Camino Santiago – April 2013

Pyrenees Horses, April 26
Last photo taken in the French Pyrenees on April 26, 2013. After snapping these horses I put my camera away. We were soaking wet.

Our Camino Santiago began on April 25, 2013 in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, French Pyrenees. The weather April 25 was beautiful. Perfect for hiking, meditating and snapping photos. We spent the  night of April 25 in the “honeymoon suite,” a tiny but private room at the Refugio Orisson, eight kilometres from, and about 800 meters higher than, our starting place in St.-Jean. Note: we did not ask for, or even have a clue about, the “suite,” the boss at reception just gave it to us.

April 26 was a mystical, but scary, experience. We set off very early and were careful to follow the well-marked trail with its yellow arrows. A mistake could have caused a sad mishap. Anita had sent her pack ahead to Roncesvalles’ public refugio; a wise decision that turned out to be…

Camino marker - French Pyrenees
Camino marker West of Orisson

Photos 3 and 4 in the set below show just the start of our walk from the Refugio Orisson across the mountains into Spain, where we had a night booked at the Hotel Roncesvalles. It was cold and very wet – a fine, persistent rain that did not let up. I put my Sony NEX-5N DSLR camera away after shooting the beautiful horses. It was already damp just from condensation when I removed it to shoot. Terrible visibility caused us to miss the Statue of the Virgin, a landmark that overlooks the valley no more than 30 metres from the trail, even though I knew when we were passing it! Continue reading “Camino Santiago – April 2013”

48 Christmases Ago…

Living in Vancouver, cash-strapped, in 1968 I wanted to get home to Montreal for Christmas. My sister had a brand new son born on December 10 and my parents lived on Queen Mary Road.

I and another young fellow named Don traveled with Dave and Kathy B. from Vancouver to Toronto in their VW station wagon. Don and I had answered a posted ad offering a ride if gas costs and driving were shared. Only Dave and Kathy knew each other prior to the trip. The drive East to Toronto was completed in just 61.5 hours!

On the way there Dave wanted to avoid the Trans Canada Highway north of Lake Superior and suggested crossing to the American side and going south of Superior through N. Dakota and Duluth, Minnesota crossing into Canada at Sault Ste. Marie. Don argued that the road would be hellishly icy either way – and he was right but Dave was the boss. It was a white-knuckle ride all night. The VW had tires with metal studs, still allowed everywhere in Canada in those days. This did not make it safer – the studs simply allowed us to drive fast without facing certain death.

Dave dropped off Don and me, both from Montreal, at Union Station. The two Montrealers then rode together on a CN train from Toronto to Montreal. On that part of the journey Don told me that he was carrying marijuana. He then revealed that, during our two border crossings and our time south of the border, I had been carrying it in my left jacket pocket! Continue reading “48 Christmases Ago…”

Hue Hunger Games – April 18, 2008

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Ngo Mon Gate – where Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a Ho Chi Minh delegation in 1945

The ancient capital of Viet Nam is a fascinating place. The citadel is actually three nested citadels: imposing grey walls protected by a moat, a second citadel whose entrance is shown above, and a third “citadel” called the Forbidden Purple City, territory that excluded all except the emperor, his family and inner coterie. The top photo is the Ngo Mon, or Noontime, gate to the second citadel, the central door being reserved for the emperor himself.

Inside the To Mieu Temple complex honouring the Nguyen Dynasty there are nine urns dedicated to the nine Nguyen emperors, the largest being dedicated to Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long), founder of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802 A.D.

The nine dynastic urns; and below the gorgeous  gate to To Mieu complex, its detail and, last, the long, low To Mieu Temple:

To Mieu Temple

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Thanks to B52 bombing during the Vietnam War (Vietnamese call it the American War) there was nothing much left of the Forbidden Purple City, but some sort of restoration had begun back in 2008 when we were there. We were instructed by signs not to venture off the approved path for our own safety. Below, the Forbidden Purple City ruin:

And a few more photos of the Citadel:

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 We  arrived in Hue in the dark on April 17, after taking an afternoon flight from Saigon to Da Nang and driving a short distance north to Hue. We ate by Hue’s Perfume River in a floating restaurant and Anita was disappointed to learn, on our fourth night in Viet Nam, that “rice fried chicken” is not the same as “chicken fried rice.”

 

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The Hue bridge over the Perfume River captured from our table

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Our April 18 Hunger Games:

Hue is not a large city, but it is complicated enough to be no fun navigating in the dark if you are dropped off by a cyclo driver somewhere other than where you instructed him to take you. Here’s that story:

Anytime we left our hotel (the Thai Binh II on Hung Vuong Street) there were cyclo drivers waiting to take people where they wanted to go in the city. After a very busy April 18 we wanted to try supper at a Japanese Restaurant famous in Lonely Planet for its owner’s wonderful work with hundreds of Vietnamese street children and well-liked for its food and its service. Though it was a fairly short walk away (260 metres) I thought it might be generous to use one of these sad-looking, solicitous fellows to take us there. I wrote down the address in modern Vietnamese characters and showed it to him. We got in the cyclo and off we went. He took ages to find the street (it seemed like 45 minutes) and when he did we got off as soon as we could and started to walk toward the address. Every junction we came to seemed to have 4 or 5 options to continue on the street. So we would pick the most likely one and cross the square to it and then I would brave the motorbikes to cross the street to make sure we had guessed right. Most of the time we hadn’t. Often I had forgotten the name on the street sign by the time I re-crossed the river of motorbikes.

