Weekend getaway to Dubuque, Iowa

By Michael Carignan

Dawn and I took our annual anniversary trip to Dubuque, Iowa again this year, however we were a little later than most years. This year we waited until mid May to go because the dog races didn’t start for the year until then and that’s one of our favorite activities in Dubuque.

Dubuque is a couple hour drive from home, longer if you make any stops or take back roads along the way. We both took back roads and made a few stops so it was twice that long.

We headed south out of North Freedom on Co. PF then west on Co. W to Hwy. 23 south through Plain to Spring Green. Our arrival in Spring Green put us in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley and we followed the river west on Hwy. 60 to Gotham and Muscoda. We took our first leg-stretcher at a boat landing about two miles upriver from Muscoda. The water was high and moving right along as it too was headed for the Mississippi River.

The Wisconsin River from the boat landing two miles east of Muscoda.
The Wisconsin River from the boat landing two miles east of Muscoda.

Back on the road we drove into Muscoda where the community was getting ready for its annual Morel Mushroom Festival. The two-day festival started the following day so we planned to catch the tail end of it on our return trip home.

We missed the turnoff for our intended route out of Muscoda so it was time to get out the Gazetteer and find a different route. We decided on Co. G to Co. Q and then into Fennimore. The county roads wound through some prime example of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, the area the last glaciers totally missed. The landscape rose and fell regularly like the tides as farmhouses dotted the rolling hills and deep cut valleys bursting with the prime of springtime foliage and wildflowers.

We made our second leg stretcher in Fennimore with a stop at a small bakery on the east side of town and then for a sandwich at a tavern downtown. The cheesecake from the bakery was excellent and the sandwiches were pretty tasty as well.

Back on the road, we proceeded south on Hwy. 61 to Lancaster where we headed southwest on Hwy. 81 to Beetown in search of a cheese factory we never found. After a short search we continued on to Cassville to ride Wisconsin’s oldest ferry.

Aboard the Cassville Car Ferry.
Aboard the Cassville Car Ferry.

Dating back to 1833, the Cassville Car Ferry, now named “The Pride of Cassville,” is Wisconsin’s oldest ferry service. For $15, a car and its passengers can cross the Mississippi River and travel from Wisconsin to Iowa or vice versa on a short but scenic maybe a half mile cruise. The two-man crew was friendly and knowledgeable about the ferry itself and the scenic river frontage.

A barge running the "Big Muddy."
A barge running the “Big Muddy.”
Cassville from the ferry.
Cassville from the ferry.

Once in Iowa we continued south on the Great River Road for the final 30 miles of our trip to Dubuque. The Great River Road travels along the river and then up along the ridge overlooking the Mississippi River Valley.

The view of the Mississippi River Valley from a turn-out on the Great River Road north of Dubuque.
The view of the Mississippi River Valley from a turn-out on the Great River Road north of Dubuque.

We checked in to our motel and after settling in decided to head for Diamond Joe’s Casino for a little fun on the slots and then splurging with the buffet. With bellies full and a few extra bucks in my pocket we called it a day.

The following morning we made our way downtown to the farmers’ market. Dubuque’s farmers’ market is located around City Hall covering about a four-block area on side streets and in parking lots. With being early in the year there wasn’t a lot of produce but many venders had plants, both vegetable and flowers, ready for planting. As always there was a wide variety of excellent foods ready to eat as well as cheeses, meats, beverages, crafts and more.

We wandered around the farmers’ market for an hour or so and then headed back to the motel for a brief rest until it was time to head to the dog track. It was opening day for the dogs, but it was also the day of the running of the horses in the Preakness at Pimlico. I did alright with the dogs and also made out pretty well on the slots. We finished out the day with supper at the buffet at Mystique Casino.

First thing the next morning I hit the swimming pool and hot tub to get the blood moving and enjoy a little me time while Dawn hit the exercise room. Our plan for the morning was to visit the Mississippi River Museum before heading back home. To get there we had to go through downtown Dubuque and so we decided to find a nice family restaurant for breakfast. We discovered a place, which I won’t name. The food was very good. The service, however, left a little to be desired.

After breakfast we headed for the museum.

The main entrance to National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
The main entrance to National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is the property of the Dubuque Historical Society and has been an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute since 2002. A large part of Dubuque’s history, like so many other communities, has played out along the river. River industries built the city, made it prosper and thrive. The museum spells out a good deal of that history from pre-settlement to modern day. Through the eyes of man and through the eyes natural world around him, the story is told complete.

A turtle in one of the aquariums.
A turtle in one of the aquariums.
An octopus clings to the walls of one of the aquariums.
An octopus clings to the walls of one of the aquariums.

Over a dozen aquariums feature wildlife representative of that found along the river, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. There are outdoor exhibits, featuring river otters, a marsh, and other artifacts such as a variety of boats, steam boilers, a blacksmith shop, and even a raptor aviary complete with bald eagles. There’s even a miniature replica of the typical paddleboat author Mark Twain traveled on and so dearly loved.

Artifact of daily life along the river.
Artifact of daily life along the river.
One of the many riverboats belonging to the museum and open to the public.
One of the many riverboats belonging to the museum and open to the public.
Author Mark Twain whispers the meaning of a passage from his book into Dawn's ear. Dawn seems a little shocked.
Author Mark Twain whispers the meaning of a passage from his book into Dawn’s ear. Dawn seems a little shocked.

We were a week too early to catch the traveling exhibit of the Titanic, which is at the museum from May 23 to September 7, 2015, but that’s okay because we had already seen that exhibit elsewhere. We did spend a great deal of time at the museum and enjoyed every minute of it.

Finally it was time to head home. We took Hwy. 151 east to Hwy. 61 and then turned north through Dickeyville, home of the famous Dickeyville Grotto, and all the way to Boscobel, making a stop at Carr Valley Cheese in Fennimore. At Boscobel we got on Hwy. 131 east and traveled along the Wisconsin River again, this time along the south shore.

We arrived in Muscada around 4 p.m. and most of the Morel Festival was over with but we did manage to score a pound of the delicacies at a very reasonable price. Umm, they were good.

We finished out the trip by going to Richland Center, through Ithaca and on to Loganville, Rock Springs and home.

Something learned, something enjoyed, once again.

 

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From mountains to the sea in Ecuador: Part 4

By Michael Carignan

On our first full day in the Galapagos Islands all those in our tour group gathered in the lobby area of the hotel, which is really an open covered area with a feel of being in the midst of nature. Once all 28 members of our group were assembled we began the trek to the dock and the water taxi to take us back into town where a bus awaited us. We boarded the bus and traveled to the north end of the island where our boats were waiting for us.

Our destination for the day was North Seymour Island and our guide, Mario, explained it was much quicker, by about two hours one-way, to drive to the boats there rather than board the boats at our hotel and cruise to our destination.

Along the route we passed an occasional tortoise along the road. Thankfully they weren’t in the road because I sure wouldn’t want to hit one, for various reasons.

Two boats awaited us and our group was split into two groups of 14. We took the pangas or zodiacs (small rubber boats that hold up to 20 people) from the dock to the boats and off we went. Our cruise lasted about an hour. Upon arrival we joined back up with the others and were given the option of either a longer, two-kilometer hike over rough, rocky terrain or a shorter, one kilometer hike with only a few rocks at the beginning and then solid ground or sand the remainder of the way. We were promised to see the same creatures on either route and would not be short-changed. Eight of us, including me and Dawn, chose the short route.

For the short trip were had a different naturalist guide, Valerio Repetto. I cannot say enough good things about this man. He was a wealth of knowledge and took me under his wing and went the extra mile in looking out for me. It was much appreciated.

Valerio Repetto with Dawn.
Valerio Repetto with Dawn.

By the time we started our trek, temperatures were in the low to mid 90s with fairly high humidity. Valerio said the high humidity was not characteristic of this time of year but said they were having more rain than usual as well.

From the very start of our walk we encountered wildlife. There was a pair of Galapagos doves doing a mating dance not 10 feet away from us. Next we discovered a lava lizard that was missing part of its tail. And then there was a male and female swallow-tailed gull with a baby, also only a few feet away. The swallow-tailed gull is the only gull in the world that feeds at night. They do so to avoid competition for food.

A lava lizard. Small lizards like this one were abundant in the Galopogos. In fact were often ate our meals with lizards near by.
A lava lizard. Small lizards like this one were abundant in the Galopogos. In fact were often ate our meals with lizards near by.
A swallow-tailed gull family. The swallow-tail gull is the only gull that feeds at night.
A swallow-tailed gull family. The swallow-tail gull is the only gull that feeds at night.

As we walk we learned about the flora as well.

Valerio pointed out numerous birds soaring in circles over the island. He said they were female frigate birds and it was mating season. The male frigate birds remained on the ground and build three to four nests each. When they are ready, the males inflate a very colorful, orange wind sack on the front of their necks and chest in an attempt to attract a mate. When the female spots a male she thinks she may want to mate with she goes down to him. But as Valerio pointed out she is more interested in the nests than the male bird. If he has built a suitable nest then she sits on it and eventually they mate. If she doesn’t like any of the nests she resumes her flight.

