Montserrat Memorabilia

January 21, 2017

The past two evenings we have reclined on the deck marvelling at the stars. Every now and then someone gets out an iPad to identify a constellation. The brightest star in the sky is the planet, Venus, in the northwest. It is so bright there is a reflection as it descends into the sea. When it disappears into the water, that signals bedtime, usually around 9:40 PM. I am not positive as I am often among the first to head for bed. We do not often, if ever, observe the heavens as long in Ontario, as we need more clothing and/or insect repellent. No mosquitoes send us for cover here.

Each evening one cruise ship sails past from north to south. While at Hank’s we watched the sun set with a sailboat in the foreground, a barge of sand crossing through the sun and platoons of brown pelicans putting on a comic air show crashing into the sea. What a pleasurable way to eat our seafood platters and drink Carib beer or rum punches.

Last night, for the first time we pulled our blanket, a duvet cover, over our single sheet. The temperature must have dropped to 25C.

The last two night’s the roosters crowing in the wee hours have been seriously in need of voice lessons or someone has been murdering them. For sure they have failed Crowing 101.

This morning after yoga and a swim in the pool we went to the Hilltop Coffee House in Brades to have their Saturday special of waffles with delicious coffee. After David Lea gave us a tour of his photo and memorabilia collection, we decorated our waffles with whatever pleased us from the dishes assembled on the bar: blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, shredded coconut, chocolate, raisins, peanuts, chocolate sauce or male syrup and whipped cream. No sugar highs here!

David and his wife Sun have been here since their hippie days. Their son, Sun, gives tours of Plymouth. He was not available for us. David has been involved in several video productions about the volcano eruption and Plymouth. He also authored a book, Through My Lens, about Montserrat which include his photo collection about the volcano, Plymouth and George Martin’s Air Studios. His photos cover the walls and the tabletops under glass. He also has posters from those early days as well as signs and memorabilia recovered from Plymouth and the buried Belham Valley Golf Course. David is the local historian, a very engaging host.

We found Plymouth Nuts in the narrow aisles of Ashoks’ grocery store. Benjamin’s factory is just down the hill in Brades, but not open on Saturday.

The waves are big again. Yahoo! And the sky is cloudless blue. The volcano is very clear. All we were missing was a water ready camera with a photographer in the water to get our ten bobbing heads with the volcano in the background.

We ordered roti for tonight from Joe’s wife. Joe just delivered them. We are having an awesome chocolate birthday cake a day late for Al, but just right for my sister.

Happy birthday, Rosemary!

Many Hands

January 19, 2017

Top left: the Taj, bottom photo: Nevis on the horizon with Redonda to the right

Many hands make light work. This morning between yoga and swims in the pool many tasks were looked after. I weeded, trimmed and sprayed plants with a soapy solution. Others removed old screens in preparation for new ones to be installed, cleaned louvres, added feet to chairs, measured for replacement cushions for wicker furniture. Local workers came and went: a productive morning.

This afternoon felt extra hot, quite still. Sleeping and reading in the shade were the preferred activities. I was perusing the book about the flora and fauna of the Eastern Caribbean. Fascinating. I might even be able to identify a few more plants and birds. Roosters and chickens are plentiful everywhere, but not exactly native species

Al and Barb drove to the airport to pick up our next two Canadian guests, Peter and Sharon. Our party of ten is now complete, or it will be as soon as they arrive. Bryan and Susan met with the gardener while Pam and John are busy preparing a fish feast. Brian and I walked to the beach at Hank’s Bar. Brian tried fishing while I walked the beach being entertained by twenty pelicans and a couple of frigate birds. We had a lovely swim. The water was the calmest it has been.

Looking forward to a full starry night.

Hiking to Rendezvous Bay

January 18, 2017

We are frequently awake to greet the day before 7 AM. The 5 AM call from the rooster has nothing to do with this. It is light from 6 AM to 6 PM; so, more daylight than we are used to at home at this time of the year.

Brian brings me my orange juice followed by tea but since it is so beautiful to read the Owen Sound paper looking out at the morning sea, I take my cup of tea out of the bedroom. I am keeping up my thirty minute yoga habit. After a leisurely breakfast I was surprised that folks were rushing to be ready for a 9:30 AM departure for our hike to Rendezvous Bay. I thought we still had an hour. For some unknown reason my iPad had not switched to island time so I was an hour behind schedule. I still was ready in time for ride north to Little Bay.