Someone borrowed my pen to draw a map for us and I left it accidentally with her.

Then my flashlight packed it in.

I didn’t have a travel cell phone or a wifi device in 2008, so we were dependent on our Lonely Planet guidebook, instinct, intuition and local maps when not with a local English-speaking driver. Google maps now shows me the walk would have been really short from our hotel. We were getting hungry and Anita feels ill if she goes too long without eating protein. When we eventually found the address (our driver had dropped us off much farther from the restaurant than we would have had to walk) the restaurant had closed!

So now, without flashlight or pen or protein, we tried to figure out how to get back to our hotel and the place where we ate the night before. We didn’t agree and, hungry and tired, we began to argue about which way to go. And, once a minute since we had left our useless cyclo driver, we were were solicited by other cyclo drivers. At this point I was feeling quite murderous…

Finally Anita announced, righteously, that she was going back to the hotel by herself. I know in my bones that she could have done it. So I said:

Fine! You go back to the hotel. I’ll kill something and bring it for you to eat.

Then the gods smiled on us. They sent us two saviours who had witnessed our embarrassing interchange. They were Kim and Sandra from Sydney, Aus. Kim told us exactly how to get back to our hotel and where to eat right near it. It was 5 or 10 minutes walk. We exchanged addresses and agreed to meet in Hoi An – the city we would all be in on the 19th and 20th. We are still good friends and hope to see them in our town in Ontario again this summer.

Other Places We Went on April 18:

Now, here is a summary of where we went in Hue on that fateful April with Sang, our wonderful driver:

  1. Tu Duc’s tomb
  2. Minh Mang’s tomb
  3. Nam Giao Temple
  4. Lunch at Y Thao Garden – Imperial Cuisine
  5. Thien Mu Pagoda
  6. Hue Citadel

Tomb of Tu Duc, the longest reigning Nguyen Dynasty Emperor:

 

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Tomb of Minh Mang:

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Nam Giao Temple was once the most sacred in the country. Here the Emperor would offer elaborate, sacrificial homage to Thuong De. Now it is neglected but very peaceful:

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Imperial cuisine at the Y Thao Garden:

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Thien Mu Pagoda – the most sacred place, 3 km from Hue – honours 7 buddhas:

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Small wonder we were tired that evening. Poor decision I made. We had only 260 m to walk. We would have learned quickly that the Jass Man’s Japanese restaurant had closed down and gone to the river for more “rice fried chicken.” But then we would never have met Sandra and Kim from Sydney…

South America Trip.2

OK. Still not about South America yet, but I warned you last time. Anyway – if I hadn’t gone to teach in Trinidad in 1965, I probably wouldn’t have done the two month South America trip in 1967. So kindly bear with me, or, if not, feel free to skip to the end of this post or go elsewhere with my good wishes and abject apologies.
Boarding The Plane in September 1965
Boarding The Plane in September 1965

Our West Indies CUSO volunteer contingent (young adults with university degrees or special skills who had selected to serve in the sunny Caribbean over more distant sunny places like Malaysia, India or Tanzania – about two dozen of us in all) assembled at Ottawa’s international airport on a very chilly morning in early September, 1965. We climbed an outside ladder, waved to our loved ones and entered Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Canadair North Star. This was not a jet, but a plane powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin propeller engines. They were proudly termed “turbo-props,” whatever enhancements that meant. Still slow and noisy compared to modern jet planes. Simpler times. It took us 19 hours of island hopping before our 8-member Trinidad contingent arrived at Piarco Airport in Port of Spain, the North Star’s last stop. Continue reading “South America Trip.2”

Disappearing Ancient Wisdom

I read an excellent and sensitive wordpress blog today at knowthesphere  that praised the wisdom of ancient cultures over the knowledge-inundated, wisdom-starved modern world. The blog was titled Birds of Wisdom and the quote below is from the blog:

Ancient wisdom–in a way–is much more advanced than our own contemporary knowledge that we place so highly on a pedestal.

The blog reminded me of a fellow named Wade Davis, an ethno-botanist who studied with the legendary Harvard botanist and traveler, Richard Evans Schultes. Davis is now a resident explorer at National Geographic. He lived among the natives of Columbian and Equadorian Amazonas who retain the ability, long lost among modern humans, to communicate with the plants in the forest. Talk about ancient wisdom! The remarkable book his South American adventures produced is called One River. He later went to Haiti on behalf of Schultes to investigate the medical wizardry involved in the creation of a zombie. He describes his deep respect for the wisdom and ancient power of the Voudoun tradition in a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow one of several he has written. The zombie phenomenon turns out to be much more complex and sophisticated than mere biochemistry.

Wade Davis delivered the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Canada’s public broadcaster) distinguished annual Massey Lectures in 2009. There are five lectures in each series delivered by the same author. The Massey Lectures are produced by the CBC’s wonderful nightly Ideas program. You can listen to a podcast of the first of Davis’ lectures from this CBC website link and the series is available in book form or on iTunes. All five podcasts are no longer on the CBC site. I was particularly moved and impressed by his second Massey Lecture, called The Wayfinders, about the amazing set of natural knowledge that the Polynesian navigators used to guide their boats from one remote, tiny island to another remote, tiny island. Polynesians had been brilliantly finding their way throughout the Pacific islands for a long, long time before the Spanish arrived, hugging the shoreline.

I could go on… The quickest way to whet your appetite is to listen to his rapid-fire TED talk. The downside of that is that it only scratches the surface of his deep love for the ancient and his peripatetic research.