We reached an area where numerous males had built nests. I would guess there were 50 or more and they would take turns inflating their orange chests. Occasionally a female would come down. We were able to get within a few feet of some of them.

Male frigate birds on nests trying to attract a female.
Male frigate birds on nests trying to attract a female.

With all the rain the island had had there was a shallow pond in one spot and both males and females would fly over the pond and dip down into the water as they flew for a drink.

In another spot some sea lion pups were playing in the surf.

We eventually met up with the other group, many of whom had wished they had taken the shorter route because of the heat and the rough terrain.

We got back in our zodiacs and cruised along the rocky coast for a ways. We encountered a mother seas lion with a pup hauled out on some rocks and got within six feet of her. We also came within 10 feet of some blue-footed boobies perched on the rocks. Boobies are one of the birds the Galapagos are most noted for.

Blue footed boobies.
Blue footed boobies.

Back on our boats, some of the group suited up to go snorkeling. Dawn and I decided not to, mainly because they were going off the zodiacs, which did not have a good ladder for getting back into them. We hung out on the deck and took in the scenery.

When they returned, the boats took off for a beach not far away. Behind the main dune of the beach a small freshwater lake was dotted with flamingoes. Not native to the Galapagos they are believed to have been abandoned when young by their parents as they traveled through en route back to the Caribbean. The young survived and maintain a small flock.

A small flock of flamingos.
A small flock of flamingos.

The walking path on the beach was very restricted to protect sea turtle eggs that were buried in the sand. We didn’t see any sea turtles but were given time to go snorkeling off the beach and saw a variety of fish.

Then we headed back home.

The next day started much the same as the first and soon we were again aboard our boats this time headed for Plaza Island.

Before arriving there we were given another opportunity to go snorkeling. Some again went in the zodiac but Dawn and I went off the back of our boat, which was anchored near a rocky shoreline. The water temperature was very comfortable and we saw many different species of fish and rays, more even than what the others saw that went in the zodiacs. Dawn had purchased an underwater camera and this was a first experience for both of us on taking pictures under water. It wasn’t a real successful venture but it was also far from being a total loss.

Plaza Island is very small at just a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide.

At the docking area there were upwards of 30 sea lion pups. Some were swimming, some were hauled out and some were hiding under the rocks to stay cool. They could care less if we were there or not and seemed at times to actively pose for the camera. Getting within three feet of them was no problem.

 

After numerous photos again we split into two groups with one group taking a longer more strenuous hike and the others a shorter one but seeing all the same things. This time we had a few more people in our shorter tour. As we were beginning our hike, a grown male sea lion came by and let out a bellow to tell us to stay away from his pups. The males can grow to 600 pounds.

The island was abundantly covered with prickly pear cactus, which grow into tree size plants. Valerio pointed out that the cactus on this island hand long spines on them. He explained that in some parts of the islands they do not. It was a matter of whether land iguanas lived on the island. The land iguanas like to munch on the prickly pear leaves so the cactus tries to deter them with the spines.

Prickly pear cactus grow like trees.
Prickly pear cactus grow like trees.

There were many land iguanas on Plaza Island. They were considerably larger than the marine iguanas and were yellowish-brown in color. Again they found humans to be of no concern and you could walk right up to them without fear on either species’ part. It was also common to see a land iguana up in some of the small trees growing on the island.

A land iguana.
A land iguana.

After our hike we boarded the boats again and this time cruised back to Puerto Ayora, which was about two hours away.

Downtown Puerto Ayoyo.
Downtown Puerto Ayoyo.

When we arrived back in the bay a large ocean liner was anchored in the deeper waters. The ship was the National Geographic Explorer. Back in our hotel room, the view from our deck looked directly at the ship. When we got up in the morning it had already weighed anchor and sailed off.

The following day we were to go to the Charles Darwin Research Center for a short visit and then have the day free. We chose not to go to the center as we were having some gastrointestinal issues. Instead we stayed at the hotel and went snorkeling a couple of more times out in Finch Bay. Dawn has decided snorkeling is wonderful and is now planning more trips that include snorkeling.

After a very relaxing day it was time to leave. The next morning we flew back to Quito and enjoyed an afternoon and evening there. The following morning we reluctantly began our trip home.

I for one would highly recommend a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands but unless you speak fluent Spanish be sure to consider a tour group. It was wonderful.

From mountains to the seas in Ecuador: Part 3

By Michael Carignan

The first two parts of our adventure took place high in the Andes Mountains around Quito, Ecuador but now for the last part of the trip my wife, Dawn, and I will travel to the Galapagos Islands where we spent four nights at the Finch Bay Hotel.

We arose early Sunday morning and our tour guide arrived with a van to hurry us off to the airport. Soon we were on board our plane and headed first to Guayaquil, Ecuador on the coast about 165 miles southwest. The flight took only a half hour. At Guayaquil two-thirds of the passengers got off the plane and before long they were replaced with an equal number of passengers ready to make the final 600-mile flight west to the islands.

The archipelago or chain of islands known as the Galapagos Islands is of volcanic origin and actually some islands are still forming. According to our guide the archipelago is made up of 13 islands, 38 islets and 45 named rocks. Ninety percent of the land is part of the national parks and only three islands are inhabited by humans with a total population of around 40,000.

The Galapagos Islands are probably best known as the place where a young naturalist on the ship HMS Beagle made his famous discoveries. The years was 1835 and the young man named Charles Darwin, over the course of his five week stay in the islands, collected specimens and made observations of the unique flora and fauna on the island. His observations would later serve as the evidence behind his book On the Origin of Species and his theory of evolution.

The uniqueness of the wildlife on the islands remains today as it is profoundly protected as part of the national park. Visitors are allowed to observe the animals up close and personal. But a no-touch and no-feeding policy is strictly enforced but as we found in many cases the animals were just as curious of you as you are of them and will come right up to visitors.

The environment is fragile in the Galapagos and the number of visitors allowed annually is restricted. It is estimated that the maximum number of tourists the environment could handle without damage to the eco-system is 200,000. However, the current number is maintained at about 130,000 annually.

We flew into Baltra Island. Baltra has the only airstrip in the islands and also houses a small military complex. Once we were through security we joined up with a couple dozen other visitors and our guides. We boarded a bus that took us from the airport to a small ferry dock. We got off the bus and loaded onto a ferry and made a short quarter mile passage across the channel to Santa Cruz Island.

Once back on shore we again boarded a bus and began working our way from the north end of the island to the south end to the city of Puerto Ayora, about a 45-minute ride away.

A view looking back toward Puerto Ayora from the landing dock near our hotel.
A view looking back toward Puerto Ayora from the landing dock near our hotel.

Our guide, Mario, gave us some historical background as we traveled. Along the way we made three stops. The first was at what’s know as The Twins. The Twins are two large sinkholes left behind by the lava when the island was forming. They are circular and I would estimate each had a diameter of around 300-400 feet and were perhaps half that deep. Vegetation was growing in the bottom and along the steep sides. They were within walking distance of each other and the road we traveled on went directly down the middle of a solid strip of land between them.

One of the sink holes known as the Twins.
One of the sink holes known as the Twins.
The other Twin.
The other Twin.

While we were at the Twins a light rain began to fall, cooling us off in the 90-degree heat. Unfortunately the rain made our next two stops a little muddy. The first stop was at a visitor center where a number of the large land tortoises roam the meadows outside. These tortoises are one of the creatures the islands are known for. Males grow to be 500-600 pounds. They are protected and can roam free wherever they desire on the entire island. In our travels it was not uncommon to see one along side the road. There were two tortoises within a short walking distance of the center. Boots were provided, however, there were none that fit me so I did without.

Dawn with one of the tortoises.
Dawn with one of the tortoises.

After spending a half hour with the tortoises we were treated to lunch. We boarded the bus and headed to our third stop, a lava tunnel not far away.

The lava tunnel was formed by a river of molten lava traveling through hardened lava making its way to the sea. When the flow subsided it left behind a tunnel about 30-feet in diameter that we were allowed to go down into. Mario again supplied the natural history lesson for the spot.

Our group inside the lava cave.
Our group inside the lava cave.

Back on the bus and off to Puerto Ayora. This is the largest city in the entire archipelago with a population of around 10,000. It is located on the very southern tip of Santa Cruz Island, the second largest island in the Galapagos.

Along the way we passed many small farms. Mario told us that Santa Cruz is only 80 percent national park land and the remainder is privately owned. The landowners, however, must live with the wild creatures that roam the island that are protected and they can not harm them.

Once in Puerto Ayora we discovered there are no roads out into the countryside. There are the city streets and a handful of main roads on the island but that is all. In order to get to our hotel we would have to take a panga or water taxi. The hotel operated its own taxi service so we waited a short while for one to arrive. We got ourselves and our luggage on the panga and off we went for a short ride to another dock. There we disembarked and began a five to 10-minute walk to our hotel. It was a challenge in the heat so we took our time and eventually arrived at the hotel.

