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You are currently browsing the archives for February, 2009.

In search of the elusive puffin in Newfoundland.

And then, there they were...puffins, and more puffins.

And then, there they were...puffins, and more puffins.

It was my fifth trip to Newfoundland and I’d still never seen a real one.

Their images graced hats, coasters, posters, photos, paintings and postcards.  I’d seen carvings and statues, earrings and necklaces, belt buckles and tea towels.  On the rock, puffins – small black and white seabirds with large, red, back and yellow beaks – were a hot tourist feature. I’d just never managed to lay eyes on a real one, in the flesh and feathers.

This visit, I determined, would be it.  My husband and I wouldn’t go home until we’d found and photographed Newfoundland’s most famous feathered friend.

We started in St. John’s, at the Admiral’s Adventure B&B in the old battery neighbourhood, where houses cling precariously to the cliffs overlooking the sea.  Birds of all sorts wheel over the waves.  Surely, we thought, one of them must be a puffin.

“Nope,” said Bruce Peters, owner of the B&B.  “I’ve seen lots of puffins in my day, of course…just not here.”

Bruce was only the first of the many people we asked who assured us that they’d seen hundreds, all over Newfoundland, but coincidentally, never where we happened to be at the time.  We began to suspect a puffin concealing conspiracy.

The smiling gentlemen outside the drugstore in Carbonear were encouraging.

“Puffins?  See ‘em all the time.  Just not today.  And not here.  You’d have to go over the bay,” one assured me, while the other insisted that puffins aplenty could be found south of St. John’s – back where we’d come from.

“Oh sure,” said the man cooking fish cakes at the Mad Rock Café in the small village of Bay Roberts, “I see puffins all the time.  When I was a boy, my mother used to cook a pot of them for Christmas dinner.”

Had we uncovered the terrible truth of the puffin paucity?  Had they all been eaten?

“You crazy t’ing!” snorted his wife.  “She never cooked puffins.  Those were terns.”  She smiled, as if to clear up any confusion. “We called ‘em mers, but they were terns.”

Ah, perfectly clear.

But had she seen any puffins?

“Never.  But my father told me he did.”

A startling pattern began to emerge.  Men always told us they saw puffins on a regular basis, while women swore up and down that they’d never laid eyes on one.

“Puffins?” laughed the woman in the gift shop as she straightened the display of puffin spoons, hand towels and soap. “Where would I see one of those?”

Only in a tiny museum, in a remote fishing village on the Avalon peninsula, did we find a woman who promised a sighting.

“I’ll show you a puffin.”

Up we climbed to a second floor gallery of treasures, where, tucked between rusty anchors, fish hooks, nets and old marine maps, was one, dusty, slightly moth-eaten, stuffed puffin.

Not quite what we’d had in mind.

The town of Elliston, on the shores of the Bona Vista peninsula, was our last stop. Home to a puffin island sanctuary, it was our last hope.

“Puffins?” said the visitors centre lady, shattering the pattern, “Oh my loves, yes!  We’ve had ‘em there all morning.”

We raced to the shore, and ran along the slippery pathway overlooking the island.

And suddenly, there they were.  Black and white and stunningly gorgeous, their huge, colorful beaks gleaming in the spray.  As hundreds of them sailed by us, we reveled in their existence!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and there are puffins too – you just have to know where to find them.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:54 am.

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Learn to drive a Land Rover at Chateau Montebello!

Harnessing The Beast at Le Chateau Montebello 

“As slow as possible but as fast as necessary,” says my calm instructor, “It’s the Land Rover creed.”

The U.S. boasts Land Rover driver training centers in North Carolina and California, but Canada has just one, at Le Chateau Montebello, in Montebello, Quebec.  It’s a popular place. Not only do hotel guests and conference delegates sign up for the two, four and six-hour courses, but the Center also draws Land Rover purchasers from across the county.

Wondering about the wisdom of flying across the country for a driving lesson? You haven’t tried a Land Rover. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever piloted before.

 

Learn to pilot a Landrover over impossibly challenging terrain at Chateau Montebello.

Learn to pilot a Land Rover over impossibly challenging terrain at Chateau Montebello.

