A bit of Bavaria in the most unusual spot

A town must be some kind of special if one is willing to spend six hours on a Sunday drive to get there and back home again. And Leavenworth, the Bavarian-style village in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, is worth the visit, even if only because it’s so kitschy. 

On the ‘plane somewhere between Germany and South Africa I eventually got around to editing my photos from our day-trip to Leavenworth the weekend prior. And I thought how appropriate it was that this would be my final blog post of my 5-month-long trip to Canuckistan and the upper left corner of the USA, via Germany. 

I assumed the town had been founded by German immigrants but, with a bit of research, discovered that it was just a regular timber community and key rail junction for its first six or seven decades. In the 1960s, with the sawmill struggling, and the railway headquarters having moved, a project was birthed by two businessmen to try to revitalize the moribund town. Taking their lead from the Danish-themed town of Solvang in California, the duo developed a plan to transform Leavenworth into a Bavarian hamlet. The first building to be remodelled was the Chikamin Hotel, which was renamed the Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria.

Leavenworth is now a popular tourist destination, for its outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and kayaking, and then for its events like the Icefest, the Autumn Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest and several Christmas lighting ceremonies.  It is also home to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which opened in 1995 and contains more than 5,000 nutcrackers.  We missed all of the festivals as well as the museum but still enjoyed a stroll around town and a glass of glühwein to warm up as dusk settled. 


Seattle (still) on my mind

Yes, I already wrote a blogpost about my all-too-brief visit to Seattle last week, but still had a few more photos to share. So, here we go again.  I really did enjoy the city’s “unfinished,” grungy vibe and know that I barely scratched the surface of its awesomeness. I’m sure I will need to visit again some day. And next time for longer than a few hours!

About a jalopy’s amazing journey through Canuckistan

What feels like way way way back in June, I arrived in Canuckistan. I stayed down on the lower mainland for a week or so and then flew up to Quesnel in the Cariboo area, where a generous friend (let’s call him “Dave” for the purpose of this blogpost) lent me a car to use for the duration of my stay. On the day I picked it up someone backed his vehicle into the passenger door. I drove it like that, with a bashed in door, for the rest of my time here. The tyres were bald and the hybrid battery was iffy, but it served me well. 

In total I drove approximately 18,700km in the jalopy without an oil change, exploring the gorgeous Canuckistan – on a day-trip to the unremarkable Burns Lake to deliver some truck parts for a friend, to the hillbillies outside town and the elderly lady who has run a holiday resort for several decades in the heart of the Cariboo. I drove back down to the lower mainland to a wedding and enjoyed several hikes with friends to lakes and waterfalls and god-awfully-high viewpoints over the ocean. From there I drove to friends in Edmonton, and to people I didn’t know in northern Alberta. I shot the northern lights and a couple of goose hunts, went on a day-trip to the North West Territories to find waterfalls, and undertook several excursions to look for bears to shoot (with my camera). Much of the driving was done around Quesnel itself to discover and photograph many of its most beautiful spots and people. I visited a (semi) random farm in the Okanagan and then, as my journey was coming to an end, I found myself back on the lower mainland, where I had started. (In total, I’m sure I travelled way over 20,000km in 5 months, including in other people’s vehicles, side-by side off-road vehicles and on a motorbike that caught fire.)

My final three weeks in the Pacific Northwest, I stayed with friends in the States, which necessitated a few trips across the border. 

Just before I departed for the U.S.A. I Googled to see if I needed a letter from Dave giving me permission to take the vehicle across the border. But I couldn’t find anything that said I needed to. And for the first dozen or so times that I crossed between Canuckistan and the US I wasn’t asked about the car. 

But last Friday that all changed.  Last Friday the tetchy woman in the booth decided to question whether I had permission from Dave to drive his car. I told her I did but she wasn’t taking my word for it, sending me into the customs office to deal with it further. 