One of the pangas or water taxis.
One of the pangas or water taxis.
When we arrived at the loading dock near our hotel the rocks were covered with Sally Lightfoot crabs.
When we arrived at the loading dock near our hotel the rocks were covered with Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Along the way we encountered our first group of marine iguanas, which are found nowhere else in the world except in the Galapagos Islands. The marine iguanas dive into the ocean and graze on seaweed, which grows on the rocks in shallow waters along the shores. Once they’ve eaten their fill they return to land and bask in the warm sun. The ones we ventured upon were basking. Males can grow to be about five-feet long while females get only about three-feet long but those we saw were only about two and a half-feet long. Marine iguanas developed their ability to dive to depths of 45 feet for nearly a half hour in an effort to avoid over competition for food on land.

Marine iguanas outside out hotel at Finch Bay.
Marine iguanas outside out hotel at Finch Bay.

The wooded walkway across the beach in front of our hotel was destroyed in the tsunami that resulted from the Japanese earthquake a few weeks earlier and so made hauling our luggage even more challenging. Crews were working on restoring the boardwalk but progress was quite slow and I will leave it at that.

Our hotel has only 21 rooms and only four have ocean views and we had one of those. From our deck we looked directly out over the beach and across the tiny bay, Finch Bay, leading out to the larger bay.

The beach in front of our hotel.
The beach in front of our hotel.
Looking toward the bay from the deck off our room at Finch Bay.
Looking toward the bay from the deck off our room at Finch Bay.

We settled in to our accommodations and showered to get some of the sweat off before we went down to the bar at poolside. Dinner was served from 7 to 9 p.m. only and with losing a time zone in our travels west 7 p.m. was really 8 p.m. our time so we were ready for dinner.

Dinner was very fancy, and always very good. It always began with an appetizer served with fresh made bread and butter. The butter tray not only had butter but one compartment had a dipping oil as well and beneath the dipping oil was a drawing made with wine dribbled into a design. One night it was a very fancy rose another just the initials FB for Finch Bay. Soup followed the appetizer. Next we were given a choice of two meat entrees, one usually fish or seafood of some type and the other a meat dish and a third was a vegetarian choice. After the entrée were could choose from two desserts, one was always a fruit assortment and the other was something quite decadent.

Back in our room there was no TV, clock or radio. Just a phone so we could get a wake up call.

Remember again we are very near the equator and sundown is roughly 6 p.m. and sunrise is 6 a.m. We hit the sack and were awaken early by a bird chattering outside our patio doors. Breakfast was included and was always a buffet of traditional foods as well as island and Ecuadorian specialties.

I guess this portion of our adventure is longer than I anticipated so I guess I’ll have to add a part four. Until next time, happy travels.

From mountains to the seas in Ecuador: Part 2

By Michael Carignan

In part one of this three-part series I talked about our stay in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city of 2.1 million people. In part two I will talk about leaving the city and traveling through the countryside to the city of Otavalo, home to what is consider South America’s most famous outdoor market place and Indian fair.

Otavalo is a city of 50,000 inhabitants and is the capital of Otavalo Canton in Imbabura Province. Ecuador is divided into provinces and cantons similar to how the U.S. is divided into states and counties or parishes within that state.

Provinces, as our guide, Marco, pointed out, especially in the mountains, are named for one of the main volcanic peaks in the province. In this case Mt. Imbabura at 15,050 ft. above sea level and not nearby Mt. Cotacachi at 16,235 ft. Cantons are often named after the indigenous people of the region. In this case the Otavalenos people.

The Otavalenos are well known for weaving textiles, mainly of wool and linen from alpaca and sheep. The most noticeable trait of these people is their small stature. A tall Otavalena male only reaches a height of about five feet. Many of the women were barely four and a half feet tall.

Typical dress for a male consists of trousers and a dark poncho. Women wear white, embroidered blouses with flared sleeves and dark colored skirts. Both sexes have long black hair usually tied back with a multi-colored woven band. A type of fedora adorns the male’s head. Again according to Marco, a Ecuadorian’s dress has a style distinctive of their tribe.

An Otavalanos woman in traditional dress at the meat sale in Otavalo.
An Otavalanos woman in traditional dress at the meat sale in Otavalo.

Otavalo is about 60 miles north of Quito. Its market place operates seven days a week but on Saturday it is at its peak with the number of vendors, types of goods and visitors at the maximum. Our tour was scheduled for Saturday.

We were picked up very early by Marco and driver in a van. Marco spoke very fluent English and was as knowledgeable as he was nice. The only other members of our group for the day was a couple, I would guess in their early 40s. They were from the Canary Islands off the north coast of Africa, which is own by Spain. She was a federal judge and he was a lawyer. She spoke a fair amount of English but his English was much like our Spanish, a word here and there. Even with the difficulty in communicating it was easy to make friends.

It took awhile to get out of the city and on to the Panamerican Highway but soon we were on the rural mountainsides. As expected with the abundant rain and warm temperatures of the equator region there was lush greenery.

On distant mountainsides we began noticing rows of whitish buildings in clusters here and there. Marco explained that they are greenhouses for raising roses. Ecuador’s number one industry is growing decorative roses for export primarily to the U.S. but to other world markets as well.

Roses are grown in these white buildings in mountains of Ecuador and exported around the world, especially to the U.S.
Roses are grown in these white buildings in mountains of Ecuador and exported around the world, especially to the U.S.

That statement brought about a discussion of Ecuadorian economics, which I found very interesting. Growing shrimp for export is the number two industry in Ecuador. That of course takes place along the coastal regions.

Oil was discovered in the tropical rain forests in the northeast part of the country and oil has become the number three industry. The oil is piped over the mountains to the Pacific coast where it is loaded on ships and taken to the U.S. for refining. The gas is then shipped back to Ecuador where it is subsidized by the federal government. Regular unleaded gas sells for $1.38 per gallon. Premium for $1.45 per gallon and diesel was cheap at $1.05 per gallon. And those prices were the same everywhere, even on the Galapagos Islands.

Tourism ranks fourth as an industry in Ecuador and then comes textiles.

Along the way to Otavalo we had to cross from the southern hemisphere back into the northern hemisphere. We stopped in a tiny village that had a square with a monument commemorating the site and a line of red bricks through the square marked the equator. (Marco said it was only symbolic and the real location was still another 300 ft. north.)

Here I am with Dawn at the monument supposedly marking the equator. I am in the southern hemisphere and Dawn is in the northern. I say supposedly because the actual equator runs about 300 feet to the north of this spot.
Here I am with Dawn at the monument supposedly marking the equator. I am in the southern hemisphere and Dawn is in the northern. I say supposedly because the actual equator runs about 300 feet to the north of this spot.

We continued our journey until we made a pit stop at a tiny wayside business. A small store was the main business where they offered coffee and other drinks along with a variety of foods. The place also had restrooms, of sorts. Located down the hill behind the store were the facilities. A woman stood at the top of the stairs to reach them and requested a quarter each to use them. No paper was allowed in the toilets. If you used paper it went in a separate receptacle.

The property had a magnificent view of a distant lake and one of the volcanic peaks. A young girl dressed in mountain garb and leading an alpaca was available for photos as were three cut out figurines featuring indigenous dress that you could stick your face in the opening for a photo of yourself in native clothes.

At a potty stop on our way to Otavalo a magnificent view of the mountains and a distant lake could be seen. In the foreground a young woman dressed in local garb mingles with tourists. Her alpaca is also shown.
At a potty stop on our way to Otavalo a magnificent view of the mountains and a distant lake could be seen. In the foreground a young woman dressed in local garb mingles with tourists. Her alpaca is also shown.

We had done some reading up on Otavalo and my wife, Dawn, asked Marco if we were too late to catch the animal market at Otavalo. The market is split into three parts, the live animal market, the foods market and the handicrafts market. The live animal market is usually just on Saturdays and starts early in the morning and is usually over by late morning. Marco agreed to make it our first stop.

Upon arrival we had to park some distance from the market. Once we entered the grounds it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The grounds were just an open, fenced in, muddy field. Scattered all around were indigenous people with their animals. There were small animals such as puppies, kittens, chicken and duckling, rabbits and guinea pigs. They eat guinea pigs in Ecuador and the species they grow are much larger than we see here. Their intent is to feed the entire family on one. For larger animals there were sheep, goats, pigs, cows, ponies and, of course, alpacas.

Guinea pigs are staple of the Ecuadoran diet. Here a gentleman sells them at the meat sale in Otavalo.
Guinea pigs are staple of the Ecuadoran diet. Here a gentleman sells them at the meat sale in Otavalo.

There were a few folks selling handicrafts as well but only a very small amount.

