I was fortunate to grow up in a small town of only a few thousand people with a significant group of enthusiastic Italian soccer fanatics. Lucky for me they shared their passion for the sport through building an amazing youth soccer program.
Although I don’t play anymore, and don’t really keep up with the European premier leagues, it’s still an exciting time when the World Cup rolls around every 4 years. Alas, I am Canadian, and as such, rarely get to cheer for my home country during the competition. So how do I choose a team?
Ancestral roots would dictate that I cheer for Ireland or England but again Ireland didn’t make the cut. So the only logical choice left is England.
I will cheer my heart out for them but I have little faith that England will last very long past the qualifiers. I have doubts that they can handle the heat and the first game proved to be a cramping experience for a couple of players. I know what you’re saying “I have no loyalty!” But I would like to be yelling at the TV well into the knockout rounds so I need a number 2 team. The choices get emotional from this point on. Do I pick a team because of some coincidental ambiguous connection? Or a single favorite player? Or their jersey color? Or the underdog? Or their enthusiastic crazy fans? ………..
I’m choosing a couple of 2nd teams for no particularly good reason. Argentina will be one of my 2nd teams from a connection dating back to my youth. My dad used to feed a 30ft cable through the rafters of the basement and out through a window into the backyard so he could watch the games outside in the summer sun while barbecuing. I remember watching the start of an Argentina game with him when Maridona walked out on the field approached a ball and showed off his amazing juggling skills without missing a step. I wished so badly that I had those skill. A number of years later Argentina came back into the forefront of my consciousness in a significant way as I became obsessed with learning about Chez Guavera after a trip to Cuba. It is on my bucket list to visit Argentina some day.
My other second choice is based solely on the crazy fans and the color of the jersey. Go Netherlands!! And have they delivered already!! An amazing first goal by Robin Van Persie as he sacrificed himself as he flew through the air like Superman to head the ball into the back of Spain’s net. Amazing!!!
These are my completely irrational team picks for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Thankfully I will have no problem choosing my team for the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015! Go Canada!!!
How did you choose your team?
Destination: Victoria (or Vancouver if you go in reverse)
Mode of Transportation: Bicycle
Route Taken: Vancouver to Victoria
There is challenging terrain to traverse, amazingly wild beaches to explore, eccentric artisans to meet, and cute little villages to visit on Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands, all accessible from the BC Ferries Tsawwassen Terminal.
But how do you get there by bike?
I quite frequently commute between Vancouver and Victoria and must admit that when I first started (about 5 years ago) the Massey Tunnel seemed to be the most insurmountable obstacle to overcome. Not only did I have to find the pick-up point for the shuttle but also had to become a scheduling mastermind to coordinate which tunnel shuttle I had to be on to catch the ferry I wanted. Did I mention bicyclists are banned from riding through the tunnel? Thankfully there is a shuttle and slowly, year by year, the hours seem to be improving as more people use it.
The alternative is to ride over the Alex Fraser Bridge, an additional 25 km added to the trip, or take the bus. Keep in mind there are only 2 bike racks on a bus and you might have to ride to the Ladner Exchange to catch one that isn’t already full.
The “Route Taken,” above, links to my usual route map so I won’t comment too heavily on the actual route. I will focus more on the “secret handshakes” that I found were not quite so clear no matter how many websites I visited.
I have not yet found an easy way to traverse across Richmond in the North/South direction towards the Massey Tunnel bike shuttle. Perhaps Shell Road gravel trail is the safest route as far as interacting with traffic, but I always seem to be running late so I opt for the paved roads. Often times, other shuttle riders pass me en route and recognize a fellow shuttle rider. Unspoken etiquette is whoever gets there first lets the shuttle driver know there is another person coming. He usually waits. The secret handshake here is that the pick-up/drop-off spot is on the east side of the highway 99 (not the Richmond Visitors Bureau as the website implies) so follow Rice Mill road over the 99 and turn left through the do not enter signs. There will be a bench and sign on the left side of the road. You can load your own bike onto the shuttle or wait for the driver to help you. This section of the ride from Vancouver to the Massey Tunnel Shuttle is approximately 20km depending on where you are coming from.
