Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Clouds from Both Sides

We left Saskatoon at sunrise, under cloudy gray skies but we soon broke out above the cloud layer into the warm early morning sun. I love seeing the clouds from above, especially from the top of a mountain, but from a plane works too.

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Luckily it had cleared a bit by the time we went over the mountains, leaving just the valleys filled with cloud. Sometimes I can identify the peaks as we go over but we must have been on a different track this time and nothing looked familiar. The sun was at a low angle, highlighting some peaks while leaving dark shadows.

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Vancouver also had low lying fog and clouds with various structures poking up through it.

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We had almost five hours in Vancouver but a friend came out to have breakfast with us and the time passed quickly. The only hitch was getting back through security where I set off the scanners despite wearing identical clothes as in Saskatoon. It wasn't a problem, it just meant multiple additional pat downs and scans.

It seems like you should fly west from Vancouver but the great circle route goes north up the coast. We had great views of the endless coast range with it's peaks and glaciers.

Also some good views of what I think was the north western tip of Alaska with a few volcanic looking mountains.

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Our first meal in "premium economy" was definitely a step up from the usual - white tablecloths, cloth napkins, glass wineglasses, and real cutlery including a knife! After that the meals went back to the usual peel the tinfoil off your TV dinner.

Over the Pacific we had some nice cloud scapes.

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And closer to Hong Kong, as we descended, some evening views of the water.

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Hong Kong immigration was quick and easy and my bag was one of the first down the belt. But then we waited and waited. We were starting to wonder but finally Shelley's showed up, one of the last off. I'm not sure how our bags got so separated.

Past immigration the first thing you see is the ticket counter for the train to downtown. 25 minutes later we were getting off at the central station. We could have taken a taxi from the station but it was only a bit more than a kilometre to our airbnb apartment so we hoisted our duffel bags and set out with paper map, offline iPhone map (Forever Map), and written directions. The first half a kilometre involved winding our way through the huge IFC mall. After that we eventually found the start of the escalators which helped ascend the hill. We found our street and with minor difficulty the hole in the wall entrance to our apartment building. We climbed the seven flight of stairs (no elevator) sweating profusely in +34c and 100% humidity.

And then found they hadn't left the key where it was supposed to be. Now what?! We had contact phone numbers but couldn't figure out how to dial them - probably something to do with country codes. We could hear a TV in the apartment next door so Shelley was brave enough to knock on the door. The guy who answered was definitely our saviour that night. He phoned our contact numbers for us, and although there was no answer at either, we left a message. Then we had to wait, so he opened up a spare apartment that he owned and let us use it while we waited. A little later he brought us a bowl of grapes to eat.  Eventually the owner called us back. She had forgotten all about us (?!) but would send her assistant to bring us the key. After another 20 minutes of waiting she showed up and we found the apartment hadn't even been cleaned after the last guests. So we waited yet again while she did a quick cleaning job.

The apartment itself was fine, but we really didn't need the hassle and stress of not being able to get in, especially when we were tired out after 24 hours on the go. Oh well, if you're going to leave the beaten path you have to expect a few bumps along the way.

See all 21 photos as a slideshow or overview

* the title is from a Joni Mitchell song, Both Sides Now

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall Zoom

It was too nice to stay inside all day so I took a break and headed over to Museo on my bike. I was happy to snag the one outside table and settled in with my coffee and book and the lovely view of the fall colors. My solitude was soon broken when two little old ladies joined me. None of us wanted to sit in the hot sun so we all ended up sharing the one bench. They made me smile when they asked if I was working on my homework. I had to stifle a laugh when one of them said to the other "It's amazing how the penguins come every summer." I had a vision of penguins waddling down the path below the Mendel headed for the weir. (Presumably she meant pelicans.)

There was a tree just below where I was sitting which had turned a bright shade of yellow. The wind was shaking the leaves free and they were accumulating in a carpet beneath it. The only camera I had with me was my iPhone, and the battery was almost dead, but I managed a few photos. From far to close ...

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Enjoy the fall colors!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fall Color

In the last few days the trees have abruptly changed color and started dropping their leaves. We don't get the brilliant reds that highlight fall colors other places, mostly just shades of yellow, but it's still pretty (other than the reminder that winter is coming!)

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The berries also add spots of color against the greens and yellows and oranges.

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But most of this set are actually flowers. Despite the descending night time temperatures some flowers are hanging on. On the way to work, or heading out for a morning run, I kept noticing some flowers just down the back alley that catch the morning sun. Before the farmers market yesterday I took my camera out to see what I could do. Frustratingly, it was too early and the sun hadn't hit them yet. But right next to them were some sweet peas that were just starting to catch the light. My mother loved sweet peas and we always had some in the garden and often in a vase on the kitchen table.

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sweet peas

Here's the Allium (at least I think that's what it is - the same genus as onions and garlic). This is before it got the sun, but the soft light is nice.

