Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Lizard Came to Lunch

When we were at lunch today a lizard visited the patio. Of course, I had to take photos of it :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turks and Caicos

Here's the first batch of photos from our week long diving live-aboard boat trip on the Turks and Caicos Explorer II.

2011-11-20 Turks and Caicos

2011-11-21 Turks and Caicos

Diving Photography

Taking decent underwater photographs is a challenge. This post is about my experience this trip. Warning: it gets technical.

I was surprised on our diving live-aboard boat trip how many people had elaborate underwater camera setups. I'm used to being the keen photographer in a group, but I was definitely outgunned this time.

I have a much better camera now than I used to - a Canon G12 instead of the little Powershot. It has much better low light abilities and can shoot raw which allows a lot more adjustment afterwards.

The big difference with the more sophisticated setups was the lights. It's dark underwater and the colors get washed out. I don't use the built-in flash on my camera because flash on camera like that is harsh unnatural lighting, and the little built-in flash isn't very powerful anyway. A better setup is to have multiple (two or more) separate strobes (powerful flashes). But this kind of setup is heavy and bulky and awkward (not to mention, expensive).

You can get underwater cases for SLR's but if the case leaks that's a lot of money down the drain. One of the people on our trip had borrowed a fancy underwater camera and it flooded on the very first dive - ouch!

Because I don't have lights I prefer to take photos fairly shallow where there is still light and color. But most of our dives on this trip were around 20m (70ft). For this, shooting raw and using software like Lightroom is key to getting some color back.

I started the trip shooting fully automatic, but the G12 tries hard to use a low ISO (light sensitivity) because that gives a better quality photo (less noise or "grain"). The problem is, that means a slow shutter speed. But underwater, everything is moving - you're moving and the fish are moving and the only way to "freeze" that movement is with a fast shutter speed. (Another reason why flash is better - it also helps freeze the movement.)

Next I tried shooting at the G12's maximum ISO of 3200. That resulted in faster shutter speeds and less motion blur, but a lot of noise. Next day I tried 1600, and then the next 800, where I left it for the rest of the trip. It seemed the best compromise between sensitivity and noise. Part of it is diving skill - how well you can "hover" in one spot and hold steady while taking a shot. I'm gradually getting better at that but I still find it a challenge. Sometimes you can find a spot to put a finger against which helps a lot.

At shallower depths, like 10m, when the light is relatively bright, I was finding the highlights were often burning out. You can recover some of this, especially if you're shooting raw, but not if it's totally white. In these conditions I found it worked better to override the exposure to be darker by one stop. This is where the G12 is nice because it has a separate dial for exposure adjustment, rather than having to poke around in the menus (especially underwater!) There's also a separate dial for ISO. The downside of forcing the images to be darker is that it increases the noise. But I'd rather have more noise than have totally burnt out areas.

Although other people on the live-aboard had better cameras, or at least better lights, they didn't seem to be as familiar with adjusting the photos on the computer afterwards. Using software like Lightroom or Aperture is the modern day equivalent of having and using your own darkroom. Just accepting the default processing that the camera does is like accepting drugstore prints in the days of film. (And if you're going to adjust them you really need to shoot raw, assuming your camera is able.)

In Lightroom my normal adjustments would be: Clarity +50 (sometimes all the way to 100, although that can look unnatural), Luminance Noise 50 (depending on ISO), Strong Contrast Tone Curve, sometimes increased Vibrance, sometimes Recovery. If one side or corner is too bright I'll use an exposure gradient to adjust it. Other than parts that get too bright, the images almost always look murky and washed out and I'll increase the Black and Exposure settings to improve the contrast. (I should probably directly adjust the tone curve more, but I haven't got to that point yet.)