From there we went to the center of town. After being dropped off in the town square we walked about a block to where the foods market began. Just guessing I would say the foods market was five times larger than the farmer’s market we’re accustomed to held on the Capital Square in Madison, Wisconsin and maybe 10 times larger than the one we frequent in Olympia when we’re in Washington. They offered every type of fruit and vegetable you could imagine along with dried and cooked meats, soups and stews, you name it. One big local item was a plastic bag full of cooked snails with lime juice squeeze into the bag. The locals love it. We didn’t try it.

Ecuador food sale 2 done

A scene at the food market in Otavalo.
A scene at the food market in Otavalo.

The handicraft market was primarily textiles but also leather crafts, woodcarvings and other trinkets.

Women selling textiles at the marketplace in Otavalo.
Women selling textiles at the marketplace in Otavalo.

We left the marketplace and traveled to Peguche, a village nearby, to visit a weaver’s workshop. We were allowed to watch him work and looked at the many items he had made, which were for sale.

This weaver allowed us to visit him at work in his shop.
This weaver allowed us to visit him at work in his shop.

From there we traveled to one of the many haciendas in the area for lunch. The haciendas were the centerpiece of large Spanish ranches of years gone by. Now, in order to keep them maintained they are used as restaurants for tourists. This particular one had gorgeous gardens all around the outside.

The inside of the hacienda where we ate lunch.
The inside of the hacienda where we ate lunch.
A typical Ecuadorian group of musicians performed at the hacienda.
A typical Ecuadorian group of musicians performed at the hacienda.

For lunch I tried ceviche as an appetizer for the first time. The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish or seafood marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chili peppers. It is not cooked but served fresh. It is quite popular with the locals who like to garnish it with freshly popped popcorn. Mine was made with shrimp and it was very tasty.

When we returned to the van we were joined by a young lady, an Otavalenos, who rode with us for a ways and sang for us a couple of songs in her native Quichua tongue. She stood in the van while she sang. There was at least six inches clearance from the top of her head to the ceiling of the van. We guessed her age at maybe 12 years old but later found out she was 18 and likely full grown. She gave each of us a small gift to thank us for visiting her country.

From there we returned to Quito. Along the way Marco showed interest in where we were from and we told him they were expecting snow back home that night. He said it never snows around Quito because they are on the equator. When we arrived back in Quite we were greeted by a two-block stretch that was covered in white. It had just hailed and there was as much as four inches of hail in spots. Marco was speechless.

Next we travel to the islands.

From the mountains to the seas in Ecuador Part 1

By Michael Carignan

To mark the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010, my wife, Dawn, and I decided to fulfill an item from our bucket list and so we decided to take a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos have been number one for a long time on Dawn’s list of places to visit and also ranked quite high on my list. With encouragement from friends and family along with many, many questions of “where?” we decided this was the time to make it happen.

The Galapagos Islands are not considered a prime destination for tourism but in recent years it has become known for its’ ecotourism because of the diversity of animals, a number of which can be found nowhere else in the world. I will return to that topic later on.

In order to get to the Galapagos Islands we had to either fly into Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, or to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, located on the Pacific coast. From there we would have to catch a flight to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of the mainland. Quito proved to be the most cost effective of the choices.

Different this trip from all the others we have taken over the years is that we decided to have a travel agency book our trip and to be part of a tour group instead of being on our own. Spanish is the primary language of Ecuador and neither of us knew more than a few words in Spanish. Plus, not having to drive in an unfamiliar country as we did the previous year in the British Isles had a huge appeal.

It cost us a little more than it could have, but that was because we chose to go with a tour company that specialized in smaller and even sometimes, private tours. It was a great decision and money well spent.

The tour package suggested arriving in Quito at least one day prior to continuing on to the Galapagos so there were no problems with flight connections. We decided as long as were going to be in Quito for at least a day we would do some touring in the city and out in the mountainside as well.

We began our trip by driving to Chicago and leaving our car at the motel on their park and fly program. The following day we flew from Chicago to Miami and then on to Quito, arriving around 5:45 p.m. Quito is in the same time zone as Wisconsin even though it is further east.

We were met at the airport by an English-speaking tour guide. He accompanied us to our hotel, Quito Hilton Colon, and made sure check-in went all right. By that time it was going on 7 p.m. so we went to dinner at one of the hotel restaurants.

Here we had our first taste of Ecuadorian cuisine. It was different but very good. I tried ceviche for the first time. Ceviche is kind of a cold soup of sorts that is made with fresh raw fish or seafood such as shrimp, in a citrus juice, usually as lemon or lime, seasoned with chili peppers and sometimes a tomato base. They serve it with fresh popped popcorn. Traditionally one would put a small scoop of the popcorn right into the ceviche.

We had booked a tour of what is known as “the old city” for the following afternoon beginning at 2:30 p.m. The hotel offered massages at its spa at a very reasonable rate so we immediately booked one for the morning.

The skyline of Quito overlooking the "old city" with its many churches.
The skyline of Quito overlooking the “old city” with its many churches.

Across the street from our hotel was a large park and after breakfast we went exploring there first. The park was lively with activity. Venders had set up carts here and there selling everything from fruit to artwork. In one spot grown men were playing volleyball before an audience of around 50 people. We later found out that volleyball competition in the park are taken very seriously and competition is tough. In another part of the park a soccer team was practicing amidst the trees. It seemed odd but I realize that as in Wisconsin field space is limited and teams will practice wherever they can.

Three Ecuadorian women sit on a bench in the park across from our hotel. In the distant background you can see some of the many venders stationed around the park.
Three Ecuadorian women sit on a bench in the park across from our hotel. In the distant background you can see some of the many venders stationed around the park.
Dawn with a wood sculpture in the park.
Dawn with a wood sculpture in the park.

Soon it was time for our tour. Our guide was a native of Quito but had spent a year as a foreign exchange student in the U.S., in fact in Grafton, Wisconsin. She was very knowledgeable on both history and current events in Ecuador.

Quito is a city of 2.1 million people but as little as 100 years ago Quito’s population was only about 40,000 according to her. It is in the Andes Mountains and sits at 9,200 feet above sea level. That took some getting used to by us lowlanders. Because it sits on the side of a mountain it is a long and narrow city, relatively speaking, at 25 miles long and 15 miles wide. Traffic was crazy. The old city is the area where the 40,000 had originally settled.

Houses are strewn across the hillsides of the mountain valley.
Houses are strewn across the hillsides of the mountain valley.

For many years Ecuador was its own independent country with small tribes of indigenous people ruling their own small portion of the country. In 1463 the Incas conquered the mountainous regions of Ecuador and united it under one empire. The Incas’ rule was short lived because in 1532 the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Incas and took over rule of Ecuador. In 1822 Ecuador achieved independence from Spain.

Much of the old city dates back to the early days of the Spaniards. On our tour we visited several churches. Ecuador is predominantly a Catholic country. The oldest church we visited was the Church of San Francisco, which was built in 1535. Adjoining the Church of San Francisco was a monastery, which we were able to go inside.

Another church we visited began construction in 1607 and took 16 years to complete.

My favorite church was La Compania. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. Inside was completely covered in gold. The altars were gold and even the walls were covered in gold leaf. Hanging on the walls were numerous pieces of artwork dating back many years. I have visited many churches in my 60 years and I think this was by far the most magnificent.

Also on our tour was a visit to the presidential palace. We were allowed to go inside and walk through the courtyard.

Guards stationed at the entrance to the presidential palace.
Guards stationed at the entrance to the presidential palace.

On the basement level of nearly all of the buildings were numerous, tiny shops, each with access from the street. Some of the shops were located in nothing more than hallways.

One of the many tiny shops found in the basements of most of the buildings in the "old city."
One of the many tiny shops found in the basements of most of the buildings in the “old city.”

By the time we finished our tour it was getting dark. Ecuador, as the name implies, is located on the equator. As a result sunrise and sunset are always the same, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and there are no seasons except perhaps the rainy season and the dry season. Temperatures stay fairly close to the same. In Quito that means daytime highs in the mid to upper 60s and lows in the mid to upper 50s year round.

A typical day while we were there was a clear to partly cloudy morning with no rain. In the afternoon it would cloud over and rain lightly for a few hours and then the rain would stop but the clouds would remain.

After dinner and a brief visit to the casino located in the hotel we called it a night in order to get up early to travel 60 miles north to Otavalo.

I will tell of our adventures there in part two.

Insightful Travel Tips #1

By Michael Carignan

After every two or three travel articles I plan to look back on those previous trips and expound on some background information that may be helpful in planning future trips.

Great Britain & Ireland

Our trip to Great Britain and Ireland was pretty much planned all on our own with some help from watching a number of travel shows and reading several travel books about the area.

Planning one’s own trip to a region unfamiliar can be challenging. On this trip finding lodging was fairly easy as was the car rentals and ferry travel. For car rental or ferry connections recommend making reservations ahead of time in case some weird quirk of nature hits such as the volcano eruption we experienced.

