When you stay in Cancun, it seems almost mandatory to check out some ancient ruins while you’re there. The most popular is Chichen Itza which is 200 kilometres inland. But also popular though not as well known is the coastal Mayan city of Tulum. It is right along the coast 128 kilometres from Cancun.
Tulum was a walled city and a seaport, a major trading hub for the Mayan civilization with a population of around 1000-1600 people. It thrived between the 13th and 15th centuries but was decimated by diseases brought in by the Spanish. By the end of the 16th century it was completely abandoned.
Major restoration work began in and continued throughout the 20th century. It is one of the best-preserved Mayan excavations, though considerably smaller than Chichen Itza.
Tour buses leave Cancun daily for Tulum and we took one of these excursions. Onsite, a guide gives you a running commentary on the various different structures. While you can explore in your own, we found our guide very knowledgable and helpful.
There are many structures on the site. The major ones include El Castillo, the castle, as well as several temples. The Temple of the Wind commands an excellent view of the sparkling blue Caribbean waters.
The Temple of the Frescoes stands in front of El Castillo, a modest structure by comparison.
One of the things that sets Tulum apart from Chichen Itza is its location. It sits on a 12 meter limestone bluff overlooking the sea. Near El Castillo are steps leading down to a beautiful beach. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to bring your swimsuit!
We did not bring swimsuits as we did not know about the beach. But we did take off our shoes and socks and waded through the surf. There is also good snorkeling in the area.
Tulum is a site steeped in history with a majestic setting. Definitely worth checking out on your Cancun vacation.
How many oceans are there and can you name them? Most people can come up with three – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They are, in fact, the largest. But there are two more – the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.
The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. It is so-called because it blankets the southern hemisphere, encircling the continent of Antarctic. The boundaries, however, have shifted over time.
The first map published by the International Hydrographic Association in 1928 had the northern boundaries touch Cape Horn, the southern end of Africa and the entire southern portion of Australia. That’s the area marked as the Great Australian Bight on the map. Since then the boundaries have been progressively moved south. Australia, however, still considers the body of water to their immediate south as the Southern Ocean.
In any event, the last place we visited on our Margaret River road trip in March 2016 was to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse near Augusta. This hstorical beacon was opened in 1985. Today it is a fully automated lighthouse. While the tower itself is closed to the public, the grounds are not. For a nominal fee you can get headphones for a guided audio tour.
The colorful history of the site is related on the audio tour as well as on signs along the way. The numerous outbuildings are explained. They include the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
But what is of particular interest is that Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly point in Australia. It marks the point where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. Like the folks who denounced the deplanetification of Pluto, the Australians will tell those who deny the Southern Ocean borders their country, “Bight me!”
Although you can walk around the lighthouse, you cannot go up the tower. But there are walkways all around. And signage describes the history and the landmarks to note.
We took the steps down to the rocks below. Access is blocked but it is easy to get through the fence. The wind and the waves are a beautiful sight.
On our walk back we once more passed an interesting piece of pop art – a cow with a telescope. It’s called Moorine Marauder. A nearby sign tells the story: From March to June 2010, 85 cows were positioned across the Margaret River Region as part of the world’s largest public art event “Cow Parade”. In July 2010 the cows were auctioned off with the proceeds going to regional beneficiaries and charities.
Similar pop art festivals have been held in Vancouver and other cities. Of the 85 cows, a great many ended up in the town of….. Cowaramup, of course. Pictures will show up in a future post.
And always with an eye out for the weird and whacky, it seems their were some hippy wannabes visiting the lighthouse. At least if their van is anything to go by!
The lighthouse marked the end of our road trip we headed back to our rented house for the night and back to Perth in the morning. But we encountered one more interesting sight on the drive back. Tree huggers! Literally! We were driving through a heavily forested area and came across several dozen people standing in the woods hugging trees.
We didn’t stop to chat, just snapped a couple of quick pics as we passed, so I don’t know what this was all about. There was a parking lot with some cars and a bus. A school outing perhaps? Some eccentric back-to-nature group? We don’t know.