If there's something neutral in the image, like a black wetsuit or (relatively) white sand, I'll try using that to set the white balance. If not, or if that doesn't look right, I'll adjust it manually. Underwater photos taken with natural light are very blue. Getting rid of that and bringing back some reds often requires extreme white balance adjustments, pushing Temperature and Tint to the max. But it really is blue underwater, so sometimes it looks better to just let it be blue and not try to remove it all.

I always smile when people claim their photos are "unprocessed". There's no such thing as an unprocessed digital image. All it means is you are keeping the default processing your camera (or computer) does. That processing isn't necessarily any more "true" than when you adjust it manually. Of course, you can push the processing to extremes and end up with something unreal. The closest thing to an "unprocessed" image would be a raw image with all the settings zeroed. But that looks awful and won't be anything like what it "really" looked like. Unless I'm deliberately trying to achieve some abstract artistic result, I try to make the images look as close as I can to how it "felt" to see it in person (with, admittedly, variable results).

Of course, apart from all these technical issues, the subject and composition are still critical. No matter how technically excellent an image might be, it still needs to be interesting and pleasing to the eye. And there's still a lot of luck involved in being at the right place at the right time.

Photos from the week coming soon, as I select and process them.

PS. You can see why so many computer geeks get into photography - there's plenty of technical details to obsess over!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bahamas #2

We had a great five days at Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island in the Bahamas. Exactly our kind of place - small, low key, quiet, nice staff, like minded guests, great diving. Conditions weren't perfect for diving - a little too windy and therefore not so good visibility, but still excellent dives. As long as you're not looking for shopping or night life we'd strongly recommend this place, either for diving, or just for a relaxing place to hang out.

Since we were flying today we didn't dive yesterday. Probably could have, at least in the morning, but we're conservative and we wanted a chance to explore anyway. In the morning we rode bikes to the Androsia batik factory. Small, but interesting. It's connected to the lodge and the staff all wears their clothes, and the curtains and bed covers etc. are from there. Very colorful and great designs.

In the afternoon we biked and hiked to the Rainbow Blue Hole. Blue holes are water filled caves, often connected underground to the ocean. We had a refreshing swim to cool off. We took our mask and snorkels, but there wasn't much to see. This one was almost a perfect cylinder of rock dropping straight down into the black. Still have no desire to go cave diving!

We took the early morning flight from Andros back to Nassau and this afternoon we head to Providenciales in Turks and Caicos to start a week long live-aboard dive trip. Between flights we took a taxi into Cable Beach to hang out in Starbucks and use the wi-fi. Thankfully we found somewhere to leave our luggage at the airport. That's almost impossible in "civilized" countries now because of security issues.

More photos (click to view). These are from back in Nassau at a National Trust site called the Retreat. And yes, I like lizards :-)
2011-11-12 Bahamas

A few photos Shelley took. We picked the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau because it's a historical building, and it is a neat building. But otherwise it's just a big Hilton, nothing special. Close to downtown, but that just means it's surrounded by tourists when umpteen huge cruise ships are in. (Note to self: avoid places where cruise ships visit.)
2011-11-13 Bahamas

And more diving photos: (a lot, but I love all the underwater life)
2011-11-15 Bahamas
2011-11-16 Bahamas

And finally, some pictures from our last day of exploring. Thanks to decent wifi at Starbucks that brings us up to date on photos. I don't imagine we'll have internet on the boat so we'll no doubt have a bunch more to post when we get back to civilization.
2011-11-17 Bahamas

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A few photos from when I arrived.
2011-11-11 Bahamas

From our first day of diving. Still trying to figure out how to best use the G12 underwater - did a bit better later days.
2011-11-14 Bahamas

More diving photos to come (probably more than you want to look at :-) when I get a chance to upload them.

See also: Shelley's blog post - Spirit and Adventure: Eyes on the Horizon

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not So Smart

I got to Fort Lauderdale after a relatively painless 12 hours on the train. Interesting scenery - forests, orange and lemon orchards, lakes. Saw a few birds - bald eagles, turkey vultures, great blue herons, white ibis. I think I spotted a few turtles and a couple of lizards on a wall but hard to be sure when you're zipping by.

