Cold Sunshine

The Captain and I had to make a trip up island the other day. It would be a long day so we took a picnic lunch and stopped by the roadside on the way home. Where we parked, several picnic benches were available but there was a chance our rear ends could freeze to the bench, so we stayed in the car where it was cozy. We had a fantastic view, sunshine, and the warmth of the car while we had our sandwiches and V-8 juice.

This was the view looking north towards Campbell River, on Vancouver Island. You can see the south end of town on the left, and in the distance you can see the snow-covered Coast Range which is on the BC mainland.

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Looking straight ahead from the comfort of our car, this was the view we had while we ate our lunch. These mountains are also part of the Coast Range, on the BC mainland.

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The waters were calm and the sun was shining, but it was hard to find a warm spot. Who knew that sunshine could be so cold?

Ironing the Beach

This is an old photo I came across. Pablo, the man in the photo, took care of the beach where we stayed. The land belonged to his wife’s family for generations, he told us. There are no facilities, except an outhouse, but most people who camp there have everything they need in their RVs. When we stayed at Pablo’s beach the price was very reasonable at $3.00 per night to park on the beach. $5.00 if you wanted a palapa as well. We stayed for about three months and loved every minute of it.

This was what they call dry camping, not because the desert is dry, but because there are no amenities like running water or electricity. It’s very rustic, but also very natural and beautiful. It is quiet there unless someone brings battery-operated radios or (in those days, about 18 years ago) cassette tape players. More often you’d hear someone playing a guitar by the campfire or a group of friends singing at happy hour.

Pablo was rightly proud of his beach and kept it clean. He took the seaweed away in a wheelbarrow and dumped it far from the camping area so the little flies didn’t infest the sandy beach. Hard work for a man in his early 70s.

Here he is, ironing the beach. I couldn’t believe it when he told me he was “planchando la playa.” Ironing the beach?! I looked it up. Yes, that’s what he had said. He was flattening the sand that many footsteps had scuffed and as he ran his homemade ironing board over an area, it raked up any foreign objects (like cigarette butts, and beer caps) that would otherwise make the beach messy.

The handle of the “iron” Pablo is using, is made from a spine of the cardón cactus. Very hard wood.

ironing the beach [1]

It was after spending a couple of winters in Baja at Pablo´s beach that I decided to write my novel “Orion’s Gift.” In the story I had a character like Pablo but named him Alfonso.

If a romantic suspense drama in Baja interests you, why not check out “Orion’s Gift”?

Orion's Gift

Available at all amazon outlets and smashwords.com.

smashwords.com.

Amazon.com

Surf and Turf

Apparently the term “Turf and Surf” has been around since 1961. It has taken me 54 years to know about it and figure out what it means. As I’m sure everyone else in the world already knows, “Turf and Surf” refers to meals of meat and fish, especially when speaking of steak and lobster.

Yesterday the Captain and I had a Turf and Surf day, but it was a far cry from steak and lobster. We went to a store that sells commercial fishing gear near the small town of Coombs on Vancouver Island, and took care of the annual gear upgrade. Then we went to the Coombs Market where they keep goats on the roof as a tourist attraction. You may recall that we did this same outing last year and it has become a bit of a tradition: Buy fishing gear, go to the Coombs Market to buy a few picnic fixings (Black Forest ham for the bread I brought from home, some fancy mustard to put on it, and two Starbucks Americanos), and then drive ten minutes to Qualicum Beach for a seaside picnic.020

The turf was on the roof of the Coombs Market building,

004and the surf was on the nearby beach.

It wasn’t steak and lobster, but we had a beautiful day for a picnic by the beach.

Victoria Day Weekend

To the best of my memory, on May 20, 1963, it was 96 degrees on Vancouver Island. I remember it because I stood on the sidewalk watching the Victoria Day parade and after a while the shirts of the people across the street began to blend together into one blur of white. I felt nauseated and dizzy. Luckily, I was able to duck into the lobby of a nearby beer parlour where it was dark and cool, until my heatstroke passed. I wasn’t old enough to go beyond the lobby, but to this day  I remember the smell of stale carpeting and beer.

We haven’t had a Victoria Day weekend quite that warm ever since, as far as I know. On the contrary, many times it has been downright miserable. Those who make a tradition of going camping on that weekend will know, having spent many long weekends in May suffering through rainy and cold weather, huddled in tents or campers.

When my brother and sisters and I were young and living in Dawson Creek, we wanted desperately to go camping and stay overnight. What an adventure that would be. We nagged and nagged and finally, our mother gave in and said that if we could get a ride out to  Pouce Coupe Park, seven miles away, she would stay with us and camp overnight. Our father had to work, and we had no car, so we were ever so grateful to our mother for volunteering to take us and to procure a ride for us.

