Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Exploring Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) proved to be quite a contrast to my recent trip to Croatia. The number of tourists we encountered was in the 10s, as opposed to 10 thousands; and I saw more sandy beaches in 5 days in Haida Gwaii than my 3 weeks in Croatia!

Our trip began with a flight into Sandspit which is at the north eastern tip of the southern island. Haida Gwaii consists of 2 main islands, and 100s of smaller ones. Just outside the airport is this gigantic copper/cedar sculpture of a Coho Salmon:

We were staying at the Seaport B'n'B and had this amazing view from our bedroom. As we were a bit farther north and at the western edge of the time zone, the sun set about 10:00.

Sandspit is the only significant community on Moresby Island. It has 302 residents and we managed to tour the entire town in, to be generous, 5 minutes. However they've found a way to do away with lawnmowers on the ball diamond:
The next day we took the ferry (20 mins) across the strait to Graham Island which is home to a few more communities. Skidegate is known for its Haida Heritage Centre - don't miss this if you come here. We were just in time for the Totem Pole talk; each of the 6 totems that have been raised in the last few years were described in detail, highlighting their significance to Haida culture, symbols and mythology.

The museum includes an extensive collection of art, artifacts and information. Since many of the original artifacts were removed and taken to museums around the world, the Haida community is working to repatriate them.

A few miles up the road we stopped to check out this gigantic balancing rock.

Then we headed north to Tlell, Port Clemens, Masset and Old Masset. At the very north eastern point of the island is the blowhole and although we didn't time the tides right to see it in action, the rock formations and miles of empty beaches made the drive/hike worthwhile.

Saturday morning was the start of our 2-day Zodiac tour with Moresby Explorers. They also do a one day and 4 day as well as 8 day kayak trips.
This lovely canoe was in front of their offices in Sandspit.
After a 45 minute drive on a gravel logging road, we arrived at Moresby Camp where we 'suited up': starting with our shirt, fleece, winter coat, rubber overalls, rubber coat, rubber up-to-the-knees boots then topped off with a PFD. Also critical was warm head covering.
Although the rain gear kept us warm on the boat, thankfully it never served its real purpose. Clear blue skies and glassy waters greeted us as we headed off. 
There were 10 of us (all from different parts of Canada) in the Zodiac plus our guide, Jessie. Our first stop was a walk through the forest, exploring the Sitka spruce, Western Red Cedar, Hemlock and alder. Because the deer eat most of the undergrowth the forest floor is completely moss covered which creates an 'other-worldly' feeling alongside the giant trees.
This particular location was a logging camp for many years in the 1940s and there are many remnants of machinery including this old steam donkey that was used in conjunction with the spar trees for hauling the logs out of the forest.
After lunch on the beach we headed to the first of our 2 'watchmen sites'. Historically the watchmen in the village were kind of like lookouts - watching for enemies approaching. After the devastating small pox epidemic wiped out most of the population (late 1800s), the remaining Haida evacuated from their original townsites and consolidated into a few communities (such as Skidegate). Many of the artifacts from these townsites were eventually (illegally) removed (stolen is the word you might use) and taken to museums all over the world. In an attempt to try to protect their culture, several Haida took on the task of becoming watchmen for the old townsites. There are currently watchmen on 5 original village sites and the program is now supported by Parks Canada and the Haida nation. The watchmen serve as guardians protecting, educating about their culture and helping preserve the sites.

Prior to contact with Europeans most of these villages consisted of 20-40 longhouses, a variety of frontal poles as well as mortuary poles, memorial poles and story poles. The total population might be 700-1000. The watchman at K'uuna was a young Haida man, Patrick Shannon, who graciously led us through the forest where you could clearly see the moss covered remains of the longhouses and poles which revealed the status of the person who lived there. Patrick clearly has a deep connection with his heritage. He was informative and well spoken and our 2-3 hours went by in a flash.