One thing I would have done differently on this trip is I would not have driven myself. Roads are narrow, demanding a great deal of attention while driving. Add to that the driving on the opposite side of the road also takes some getting used to and t all can be very dangerous. If you do drive limit the amount of driving done each day to something reasonable. Do not push it. Remember you are there to sightsee and if your focus is on the act of driving you’ll miss much of what they came to see. Do not drive around big cities if tired. Remember traffic is heavy and driving on the opposite side can be confusing and if not alert, deadly.

If I were to go again I would hire a driver just like the ladies from Chicago did and then sit back and enjoy. Yes, you’ll pay more for the trip but the amount of enjoyment goes up double what you pay.

Another thing I would do differently relates to car rental insurance. Unfortunately we were involved in a minor traffic accident while in Northern Ireland and had to pay to repair the damage to the car. Auto insurance you have in the U.S. is only good for travel in the U.S. One thing that many people don’t realize is that if they have a Visa credit card they are covered under a policy Visa provides to its customers free of charge. Coverage, however, is not included when traveling in seven countries around the globe. I don’t remember all seven of the countries in which that applies, but I do know the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are five of them. Do your research and know whether you’re covered where you travel and if not take out the insurance policy the car rental place offers.

We did find out one other thing while in Ireland. You cannot buy simple products such as ibuprofen over the counter at department stores in Ireland. We stopped at a Tesco to do just that, and discovered those kinds of pain relievers are only sold at pharmacies. Tesco is much like out Walmart in the U.S.

While Dawn went into Tesco to buy some ibuprofen I waited outside. I had my camera hanging around my neck and this gentleman spotted me. He worked in the store and was similar to a greeter at Walmart, I'm guessing. He spotted my camera and talked me into taking his picture. We talked a little. He was quite a card, but a nice guy indeed.
While Dawn went into Tesco to buy some ibuprofen I waited outside. I had my camera hanging around my neck and this gentleman spotted me. He worked in the store and was similar to a greeter at Walmart, I’m guessing. He spotted my camera and talked me into taking his picture. We talked a little. He was quite a card, but a nice guy indeed.

One final point on this trip: People are generally good and friendly. Most of them are just like you and I. Yes, there are bad people in this world and be on the watch for them. Be safe.

Washington’s Pacific Coast

Dawn and I are not big into staying in motels when we travel but would rather stay in a nice vacation rental. I am often asked how or where I find the places we stay in when we travel. We have used VRBO.com for several years now and last year, for the first time, used a site called flipkeyrentals.com. Both are very similar as to how they work.

VRBO stands for vacation rental by owner. People who own houses, apartments, condos, whatever, can list their properties as vacation rentals. Typically they advertise a nightly rate, weekly rate or occasionally monthly rates. They list the amenities available at the property, provide photos of the rental, and many provide a calendar which shows the dates that are filled and the dates that are open.

To find a property with VRBO click on the state you plan to visit on the map of the U.S provided. Next click on the region in the state where you want to find lodging. If you know which city you want to stay in, click on that city or just cruise around the area until you find what you like. There are a wide range of prices and sleeping capacities for the rentals. Once you find a place to rent, find out for sure when it is open. If it’s a fit, book it. Each landlord has their own particular payment requirements.

Some people have expressed concern over being ripped off when using one of these sites but we have never had any problems. In fact, everyone we have dealt with have been great.

Occasionally you may find a place you want to visit that does not have any rental property available, as we experienced at Neah Bay. In that case visit the Chamber of Commerce for the place you’re going and check out lodging they have listed. If you simply type in the name of the community you want to stay at in a search engine such as Google it will come up with options for you.

Beware that Washington is Big Foot country. I was able to catch this one with my camera.
Beware that Washington is Big Foot country. I was able to catch this one with my camera.

One other thing I want to discuss about Washington is the activity of gambling. Dawn and I both enjoy doing a little gambling now and then. Slot machines, and horse and dog racing are our pleasure and not table games. Washington is a good place to visit if you like to gamble.

I have been traveling to Washington state for almost 40 years now and as long as I have been going there gambling has been legal. Many of the lounges or bars have game rooms in the back. These are privately own and just have table games like cards, dice or roulette. More recently casinos have become a big item, at least in western Washington. If the casino is owned by the Native Americans it will offer a full range of gambling with slots and table games and off track betting. If they are privately owned there may be just two or three slot machines in the entire casino and they are set up differently than the slots in a regular casino. Private casinos are like the game rooms in the lounges only on a larger scale.

Over the years we’ve visited a half dozen or so casinos around western Washington.

We haven’t stumbled on any dog tracks yet but on this last trip we did discover a horse track near Kent. We rented our car from a place in Kent and after picking it up when we arrived we were looking for a place to eat and instead found the horse track. The name of the track is Emerald Downs and actually it is between Kent and Auburn, Washington.

With our main objective being lunch, we didn’t stay long. Five races I think. As a remember it, both of us held our own in betting. It was a little disappointing in that the field of horses was small, with only six horses per race. I prefer a field of eight or more horses so there is some challenge to betting. With just six horses per race the chances of winning a sizable pot is not good.

The food we had was decent and the stop was a good way for us to get our feet back on the ground after our flight.

Gambling is a fun activity as long as you find truth in the words of a David Bromberg song, “A man should never gamble… more than he can stand to lose… shoot the dice.”

Along the Ocean in the Pacific Northwest Part 3

By Michael Carignan

Next morning we packed up because checkout was at 11 a.m. We bid Tom and Jan goodbye and Dawn and I drove north three miles to Kalaloch Lodge on Hwy. 101 to go to the gift shop and pay our respects to one of our favorite spots. Lodging there has gotten rather expensive so we haven’t stayed there in a while. When we arrived this time management had redone the gift shop and we didn’t find anything we liked or needed.

Next stop was Moclips with a brief stop off at Lake Quinault Lodge for lunch and a quick game of horseshoes. In a fluke, I beat Dawn at horseshoes. Usually she clobbers me.

Lake Quinault Lodge.
Lake Quinault Lodge.
View of Lake Quinault from the lodge.
View of Lake Quinault from the lodge.

Eventually we arrived in Moclips at our apartment. We discovered Moclips a number of years ago and on our second trip there we discovered The Beach House rental. The house has two one-bed efficiencies on the ground level. Both have a small kitchen with a dining area, a small full bath, and combination bedroom/living room. Parking and entrance on street side and a porch looking out toward the ocean. The sandy beach is just a 100 yards down the trail through the dune grass. There is a gas fire pit and a charcoal grill, picnic table on the lawn and a nice hot tub under the deck from the upstairs.

The upstairs apartment is three bedrooms and laundry room and baths toward the east and a nice kitchen and dining area and living room across the ocean side. In all, the upstairs sleep 12 or more.

One of the downstairs units was all we needed.

Moclips is in Grays Harbor County. It is slightly north of the center of the Washington Pacific Coastline, just south of the Quinault Indian Reservation on the ocean. It is a very small village with slightly 200 inhabitants.

Moclips is noted as the terminus of the Northern Pacific (NP) Railroad. When the railroad finished building its line, the owners of the NP decided to make Moclips into a getaway for the muckity mucks. They built a huge two-storey, 270 room hotel beachside near the mouth of the Moclips River with perfect ocean views. It was completed in 1907.

Business was booming at the hotel until 1911 when a series of tremendously strong storms hit Moclips. High tides, high water and high seas combined and washed away much of the sand the hotel was built on. Needless to say, the entire northern half of the hotel closest to the river collapsed in a crumbled heap. That kind of put an end to the booming tourist business in Moclips and the community settled back to the tiny little berg it is today.

The rental we stay in is only about a block south of where the hotel once stood. And this would be our home for the next five nights. We were there mainly to relax and visit some of our favorite places in the area and possible a few new ones.

We really only had four main things on the agenda for that time. One was to get massages from a masseuse we’d visited before. Another was to visit the Moclips Museum just to see what’s new. A third was to scout out places to stay or see on future trips, and lastly we wanted to spend a day crabbin’ somewhere. We accomplished our objectives.

Our masseuse is located in Aberdeen, about an hour’s drive from Moclips. Aberdeen is a city of roughly 17,000. Adjacent to Aberdeen to the north and west is the city of Hoquiam, with a population of nearly 9,000.

Aberdeen is built around Grays Harbor, mainly along the north shore but it also extends to the head of the bay and around a small portion of the south bay shoreline. Hoquiam is built along the northwest shoreline of the bay. These two communities have always struck me as being slightly depressed economically. I’ve never research it much, actually, so I’m not completely sure my assessment is correct.

Our masseuse has her office in South Bay Mall. The same highway, 105, that took us to South Bay Mall keeps on heading west along the south shore of Grays Harbor out to Westport where it turns south to Grayland and follows the Pacific Coast to the south before it finally connects up again with Hwy. 101 a bit inland from the coast.

Westport and Tokeland are two places we typically go to go crabbin’. We decided on Tokeland this trip even though it is the further away of the two. Dawn had heard of a new place to check out and it was more than halfway from Westport to Tokeland, so we figured we were in the neighborhood.

