Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And below

Okay, one more short diversion before we're back on the road again. I got to "blow bubbles" for the first time since I've been back. There was lots of rain just before we got back so visibility in the ocean has been terrible. We thought we caught a little break yesterday - a little current out of the north at Natural and a bit cleaner water. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, there was a little north current on the surface but when we dropped, oh my: a ripping and dirty current from the south. It was a short dive but a dive none the less.

Embrace the Journey! And the journey is all about connecting with the things that feed your soul. It doesn't matter if you are 7,600 feet up, looking at a glacier

on horseback on the beach at sea level

or 40 feet underwater.

Embrace the Journey.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Back down at sea level

A short break from the lofty heights of the Canadian Rockies - there is more to come. Back here at sea level we have a bit of surf! The first surf photos of the new season are up on our other website, 

Go have a look.

By the way, if you are reading and hopefully enjoying the Canada posts, feel free to comment. Also, share with your friends. Invite them to read also.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hope and the Othello Tunnels

Warning: this will be a longer-than-usual post because I love the subject. the narrative draws heavily from the information signs at the Othello Tunnels site.

From Vancouver we headed east to the town of Hope. The only reason for us to visit Hope was the Othello Tunnels. We'll get to them at the proper time in the story.

Like all good railroad stories in the 19th Century, the backstory of the Kettle Valley Railway is full of politics, money, personal animosity and a few good people busting their butts to make dreams reality. For our purposes we'll begin with the discovery of silver in the Southern Interior of British Columbia in 1887, a mere two years after the completion of the first Trans-Canada railroad.

Because of the proximity of the region to the U.S. (Hope is less than 50 km from the U.S. border), thousands of Americans poured north. The Americans took control of the area, essentially turning it into a "commercial annex of the United States." The American miners found it was easier and cheaper to get supplies via the recently completed U.S. railroad, Northern Pacific which was part of the Great Northern Railroad. That was just fine with the Great Northern president, James J. Hill, who had a long-standing personal and professional feud with Canadian Pacific president William Van Horne.

"Provincial and Federal officials quickly agreed that a second railroad dubbed the "Coast-to-Kootenay" railroad within British Columbia was required in order to help preserve Canadian sovereignty of British Columbia, and to also retain the valuable mining revenues within Canada." (Wikipedia)

It was from this need that the Kettle Valley Railway was ultimately born. One subdivision of the proposed railway ran through the Coquihalla River Valley. It was a more challenging but more direct route than the northern route. 

(I wish I could credit the source of this map; I found the map but not it's source. i apologize.) The part of this map we are most concerned with is the lower left hand corner, the Coquihalla Subdivision. 

For most of the 36 -mile climb from near sea level at Hope (138 feet) to the Coquihalla Summit (3,646 feet) the line ran over a 2.2% grade. But four miles out of Hope the engineers ran into this:

the Coquihalla Canyon with sheer vertical granite walls soaring 300 feet above the turbulent river.

Several engineers said there was no way through the canyon and planned a convoluted route around it. Chief Engineer Andrew McCulloch envisioned a way: a series of tunnels, perfectly aligned through the canyon walls, with short bridges connecting three of them.

McCulloch and his crew were lowered down the cliff faces in woven baskets. They carved  foot-holds in the rock and from this precarious position set up their surveying instruments. Using only manpower, horse-drawn scrapers and blasting powder, McCulloch's men created a route through the canyon. Instead of a single mile-long tunnel the road threaded its way on only a third of a mile of track.

When It was completed, this was the most expensive mile of railroad in the world, costing over $300,000 to build. That's nearly $6 million in today's dollars. It was also a very expensive route to maintain. It is said this part of the road was shut down more than it was open in the first seven winters. 

For nearly 50 years the Coquihalla line provided freight and passenger service between the Southern Interior and the coast at Vancouver. Better roads and air travel siphoned off both passengers and cargo. In 1959 heavy rains washed out a section of the Coquihalla and it was never repaired. The line was officially abandoned in 1961. 

Most of the former Kettle Valley right-of-way, including the Coquilhalla line and the Othello Tunnels, is now an extensive multi-use rails-to-trails system 

You can see more photos of the Coquihalla Canyon and the tunnels on our Flickr page

Oh, why "Othello" tunnels? engineer Andrew McCulloch loved Shakespeare. He used to read and recite from Shakespeare's works in the construction camps. He named towns all up and down the Coquihalla line with Shakespeare names: Juliet, Lear, Iago, Romeo.