We walked past the concrete block factory to access the trail to Rendezvous any, the only white sand beach on the island. It was a hot walk to the top on a narrow path where we watched our feet diligently to avoid the prickly acacia. We had to stop now and then to admire the view back to Little Bay where sailboats bobbed and container ships glided. We picked our way down carefully to Rendezvous, fortunately more shaded as sweaty rivulets already ran off my chin. What a delight to shed running shoes and shorts and plunge into the sea. Brian scolded me for swimming out too far but it was sublime!

It took us an hour and a half to hike 3.5 kilometres, an ascent of 172 metres and descent of 189 metres. We spent an hour and a half swimming and walking or tossing a frisbee on the beach, also chatting with an American couple who had kayaked around to the bay in twenty minutes. They almost got flipped out of their ocean kayak by a big wave, but they managed to keep it upright.

Upon our return all eight of us were more than ready for a drink at Johnny Ponts’ restaurant, built into the hillside by Little Bay. Even I had a Carib beer even though beer is not typically my drink of choice. I followed it with a rum punch that almost flattened me. I was content to have a spicy pumpkin soup followed by a green salad while others had the full meal deal of Wahu (fish), ribs or chicken accompanied by potato, salad and veggies. As we ate and chatted we watched hummingbirds and banana quits dart in and out of the foliage and boat paraphernalia that dangled from the ceiling.

Bryan was alert enough to drive us back to the Taj where everyone settled in for a siesta.

Then a dip in the pool to wake up. Life is wonderful!


Volcano Watching

January 17, 2017

Barb, Kate and Fran, I know you especially want to know who won at cards. Although the men won the first game, the women whomped them in the second game.

Last night the loud downpour drowned out the tree frog serenade.

We saw more of the Soufriere Hills Volcano summit today than on any previous occasion. Streaming stacks of smoke continuously puff up from the summit.

The midday sun has a somnolent effect and draws us to recline in the shade or even to retire to our beds and doze. Of course we have to store energy to walk down to the beach. Although it is a ten minute walk, we do detours to make it at least a twenty minute hilly walk. We see plenty of beautiful homes and flowers: hibiscus, bougainvillea, azaleas and flowers the names of which I do not know. When we ascend to the Taj we need another swim in the pool followed by gin and tonic or a rum punch with nuts and or cheese.

Barb and Al met Montserratian Benjamin on the plane coming down. Apparently he has a cashew processing plant and sells Plymouth Nuts. We have tried to find his factory but so far no one even knows who he is and has had not heard of Plymouth Nuts. Apparently there was a time when cashews were grown on the island, but no more. The iguanas are happy lounging in the plentiful almond trees.

Chicken is on the menu this evening and Barb and Al are today’s chefs.


Showers and Sun

January 16, 2017

Rain, Sun, Rain, Rainbow

It’s a loud downpour this evening after a day of intermittent light showers and sunshine.

A tough day: I read a lot, sometimes sitting in sunshine, sometimes retreating few feet to be sheltered from a shower. I enjoyed swimming in the pool and in the sea. The waves were enormous in the sea, fun to be in if you were tall enough to get past the breakers and able to jump up with the waves or dive into them. We had to time our race to shore between the big waves. Some of our party were too short to safely enjoy the waves.

After an hour and a half power outage we are now ready to challenge the men to a game of pepper.

Rolling Up and Down

From Shap to Kirkby-Stephen: The Old Croft House
8:10 AM to 4 PM
32 kilometres
Ascended 690 metres, descended 729 metres
May 30, 2016

Last night just after dining, a bus unloaded a boisterous crowd of all ages into the Kings Arms. These jolly revellers were all from Shap but they had gone to a christening twenty-five kilometres away. They were very friendly and quick to engage us and other hikers in conversation. They were incensed that at the christening they ran out of food and worse, out of beer, for the eighty invitees.

Our room was on the third floor and at the front of the hotel; thus, above the Main Street of Shap. It is the first time since arriving in England that we could hear traffic noise, and bar noise, from our bedroom. This did not keep us from sleeping. A long day’s walk is good for sleeping.

