheap disposable single-use junk.
  • Buy locally made items. Local means less shipping, often less packaging, and it supports small businesses instead of giant corporations.
  • Don't buy something because it's on sale. It doesn't matter how much money you're "saving" if you don't need the item in the first place. Of course, if you previously decided to buy something, and then you find it on sale, great.
  • Save up to buy something instead of buying it on credit. If nothing else, it avoids impulse buying.
  • Spend your money on more environmentally friendly things. Go out for a good meal. Go to a movie. Throw a party. Yes, these things have environmental costs too, but a lot less than loading up a shopping cart at Walmart.
  • When you are finished with something, avoid throwing it out or letting it sit on the shelf. Sell it or give it away. If nothing else, recycle it.
Beware of falling off the wagon. When you buy less stuff, you'll end up with more money. And in our culture, available money means only one thing - shopping! Instead, add it to your savings, or put it towards buying better quality items, or make some donations to good causes.

Note: I'm definitely not claiming to be the perfect non-consumer. I have a basement full of books. I have way too much climbing and outdoor gear. I have too many gadgets. I lust after new cameras and computers. All we can do is try!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Restoring the American Chestnut

I tend to focus on the negative, so here's a positive story for a change :-)

WorldChanging Canada: Restoring the American Chestnut: "Now that they’ve got trees with a shot at survival, volunteers have joined federal officials to begin reforestation. They’ve planted 20,000 to 25,000 chestnuts, and some of the most promising work is being done on land decimated by strip mining that must be restored under federal law."

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is meeting in Japan to develop a Strategic Plan.

The problem is, they've met before and developed almost identical strategic plans, and the results were failure (by their own assessment). Biological diversity continues to decline at increasing rates.

As Albert Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

But hey, all the big wigs get to have a big expensive conference and hob nob with each other. Not to mention release a bunch of greenhouse gases by flying a pile of people all over the globe. What more could you ask for?

see also: A Planet In Square Brackets

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deliberately uninformed

Seth's Blog: Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so [a rant]:
"Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.

Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.

Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it's possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week.

Or you can watch TV."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lost and Found

A couple of weekends ago I decided to go for a trail run on the community pasture trails south of the Dundurn military area. I got to know this area quite well when I used it for one of the Prairie Pitch adventure races, but that was a few years ago.

Just after I started I ran into two cowboys on horses. They grilled me thoroughly on why I was there, what I was doing, had I talked to the pasture manager, etc. As far as I know I wasn't doing anything wrong being there, and they didn't say any different, but they sure seemed suspicious. I'm not sure what nefarious activity they imagined a guy in shorts and a t-shirt would be up to. Once they got over their suspicion they questioned me repeatedly as to whether I'd seen any of the cows they were trying to round up. (I hadn't.)

It was a beautiful fall day and I had a nice long slow run. I haven't been running very long distances lately so I broke it up with walking part of the time.

If I had stuck to the trails I probably would have been ok, but of course I had to go exploring cross country. I had only planned to go for an hour or two, but I hadn't worn a watch. I hadn't even brought any water, just my little camera and my Spot. Eventually I decided I'd better turn around and head back. I'd gone out generally west, and came back generally east. But I wasn't too sure how far north or south I'd come. I came to an area I thought I was to the north of where I'd parked, so I headed south.

But I couldn't find the trail out to the highway. I could hear the traffic, but there was a thick area of trees blocking the way. I decided it couldn't be very far and I'd just bushwhack out to the road. After 10 minutes of thrashing around in stinging nettles in shorts I decided maybe that wasn't the best plan after all.

Eventually I found a trail that got me out to the highway. But I realized I had another problem. I didn't know whether the car was north or south of me. I couldn't see it in either direction. I guessed north and went about a kilometer down the road. No sign of the car. I went back a kilometer and then went about a kilometer south. No car, and the road looked unfamiliar. I decided it must be north, just farther. The car turned out to be about 4 km north of where I hit the highway. So I did an extra 8 km of jogging up and down the highway, on top of multiple hours of running off and on before then.

At least I had a half liter of water in the car to guzzle down - I was pretty thirsty by then. I figured I'd probably gone about 25 or 30 km. It was about 7 pm when I finally got home. Shelley was starting to wonder what the heck had happened to me since I'd left about 1 pm saying I was going for a run.

It was a good reminder that finding your way, especially across prairie with few landmarks, is not trivial, and shouldn't be taken for granted. A compass would have been handy. A watch would have helped to know when to turn around. I could have taken my GPS and gone straight back to the car, but I'm not sorry I didn't - it would have spoiled the adventure!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dangers of rope worn carabiners

Interesting test of worn carabiners by Black Diamond via ACC NewsNet

Although nowhere near as bad as the ones shown here, I recently retired a number of old biners when I noticed they were showing distinct grooving (probably from top roping). I retired them out of general principle - I never even thought of the danger of sharp edges cutting the rope. 

I'm always distressed by how people continue to use ropes and harnesses and other gear long after it should have been retired. There are always excuses, but do you really want to take chances with something like that?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2

Before our last trip to Baja I gave Shelley a camera for her birthday.