We’ll close off with a few more photos. We enjoyed the drive out to Augusta. It’s only about 50 kilometres from the town of Margaret River but much of it is windy road. And there are other stops along the way. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a berry farm that sells home-made jams. More on that with pics in a later post.
One of our ports of call on our January 2015 Caribbean cruise was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As with most cruises, various excursions were offered and while the ladies opted for an island tour, my brother-in-law Don and I decided to check out something called the BOSS adventure.
BOSS stands for Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter. It’s sort of a mini-submarine that you can use to check out marine life and the ocean floor in relatively shallow water.
We boarded a cabin cruiser called The Prince of Tides and headed out for a sheltered cove. Once there the submersibles were lowered by crane into the water – fourteen of them.
There were thirty or forty of us on this excursion so the little subs went out in three alternating groups. Each craft was tethered to a float. To mount it, a person would duck down under the water and poke his head up into a plastic bubble as he straddled the saddle of the scooter. The bubble was connected to a scuba tank which provided the rider with air.
Once in the saddle, the BOSS unit was lowered down into the water. For those of us remaining on the Prince of Tides, we watched as a group of floats moved off like a school of surface fish. The craft are powered by electric motors and are steerable.
Each pod of scooters was accompanied by a scuba diver. Those remaining on the ship snacked, enjoyed the music playing or jumped over to do some snorkeling while waiting their turn.
The waters here were swarming with yellowtail snappers. The captain gave one young lady a bag of food pellets to toss out them. The fish jumped and swarmed like ravenous wolves.
When our turn came, Don and I went down to explore on our BOSS craft. I had brought an underwater camera and filmed our little adventure, including being lowered down, roving along and exploring and later being hoisted up and exiting the craft.
The snorkeling was also fun. I’d only snorkeled once before and didn’t like it. That was in Puerto Vallarta and we were our in the open bay. Large swells and waves had me swallowing water repeatedly and I cut that experience short quickly. Here we were in a sheltered cove. The water was calm, smooth as glass, and the snorkeling was a lot of fun. So much to see underwater.
After everyone had taken their turn with the submersibles, they were hauled back onto the deck. The video below shows them being hauled out and also gives you a good look at what these submersibles look like.
As we headed back to St. Thomas we passed a variety of resorts.
And we passed the three cruise ships in port. St. Thomas is a popular port-of-call. Although we were on the Ruby Princess and have never cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines, their ships are among the most colorful, with huge murals on their bows.
Don and I had a boss time in St. Thomas.
I’ll leave you with a few additional photos from the trip.
Rowena’s Inn on the River is a delightful trip back in time. It’s an old homestead built by a pioneer logger in the area for his family.
Charles Nelson Pretty was a businessman and entrepreneur. In the 1920s he had an opportunity to buy a 160 acre parcel of land in Harrison Mills. That land became, among other things, a dairy farm, a silvertip fox farm and a logging operation. At one time, Pretty’s operation was the largest privately owned logging company in all of British Columbia.
When the home was built, there was no road. The Pretty family took the train to Harrison Mills and paddled by canoe to their estate. Later he had a yacht built and sailed up the river, mooring in front of his home.
While Charles and his wife Rowena spent much of their time in Vancouver, they also spent time in Harrison Mills. Betty-Anne, the youngest of their four children was actually born at the home.
There was no electricity, so Pretty built a dam and produced his own electricity. The home still runs off the power from this generator.
In 1968, two of the children died tragically within six months of each other. Charles Pretty passed away in 1992 at the ripe old age of 102. The two surviving siblings, Ivan and Betty-Anne decided to convert the old manor into a Bed and Breakfast in 1995. They named the inn Rowena’s after their mother and late sister. There are five bedrooms available.
Four cozy cabins were added and the gatehouse which has two bedrooms is also available.
Ivan thought the location was ideal for a gold course and the 18 hole Sandpiper Golf Course soon became a reality. A restaurant was built adjacent to the old homestead. It was called the River’s Edge Restaurant but was renamed as the Clubhouse Restaurant to tie it in with the golf course. (I like the old name better!)
After Ivan passed away, Betty-Anne bought out his share and became sole owner of the property. Though Betty-Anne sold the estate in 2016, she and her husband Doug still live in the house, though Doug is currently in a convalescent home.