In the first eight kilometres after Shap, the land is quite barren ( ie no trees), the fields bigger with fewer stone walls and fewer sheep. There are limestone quarries with two large cement factories outside Shap. We wondered if farmers switched to being labourers at the factories for a more secure income. We saw a lot of limestone, with fields that were covered in limestone or only had a thin layer of dirt and grass over the limestone.

The fields became more rolling and greener as we moved eastward. On every horizon we saw high hills, notably the Pennines which we will cross tomorrow. Whereas yesterday’s walk had most of the climbing in the first few hours, today’s climbing was in the last few and here we thought we would be going steadily down. Not so.

We have now left the quiet of the Lake District but we are still very much in rural England. Kirby-Stephen is the largest town we have been in since St Bees which had a population of 1800. Here there are 22 more residents. The smallest was Ennerdale Bridge at 220 with most of the rest in the 300 to 500 range. There are three fish and chip stores in town. Since we have not yet had fish and chips in England, we have now stuffed ourselves with that at the Archway Fish and Chip shops. With the exception of pubs, all of the stores closed between five and seven including the fish and chip eateries. I was able to buy some blister bandaids before the outdoor store closed. Sadly I have one blister on my big toe.

It did not feel as if we descended more than we ascended. Thirty-two kilometres after yesterday’s gruelling day was no picnic. Brian and I decided that twenty-five kilometres in one day is more than enough. Fortunately we only have one more 25 kilometre day and every thing else is less.

Kirby-Stephen has very interesting architecture. It is a very old market town. There has been a market in the square since 1353. Our B and B is the best yet. We have a large spacious bright room furnished with antiques we love. Rachel and Nick are friendly helpful hosts who provided us upon arrival with a pot of tea, elegant China cups and scones with jam and clotted tea. Bliss.

There is a Romany horse fair in Appleby. There have been horses pulling sulkies with drivers young and old trotting up and down the main street. There really is only one street through town.
In the past few days we saw one red squirrel. Red squirrels are unique to this area of England. Maybe we could ship from home a few cases of red squirrels and chipmunks to England.

We have seen some interesting birds : curlews, falcons, chaffinches, English robins, redstarts and peewits. We have heard more than we have seen. The birds move faster than sheep; so, photos are lacking.

The fields were covered in yellow buttercups today. We also passed three stone circles all of which are said to be 6000 years old. There were archaeological sites but mostly these were not easy to discern without a guide as a pile of stones is pretty common around here. We saw a numbers of abandoned stone barns and houses today. Brilynn, you would have been delighted.

We are glad that sheep and cows are not aggressive as we shared their fields continuously. To pass through each field we had to open and close a gate or climb a stile.  In this area all stiles are made of stone and known as slot stiles. It helps to have long legs to climb over these stiles as well as for climbing many of the fells. Big feet are more problematic, lots of places to get them wedged.

Again we did not pass through any village in nearly eight hours of walking. No cappuccino!

Flying Over the Pond

Sunday – Monday, May 22-23, 2016

One of the frustrations of flying is having to arrive three hours prior to our flight so that we can line up and line up and line up again at the airport, most notably at Pearson in Toronto. The very good news is that Brilynn dropped us off at the departure doors and we dashed through check-in, sauntered to security, saw huge lineups but miraculously we made it through security without even having to remove our boots and the total time from front door to past security was seventeen minutes. This even included my being randomly selected to have my hands scanned for explosive residue. I passed even though the checker was a comedian who tried to scare me.

It is a glorious sunny day with a temperature of 25C in Toronto. I rolled up my pant legs and stayed barefoot in the car. Putting hiking boots on was not too appealing. The forecast for the Lake District does not look as warm or dry, but forecasts can be wrong, n’est-ce pas? Ever hopeful!

Brilynn gave us a mini-lesson on turning iPhone communication apps off and on. Always a pleasure to have a visit and snacks with Jim and Lynn. Stephanie came in time for hugs too.

Above the clouds dawn was spectacular in rosy hues. Brian always manages to sleep more than me on these night flights. I watched interesting videos about Iceland. Below the clouds, we encountered rain and 6C. I almost did not bring my red jacket. So glad I have it. Marilyn will say I will be over-dressed for hiking, but in the non-hiking times I will be cozy.