Take a time out to relax through the tunnel. The shuttle drop-off/pick-up point on the other side is the Shell Gas Station (again, not the Town and Country Inn as the website implies). The first few times I took the shuttle I didn’t know about the easy back road route to the ferries and risked my life negotiating the traffic interchange onto highway 17a. Thankfully on one of my tours another shuttle rider showed me the safer way which I’ve mapped in the “Route Taken.” Other shuttle riders are a great resource for finding new, safer routes.
Another possibly not so clear section is crossing under highway 99. Follow 64th Street until it almost crashes into the 99. The road turns left here but there is a path heading to the right that goes under the highway and then joins back with 64th Street. The rest of the route is fairly clear on the map. Just remember when you get to the ferry terminal on a bike, you can go to any one of the kiosks. Pick one with no line-up. It doesn’t matter where it says it’s selling tickets for. You can buy a ticket for Victoria from a kiosk that says Nanaimo.
Once you reach Swartz Bay Terminal it’s another 35km to Victoria. The choices are cruising down the highway drafting with the vehicle traffic or taking the Lochside trail. I usually take the highway, it’s got a very wide smooth shoulder and I can make it to Victoria before the city bus does. Gives me some sense of satisfaction. The Lochside Trail takes a bit longer as it is a combination of paved pathways, rural roads, dirt and gravel trails and trestle bridges. But there are no hills and the scenery is a lot more fun AND it is completely doable on a bike with skinny tires. The “Route Taken” map shows the Lochside Trail option. It is well signed so no more comments from me until reaching Victoria.
The Lochside Trail connects with the famous Galloping Goose trail just under Carey Road in Victoria. At this point the more direct route into the city is to ride back up a steep, but short path to the Carey Road crosswalk and then along Ravine way to the Pat Bay Highway which has a bicycle lane all the way into Victoria. The return trip at this point will be a little different as the North and South lanes are separated. On the return trip there is a parking lot for a Saanich Municipal building just after Ravine Way on the right. Turn right, into the parking lot and ride straight back until you see the Lochside Trail on your right.
So give yourself a pat on the back! You made it from Vancouver to Victoria (or Victoria to Vancouver) by bicycle. A total of approximately 70km ridden!
This is a great way to get back and forth between Vancouver and Victoria. It’s good exercise, not too challenging terrain with some natural built-in rest stops. Just to give an idea on how much time this tour might take, I usually leave from work near King Edward Ave and Cambie Street around 4pm and ride hard (about 27kph on the flats in Richmond) to the 5pm shuttle. It’s a good idea to leave in plenty of time because if you miss the shuttle it sets the whole schedule off by an hour. With no messing around on the south side of the tunnel I immediately get on my bike and ride hard again to catch the 6pm ferry but in reality there is often a headwind and I don’t feel too bad about easing up on the pedals and rolling on to the 7pm ferry. The ferry takes another 1:35 of rest and refuel time. Riding into Victoria from the ferry along the highway usually takes about 1:20 but I would guess it takes about 2hrs on the Lochside Trail. I sometimes make a day of my return trip on Sunday and take my time to sight-see along the Lochside Trail so I don’t have a good estimate of how long it really takes. Best case scenario the trip takes about 5hrs!
Route Taken: Richmond Loop Iona Beach
It was a beautiful day for a bike ride on Saturday so I went for a wee ride around sunny Richmond. Richmond is a great place for early season riding. It doesn’t rain as much as Vancouver and it is flat. The one drawback is wind but you can’t have everything and at least half of the ride has the wind at your back.