It's been a while since she had her own camera. Recently she's been borrowing mine. But that can be inconvenient and it didn't let her keep one with her.

There are a zillion point and shoot cameras out there. To get around the  tyranny of choice, I narrowed it down to waterproof, shockproof ones. I looked at the reviews for the Olympus Stylus Tough, Canon PowerShot D10, Pentax Optio W90, and the Panasonic TS2.

The TS2 got some good reviews so that's the one I chose.

I've been quite impressed with it. We didn't actually use it underwater, but it's really nice for diving and kayaking to not have to worry about getting it wet. (Tip: get a flotation strap for it in case you drop it in the water, otherwise it'll sink!)

It shoots quite good video, but the default AVCHD mode is a pain to work with since most software doesn't handle it (yet).

Here are a few samples from it: (minor tweaks in Lightroom as usual)

If you're looking for a waterproof, shockproof camera, you might want to have a look at the TS2.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who died and made us king of everything?

One of my pet peeves is the insistence on defending the environment in purely human terms. Save the rain forest because it might contain medicines for us. Save the ocean because it produces the air we breath. Save the bees because they pollinate our crops. Save the climate because it might be uncomfortable for us. Us, us, us, us.

Who died and made us king of everything?

I recently read Poseiden's Steed by Helen Scales, a fascinating book on seahorses, amazing creatures. But in the epilogue she says "Even if nature wouldn't pay much attention the day seahorses were no longer there, surely they do matter to us ... they matter because they inspire us to care about the natural world." (my emphasis)

She goes on to quote Sir David Attenborough (who I otherwise have great respect for) regarding protecting the planet's biodiversity "The overwhelming reason is man's imaginative health." (my emphasis)

We should save the planet for our "imaginative health"? That's the best we can come up with?

How arrogant is it for us to believe (or at least act as if) the earth was put here solely for our benefit. We're not the end point of evolution, we're an interesting experiment in the value of intelligence. And the jury is still out on the result of that experiment.

If you believe your religion tells you that it's ok to trash the planet, I think you're misinterpreting your religion, but I'm not going to get in a fight about it. I will ask, "Do you crap in your living room?" Well, wake up people, the earth is our living room, and we're crapping in it.

If any other species' population exploded the way ours has, or did as much damage as ours has, we'd regard them as a horrific pest and we'd put vast energy into stopping them. But if it's man, then somehow it's ok.

Politician love to justify themselves by saying "if I have to choose between people and the environment, I'm going to choose people". And everyone nods. Wait a minute, what makes people more important? We just assume they are, but why? The biosphere will do fine without people, people won't do fine without the biosphere.

We have to not trash the planet, not for our benefit, but because it's simply wrong to do so. We are not alone here. All of life deserves a slice of the pie, not just some greedy destructive naked apes with swollen heads who breed like rabbits.

End of rant :-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Another good weather forecast led Shelley and I to a trip to Grasslands National Park on the long weekend.

Grasslands is split into two parts, the West Block which is more developed and has an "eco tour" road through it, and the East Block which is mostly undeveloped. Of course, I prefer the East Block :-)

If you look on Google maps you'll see the park as two solid blocks. But in reality the "park" is as much a vision as a reality. Much of the park is "projected" i.e. the land is not part of the park yet. I hope it gets completed, but you wonder whether that will happen in this age of shrinking budgets.

We left Sat. morning after the Farmers Market, stopping for lunch at Coffee Encounters in Moose Jaw. We arrived at the McGowan's entrance to the East Block around 4pm and hiked for about 2.5 hours (10 km) to a campsite I'd found on a previous trip. You could camp pretty much anywhere, but this spot has a commanding view and a rock outcropping for interest. The weather was warm and calm, hardly a breath of wind - unusual for the prairies!

The next day (Sun.) we packed up camp and hiked a big loop to the north and west. We saw deer, coyote, rabbit, owl, hawk. It was another beautiful day, a bit of a breeze, but that was actually pleasant since it got quite warm. We explored an old abandoned farm house and yard. Hard to imagine how isolated it would have been to live here before telephones (let alone internet).

One of our challenges for the day was to find drinking water. There are various creeks but most of them are intermittent muddy pools - not too appetizing. We ended up getting water from Wetherall Creek which was at least running steadily. The water was reasonably clear and tasteless, despite the cattle all around sharing the water and trampling the muddy banks. (Don't worry, we treated the water with Aquatabs)

We camped Sun. night at the foot of Red Butte. The weather Mon. morning was cloudy and cool with a sprinkle of rain. We hiked back to the car and headed home. In all we hiked about 45 km. It was nice to feel pleasantly tired albeit a little foot-sore.

I was disappointed to find so many cattle inside the park areas. We didn't see any in the area immediately around the entrance, but everywhere else they seemed common.There is a school of thought that says the prairies evolved along with buffalo, and to maintain their natural state they need to be grazed. But cattle are not buffalo. And with climate change we're never going to maintain the original prairie. One of the problems with cattle (as we found) is that they trash water courses, trampling them into muddy messes and destroying plants growing around them. Even if the cattle are at a low density overall, they tend to congregate, especially around water, where they also do the most damage. We've got plenty of cattle infested pasture land, I'd rather see the national park take a different path. I don't go to Grasslands National Park to wander through the cattle and cow pies. In the West Block they have reintroduced bison, which is great. If that's not feasible in the East Block for some reason, why not let the grasslands find their own new equilibrium? Change will happen regardless.