The train was freezing again. I'm sure engineers think that thermostats and heating/cooling systems are a boring solved problem. Obviously they've never ridden the bus or train much! Eventually the attendant noticed that everyone was wearing all their jackets and wrapped in blankets and turned off the air conditioning briefly. (My theory is that because it was too cold they had opened the door at the end of the car to let some warm air in. But I suspect that the thermostat was near the door, so it got the warm air from outside which kept the air conditioning running full blast.)

I was expecting a main train station, but it was more like a commuter stop. I figured out how to buy a ticket from the machine to take the local train to near the airport and my hotel. I'm glad I got my ticket right because a train cop handed out two tickets in my car to people with incorrect tickets! (The ticket machine was poorly designed - one of the too common systems with a row of buttons beside the screen and labels on the screen, where it's very hard to tell which label goes with which button.)

I wasn't quite sure where my hotel was relative to the train stop but I knew it was close. I went out the front and looked around. Sure enough there were a couple of hotels and one of them was a Marriott. The trick was to get there since the train stop was surrounded by freeways. (This was the airport stop and most people were just getting on the shuttle bus to the airport.)

I managed to play frogger across the freeways and get to the hotel. I was a little tired and hungry at this point, but feeling pleased with myself for navigating another day of travel (not to mention, 10 days of train travel from Saskatoon to Florida). One of the reasons I like taking the road less travelled is that it's more of a challenge and therefore more rewarding. But pride goeth before a fall. When I went to check in, they couldn't find my reservation. But I was prepared, I showed her the confirmation number on TripIt on my iPhone. That didn't work either. But being a belt and suspenders kind of person, I was prepared with another fallback - I had a printed copy of my confirmation email. I'm feeling a little smug, obviously tempting fate. I joked, "This is the Marriott, isn't it?" What I didn't realize was that there were two Marriott's and I was at the wrong one. Damn! 

I asked how far the other one was. She said it's just across the street. I breathed a sigh of relief since I had started to wonder if I got off at the right train stop. "But," she said, "you can't walk there from here." I'm normally pretty suspicious when non-walkers (i.e. just about everyone) tell me what is walkable. But given that we were in the middle of a bunch of freeways I make the mistake of believing her. She said she'd get a shuttle to take me over. So I sit and wait for 20 minutes. 

When the shuttle finally comes, it takes me back to the train stop! The other Marriott was about 100 yards behind the train stop, across the parking lot. If I'd looked around a bit better when I came out I would have seen it. Doh! Luckily I wasn't in the Amazing Race or I would have had to face Phil telling me I was the last one to arrive and I'd been eliminated.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Savannah Photos

I've enjoyed Savannah. There are a few too many Ye Olde Candie Shoppe's and you have to be careful not to get run over by the tour trolleys, but the history and old buildings are interesting, and I love all the squares with big trees draped in Spanish moss. (actually an epiphyte in the bromeliad family)

click to view photos

Tomorrow I continue on the train to Fort Lauderdale, and then a short flight to Nassau in the Bahamas where I meet up with Shelley to do some diving. I'm almost happy to have a day sitting on the train again - my feet are getting sore from all the miles I've put on them walking around Savannah!

PS. For what it's worth, I think this is my 1000'th blog post (between this and my computer blog).

