Escaping to Slocan Lake

Escaping to Slocan Lake

While we’re all stuck at home and unable to travel, I’m learning Spanish. This is my first post in that beautiful language. Wish me luck 🙂 Español enseguida…

After three months in “quarantine”, back home in Canada, I really want to travel. At a minimum, I want to go somewhere new, to explore undiscovered hidden gems, even if they’re in my own backyard. So, when Jim invited us to join him for a week on beautiful Slocan Lake, I was delighted.

Después de tres meses encerrado en casa, tenía muchas ganas de viajar o, al menos, de explorar un nuevo lugar. Así que cuando mi amigo Jim me invitó a pasar una semana en el Lago de Slocan, me alegré mucho.

– You’ll find Slocan Lake nestled in the middle of the Kooteneys halfway between Vancouver & Calgary.
– El Lago de Slocan está ubicado a la mitad de Calgary y Vancouver en el sur de Columbia Británica

Luckily, I’m in BC, where there are plenty of parks, both national and provincial. Valhalla Provincial Park is of of the best known and I’d never visited, despite it being just a short drive away. It’s famous for its jagged mountains and sparkling Slocan Lake.

Por suerte, estoy en Columbia Británica donde hay muchos parques provinciales y nacionales. Parque Provincial Valhalla es uno de los más conocidos y nunca lo había visitado. El parque es famoso por sus montañas altas y escarpadas y también por el Lago de Slocan.

Wee Sandy Creek

Jim had the fantastic idea of paddling the whole length of the lake, from north to south. That’s definitely the way to go as the prevailing winds blow out of the north and can sometimes reach fearsome speeds. It’s been a few years since I was last in a canoe, so I worried that I might be a little rusty. Luckily, we arrived to a beautiful sunny day with glassy calm water.

Jim quería remar una canoa por lo largo del lago, del norte al sur. Me parecía una idea fantástica, sin embargo hacía unos años que no iba en canoa. Seguro que mis habilidades estaban un poco oxidadas. Por suerte, al llegar al lago hacía buen tiempo y me hizo mucha ilusión.

– Paddling along the lake, we enjoy the rocky landscapes of BC’s interior
– Remando en canoa por el lago, disfrutamos de los paisajes rocosos del interior del Columbia Británica

As we glided along the calm water, we came across an old sunken barge. From the 1890s up until 1988, the Canadian Pacific Railway transported logs on the long, narrow lake by way of massive barges, capable of carrying a locomotive and eight train cars. That was much more efficient than trying to blast a rail line through the surrounding rugged land.

Nos quedamos cerca de la orilla. Aunque hacía buen tiempo, los valles estrechos en esta zona son conocidos por tener tormentas sin previo aviso. Como por ejemplo, esta vieja barcaza que se volcó hace muchos años. Durante las primeras décadas del siglo anterior, los madereros transportaban los troncos por el lago. Era un modo mucho más eficaz que construir carreteras a través de las montañas rocosas y los bosques espesos.

– This sunken barge looks small but it once transported a locomotive, eight train cars, and a caboose, fully loaded with logs!
– Parece pequeña pero, en realidad, la gran parte de la barcaza está sumergida debajo del agua

There are eight campgrounds along the west shore of the lake, seven in the park proper. The campground furthest to the north is outside the park and accessible by road, so you might end up sharing with lots of other people. We chose the next campground, Wee Sandy Creek, and couldn’t have been happier. Due to the raging creek flowing right next to the campsite, it was “air conditioned”, even in the heat of the day.

Hay ocho zonas para acampar en la orilla oeste del lago, siete dentro del parque y otra afuera. La zona ubicada más al norte, y que está afuera del parque, es accesible a través de un camino y no es muy recomendable si quieres relajarte, debido al ruido y la gente. Elegimos la primera zona que está más al norte dentro del parque, Wee Sandy Creek, que es la más fría. Para nuestra primera noche de acampar Jim y Marilyn cocinaron pollo asado. ¡Qué buena pinta y qué delicioso!

– Jim roasting chicken over an open fire – delicious!
– Pollo asado en la hoguera… ¡QuĂ© buena pinta!