According to Environmental Assessment of the Grasslands Grazing Experiment in Grasslands National Park of Canada originally cattle were excluded here as in other national parks. But it was felt that the ecosystem was suffering from the lack of grazing. Maybe there's some truth to that. But look at what the experimental reintroduction of grazing involved - fences, corrals, dredging, pumping systems, generators, pipelines, and increased vehicle traffic. I'm sure that's all going to help the ecosystem.  And from what we saw, it doesn't seem like a controlled experiment. Fences are down in places and cattle are wandering in and out of the park areas.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Paddling the Bagwa Loop

I decided to take advantage of the good weather and head up to Prince Albert National Park to kayak the Bagwa Loop. It didn't take long to throw the gear together.

Soon after leaving Saskatoon I passed a swirling mass of Snow Geese in the air and on the ground. Signs of autumn.

I decided to go counter-clockwise and do the long leg on Kingsmere lake while the weather was calm. It's a fair size lake and if it's windy the waves can get big. Not on Sunday though. The lake was pale green clear glass, like an antique bottle. A lot of the lake is shallow and the bottom was perfectly clear. No tropical fish here, though. But the sun was warm. What a beautiful fall day.

I set up camp and watched the sun slowly go down, taking plenty of photographs.

It started raining in the middle of the night soft but steady. It was still pattering on the tent fly when I woke up. I briefly considered sleeping in to see if it would stop, but my bladder disagreed. And it could just as easily get worse as better. By the time I finished breakfast it had stopped, thankfully. It's always a hassle packing up in the rain.

Although the rain had stopped, I put the spray skirt on the kayak. It makes it a little more awkward getting in and out, but it definitely keeps you warmer and drier.

Shortly after heading out it started to rain again. I stopped to dig out my rain hat and neoprene gloves. When I glanced up there was a moose in the reeds only about 30 feet away staring intently at me. I knew I'd never get my camera from behind the seat and out of the dry bag without spooking it so I just watched. I didn't move as I drifted slowing closer. When I got about 20 feet away it snorted, bellowed and turned away, plowing through the water and reeds. Behind it was a young one. It peered at me a bit longer and then turned and followed Mom. (The photos are of another pair I saw the first day.)

Although I'd camped about half-way around the loop, I'd left the two portages for the second day. The portages themselves weren't too bad, but getting in and out of the water was pretty mucky!

Back out on Kingsmere Lake, the wind was picking up and whitecaps were starting to appear. With the wind against me and the rough water it was definitely harder work than yesterday. But as I got closer to the end of the lake it was more sheltered and the water flatter, and the sun even came out.

We're lucky to have the boreal forest and lakes so close to us. It's beautiful country.

2010-10 Bagwa Paddle

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sustainable Gourmet

Last night Shelley and I went to the Saskatchewan Environmental Society's Sustainable Gourmet dinner fund raiser. It sounded good, and it's a worthwhile cause.

We really enjoyed it. The food was great and and lots was vegetarian. They even let the vegetarians go up to the buffet first!

We enjoyed the conversation with the other people at our table. And there were no long speeches! Only a short entertaining one about the history of the SES since it's their 40th anniversary.

This was their fifth year, although it was the first year for us. We'll definitely consider going next year.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Lost Mountain

"a searing indictment of how a country's energy lust is ravaging the hills and hollows of Appalachia" - Publishers Weekly

Sometimes I wish we'd just run out of oil and get it over with. Not that I look forward to the upheaval, but at least I wouldn't have to get pissed off at people driving gas guzzling vehicles.

The problem is, we have plenty of coal left. It'll last many years after the oil runs out. And coal is ugly. Burning coal for energy is dirty and puts a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.

But Lost Mountain by Erik Reece is about another ugly side to coal - how we mine it. Specifically, the strip mining in the eastern United States, where they chew off mountains to get at the coal underneath, and dump the leftovers into the valleys. The mining companies are supposed to do "restoration" but the results are a pale ghost of the original forested mountains. These forests have some of the highest biodiversity in North America. Or should I say "had".

The mining destroys the forest and poisons the watersheds. And to add insult to injury the locals profit very little from it. A few mining companies make money but the locals stay some of the poorest in the USA.

But we all want electricity, and unfortunately, coal is one of the main ways we generate it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Green, but Still Feeling Guilty

"Those who skim the surface of the earth’s crust in their needlessly huge fossil-fuel vehicles, tossing their foam coffee cups out the window, may never give such matters a second thought, focused as they are on getting to the mini-mart and saying to the clerk, “A six-pack of your finest spring water, my good fellow. And would you mind triple bagging it?” But for those who are concerned about green, life is fraught."

(note: it's multiple pages)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The best camera ...

... is the one you have with you.

I was walking to work yesterday and I couldn't resist taking pictures of the beautiful autumn colors. I wasn't planning on it so I didn't have my fancy DSLR. But I did have my aging Canon SD700 since I always keep it in the bottom of my backpack, just in case.