 

 

Land Rover driving is all about terrain response, the signature feature of the line. Designed to provide the precise reaction required on any given surface - ranging from grass, gravel and snow, to mud and ruts, to sand, to rocks - terrain response harnesses the Land Rover’s more than 2,800 kgs of metal.

My first taste of terrain response came early.

“This,” said my instructor as we pulled into Fairmont Kenauk, a 265 sq. km. private forest reserve owned by Le Chateau Montebello, “is where you’ll get to know the vehicle.”

The training area, which looks like a giant’s sandbox, studded with rock piles, deeply rutted trails, enormous mucky puddles and a stone-lined river bed, has been built to Land Rover’s exacting specifications. It’s designed to introduce drivers to both the vehicle’s capabilities and, all too often, to their own limitations as operators. 

Think you know everything because you’ve had your driver’s license for a few decades? Think again.

Lessons starts slowly - a disappointment for Mario Andretti wannabees but when you’re driving a $70,000 vehicle you’re not going to be allowed to wreck it.

It doesn’t take long for the tension of real adventure to set in.

Driving less than two kms/hour can cause you to break out into a cold sweat because you’re concentrating so hard. This is serious stuff.

.

With my instructor riding shotgun, I shifted into drive, feeling keenly aware of the size of the vehicle. It took a moment to gain confidence, but I was soon rolling around the flat bits of the course.

“Shuffle your hands on the wheel,” my instructor advised, “so you always have a firm grip. Thumbs up… hands at nine and three o’clock. If the vehicle jerks, you need to hang on.”

Land Rover drivers use a ‘pull down’ steering technique. 

“Pull down right a quarter turn…good…now another quarter….perfect…edge forward…”

Sound precise? It is. Driving a Land Rover involves making many small technical movements to enable the terrain response, steering, ABS brakes and hill descent systems to maneuver over, around and through obstacles that would stop other vehicles dead in their tracks.

Off-roading is no mindless pursuit…it’s all about concentration and learning to trust the vehicle.

The forest trails had enough slippery rocks, mucky ruts and sheer drops to satisfy the biggest thrill seeker, but we easily navigated routes I’d have thought too narrow, too muddy and too steep for a mountain bike…or a mountain goat, for that matter. Over my two training days, I drove a Land Rover and the more expensive Range Rover, and fell madly in love with both. If I ever win the lottery, I’m buying a whole fleet, but in the meantime, I’m going to tell every Land Rover driver I see to head for Le Chateau Montebello. They need to get to know the beast they have in harness. 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:44 am.

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Top tips to help women travel safely

Hey Lady!  Travel Safe! 

Thinking about traveling solo?  There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a wonderful holiday on your own, provided you take a few precautions to ensure your safety while away from home. 

Travel Light

The fewer bags you have to manage, the simpler it will be to maneuver through crowded airports and the less likely you’ll be to lose track of your belongings.  If possible, keep your luggage to one wheeled bag and one carry-on tote that can be attached to it.  If possible, avoid carrying a shoulder bag, and instead, put your wallet and passport in an internal, zippered pocket in your tote.  Make things as difficult as possible for would-be pick-pockets. 

Choose Your Cabs With Care

Don’t practice your cab hailing skills in foreign countries.  You might just catch a whole lot of trouble.  Instead, ask the concierge at your hotel to arrange for a reputable taxi company to pick you up.  If you need a cab from the airport, ask a uniformed airport employee to show you which of the many cab companies vying for your business are actually licensed. 

 

Lost?  Ask another woman for directions.

Lost? Ask another woman for directions.

 

Keep Your Map Out of Sight

There’s nothing that screams “tourist” more loudly than an open map. Do your map studying in the privacy of your room, before you head out so you’ll be able to proceed confidently and keep your eyes on your surroundings. 

Put Your Hotel’s Business Card In Your Pocket

If you get turned around and can’t find your way back to your hotel, find another woman and show her the card.  She may be able to help you get reoriented. 

Bring Your Own Doorstop and Smoke Detector

Before leaving home, go to the hardware store and invest in a simple rubber doorstop.  After you’ve locked your hotel room door, slip it under the jam as an extra bit of protection against anyone trying to enter from the hallway.  A small, portable smoke detector is easily set up in your room just in case the hotel isn’t properly equipped. 