Savannah Encounters

It's the middle of the night on the train to Savannah. I'm squirming around for the umpteenth time trying to find a semi-comfortable position. I notice that the seats behind me are empty - they must have got off at some point. The guards, I mean attendants, aren't around so I decide to move back and give myself and my basketball player sized seat-mate a little more room. A few hours later we make a stop and the attendants reappear. I pretend to be asleep in hopes they'll leave me alone. No chance, they make a point of coming over several times and telling me that they're going to need that seat. (Which is a stretch since the car is only half full.) For some reason it always pisses them off if you don't behave like a good school kid. I've been chewed out about it and seen other people get in trouble over it as well. It's not like it's hurting anyone, or causing any trouble. A while later they can't stand my impertinence any longer and they order me back to my assigned seat. The seat behind stays empty for the rest of the trip. I try not to get too worked up about it. It's demeaning to be treated this way, but there's not much you can do. I don't imagine arguing with them would be a good move. It's not so much the comfort issue, I'd have no problem if the train was full, it's the irrationality of it that gets me. I don't think it has ever occurred to them that their job is actually to make the customers happy. Instead, they seem entirely focused on keeping the unruly inmates under control.

I was organizing my pack in the Savannah train station when I realized there was someone standing beside me. I had noticed him and his pack when he boarded the train and wondered if he was a backpacker and if so, what trail he was headed for. I said hi. He said "I noticed your backpack. Mine is over there", nodding towards his pack. I asked where he was headed. He said "Here. This is Savannah isn't it?" He asked "Is there an 'occupy' here? Or some other campground?"  (Shelley will relate to how "occupy" is morphing from a movement to a campground.) I said I didn't know, I had a hotel. Suddenly I was no longer his bro and he wandered off.

Train stations are often conveniently downtown, but not this one. It was miles (literally) outside town. I could have taken one of the waiting taxis, but after sitting for so long I felt more like walking. I had downloaded some offline maps to my iPhone but I hadn't got a big enough area and I didn't have around the station. But I knew the river was north and downtown was east, so I headed for the rising sun. It took about an hour and a half of walking to reach downtown, but it was a beautiful sunny warm morning. (My sympathies went out to everyone at home in snowy Saskatoon!)

Almost everyone on the train with me was African-American. (Although that probably wasn't the case in first class.) As were the people I saw in the poor neighborhoods on the way into town. (Except for one white guy jogging down the street smoking a cigarette!) But once you got downtown the situation reversed and almost everyone was white. Sadly, some things take a long time to change.

I was pretty happy that the hotel (Planters Inn) had a room ready, even though it was only 9am. Refreshed after a shower and a change of clothes, I headed down the elevator. (Annoyingly, the stairs are emergencies only.) Four middle aged tourist looking women got on the elevator with me. They eyed me up and down and one of them said "We caught you!" Huh? I had no idea what they were talking about. "You were out late partying and you slept in and now you're going for breakfast." she explained. Sorry to disappoint their imaginations I said, "No, I just got in from the overnight train." I probably should have made up a good story about my wild night, I'm sure it would have made their day!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


On the move again, I took the train (Amtrak now) from Montreal southward. Daylight savings changed overnight, making me a little nervous about getting to the station at the right time. An hour early would be ok, but an hour late would be bad.

There was the usual delay crossing the border, not a big deal when you expect it. And you get to stay in your seat on the train. The customs person asked me where I was born. I said "Arusha" and he gave me a blank look. "Sorry, Tanzania." Still the blank look. "Africa." His eyebrows elevated. "What nationality were your parents?" he asked. "British" seemed to satisfy him and he gave me my passport back. I like the quirk of being born somewhere "different" but in today's political climate I'm also very glad it wasn't somewhere like Iraq.

This train goes to New York which is where I need to switch trains to get further south. But one of the advantages of trains (in my opinion) is that they stop at more places, unlike airlines, which tend to just go from hub to hub. I'm sure there's lots of cool stuff in New York, but it's a huge city and likely a challenge to find somewhere to stay that's nice without being ridiculously expensive.

So I stopped in Schenectady, as I did on my way to Boston in the spring. Small towns are nicer stopovers - they're more walkable and hotels are cheaper. I'm staying at the Stockade Inn again - a small place in a historical building.

Having had sufficient wining and dining in Montreal I opted for the Moon and River Cafe for supper. Another funky place (but friendlier than L'Escalier) They don't serve alcohol and they don't even have an espresso machine OMG :-) Good vegetarian food though. I was tempted to hang around for the live music but I decided to read my book by the fireplace back at the inn instead.