Up until then, I had been amazed at how friendly the border control guards were (on the American side especially) but on that fateful Friday everything changed, scarring me for good. On Friday I was forced to deal with a border control guy of whom Heinrich Himmler would have been proud. I’m amazed he didn’t strap me to a chair with a bare lightbulb trained on my face.

It seems that he had decided I was guilty of something at first glance. I’ve always said I have “one of those faces”. He barked out questions, none of which had anything to do with the borrowed car: was I married, did I have children, what work did I do, how had I been travelling for so long, had I been working in Canuckistan or the States, why did I have so many friends to visit in Canuckistan and had I ever watched “Corner Gas” set in Dog River, Saskatchewan? Well, that last one wasn’t true, but he then proceeded to empty my wallet. The goon studied every grocery and fuel receipt, examined my drivers’ licence at such length that I suspected he had fallen into a profound trance, and dug things out of the tiny pockets that I had forgotten were there. He rifled through my phone; through my entire web browsing history and all my photos; he read my messages and emails. I felt violated.

I’m convinced that border control employees are required to have their senses of humour surgically removed after accepting the job. And so I have learned not to try joking or being light-hearted with them.  It’s like trying to be cute with a Doberman guard dog. Not at all wise. My mouth was dry. I was sweating. 

But perhaps I’m just overly sensitive. 

My two phones, one of which I use purely for music, were a massive (combined) red flag for him. If I were the joking type I would have told him one was my burner for all things nefarious. But I didn’t. Life is boring when you don’t get to make up fantastic stories for border guards.  

Eventually he actually asked me for Dave’s cellphone number.  

“He doesn’t have one,” I answered.  

“Who doesn’t have a cellphone?” asked he, while studying both of mine. 

Again, I could have responded with one of so many snide remarks, but I held myself back and rather just said, “Dave.”

“Dave doesn’t.”

Dave’s in his 70s, you see, and is so busy at work, that he doesn’t want one. So I Googled his work phone number, which the SS goon wasn’t interested in. 

“Is this a business-owned car or his personal car,” he asked. “If it’s registered to him personally, why are you giving me his work number?” 

Apparently they removed his brain at the same time as his sense of humour, because I had to explain (very calmly) that that was the only place we could get hold of Dave on a weekday. Because he doesn’t have a cellphone. (I’m sure I had mentioned that before.) 

So, the Nazi called Dave. And, amazingly, managed to get him on the phone. Because anyone who knows Dave knows that you only get to speak to him around 12.63% of the time when calling him at work.

I heard the one side of the conversation from the awkward bench to which I had been banished. All seemed just fine. Fortunately, Dave did not use his dry sense of humour on Hitler’s friend, who, seemingly satisfied, typed something on his computer and then called me over to the counter. Dreaming of a strong cup of coffee, satisfied that I was almost on my way, I sauntered over confidently. 

“Give me your keys,” he demanded. “And go and sit down again. I need to search the vehicle.” 

I hoped that he would enjoy all the touristy photos on my two DSLRs, which were on the back seat. But he never mentioned them. He was apparently too fixated on the cash he had found in my man-bag. You see, I don’t tend to use credit cards when travelling – it just gets too confusing what with wildly fluctuating exchange rates and all. 

“And where did you get this money?” he asked. 

“Africa,” I answered obtusely. “I brought it with me from home.” I considered getting just a teeny bit feisty: “Is it illegal to travel with cash now,” I almost asked. Because one is allowed to travel across the border with up to $10,000 in cash. And I most definitely did not have that on me! But I held my tongue.

He asked if I was hiding any more cash in the car, and I almost asked him if he would be willing to look for me. I mean, I have no idea whether Dave ever used the vehicle to stash cash. I was kind of hopeful.

But fortunately, he seemed to be getting bored at the fact that he wasn’t allowed to water board me or use shocking tools on my genitals, so he shoved all my stuff across the cold counter at me, told me to pack it up and leave. I tried asking another question but I had ceased to exist. He was already eyeing a new nervous victim across the room. 