Leave a Note

If you’re venturing out on your own for the day, leave a detailed itinerary of your plans in your hotel room and tell the front desk what time you’re expecting to return.  If, for any reason, you don’t come back on schedule, you’ll have left a trail for others to follow.  

Stay in Touch

Send emails and/or phone home regularly to let friends and family know what you’re doing and where you are.  

Stay Safe

Ask for a room on an upper floor, so you won’t have an easily accessible terrace or balcony door, and always request a location as close as possible to the elevator.   

Trust Your Instincts

Don’t like the looks of the gentleman in the elevator?  Make an excuse and don’t get in.  Trust your instincts even at the risk of seeming rude. 

Lighten Up

Pack a small flashlight in your purse.  Some resorts have pathways that are very poorly lit at night. 

Leave the Bling at Home

Flashing expensive jewelry is an invitation to be robbed.  Leave your valuables at home and be safe.  

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:56 am.

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Banff’s Johnston Canyon shows trekkers the glory of ice.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Awesome Ice  

“Bring me your feet,” says Tim Robinson, my guide from Discover Banff Tours, digging through his ice cleat collection. “You’re gonna need these.”

The evil-looking metal cleats are simple to attach to my boots but vital for safety. Not only will they make walking easier, but they’ll prevent slipping as we hike the 4.5 kms of hard-packed, occasionally icy trails winding through the wintry glory of Johnston Canyon.

One of the most breathtaking parts of Banff National Park, the canyon offers visitors stunning ice sculptures formed by water seeping from giant limestone walls, as well as a living lesson in the power of glacial land formation and erosion.

The canyon fascinates Robinson, a self-professed ‘rock geek’ who’s spent years exploring its many faces, and he’s eager to share his knowledge. Using a ski pole and an endless flow of informative Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy patter, he points out ancient rock formations to illustrate his points and show us how the passage of millions of years is recorded in the stones around us.

“Not convinced?” he asks a shy Japanese tourist shivering in a stylish-but-skimpy ski jacket and seeming a little overwhelmed by the avalanche of information. “Come over here then,” says Robinson, choosing a new rock formation for his next lesson, “and let’s evolve a few million years.”

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

As we hike 122 meters up the canyon to a spectacular lookout, we discover that Robinson has a sense of humor.

“Come over here and tell me…what kind of rock do you think this is?” he asks, deadpan, pointing to some curious-looking terrain above the mouth of a small cave. I peer intently, trying hard to remember a long-ago high school geology class.

“I’m pretty sure, ” I venture after some careful consideration, “that’s limestone. Yup,” I continue with growing confidence. “That’s limestone. Just look at the pink and gray streaking…”

“Good try.”  Robinson laughs, “Actually, it’s spray-on concrete. The park folks put it there to prevent erosion.”

Funny guy.

Psychology plays a big role in Robinson’s guiding. Canyon visitors are sometimes surprised and even frightened by steep spots on the trail and it’s the guide’s job to coax and encourage, diverting their attention from the scary bits while leading them to more comfortable ground. In reality, the likelihood of falling, even on the most dramatic verticals, is slim. Parks Canada has installed rugged steel railings to prevent tumbles into the canyon, and to keep tourists in their place.

“The walkways and railings are more for the protection of the environment than the tourist,” explains Robinson. “By keeping people on the paths, we discourage them from hiking off into the bush and disturbing the flora and fauna. The terrain looks rugged, but the plant and animal life is fragile.”

Occasionally, the ascent proves too challenging and Robinson shifts into coach mode to encourage participants to finish. ?“I can’t do this,” puffs one hiker. “You guys go on to the top and I’ll wait here.”

“It isn’t a race,” says Robinson, encouragingly, “so we can take our time. We’ll just go at your pace and then we’ll all get there together. C’mon…you can do it. Photo ops, hot chocolate and cookies at the top!”

Who could resist?  The reluctant hiker is encouraged and together we make our way, albeit a bit slowly, to the top. Every huff and puff of the three-hour hike is rewarded by the goodies and the breathtaking view from the peak of the frozen upper falls. Gigantic daggers of ice stab the walls of the canyon, shimmering blue and white sculptures that only nature could fashion. Not only a spectacular reminder of man’s relative insignificance, Johnston Canyon also offers a rare opportunity to witness the awesome powers of water and ice. 