Needless to say, it took me longer than usual to get to work :-) Good thing I'm the boss!

2010-09-27 Autumn

If you like particular photos, please click on the Like button. (You have to get out of the slideshow to do this.) I have my own favorites, but I'm always curious which ones other people like.

PS. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again - I can't imagine trading walking and biking to work for sitting in a car in traffic. Ugh.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Shelley and I took advantage of the nice weather to get out kayaking one last time on Sunday. We got Penny to drop us off at Poplar Bluffs and paddled back to the city. It took us a couple of hours.

It clouded up, but it was still a lovely day. The fall colors were glorious and flocks of Sandhill Cranes were flying overhead, identifiable by their distinctive calls and large size. Unfortunately, we only spotted two of them by the river and they flew away before we could get any decent pictures. (I saw Sandhill Cranes last year on a rare warm day in mid-October.)

2010-09-26 Kayaking

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I went out to fill the bird feeder (a never ending job!) and found a dead Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the ground below our picture window. Very sad. The black and white patterning on the wings was lovely, the belly a subtle yellow. The name has become a joke, but it's an attractive little woodpecker. (The photo is from Baja)

It's estimated that over 100 million birds are killed by windows every year. And my bird feeder is right out in front of our picture windows - nice for me to watch, not so good for bird collisions. We have vertical blinds which should help. I rarely find dead birds below the window, although I do hear them bang into them occasionally.

I saw some Mountain Bluebirds yesterday. They didn't sit still for long, but the brilliant blue stood out against the browns of autumn. Pretty little birds.

In Baja we saw lots of bright yellow Hooded Orioles and a few bright red Northern Cardinals (not that Baja is very "northern"). And less colorful but still nice were the White-winged Doves and Cactus Wrens. Most people aren't as thrilled by the Turkey Vultures, but they can sure soar! And, of course, we saw lots of pelicans, cormorants, herons, and gulls.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Unseen Sea

Great time lapse video. The Unseen Sea on Vimeo

Best watched HD, full-screen (and scaling off if you have a big monitor)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tips for Traveling by Bus and Train

After trips to Portland, San Francisco, and Baja Mexico, I'm starting to get the hang of traveling by bus and train. Here's what I've learned.

Train in Canada -
Train (and bus) in the USA -
Bus in Canada -
Bus in the USA -
Bus in Baja -

One problem with living in Saskatoon, is that you can only get into the USA by bus or train by going West to Vancouver or East to Toronto. From Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba you can drive across the border many places, and you can fly across the border to various places, but you can't go by bus or train. (As far as I know - if there are other options, please let me know.)

I took Via Rail from Saskatoon to Vancouver (and back) on my first trip to Portland in the spring. I prefer the train over bus, but the other two trips I ended up taking the bus. The bus only takes 24 hours and goes every day (at multiple times), whereas the train takes 36 hours and only goes three times a week. But it's definitely worth taking the train at least once.

For Greyhound it definitely pays to book ahead. The three week advance fare is almost half the full fare. And you can still change the date of travel if you need to. WARNING: If you think you may need to change the date of your ticket, do NOT choose the print ticket at home option. These tickets are not changeable. Choose the "Will Call" option where you pick up your ticket at the station. Just make sure the ticket counter is open at the time you're leaving. You may need to specifically point out it's a "Will Call" ticket or they can get confused.

You can catch Amtrak directly from Vancouver (BC). This is the easiest way to cross the border - you don't have to get your luggage or get off the train - an official gets on the train and checks your passport while it's moving. On the bus you have to get off, pick up your luggage, go through customs, and then get back on the bus.

The Amtrak train only leaves Vancouver once a day at  6:40 am. There are later Amtrak departures, but they use a bus from Vancouver to Seattle. Both ways work fine. I like the Amtrak buses a little better than Greyhound - they seem to stop less and not be so crowded (at least between Vancouver and Seattle).

Amtrak on the west coast is split up into several routes. The Amtrak Cascades goes from Vancouver to Portland. The Coast Starlight goes from Seattle to Los Angeles. The Pacific Surfliner goes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. This means you may need to switch trains depending on where you're traveling from and to, but the routes overlap so you have some choices where to stop.

For Amtrak, I mostly bought tickets online. The one time I tried to buy a ticket at the station they told me the train was sold out, but when I double checked online I was able to buy a ticket. I was told the trains are busiest on Friday and Sunday.

When I could I would take my overnight stops where I had to change trains anyway. This eliminated waiting around in stations, and also potential missed connections if the train was late. Both Seattle and Portland are great places to stop overnight. I avoided stopping overnight in Los Angeles because the idea didn't seem very attractive, but I'm sure there's nice things there too.

Note: The train doesn't actually go through San Francisco. You have to get off at Emeryville and take another bus or train from there. Or you can stop in Oakland like I did and take the ferry across to San Francisco.

I ended up deciding on a couple of rules of thumb - don't go more than 24 hours without stopping, and try to arrive at your destination before dark, preferably early enough to have supper. Stopping overnight is definitely appreciated after a night on the bus or train, but it does mean adding extra time and the cost of hotels. But if you're short of time, traveling by bus or train is not the best option anyway. Cost-wise, you'd probably do better stopping in some of the smaller towns rather than the big cities.

