Saturday, 24 January 2015

Easter Island - Christmas, 2014

Yes, a visit to Easter Island at Christmas, actually, it was Christmas Eve but why quibble. Otherwise known as Rapa Nui, most of the island is a national park and protected as a World Heritage site. It belongs to Chile even though it sits 2300 miles (3700 km) off the country's west coast. And what a truly marvellous place it is.

Our guide (seen below), Edmundo Edwards, is an archaeologist who has lived on the island for fifty years and has worked on many of the excavations. Needless to say, we felt very well informed by the end of the day.

Isn't that the best name!

Our first stop was at Rano Kau. This is an extinct volcano that looks nothing like any crater I've ever seen. The general environment of Easter Island is dry and breezy - surprisingly dry, as a matter of fact - but this crater is protected from these drying winds, leaving it marshy, swampy, lush and full of vines and figs. Yes, figs. There is a rather mythical feel to this place.

Rano Kau

Mythical is a word that easily describes much of Rapa Nui. The raison d'être of Easter Island is the mammoth moai that are placed in several distinct locations around the island. There are many mysteries and a number of theories surrounding these mesmerizing statues but precious little evidence to support them. Many believe that they were carved to honour ancestors. This is no doubt true as similar lore exists in other Polynesian cultures. However, questions remain having to do with how they were transported to their current locations from the quarry where they were created and then why they were found toppled over many centuries later.

Rano Raraku is the site where the moai were carved directly out of the rock. Some still reside there, flat on their backs, their spines never having been detached from the stone. Others lie outside the quarry itself, lying flat or half buried in the ground, centuries of earth having gathered around them.

Now, it is from here that scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists, etc. disagree about how these statues were transported to their final spot. Some believe that the island was deforested (and there are, indeed, no trees) because the natives chopped them all down in order to make a path along which each moai was rolled in a horizontal position. Another theory, on which a documentary has recently been made, is that they were "walked" to their destination. There is some lore about elders that says that when one of them was asked how the moai were moved, the response was "they walked." Some scientists believe this meant that a statue was tied around its neck and shoulders and rocked to its place in a vertical position. This method has been proven, however, it would take an inordinate amount of time and a lot of manpower, not to mention the fact that the natives didn't really have the resources for making rope. The most accepted theory is the notion that each statue was rolled horizontally on a few logs that were moved forward in line toward the final destination; the deforestation was caused by the destruction of the trees' bark by goats.

Ahu Tongariki is an altar featuring these spectacular creations. When this area was first discovered, the moia were toppled over and scattered around a vast area nearby. There are many who believe that they were intentionally knocked down by warring families - and in other places this may be the reason - but our guide is certain that these fifteen were pushed over by earthquakes and tidal waves. The ancient natives didn't have the technology to re-erect them. It was not until a Japanese company in the 1970's offered the services of their crane that this altar was returned to its original formation. Contrary to my husband's silliness (below), this is a very spiritual place. The majesty of the moai is quite moving. These creatures have been sculpted with great respect; the past is clearly an important element to the belief system of these ancient peoples.

The next stop had a different atmosphere. Anakena Beach is the only sand beach on the island. Apparently, the locals prefer the rocky beaches as they are good places to fish and the tide pools make it safer for their children. So, the atmosphere at this more traditional beach was more high energy. There were huts at the entrance to the area serving drinks and food; barbecues were fired up and people enjoyed a meal at the scattered picnic tables. But this is still a place for contemplation - above the beach itself sits a smaller altar of moai. Alhough they don't face the water, it still has a protective feel to it - as if the ancestors are watching over their families.

The final stop was Ahu Tahai. It is a ceremonial complex along the coast where two grass covered stone houses lie. There are three separate altar areas that were excavated by an American, William Mulloy. His grave is nearby. One altar contains six moai, although one is not standing. Some speculate that the two largest may represent parents and the remaining smaller ones, children. There are others who believe that the larger ones may be tribal leaders who are with their members.

There is a single moai to the right (not in the photo) that is severely degraded from centuries of wind and saltwater erosion.

And to the right of that one is the only moai on the island that has white shells around the pupils of the eyes. Other statues on the island never had these or they fell off many years ago. These shells seem to bring the moai to life.