For more information, contact www.banfftours.com  ? ? ? 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:45 am.

1 comment

Petra, the pre-biblical wonder of Jordan, takes your breath away.

Petra, Jordan was built by pre-biblical workers without even the most basic stone carving tools.

Petra, Jordan was built by pre-biblical workers without even the most basic stone carving tools.

Let Petra Take Your Breath Away 

There are some things in life that can literally take your breath away, stop you in your tracks and change your perspective of the world forever.  Finding the lost desert city of Petra, in the far away Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is one of those things.

Petra, whose name comes from the Latin word ‘petrae’ meaning ‘rock’,  was built by early Nabataean artisans who somehow managed to carve a magnificent city of more than 3,000 temples, tombs and dwellings – gigantic, multi-storey monuments – from the rugged, red sandstone cliffs of the desert.

A visit to Petra is not an excursion for the faint of heart and don’t forget your walking shoes. You’re in for a hike.

Just getting to the entrance to the ruins involves a warm-up stroll of nearly two km along a dirt and stone roadway. Puffing a bit? You’re just getting started.

Your first stop is the Treasury – a remarkable structure that took generations of labor to build, but only a taste of the wonders that lie ahead.  Another several kms of walking or camel or donkey riding, if you prefer, will take you to the Street of Facades, an impressive row of structures once used as tombs.  Think you’re tired now? Don’t give up. If you really want to experience Petra, you have to be prepared to climb.

When you tire of walking, camels and their drivers are always at the ready.

When you tire of walking, camels and their drivers are always at the ready.

The High Place of Sacrifice is one of Petra’s most impressive sites – and it sits at the top of a 750-step pathway rising straight up towards the clouds.

Our exuberant guide Ibrahim, a young Jordanian historian with a constant grin on his face, led the way, leaping from rock to rock in his eagerness to reach the summit.

“C’mon!” he shouted. “You Canadians are supposed to be tough!”

This particular tough Canadian puffed and panted her way to the top, right behind a friendly herd of mountain goats. The view of the ancient city was spectacular, and so were the various shopping opportunities all the way up.

Intrepid and highly entrepreneurial Bedouin women who live in tents, caves and small villages in the desert around Petra climb up the mountainside each day to set up small tables of necklaces, earrings and other souvenirs at various points on the stone stairs and pathway.

While it seems like an odd place for a makeshift shopping mall, browsing through their wares helps to take your mind off the fact that your lungs are about to burst – it’s retail therapy at its best.

You might think that 750 steps straight up would be the ultimate Petra climb, but you’d be wrong. Ad-Deir, or the Monastery, is another must-see. To reach it, we climbed for more than three hours – again, straight up. Narrow pathways wound around the edges of steep cliffs, so keeping our minds on the climb was essential. At one point, the path narrowed to a breathtakingly small rock outcropping…narrower than the length of my shoe…and there was no way around it. I leaned into the cliff face, hung on tight as I inched along and never looked down!

The Treasury building lit by hundreds of luminaria is a sight never to be forgotten.

The Treasury building lit by hundreds of luminaria is a sight never to be forgotten.

A visit to Petra is more than a tourist experience, more than an opportunity to view a site of historical, archaeological and cultural importance. Seeing Petra by day, when the sun throws the ancient carvings into magnificent relief, or by night, when hundreds of candles encased in small brown paper bags light the way along the Siq to the softly glowing Treasury, is pure magic.

We are, after all, by comparison to ancient Petra, so very tiny and so ridiculously impermanent.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 11:08 pm.

1 comment

Alaska’s Red Onion Saloon is a fascinating step back into a hot bit of history.

Sweet Bea Hind and the Red Onion Saloon 

 “My name is Sweet Bea,” drawled the babe in the red bustier. “Sweet Bea Hind.”  With a swish of that behind, she started up the wooden stairs, “Come on up. It’s $5 for fifteen minutes…same as 1898…but the services have changed a little!”

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

In its heyday, the Red Onion Saloon and brothel in Skagway, Alaska had a staff of ten working under the entrepreneurial eye of Madam Diamond Lil.  Known as the ‘Madam that Had’em’, Lil was pricey – $100 an hour or $1,000 a night. An alluring “alabaster goddess”, Lil had diamonds mounted between her front teeth, stood six feet tall and weighed more than 250lbs. Perhaps her clients paid by the pound! 