Check the link above for the route taken. After crossing the sky train bridge from Vancouver I usually head west past the casino towards the airport. The ride down Ferguson Road to Iona Beach is a dream with little traffic and quite a number of other cyclists. It is a very popular stretch of road for training rides. It’s also quite exciting to feel the “awesome power” of planes as they fly over head on their landing approach or take off from the airport.
Heading back from Iona Beach the route turns south through Burkeville and then onto a brand new bike path towards No. 2 Road bridge.
There is a bike route to the right after the bridge that I use to make my way to Railway Avenue, another long straight stretch to Steveston. Railway has a designated bike lane for faster riders but also a brand new multi-use path runs along it. It’s set back from the road and great for less confident riders. At the end of Railway the route loops counter clockwise around to the historical Britannia Shipyard (A pleasant place to explore on a sunny day) and then heads in an eastward direction.
The next leg of the ride is a scenic cruise along the dyke by the river. It meanders away from the river, through some farm fields and then back along the dyke. The section connecting No. 5 Road to Sidaway road is a bit complicated so read the route map carefully. The route heads north along Sidaway road towards Westminster Highway where it turns east again. There is a choice of riding on the road along Westminster or riding on the bike path. The bike path is a bit sketchy with the number of hidden driveways so I would suggest faster riders ride on the road.
The route passes under the East-West Connector just past the railway tracks and eventually rejoins the now northbound Westminster Highway just after the the big S-curve by the fire station. This road is a designated bike route and after a short jaunt the route heads back westward along River Road.
The Richmond Iona Beach Loop is a very popular ride for cyclists and you are bound to encounter many groups along this route. I look forward to seeing more people taking advantage of this route!
I alluded to a failure of my gopro hero2 in a previous post about Maui. My preferred underwater camera was having some repairs done (under warranty, thankfully) but the way gopro promotes their cameras as being capable of amazing underwater photography, I thought, no problem. I’ll still be able to get some great footage of colourful coral reef and tropical fish. In the past, I had not really considered using gopro because of its wide angle aspect and inability to zoom in. The subjects of gopro photography usually appear to be much farther away than they really are.
I had no means for viewing the footage I took while in Maui so had to wait until I got home. The photos and video taken above the ocean surface were as clear and crisp as expected but the underwater footage was a blurry blue waste of time. I guess I had expected the blue tinge because there are no underwater settings and I don’t have a filter but I was not expecting every photo and video to be so unfocused. From past experience I know it is hard to get perfectly clear photos of fish since they are in constant motion and I am also bobbing up and down on the surface but even if the fish aren’t in focus, the coral usually is. I immediately began my internet search wanting to know if other people had experienced the same issue. I came across this very informative site that also provided some 3rd party solutions. Apparently, it’s the waterproof housing that is the culprit. The domed cover acts as a lens itself when immersed in water, changing the focal point of the camera’s fixed focus lens. The solution is as simple as flattening the lens cover, which Gopro has rectified in its newest Gopro hero3.
Here are some examples of how fantastic gopro hero2 is in the terrestrial environment and how less-than-spectacular it is in the marine environment.
These last two photos were taken with my regular underwater point and shoot camera (Fuji Finepix) in the San Blas Islands. Much better clarity than the gopro hero2 (with factory housing).
Unfortunately my Fuji was beyond repair, however, they did send me a bright yellow newer version of my old camera. Thank you Fuji! I have high expectations for my new “Big Yellow.”
Just back from a week long trip to Maui. I love it there! Plenty of sun, a little bit of rain, lots of snorkeling and a rainbow or two.
After weeks of miserable cold and rain on the “Wet Coast.” It was time to head somewhere tropical. With just a short stretch of time off, it made the most sense to go somewhere relatively close to Vancouver with non-stop direct flights, a familiar landscape and tried, tested and truly excellent snorkeling …… it’s not my first trip to Maui.
A little bit of Maui …………
Maui vacations are typically car-centric. I’ve tried doing the back packer thing in the past and there is no question that having access to a vehicle provides more freedom. The public transit is getting much better between Lahaina and Kihei (they actually keep a schedule now) but getting to places that are farther off the beaten track is a bit tricky without a car.