In a normal year, Valhalla attracts large numbers of locals and tourists alike. We have the coronavirus to thank for a much more serene experience. We ran into only a handful of other people, including a group with two very affectionate and playful dogs. Silvi couldn’t stop playing with them.

Normalmente, Valhalla atrae mucha gente durante el verano, pero a causa del coronavirus estuvimos casi solos. Conocimos a otro grupo con dos perros amigables y juguetones. Silvi no podía dejar de jugar con ellos 🙂

– Nothing makes this dog happier than fetching a big stick ALL DAY LONG!
– “Puedo seguir jugando todo el dĂ­a”

From nearly every campground there are trails heading up into the mountains. Even though it’s pretty relaxing just to hang out at the lake, it’s actually hard to see the impressive peaks in the distance, for the big hills in between. I was very happy to hike up into the hills, following trails adorned with deep-green moss and delicate spring flowers.

En cada zona para acampar hay senderos que se dirigen a las montañas. Aunque sea relajante estar en el lago, no se pueden ver muy bien los picos altos desde el agua por culpa de las colinas que se encuentran entre el lago y las montañas. Estos senderos son lindos, llenos de árboles y flores.

Delicate glacier lily in full bloom

I was surprised to see torrents of water burst from the alpine lakes above, crashing all the way down into Slocan Lake far below. There must have been a lot of snow over the winter and it’s finally starting to melt – in a hurry!

Estaba muy sorprendido al ver que los arroyos de agua se desbordaban. Son prácticamente ríos. Había nevado tanto durante el invierno que ahora los cauces no son bastante grandes para contener toda el agua de la nieve derretida.

– Evans Creek in full flood. Trying to ford now would be deadly
– No querrĂ­a intentar atravesar este torrente porque serĂ­a fatal

There’s a lot of history along these trails. I came across old saws, shovels, and other random tools as I approached Cahill Lake. When was this kettle last used? 50 years ago? But the colours are still so sharp.

Se puede descubrir mucha historia en los senderos canadienses. Encontré muchos artefactos a lo largo del camino mientras andaba. ¿Cuándo se usó esta tetera por última vez? ¿Hace cuarenta años? Pero los colores siguen siendo vibrantes.

– Withstanding the test of time
– Una tetera vieja pero todavĂ­a linda

There are nice campgrounds at Emerald and Cahill Lake. I’d love to come back and explore these mountains, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures up high.

Al llegar a Cahill Lake me alegré mucho porque aquí también había una zona bonita para acampar con una bella vista de los picos. Me gustaría mucho volver para explorarlas y disfrutar de las temperaturas frías.

Cahill Lake

As I was walking back down the trail, dark clouds gathered, soon followed by lightening blasts and loud claps of thunder. Miraculously, I got no more than a few pelts of hail, arriving back at camp just in time for the skies to open up. Perfect timing!

Mientras volvía al Lago de Slocan por el sendero, llegó una tormenta con nubes oscuras y truenos ruidosos. ¡Por fin! Me encantan las tormentas. Llegué a la cabaña justo cuando comenzó a llover. ¡Qué suerte!

– The storm is coming
– Se acerca una tormenta

Thanks to Jim, Marilyn, Trevor, Judy, and Silvi for a great week together.

Gracias a Jim, Marilyn, Trevor, Judy y Silvi por la semana divertida que pasamos juntos.

Visiting Brunei as Coronavirus Fears Accelerate

Visiting Brunei as Coronavirus Fears Accelerate

Brunei is a tiny Muslim nation on the island of Borneo, mostly surrounded by Malaysia. That puts it about halfway between Singapore and Manila.

Map of Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo

The country is ruled by a billionaire Sultan, whose wealth comes from vast oil reserves. We visited as the COVID-19 coronavirus swept across Asia and began to jump to all corners of the world. Luckily, in this isolated place, whose full name means “Abode of Peace”, we felt worlds away from that growing storm.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

One of the highlights of visiting Brunei is its beautiful mosques. Muslim culture tends to be quite modest but Brunei spares no expense when it comes to making their mosques beautiful, even extravagant.