The Red Onion’s system was efficient and profitable. Each of Lil’s ladies was represented by a china doll, whose hair and clothing matched the live one upstairs. Customers pointed to their choice, then climbed the wooden stairs, while the bartender placed the doll face down. After 15 minutes, a bouncer removed the client, and the doll went back up, ready and waiting.

With 15,000 miners passing through on their way to the Dawson Creek Gold Rush, and just 300 working girls in the area, business was brisk. Each 10’ x 10’ room was equipped with a hole in the floor for payment deposit. Money rolled down the tubes and right into the cash box behind the bar. Diamond Lil took 50 percent, the bouncer got 25 and the working girl kept the rest. In high season, they made $5 an hour and were the wealthiest women in town.

Visitors to the Red Onion are welcome to climb the stairs, just as the customers must have long ago, and marvel at the tiny bedrooms used by the entrepreneurial ladies, each of whom was able to choose her own paint and wallpaper – important for those who spent so many hours in the workplace!  On display are not only some fascinating old photos but also some still very glamorous gowns and accessories worn by Lil and her ladies. It’s a flashback to the days of fast fortunes and faster ladies. 

The brothel museum above the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway is a fascinating little surprise…just one of the ‘must-sees’ on a recent Alaskan adventure that knocked the socks off every member of the family. It’s well worth the $5 admission, even if the services have been significantly reduced!  If you like, you can round off your tour with a quick meal in the bar and slide a red satin garter around your sleeve to prove you’ve had the Red Onion experience.

And what happened to to the notorious Madam Diamond Lil?  Sadly, for all her hard-headed business sense, Lil let love to be her downfall.  According to Sweet Bea, poor Lil allowed her heart to be captured by a fast-talking con man who ruined her business, lured her away from Alaska, took all her money, and left her to end her days, working as a night cleaner.   

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 10:51 pm.

2 comments

How to save money on great hotels!

Even the most exclusive hotels and resorts offer special deals - you just have to ask.

Even the most exclusive hotels and resorts offer special deals - you just have to ask.

Hot Hotel Booking Tips

These days we’re keener than ever before to get the most value for our dollar – particularly when we travel.  Are there ways to upgrade your accommodations without increasing your bill?

Absolutely.

Start by minding your manners and lay the ground-work that will enable you to ask for the best deal available, in the nicest way possible.  Staying at a big chain hotel?  Call and deal directly with the reservations desk at the hotel you’ll be staying at, rather than working through their central booking system.  Explain why your stay is going to be a special time for you.  Perhaps you’re celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or even planning your honeymoon.  Be sure to emphasize that you put a great deal of thought into selecting just the right place to stay, and chose their property.

Having now set a friendly, positive tone, you’ll be in the perfect  position to ask for an upgrade or a lower rate.  Ask for their best price, after mentioning any memberships etc. you have that might qualify you for a cheaper rate (Canadian Automobile Association, for example.) Mention the rate you’ll like to pay, but if it isn’t offered say, “Hmmmm.  That’s more than I think we can afford.  Can you possibly do any better?”

If the answer is no, and you’re willing to consider staying somewhere else, say so politely.  If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know which competing hotels are in the vicinity, so you’ll be able to say, “We really wanted to stay at your hotel, but I don’t think we can afford that rate.  I guess I’ll have to check with xyz hotel.”

That may be the end of the conversation – and if you truly can’t afford the rate, it will have to be!  On the other hand, the reservations agent may rise to the bait and offer either a better price or some other incentive to encourage you to book.   If no discount is being offered, ask about an upgrade to a higher quality room, for the same price.  If a suite’s empty, and you’ve been pleasant to deal with, you might find yourself settling into more spacious accommodations at no additional cost.  No larger rooms available?  Ask about the possibility of having breakfast included in your room rate.  Note: the reservations clerk may not have the clout to make upgrade decisions without a manager’s approval so, if you sense confusion or confusion, ask to speak to a supervisor – and then roll out your whole charming manners once again.