Two days later I travelled across the border agin. This time they searched the trunk with a fine-tooth comb, stripping out the spare tyre and several car panels. Again, the guy seemed disappointed not to find anything in the jalopy. Fortunately it was relatively easy to replace the panels. Don’t tell Dave.

Yesterday I was relieved to give the car back to Dave. Of course, I blamed him for all my border trouble. 

And thus ended my trip through western Canuckistan in Dave’s jalopy. I’m headed home to safe, secure Africa, where everyone is friendly and doesn’t possess a bone of suspicion in their bodies. See you on the other side!

A day out in Seattle, the emerald city

I have dreamt of visiting Seattle ever since I was a teenager. I can’t even tell you why. It’s always just  had a strange romantic attraction. And despite the fact that I have been staying only two hours north of the emerald city, I almost didn’t make it there.

But earlier this week I drove down to Bellingham, then to Burlington, and then I figured I was half way to Seattle, and so I just kept driving. By the time I saw the Space Needle, a sticky mist was just letting go of the city. I found a parking spot, and started walking – up to the Space Needle, past Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Museum of Pop Culture. I didn’t go up the Space Needle because it was still too hazy for good views, and not misty enough to capture the city’s skyscrapers poking out of the clouds. From there I strolled down to Pike Place Market and came across the disgusting Market Theater Gum Wall – a brick wall covered in used chewing gum.

I had only paid for 2 hours of parking, and so speed-walked back to where I had left the car, and made it just in time. Then I just drove around town, including up to the Starbucks Roastery. My final stop was Kerry Park, one of the best viewpoints of the city.

I didn’t want to stay too late because I had heard Seattle’s peak-hour traffic could be bad. That was an under-statement. I loved the city’s grungy vibe but that traffic would be the death of me!

Stepping way way (way) out of my comfort zone

Today I did something I practically never do: I went for stroll in a quaint, photogenic neighborhood without my Nikon, and with only my phone and a few dollars in my pocket.

The second thing taking me out of my comfort zone is that I’m trying to write and publish this blog on my phone. So, we shall see how that goes!

But on to the subject of my post: Fairhaven Village was founded in the late 1800s as a salmon canning centre but (quirky, interesting fact) its opium was at one point more popular than the salmon. The village was incorporated into the city of Bellingham to the north 20 years later, but it kept its name, minus the “village”. Fairhaven today serves as the southernmost terminus on the Alaska ferry route, but most people visit to wander through its “historical district” and to enjoy a meal at one of its many cozy eating joints.

One person on TripAdvisor described Fairhaven as “Old buildings, random statues.” I found four of the statues on my random ramble through town, Tony’s Coffee House latte in one hand and iPhone in the other.

As usual, I asked a few people if I might take photos of them and every one said yes. Some even thanked me for showing an interest in them! An elderly lady, whom I met walking down the road, told me how she had moved to Fairhaven 32 years ago for love, and then found that love had moved on. But she assured me there was hope for me yet, and that I too should not be scared to pursue love wherever it draws me.

As they say where I come from, “sy is duidelik met die helm gebore” (loosely translated, “she clearly has a freaky prophetic gift”).

But, without further ado, I bid you and this blogpost adieu, leaving behind a dizzying collection of Fairhaven images, straight out of my iPhone.

Twenty refreshing reasons to visit Victorian-era Port Townsend

Actually, I don’t have twenty reasons to visit Port Townsend. I have but two: it’s a quaint town, it’s easy to get to, easy to stroll about and boasts several good little eateries. Sorry, that’s four. But at least I’m keeping you on your toes.

Port Townsend is a small seaside town on the north-east tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The town, with around 10,000 inhabitants and many visitors, dates back to Victorian times, during which time it saw most of its development as one of the busiest ports on the Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, it never grew quite as expected, with the Washington railway system never making it that far north. As a result, it lost out to towns like Tacoma and Seattle, which continued to develop, while Port Townsend saw a steady decline.