You have a couple of options getting from San Diego to the Tijuana central bus station. You can take the trolley to the border, cross on foot, and then take a bus or taxi. Or, you can take Greyhound from San Diego to the Tijuana bus station. That's what I did and I'd say it's the easiest option. Crossing from the USA to Mexico I didn't even have to get off the bus or even show my passport. Coming back you have to get off the bus and go through US customs, but you bypass the huge line of people crossing on foot. The part I found confusing is that when you get out of customs the bus is nowhere to be seen - you have to walk a block to the bus station and catch a new bus.

The Tijuana bus station is quite civilized, although don't expect to see any Americans or Canadians around. In Mexico (and most places in Central and South America) there are multiple bus companies, not like in Canada and the USA where Greyhound pretty much has a monopoly on buses. So the bus station will have counters for multiple countries. You have to decide which one to go to to buy your ticket.

However, for Baja there only appears to be one choice - Aguila. Their web site is in Spanish but it's not too hard to navigate even if you don't know much Spanish. (Note: I had problems using it with Chrome or Safari, try Internet Explorer or Firefox.) Also, the prices are in pesos. You can book your ticket online ahead of time, which is what I did going south, but on my return trip I just bought tickets either the day before, or immediately before traveling. I never had a problem with the bus being full, but potentially you could. (Greyhound will put on extra buses if required, but I don't think Aguila would.) Make sure you have enough cash (Mexican or US) to buy your tickets, don't expect to pay with a debit or credit card. (But ATM's are fairly common so you as long as you've got your bank card it's not hard to get cash.) Also, consider carrying something like Gravol for motion sickness. I don't normally have trouble with this, but even I got queasy on some of the bumping swaying bus rides in Mexico.

On Via Rail or Amtrak trains, don't bother checking your bags, there is plenty of space either in the overhead racks or in the luggage space at the end of the cars. The only advantage to checking your bags would be if you had connections where you had to switch trains and you didn't want to have to deal with your luggage. But if you're going to travel by bus and train, I'd strongly recommend traveling with just a backpack, it makes life a whole lot easier. And it's often cheaper because you can walk from the bus or train station instead of having to take a taxi. One advantage to bus and train is that most of the stations are within walking distance of downtown as opposed to airports that are often miles away.

Even (especially) if it's the heat of summer, be prepared for cold trains and buses. The air conditioning often seems to have only one setting - full blast. You'll at least want a sweater, and if you're traveling overnight, I'd recommend carrying a blanket. I have an Eagle Creek fleece travel blanket that stuffs into its own pocket, and when it's not cold, it makes a good pillow.

Although the trains have snack bars and dining cars, and the buses make meal stops, I prefer to take some food with me so I don't end up eating junk food.

The Vancouver train station conveniently serves Via Rail, Amtrak, and Greyhound. Note: The Amtrak buses do not operate out of the Greyhound part of the station. They arrive and depart from the front of the station - look for a small sign. 

The Seattle train station doesn't have anything to eat but there are several places close by. For coffee, my favorite was Zeitgeist. If you have time, check out the aquarium - it's a good one.

The Portland train station is within walking distance of downtown, but if it's late or you're tired, it's within the free transit area - just walk around the corner and catch the MAX light rail to downtown (get used to the homeless people, there are lots of them). The Portland train station is also one of the few with free wifi. There's a snack bar in the station and a fancier restaurant attached to the station, but apart from that there's not much really close. For more coffee shops and restaurants (and the Patagonia store) head west from the train station on Hoyt to 10th to Jamison Square in the Pearl district. To get to or from downtown from the Jamison Square area you can take the Streetcar (but be aware that it's outside the free zone). If you have time in Portland, don't miss the huge Powell's bookstore. The zoo and Japanese gardens are also nice.

There's not much around the Oakland train station. The Jack London Square shopping area is a few blocks away but otherwise it's a somewhat seedy area.

San Diego's train station is close to downtown and the Greyhound station is just a few blocks away. If you've got time, the San Diego zoo is a good one.

Unfortunately, bus and train are not a lot cheaper than flying, especially if you get a cheap flight. (Flying, like many things in our oil based economy, is amazingly cheap, at least until the oil runs out.) But bus and train are more environmentally friendly, potentially if not actually. And because you have to actually experience the distance you're traveling, you're a lot less likely to flit across the continent for a meeting or to go shopping. And to me, experiencing the ground you're traveling over is one of the best parts of this kind of travel.

For more details on restaurants and coffee shops and places to stay, check out my previous blog posts from my trips.

The Process Is Dead "The best outcome anyone now expects from December’s climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Zero History

Zero History is the latest great book by the Canadian science fiction author William Gibson.

I've been a fan of his books for a long time, all the way back to Neuromancer (1984) where he popularized the term "cyberspace".

His last three books, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and now Zero History have been set in the present, rather than the normal science fiction future. Zero History shares many of the same characters as Spook Country.

But Gibson is well know for saying "The future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." The bits of the present that he focuses on in these books might as well be the future. He focuses on brand a lot, which is not something I think about a lot, but it's definitely a big part of our world.

