Tuesday, June 14, 2022

With Spring, Comes new Life

The Night Stalker

I thought I was alone but a shadow kept appearing in my peripheral vision.  I could see something watching me from over the sand dunes. When I turned my head to see who or what was watching me, it disappeared behind the dunes.  

I could feel my heart beating faster and I picked up my pace and headed toward the parking lot and the safety of my car.  Whoever or whatever was watching me was following me all the way down the beach.  When I reached the bridge to cross to the parking lot, I heard a scuffle in the darkness not too far away and whatever had been there, took off into the darkness.  

At that point, I knew it had to be some sort of animal.  A coyote? A bobcat? There are no bears here.  I ran the rest of the way to my car, hoping whatever it was wouldn't return to grab me for a late-night snack. 

The Great Reveal

That scary walk on the beach near my house was ten years ago. I've since found out who the beach stalker was and met her and her whole family. Generations of beach stalkers have come and gone since then and I've befriended every single one of them.  And now for the great reveal.....

 

I know, so scary, right?! 

All joking aside, I managed to laugh at myself when I realized my stalker was just one of these adorable little red foxes.  Over time, they became accustomed to me being around and now they even wait for me to pass by their den every evening during my walk.  Not too many people even know they are there because not too many people go far enough up the beach to reach their home. 

Getting to know the Resident Beach Critters

I lived away for a long time so I wasn't aware of the generations of foxes that made their home on this beach but I managed to piece some of their history together by talking to some long-time beach-walkers.  Through observation, I've learned their habits, where their dens are, when their kits are born and what they like to do for fun. 

Now, I know their routine. Every March, I see Dad fox scurrying around more than usual and digging random holes in the dunes.  Around this time, Mom fox disappears, not to be seen again until sometime in late April or early May. And I wait.  I wait until I see more activity around the den that Dad has been hanging around all winter. I wait for Mom to start coming out of the den more.  When I see her, I know it's almost time.  

And I wait some more.  

I wait to see one little furry face peek out of the entrance...then two....then three....until finally, they emerge into the great big world for the first time! I try to be there, from a safe distance of course, as they see this whole new world for the first time. 

Sometimes, one of them will lock eyes with me and tilt its head sideways in confusion at the strange creature lurking in the shadows. There's always that one brave one in every litter who'll wait until Mom isn't looking before inching closer and closer to me for closer inspection. Sometimes, the little one even tugs at my shoelaces.  But, I never try to touch or interfere. I just watch.

When I first started observing this den, Mom would bark at me and shuffle them all back into the safety of the den if one of her curious little ones got too close. Now that generations of this fox family have come to know me as a regular fixture on that beach.

From Toddlers to Teens to Adulthood

For a few months every Spring and early Summer, I return to the beach almost every night to watch these babies grow from tiny, nursing furballs to adolescents learning how to hunt for rodents. Playtime is my favourite time. 

Their hilarious antics include chasing their tail (and sometimes their siblings' tails), somersaulting over one another, play fighting and stealing anything they can get their little paws on. If someone loses something at the beach, it can usually be found near their den!

As spring turns to summer, the kits get their red coat and grow so big that you can't tell them from their parents. Day by day, I see them less and less until they leave the comfort of their birthplace for good, leaving Mom and Dad fox with another empty den...until spring comes around again.




Thursday, May 19, 2022

How I got that Shot - An Adorable Fox Kitten Seeing the World for the First Time

All through the long, hard Atlantic Canadian winter, I look forward to the hot days of summer, but there's one event that I look forward to before the temperatures start to soar and the summer clothes comes out of storage; the new life that emerges from the sand dune den on the beach near my house. I'm talking about the generations of a fox family who've lived on this beach since I can remember and the little ones that are born there every spring.

The preparations start in early winter. The adult pair start digging various holes around the dunes for potential dens. When Mamma fox disappears and only the dad can be seen foraging for food in the evenings, that's when I know she is getting ready to welcome a new litter of little ones. 

From  mid-April onward, I watch the den like a hawk. Of course, my intentions are not actually that of a hawk.  I'm hunting but not for a meal; I'm hunting for the perfect photo of one of those little ones as they emerge from their warm, dark den and face the big, scary world for the first time. 

In early May, I knew that the a new litter of kittens had been born. The habits of the adults suddenly changed.  They were more watchful and they were hanging out in the same area where the den from last year was. 

One nice evening when I thought one of the little ones might peak out for the first time, I parked myself a little ways from the den where I could see the main entrance.  Mom was sitting nearby and Dad was watching my every move from his perch on a nearby dune. When anyone else goes near this den, the adults bark and give chase. But, they never seem threatened by my presence. They know me and I guess they know I have no ill intentions to their precious little ones. 

