Travel

Life in the slow lane

Reminiscing about the halcyon days of summers past is one of the better ways to ward off the seasonal blahs of mid-winter, especially since back surgery has robbed me of the ski season. Keeping me warm beside the fire recently have been fond memories of  our  years as ‘narrowboaters’ on the canals of  Great Britain.

For the uninitiated, narrowboats are essentially long skinny houseboats. (never  more than 7 feet wide, and up  to 70 feet long- ours was a 56 footer)dscf3319-xl They are descended from the working canal boats that plied the rivers and canals of the UK at the dawn of the industrial revolution. The canals, once the transportation backbone of the nation, re-emerged as a recreational marine network, as the commercial importance of the canals faded with the advent of rail and road transport, and people began converting the old work boats into pleasure craft. Modern narrowboats are purpose built for recreational living.

As a form of summer recreation narrowboating is sublime. With all the comforts of home packed between the gunwales, you perch on the small rear deck of the boat,dscf3449-xl and putter through the English countryside at a sedate 3 miles per hour; about the pace of a brisk walk. We seldom covered more than a couple of hundred miles on a two week cruise, and typically chose a ‘ring’ -a route along several intersecting canals that would eventually lead us back to our starting point without re-tracing our steps.

Although equipped with TV and radio, we preferred to keep them off, shutting out the modern world and slowing ourselves down to the pace of the 19th century, where the original narrowboats were horse drawn. The tow path, once reserved for draft horses, remains in the public domain enjoyed by runners, ramblers and dog walkers, and by boaters  who are entitled to moor for free on the tow path. We would find a likely spot, typically a shady rural spot with pastoral views, pull into the bank, bang a steel peg into the ground fore and aft , and wind our mooring  lines around them.

The canals meander through some of the most picturesque rural countryside that England has to offer. It glides slowly by all day, an ever-changing panorama of country life, from half timbered farm house to grand estates, quaint villages, and ancient canal side pubs.

It is hard to find a more deeply relaxing vacation than a fortnight on a slow moving narrowboat, unplugged from the internet, your body and your mind slowed to the tempo of life on the canal. dscf3139-xl

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Christmas in the Congo

I had a moment of lucidity towards the end of my first year law school exams, and decided to put the paper chase on hold for a while, and bolted for the freedom of the open road.

I joined a small group of like-minded vagabonds and a couple of crazy Aussies who just happened to own a secondhand Bedford Army truck, which we decided to drive from London to Nairobi, across the Sahara desert,Chris028 through the jungle of the Congo and on to the Great Plains of the Serengeti.

It was the adventure of a lifetime, and the Christmas season of 1973 found us approaching the border between the Congo and Rwanda, a border which abruptly and unexpectedly  clanged shut in our faces in a snafu over expired exit Visas (or possibly a miscalculation of the size of the Christmas present expected by the border guards.)

Christmas eve found us rolling out our sleeping bags on what passed as the front lawn of a small mission church, in a tiny jungle hamlet where poinsettias bloomed naturally by the roadside. We made a stab at holiday decorating by up-ending a large hand of Bananas and festooning it with bits of tin foil.

My journal for Christmas eve recorded: “at dinner time, a group of youngsters, led by a guy wearing a band leader’s cap appeared, going door to door, singing some sort of chant-a local version of Christmas carols we guessed-stopping at our truck where we tipped them a few coins.

“Wieners and beans and smash for dinner – about 7:00PM  Firos, one of the Cypriots who operate the trading post at the crossroads came by to quietly invite us to a Christmas party. Quietly, because Mbuto, the Congolese leader, introduced draconian measures against the local white population last month – confiscating land,  businesses and money. In the aftermath, a ban has been imposed on gatherings of more than five whites,  in order to throttle any dissent.

“Firos’ place, a couple of rooms tacked onto the back of the store, was the universal ‘bachelor pad- messy kitchen, but a fridge full of Makasi beer, and an empty living room except for a stereo and a stack of records sitting on an empty beer crate an a bedroom. painted black, with nude pin-ups as wall paper.

” About five guys were there when we arrived, and others filtered in during the evening As the bash got underway loud rock & roll gave way to Greek folk music – and the crockery started to fly as we were taught the rudiments of Greek dancing. The party ended with a drunken sing-song – Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Oh Suzanna  (for some unknown reason!) and a beautiful medley of Spanish Christmas songs sung by a maudlin Spanish ex-pat suddenly grown very homesick.”

My journal reveals that much of Christmas day was taken up with nursing a hang over and trying to locate a black market source of diesel, as we were literally running on fumes, and the gas stations (all owned by whites) had been shut down in consequence of Mbuto’s ‘reforms’ It also records  our Christmas dinner in some detail:

“We started about 2:00PM- first course was canned beef stroganoff (and beer) , followed by a very hot spanish rice salad that no-one could eat.(and beer) Next, canned ham, with canned new potatoes, and canned mushrooms,(and beer)  accompanied by fresh bread, and tinned margarine, all topped off with tinned Christmas pudding topped with tinned  Danish cream, (and beer) afterwards, people seemed to just drift off and crash -too much food -too much beer.”