Omar Ali Saifuddien at night

Another highlight is taking a water taxi to search for proboscis monkeys and to visit Kampong Ayer, the largest floating village in the world. We bargained down to B$21 for a few hours of exploring (Brunei dollars are pegged to Singapore dollars, which are roughly equal to CAD).

Water taxis are the main means of transport to the floating village

We saw lots of monkeys playing in the trees, jumping from one branch to another, and even running along the ground. I should get a real camera one day, so I can get better wildlife photos. It was really fun to watch their antics.

Proboscis monkey play in the trees along the river banks

Kampong Ayer has its own shops, schools, police stations, mosques, fire departments… everything you would ever need. It’s only a few minutes by water taxi from the main city. We just toured around the village by boat but if I ever return, I’d like to stay at a homestay here. That’s my kind of “over-the-water-bungalow”.

Kampong Ayer – Brunei’s water village

Food in Brunei is an interesting mix of Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese influences. The locals kept telling us we had to spend an evening at the Gadong Night Market. I’m glad we did. The air was filled with the fragrant smoke of grilling chicken and fish. Endless colourful sugar-filled drinks lined the aisles. After spending $10 each, we felt too stuffed to eat any more.

Gadong Night Market

My favourite Bruneian dish is ambuyat. Imagine a bowl of sticky goop that has no flavour at all. You wrap it around a pair of chopsticks until it forms a ball, then dip that into a sauce that’s spicy, sour, and salty all at the same time. Pop that into your mouth and swish it around a bit but don’t chew too much or it will stick to your teeth.

Ambuyat, a sticky ball of flavourless sago starch

And Durian, of course. Durian is undeniably the king of fruits and also the most offensive. It just stinks terribly. Most hotels in Asia even ban it and if you get caught taking it on the metro in Singapore, you’re in for a big fine. At the market, we found six different kinds. If you’ve tried durian elsewhere in Asia and didn’t like it, be sure to try the native Borneo variety while in Brunei. I found that it has a pleasant orange colour and a sweet flavour without the onion-like aftertaste of more common durian.

Six different kinds of Durian, the fruit of kings

On Sunday mornings everyone gets together for a cycling and running event. Some people race but most just enjoy a bit of exercise.

Sunday morning bike & run & market

Our culinary experience continued from the night before. Here, a local cooks up fiery fried noodles for breakfast.

Cooking noodles for breakfast

I mentioned that Brunei is ruled by a sultan. There’s some controversy because Brunei officially has strict Sharia Law but the Sultan’s younger brother is a famous playboy. He once had a harem of 30-40 girls who he spoiled with all kinds of crazy indulgences like shopping sprees to Singapore with no spending limits. He bought thousands of luxury cars, leaving many of them outside to rot in the humid tropical heat. One frivolous thing he did that we can all now appreciate is build a spectacular residence for his guests that has now been turned into a luxury hotel. Because of the coronavirus scare, I managed to get a room for B$250/night plus tax (compared to the usual $400).

Empire Hotel… pretty quiet these days
Exquisite hotel lobby
Looking down from the lobby

Brunei gets few tourists and those who do come usually stay for only a few days. I wanted to give the country a full week to explore and I’m glad I did. That gave us time to visit Brunei’s national park, Ulu Temburong. If you look closely at the map of Borneo, you’ll see there are actually two separate parts of the country with Malaysia in between. This second part gets even fewer visitors than the capital.

Speed boat to Bangar

To get there, first we caught a speedboat that winds and twists its way through rivers and across a broad bay.

Cozy inside the speed boat

After debarking from the speedboat we caught a taxi about as far as we could go then arrived at another boat. This one is a narrow longboat and our driver couldn’t have been more than 15 years old. He expertly navigated us upstream through rapids so bumpy and rocky I was sure we would flip.

Long boat driver getting ready
Shooting *upstream* through the rapids

There’s really only one place to stay in Ulu Temburong national park, Ulu Ulu Resort (interestingly, our guide said, “Ulu” means “upriver” so “Ulu Ulu” means “the back of beyond”).

Ulu Ulu Temburong

Ulu Ulu is usually booked solid by Chinese tourists. Amazingly, we were the only two guests for both nights! What a fantastic window of opportunity. We really appreciated our solitude in this wild corner of the Borneo jungle.