It was starting to get dark but I didn't have to wait long to see and capture one of those little cuties peaking out into the world. It happened fast.  Had I turned for a second, I would have missed it.  In an instant, a little face was looking out at me in wonder.  It didn't seem curious about anything else going on around the den - the seagulls flying overhead, ducks floating in the bay - it just seemed completely fixated on me. I snapped the photo and the little one retreated back into the safety of the den.  

I didn't realize the photo had come out so well until I got home.  It's a keeper.  Only taken with a phone so maybe a little out of focus but it certainly captures the cute moment effectively! 

Friday, April 29, 2022

When the Lights go Out, it's just Another Winter Day in Atlantic Canada

Living in Atlantic Canada comes with its unique challenges.  Don't get me wrong, it comes with a lot of perks too. Incredible summers, a laid-back lifestyle, long stretches of sandy beaches, stunning scenery and a way of life like no other anywhere else in the world.  But there's the weather to contend with. The horrible weather that strikes between late September when those tropical storms and hurricanes barrel up the coast and between the months of January and March when we get dumped on with relentless snow, freezing rain and unforgiving winds. As if shoveling snow, navigating a landscape blanketed in a coating of ice or dealing with flooded basements isn't enough, there's the power outages.  I'm not just talking power outages that last a few hours, I'm talking widespread blackouts that leave tens of thousands in the dark and cold for days, sometimes even a week, at a time. 

It's not so bad when it happens in the Fall when the temperatures are above zero. It's downright dangerous when it happens in February as it did recently in Nova Scotia during a severe ice storm.  Yes, for those of you who are not familiar with the weather here, not only does snow and rain fall from the sky, ice does too. And boy, does it do a lot of damage.  Besides coating roads and structures with ice, it coats the power lines and trees with it too. You might look at a picture of this phenomenon we call Silver Thaw and think "wow, that's so pretty the way the tree branches glisten in the sun like that!"  Yeah, pretty alright. Until one of those heavy branches falls onto a power line and knocks it to the ground, plunging everyone on that grid into darkness. 

When news spread that a massive freezing rain storm was headed my way, I wasn't overly concerned. We get a lot of these storms. I'm used to them. In the back of my mind, I knew that a power outage was likely but I felt prepared despite the annoyance it would cause. I didn't realize at that time how much trouble a few hours without power could cause.  That's because it ended up being more than a few hours.  It ended up being four days. 

The day started off like any other February day in this corner of the world.  Cold and damp but with an eerie "calm before the storm" feeling in the air. The winds came up first. Then came the rain. That rain soon turned to a freeing rain that continued for about 48 hours. I lost my electricity around the fifth hour. That evening, it was still gone. Doable as long as the power company was correct and it would be back by the next morning. My fridge was still cold, the temperature in my apartment still livable as long as I kept my winter thermal gear on.  I was managing just fine with candles and flashlights. I sat in the dark watching cars go by on my darkened street.  One car.  Two cars.  Three cars.  100 cars. Wait, did I already see that car 4 times?  It occurred to me that, despite the high price of gas, many people were taking to their cars to get warm and charge their phones. At 1.50 a liter, I wasn't that desperate yet. 

 At around midnight, I tossed two thermal sleeping bags over my bed and crawled in for the long night ahead. Surprisingly, I fell asleep fairly quickly.  When I awoke, the power was still out. And by this time, the power company was saying it wouldn't be back until the next day. That caused some panic.  My first instinct was to save my precious food. With the cost of food these days, who can afford to toss out a fridge full!  I gathered up all my perishables and put them in the car where it was colder for the time being. Breakfast was out of the question. A granola bar for the road. I gathered up a toothbrush and change of clothes and headed for Dad's. 

Dad's power was out too. MacDonald's breakfast it was. MacDonald's had no power either. The mile-long lineup at the Tim Horton's drive-thru meant they had power as long as it didn't go out before we got to the window. We made it. I don't usually eat greasy breakfast sandwiches and sugary donuts but that morning, it hit the spot. 

Dad's power was back on by the time we got back. A drive-by of my neighborhood determined mine was not. Not happy with my day's routine thrown out the window and the inconveniences that come with not having power (the worry of pipes freezing), I retreated to the warmth of Dad's for the day and watched never-ending coverage of Covid-19, Freedom Truckers and the tension building up between Russia and Ukraine. By nightfall, my neighborhood was still in darkness.  I made the decision that it was too cold to stay there that night. I returned home to retrieve more of my belongings and was greeted with a scary surprise. 