If you're looking for an easy read that doesn't require much thought, this probably isn't the book for you. I often feel like I need to reread several times to have a chance of getting the full meaning. But if you're a Gibson fan you won't be disappointed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

San Luis Obispo

I have to say the San Luis Creek Lodge was a bit over the top for me. It looked good on the Internet. When I saw the fake Tudor and the suit of armor out front I started to wonder. Tassels on the shower curtains were bad enough, but tassels on the night light definitely seemed like overdoing it.

And do I really need a copper tub of firewood for the fake (gas) fireplace? It wouldn't have been so bad if there was any kind of conceptual integrity, but it just seemed to be a random assortment of embellishments. Reminds me of some software I know. To me, if you want to be elegant and classy you need to give at least some thought to simplicity and clean lines. Not that it has to be so Spartan that it's sterile.

They list it as a bed and breakfast, but it's really just a small hotel that happens to include breakfast. The name is also a bit misleading - the creek might be around somewhere but I never saw it.

Don't get me wrong, it was a nice place. The room was good. I'm sure some people would like all the doodads.

San Luis downtown is nice enough. The high end shops don't do much for me. And as far as I'm concerned, once the garden gnome stores and interior decorating shops move in it's all downhill from there. Not to mention shops like "EcoBambino" - supposedly environmentally friendly crap, I mean stuff, for kids.

I wandered through the Apple store. The only thing I hadn't seen were the new Shuffle and Nano. Interesting that they reverted to buttons on the Shuffle. The Nano is slick, almost like a piece of jewelry. No tassels on Apple products!

Past the shops, the mission and the walkway along the creek are very nice. That's where I'm sitting now. Very quiet and peaceful. A world away from Apple and Victorias Secret. (Do they put those side by side intentionally?) Of course, I'm typing this on my iPhone so it's not like I've left that world.

For lunch I went to Novo. I picked it because it had a wonderful outdoor patio overlooking the creek. The sun was shining, the creek was burbling, the food was good and I was sipping on a California Chardonnay. Sweet.

On To San Luis Obispo

The train was delayed leaving San Diego for San Luis Obispo but not too much. I settled in for the ride. The train wasn't too full and I had two seats to myself on the good (ocean) side of the train.

But before too long the train stopped at a station and they announced more delays. Apparently two teenagers had been killed by a train. Awful.

After waiting a while they asked everyone going beyond Los Angeles to get off the train - they were putting us on a bus. So much for my comfortable train ride. But when we got on the bus they told us they were just shuttling us past where the tracks were closed and then we'd get back on another train. That sounded better.

But when the bus got to where we were supposed to catch the next train, it had already left, even though theoretically they were holding it for us. So we continued on the bus to LA.

The interesting part (to me) was how they handled the problems. One of the conductors was telling people that obviously they couldn't plan for this kind of event. (This was just one guy, not an official statement.) While you may not be able to plan for specific events, you definitely can plan for types of events. A section of track being closed seems like a pretty obvious thing for Amtrak to have contingency plans for.

It's no wonder the cell phone system gets overloaded during disasters. Everyone on the bus had to call someone to tell them something was happening, even though they didn't know anything at that point. People were even borrowing phones to call and tell someone what they didn't know.

I got a little bit of an inside view of how things were being handled because an Amtrak employee was in the seat on front of me on the bus and I could eavesdrop on her cell phone conversations.

Lesson 1 - if you are going to depend on cell phones, then you need a backup. Or at least a spare battery - hers ran out and she had to borrow one and then didn't have her contacts.

It amazed me how there didn't seem to be any sort of contingency plan. They just seemed to be going by the seat of their pants. For example, they had no arrangement for getting buses and couldn't get enough to take everyone. Of course, maybe there is some elaborate plan - sitting on the shelf gathering dust at head office.

It made me think that we should be revisiting our disaster planning at Axon. Not to make specific plans, but to at least think about what kinds of things could happen and in general how we could handle them.

From LA they put us on a later train and things were back on track, other than arriving at 8:30 pm instead of 4:30. But it's a great trip along the coast. I saw deer and a fox and even some dolphins! And it was a beautiful colorful sunset.

I'd been happy that I'd be able to catch the Thursday evening farmers market in San Luis Obispo. As it was I just caught the tail end of the it. But I got something to eat from a vegetarian place and I chatted with the people at the turtle club booth :-) It's quite a big market and there were lots of people. It was nice to get a quick look at it.

I was surprised to see an Apple store since SLO isn't that big. But it probably serves a bigger area and it is a college town. I made use of the free wifi at Apple stores to send a quick email.

Now I just had to find the place where I was staying - a mile away, in the dark. Deja vu! But, unlike Mexico, there were street lights and shops and restaurants open. And the San Luis Creek Lodge turned out to be easy to find.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

San Diego

Back in "civilization" it seems the highlights are all food related. That seems a little decadent, but when you remove shopping from the city, and you don't have time for the zoo, what's left? Maybe I'll have to start visiting museums.