This tree has roots

It isn’t cheap. For two nights we paid B$975 but that includes everything – transportation, really good meals, and a guide to point out all the venomous creatures.

Venomous Spider – Don’t Touch

After a night walk to search for frogs and snakes, we woke up early to climb the 1000+ stairs up to a canopy walk, installed by Shell. I was soaked in sweat by the time we reached the top but enjoyed the cooler air up high and the gentle breeze above the trees.

Long ways up

The sun slowly rose, bringing the forest to life. Cicadas began to sing and hornbills soared through the air, far below. What a magical place to have all to yourself.

I really enjoyed visiting Brunei. Many other travellers say they get bored or that 2-3 nights is plenty but I’m quite glad to have spent a full week. I can even imagine returning one day after exploring so many of the other wonderful places still on my wish-list.

Returning to Sri Lanka

Returning to Sri Lanka

I love visiting new countries but sometimes it’s nice to return to a place you’ve been before, especially when you have good friends there. Rob and Jolanda have been coming to Sri Lanka nearly every year since they first met (and even longer for Rob). It’s like a second home for them. Rob says it’s his happy place. The surf and the weather are just perfect and there are so many friendly familiar faces.
Continue reading “Returning to Sri Lanka”

2019 in 12 Photos

As I look back over photos from the past 12 months, my year looks a little inside-out. I spent the winter in nice warm New Zealand walking the 1200-km long Te Araroa. It was a great year for long-distance hiking. In the spring I returned to Canada to hike the Great Divide Trail – which looked a lot more like winter even though it was summer! I spent the second half of the year travelling around the world – my first ever circumnavigation of the earth. Cycling in the Netherlands, exploring the ever mysterious North Korea, celebrating China’s 70th anniversary in Beijing, learning yoga in Sri Lanka, scuba diving with sharks in the Maldives, and eating everything possible in Singapore.

January – Hiking length of New Zealand’s South Island on the Te Araroa trail
February – New Zealand’s always changing landscapes continue to amaze
March - After two and a half months of walking across New Zealand, we reach the sea and the end of the trail!
March – After two and a half months of walking across New Zealand, we reach the sea and the end of the trail!
April - It's always good to come back home and see loved ones again
April – It’s always good to come back home and see loved ones again
May - I begin walking the Great Divide Trail and it's much too early in the season
May – I begin walking the Great Divide Trail and it’s much too early in the season
June - It feels like winter on the GDT. I spend most of the month snowshoeing rather than hiking.
June – It feels like winter on the GDT. I spend most of the month snowshoeing rather than hiking.
July - Even with the arrival of summer, it still feels like winter in the Canadian Rockies.
July – Even with the arrival of summer, it still feels like winter in the Canadian Rockies.
August - I make it to the end of the GDT! As a treat, I catch a helicopter ride out with my new friend, Colin.
August – I make it to the end of the GDT! As a treat, I catch a helicopter ride out with my new friend, Colin.
September – I discover that the Netherlands is a fantastic place for a cycling trip.
October - Back to North Korea for my second visit. It's still full of mystery.
October – Back to North Korea for my second visit. It’s still full of mystery.
November - Three weeks in Sri Lanka learning yoga helps me stretch out those tight hiking muscles.
November – Three weeks in Sri Lanka learning yoga helps me stretch out those tight hiking muscles.
December - Up early to catch sunrise during a week of fantastic scuba diving in the Maldives.
December – Up early to catch sunrise during a week of fantastic scuba diving in the Maldives.

I certainly haven’t tired of travel and adventure yet. I’m looking forward to making more great memories in 2020.

23 Hours in Dubai

23 Hours in Dubai

What do you do when you have a 23-hour layover in Dubai? Maybe grab a bite to eat?

Dubai is often called “Las Vegas of the Middle East”, only bigger and better. That’s pretty accurate, I’d say. It’s big and flashy with opulent “7-star” hotels, massive water fountain displays, and exorbitant man-made islands. It’s also much less seedy than America’s Sin City. Continue reading “23 Hours in Dubai”