The chicken Caesar pizza and salad we had in Toronto was well past digested by 2:45 AM, changed to 6:45AM in Kevlavik airport. We had time for a cappuccino that was delicious but too small. We shared a grilled ham and cheese, Icelandic granola bar and yogourt: Skyr. Our stomachs will stop rumbling now. We had comfortable extra leg room seats but Icelandair, as with most airlines was not generous with food. Juice and water can only sustain one so long.

We had an hour ten minute delay after boarding our plane for Manchester. There is a shortage of control tower staff today. The line was much slower in Kevlavik for boarding. Brilynn will be glad to know we were successful in scanning our tickets. Many others were not.

Since we had to sit all that extra time on the tarmac, I was able to watch the whole comedy, In My Shoes. Brian slept.

Jim was waiting for us front and centre. Yeah! Thick Chicken Mulligatawny soup and a roll were a welcome lunch en route to Gosforth. Everything is so green in England. All the trees are in full leaf. Rhododendrons are gorgeous. Yellow laburnum are showing off as purple wisteria, still fragrant, are fading.

The highlight of today was lounging in sunshine in Jim’s garden sipping Gin and Tonic and catching up with Jim. 14C is a good temperature. All the clouds have disappeared. The sky is a serene blue. We walked around the village after roast chicken, salad and ice cream.

After more of than 36 hours with very little sleep, bed is calling us even though it is still light!

El Camino de Rio Maitland

I don't know this one!

I don’t know this one!

There are so many great places to visit in Ontario. Walking one of the many hiking trails gives me detailing that I would miss by other travelling modes. Thanks to my friend, Fran, I became aware of one of these Ontario treasures this past weekend.

Fran and a group of her friends are planning on doing the Camino across the north of Spain in the fall of 2015 and have been in training mode doing daily walking, longer hikes and reading and viewing all things about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Coincidentally my sister, Margaret, and I are planning on walking this same 800 kilometre ancient pilgrim route in April 2015. Margaret does not need to do extra training has she has been a hiker unleashed ever since I started her on the Bruce Trail about four or five years ago. Margaret has since completed the entire 880 kilometres of the Bruce Trail as well as many more kilometres in End to End hikes. She is now working on her second time of completing the whole hike as she accompanies others on this journey. My own hiking has been more modest; so, it is time for me to wear out more boots.

On Friday I drove to Goderich where I was received with hugs and beer by my cousin, Con, and his wife, Cindy, in their charming home fifty percent of which they are just finishing rebuilding following the 2011 tornado. Better bed and breakfast hosts do not exist! I could elaborate on this and childhood memories of stays in Goderich, but I will proceed with my hiking adventure.

Con and Cindy had arranged for their friend, John, to pick me up at 6 AM on Saturday to drive me to Benmiller where people were ready to shuttle us to Auburn to the start of the 49 kilometre Maitland River Trail. While waiting there, Fran and fellow hikers arrived and I drove with them to the trail head. As they were waiting for others to arrive, I began that day’s 29 kilometre hike on my own. I found companions on my journey and chatted with many about hiking and the many Caminos in Spain, Portugal and those leading to Santiago from elsewhere in Europe. Hikers are a cheerful group, very willing to share.

As I followed the white trail blazes and found my pace, which was faster than the average hiker, I passed several pairs, triads and groups before I caught up with Christina from Haliburton whose pace more evenly matched mine. We found ourselves losing the trail twice and in the second instance foolishly wandered farther than necessary in search of the river instead of returning to the last known blaze. We easily added a kilometre to our journey before figuring out that we needed to turn before the marked blaze and pull ourselves straight uphill by aid of a rubber hose. We were not the only wanderers at this turn. We were joined by Doug, a lost soul from Oshawa, who decided he should stop hiking on his own and join a group so that he would not lose his way again. Nothing quite like losers joining losers! We three enjoyed that day’s remaining fifteen kilometres together, and only lost the trail one more time.

Maitland River awakening

Maitland River awakening

The Maitland River trail has of course more uphills than downhills, at least I felt as if I huffed uphill more than I slid downhill. That might have been my lungs telling my brain that more than reality, but there were some steep steps up through beautiful forest. Volunteers have spent many hours building these steps as well as delightful bridges some with handrails, many with shingles on the wood to prevent slipping. We owe much to volunteers in Ontario!