Fortunately the military base at Fort Worden north of town and a paper mill, which was built south-west of town in the 1920s, kept the town ticking over. And then, from the 1970s more artistic types and retirees moved to town, people began restoring the Victorian buildings and the town saw a bit of a revival as a tourist destination. That’s why I went for the afternoon.

Take a walk with me, why don’t you?

(Click on images for bigger versions and short descriptions.)

About cruising a Washington ferry wondering why I feel so old

Yesterday the friends I’m staying with in northern Washington State took off to Canuckistan for the day. The person with whom I was going to spend the day abandoned me to do something fun north of the border too, and so I headed south. After too many detours I eventually found myself at Fort Casey, and at the ferry bound for Port Townsend.

More about the town tomorrow.

I hadn’t booked a spot for the ferry because I didn’t know what time I would get there, and so bought my ticket on arrival, hoping there would be place on the boat (because first option is given to all those who had booked.) The youngster in the ticket booth asked if I was 65 or over, to qualify for a seniors’ fare. I decided not to take offence, despite still being a year from my 50th birthday. And as much as I love saving money, I also couldn’t bring myself to lie about my age.

I managed to answer “no, not yet,” with a straight face and handed over full fare.

The ferry, called Kennewick, has a capacity of 64 vehicles. I was the 64th loaded… For which I was very grateful, because I struggle sitting still and would have found it completely impossible to wait an hour and a half for the next ferry.

Many people just stayed in their vehicles for the 30 minute traverse of the Puget Sound into Port Townsend Bay. I, as I cannot sit staring at a stationary vehicle in front of me for half an hour, headed to the upper deck, where I roamed like a restless wraith looking for stuff to shoot.

One of the interesting things about many of the Washington State ferries is that they have jigsaw puzzles available for people to build. Many passengers head straight to a puzzle randomly placed at one of the tables on the passenger deck, foregoing the views or biting wind outside. They have the time it takes from departure to arrival on the other side to work on the puzzle, and then they leave it laid out on the table where they were sitting, as is. When the ferry heads off in the other direction someone else works on the puzzle, and so it goes until the puzzle is finished. Or not. There are 20 trips in a day. Who knows how many times the puzzles have been completed, if any.

But I watched the delight it gave several passengers (who would take photos of the puzzle before and after working on it) to be part of a bigger process; a bigger picture of many puzzle builders from who knows where.

I tried one too, and, as with the obligatory tradition, took a final photo of it.

Here then, a few snaps from my ferry trips to Port Townsend and back to Coupeville a few hours later.


Just meandering in ‘merica

I am clearly in the Pacific Northwest. And it is clearly Autumn (or “Fall” as they call it here) because it rains constantly. I used to joke that the sun never shone in Vancouver because I had never seen it there, but this summer the weather was actually quite nice and I managed to hike and enjoy the outdoors.

Actually, I’m currently not cruising Canuckistan, but meandering in ‘merica or wandering about Washington (to be more precise).

On Saturday the sun finally appeared for half a day, but the wind was absolutely howling. And so I jumped in my car and drove down to places with delightful names like Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Deception Pass on Whidbey Island. On my way home I picked up fish and chips for supper in Fairhaven, drove through downtown Bellingham to get back onto the Interstate 5 and then finished off the day with ice cream from Edaleen Dairy in Blaine.

Come and travel vicariously with me through this neck of the woods, why don’t you?

Generally just down-to-earth, genuine people

Yesterday I wrote a blogpost about some of the challenges I have had taking photos in a small town here in Canuckistan. And I was given a real dressing down by a friend later who took umbrage at me generalising about Canuckistanis and how impolite and unfriendly they can be.

Of course, one should never generalise about an entire population, and that was most definitely not my intention – I was just reflecting on some of the less welcoming, sometimes suspicious individuals I encountered in this tiny pocket of Canuckistan.