On the way to Tokeland we stopped at a beach Washaway Beach. It was a perfect place for Dawn to get some beach walking in. There was an awful lot of soft sand between the road and the hard sand beach so I walk where I could and Dawn took off to explore. While the view was great there wasn’t much in terms of shells or anything exciting along the beach.

The day was still young so after a brief stop we were back on the road to Tokeland. Tokeland is another small berg of less than 200 inhabitants. But, at the dock area by the fish market there is a public dock on Willapa Bay where, if you have a license, you can go crabbin’ there for dungeness crabs.

On a trip years before we had purchased a couple of crab traps that we store at Tom and Jan’s in Olympia… thanks guys. There are a variety of crab trap types. Ours are what is known as a pyramid trap. When the trap is open the base is square and the four sides of the pyramid lay flat on the bottom of the bay below the dock. Attach bait to the base to attract crabs. The traps are raised and lowered by a rope system. After leaving the trap on the sea bottom for 10 minutes or more we haul the trap up. When the ropes are tight, the pyramid closes, trapping any crabs that have come to feed on the bait. Basically for bait you can use anything that is meaty and odiferous. Believe it or not we used some chunks of sausage we had cooked up and had leftover. The crabs loved it.

Pyramid crab trap with bait attached and a crab hanging on.
Pyramid crab trap with bait attached and a crab hanging on.

While we were crabbin’ we had a visitor, a seal lion. He insisted on hanging around and posing for us. Although the sea lions and seals are seemingly friendly, they are wild and given half a chance will steal your bait right out of your trap.

Seal lion posing while we were crabbin' at Tokeland.
Seal lion posing while we were crabbin’ at Tokeland.

We trapped a lot of crabs, a couple hundred or more. But only a couple were anywhere close to legal size. Crabbers cannot take any females and the carapace of the crab shell has to be the width of a dollar bill or wider at its widest part. Even though we didn’t take any crabs home for supper, we had a great day out in the sun on the water.

We had appointments for late in the day for a massage so we headed back home with enough time allowed to get us to our appointments.

We spent a lot of our time in Moclips just kickin’ back and enjoying life. Dawn walked the beach a lot. I kicked back n the porch and in the hot tub, just relaxing. The beach goes for miles in both directions but to the north is reservation so hiking the beach there is off limits. But still there are miles of beach to the south for enjoying.

The beach is hard packed sand which makes for easy walking. The variety of seashells along the beach is not diverse. Mainly what you’ll find is predominantly sand dollars with a few razor clam shells, crab shells and an occasional steamer clam or cockle shell.

We did take some time one afternoon to visit the Moclips Museum and we also checked out the farmers’/craft market at Seabrook on Saturday. We also checked out some of the rentals at Seabrook. There were a number of nice places but nothing that really grabbed our interest.

A highlight of Saturday morning was visiting a sandcastle contest in Pacific Beach, another tiny community just four miles south of Moclips. On the one hand we were disappointed because there were only a handful of entries in the contest, but on the other hand the few that were there were magnificent.

One of the sandcastle entries that actually was a castle.
One of the sandcastle entries that actually was a castle.
A second "sandcastle" that was more of a sand artwork including a sea monster and mermaid.
A second “sandcastle” that was more of a sand artwork including a sea monster and mermaid.

On Sunday we attended church services at Chapel by the Sea. It is a nice, little Christian church that I would describe as non-denominational. We had attended services there before and each time the congregation was very friendly and accepting of outsiders, mainly because all of them are also outsiders of sorts.

After church we visited Taholah, a Quinault Indian community of about 900 people, about 10 miles north of Moclips. Being Sunday there wasn’t much open but this was our first real visit there so it was interesting.

Soon our stay was over and it was time to head back to the Seattle area, but first we stopped for a brief visit at The Evergreen State College, my alma mater, to buy a new t-shirt. Then a quick stop at Tom and Jan’s to drop off the crab traps and on to Kent where we would spend our final night.

We chose to stay in Kent, a southern suburb of Seattle for a couple of reasons. One – motels there were much less expensive than any near the airport, and two – so was the car rental. Kent is only 10 miles from SeaTac airport and our motel offered an airport shuttle. In all we saved over $400 by staying in Kent.

Along the Ocean in the Pacific Northwest Part 2

Along the Ocean in the Pacific Northwest Part 2

By Michael Carignan

We had originally planned to keep Cape Flattery until the following day but with the weather improving and it being barely noon when we left the Makah Museum, we decided to go there for the afternoon. I wasn’t sure if my back would hold up for the three-quarter of a mile one-way hike, but with the aid of medication and a very patient helping hand from Dawn, I agree to try it. A deep desire on my part to see Cape Flattery helped as well.

The walk going down was steep at times, but we took it very slow and in any questionable areas Dawn offered a hand to help me through them. The Makah recently refurbished the trail to make it more accessible to the masses. Persons in good shape can make the one-way ¾ mile trip in 20-30 minutes. We took at least twice that time and it was well worth it. As the trail comes to an end there are five observation decks that offer spectacular views of the rocky coast, sea caves, crashing waves, sea birds and marine mammals. Off in the distance is Tatoosh Island, which the Makah once used as a fishing and whaling camp. Now the island houses a Coast Guard Station.

Sea caves at Cape Flattery.
Sea caves at Cape Flattery.
A view from one of the overlooks at Cape Flattery.
A view from one of the overlooks at Cape Flattery.

Much of the return trip, of course, was up hill through the Douglas fir trees but again we took it slow and completed the trip. We headed back to our cabin, no worse for the wear, to spend our final night at Neah Bay.

Dawn takes a rest between two cedar trees as we hike the trail at Cape Flattery.
Dawn takes a rest between two cedar trees as we hike the trail at Cape Flattery.

The next morning we packed up and started our journey to our next destination. We weren’t in any big hurry so we checked out Neah Bay once more. I had promised our friends, Tom and Jan, that I would pick up some fresh salmon to cook on the grill at our next stop, so we looked for a place to buy some. All we found was a place that smoked fresh salmon and only sold the final product.

We had seen a place in Clallam Bay about 20 miles away and so on our return route we headed there. When we arrived, the sign said closed so we kept going. We only got about a mile down the road when we decided that since it was still early perhaps the business just hadn’t opened yet for the day so we turned around to go back and see what time they opened. As we pulled up so did the proprietor with a fresh catch of salmon. He informed us they had closed for the season and the salmon he had was meant for area restaurants, but after some convincing he agreed to sell us a fish. He said he had both Coho and King or Chinook salmon both in about a 10 lb. size. He suggested the Chinook which was a dollar a pound more than the Coho, but he said the taste was well worth the price. I took it only to later find out that he gave me a Coho and charged me the Chinook price. Imagine that, a Midwestern boy gets taken by a shrewd northwesterner.

Back on the road we were headed to another cabin near Kalaloch in the Olympic National Park. About midway between Neah Bay and Kalaloch lies the city of Forks. Some of you vampire lovers might be familiar with Forks, a community of around 3,600 residents, as the setting for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. I’m not a vampire fan and wasn’t aware of the Twilight connection in Forks until we passed a Twilight Tours bus in the middle of town. We gassed up in Forks but then decided we were way too early to keep going to our next destination.

We decided to take a side trip to La Push, a small unincorporated community located at the mouth of the Quileute River and on the Quileute Indian Reservation about 14 miles from Forks. We had been to La Push before so when we came to a side road leading off to Rialto Beach in the Olympic National Park near Mora, we took it. We had never been to Rialto Beach and we were not disappointed. Rialto is a rocky beach with giant drift logs, pounding waves and views of offshore islands known as “sea stacks.” We ate a quick picnic lunch and then explored a bit. Dawn took off down the beach and I found a comfy spot to sit for awhile because my back doesn’t do well with rocky beaches. Dawn and I agreed that Rialto Beach was a very pleasant surprise and it will be added to our list of places to revisit sometime.

The beach at Rialto Bay.
The beach at Rialto Bay.

Back on the road we traveled back through Forks and in an hour we arrived at our cabin three miles south of Kalaloch Lodge. As we pulled up to the cabin, our friends Tom and Jan, pulled in right behind us. What timing.

We let ourselves into the cabin and checked things out. It was a very nice cabin, fairly isolated in a stand of tall Douglas fir with lots of burls. A burl is a solid, hard, woody protuberance that forms on a branch of trees. It is more or less rounded or horizontally ridged, with no protruding limbs, twigs or stubs. It is a product of vastly multiplied cell division and growth at the point of occurrence. The wood is characterized by wildly knurley, contorted grain and is cherished by furniture makers.

A burl on one of the Douglas fir trees around our cabin at Kalaloch.
A burl on one of the Douglas fir trees around our cabin at Kalaloch.

The cabin itself was quite nice. The downstairs has a kitchen dining area, a bathroom and two bedrooms with double beds. Upstairs was a loft with an ocean view, another bed and couches and chairs along with an entertainment system.