It's fun to explore new places, but it's also nice to revisit places and know your way around. Last time I was here I had quite a search for a decent coffee. This time I knew exactly where to go - Villa Italia - only a short detour on the way to the Amtrak station :-)

I change trains in New York and travel overnight to arrive in Savannah in the morning. It's still cool here (frost on the cars this morning) I'm looking forward to putting the heavy jacket away once I get to Savannah, although I'm sure I'll need it again in on the way back.

It's nice to have wifi on the train now, and power outlets at every seat! On Via Rail from Saskatoon to Toronto there's no wifi and a single power outlet for all the passengers to share!

Too many people seem to regard travel as a necessary evil, getting stressed and irritated. Occasionally I find myself falling into the same trap, but for the most part I love the journey as much as the destination.

Penn Station was as big and busy as I expected, but it was also clean and bright and more modern than I expected. I looked for somewhere to have lunch. There was lots of fast food down in the station but it would be nice to find somewhere a little better. I made my way up to street level. At which point I was reminded that I'm really not a big city person and retreated into the known world of the station :-) I managed to get a sit down lunch at Fridays.

Next challenge was coffee. I asked the waitress if there was a Starbucks in the station. Her eyes lit up and she said "No, but there's Tim Hortons". As a Canadian, I'm happy for Tim Horton's international success, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I wandered around the fast food places looking for an espresso machine. I found one at a place called Chickpeas, not exactly where I would have looked first, but I'll take what I can get!

Unfamiliar transit terminals are always a challenge to figure out. There are never enough signs or instructions for newcomers and they all have their own unique inscrutable procedures. Penn Station was no different. Even for the long distance trains, they didn't announce the track till 15 min before, at which point there's a big scamble for everyone to get in line.

One common point on longer Amtrak trips is that the conductor assigns seats as you get on the train, according to some unknowable process. And regardless of how full the train is, they always pack people together, leaving half the car empty (or even entire empty cars), rather than letting people spread out. I hope there's at least some benefit to the staff, because it certainly wouldn't be the choice of the customers.

At least I managed the scramble well enough to get a window seat :-) Now it's just a matter of sitting back for the ride to Savannah.

(I planned to post this yesterday, but there was no wifi on the New York to Savannah train.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Canal, Market, Sphere

It was a beautiful sunny day today, although still quite cool. It is November after all.

From the hotel I walked along the Lachine Canal to the Atwater Market, quite a distance, but a nice path. The market itself wasn't that impressive - more shops than a "farmer's market". Probably there's more outside in the summer.

After a coffee break at the market I took the metro downtown and went to the McCord Museum to see an exhibit of Edward Burtynsky's "Oil" photographs. Great photographs and worth seeing full size. And it happened to be the first Saturday of the month so admission was free.

I had lunch at the museum restaurant (quite nice) and then took the metro to the Biosphere. The geodesic dome was built for Expo '67 and is now a museum for the environment. They had some interesting exhibits and the sphere is cool, but overall it was a little disappointing. But I walked around the island for a while enjoying the sunny fall day.

Supper was at Barroco and it was excellent. Even booking the day before, all I could get was sitting at the bar. But that was entertaining as cocktails are a specialty and the bartender was kept busy preparing them. I left it up to the chef to come up with something vegetarian and I wasn't disappointed. I got a platter with arugala and grape salad, risotta, and wild mushrooms and roasted vegetables.Very tasty. I had the squash soup to start - served in a hollowed out pumpkin. And at the bartender's recommendation, the apple tart for dessert. I'm afraid I didn't try the cocktails and had a French Malbec instead.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Domes, Bugs, and Carrots

Had a good first day in Montreal. Breakfast at the hotel (Auberge du Vieux Port), coffee at Equi-Tasse. Then walked over to Berri-UQAM station to take the metro to the Biodome and Insectarium. (Not to be confused with the Biosphere.) Managed to figure out the metro without too much trouble, although it definitely seems to be aimed more at locals than tourists - few maps or instructions, and scant ticket machines.