 As I walked to my door, I could hear a beeping noise coming from somewhere in the darkness.  As I opened my door, I realized it was coming from inside my apartment. It took a second to realize it was my carbon monoxide detectors going off. If it had just been one going off, I would have thought perhaps the cold was affecting the batteries and triggering a false alarm. But it was two. And they were both doing the universal four quick beeps with a short pause which is the alarm indicating that there's carbon monoxide in the air and to get outdoors and call 911.  My first thought was to alert the other residents on the other side of the house. After frantic knocking, they finally came to the door. They had a gas stove going which I assumed was the cause. The alarms did not sound after the stove was turned off but I was glad I was staying at dad's that night.  It would be warm and I'd have the peace of mind in case there was danger present. 

I still felt uneasy when I returned home the next morning to check on things but everything seemed fine and the alarms weren't going off. The power company updated the date my service would return; the next evening at 11 PM. I gathered up more provisions and headed back to Dad's. 

That evening when I returned to check on things, I noticed that a mildewy smell was starting to set in.  By this time, it was so cold and damp in my apartment that I could see my breath.  The power company was now saying the power might not be back at 11 PM the next evening but the afternoon on the following day. They ran into unforeseen issues. I was losing my patience. 

After four long days, the lights came back on, the furnace kicked in and I was able to return home.  And yes, I shake my head and wonder why I go through this year after year for the last 41 years. You're probably wondering why anyone would choose to stay in a climate like this when there are so many other places to live that aren't buried in snow or covered in ice for half the year. Cape Breton summer, that's why! I endure this every winter because I know a Cape Breton summer awaits after the long cold and darkness.  If you've never experienced a Cape Breton summer, you should.  And maybe you'll never leave once you experience those long hot days by the sea and warm summer nights that are like none other I've experienced anywhere else. But you better have some long johns, some patience and some thick skin!







Saturday, February 19, 2022

Chasing Down an Elusive Snowy Owl

It happened about six years ago.  I opened the door to my backyard and something caught my eye on top of the garage. In an instant, that "thing" spread its massive wings and flew right over me.  It was the first time I had ever seen a snowy owl.

Also known as Arctic owls, these beautiful creatures have been occasionally spotted around Cape Breton, much to the delight of the few who manage to catch a rare sighting. The one I spotted six years ago was the last time I saw one until this year and I was not alone in capturing the beauty that is these beautiful owls. I'm sure this winter must have been a record one for snowy owl sightings.  It seems everyone was seeing them everywhere!

When I first heard that an owl was spotted at Dominion Beach, I got my camera ready, bundled up and headed there to try and capture a photo.  I walked the entire length of that beach in the freezing cold and, alas, did not spot any owls.   

Over the next few days, I heard of more sightings around the area.  Each time I heard an owl was spotted in an area, I'd head there with my camera only to find out that the owl had departed the area, presumably to go hunting for its lunch.  

I continued to keep my eyes peeled for a sighting as I went about my daily duties.  About a week after I heard about the first sighting, I heard that people were spotting an owl on the cliffs at the bottom of a street not too far from where I lived.   

I drove to the spot, parked my car and got out to scan the coastline for something white. There was no snow at that time so the owl wouldn't be hard to spot.  I could see something further down the coast that looked out of place. It was white.  It looked owl-shaped. I got out my binoculars but I still couldn't tell.  I knew it was worth checking out though.  I walked slowly along the shore so I wouldn't scare whatever it was, if it was even anything. I figured with my luck, it was probably just a plastic bag that got stuck in some bushes. It was very still but I know owls can be very still.  At one point, I came to a dip in the terrain and was unable to see that spot anymore. When it leveled out again, I found myself almost face to face with a beautiful snowy owl. 

I stayed back so I wouldn't spook the owl, snapped a few shots and sat and watched him for a few minutes. He didn't seem scared of me, even made eye contact with me. So, was all that time spent chasing him down worth it?  Indeed it was!

later that week, I spotted snowy owls twice at Dominion Beach. One flew right over my head and landed on a dune on the other side of the sandbar and another one was perched on the bridge as I was walking back to my car. What a treat to have three snowy owl sightings in one week!

 

 









Thursday, January 6, 2022

A Family Outing to The Untouched, Underrated part of Cape Breton Island

The south coast of Cape Breton Island is underrated and under-traveled and frankly, I kind of like it that way. 

However, I feel the need to share my south coast adventures because if you haven't explored the area, you're missing out!  I understand the draw to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the west coast; mountains, sandy beaches, touristy attractions, top restaurants and breweries.  But if you're looking for a place on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where you can really get away and escape the crowds and be one with untouched nature where you can walk for miles along rugged Atlantic coastline and not see one single person (unless you count seals and deer as people), this is the place to be.

The road that passes along the coast from Gabarus to Grand River, also known as the Fleur de Lis Trail, might look like a simple country road but the adventurous souls who've ventured off this main road and onto the gravel roads that lead to places like Morrison Beach, Ferguson Beach, Blue Lake and Crooked Lake know that there's more to this area than just trees, some lakes and a few old houses.  