Remains of a pole that is being taken over by nature:

Our last stop for the day was the floating lodge - for dinner and accommodation. Quite surprisingly, it had all the comforts of home except internet and a shower! The pond in front had several huge 'fried egg' jellyfish and lion's mane jellyfish.

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we headed out to a few more sites, including a small island covered in huge sea lions. The second watchman site was at Tanu where we were greeted by Penny and her 5-year old sidekick Raven who guided us through the village and up into the forest towards some waterfalls. Raven has lived on watchman sites since she was born and has a surprising amount of knowledge. She and Patrick (from K'uuna) left us with a lot of positive energy about the future of the Haida nation.

We stopped for one last walk through the forest but unfortunately a wasp nest was disturbed by the front of the group and I was the unlucky victim of the then-angered wasps! Thankfully a bit of After-Bite soothed the 2 or 3 bites I'd received and all was well as we returned back to Sandspit.
If you're like me and are interested in visiting different parts of our own province I'd definitely recommend a trip to Haida Gwaii. We only explored a very small part of it but we left with an incredible respect for the local culture and increased appreciation for the vastness of nature. 
(Note that any information about Haida culture I've included here is just my own interpretation of what I learned.)

Saturday, June 23, 2018


Croatia might be one of the world's oddest shaped countries - if it is shaped like a backwards question mark, then Dubrovnik is the dot at the bottom, separated from the rest by the narrow corridor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The economy of Dubrovnik depends a great deal on tourism and the main attraction is the old city.
I’ve been on the walls of several cities but this one is pretty remarkable. It was built in the 14th C, suffered some damage during the war in the 90s.  Because it’s been so hot and humid here, we chose a slightly overcast day, early in the morning, to walk the 2+km around. It took about 1.5 hours and as we were leaving the hordes of tourists arriving made us glad we’d started early.

Some views from the walls:

Massive cliffs down to the sea:

Although it’s mostly tourists staying in the old town there are some permanent residents with vegetable or ornamental gardens.

A panorama from the topmost corner.

And inside the walls at night:

With all the walking we’ve done we figured we’d earned a treat. A chocolate bomb with forest berries:

Like Venice, Dubrovnik has started to limit cruise ship traffic. There are many, many booths selling day trips, boat tours and other activities. Besides our trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina we selected the "Three Island Tour". Although Croatia has 1000 islands these 3 "Elaphiti" islands are about a 45 min boat ride away. The islands aren’t very big and the beaches, like all the beaches near here, are small, generally crowded and often rocky.
With the steep shorelines many little 'beaches' have been carved out with steps leading down from a pathway above.

Despite the lack of sandy beaches the blue/green water of the Adriatic is very appealing.

We found a nice restaurant near our flat that had a unique way of serving carbonara-mixed in a Grana Padano cheese round with some Canadian whiskey added, then heated to melt into the cheese. Delicious!

Our last night so we took the cable car to the top of the hill to see the old city from above and watch the sun set over the island hills of Croatia.

A fitting end to our journey.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina 

I’m not sure we (in the west) can think of Bosnia Herzegovina without images of war, bombing, and continuously fighting factions. So our day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar was a nice surprise - similar to the surprise I had the first time I visited the old part of Quebec City.
The old city is lined with very uneven cobblestones, making walking precarious. They have been restored with the stones positioned flat but were originally placed on end, which are much easier to navigate.
Original cobblestones:

New cobblestones:

The tourist souvenirs reflect the Turkish influence (the Ottomans were here) - lots of decorated brass, silver and copper.

The main highlight of the tour is the old bridge, damaged during the war in 1995 but restored in 2004. It has great historical significance, dividing the city along religious lines. The guy who bombed the bridge was recently found guilty of war crimes but committed suicide by poisoning himself in the prisoners box last year.