We unpacked the cars and decided to go down to the beach. The Kalaloch area is known for having nice beaches with lots of washed up logs. Getting down to the beach here though was a bit of a trek. The dirt road down to the bottom of the cliffs overlooking the beach was very steep at times. My back was still barking at me from my hike at Cape Flattery but again I was determined to get to the beach, and with Dawn’s help I succeeded.

The beach at Kalaloch.
The beach at Kalaloch.

The beach had many logs along the upper beach but it also had lots of large pebbles, which I have a real difficult time with, but again I made it to a nice resting spot on a log and let the ocean waves wash through my mind, a much needed cleansing. We all chatted for awhile and finally decided it was time to head back up to the cabin. The first thing I did is take a nasty fall and hurt my hip. Nothing was broken, just my pride was dented, and I was able to hike back home.

Back at the cabin everyone was getting hungry and we decided rather than cook the salmon we’d settle back to deli meats Tom and Jan had brought with some crackers and cheese. We did a lot of catching up as we ate. When sunset approached we all headed outdoors to explore some more. Tom had discovered an overlook with a bench positioned to look out over the ocean from about 80 feet above the beach. As the sunset we waved goodnight to the Emperor of Japan and headed back to the cabin to settled in for the night.

Sunset from the bench above the beach at Kalaloch.
Sunset from the bench above the beach at Kalaloch.

The next morning we were up with the sun, grabbed some breakfast, and decided just to take it easy. My back and hip were still barking so I stuck around the cabin area. Did some reading and went to the overlook and spent more than an hour there while the others hiked down to the beach.

Come evening we put Tom to work grilling the salmon. While he did that I started a fire in the fire pit. Tom did an excellent job of grilling the fish and we had a wonderful meal then spent the evening hours gathered around the fire until it was bedtime.

Along the Ocean in the Pacific Northwest Part 1

By Michael Carignan

The Pacific Northwest defines nature’s beauty to its fullest. With the Cascades and the Olympics there is mountainous splendor, whitecaps hanging in the sky. With the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound there are the sights, sounds, smells and the squish of sands that live in the dreams of a snowbound Midwesterner.

Sure, there are those that will argue that it rains a lot, but the trade off is the mild winters and summers where the rain ceases and temperatures range in a pleasant comfort range without many mosquitoes.

Early this past September my wife, Dawn, and I traveled to Washington to kick back and spend some time in one of our favorite areas of the United States.

We started our trip with a flight from General Mitchell Field in Milwaukee to SeaTac International in Seattle. Once we gathered our belongings and picked up our rental car we started south for Olympia and the home some close friends. (I went to college in Olympia at The Evergreen State College back in the late ’70 and early ‘80s.)

After recovering from our flight and catching up with our friends, Tom and Jan Balaban, we decided it was time for dinner. Tom suggested Anthony’s down near the marina on Budd Inlet in Olympia. I wasted no time ordering the scallops while Dawn ordered shrimp Alfredo. Neither of us were disappointed.

Back at the Balaban’s we watched the Mariners for awhile before the time change finally caught up with us. The following morning our stomachs again expressed their rule and we were off to breakfast at The Spar in downtown Olympia. The Spar has been an icon in Olympia since long before my first days there in 1978.

The name Spar comes from the lumber industry. As the lumberjacks harvest trees on the slopes of the mountains and foothills they used a high lead cable system to help get the cut trees off the mountain. The spar tree is selected based on height, location and especially strength and lack of rot in order to withstand the weight and pressure required to get the other trees down. Once a spar tree was selected, a climber removes the tree’s limbs and tops the tree. Block and tackle is affixed to the spar tree and the cabling is run and as other trees are harvested they are lowered down the slopes on the cable. Spar trees are not used much anymore but as you view the hillsides you may spot one from years gone by.

As I said, The Spar restaurant has been around for years although it recently got new owners. Its breakfast menu is traditional and always good. Our breakfast was great.

After breakfast it was time to move on. Dawn and I packed up so we could begin our journey to Neah Bay. But first we made a stop at the wonderful Olympia Farmers’ Market. This is one of the finer farmers’ markets I’ve ever visited. It doesn’t have the robust taste of Pikes Place Market but is more of a laid back marketplace.

Being early September the market features lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are at least three bakeries set up offering a variety of breads and pastries. Fresh meats, smoked meats, seafood, fresh flowers, herbs, a few crafts and sundry items and if you’re hungry at the time there are food venders available serving hot meals with picnic tables where you can sit and eat and listen to live music on the outdoor stage. The market is only open Thursday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., April through October. We often time our trip to the area so it includes a stop at the Farmers’ Market of Olympia.

Once we were stocked up with groceries for the week, we headed out for Neah Bay. The drive from Olympia to Neah Bay is about four and a quarter hours and covers nearly 200 miles. There are two possible routes. We chose to travel up Puget Sound on Hwy. 101 first to Port Angeles and then on to Neah Bay.

Anyone who has ever visited the west coast of the U.S. has probably experienced Hwy. 101 somewhere in their experiences. Known as the Pacific Coast Highway, Hwy. 101 runs from just north of San Diego, California following the coast north through California, Oregon and Washington to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then down the Puget Sound to its terminus just north of Olympia, Washington. Long stretches of the road follow right along the coastline but occasionally it is forced inland for short distances. The result, in any case, is a beautiful drive.

For this particular trip we picked up Hwy. 101 between Olympia and Shelton. For the first 20 miles or so the road travels inland but then just before Hoodsport the road picks up the west coast of Hoods Canal and follows it for 40 miles – water on one side and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains on the other.

A view of Puget Sound from Hwy. 101
A view of Puget Sound from Hwy. 101
A shot of the Olympic Mountains from Hwy. 101.
A shot of the Olympic Mountains from Hwy. 101.

From Quilcene to Mount Pleasant the road heads inland for 35 miles but then emerges on the waters of the Strait of Juan De Fuca. We travel just another short distance before we make one last stop in Port Angeles for a last few remaining groceries we missed in Olympia. Port Angeles lies all along the shores of the Strait. It is one of the few spots travelers can board a ferry bound for Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

Back on the road, just west of Port Angeles we turned off Hwy. 101 on to Washington 112. This stretch of road is about 70 miles long and extremely curvy and hilly. Top speeds were around 45 mph and so although it wasn’t far it, took fairly long to reach our destination: Neah Bay.

Neah Bay is a small town of roughly 900 residents located on the Strait. It is the furthest northwest community in the continental U.S. and is located in the heart of the Makah Indian Reservation in Clallam County.

Several things drew us to Neah Bay. Cape Flattery and the Makah Museum were of special interest. I have a personal affinity to all aspects Native American culture, especially those of the northwest. And of course if you throw in a beach and ocean waves I’m in heaven.

We stayed at Hobuck Beach Resort, which is not actually in Neah Bay but is about five miles south on the ocean side of the peninsula. We had reserved a handicap cabin. I have a bad back and have trouble at times with steps and other obstacles such as tubs and some showers. The cabin was comfortable with a nice front porch overlooking the beach and sunset in the evening.

Looking out at the ocean from the porch of our cabin at Hobuck Beach.
Looking out at the ocean from the porch of our cabin at Hobuck Beach.

We arrived around 6 p.m. and settled in to the cabin before taking a walk down to the beach. I found the beach a little disappointing in that there was virtually no life, no shells, nothing much except beach and waves. In the distance were some nice rock outcrops that made the view even more pleasant. It was still enjoyable though, and good to get out and stretch after that ride.

The cabin had a full kitchen so as darkness settled in we made supper, took photos of the sunset and then the full moon and kicked back for the evening.

Full moon over the ocean at Hobuck Beach.
Full moon over the ocean at Hobuck Beach.

Television was available, as was WiFi, but we never switched the TV on. We did use our laptop.

The following morning the weather was a little cloudy and cool but there was no rain and as the day progressed the weather improved. Our first order of business was to check out Neah Bay and see exactly what was there.

On the drive into town we got a treat in the form of a herd of elk near the edge of a woods. We counted 22 of them, some standing and grazing and others lying on the ground. We were only about 150 yards away from them, separated by a marshy area, and so the view was quite good. We stayed and watched them for 15-20 minutes before moving on.

We came upon this herd of 22 elk on our way into Neah Bay.
We came upon this herd of 22 elk on our way into Neah Bay.

When we got to Neah Bay I have to admit we didn’t find much, a couple of coffee shops and a general store. The museum didn’t open until 10 a.m. so we had some time to kill. Finally we headed for the museum.

The tribe calls themselves “Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx” or “people who live by the rocks and seagulls.” The name “Makah,” which was given to them by neighboring tribes, means “generous with food.” (from the Hobuck Beach Resort website.) The museum houses a collection of 300-500 year old artifacts recovered from the Ozette archeological site. Ozette was a Makah village located about 20 miles south of Neah Bay on the ocean. In the mid 1500s a mud slide buried a large part of the village and it remained buried until 1966-67 when it was finally excavated. According to Wikepedia, “It was not until 1970 that it became apparent what was buried there. After a storm in February 1970, tidal erosion exposed hundreds of well preserved wooden artifacts… More than 55,000 artifacts were recovered, spanning a period of occupation around 2,000 years, representing many activities of the Makahs, from whale and seal hunting to salmon and halibut fishing; from toys and games to bows and arrows. Of the artifacts recovered, roughly 30,000 were made of wood, extraordinary in that wood generally decays particularly fast. Hundreds of knives were recovered, with blade materials ranging from mussel shell, to sharpened beaver teeth, and iron, presumed to have drifted from Asia on wrecked ships.”

