Archive | October 2013

Camino de Santiago de Compostela

My cousin and his wife completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela today. They started their walk 36 days ago in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France.

The Way of St. James has been a major pilgrimage route for Christians since the Middle Ages. There are other Camino routes in addition to the 800-km way across northern Spain that my cousins chose to walk. One of them starts in Granada, which is where I took this photo. The yellow scallop and arrow are a way marker to Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is Spanish for Saint James. In France, scallops are known as coquilles Saint-Jacques (Saint James’ shells).


Pender Island

The other week, while discussing our mutual plans for the upcoming long weekend, I learned that one of my co-workers has a place on Pender Island.

In Western Canada, weekend places are most often called “cabins.” I point this out because for a while I lived in Ontario, where weekend places are always referred to as “cottages.” People in Toronto talk about their “cottage weekends” and there is a mass exodus from the city every Friday afternoon between the May Long Weekend and Labour Day. (You haven’t experienced traffic if you haven’t driven Highway 11 on a summer weekend.)

Cabin, cottage, tomato, tomahto …You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this.

It’s because when I hear the word “cottage,” I have in mind a small dwelling right out of the English Cotswolds, complete with thatched roof. But when I hear the word “cabin,” I always picture the log cabin Laura Ingalls Wilder described in Little House in the Big Woods. I used to entertain myself in school by sketching log cabins, complete with smoking chimney made out of stone, in the margins of my notebooks. I dreamed of one day living in such a cabin.

Imagine my surprise when I visited Pender Island a couple of summers ago, and came across my dream cabin. I had no idea it existed outside of my head. But ― there it was. I had already fallen in love with Pender Island on this visit (my first); coming across the cabin only cinched the love I was feeling.

OK, so it’s not a log cabin, but it sure is my idea of pastoral perfection.

OK, so it’s not exactly a log cabin, but it sure is my idea of pastoral perfection.

Pender Island is one of BC’s Southern Gulf Islands and is sandwiched between Saturna to the east, Mayne to the north, and Salt Spring to the west. Even though they lie within spitting distance of each other, each island has its own unique character, which is why a couple of my friends and I are weekending our way through the Gulf Islands. We try to explore a different island every summer.

Pender Canal

Pender Canal

Pender Island is actually two islands: in 1902, a canal was dredged through the isthmus between North and South Pender Islands. The islands were later reunited with a single-lane wooden bridge.

This bridge has connected North and South Pender Islands since 1955.

This bridge has connected North and South Pender Islands since 1955.

The island is named after Daniel Pender, a British Royal Navy captain who surveyed the coastal areas of British Columbia between 1857 and 1870.

A little brown church (Church of the Good Shepherd) on South Pender Island

A little brown church (Church of the Good Shepherd) on South Pender Island

Pender Island is about 35 square kilometres in size and has a year-round population of 2500, most of whom live on North Pender Island. That population triples in the summer; I hope to be joining the throng of visitors again soon.

Gowlland Point

Gowlland Point

Through My Lens: Foggy Vancouver

Tree in Fog

Vancouver has been awash in a pea-soup thick fog the past few days. It’s supposed to lift tomorrow. Apparently the sun is out there somewhere.

Here is a photo I took this afternoon at Vanier Park.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I missed Thanksgiving the year I backpacked around Europe with my girlfriend. We joked about what we thought was our Thanksgiving dinner (bratwurst and sauerkraut in the Munich train station) on the day we thought was Thanksgiving, but we later found out we had the wrong day. I think we even had the wrong week. That’s what happens when you hop on and off trains and check in and out of hostels on a daily basis: the days become a blur.

I remember telling the story of our missed Thanksgiving to two Nebraskan sisters we had met on a train. They looked at me, puzzled. “You can’t have Thanksgiving,” they said in unison. “You didn’t have pilgrims!”

Uh, yeah. Right.

It never made sense to me why turkey had to be eaten with cranberries until my first trip to Massachusetts. There, while camping on Cape Cod, I found wild cranberries growing every which way I turned. And Cape Cod, of course, is just around the corner from Plymouth, where the aforementioned all-important pilgrims first landed on America soil.

“Aha!” I said to myself. “It’s all those pilgrims’ fault that we are stuck eating cranberries every holiday dinner.”

Cranberries grow in British Columbia, too. In fact, this province produces 12 percent of North America’s cranberry supply.

I will have Thanksgiving dinner tonight with my family. There will be cranberries. And pumpkin. But no turkey.

And no, Canada didn’t have pilgrims. We are thankful, none-the-less.

Cranberry Bog, Richmond, BC

Cranberry Bog, Richmond, BC

Anacortes Murals

One delightful discovery of our weekend in Anacortes were the town’s murals. These have been painted on to wood cut-outs and fastened to the sides of the buildings that line Commercial Avenue, Anacortes’ main drag. The murals are based on photographs taken in Anacortes over the past century, and offer a colourful glimpse into the local history.

They’re worth the drive to Anacortes.


Anacortes, I discovered, is one of those places people drive through on their way to somewhere else. To be honest, I myself wouldn’t have spent a weekend in this town on Fidalgo Island had I not arranged a home exchange with a couple of Washingtonians who wanted to spend a weekend in Vancouver.

As far as home exchanges go, it was one of the easiest I’ve ever arranged. We agreed to take care of each other’s cats, I asked my sister and a couple of friends to join me, and off we drove one Friday afternoon after work. In less than two hours, we pulled up to a house on a bay: our home for the weekend.

Anacortes Hydrant

Unfortunately, we had to ditch the outdoor activities we had planned when the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead, we hid from the rain by doing a bit of antiquing, some book-shopping, and a lot of wine-buying in what my home exchangers told us was the “best wine store in the state.” The highlight of our many conversations with the Anacortes’ shopkeepers was hearing the story of Byron and Larry’s decades-old friendship after I asked the barista making up our lattes what they had done to rate windowside chairs with their names on them.

It was in the next shop, as I was paying for my purchase, that the shopkeeper asked me, “How do you Canadians find Anacortes?” I sure hope she was curious about what brought us to Anacortes, rather than astonished that we can read a map. At any rate, that’s how I took her meaning and that’s when it occurred to me that most people must zip through the town on their way to the San Juan Islands ferries.

Back in Vancouver, another friend told me she’s only been to Anacortes by boat. Whatever your means of transport, it’s a nice place for a mini-break.