The Biodome is next to the Olympic stadium, both are pretty amazing structures. The Biodome is split into four sections. First, the tropical section. I immediately saw some monkeys up in a tree and pulled out my camera. Big mistake - bringing a cold camera from barely above freezing outside into a hot humid tropical atmosphere inside immediately fogged it up totally. No photos for a while!

I smiled when I saw the capybara. The last time I saw a capybara was in the wild, beside a rain forest river in Peru. The river otters were entertaining as always. The beaver came out of the water to grab some food (half a potato?). There was a porcupine up in a tree.

Scuba divers were feeding the fish in a huge tank. At the surface, sea birds were paddling around. In the polar area puffins and penguins were entertaining. The penguins were fat little torpedoes in the water. 

From the Biodome it's a short walk to the Insectarium in the Botanical Gardens. It's not very big, but it's well worth visiting, if you enjoy the wonders of nature. It's a mix of dead and live bugs. Both are amazing!

Back at Berri-UQAM I hunted for a late lunch. I had recommendations, but they were all a long way away. Yelp showed a vegetarian restaurant, L'Escalier, with a good rating just a block away so I gave it a try. It turned out to be pretty funky as you can tell from the front door! (Maybe a little too funky for my liking!) I ordered soup and a sandwich. Somehow I only got the soup. It could have been my French, but I think they just weren't paying attention. The waitress was in the process of leaving and the cook was trying to have his own lunch. Oh well, the soup was good.

I'm not sure if I'm looking more like a local this trip, or if people don't expect tourists this time of the year. Whatever the reason, people keep trying to talk to me in French. And not just talk to me, but ask directions, including a kid on a skateboard! Previously, it seemed like everyone would switch to English as soon as I opened my mouth. Thankfully, I can usually figure out enough words to guess what they're asking, and give a finely crafted and exquisitely pronounced monosyllabic response :-)

I stopped at Equi-Tasse again for my afternoon coffee on the way back and started checking the internet for somewhere for supper. Of the recommendations I had collected, the only one that was nearby was Restaurant 400 Coups. But when I tried to make a reservation on-line, I could only get 9pm, and nothing available tomorrow. But I stopped by the restaurant and they offered me a spot at the bar at 6pm so I took it.

Supper was excellent. A glass of Canadian Gamay wine. A cucumber, grape, and goat cheese salad. And a main course of roasted carrots with whipped ricotta and mushrooms. Considering most chefs can't imagine a main course without meat, it's pretty amazing they would offer something centered on such a humble vegetable as the carrot. It was, of course, very tasty. And last, but not least, I had an exotic chocolate dessert that was scrumptious.

Those of you that don't know me so well probably won't believe this, but as much as I enjoy staying in wonderful boutique hotels and eating at fabulous restaurants, I'd really be just as happy freezing my butt off, feeling like crap at high altitude, sitting in a cramped tent in a storm on the side of some mountain. Somehow I've ended up in a situation where the former is much easier to do than the latter. Obviously took a wrong turn somewhere :-) And environmentally, there would be much less guilt on the mountain than in the hotel. Oh well, can't dwell on that right now, I have to get back to my hotel and get ready for my dinner reservation!

Here are some photos from the Biodome and Insectarium: (with the usual indoor low light challenges)

click to view photos

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Rational Optimist

"It is the long ascent of the past that gives lie to our despair" - H.G. Wells

I just finished reading Matt Ridley's recent book The Rational Optimist.

I was prompted to read it by his Long Now talk. I find it hard to be optimistic these days, but I try to read a variety of viewpoints. One of the problems with today's abundance of information is that it is all too easy to only read material that you agree with. Not a good plan if you want an open mind.