At the very least, when booking a hotel room, ensure that the location of your room suits you.  Some people care most about their view, while others prefer to be as close to the elevator as possible, so suitcases etc. don’t have to be lugged very far.  By contrast, other people hate to be disturbed by the sound of elevators clanking up and down all night.

Tried your best, but still not scoring any deals with the reservations clerk?  Say “No thanks,” don’t book and call back later in the day or evening, when shifts have likely changed.  Sometimes, a different reservations agent will take a whole new approach!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:58 am.

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Travel Gear to Get You Where You’re Going!

Great travel can depend not only on where you go and how, but on what you take with you. As a columnist for the Toronto Star, I write “Gearing Up”, a weekly round-up of the best travel products on the market – everything from suitcases to luggage scales, headlamps, water purification tablet and more. I thought readers of my blog might enjoy some of my best finds…

Travel Gear to Get You There

aquatabs-photo

Sip Safely

Add one Aquatab Water Purification Tablet to any glass of questionable water, and leave it for 30 minutes. The iodine-free tab  will dissolve rapidly, providing effective protection against giardia, bacteria and viruses.  Safe for adults, children and pregnant women, this product is approved for treatment of drinking water by the US EPA, and used by such international aid agencies as NATO, Unicef, International Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Oxfam.  (Important to note: these tablets have not been proven effective against the cyst cryptosporidium when in the oocyst stage of its life cycle.)

Available for $17.00 from Mountain Equipment Co-op, 400 King Street West, Toronto, 888-847-0770. For other store locations or to order, visit www.mec.ca

Not a Wrinkle in Sighttravel-iron

You’ll be fit to meet the queen, with not a wrinkle in sight if you’ve packed the Hamilton Beach® Travel Iron with steamer.  Compact and lightweight, it features a lint brush attachment, storage bag, dual 120/240 voltage and water cup.

Available at major department stores for $29.99 or by contacting 800-267-2826.

Travel Trouble!Book photo

We’ve all been on trips from hell and nobody wants to repeat the experience! Don’t Go There! The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World by author Peter Greenberg offers a need-to-know guide to where to – and not to – go and why!

Available from www.amazon.ca for $14.56

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 4:02 am.

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Pilot Butte, near Regina, Saskatchewan is home to the kind of rodeo that combines real cowboys, bucking broncos and snorting bulls. If you’re looking for serious rodeo riders and down in the dirt thrills, this is the place!

The bulls are big and angry at the downhome rodeo in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.

The bulls are big and angry at the downhome rodeo in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.

Ride ‘Em Cowboys !

“Folks, he paid his entry fee so let’s pay him off!” says the announcer at the Pilot Butte rodeo near Regina, Saskatchewan.

The crowd claps sympathetically for the red-shirted rider whose lasso has just missed the horns of a young steer. The prize money isn’t going to be his this time, but the rider is able to raise his hand in a wave anyway.

That’s what real cowboys do when they’re competing in small-town rodeos.  As the old saying goes, ‘they pays their money and they takes their chance,’ and if all goes well, the prize money is theirs.  If not, their payment is the applause of an appreciative crowd.

If you’re ever in Saskatchewan on a warm summer’s evening, you might want to experience the time-traveling sensation of attending one of the dozens of small town rodeos that take place in community centers around the province.  Don’t go expecting the Calgary Stampede – that’s not what you’re about to see.  Go looking for a place where time stands still and hometown values still count for something.

You could arrive to find a big pile of sand piled high beside the concession stand, and a passel of kids, big and small, happily digging in it.  You’ll wonder what they’re up to until you see the small, hand-lettered sign. “Find a token and get a free freezie.”

“We put ten tokens in there,” smiles the concession stand lady, “and those kids have been digging all evening.”

A free freezie.  Can you imagine a city kid rooting around in the sand for a freezie?  Not likely – but these kids are having fun.

And so are the kids sitting in the stands with their parents, digging into huge bags of kettle corn and sipping on soda.  You can tell this is a big evening for the whole family, because everyone’s Wrangler jeans are neat and pressed, their boots are polished, and there are more white cowboy hats than you can shake a stick at.  My husband and I look down at our shorts and t-shirts and feel a little under-dressed.  We’ll know better next time.

Serious rodeo riders compete for the cash at the Pilot Butte rodeo, near Regina Saskatchewan.