We had a great time, roasting wieners over the fire, wading in the muddy Pouce Coupe River (a shallow creek really, except for the big hole under a fallen log where someone drowned nearly every year). The huge playground gave us plenty of room to run around and play games. It was so much fun!

1959

1959

How do you like our logs for the fire? This is what you do when you have no chainsaw. I remember that the smoke kept the mosquitoes at bay while we were around the campfire. We weren’t bothered by them when we ran around the playground either, but as soon as we stopped, it was a different story. And did those bites ever itch!

Check out the vintage of the cars and trucks parked behind the playground.

Our ride came to pick us up the following afternoon and we kids sat in the back reeking of campfire smoke, listening to our mother tell how we fared. As she spoke, I  remembered her bolting up to sit on her air mattress in the middle of the night when something hit the roof of the tent. I think it must have been an owl or some other night bird, judging by the flapping noise, but as my mother told it, she was sure the bear she had worried about since dusk had finally come to eat us all. She said she was so scared, she would never go camping alone again. (She wasn’t alone. She had US! What was she worried about?)

We never did go camping again until I was grown up and on my own, but I’ve done my best to make up for lost time.

Camping in Paradise

Community Center at the town park

This aesthetically pleasing building stands near the entrance to the community park and campsite of a small, small, super-small town in northwestern Montana.

Stage? Bandstand? Gazebo?

This too was a part of the park and campsite. Everything was neat and tidy.

Camping

Camping was free. Water and electricity provided. Peace and quiet. What a beautiful spot.

Farming country

The countryside near the campsite was full of life. Upland game birds, like pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, and Hungarian partridge hid in the fields along with the odd porcupine or skunk, while mink slipped through the brush near the creeks. Many types of songbirds, especially meadowlarks flitted here and there.

Find the pheasant

If you click to enlarge this picture you may see the pheasant hiding to the left of the center fencepost.

Next time, another installment of our stay in the beautiful state of Montana.

Baja Getaway – Part Five

At El Rosario, we had gassed up our truck and extra fuel caddies and continued on as far as the Cataviña boulder patch. From there we still had quite a long drive to the nearest Pemex at Villa Jesus Maria. The total length of the dry stretch was a little over 200 miles. You can easily imagine that this gas station could name its price.

Next to the Pemex was a grocery store with a fascinating assortment of produce. Fruit and vegetables were stored in bins on sloping shelves against the walls and in crates in the middle of the room. Eggs on trays of 30 were stacked like the leaning tower of Pisa. I bought half a dozen and watched in amazement as the clerk put them in a plastic bag and weighed them. How sensible and fair to charge for eggs by weight rather than having to trust that they were small, medium, or large, but a plastic bag? I’d have to carry them carefully not to end up with them scrambled among my avocados, tomatoes, and green peppers. The temptation was great to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables, but we were only a few miles from the north/ south Baja border at Guerrero Negro. The produce would be confiscated if we tried to take it through.

After a conference with our traveling companions, it was decided that rather than cross into south Baja that day, we should once more take a risk and drive a sandy back road, this time to a wonderful bay called Laguna Manuela. Near the turn off about half a mile down the road we spied a tiny store where we bought frozen chicken legs for the barbecue. All set, and looking forward to another lovely camping adventure, we bumped and ploughed through the soft washboard side road until we arrived at the bay and set up camp on the beach.

The long sandy beach looked gorgeous for walking on or swimming from, but Gary would rather have had a rocky shore for snorkeling. More sea life hovers near the rocks than on a flat beach. Next morning, with his diving gear in the 12-foot aluminum skiff we pushed off to check out the coastline. A shrimp boat stood offshore. We waved, and continued on to a tiny rocky bay with a small sandy beach where we surfed ashore on some hefty waves.

After pulling the skiff to safety, we scrambled up the steep hillside marvelling at the pink verbena that covered it. At the top, we were surprised to see a Jesus statue. We were told later it was meant to be a blessing to all fishermen as it overlooked the bay.

We took advantage of that blessing when we tried to re-launch the skiff. Out in the open water, the surface was almost like glass, but with swells. As they reached shore, they formed good-sized waves, and in this small nook of a bay between two rocky embankments, those swells broke and crashed onto shore. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get out and start the outboard before being washed back to shore, we realized we would have to get wet. Gary got into the skiff, ready to pull the outboard motor’s starter cord, and I stood waist deep in the water and held the skiff steady against the waves. After a wave crashed to shore, we shoved out quickly, survived another wave, and shoved out some more. Gary started the motor and dragged me into the skiff. I was glad the water was clear and warm.