Maui tip #1 Reserve your car well in advance. Its the only way to secure the car you want at the best price. I’ve witnessed the consequences of failing to do this …… of the 10 or so rental agencies near the airport, only a single car was available at a premium price.
Snorkelling was the first order of business after getting settled into the exotic Makai Inn. I’m not an expert snorkeler by any stretch and I have never gone diving but I do love to paddle around spotting colourful creatures under the water. Here’s a link to My snorkel map which shows some pretty great spots. And here’s a sampling of what was beneath the surface ….
Also of note, were the whales breaching off Honolua point. While swimming in the bay, I shot some terrible under water video with my gopro hero2 (topic for a future blog) and when reviewing it afterwards noted that the camera’s microphone picked up the sounds of Humpback whale songs. That was a pleasant surprise.
Maui tip #2 Bring a long sleeved sun shirt or rash guard to wear in the water. Sun screen is poisonous to the fish and corals.
Maui tip #3 I’ve been to Maui two other times, in September/October and November. It was HOT and HUMID! March, not so much. Not too hot unless you’re standing in direct sun and much less humid than other times of the year.
The Road to Hana is a scenic and very winding road through a lush tropical rain forest. There are numerous waterfalls, dream like vistas and about 60 bridges many of which are single lane. It takes the whole day to go 85km from Kahului to Hana and back. In my opinion though, the end of the road is Haleakala National park which is another 11 miles past Hana. The hike to Waimoku falls is a “must do,” as is a dip in the Ohe’o Gulch. I have only ever taken one day to do this adventure but the next time I go I will certainly be making it a two day excursion with an over night stay in Hana. There is just too much to experience in one day.
Maui tip #4 Take 2 days to explore the Road to Hana. Take your time and enjoy the scene.
Maui tip #5 If there are more than 3 cars following behind you on the road to Hana, it’s time to pull over at the next pull-out and let them pass.
Scenes along the Road to Hana …..
Maui tip #6 All beaches in Maui are public, including those that front major resorts. Resorts must provide public access to these beaches so find yourself a parking spot and walk right in.
Haleakala crater is a complete contrast to the rest of Maui. It is a cold, dry, windy moonscape and at 10,000+ feet is usually above the clouds. It is the only place on earth where the silversword plant lives. Unfortunately it is evident that global warming is threatening their habitat. I have never witnessed a sunset from Haleakala but I have seen some awe inspiring sun rises and would recommend them to anyone. This requires committing to a 3:30am wake up call and on the road by 4:00am. It is worth it!
Maui tip #7 Dress warmly if you are going up to Haleakala. It is winter up there. I am not kidding! The car thermometer read 28°C in Lahaina and dropped to 6°C at the summit of Haleakala. There were ice crystals on the ground!
Some places are worth visiting again and again and again …..
Maui, I will be back ……..
Spring skiing in Garibaldi Park has potential for greatness – see picture above.
The plan for the weekend was to get in a ski day at Garibaldi Park. The weather in Vancouver was questionable, as it usually is, at 8°C and overcast with rainfall warnings in effect. Looking over at the North Shore mountains, the clouds were pretty high and light so we thought we’d take our chances. Big Mistake! Pulling into the chain up area just short of the Diamond Head access to Garibaldi Park, the outside temperature read 3°C and the deluge had started. The probability of getting above the snow line didn’t look good. Ah well, better luck next time ………..
Plan B …….. A rainy hike up the Chief.