On day one I did not see as much of the Maitland River as I thought I would, partly because I was staring at my feet, ensuring proper footing and avoiding sinking into mud as Doug was. A good part of the trail was within earshot of the river but leaves often obscured the view. But what colourful leaves! Fall is a feast for the eyes! Some road walking took us past tall corn fields, plentiful soya bean crops, and through small villages.

What is this?

I was always delighted to arrive at a checkpoint where cheerful volunteers applauded my arrival, stamped my map “passport” with stickers or stamps of butterflies, frogs and other happy creatures, and fed me. There was water to refill my bottle, fruit (different at every station) and cookies or squares. Best of all were the high backed camp chairs that I sank into for a few minutes of rest.

There were a few places along the trail where we saw the devastation of the tornado. The river was in plain view from steep hills that looked as if a forest slashing operation had occurred. Great birches, maples, beeches and spruce crisscrossed down the slope. Again it was obvious that volunteers had been at work building steps that mud was overtaking, and bridges over streams coursing round fallen trees.

2011 tornado still leaves its toll

2011 tornado still leaves its toll

Volunteers have also been busy replacing the kilometre markers. What a joy it was to see each kilometre marker, a symbol of our journey progressing well.

waterfalls and meandering stream

waterfalls and meandering stream

The last few hundred metres were uphill, of course, to the Benmiller Community Hall. I was pleased that Doug was able to give me a ride back to Goderich. I found Cindy and Con on the front porch where they questioned what I was doing there. They thought that 2:30 PM was much too early to be done the trail. I had completed the thirty kilometre hike in seven hours and fifteen minutes. I think that is a Margaret walking speed.

Happily I had no blisters. Properly fitting socks and hiking boots or shoes are essential. I think I now have these. I have not always fared so well. I revelled in the hot shower as it soothed my shoulder muscles. Although I started hiking in ten degree Celsius, I finished in 24C weather, glad that I had worn shorts and layered my upper body with two long sleeved shirts which I shed as I walked. I used one walking stick which was especially useful on slippery down slopes, but two sticks would have been better.

Just before arriving at the railway bridge at the entry to Goderich, I was hailed by a cyclist. Cousin Karen swooped in for a kiss. How many hikers were kissed by a passing cyclist that day?

My cousin, Ruth, came by for a visit while I rested with my feet elevated. It’s so wonderful to visit with cousins that I only usually see at our annual family reunion. With the advent of Facebook, we meet more frequently in photos and snippets!

Ruth dropped me off at the Legion where I dined with Fran and company. A local chef prepared a fine turkey feast. Our table was among the first to fill up at the buffet. What luck!

An entertaining auctioneer drew money out of the crowd faster than the rapids on the Maitland River. Three small bags of lettuce sold for $6, $7 and $8. All went to a good cause…the Maitland River Trail Association.

I walked home through the Goderich Square under a fully starry night, the same stars that shone on my early morning. I smiled as a shooting star fell before me blessing my day. I tumbled into bed grateful to be horizontal.

On Sunday morning I slept in until 6:30. After slowly rolling upright, I found that I could not bend over to reach my socks on the floor. Bending to splash my face with water required major acrobatics. I did some gentle yoga stretches to make my body move. The day ahead was looking frightening.

After oatmeal, fruit, yogourt and coffee, all of which was I was able to quickly assemble thanks to my great hosts, I drove to the beach pavilion to get my shuttle to Benmiller. I started my hiking with Janet from London and enjoyed amiable conversation for the first hour or so after which I moved ahead and walked the remaining fifteen kilometres mostly on my own.

2014 amazing fall colour

I saw a lot more of the Maitland River and stopped more frequently for photos. Sunday was warmer than Saturday; so, I was glad I had opted for hiking shoes rather than boots. The first checkpoint offered hard boiled Amish eggs and fruit. The last checkpoint proffered popcorn sour gummies. All offerings were delicious.

I remembered to swing my arms in circles now and then to relieve my shoulder muscles. I was feeling better all over by the end of the second day.

I finished the 20 kilometres in four hours and thirty-five minutes. I was holding my Maitland Camino badge in one hand and a grape popsicle in the other when Doug completed his hike. He had started out twenty minutes after me. We both sat on the Lake Huron shore and cooled our feet in the water. A choice ending for a memorable hike.

For trail badge collectors, this is a beauty!

For trail badge collectors, this is a beauty!