The majority were interested in where I came from and actually happy that I would take the time to document their lives and the town they called home. Like the older couple I saw walking hand in hand on the riverfront trail one evening. I pulled over, grabbed my camera and jogged over to them to ask if I might photograph them. He answered in the affirmative, with flowery language that would have made a sailor blush. But I loved how down to earth both of them were, and just how in love they seemed to be.

There were the golfers with equally as expletive-laden language and the two wheelchair-bound women fighting for better facilities and access for the handicapped in town. The twenty-something lady walking her dog under the golden canopy of Ceal Tingley park humoured me by going back to do it once, twice and a third time so that I could get an angle with which I was happy. The dragon boat paddlers invited me, a complete stranger, onto the boat with them and the yoga ladies at the local recreation centre made sure to show their best form. The group of skateboarders were only too happy to show off their moves for the camera, and millwright students took time off class to pose for my camera. The most accommodating and pleasant though, were the staff and interns at the local hospital.

Those were just some of the people I didn’t know who let me photograph them.

In addition, over the course of a month and a bit, I cajoled a whole bunch of friends to come out and help me to stage photos to show off some of the best this town and its surroundings has to offer too.

And after weeks of photographing, I realised that it’s not nature, buildings or facilities that make the town beautiful. It’s its people. I know that sounds twee, but it’s a simple truth I hope I never forget. The main memories I take from my last four months Cruising Canuckistan are of the new people I met, and the friends I got to know better as we spent time together photographing the city.


Another crazy little roundtrip or two!

Occasionally I write purely for myself – just to remember parts of this trip through western Canuckistan that will mean little to you, but which I may need to remember one day when my memory starts to go.

This is one such post. (Obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be explaining all that.)

Last week the same friend who asked me to drop some spare parts for him in a town 375km from here, and then drive straight back, asked if I would do another little roundtrip to check out some equipment in a town 550km south (this time). Just a few weeks ago I picked up a skid steer in a trip that took me something like 15 hours, and I really didn’t want to experience that again!

But fortunately I knew someone who lived on a farm not too far from where I needed to be, and so I broke the trip into two, much more manageable, days and got to enjoy the sights and smells of a real working farm too! I reported back that the stuff I had gone to look at seemed just fine, and such a good friend am I that I drove back a few days later to pick it up, when asked.

But I did demand a limitless supply of snacks as payment. I have my needs.

These are some of the views and other little things from my two round-trip outings, that added 2,300km to the approximately 14,000km that I’ve already driven since arriving in Canuckistan in June.

Chetwynd: the mill town with an “artsy” heart

Chetwynd, the small town of 3,100 inhabitants, in the foothills of the Rockies, is just a typical mill town – like the myriad of others in this part of British Columbia. Except, it isn’t.

In 1992 the town commissioned three wood carvings of bears, which were used in their “Welcome to Chetwynd” sign.

Two of the three bears. (The third is just to the left of the image.)

Apparently they were pretty popular, and 13 years later the first annual Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship was held, with seven carvers carving. The annual competition is now limited to 12 carvers, who each get 35 hours to create a masterpiece of their choosing from a cedar log. This year saw carvers from (amongst others) Canada, the USA, Lithuania, Japan, Ireland and the UK competing against each other. The competition was won by American Jeff Samudosky with a sculpture of Lady Gaga on the piano. (You can see the image in the slideshow below.)

As many as 150 of the best carvings from the competition’s 14-year history are now displayed throughout the town – with a map of all the locations available from the visitor centre. The current year’s carvings can be seen on “Carver’s Row” just before entering town.

Recently I drove through the town on my way north. Although I had heard about the carvings, I wasn’t expecting much, and hadn’t done any research on them. I was suitably surprised! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go and look for the majority of carvings, but here are a few I came across, including some of this year’s winners.