Destination: Powder Creek Lodge
For the last 3 years I have kindly been invited on a ski touring adventure with a great group of outdoor enthusiasts. We typically helicopter into a remote lodge in the mountains and spend the week hunting for great powder lines. This year was our second tour to Powder Creek just east of Kaslo BC in the Purcell Mountains. After a short helicopter ride over the mountains, we landed at the lodge to discover a fresh 130cm of Kootenay powder had fallen in the last 48hrs and the temperature was hovering around -20°C. We were definitely not in Vancouver any more. It hasn’t been a great snow year so far in the Coast Mountains (Mt Washington on Vancouver Island even had to close for a while) so 130cm of fresh was a huge deal!
The week started with some fantastic blue bird days. Avalanche hazard was high on all slope aspects so we opted not to venture out to some of the crazy places of yore but found some fun pillowy safer lines in the trees near the lodge. I’ll let the pictures do the talking ……..
The lodge is warm and surprisingly luxurious considering it is completely off the grid. You won’t find TV or internet or phone service here. Power comes from solar cells that charge a bank of batteries and the hot shower is actually a bucket full of hot water heated in the sauna (yes, I did say sauna) and then hoisted overhead. The indoor toilets are liquids only and there are two solids incinerator toilets on a raised platform outside ……… must remember to dress warmly and no lingering! The lodge is a great place to chill out and unplug. We usually opt to do a self-catered and self-guided trip to Powder Creek. Everybody pairs up and provides one dinner and one breakfast for the group. Lunches we provide for ourselves and eat out on the slopes.
Our next stop was Cayos Chichime where we anchored over night. We were immediately approached by another 3 Kuna men in a dugout canoe filled with live lobsters. We bought 4 lobsters for the exorbitant price of $20 and had a feast on the deck. Yum!!!
After the lobster feast we got down to the business of snorkeling. I’ve been looking forward to this since I joined Atraxia in Huatulco, Mexico. No tropical vacation is complete for me without a day observing life under the sea. We jumped off the boat and snorkeled around the hull.
At this point Captain Ron decided I had to prove my swimming skills, as everyone who joins the boat does, and do a full lap around the hull. I raised my eyebrow and chuckled to myself and then did as he asked …. I didn’t point out that I probably wouldn’t have jumped, of my own free will, into the Pacific Ocean 100 nautical miles off shore if I didn’t know how to swim (see post Atraxia I – The Open Ocean).
The current was a bit strong and the water was a bit murky as we were anchored in a channel between two islands. The low angle of evening light also didn’t help with the visibility. There were some interesting things to see out there nonetheless. I could definitely see great potential for this area.
The next morning we moved on to another island in the Chichime group at 9°33.763N, 078°51.787W. We jumped off the boat again and swam along a sandbar to the island checking out the bottom which was mostly eel grass, sea stars and urchins …… very beautiful and clear with the sun at just the right aspect. Brian swam out to where the waves were crashing and stood up on a sand bar to wave me over. I tried to find my way out but every way seemed to be blocked by really shallow eel grass on the sandbar. How did he get out there?!?!?! Finally I decided to go for it and had the creepy eel grass brushing my belly as I swam by. When I finally got out there it was an amazing reef with some exciting corals. Brain corals (possibly the inspiration for the mola patterns), staghorn corals, pipe organ corals, sea stars, urchins, sea cucumbers and many different types of fish. We decided to swim back to the boat along the edge of the reef and as we swam, it just got better and better. More diverse coral shapes and colourful fish. The best snorkelling was about 30 feet from the starboard side of the boat. Surprise! I wish we had more time there ………..
We moved on from there to Cayo Hollandes where we anchored for the night in another channel between two small islands 9°35.899N, 078°46.528W. We went snorkeling again, not much to see so we swam ashore and circumnavigated the island on foot ….. all 2 km of it. Encountered the most gigantic conch shells I have ever seen. They are much heavier than you’d think.
The next day we headed deeper into the Hollandes narrowly avoiding a disastrous landing on a submerged rock as we tried to approach a small sandy cay with potentially awesome snorkeling. Having been to the Great Barrier Reef, I can attest to the potential awesomeness of snorkeling near a sand cay surrounded by boat sinking reefs. Captain Ron decided to abort the mission due to strong winds and current making navigation sketchy so we sailed on to Cayos limon.