It's an interesting book, that makes a lot of good points. There have always been people forecasting disaster and it makes good press so it tends to get amplified. And often they turn out to be wrong. By many measures the overall trend of the human race has been upward.

I would like to point out that when people raise the possibility of a disaster and then it doesn't happen, that doesn't mean there was never a danger. Take Y2K for example. Look at all the fuss there was, and look at what a non-event it turned out to be. But if no one had made a fuss, if all the preventative work had not been done, maybe there really would have been a disaster. Sometimes when you cry wolf, there really is a wolf.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it is overwhelmingly people oriented. Although the non-human environment is mentioned, it is definitely secondary. It's natural for people to be people-centric. But the history of mankind is one of expanding horizons, from family to tribe to race to all of humankind. I'd like to think that the natural continuation of that is to expand our empathy and concern and attention to our whole environment, not just the human part.

The book seems to assume that the measure of "success" is economic growth. Even within the human sphere, I have my doubts about the value, wisdom, and feasibility of unending growth. Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better. Obviously, poor people can benefit from a higher standard of living. But those of us in rich countries may already have gone too far. Depending on which study you pay attention to, more money doesn't even make us happier. Having more income to spend on more stuff to fill up our ever larger homes has little redeeming value and likely does more harm than good in the big picture. And to further complicate the story, our "growth" in the last few decades has almost entirely gone to the already rich top few percent. Do the billionaires really need more billions? I guess it gives the other 99% something to dream about. But is that much more productive than dreaming about winning the lottery?

Still, it was an interesting read, and a nice change from doom and gloom even if you don't agree with all of it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


I remember sitting in an airport one time thinking that the travelers could be divided into two categories - the ones heading out, and the ones heading home. And that this categorization cut across most other groupings - it had nothing to do with race or gender or education.

Right now, I'm outgoing, headed away from Saskatoon on the train again. I find my mindset is quite different at the beginning of a trip than it is at the end. The beginning is a process of letting go, of breaking free from normal life. The end means looking ahead to reentry into the regular routine, back to all the issues you temporarily left behind.

We just passed one of my favorite parts of the train trip east from Saskatoon - the section along the Qu'appelle valley near the Saskatchewan / Manitoba border. In the spring when I passed through it was green and wetly flooded. Now, the leaves are all gone, the water has retreated, and dry browns predominate. Unlike the prairies there are hills and trees. Unlike the seemingly endless boreal forest, there are still open views.

I also like the lakes, rivers, rocks, and forests of northern Ontario. They make me wish I had my kayak with me! (Although it doesn't seem right to call it "northern" Ontario when it's actually in the southern half of the province.)

Nine of us got on in Saskatoon, more than last time I rode the train. Less foreign tourists this time, they mostly travel westward through the mountains and in the summer. Quite a few people are traveling all the way from Vancouver to Toronto. A few are switching trains to continue on to Montreal or Halifax. I don't imagine too many are taking trains all the way to Florida the way I am :-)

When you fly, you jump over countries and continents. Taking the train or bus, you are, instead, immersed in the country. You cannot escape the size of the continent, or the variety of the terrain.

Another aspect of riding the train is that you are surrounded by other people that take the train. That sounds self evident, but in any other group, taking the train is an oddity. This sense of being with people that share a certain common ground doesn't really happen with flying, since flying is so common, and you have little time or circumstance to mingle with the other passengers.

When you are in "sleeper" class on Via Rail meals are included. This helps pass the time and also forces even introverts like me to meet some of the fellow travelers. On many cruise ships you have an assigned table and sit with the same few people every meal. Here, you are seated at a different table with different people at each meal. Last night I had supper with a pair of cute young girls 2 and 3 years old. My main fear was that I was going to end up wearing some of the food they were waving about! As usual, the food was excellent and there was always a good vegetarian option.

I have a few days in Montreal and a break from the train before continuing south.