On our way past the shrimper, they waved and called to us. We hove to and they asked for cigarettes. We don’t smoke. What about soda? Anything? Trade for shrimp? We made a circle motion with our hands and took off. The campers contributed what they could spare in the way of pop and candy, and since we had neither, we contributed some T-shirts and caps. Returning to the shrimp boat, we were greeted eagerly by several deckhands. We handed up the goodies and watched them grab and argue over who got what. The T-shirts and caps were popular, so on another Baja trip I would remember that and bring more.

The crew loaded us up with huge bags of shrimp. We thanked them and came away happy. Looking back at the shrimp boat, we saw that the feeling was mutual. They were all grinning.

That night we had a wonderful pot luck supper. After a day of so much fresh air and sunshine, we slept well. But what a surprise we had in the morning when we stepped out of our Boler into water.

Feeling like the Clampetts

It happened to be one of the highest tides of the year and although we were well away from the beach, the flooding tide had begun to trickle under the Boler. Gary hitched up the Boler and prepared to drag our rig to higher, dryer ground while I went around knocking on our fellow campers’ doors.

Waterfront property isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Making Fire

When we were in our twenties, living in the Interior of BC, my husband and I considered ourselves very capable campers. The canoe was usually on top of the VW van, ready for action each weekend. It took very little for us to prepare for a camping trip because we never really unpacked. The basics were always ready. We threw in a few clothes and groceries and off we went.

We had discovered a good fishing spot way out in the boonies where it would be rare to meet another person. The plan was to go back there, but this time instead of bringing our trout home to cook, we would make a fire by the lakeside and fry the fish right there. I loaded our black cast iron frying pan, a bit of butter, salt and pepper into our mess kit of camp dishes and cutlery. All was set, and off we drove.

The lake and the surrounding meadow and forest would have made a perfect calendar photo. The weather co-operated; not too hot, but just warm enough to be comfortable. A beautiful day. We canoed the small lake and enjoyed the bird life around us. Trout begged to be allowed into the canoe. We had to force ourselves to stop fishing when we had enough to eat.

Back on land, glowing from the fresh air and healthy exercise of paddling, we stretched our legs.

“I’ll clean the fish.” My husband took the trout and walked some distance along the shore.

“I’ll get a fire ready.” I put a few big rocks together to build a firepit on the gravelly  beach. I gathered dry wood from the nearby woods and built a good teepee of sticks with very small bits of kindling in the middle. Then I brought out the frying pan, butter, salt and pepper.

“Do you have the matches?” I asked my husband when he came back with the cleaned trout.

“No, I thought you were packing all that stuff.” He slapped his pockets looking for matches or a lighter.

I rummaged in my purse. Small chance of finding anything in there. Not only was it a jumble of junk but neither of us smoked so we weren’t in the habit of carrying matches or lighters on our person. I looked in the glove compartment, in the mess kit, in the box of supplies from home.

We stood there looking from the fish to the pan to each other. The wheels were turning in my brain, and I thought, “We’re two outdoor types with lots of camping experience. Surely we can make a fire. How hard can it be? So think. What would a person lost in the woods do? ”

“I know,” I said. “We could use a piece of glass and let the sun heat up the kindling or a piece of paper.” I held a drinking glass over a piece of Kleenex and focused the sun’s rays on the paper. It wasn’t exactly a scorcher of a day and the rays were feeble. Nothing was happening, not even a hint of smoke. “Hmm … well … we could rub two sticks together?”

My husband shook his head. “It doesn’t work just like that.”

“What do you suggest?” I had already run out of ideas.

“I suggest we take the fish home and cook them on the stove.”

I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “How about like in the cowboy movies?  You know, where they pour gas on something and then shoot into it and it lights up?”

“Aw, that doesn’t work.” He waved me off and started to pack up the fish.

“Well, couldn’t we try it?” I so much wanted to fry those trout on the campfire. I had everything else ready right down to the napkins.

“Okay, I’ll do it just to show you.” He brought his .22 rifle out of the truck. From the spare gas caddy, he poured a bit of gasoline on the teepee of sticks I’d built. “Stand back then.” He fired into the gasoline.

I was all ready to unpack the trout and throw them into the pan. I was sure we’d have a roaring fire in the next few seconds. But what did we have?

“There!” he said. “Are you satisfied? It only works in the movies.”

I’m sorry to tell you that there’s no happy ending to this story. Two over-confident seasoned campers didn’t get to use their seasoning on the trout. Instead, they went home to a big helping of humble pie.

The fire that I wished we could have made.