Heery and I agree that this was one of the most remarkable places we have visited in our various travels. It is certainly a place where we want to return.

Our ship awaits

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Thanksgiving - October, 2014

For those of you who are unaware or have perhaps forgotten, Canadian Thanksgiving falls in the early part of October. That being said, I am entitling this entry "Thanksgiving" for more than just this reason. I am thankful that I made it home in one piece. Now, don't get me wrong, the destination was very nice - it was the mode of transportation that creates the reaction that might seem a tad dramatic. 

Had I known onto what we were going to be required to embark, I do believe I would have seriously reconsidered my Thanksgiving getaway. The day was terribly overcast and rainy when we arrived at the tiny South Terminal in Vancouver. So, needless to say, we were already delayed. When the flight was finally announced, we and six other people - yes, six - were lined up and marched out to the far side of the tarmac by what appeared to be a fifteen year old intern or something. There sat a minuscule thing, resembling something akin to a Tonka toy with a couple of propellers and two little steps that folded out from the side of the hull. Shaken but not deterred, we took our seats in the very last row waiting for the pilot. Oh yes, you guessed it, it was the fifteen year old intern. This little putt-putt plane fish-tailed, dropped and bumped around for about 75 minutes until it found clear skies and a stick of gum sized air strip on which to land. We were so relieved until we saw the sign on the terminal building - Qualicum Beach - an airport on the east side of the island. The pilot was unable to get through the clouds and was forced to land elsewhere. This meant that we had a three hour shuttle trip ahead of us, dropping all passengers at their destinations along the way. This put us at our final destination after the kitchen had closed, leaving only bar food for sustenance.

This is not for the air/car/sea/motion sickness sufferer.

The trip back to Vancouver was equally terrifying due to driving, hammering rain, however, the trip was shorter since we actually did arrive back at Vancouver's South Terminal.

Going over
Coming back

Needless to say, the first morning at the Wickaninnish Inn was a late one. The hotel has done a very smart thing in that they serve breakfast/lunch together, lasting from 8am until 2pm. This gives one time to sleep in or to rise early and explore the shoreline or to relax in one's soaker tub and watch the surf hammer the rocks right below the window. 

I don't normally discuss a particular hotel but since this is the destination and it is internationally known, I feel that I should tout some of its virtues. Of course, the Inn is famous for its views - storm surge is all the rage here. As you can see, the focus is all on the coast.

We were in the Pointe building - on the left (courtesy of

Large windows, fireplaces and beautiful natural cedar wood are everywhere, making for a warm environment in which to experience the Northern Pacific coast. Worn hewn beams and the orange glow from sconces and lamps reinforces the sense of bringing the outside in. A great example of this is the library in the Beach building (on the right). There aren't a large collection of books but there are games and DVD's for families to borrow and an enormous pair of binoculars on a tripod for exploring further out from the shore. With soft leather couches and indigenous patterned throw pillows, it makes the decision to hike out in the rain that much more difficult.

The views are what one comes for. And it's amazing how different the same vista can be depending on the weather or the time of day. When one wakes, the tide is far, far out, making it possible to walk across sandbars, explore the little tide pools and discover treasures on the beach. This is one of my favourite photos from this trip.

Yes, the ocean is out there - it's just way, way out there. And even though it's hard to see them, for people like my brother, this is surfing heaven. It isn't called Long Beach for nothing.

We truly did have a room with a view but it's anybody's guess what that view might be on any given day. From our comfortable balcony, we enjoyed our morning coffee and marvelled at how the colours and textures change according to the tide and the light.

The Pointe Restaurant is set up in a circular fashion, giving the view the primary focus during daylight hours and the awesome copper fireplace at night. Look back at the photo and you'll see the roundhouse sticking out of the rocks. Due to the special weekend, there was a lot of turkey on the menu in different forms but all of the ingredients here are locally sourced as much as possible and it's all incredibly fresh. They have a new supplier who makes their sausage just down the road, the mushrooms are wild and hand-picked, the halibut still has seawater on it and you could probably go out back and pick your own salad if you asked. And for those of you who haven't been to British Columbia, the wines of the Okanagan and from Vancouver and Salt Spring Islands are some of the finest you'll ever taste.