I did visit a Borders bookstore but left when they refused to give me a washroom token because I hadn't bought anything. I can see having that rule so you don't turn into a public washroom, but that kind of rule should be meant to be broken, not followed to the letter. Not that I'm a good customer, I almost never buy paper books any more, I just use bookstores to browse. For example, I saw the latest William Gibson was released so I turned around and bought it on my Kindle. Originally, I didn't think being able to buy books on my Kindle anywhere in the world was a big deal. But it's turned out to be a really nice feature. Although for me, wifi would be just as good as cellphone. In fact, some places I could get wifi where I couldn't get cellphone data. (like Cabo Pulmo)

Anyway, back to food (and drink). My first priority was a good latte. I checked Yelp (a useful app) on my iPhone and decided to try Coffee and Art. It turned out to be a tiny place with not much seating and I almost didn't stop. But I'm glad I did - the latte was great and the photographs (the art) were nice too.

My caffeine craving satisfied, food was next on the agenda. Since I was in the Gaslamp district I decided to try out Zanzibar, a place I'd seen on my last visit. And I like the name :-) I had a great vegetarian chili with cornbread and a nice salad.

I had planned on going for coffee again in the afternoon, but for some reason I didn't feel like more coffee. Maybe I need to rebuild the size of my coffee appetite. But hey, I'm on holidays, I can go for a glass of wine instead :-) I ended up back in the Gaslamp district at Chloe's for a glass of flavorful California Bordeaux-style Meritage.

I browsed Yelp looking for somewhere to go for supper. In the end I decided to go to an old favorite, Indigo, rather than trying somewhere new. It was good as always, although the portions are way too big for me. Usually you can count on smaller portions at more expensive restaurants but that doesn't seem to apply at Indigo. Shelley and I have got in the habit of sharing so we can sample more dishes, but that doesn't work when I'm on my own. Indigo serves a west coast fusion, blending Mexican Oaxaca spices with Pacific foods like salmon. I had their Good Things Growing, a vegetarian option with everything from tofu to squash to chili relleno.

For breakfast this morning I headed to my favorite Brickyard for a breakfast burrito and a latte. The sparrows were out in force. I can't help but smile when I see them hopping around so cheerfully. (anthropomorphizing, I know)

Then on to the train to continue my northward journey. To break up the trip a little I'm stopping in San Luis Obispo. It sounds like an interesting place.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Across the Border

I caught the bus to Tijuana yesterday afternoon. It was a newer bus and only half full. Overall a smooth trip.

Of course being cooped up inevitably leads to some annoyances. First, I had my head cheerfully pummeled by a small child in the seat behind me. I wondered why the mother wasn't exerting a little more control - when I turned around I found she was busy on her cell phone with the child standing on her lap. But she only looked about 15 years old so what can you expect. (Seems like lots of very young mothers here.) I escaped the child abuse by moving seats.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, two old ladies behind me obviously couldn't sleep and carried on a loud gossip session at 2 am. I didn't bother trying to move again since they were still playing loud movies (till about 3 am!). Despite the noise I managed to doze off and on most of the night.

I bought a ticket on the next Greyhound to San Diego. There were huge lineups at the border, both vehicles and pedestrians. The line of people walking across was about 8 blocks long! It took about an hour to make it through the line to the border (and that was in the bus lane). After that it was the quickest, easiest entry into the US I've experienced - no forms, no questions, just a quick scan of my passport. I didn't catch the subtle flick of the fingers waving me on and was standing waiting for questions and had to be told to move on. At which point I started to exit out the open door towards the bus. It seemed logical, but I was told if I went out that door I was going to "get hurt". Border guard humor I guess. So I followed directions and went out the other way. Which left me standing outside the building wondering how to find the bus, which was nowhere to be seen. Luckily I spotted a fellow passenger and he told me to walk a block that aways. Which I did, and found the bus station. But I'm not sure how you're supposed to know this - no signs or instructions anywhere that I could see. It always amazes me how much people assume you know what to do. (a lesson for software design!)

Back on the bus it was a short trip to San Diego. Back to the land of freeways and automobiles. Certainly you see more vehicles here than you see people in Baja. Emerging from the bus terminal I was back in America. I felt some empathy for the Mexicans who were now in a foreign land as I had been. It must seem as unfamiliar to some of them as Mexico is to me. (Not counting the Mexicans that spend much of their time on the US.)

I have to admit it's a little bit of a relief to be back on "familiar" ground. I have to remind myself that I can actually talk to people here, and they'll understand me. What a concept! (Not that I actually talk to people any more than strictly necessary, regardless of language!)

The Magical Sea of Cortez

I woke up refreshed at Cliff's B&B in Mulege. Cliff had left me freshly squeezed orange juice in the fridge and a nice baguette from the bakery in Santa Rosalia (and apricot jam - my favorite) I relaxed over a cup of coffee and caught up on the Internet. There was no one else staying there so it was quiet. And early morning is the best time, when it's only hot, not scorching.

I took Cliff up on his offer of the use of one of his kayaks. His place is right on the river which is wide and shallow here near its mouth. And it's bursting with life, not surprising when it's one of few sources of fresh water in the middle of a desert. Silvery fish were jumping like clockwork. Birds were everywhere - brown pelicans, great blue (and other) herons, white ibis, osprey, cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, and more.