Just to name a few of the coastal treasures in the area...in Sterling, you'll find pioneer cemeteries, abandoned Victorian-style farmhouses, fishing holes and an old abandoned mine that's said to be haunted.  Today, the mine features old mine workings spray painted with some colourful artwork. 

My father and I travel to the area frequently to do some hiking and fishing. My most recent trip to Framboise (the name my family uses to refer to this entire area although it includes several communities) was extra special as my sister, who hadn't been home in two years, joined  us.  

When Dad and I go to Framboise, we have a specific destination in mind. A lake to fish or a beach to comb or a trail to hike. On this day, we stopped everywhere because my sister isn't that familiar with the area since she's been living away for so long.  We stopped in Gabarus to take pictures of the pretty fishing village and visit the friendly goats that live on the hill.   We drove into the Sterling to see the spot where our old cabin used to be and watch for deer and other wildlife that's frequently spotted in this area.  We drove to Ferguson Beach and spent some time by the ocean as seals bobbed offshore.  At Grand River, we stopped to look for the bald eagles that are always perched on the poles along the bridge.

 As per tradition, we made a trip to St. Peter's for a coffee and something to eat, stopping to admire some of the old farmhouses along the way.  In St. Peter's, we grabbed some takeout at Jigg's and ate it on a picnic table near the canal as we watched the boats coming and going.   Instead of going home via route 4 as we had originally planned, we did something we don't normally do on any road trip;  We backtracked the same way we came.  The lack of traffic and the possibility of spotting wildlife later in the day motivated us to go back through Framboise.  Although we didn't see anything, the long, country road through forest and scenic coastal villages made for a relaxing drive.  

 

If you're interested in exploring this section of the Fleur de Lis Trail and what I call the Framboise area, depart Sydney via route 327 (exit 7 from the Hwy 125) towards Marion Bridge. Because it's a coastal area, the weather can be vastly different from other areas of the island.  Fog, cool winds and drizzle are common here even though it might be sunny not so far away! 

  • Dress in layers and be prepared for wet conditions.
  • The terrain is rugged and remote so make sure to wear sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes or boots. 
  • Be aware that much of this area does not have cell phone service.
  • When hiking in the woods, stay close to the trail because it's very easy to get lost.
  • Be careful when swimming in the ocean in this area as there are large waves and rip currents.



 

 

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Songs that Take me Back Down Those Forgotten Roads

Many things bring back memories but for me, the one thing that can conjure up any memory, good or bad, is music. Every relationship I’ve been in had a theme song that reminds me of that person. Every bad breakup also has a song (unfortunately, one particular song, which happens to be one of my favourite songs, reminds me of a person I’d rather forget!).

There are songs that remind me of my childhood friends, people who passed away, people who moved away, moments I never want to forget and moments I wish never happened but can laugh at now.

There are also those songs that remind me of memorable things that have happened on the road or while traveling abroad.  Those songs set the backdrop for some interesting, sometimes funny and always unforgettable moments where people from different backgrounds and cultures were united in a moment of togetherness even when language wasn’t a common factor.

I can trace the connection between music and travel back to my grade school years when my class would pile into an old school bus and travel to various places around Cape Breton for field trips. All the way to our destination, we sang songs. Even the bus driver would join in.

The 90s - Teenage Rebellion and Walkmans

Road trips with my parents were much the same until I hit my teenage years and music took on a different form. It was no longer “cool” to sing along to campfire-like songs with my parents; My Walkman (yes, Walkman – it was the 90’s) was my steady companion on those long trips and I often retreated into my own little world as I watched the world go by through the car window. 
 
MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, C+C Music Factory and Technotronic. Again, it was the 90s.  My parents hated this because they saw it as me removing myself from their circle and being anti-social. I saw it as me discovering my own taste in music and setting my own soundtrack to the memories that were being made.

As I got older, I started leaving the portable music player at home and listened to the radio instead. I developed a taste in music similar to my mother’s. Dwight Yoakam, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Garrison Brothers, The BeeGees, Sheryl Crow and Nana Mouskouri. I started to appreciate well-written song lyrics and real instruments. Folk music, country music, rock music, world music.  I developed quite a diverse taste in music!

Now, when I hear “The Streets of Bakersfield” by Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens or Roger Miller's version of "Me and Bobby McGee" I'm taken back to the days when Mom and I would drive around town with our coffee. 

The songs "Silver Seas" and "Massachusetts" bring me back to the days of watching mom carefully prepare dinner. Boney M's Christmas Album brings happy tears to my eyes because it reminds me of the time-honoured Christmas tradition of decorating the house with that album playing so loud, the whole house would shake. 

When I got my first car, the first things I did were make a bunch of mix tapes and CDs and raid the cheap bin at Wal Mart where they sold old cassettes of long-forgotten bands from the 70s and 80s. 