I wish my father could have seen this. He would have loved it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Random signs in Vancouver


Vancouver, part 2

"The  [First Nations] totem poles - the totem was the British Columbia [First Nations] 'coat of arms.' Totem poles are unique to the north west coast of B.C. and southern Alaska. They were (are) carved from western red cedar and each carving tells of a real or mythical event. They were not idols nor were they worshiped. Each carving has a meaning.The eagle represents the kingdom of the air, the whale, the lordship of the sea, the wolf the genius of the air and the frog the transition between the earth and the sea."  - from plaque in Stanley Park

This trip was about connecting with things that feed our souls. For Elaine it was in part reconnecting with the mountains and making new connections together. For me it was all new connections with the Canadian West and connecting with Elaine and her past.

In Vancouver our greatest connection was with the First Nations peoples and their art; our favorite activity was our visit to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Although they have special exhibits and artifacts from all over the world, their focus is the First Nations peoples.

We love the "house posts" = huge carved red cedar log used to support the center beam of the great house, one outside -

one inside.

We're working on ways to incorporate house posts carved with Taino pictographs in PR.

I've read that our tradition of "pot luck" dinners actually originated in the "pot latch" of the First Nations. Based on what we learned about pot latches, this seems unlikely to me. In the pot luck tradition everybody brings something to the party. The pot latch was more like a royal court, hosted by a tribal leader. Since the First Nations had no written language, they relied on witnesses to record and remember the proceedings of the "court." To that end a clan leader invited other clan leaders to a multi-day "court." It was up to the host to feed and house the invited guests, rather than each guest bringing something to the table. These "courts" and accompanying feasts could last days or even weeks.

This is a carved "serving bowl" from a pot latch. Each of the three separate bowls is as big as a love seat. The "tongue" of the beast is a giant carved serving ladle.

We would love to have more time learning about the First Nations. We will do more research; they are fascinating. There are more photos from the MOA on our Flickr page.

Friday, September 25, 2015

September 8, 9, and 10, Days 7, 8, 9 Vancouver

After two days on the Rocky Mountineeer, we were in Vancouver. It is a great, thriving vibrant city with active outdoor and arts scenes. We saw some of that but not nearly enough. It's also a very very diverse city. Walk down any block and you may hear a dozen or more different languages. The neighborhood where our little rental was located boasted Vietnamese, Chinese, Ceylonese, Indian, Thai, Italian, Cambodian, North American pubs, coffee shops and more that I can't even remember.

Getting around is pretty easy. Public transportation = both buses and light rail - is good and can get you just about anywhere. We used it for the first two days. We rented our car for the final day and promptly got a parking ticket at a city meter that didn't work.

Vancouver has one of the largest "Chinatowns" in the world and that was our first stop and one of our final stops. The food!!!! The steamed buns at New Town Bakery are to die for. I'd say just stay away from their sweets case but you have to pass it to get in.

We went back to Chinatown for lunch our last day, to Phnom Penh.

Two of their specialties - Butter Beef and their fried chicken wings - earned this restaurant top picks on a number of travel sites. Seriously, the wings have spoiled me for any other wings. The batter is light, almost but not quite tempura. Not hot sauces needed here, just an amazing garlic-ginger dipping sauce.

The street markets were amazing.

We spent parts of two days in beautiful Stanley Park. And, we went to the aquarium in Stanley Park.

I'm not a big fan of zoos and aquaria but since this is a rescue and teaching facility I agreed to go. It's probably the only chance I'll have to see a beluga whale since they live in the Arctic Ocean

and the moon jellyfish tanks was cool. We see these guys here sometimes. Not so many at once though.

From Stanley Park we walked around the part of the waterfront

to get to Canada Place for Fly Over Canada.

"FlyOver Canada is an amazing virtual flight ride in which you will “take off” into a huge domed screen to enjoy a breathtaking flight across the country. The motion seating and special effects including wind, scents and mist combine to make you feel as if you truly are flying!" --from

Here as a taste of the video in a early promo from the website:

FlyOver Canada Taking Off Spring 2013 from FlyOver Canada on Vimeo.

I don't know how they do it in the "motion machine," but when you go up over that ridge and drop down the other side, you really feel the gravity change.

There's more Vancouver to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 6 & 7, Canada, Days 5 & 6 on the Rocky Mountaineer

I wrote about two days on the Rocky Montaineer from Jasper to Vancouver earlier. We put more photos up on Flickr from the trip. You can follow the trip from the beginning in Jasper, through the pines and mountains, through the arid central part around Kamloops, along the North Thompson River and through the Fraser River Canyon into Vancouver. See them all here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Athabasca Falls

We will get to glaciers, I promise. For now -

The Athabasca River flows out of the Athabasca Glacier for 1,231 km (765 miles) before joining other lakes and rivers and eventually the Arctic Ocean. Much of the year the "rock flour" turns the water that special green color.

Most of it's time along side the Icefields Parkway, at least at in the early fall when we were there, the Athabasca is a calm beautiful waterway. Then, this happens:

After this powerful drop over the rocks and through this narrow canyon, Athabasca opens up again and continues on it's way.