Serious rodeo riders compete for the cash at the Pilot Butte rodeo, near Regina Saskatchewan.

No one’s paying much attention to fashion anyway, given the action in the ring.  From calf roping to bull riding and bronco busting, the cowboys and girls of the western circuit are putting on a show that’s all about courage and competence.  At any moment, a stray hoof or horn could spell disaster for the young athletes and the crowd holds its collective breath until the event is over and the danger has passed.  Only then do the watchers ‘pay off’ the competitors with warm applause.

While the adult events are without doubt the most breathtaking, the most impressive is indisputably the junior chuck wagon race.

It’s a pretty simple system.

Each team has a small wagon, big enough for one child to ride on.  A piece of Bristol board is curved over it, to form the roof.  While the rider crouches inside the wagon, two other children perform the services of the horses, racing madly around the track beside competing chuck wagon teams.

That’s all there is to it.

Six teams are on the roster to compete, making a total of 18 kids.  Given that each competitor might only have two parent spectators and perhaps the odd grandparent, I expect the stands to empty for this final event – but I’m wrong.  Not one soul leaves.  The stands are packed and everyone rises to cheer on the victors as well as the also-rans.

And the prizes?

Every competitor receives – a freezie.

If the world has been moving a bit too fast lately, head for a small-town Saskatchewan rodeo and get a grip on what really matters – honest competition and genuine appreciation for hard work and talent.

Oh - and while you’re there - have a freezie!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:55 am.

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Environmentally friendly travel tips.

Learn how to enjoy your trip while preserving the environment!

Travel Green!

When everything seems to have a green focus these days, it’s important to consider how our travel habits can have an impact on the environments in which we vacation.  We’re all becoming aware of the importance of off-setting the pollution we create by flying or driving and many of us are now routinely contributing to websites that enable us to reduce the size of our carbon ‘footprint.’ What’s equally important is to ensure that we continue to be eco-responsible when we arrive, and that every day of our holiday we show respect for the new surroundings in which we find ourselves.  As citizens of the world, we need to make sure that we care for every corner!  Next time you’re planning a vacation, pull out this list of eco-friendly travel suggestions and slip it in your suitcase.  Mother Nature will be glad you did.

Be careful never to let feet, fingers or flippers touch the delicate coral reef.

Be careful never to let feet, fingers or flippers touch the delicate coral reef.

1.  Enjoy nature but don’t chase or try to touch animals or sea creatures.  You’re visiting their world, it’s a special privilege for you to be able to do so, and you need to respect, not disrupt their lives.

2.  Don’t take anything away with you that’s part of the natural environment.  While it may seem like an interesting souvenir to remind you of your experience, removing bits of the natural habitat can be upsetting or even dangerous for the creatures you’ve been so keen to observe.

3.  Stay on marked trails to avoid trampling fragile plant life.  If you see litter left behind by those who’ve gone before you, clean it up.  Leave that little bit of the world a better place that you found it.

4.  If you notice any damage in any protected areas, be sure to report it to the park rangers before you leave.  Delicate ecosystems have to be carefully maintained and the park management can’t have eyes everywhere.

5.  Be sure to shop at local stores, deal with local people, show interest in and enthusiasm for their culture and try local specialties whenever possible, but avoid purchasing anything made from tropical woods, turtle shells, ivory, coral etc.  It’s your responsibility to ensure that you’re not encouraging the sale of products made from precious, endangered natural species.

Take only photos as souvenirs of the rare creatures you encounter,

Take only photos as souvenirs of the rare creatures you encounter,

6.  When you sit down for dinner, choose seafood and fish caught locally in a responsible, sustainable fishery operation.

7.  Swimming, snorkeling or diving? Be sure to keep your hands and flippers far from the delicate coral reefs.  Breaking off pieces of coral can have serious effects on the sea life that depend on the reefs for sustenance and a place to live.  Note:  staying away from the coral is also an important way to protect yourself from infection.  If you do happen to scratch yourself on the reef, be sure to wash the scrape with soap and water and apply a topical disinfectant.

8.  Lend a hand! If you have some extra time in your vacation schedule, consider volunteering to help refurbish a conservation area or clean up a beach.  Giving back is a great way to make your holiday memorable!

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 3:43 am.

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