"Perry Mason" - Ozzy Osbourn - First Cape Breton Road Trip on my Own

When it comes to special memories made on the road, there are many and each one can be paired with a song. I remember the day I got my first car quite well. My parents surprised me with a white 1989 Honda Accord. I grabbed some tapes from my bedroom and jumped in the car to embark on my first solo mission behind the wheel of my very own car. Well, not really solo. I tool my sisters along. 

I remember the song that was playing when I pulled out of the driveway; Ozzy Osbourne’s “Perry Mason”. A few months later, I furnished that car with a brand new, state-of-the-art sound system with amps, subwoofers and a CD player, top of the line in those days! That faithful little Honda was my sanctuary for 6 road-trip-filled years. I figured I had put that poor car through enough when the odometer reached 425,000 kilometres.

The summer before I moved away for college, I took one last trip around TheCabot Trail. I still remember the song that was playing on the radio when I found myself driving along the lonely country road through the Margaree Valley; “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter. 

  

The Harmonica Player

When I moved to Newfoundland in 2000, my car came with me.  The night of the ferry crossing from Cape Breton to Argentia was one filled with bitter-sweet emotions.  I was homesick before the ferry even docked but excited to be going on that new journey.  As I stood on the outside deck of that ferry and watched my hometown get smaller and smaller and the waters around me become dark and rough as we crossed into the open ocean, loneliness swept over me.

 Then, I heard a sound coming from above me in the shadows of the upper deck. It sounded like a harmonica. I followed the sounds until I noticed a shadow on a bench in a far corner. A young man was playing the harmonica and soon, that young man joined the band in the main lounge for a lively set that had me forgetting my sorrow for just a little while. 

 

"Sweet Child of Mine" - Guns N' Roses - Theme Song of my Youth (Or perhaps my entire generation)

Everyone has that one song that takes them back to the best years of their life.  That song for me is Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N' Roses.  Driving around the backroads of St. John's and touring the outports outside the city while a carload of us sing to this song at the top of our lungs is one of my fondest memories but this song was the backdrop to so many epic moments of my life.  

"Billy Jean" - Michael Jackson - My Song

 Everyone has that one song that everyone else knows as their song.  For me, it's Billy Jean.  I'm sure everyone on George St. in St. John's knew it was my song.  I know almost every DJ did!  I wouldn't have to say anything when I approached their booth.  They just knew and next thing you know, my song would be on. 

I liken my reaction to the first few beats of the song as the reaction you get from a cat who hears a can of tuna being opened...running to the dance floor, usually a few sheets to the wind but always with the intention of savouring every moment that song graced the interior of whatever club I happened to be in. 

 "Dirty Old Town" - The Pogues - St. John's, Newfoundland

I moved to St. John's, Newfoundland just out of High School so the first 11 years of my adulthood were spent there so I was heartbroken when I had to leave.  

 The night before I departed the city for good, I managed to get all of my friends together for one last night on George Street.  We hit all of our favourite haunts, enjoyed some of our favourite local bands, drank, ate and had a blast.  We ended the night at the same place we ended every other night we got together on George St. over the last 11 years.   

At last call, as I savoured my last Vodka and cranberry a familiar song came on. Fittingly, the song had been sort of a theme song for my life in St. John's.  Fittingly, Dirty Old Town was the last song that played that night. When I want to return to that special night many years ago, all I have to do is close my eyes and listen to that song and I'm taken back there. 

 


"We no Speak Americano" - Yolanda be Cool - Playa Del Carmen Mexico

A trip to Mexico many years ago turned into a complete disaster and in the background of every horrible moment that week, the song “We No Speak Americano” by Yolanda be Cool was blaring through the speakers in the common area of the hotel. I’m not sure why the staff had such an obsession with that particular song but even when I hear it today, I have flashbacks to that horrible week in Playa Del Carmen.

 


"Mambo #5" - Lou Bega - Varadero, Cuba


My trip to Cuba the following year was much better. The only problem? I had the song “Mambo #5” by Lou Bega stuck in my head for weeks after I returned home! For some reason, this song was played over and over again in the common areas of the resort. Now every time I hear that song, it reminds me of that week.\


 

 

"Freedom 90" - George Michael - Montezuma, Costa Rica

 And then there was Costa Rica, one of my most memorable trips. A week spent at a yoga retreat in paradise. I was too tired to walk back to the retreat after an evening spent wandering the little surf village of Montezuma so I hailed a cab. My driver couldn’t speak a word of English and we both struggled to communicate. After some pointing and hand gestures and broken words in English and Spanish, he understood where I wanted to go. We started the short journey up that steep hill to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in silence until he turned on the radio. One might assume that a Spanish song would be playing on a local station in a Spanish-speaking country but it was an English song. My driver recognized the song and that man who could not speak a word of English only a few minutes earlier began to sing along to George Michael’s “Freedom 90” at the top of his lungs…in clear, unbroken English!