For all the trouble getting to and from the Wickaninnish Inn, the restfulness of the rooms, the stunning views, and the delicious food make it worth the struggle. But perhaps it would be easier in the summer. So, if you decide to go in storm season anyway, make sure you've got chains on your tires and gravlox in your bag.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Cane and Canoe - Maui, Hawaii

This is a new restaurant, recently opened in June of 2014, just a matter of months before our arrival. It's housed in a relatively new luxury hotel, Montage Kapalua Bay, replacing some very exclusive and private residences that have been there since the Kapalua Bay Hotel was destroyed in 2006.

During the time of the Bay Hotel, a restaurant on the property housed several mural sized paintings by the iconic Hawaiian artist, Pegge Hopper. When the hotel was removed, there were many questions regarding the whereabouts of these exquisite works. We found the answer at The Montage Kapalua Bay when visiting Cane and Canoe for dinner.

Upon entering the hotel, two areas on the main floor proudly present Hopper's treasures. We were so excited and relieved to see them, it started a conversation with some of the staff. We were told that the pieces were found sitting in a dumpster - yes, the perfect spot for what are obviously works of some size and skill. In addition, it was discovered that another creation had ended up in another area of the island and was in the process of being returned to its rightful place. It is believed that Ms. Hopper herself returned to do some touch ups on the paintings prior to their re-hanging. There are a total of six or seven of them currently on display in various areas of the hotel. Hooray for the Montage!

Reclining Woman and Flowers

Woman Under Palm Tree

Two of these places are in the Cane and Canoe restaurant and lounge. The dining area is an open, airy outdoor space with wonderful natural wood and stone. The chairs are made in a woven design with several fabric covered banquettes adorned with multi-coloured throw pillows. As the sun dipped beyond the horizon, contemporary tiki torches were lit for a more intimate dining experience.

For starters, I had a light hamachi poke. Hamachi is yellowtail and poke is the Polynesian version of a ceviche - small cubes of the fresh fish mixed with herbs in a light sauce. This one sat on a bed of paper-thin slices of cucumber and was topped with chopped avocado and a dollop of local caviar. Paired with it was a handful of house made fingerling potato chips.

My husband started with the Keahole lobster bisque. It was a tad thinner than the typical creamy bisque and made with local Kona lobster. Kona is an area on the Big Island, otherwise known as Hawaii. The bisque had a rectangular piece of herbed bread in the centre of the bowl topped with some lobster knuckle meat and spread along the inside of the bowl was Greek yogurt for a bit of tang. It had a more unusual flavour than the traditional kind made with Atlantic lobster.

Our server brought us an extra taste - his favourite item on the menu. A play on the traditional Chinese noodle dish, Chow Fun; instead of noodles, thin slices are calamari are used. Join this with charred scallions, crispy bean sprouts, smothered kale and spicy slices of lap cheong, a Chinese sausage, and a flavourful appetizer is born.

My entree was a lovely, tender piece of monchong fish in a rich flavoured broth and surrounded by potato gnocchi, marinated cherry tomatoes and strips of braised fennel. The fish was topped by two beautifully prepared Kauai shrimp. My husband's main course was grilled blue marlin. His fish swam in a lighter broth along with sliced new potatoes, bacon, Manila clams and braised radish and turnip. Both dishes were so delicious, it's going to be difficult to try something new on our next visit.

As if we weren't full enough - but dessert had to be sampled if for no other reason than to report it on this blog. So, we shared what can only be likened to beignets. These are a New Orleans staple, akin to donuts but without the hole and they are just soooo much better. So, these beignets type pieces were sprinkled with granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar. This automatically negates the choking and coughing that ensues when one accidentally inhales the powdered version. And they were served with two dipping sauces - mocha chocolate and maple bacon. Now, I know for some people like my husband, anything containing the word 'bacon' naturally means unbelievably good but I just can't seem to marry a breakfast meat with a sweet finish to a lovely, sophisticated meal. But he enjoyed it all the same.