“Boxing day – a cop arrived at breakfast with a letter addressed to “Monsieur le Chef de groupe des hippies”. We have been ordered out of town! Managed to score most of the fuel we needed from the guy that runs the brewery, and managed to clear the town by 4:30 and made about 60km by nightfall”Chris099

Christmas in the Congo- they don’t make ’em like  that any more !

This year I’m riding the BC ferry for adventure – how about you?

 

 

 

 

Categories: Africa, Bucket list, Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

All aboard the climate change bandwagon!

Whistler has just sent a demand letter to a major Alberta oil company seeking compensation for the extra costs incurred by the municipality because of climate change. Now that is a bandwagon I can climb aboard!-here’s a draft of my own demand letter to Big Oil: Continue reading

Categories: Environment, humour, Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Infernus Sanguinum

It was a dark and stormy night in Port Hardy.  Port Hardy, as you may know,  is the end of the line- the terminus of the Island Highway, and the dropping off point for parts unknown.

It was also Saturday night, and the start of our vacation. It was time to show my lady a good time. Continue reading

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Ski Economics

Even as a youth, long before I had a university degree in the subject, I was an economist.

Then, my task was simply to squeeze every last ounce of value for money from my daily ski pass: nagging parents to get me to the hill before the lifts opened,  skiing at breakneck speed to get to the bottom faster, then cutting the lift lines trying to beat the hordes to the top again. I skied long after my jeans had turned stiff with ice, my feet had gone numb and my legs had turned to jelly. The game was to pack as many runs as possible into a day, and winning was measured by an ever diminishing ‘cost per run’

A half-century later many things have changed. Very expensive but infinitely more comfortable gear has replaced frozen jeans and lace up leather boots, and ‘vertical feet skied ‘are now tracked with a smart phone app, but the boy inside me has not.

Skiing economics is still a shrewd calculus, and the game is still to squeeze the most vertical feet out of each lift pass dollar. So, each year at  this time there begins a grand game of chess between the boy inside me and the lift pass purveyors of Whistler Blackcomb. Which pass should I pre-order for next winter to ensure the ultimate bang for my bucks? It is a match which, sadly, I have lost for the past several years, ending the season with unused days on my multi- day pass. As they expire with the melting of the snow those days taunt me: Whistler won -I paid for more runs than I was able to ski!

Granted, there are reasons for my losses. I have been variously side-lined by accident and illness, and even by clients who unreasonably expected me to attend to their legal needs on perfect, bluebird, powder days. Truly, there is no justice!

With the sale of Whistler to Vail Resorts I face a new, and possibly craftier Chess Master this year, with Vail announcing an array of new options to tempt and bewilder.

At a quick glance, the best possible bargains are available to local students. I tried that one on for size, explaining to the sales rep that I was a Student of Life, so should be entitled to the best rate, but alas to no avail.

Next to catch my eye was the “Founder’s Pass”, a full season pass with extra perks, offering 50% tax deductibility as a charitable donation to the Whistler Foundation. Since skiing and dodging CRA are two of my favourite activities, the combo looked irresistible – until I clicked through to the price – a cool $6,000 ! One of the founder’s pass perks is lift tine priority for your first ride up the mountain each day, to avoid the plebeian scrum. Frankly, Mr. Vail, I would expect an honour guard of liveried lift attendants and my personal gondola for that price!

The new pass getting most of the press however is the “Epic Pass”. It’s lure is its portability, – you can ski practically anywhere on the planet with it. It fired my imagination immediately- perhaps I should buy one and create the ski bum winter  I never had as a youth, flitting from Whistler to  Kicking Horse to Vail, catching some Telluride powder, and exploring Park City and Arapahoe Basin before heading east to the famous glades of Stowe and  Mount St Anne, then on to Europe to sample Val D’Isere and  30 other famous resorts, and ending up with a week of spring skiing in Japan’s Habuba valley. An Epic ski pass indeed.

Thankfully my chiropractor brought me back to earth even before the family finance committee learned of my daydream, sagely pointing out that I practically lived in his office after just a regular day on the local slopes, so, the damage done by a ski bum holiday was sure to be epic, or worse. He, rather than I, was far more likely to enjoy a vacation as a result of my purchase of an Epic pass.

So, as I click the button to renew my boring, restricted, seniors 5 day pass I light a votive candle and mumble a prayer to the Ski Gods, asking for their indulgence next year.  Let it be the year I guessed right, and ended up ahead of the game. of ski economics.

 

 

Categories: Bucket list, humour, Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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