 


Over the course of my life, I have had many such unplanned and unforgettable moments and I feel fortunate to have those memories and to be able to remember the songs that bring me back to those special moments frozen in time. Someday, I may forget those memories and I can only hope that the sound of a particular song will bring me back. I believe music has that much power. I’ve experienced that power many times.


 

A not-so-great Day turned into an Amazing Evening at my Favourite Beach

I'm a contract worker and usually work winters and have the summers off but this past summer was very strange for two reasons: Covid-19 was still around and I had to work all summer.  It wasn't so bad.  Except for being stuck in an air-conditioned office on hot, summer evenings.  The part I hated the most though was only having two days to get away on the weekends and that meant road trips around Cape Breton Island were in short supply. 

I have many favourite beaches around Cape Breton but Inverness Beach is my all-time favourite because it has all of the things I love in one place; sand, warm, clear water and some of the best sunsets around. 


 During a usual Cape Breton summer, I travel to Inverness at least once a week.  Unfortunately, since I was working five days a week in the evenings, it was impossible for me to make that 2.5-hour drive that often and I only made it there once this past summer.  

I choose the long weekend during the first week of August as my one shot at a beach day in Inverness. I picked this weekend because the water is still cool in early July and late August can be iffy too with storms threatening the coast.  In the past, that weekend seems to always be nice. Unfortunately, that was not the case this year. 

When I left in the morning, it was with mild disappointment.  The wind was from the north, the skies were grey and the temperature was unseasonably cool.  My only hope was that the west coast of the island might be seeing some better weather. I arrived to much of the same with the added disappointment of the ocean being too rough to swim in. 

The parking lot at the beach was my first indication that it was not a beach day in Inverness.  It's usually so full that you have to park down the road and walk up.  That day, there was hardly a car in sight.  The ones that were there were either leaving or getting ready to leave because the conditions were not ideal. 

I grabbed my towel and chair and ventured to check it out.  Nope.  Not a soul in the water! The water was too rough.   Even the lifeguards, who were all bundled up in their warm sweaters,  looked like they didn't want to be there. The only people using the beach that morning were the beach glass pickers and they were bundled up too.  Disappointed, I returned to my car thinking I had just wasted my only chance to swim in the clear, warm waters of Inverness Beach.  

Inverness isn't the only nice beach along the west coast of Cape Breton.  Two more of my favourite beaches are only a short drive away.  I thought that maybe there was a small chance one of those beaches might be suitable for swimming. Chimney Corner is quite protected on both sides by high cliffs and Whale Cove is also protected and faces another direction. It was a small chance but worth checking since I drove so far to get there.  

I arrived at Chimney Corner first and it looked promising.  Unfortunately, there were cars parked all the way up to the highway and there was nowhere safe for me to park.  I kept driving to Whale Cove.  Again, many cars were parked along the road, a good sign.  Luckily, I found a spot and looked out over the embankment to see scores of people in the water, jumping off the floating dock and walking barefoot in the surf.  How could this be?  It was like a fall day only 20 minutes down the highway and here, it was like a typical mid-summer beach day!

For two hours, I enjoyed the clear, warm waters of Whale Cove.  I should add that the water was very calm as well.  Much different from the rough waters of Inverness that greeted me earlier that morning.  

When I left Whale Cove, I headed for Cheticamp to grab some of those delicious nachos from Le Gabriel and ate them at a picnic table near the entrance of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I drove along the Cheticamp Backroad and over to Cheticamp Island before heading back towards Chimney Corner.  My hope was there were more parking spaces available so I could maybe go for a quick swim at another one of my favourite beaches.  

I was able to drive right to the end of the road and park near the path that led to the beach.  The water was calm, clear and warm here too.  The crowds were starting to disperse as they usually do around supper time so I had the beach almost to myself for a while.  Until well past 7 O'clock, I enjoyed a relaxing dip.  I wanted to stay there all night but something was telling me I had to check out Inverness Beach one last time.  Often, the winds die down in the evening and the possibility that I just might be able to grab a quick dip in the water right at sunset was what made me drive back to my original destination.  

 Only a few cars were parked in the beach parking lot when I arrived.  Not a bad sign since that was the time most people go home for supper. If they return, it would be at sunset.  I stepped out of the car still dripping wet from my swim at Chimney Corner only 15 minutes earlier and walked to the beach to see a handful of people in the calm, clear waters! 

The wind had gone, the water was almost still and was so clear, you could see straight to the bottom. I didn't care that I would be driving all the way home in wet clothes.  I didn't even care if the sun was no longer out to keep me warm after a dip in the ocean.  I didn't care if I froze walking back to the car nor did I care if my car seats got wet. You only live once, right? And there are only a few things I love more in this world than a swim in the calm, clear, warm waters of Inverness Beach at sunset. 