A small note about the new restaurant's logo that I think bears mentioning. One of the great crafts made by Hawaiian artisans is the quilt and quilted items. Each has a very distinct design that symbolizes something special to the artist. On the aprons of the staff at Cane and Canoe is one of these designs. It is 'X' over cross shaped in embroidered purple. The cross lines are canoes standing on end and the 'X' piece is the leaf of the sugar cane plant. It's a minor thing but something that took consideration. It reflects Chef Riko Bartolome's dedication to the use of local Hawaiian resources.

There are holidays and THEN there are holidays - Maui August, 2014

Recently, I posted an entry regarding my experience on Via Rail. This was the beginning of a very interesting - and lengthy - journey culminating in a river cruise down the Douro River in Northern Portugal. In addition to the train debacle, we enjoyed a two week Transatlantic cruise from Miami to Copenhagen, Denmark. This was followed by several days in Lisbon with fans from the Premiere League football (soccer) final prior to the aforementioned river cruise. The final leg was spent in London as is our usual routine. I counted it up and, during this six week period, we packed/unpacked 10 times. Don't get me wrong, it was a fascinating trip and I'm thrilled to have been able to do it but, truthfully, I was exhausted.

Today, I'm writing this entry from paradise. Now, THIS is a holiday. THIS is where one lies around like third base doing as little as possible. THIS is where there are no flight schedules (except coming in and going out), no meeting times, no reservations, no deadlines. Just bring a book and some music and get comfortable.

Aloha! Welcome to Maui - make yourself at home. Where the sound of the nearby surf lulls you to sleep and where the gentle cooing of doves awakens you to a new day.

This is my home for several weeks every summer - Napili Surf. You will find me (and my husband) on one of these chairs in a pair of sunglasses lying on a blue and white striped beach towel with ear buds in my ears and my kindle at the ready. Cooling trade winds blow fairly consistently insuring that I am seldom overheated. This almost always results in a refreshing nap - that is unless there happen to be a number of boisterous children nearby. This, fortunately, is not a common occurrence during this particular time of year.

And this is the view from the lawn. This is Napili Bay - full of sun worshippers, snorkelers,  boogie boarding children, fools on paddle boards for the first time (now, that's really funny to watch) and often, a black lab or two chasing a yellow tennis ball into the ocean. The waves are not usually strong enough for surfing as there is a reef a ways out that naturally protects the bay. But from time to time news travels the network that "surf's up" and the beach is suddenly full of long boards and long shorts for a few runs on the waves - no matter how short lived.

The property here at the Surf is a series of studio and one-bedroom condo units. There are two pools here for those of us who can no longer negotiate the sand on the beach. We have a full kitchen with all the conveniences - microwave, dishwasher, corkscrew, coffeemaker, etc. - making it easy to just stay home. We even have a self-serve laundry on site. There is a wonderful farmer's market twice a week just down the road and an excellent fish market with fresh catch every day. There are several full service supermarkets as well for all your grocery needs. For those Canadians reading this, the grocery stores even have a rather large section of alcohol removing the need for yet another shopping stop. Now, there are many fabulous restaurants here on the island, one of which I'll get to in the next entry, but my point is that there is no need to meet a reservation time if you just don't want to.

I realize there are those who couldn't stand to simply lie around all day. For you, there is plenty to see and do on the island of Maui. One of the oldest dormant volcanoes is right here - Haleakala is the place to go to experience one of the most glorious sunrises in the world. It stands at 13,000 feet, so if you go pre-dawn be sure to bring some warm clothes because it can be pretty cold up there. 

There is the road to Hana - a narrow drive, full of hairpin turns, through Maui's rainforest - stunning waterfalls and spectacular views will be your reward. Lahaina is the main town here on West Maui - full of shops and restaurants - and aging hippies. This is a fun place to be. For really upscale shopping, you need to go over to South Maui and the Shops at Wailea. This area has the most expensive resort hotels, thus the upscale shops. 

Many first-timers will take a helicopter tour of the island. While rather pricey, it's a great way to see the beautiful natural wonders of the valley isle. Another newcomer experience is a boat ride/snorkeling trip out to Molokini Reef. This is a large reef near Red Hill on the south side that has one of the most amazing collections of reef-dwelling creatures anywhere. In recent years, it has been terribly overcrowded but that may be changing. There are hiking trails, arboretums, black sand beaches, zip lines, horseback riding, parasailing adventures and, of course, golf. There seems to be something for every activity level on Maui.