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I was soon distracted by some flowers across the alley were in the sun.

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I was surprised that the Borage still had flowers. I'd seen them earlier in the summer, but lost them among the greenery. I think it's cool that the flowers start out pink and then change to blue as they mature.

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By now I'd dawdled long enough for the sun to reach the Allium. Ironically, since that's what I'd come out for, I think I like the shot in the shade better! What's your preference?

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Some of the flowers were past their prime, but still interesting.

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These were all taken with the little RX100

See all 23 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Travel Plans

Kathmandu 2006
We're planning a trip to Asia this fall, something we've been talking about for a few years. Practically speaking, that means breaking my five years of (almost) no flying. (I did end up doing a few short flights between islands in the Caribbean) I feel a little guilty about it, but unless you're going to live completely off the grid, living in our current "civilization" is never going to be "pure". Overall, I think my footprint is still smaller than most.

They say planning is half the fun. I'm not sure of the exact proportions but planning and anticipating are a big part of travel. Of course, the planning isn't without it's stresses - there are a lot of moving parts in a trip like this! Try booking a train in India from Canada - I ended up doing it through an Australian company!

We knew we wanted to go trekking on the Himalayas and hopefully do some scuba diving somewhere but other than that we didn't have definite goals. I was interested in visiting Darjeeling (of tea fame) and that was near Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 eight thousand meter peaks that we haven't visited.

At first I was thinking of several shorter treks of maybe a week or so, but the classic treks are all quite long. We decided to do one longer trek instead - the Kanchenjunga trek - which takes three to four weeks. I thought that would be out of Darjeeling but it turns out it's actually in eastern Nepal. (Darjeeling is in India, and Kanchenjunga is on the border between India and Nepal.) So we would start in Kathmandu, a place we know and love (despite its many flaws) from previous Himalayan climbing expeditions.

The next question was how to get there? My preference was to fly west, over the Pacific (instead of east over the Atlantic and via Europe) and to avoid going through the US and their hyperactive homeland security theatre. That meant something out of Vancouver. I also wanted a direct flight. The main option that fit all that was Hong Kong.

Both Cathay Pacific and Air Canada fly direct from Vancouver to Hong Kong. My initial preference was Cathay since they are a higher rated airline and we've had good experiences with other top Asian airlines like Singapore and Thai. Air Canada had a little better timetable (shorter layover in Vancouver and arriving in HK earlier in the evening) but what made the choice for us was that we could get Premium Economy on Air Canada for a reasonable amount whereas On Cathay it was very expensive. Premium has slightly more seat room (8 across instead of 9) but the big advantage to us was that Shelley could have her preferred aisle seat and I could have my preferred window seat since the premium seats are 2-4-2 (instead of 3-3-3).

In the past we would have connected straight through to Kathmandu but that led to marathon trips. (My last trip to Kathmandu in 2006 was 43 continuous hours in planes and airports!) Being older and either softer or smarter, we plan to stop for a few days in Hong Kong. (Total time from Saskatoon is about 20 hours with a single four hour layover in Vancouver.) I'd never really thought about visiting Hong Kong. I'm not a huge fan of big cities. But it is a famous place with a unique history and once I got used to the idea it seemed like a good addition to the trip.

enroute to Cho Oyu in 2006
After Hong Kong we'll fly to Kathmandu. In my mind the Himalaya make Nepal a "big" country, but in reality it's quite small (relative to Canada at least). It's roughly 200 km north-south and 800 km east-west. To put that in perspective it's roughly from Saskatoon to Regina north-south, and from there to the BC border east-west - a boring days drive. But trekking on foot in huge mountains is a far cry from driving prairie roads. Our three week trek will span just a small portion of the north east corner of Nepal. For an idea of what the trek is like check out this amateur video (30 min), these trek notes, or this GPS map track.

After the trek, instead of returning to Kathmandu we'll go by road across the border into India and to Darjeeling. Then from near Darjeeling we'll take the train to Calcutta (aka Kolkata) and then fly to Kuala Lumpur. After a few days there we'll take another train to Singapore. No doubt we'll visit the world class zoo and stop at the Raffles hotel for a Singapore Sling at its 1915 birthplace.

Finally, we wanted to get in some diving. There are lots of possible places. Thailand was close and easy, but we've been there before. We considered the Philippines, especially when we were looking at flights via Manilla. In the end we decided to go to Raja Ampat. It’s remote, hard to get to, and expensive, but it’s also one of the best and most pristine places in the world to dive. It’s not easy to book at these remote spots so I was happy to find an agent - Faces of the Sea - who are actually in Edmonton! With their help we settled on Raja 4 Divers.

After the diving we head back to Hong Kong and then home via Vancouver. In total we'll be travelling almost 10 weeks. We're looking forward to it. Stay tuned for photos and stories.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Walk in the Dark

After supper the other evening I decided to go for a walk. I thought I'd catch the last of the low sun but I was a little late and it had already gone down. My next thought was that maybe I'd catch sight of the beavers or other animals that come out at dusk. But apart from a lone duck I didn't see any wildlife. There were no clouds so there wasn't even much color in the sky.