 I took off my shoes and beach coverup and slipped into the water with the last rays of sunlight starting to slip below the horizon.  A young man on a paddleboard headed out to sea at just that moment too. Looked like something out of a movie.  Would have made a nice picture. I wasn't getting out of the water to grab my camera though.  I was going to enjoy every last moment I could in that moment because I knew it might be the last one like it for a long time. 



 


Thursday, December 9, 2021

Unforgettable Meals From the Road

Food is one of life's greatest joys so naturally, one of the greatest joys of traveling is getting to try out local dishes while indulging in another culture.  Some of my fondest travel memories involve memorable meals I've enjoyed on the road and the people I shared them with.  From the open-air restaurants of the Caribbean and Central America to the cozy pubs of rural Scotland, here are some of my most memorable meals from the road.

Somewhere Outside of Las Vegas, Nevada
While in Las Vegas, I rented a car and took a 3-day road trip in the Mojave Desert and explored some of the more remote regions of Nevada, Arizona and California. While driving along a country road somewhere in the middle of the desert, I came across a diner standing alone among some cacti and Joshua Trees.  It looked like something you would see in one of those old western movies.  I went in.  I don't even remember what the name of the place was or what I had to eat, but I remember the atmosphere.  I was greeted with an air of subtle weariness, perhaps because I was an outsider.  I remember the view - vast desert and distant mountain ranges.  Although I felt a little uncomfortable in that remote place, it ranks high on my list of intriguing places that I've stopped at for a meal in the middle of nowhere.

Les Isles de la Madeleine, Quebec
Like most Canadians, I love a heaping plate of greasy, cheese-and-gravy-soaked Poutine.  What most people don't know is "real" poutine (made with cheese curds instead of melted mozzarella cheese) is rarely served outside of French-speaking areas of Canada.  That's why I just had to try the dish while I was in Les Isles de la Madeleine, a group of islands belonging to the predominately French province of Quebec.  I took this trip with my mother as she always wanted to go there to see the place where her grandmother came from. We found a nice little place overlooking a beautiful seaside panorama and enjoyed the best plate of poutine I've ever had.  And yes, it was made with real cheese curds. 

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico 
In Playa Del Carmen, I stayed at a small boutique-style hotel that offered a buffet at breakfast and the food was extremely good.  The first morning, I wandered down to the open-air dining area and was amazed at the choices available!  The food was better than I imagined it would be and I soon learned that the Mexican food I eat in Canada isn't real Mexican food at all.  The other amazing thing about meals at this hotel? The friendly staff interacted with me and even sat with me at my table.  They wanted to know everything about me.  Where was I from?  Is there snow there?  Do I know so-and-so from Winnipeg?  Even though they could barely speak English, they made an effort to make me feel welcome and appreciated and I had no problem answering all of their questions as I had many of my own.  

Havana, Cuba
Before I left for Cuba, I was told by others that the food is not very good.  I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and during the first few days, forced my way through a number of horrible meals (think dry bread, rancid dairy products, rotten fruit and tasteless other items) before trying a meal at a restaurant off the resort.  I was in Havana with a group of other tourists and we decided to do lunch at a small restaurant.  Now, when people tell me that the food in Cuba is disgusting, I tell them "no it's not! It's only disgusting in those cheap all-inclusives" because the meal I had in that restaurant was excellent in every way possible.  Not only was I able to enjoy a delicious, fresh, homemade meal served by the  friendliest staff, but I also got to enjoy it with a fantastic group of people from all over the world. 

Montezuma, Costa Rica
During the first leg of my travels in Costa Rica, I stayed at a lovely yoga retreat in the little surf town of Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula.  I can't pinpoint one particular meal during the whole week that was amazing because all the meals served were amazing and definitely among the best I've had in my entire life so far.  Fresh, organic produce and eggs taken directly from a nearby farm were used to prepare the five-course meals (appetizers, soup, salad, main course and dessert) and a softly-lit dining area overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a table big enough to seat two dozen people from all over the world made dining at this place an experience I won't soon forget.

  

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

During the second week of my adventure in Costa Rica, I spent time exploring the area of La Fortuna which included a day at the luxurious Tabacon Hot Springs Spa.  After a relaxing day soaking in the hot springs, I and the group of travelers I arrived there with were treated to a lovely meal at the on-site restaurant.  A huge buffet was served with an abundance of fresh, delicious items.  I think I heard about a dozen different languages around the table that night.  Sharing a meal with people from so many different cultures is an opportunity I never turn down. There was storytelling, email-swapping and language lessons.  And the meal?  Phenomenal!