After arriving at Cayos Limon, Brian went exploratory snorkeling of Elefante Island while the rest of the group went to Elephante Island in search of a good internet connection. I stayed aboard for a chill session. Turns out the snorkeling around Elefante Island is not that great but somehow Brian convinced me to go snorkeling on the far side of the other island in the Limon group. It was spooky at first as the water was murky in the lagoon but when we finally got around the corner to the exposed side of the island and out of the eel grass the water cleared and the coral appeared. We had to swim out to where the waves were crashing to find the good corals. A little scary to realize that the good corals are out in the danger zone where the waves are crashing.
An observation I cannot pass on commenting on is the amount of garbage that is accumulating on the shores of the San Blas Islands. It is disheartening to know how much effort I put into finding places to recycle or reuse everything right down to my old ski boots. I try to make an effort to asses whether or not I even need an item before I buy it with the knowledge that it will someday end up in a landfill. My toaster and kettle are someone else’s cast offs and work perfectly fine. I do not need a shiny new iphone every year. This is a small example of my attempts at reducing my impact and I am by no means perfect in this struggle. It is hard not to succumb to the pressures of a disposable culture. But I see the flotsam in oceans (Pacific and Caribbean) and the shores of the San Blas Islands and I wonder if there is any hope for the future of places like this. Who is going to clean this up? What are you doing?
My time is up and we are now heading back to Shelter Bay. I will leave Atraxia in Shelter Bay, take a cab back to Panama City and head back to work in Vancouver. I’m sad to leave this adventure behind ………. hopefully it won’t be long until another one presents itself.
Thank you Captain Ron and First Mate Johanna and Atraxia for this unique experience!
Read the continuing story here:
From the Panama Canal we sailed through the night towards the San Blas Islands. After a couple of weeks of relief from the sea sickness it returned with a vengeance in the Caribbean. The water was much more turbulent than it had been on the Pacific side. My first watch was at midnight and I was in no condition for it so Brian took it thankfully. I woke up about 45 minutes later still feeling awful and managed to stay focused for about an hour and a half. It was the best I could do.
Later in the morning we arrived in San Blas home of the Kuna Indians. Captain Ron had to clear us in again. Apparently San Blas considers themselves a separate region from Panama. While waiting on board Atraxia for his return, we were approached by several Kuna men in dugout canoes asking if we wanted diesel and to take our trash, for a fee. Not sure where they were intending on taking the trash as it is doubtful there is an actual sanitary garbage site in the area. None of the islands are more than a 10 minute walk across and are barely above sea level. We chose to hold on to our trash for now.
The San Blas islands don’t seem to be more than about 1 meter above sea level and some near the main village of Porvenir appear to be built up with berms and are possibly slightly below sea level. Many of the structures are built out over the water on stilts including the outhouses which are reminiscent of the opening scenes of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The Kuna people live off the grid for the most part, with no running water or electricity or sewage treatment. Touring the village it was hard not to notice the solar panels and bright red Claro Satellite dishes on the palm thatch roofs. It was also apparent that the roofs are the fresh water catchment areas with troughs leading to big plastic collection barrels.
A major source of income for the families are the needlework craft made by the women called mola. The Kuna women typically dress in traditional brightly coloured wrap skirts and blouses with a patterned mola panel on the front and a second on the back. The outfit is finished with a colourful headscarf and bead bands covering their lower legs from ankle to knee and forearms from wrist to elbow. They shy away from the camera and move into the shadows unless, of course, you offer money for a good photograph. Another source of income is coconuts which the men are primarily responsible for harvesting and selling.
After a brief introduction to the Kuna culture, we are ready to board Atraxia and again set sail for some lesser populated San Blas Islands. After all, there are almost 380 islands in the archipelago and according to wikipedia only 49 of them are populated. Looking forward to some great snorkeling ………..