Local men jump off the bridge 20m to the cold water below but will only jump once they’ve collected 30€ from tourists. Just seeing him standing on the edge in his Speedo was thrill enough for us! Tourists CAN jump (for a fee) and only 2 died last year.  We passed on the opportunity.
To quote this guy "I can’t do this for nothing."

We stopped for lunch - this is the traditional ćevapi - sausages, flat bread, onions and chips. And wine of course.

We had a short stop at Kravica falls - more interesting for its breadth, not height. Except for the very teeny ‘beach’ jammed with countless tourists, kids jumping in the water and shrieking, loud blaring music from the cafe/bar, it had the potential to be quite lovely.

It was a 5 min walk down and if the little shuttle train hadn’t come along at the right time, perhaps 30 min up.
Our train selfie:

The downside of the day is the fact that we had to go through 3 border crossings each way. Bosnia-Herzegovina has that little piece of coastline that divides Croatia into 2 parts. So we started in Croatia, crossed into B-H, back into Croatia, then into B-H. Reverse it all to come home. Added a bit of time to the trip but luckily no border problems.
There was a bit of evidence of the war in Mostar - I’m not sure if they’re keeping these as reminders or just haven’t got around to fixing yet.

We’re learning a bit about the causes of the wars in the 90s but it’s still difficult to totally understand it. Fortunately all these countries seem to have settled their differences so Marj and I can enjoy them!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Roman emperors and honey bees

A few more islands, many steep hills and several more of the ‘most beautiful village of Croatia’. 

We also had a half day of River rafting - few rapids but mostly just peaceful floating. I took their advice and left my camera behind so no photos of that. 

We were delayed one day by a massive thunderstorm but it wasn’t long before all traces of the rain disappeared with the sun. Otherwise great weather though a bit warm at times for the regular bikers. 

On our 2nd last night we docked in Split and had a city tour of Diocletian’s palace. Diocletian was a Roman emperor who was the first one to ‘retire’ rather than be assassinated as was the tradition. He built the palace as a retirement home. It looks a bit run down now which is understandable since it is 1700 years old. 

In the central piazza we came across a group of musicians playing for some traditional dancers. 

The island of Solti is known for its honey and we visited a third generation bee keeper for an interesting talk. 

Here he is with a photo of his father and grandfather. 

Although this area is called Dalmatia we still haven’t seen a Dalmatian dog - perhaps in Dubrovnik, where we’re headed after we leave the ship tomorrow. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Another hill to climb

If Monday’s cycle was hard, Tuesday’s was gruelling. Almost 60 km with about 3500 feet of elevation gain on the island of Korčula. For lunch we stopped at a local residence for a typical Croatian Meal - of course lots of grilled meat. Accompanied by the local, homemade wine posit. 

Lamb, chicken, pork, yummy sausages. 

(For a country with so much coastline fish is almost an exception.) We ended the day with a 15 percent grade - downhill fortunately. 

Each little port we moor in is jammed with yachts, catamarans, sailboats, fishing vessels. In fact we often have to double, triple park so that one night, in order to get to shore we had to go through 3 other boats we were alongside. There have been up to 6 boats tethered together. 

This boat is loaded with fish traps:

Each of these villages is full of ancient history but honestly it’s all starting to blur together. This morning we also had a lesson describing more recent Croatian history. To say the last 100 years has been turbulent might be an understatement. Even the democratic government of today is thought to be quite  corrupt. 

This is one of the few non coastal villages we visited and is typical of the stone buildings and red roofs perched on a hillside. 

There are about 30 in our cycling group - a group of 12 Swiss (including 4 sisters!), a British couple, a German couple, 2 sisters from Australia and New Zealand, a group of 9 Australians (which actually includes a couple from Ottawa), and Karin from Germany who is quite comfortable changing into her bathing suit on the beach.  In fact, George (the Scotsman from England) thinks she’s only got the bathing suit on to keep US comfortable. 

The view riding into Korcula:

A well deserved beverage to end the day. 

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