Derricks, Barbados
I found an excellent deal on a week-long apartment rental for my trip to Barbados and the rental came with the option to have meals served three times a day.  Every morning, afternoon and evening, the lady who ran the place prepared a homemade meal right in front of me.  I enjoyed these meals in the pretty outdoor dining area where I could watch the mischievous little green monkeys playing in the nearby trees.  These meals were all made with the healthiest and freshest ingredients and were delicious. The best part about the meals was the fact that I had never heard of the recipes before so I got to try brand-new-to-me dishes.  Eating a meal each day in a home-like environment made it seem like I was visiting an old friend rather than traveling solo in a foreign country.

Pearson International Airport, Toronto
I know it seems odd that anyone could have a memorable meal in an airport let alone one of North America's biggest and busiest.  However, amidst the chaos that is Pearson International, I found a quiet little sandwich bar tucked away near my gate.  I grabbed the one thing that appealed to me in the display box which was a vegetarian sandwich, and took a seat at the back where I could watch everything going on outside the little peaceful oasis.  That sandwich was worth every cent of the 8 bucks I paid for it because it was one of the most delicious veggie sandwiches I ever had.  The coffee was good too and as I sat back, relaxed and prepared to indulge in my hot caffeinated beverage, a young man with a guitar took a seat just outside the shop and, despite the noise and chaos around him, he started to play. 

Edinburgh, Scotland
Within hours of arriving in Edinburgh, I had already hit the streets.  I knew I only had three days in the city and wanted to make the most my time.  I was dead tired, jet-lagged and starved but I walked over twenty kilometres that first day, exploring every nook and cranny of the downtown area.  By evening, I had to find something to eat, something quick and something nutritious.  Just around the corner from my hotel was a cozy little cafe.  I walked in and ordered a veggie sandwich.  The sandwich itself wasn't anything extraordinary, although it was quite good and definitely filled with veggies.  It was the atmosphere that accompanied my meal.  As I sat in a booth by the window that Friday night, the crowds were preparing for a wild night on the town.  I got a real taste of the excitement that transpires when tens of thousands of locals and international tourists intermingle for the evening's festivities.  As the streets grew more crowded, a lone bagpiper stopped right in front of the cafe and began to play.  He may have thought he was playing for the enjoyment of all those people on the street but in my mind, it seemed like that delightful serenade was made for my ears only.  


  

Broadford, Scotland

They say the best way to get to know a place is to wander around on foot.  I guess you can say I got to know Broadford quite well.  I arrived at my bed and breakfast in the early evening and the only thing on my mind was food.  I neglected to pick something up on the road and since it was getting late, it was difficult to find something to eat.  Not having a car available (and not wanting to waste money calling a cab), I started walking.  Of course, it being Scotland in September, I ended up wandering around aimlessly in rain, wind and cold.  I walked to the bottom of the hill where I had seen a few take-away restaurants.  No lights, no cars in the parking lots, no staff around.  Closed for the evening.  I walked some more.  I got hopelessly turned around and ended up going in circles and had no idea where I was or how to get back.  Finally, I found a tiny pub. Upon opening the door, I felt like I was walking onto the set of Coronation Street.  A cozy atmosphere filled with friendly locals watching sports and gossiping and laughing and carrying on.  I was greeted with a hearty welcome from the friendly barmaid who was happy to make a meal for me even though the kitchen had just closed.  She must have felt sorry for the soggy, wayward tourist.  I took a seat at the bar and was welcomed into the group of patrons who were interested in finding out more about this lone traveler looking for a bite to eat on a stormy night.   I enjoyed my meal and a pint and bid them all farewell before trekking back into the cold, wet night.   


 

 

Fort Augustus, Scotland

While I'm used to traveling alone and therefore eating alone, one of my most memorable meals was the one I enjoyed on my last evening touring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.  I had spent five spectacular days with a dozen incredible people from all over the world. The last night of the tour was spent in a pretty little town not far from the banks of Loch Ness.  Upon arrival, we parted ways to check into our accommodations, which were scattered around town, and agreed to meet in an hour by the canal for dinner.  A lady from the United States was staying in the same bed and breakfast as me so we walked together.  Turns out we both had a really bad sense of direction.  We walked and walked and turned around several times when she admitted she had no clue where she was and neither did I.  Then the rain and wind came.  By the time we found it, we were both soaking wet and hysterical from laughing so hard at our misadventure.  Fort Augustus was not particularly bustling on that wet, cold night so by the time we got back into town, our group had dispersed and almost everything was closed.  We again found ourselves wandering around in the rain until we found a pizza shop that was still open. That night, as we sat eating pizza by a window overlooking a deserted street in a land foreign to us both, we talked about everything under the sun as if we were old friends who knew one another for years.  

 

 

 

 

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