The time I (almost) drove home without stopping

Whenever I leave Edmonton to drive back to Quesnel (I’ve done this trip at least 4 times now) I try to leave early. The journey is meant to take 10 hours if one stops to eat and get fuel along the way. I have seldom done it in less than 13 hours.

The main reason is that I always try to take at least one detour to discover new, beautiful places. And I try not to go to the same place twice. The first time I did the trip was during wildfire season, and I saw practically no scenery because of the heavy smoke. On my way home I did stop to take a few photos on the main road, but didn’t explore any side roads. The second time I drove to Edmonton, I explored an abandoned community outside McBride (in British Columbia) and then did another detour in Jasper National Park to see Medicine Lake. Two years ago I again went to Medicine Lake (by mistake), and then tried to see small towns just off the main road once I hit the highway in British Columbia.

This year I decided to take no side roads – just to put my head down and go like the wind for home. The weather was perfect for that too: misty, with a hint of rain in the air and a light dusting of snow on the trees and lining the road. My GPS told me I could expect to be in Quesnel by 1.30pm.

Unfortunately, soon after I entered Jasper National Park, it had cleared enough for the Athabasca River to demand to be shot. Just down the road, as I was picking up speed, I saw some Bighorn Sheep ewes grazing on a cliff face and once again had to stop to try to photograph them. Next, an elk delayed me and by that stage my rhythm was so thrown, that I decided to drive up to Pyramid Lake outside the town of Jasper because I had heard it was beautiful. It was (beautiful) but unfortunately the clouds were still obscuring Pyramid Mountain (after which the lake is named) and there were way too many tourists for my liking.

I snapped a few shots, drove back to town, refuelled, took one photo of the Two Brothers totem pole and then set my GPS to take me straight back to Quesnel.

And that was that! Except for one photo of the mountains outside McBride.

And one other thing, but I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

A wee roadtrip to see a waterfall or two

So, the whole Simpson clan and I were sitting around the dining room table for supper, when one of them suggested that I visit the impressive Alexandra and Louise Falls.

“Sounds good,” said I. “I like waterfalls. How far are they?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied. “Just across the border in the Northwest Territories.

I’d never been further north than their dining room table, let alone to Northwest Territories. It sounded like a perfect adventure.

“While you are there you need to pop over to see the new bridge across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence,” added pa Simpson helpfully.

“Sounds cool,” said I. “How much further than the falls is that?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied.

“And then, seeing as you will be up there already, you really should go to Hay River, a cute little town on Great Slave Lake. It’s got fishing boats and beautiful beaches,” chimed in the youngest son.

“And I assume it’s not far either,” I asked cynically?

Once I started actually researching the trip I discovered that Alexandra and Louise Falls were approximately 350km north from the Simpson dining room table; 75km into Northwest Territories from Alberta but only 2km apart from each other. Hay River is 50km from the falls, and Fort Providence is a further 180km from there. The family was going to be busy harvesting, teaching horse riding and running regular errands the following day, and so I decided to embark on the trip despite how long it would take – but without the Fort Providence detour. After all, a bridge is a bridge is a bridge, except if you catch it in just the right light.

The following morning ma Simpson packed me a travel lunch, including a bag of “Zoute Drop” salted dutch liquorice and a flask of rooibos tea, for what turned out to be my 860km, 11-odd-hour round trip.

Rather than bore you with all the conversations I had with myself as I whizzed past endless kilometres of trees, I’ll leave you with a few photos. After all, as Terry Pratchett was quoted as saying, “Of course I’m sane. When trees start talking to me, I don’t talk back.”

A friend from Edmonton asked me once I was halfway through why I had bothered going because the waterfalls didn’t seem to warrant the effort.

My answer was simple: “Because I can.”

Perhaps Terry Pratchett said it better and simpler than I could though: “… all this travelling and seeing things is fine but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in having been. You know, sticking all your pictures in a book and remembering things … Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”