A Makah boat at the Makah Museum.
A Makah boat at the Makah Museum.

Along with the pieces from Ozette there are other historic and replica pieces and photographs related to the Makah Tribe on display. The Pacific Northwest Native Americans along with the Inuits are primarily the only tribes known to make totem poles and so there were several of those on display both in the museum and outside on the grounds.

Totems are used to hold the sign for the Makah Museum
Totems are used to hold the sign for the Makah Museum

Needless to say it was a very interesting morning.

Ireland and the British Isles Part 4

Ireland and the British Isle Part 4

Now I haven’t said anything yet about the typical breakfast in these different countries. There were few choices other than the English or Scottish or Irish breakfast and they all consisted of the same things. There was ham that had been fried up like bacon, sausages that were extremely bland unlike our flavorful sausages here in Wisconsin and eggs. In Scotland you could add haggis to the menu. Haggis, according to Wikipedia, “is a savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.”

Otherwise, as far as food choices, not much to choose from. Needless to say we quickly grew tired of bacon and sausage. England is known for its fish and chips so while I was there I tried it at least three times on this trip and I have to say I was a little disappointed. It tended to have a fishy smell and not a lot of flavor,

Back in Dublin we rented another car and headed west-northwest again. The other side of Dawn’s family came to the states from Roscommon County in central Ireland. It rained throughout our drive to the town of Roscommon. When we arrived we tried to find the ruins of Roscommon Castle and Roscommon Abbey. While we were looking we spotted a very large church and made our way toward it. We eventually pulled into the parking lot. As we prepared to take pictures cars began pulling in and parking. We realized it was Sunday and that service must be coming up. So we decided to go to church. It was a Catholic church. We sat through mass and afterwards took pictures of the inside.

Roscommon Castle
Roscommon Castle

We found the castle and the abbey and paid our respects and then proceeded on to Boyle, which is also in Roscommon County and a town associated with Dawn’s ancestors. On the way there we took a side trip to Strokestown to visit the Irish Famine Museum.

In Boyle we stopped for the night at the Abbey House Bed and Breakfast next to Boyle Abbey and on the Boyle River.

The only other people spending the night there were a group of cousins, a lady and her husband from Colorado and two ladies from Chicago area. One of which we discovered owns a timeshare on Lake Wisconsin. They were traveling with a private tour guide that would take them wherever they desired so they were mixing site seeing with ancestor chasing and a family wedding.

The next day we headed north to Sligo and on to Donegal. The ancestors of my grandmother on my mother’s side came from Donegal County and particularly a village called Inver.

We checked out a few of the communities listed in a family history of the Rogers family.

Inver Cemetery near Donegal Bay.
Inver Cemetery near Donegal Bay.

Inver was a small village located on Donegal Bay. What a beautiful area! I can’t believe my ancestors left to come to Upper Michigan. I’d  love to learn the family history and their reasoning.

We were desiring some time along the water so we found a road that went down to a public beach. We walked and walked checking out shells and taking in the views. We were pretty much the only ones on the beach. A lady on a horse rode by at one point and another lady with two dogs came through at another but that was it.

A rider on horseback on the beach at Donegal Bay.
A rider on horseback on the beach at Donegal Bay.

As we made our way back to the car a young black lab-mix dog appeared out of nowhere. He ran up to me and stopped about 15-feet away, picked up a stick and brought it over and dropped it at my feet. I can take a hint. I picked it up and threw it. He ran and got it and brought it back. I did it again. After a few times I deferred the game to Dawn and the two of them played chase-the-stick all the way back to the car. As we prepared to get in the car he waited at the head of the road waiting for us to follow. He stayed until we got in the car and then disappeared. About three quarters of a mile up this one lane road to the beach there he sat in the driveway leading to a house and he sat there until we were past before disappearing into the yard. We jokingly decided it was an ancestor reincarnated as a dog that just wanted to say hello.

Dawn throwing a stick for our "ancestor" dog.
Dawn throwing a stick for our “ancestor” dog.

We then went to Killybegs, a fishing town, where we had lunch. Then it was back on the road again, still headed north with a destination of the Giant’s Causeway. However we got sidetracked one more time as Dawn spotted a little town on the map just a few miles off our route called Carrigans, and while that’s not exactly Carignan as our last name is spelled, it was close enough. We couldn’t resist.

It was another tiny village. But there was a pub called the Carrig Inn so again we had to stop for a pint before heading on.

Outside the Carrig Inn.
Outside the Carrig Inn.

We then followed the coastal causeway until finally we stopped for the night in Coleraine in Northern Ireland just a few miles from Giant’s Causeway.

Giant’s Causeway is spectacular. It is made up of n estimated 40,000 columns of basalt rock from volcanic eruptions about 12-18 inches across and most of which are six-sided. It was formed by a freak happening of nature when the rock formed but it covers a long section of scenic coastline.

Dawn sitting on one of the hexangular stacks at Giant's Causeway.
Dawn sitting on one of the hexangular stacks at Giant’s Causeway.
A look down the bay at Giant's Causeway.
A look down the bay at Giant’s Causeway.

There is a very humorous legend about a giant that goes with the area. It seems that at some time many years ago a giant and his wife lived there. Immediately across the north channel just 26 miles away in Scotland there lived another giant. On clear days the two giants could see each other and they would yell across the water. As the years passed the two grew to dislike each other. Legend has it that one day the Scottish giant, who was the larger of the two giants, quickly built the causeway and he ran across the north channel. The Irish giant saw him coming and told his wife to quick dress him up like a baby. Out in the yard was a cradle the giant had been working on. The baby giant ran to the cradle and climbed in. When the Scottish giant entered the yard the wife yelled, “You better not wake my baby.” The Scottish giant stopped when he saw the baby hanging out of the cradle and thought to himself, “If the baby is that big, the father must be huge.” He turned and ran all of the way back to Scotland, knocking all of the middle column of rock back into the seas as he ran.

Dawn sitting on what is known as the Giant's Boot.
Dawn sitting on what is known as the Giant’s Boot.

From there we traveled to the rope bridge that connects the mainland to a small island. But we only viewed it from a distance as it was a mile and a half walk to get to it and with Dawn being extremely afraid of heights we both knew she wouldn’t cross it anyway.

We traveled south through Belfast and stopped for the night in Banbridge.

The next day Dawn wanted to look for a linen factory. She uses waxed linen in her basket making and was under the impression that it was manufactured in Banbridge. We were directed to Ferguson Linen Factory. Upon inquiry there we were told that they were one of only a few linen companies still in existence in Ireland and yet no one there had ever heard of waxed linen. We bought some of their goods anyway.

Next stop was Newgrange. Newgrange is classified as a megalithic passage tomb built more than 5,000 years ago by Neolithic peoples. In all there are 39 mounds throughout this area. Most are small, but three are very large. Newgrange is one of the larger ones. These places are considered to be places of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. They were built before the pyramids and before Stonehenge. Newgrange contains an inner chamber where the cremated remains of the peoples were stored. A narrow passageway leads about a third of the way into the mound to the chamber. It was built so that at sunrise on five days around the winter solstice the chamber is lit up for 15 minutes by the light of the rising sun. It was an incredible experience to visit this site.

The main mound at Newgrange.
The main mound at Newgrange.
For five days around the winter solstice at sunrise, sunlight illuminates the corridor to the middle of the mound
For five days around the winter solstice at sunrise, sunlight illuminates the corridor to the middle of the mound

We also visited Knowth, a second and largest of the mounds. They have found evidence of inhabitation on this site for more than 6,000 years, including at one time having a castle of a king built on top of it.

It was time to go back to Dublin.

We found our hotel and settled in. The following day we took a bus tour of the city, the same as we had done in Bath and London. We hopped off in a couple of different spots. One was Trinity College where the Book of Kells is kept. The Book of Kells was created around 800 A.D. by monks at Columba Monastery. It a manuscript of the gospel books that is illustrated and ornamented in grand style.

The arch leading nto Trinity College.
The arch leading nto Trinity College.

Back on the bus the tour took us past the famous Guinness Brewery. Eventually we hopped off in the Temple Bar district. The area is made up of an assortment of pubs and restaurants and shops of every type. We got some lunch and later found a pub called Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub that featured live Irish music. What an enjoyable afternoon. A few pints of Smithwicks didn’t hurt things either.

Guinness Brewery.
Guinness Brewery.
Temple Bar.
Temple Bar.

The next morning we returned our car and caught the plane for home, tired but pleasantly so at that.