It was only 9 am but the temperature had already risen to scorching. I soaked my hat in the water and splashed myself but it didn't seem to make much difference. Still, it was a joy to be out on the water. There was only the occasional motorboat to break the spell.

I paddled down to the mouth of the river and around the lighthouse. A bright blue jellyfish drifted by. As I got into the salt water I could see more fish in the clear water. I spotted a big King Angelfish beside a rock surrounded by schools of yellow striped Sergeant Majors with a few brilliant Blue Chromis mixed in. Then I noticed what looked like a fin sitting on the rocky bottom. I lowered my paddle towards it and a Scorpionfish shot away. They're so well camouflaged that sometimes all you can make out is a fin or an eye.

It was a fitting end to this visit to the Sea of Cortez, reinforcing it's magical fullness of life.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The road less traveled

When you take the road less traveled you can't expect it to be all smooth sailing!

The day started out well. I found a good coffee shop (Cafelix) for breakfast and a decent latte.

I realize it's the low season, but apart from the touristy galleries Todos Santos seemed somewhat forlorn - empty lots and falling down buildings. Hardly the pueblo magico they advertise. Not even many historical buildings from what I saw. And it's not on the water. It does have the ritzy looking Hotel California that claims to be the inspiration for the Eagles song.

From Todos Santos I was taking the bus to Mulege, north of Loreto. I'd already traveled this stretch so I figured it would be straightforward. The bus was a half hour late and for the first time it was an older bus. Half the seats were broken. I ended up in the very back where the air conditioning didn't reach and the sun was beating on the window. Of course, I'd been prepared to freeze so I had long pants on for the first time in weeks. Oh well, a little sweating never hurt anyone.

When we got to La Paz we went to a maintenance yard instead of the terminal. We sat there for a while and then they kicked us all off the bus. We stood around for a while longer, sweating some more, until another bus came, this time one of the usual new ones. We settled into the blasting air conditioning, but a few minutes later when we reached the bus terminal, they kicked us all off the bus again.

This kind of thing can be confusing enough at the best of times, but when you don't speak the language and can't ask what's going on it's even worse. You definitely have to learn to take things as they come.

I was a little concerned that because we were late I might have missed some connection. But I took the chance to use the washroom (always good to go when you can in this kind of travel) and stood around for a while to see what would happen. Before too long a bus pulled in and there was a garbled announcement that I think included towns on my route. I double checked with the bus driver as I got on (another good idea).

It turned out to be the original aging bus! At least this time it wasn't full and I was in the middle with a functional seat. Here, the aging A/C was a good thing because it wasn't freezing. The temperature was actually just right.

After that the trip went more smoothly until we arrived at Mulege. I wasn't sure I'd recognize it so I was watching for signs. I'd just seen a sign saying "Mulege" and we pulled into a truck stop. Some of the stops are brief so I grabbed my pack and started getting off. Two girls beside me stopped me and said "no" (at least that was the only part I understood). I thought they figured I was going further like everyone else so I said "Mulege?" and they shrugged. I got off and started looking for a taxi. But the truck stop was in the middle of nowhere - I couldn't even see where town was. I asked at the store about a taxi and they said no. Hmmm. They also said something about pueblo - town. I started to wonder if I this was the right stop. Luckily, the bus was still there - it was obviously the supper stop. I garbled some Spanglish with some of the other passengers and figured out that Mulege itself was another five minutes down the road. Thank goodness the bus hadn't left already. I waited for everyone to have supper and rode the bus to town. This time I actually recognized the town. (Shelley and I had visited a few years ago.)

But ... no taxis. Originally I had planned to walk the mile to the B&B I had booked. But it was now 9:30 and dark. I asked around about taxis and got sent here and there with no luck. 9:30 doesn't sound that late but with few street lights and all the shops and restaurants closed it was a little spooky. I decided to walk but I wasn't sure which way to head out of town. I asked a young guy who was just closing up the last shop. He wasn't sure but he thought he knew which way to go and said he'd give me a ride. Accepting a ride at night from a stranger in Mexico made me a little nervous but I had approached him and he was working at a shop.

We drove down the highway and turned into one place. It didn't quite match my directions but I couldn't explain that very well. We stopped at a house and they directed us 3 miles down the road. Again, that didn't match my directions, but off we went. Of course we didn't find it. By this time I think my driver was starting to regret ever offering me a ride!

I gave up and we headed back to town. I'd have to find somewhere different to stay. But then on the way back we spotted the sign we were looking for. We drove in but couldn't find the B&B. We spotted a lady in her yard and she spoke English and gave me directions which I totally failed to translate into Spanish. Thank goodness we then ran into a security guard who jumped in the back of the truck and guided us there. He even woke up the owner to confirm I was ok. By this point no one really believed this crazy gringo knew where he was going.

It was a huge relief to get there finally. It was a nice place and a nice room with air conditioning even. Still, after all the stress it took me a while to get to sleep.

This kind of thing is both the positive and the negative of this kind of travel. It's stressful at the time but it also exposes you to people and situations you'd never otherwise experience. It doesn't hurt to leave the comfort zone occasionally.