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Airplanes were leaving trails in the cloudless sky that were high enough to be lit by the sun despite it being below the horizon.

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Of course, there are always images to capture. I never tire of the water, the way it moves, the way the light reflects off it, the lines and shapes it makes. This photo had almost no color to start with, so black and white was an obvious choice. (ripples from a rock just under the surface)

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As I get further into photography, I think more about lines, shape, texture, and color. Although nature is still my first love, I can get drawn into more abstract embodiments of these things.

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This one above is somewhat more processed, but still not too far from the original. As it got darker, I noticed the reflections of the streetlights on the bridge dancing on the water. The original images didn't really capture the feeling I wanted so I started to play more with the color and contrast. (It wasn't really this colorful.)

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By the time I took this next one (looking straight down from the bridge) my shutter speeds were getting quite slow (even at ISO 3200) - 1/15 of a second was long enough for the points of light to trace out paths on the water.

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See all 10 photos as a slideshow or overview

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Photo of the Day

Fall is definitely in the air, but from the right angle things still look pretty good.

Another shot of the pond at Innovation Place on the way to work.

pond at Innovation Place

Monday, September 08, 2014

Microadventures

At McNallys (on our morning rounds after the farmers market) I ran into a book that I’d been aware of for a while - Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys. My first thoughts were that I didn't need a book like this - I had my fair share of adventures. But I started to wonder if that was really true. I was just as prone to inertia as the next person, waiting till the handful of times a year when I travelled. For example, all summer I'd been saying I should get the kayak out more, but somehow never "getting around" to it.

So that afternoon I got off my butt and took the kayak out on the river and had an enjoyable paddle.

The book is also big on sleeping outside, not in official campgrounds, but wherever you find a bit of wildness. I used to do this, but sadly it’s been years.

So late in the evening, after a movie (and a glass of wine), I grabbed my pack, with my sleeping bag and water and not much else, and set out into the darkening night. I took a familiar route, down the alley, across the park, and over the pedestrian way on the bridge. At the far side I turned left, away from town and into the Sutherland Beach area. These used to be my favourite running trails, but after it became an off leash dog area and I got harassed and bitten several times I quit coming here. But I'd timed it well and after passing one exiting dog walker I didn't encounter any others.

It was a warm evening, peaceful and quiet in the dark. The almost full moon was plenty to follow the trail by, except where it passed under the trees and got darker and spookier. Hearing a noise I looked over and saw several deer running away from the surprise of my appearance.

I took no gadgets (other than my camera) - no phone, not even a watch. I didn't even take a book, part of the goal being to think, not to fill my mind with someone else’s story.

I wasn't planning to go far since I wanted to get back early in the morning for my long run (20k again). I found a suitable spot on the river bank, away from the trails and with only a few city lights in the distance. I lay on my back in my sleeping bag and watched the scattered clouds drift slowly by. Most of the stars were overpowered by the bright moon but I could see the familiar Big Dipper.

It was surprisingly noisy. Music faded in and out. Traffic droned in the distance. Planes coming and going to the airport. A chorus of yips sounded at one point - foxes perhaps?

The ground was surprisingly hard for what had at first appeared to be soft grass. I'd only brought a thin foam pad and it was a far cry from the soft air filled sleeping pads I was used to.

The bugs were the worst nuisance. They weren't really bad, but just as I'd start to drift off one would land on my face and I'd startle awake and slap at it. Because of the bugs I had my sleeping bag drawn up around my neck but that made it too hot. I have to admit it crossed my mind that in 20 minutes I could be home in my own comfortable bed.

But patience solves many things. Eventually the night cooled off and the bug disappeared. The music stopped and the traffic quieted. And I slept surprisingly well, apart from waking occasionally to change position on the hard ground.

It seemed only a short time later that the sky started to lighten and a new day arrived, heralded by honking geese. Fighting the urge to turn over and go back to sleep, I sat up and pulled on a light jacket. The air was cool but not cold. It was only a few minutes work to pack my sleeping bag. No more than 10 minutes from waking to walking.

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It was a beautiful morning with clear blue skies and not much wind. After a few minutes walking I found a good spot to stop and make a cup of coffee on my little folding twig stove. No big "white man" fire as my father called them. A handful of twigs burn quick but hot and boil a cup of water in no time. Coffee in hand I resumed walking.

I was glad I'd gotten up early. It was calm and silent, no one out walking their dogs yet. As I crossed the bridge one of the few people I saw was a lone fisherman casting in the early morning sun. I paused in the back alley to snap a few photos of the backlit flowers - wild stragglers managing to last late in the summer.

flowers in the alley

Friday, September 05, 2014

Photo of the Day

Autumn may be coming, but the sun is still shining bright on the pond at Innovation Place.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014