If you want to see more than this, consider leaving the island for the day. There are three islands off the coast of South/West Maui that provide it some protection from Mother Nature. The island of Moloka'i is in the photo above - this is what we see from our little patch of beach. There are inter island flights and ferries from Lahaina every day that make it possible to make a short visit. Moloka'i is rather undeveloped, with a population of only 7000. And that's how the residents want it. They have fought tooth and nail to keep cruise ships from docking there, and they've won. The next island over is Lana'i. It's a small island with just a few resorts but they're beautiful developments and, if you're a golfer, this is the place to be. The third island, Kaho'olawe is, as yet, uninhabitable although the state is busy cleaning it up. During WWII, it was used as a testing area for land mines so, needless to say, it is not yet safe.

So, when is a holiday really a holiday? When you don't have to do anything at all - unless you choose to. 


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

3 Days in Hell on Via Rail - May, 2014

What a lovely, relaxing alternative to air travel - or so we thought - we're so sick of the stress and tension of long flights and airports. We decided to begin our 6 week European journey by taking Via Rail,Canada's passenger train, from Edmonton (it doesn't depart from Calgary) to Toronto to visit friends. We booked a cabin for 2, the top option for this transit, thinking it would be rather romantic. We felt quite confident as Via Rail is quite progressive in its attitude toward passengers with disabilities. Because of my limitations I need a travel companion to assist me so, with a letter from my doctor confirming this need, the company allows the companion to travel free of charge. Yeah, my husband and I went 2 for 1! The positive experience stops here.

We arrived at Edmonton's station around 10pm after having a nice dinner with a friend. The scheduled departure was midnight so we'd given ourselves plenty of time to check in our luggage and I was told that as I had a disability I would be able to board a little earlier. We needn't have worried. Eventually, an employee announced that the train was delayed coming in from Jasper due to a snow storm. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with this area of Canada, this is not at all unusual in May. Anyway, we sat and waited. There wasn't anything around the station and, aside from 2 vending machines, nothing inside the station either. And still we sat. And the employee came out again to announce further delay. Finally, the truth came out - the train was stopped just outside of the city while 2 freight trains travelled through. An appalling fact, that passenger trains have lowest priority - and one that we discovered would haunt us the whole way. So, some time after 2am the train arrived at Edmonton station. And we waited for passengers to disembark and for the train to be prepared. I won't say "cleaned" because I saw very little evidence of this. When we were finally invited to board, we stumbled down a dark, uncovered platform in the rain to our assigned car. And then we got to our cabin. I laughingly call it a cabin - more like a 35 sq. ft. closet with bunk beds. Seriously? Honestly, my closet at home is not much smaller. And seeing as I can't, my 72 year old husband got to crawl up the tiny ladder to his bunk. What is this, summer camp? Although what 8 year old is crawling into bed at 3am?

I will admit that the configuration was somewhat better during the day with the beds stored and 2 leather chairs in their place. And having a toilet and sink in the cabin was more convenient than having to bathe after a total stranger in the shower at the end of the car. Really? For space saving purposes, a counter piece flips up over the sink for extra storage but what a pain. If one actually puts items on it then every time the sink is needed the counter must be cleared in order to access it. This, of course, is so convenient in the middle of the night after using the bathroom. Are you sure you want to wash your hands?

The dining car was the other nightmare. Now, the food was rather good considering the limited space and resources and the serving staff was pretty efficient but being forced into a seat next to any rube is one sure way to ruin even the most gourmet meal. Frankly, people who travel by train on a regular basis, and there are a fair number, are not the most stimulating group. The conversation leaves something to be desired. Sadly, that's all there is on this journey other than reading. It's a good thing my husband and I are avid readers because there is no TV, internet, radio, newspapers - no connection to the outside world whatsoever; not even a satellite signal for a cell phone. And due to delays, the few stops we made - Saskatoon, Winnipeg - were in the wee hours of morning. So, am I going to wake up at 2am just to get off at Winnipeg for a cellphone signal? Who am I going to call?

Needless to say, this train is a petri dish. Windows can't be opened and, if you don't get off at the stops, the only fresh air available is by taking your life in your hands standing between the cars. To say that I was sick as a dog after we arrived in Toronto is an understatement - nothing but tiny germs floating all around us on that nasty little train.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we couldn't wait to get off the thing. There's nothing to see outside in the way of scenery unless you enjoy endless prairie and nothing to do inside so... But wait! Remember the 3 hour into Edmonton? Well, as we chugged along over the course of 3 days, freight trains full of bitumen, grain, containers or whatever required us to pull onto a side track and stop, waiting for every one of them to pass. By the time we arrived at Union Station in Toronto, we were a paltry 7 hours late. Yes, I said 7. Scheduled to arrive at 9:20am but we finally crept into our berth at 4:30pm. Remember the "regulars" I mentioned? Not only were these folks unconcerned by this, they seemed impressed that we actually got there on the expected day. What's wrong with this picture?

This is my cautionary tale - just say no!

Monday, 16 September 2013

How stupid am I? I feel a bit dense, really, about this one but perhaps it's only because I'm still a bit of a newbie about this cane and travel stuff.  Recently, I was at my hairdresser chatting with a lovely elderly woman about travelling with a cane.  Unfortunately, she also needed to use one.  

If you will recall, a few years ago, I lost the tip of my cane getting back on a cruise ship and went many days without a replacement.  My advice in that entry was to always travel with a spare.  While that advice still holds (and, trust me, there's always one in my suitcase), this wonderful lady at my hairdresser innocently asked if I had gone to the medical clinic on board to get a replacement.  

Well, HELLO!  To be perfectly frank, this never even crossed my mind at the time nor had it ever until that afternoon.  So, lesson learned.  If you happen to be without a spare cane tip and you lose yours at sea -- go to the ship's doctor -- don't just go tap-tap-tapping along without one for 3 days!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Astrid y Gaston Lima, Peru

Lima's finest eatery is Astrid y Gaston in the Miraflores district.  This is a shopping, eating, partying area of Lima.  This marvelous place has recently been listed as one of the top 15 restaurants in the world - not in Peru, not in South America - the world!!  And rightly so.

The building is actually rather nondescript from the outside - it is next door to three guitar shops.  But once inside - the walls are covered in terrific contemporary paintings, unfortunately none for sale.  And at the back is the open kitchen framed in a high gloss fiery red.  I didn't go back and test it but it almost looks like glass.

We ordered a very interesting Peruvian wine (yes, they make excellent wine here) from the Ica area called Tacama.  There are some areas of inland Peru which are higher in elevation, thus cooler, and well-suited from vineyards.  This blanc to blanc wine is a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and viognier.  It's a young wine with layers of mineral notes.  Really quite good.

Okay, normally one doesn't make reference to the bread that is brought to one's table but here it's worth it.  It was fantastic!  Five different kinds, all made in-house.  A brioche with chili peppers, a very dark pumpernickel, a multi-grain, an olive bread and a cheese that was almost as dense as cake.  For good measure, they threw in a chili breadstick as well.

I started my meal with a smoked, grilled octopus.  For those of you who remember my blog on Rio - this was as tender as the one in Rio without the mafia.  It was covered in a chorizo sauces and plated with purple foam and a coated potato.  Peru is known for its immense variety of potatoes.  My husband started with tres cebiches - one was a traditional preparation and the two others progressed to something more contemporary - the second was done with coconut milk and chilis and the third was done with substantially more heat.  

For mains, we both had a fish dish.  I had a deep sea fish, sautéed, on a bed of green asparagus risotto and wonderfully fried baby artichokes.  This was one of the best fish I've ever had - perfectly cooked and tender and beautifully spiced.  My Husband had an Amazon fish (there's a first), sautéed as well, served with swiss chard and saffron risotto.  

We'd eaten so much bread that we had to share dessert.  Oh my!  It was a chocolate ball with crunchies and marshmallow cream and raspberry compote inside.  Then warm chocolate sauce was poured over the ball so that the whole thing began to melt.  Now, for someone who doesn't care much for chocolate, I must admit that this was a little scoop of heaven - smooth and creamy.

What a fantastic meal - wine and bread and wonderful food creations.  My husband swears that it's the best meal he's ever had.

courtesy of