The house is filled with antique furniture and old photos of the family’s history. As a home from the 1920s, it seemed an ideal place to hold an annual themed party costume party. And so the annual Great Gatsby Party came about.
We attended the party in 2014, dressed up in costume, and stayed overnight with our friends Chris and Sheila. The Pretty family and their staff do it up in grand style. They bring in several old period cars and park them on the lawn of the estate. They bring in a few large tents in case it rains (which it occasionally does) and they brought in a swing band, the Jen Hodge All Stars, to provide some atmospheric music. They rocked the place. Band leader Hodge is the bass player in the video below.
There were also professional dancers to get people into the swing of things.
It did rain for a while during the day and the party was moved under the tents and indoors. Tea and refreshments were served, including 1920s era drinks like mint juleps.
Of course, one of the main attractions is the attendees. Some go all out to create the 1920s look. Flapper dresses, vests, suspenders and pocket watches. My wife sewed her own dress for the occasion.
We thought that the party might just attract older folks like ourselves but we were surprised by how many young people got into the spirit of the occasion.
Outside under a tent, the Baz Luhman version of The Great Gatsby was playing on a screen, but not many people were watching. It was backdrop.
The Gatsby Party skipped a year in 2016 but is back for 2017. A limited number of rooms and cabins are also available if you want to stay overnight.
Below is a short promotional video the estate produced for the Great Gatsby Party. My wife and I just happen to have a cameo appearance.
And while the Gatsby Party is a fun reason to visit Rowena’s, there are other reasons and seasons to visit. The inn is at the base of the road that leads to the Hemlock Ski Resort. The same road leads to the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel where you can watch salmon spawn. It’s open for visits from Oct. 6 to Nov. 1 every year.
And the Harrison River attracts one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles in North America every year in November. November 18-19 this year kicks off the annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. Pretty Estates is a great place for eagle watching.
And this year the estate is having a special Valentine’s dinner in both the Clubhouse Restaurant and in the dining room at the inn. My wife and I have booked a two day stay and are looking forward to it.
Rowena’s is a thoroughly charming trip back in time with many activities to choose from. It’s only 21.9 kilometres from Harrison Hot Springs and 108 kilometres from Vancouver, about an hour and a half drive.
Below are two photo galleries and some links of interest. If you’re on the front page of this blog, just scroll on down, otherwise click on the links. I will be taking more photos and adding them after Valentine’s Day.
We first visited the Butchart Gardens on our honeymoon in August of 1981, almost 35 years ago. We have been back once or twice since, but it has been quite a while. This past weekend we visited once more. And it is as gorgeous as ever with many new amenities added.
Robert Pim Butchart and his wife Jennie bought the site in 1903, moving there in 1904 so Robert could build a cement plant. The area had natural limestone, an essential ingredient for Portland cement, so Butchart both mined the limestone from quarries on the property and built a factory to process the mineral.
Jennie started the gardens in 1906 when she hired Japanese landscape architect Isaburo Kishida to design and build the Japanese Garden, the first of many that would become the Butchart Gardens.
The first thing you see along the walking tour of the gardens is a bower of hanging baskets. Fuchsias, begonias and many other specimens make up this cornucopia of colour.
Hanging a left brings you to the Sunken Gardens, possibly the most striking feature in the entire gardens. Formerly a limestone quarry, Mrs. Butchart set out to reclaim it when the limestone ran out in 1909. It took over ten years of painstaking work before the Sunken Garden was finished in 1921. Workers commandeered from Robert’s plant drained the quarry and brought in tons of topsoil. Jennie Butchart had herself lowered in a bosun’s chair over the face of the cliffs to hand plant ivies.
In the middle of the Sunken Garden stands a pedestal of plant-covered rock called The Mound. A winding staircase lets you climb to the top for a panoramic view of the Garden.
Further along the trail you arrive at a lake. Dragonflies like to fly around above the lily pads here. Butterflies are also common at the gardens.
Walking around the lake you can look back and see the Sunken Garden through the drooping branches of two giant willow trees. Further along the trail we come to the Ross Fountain. The Butcharts gave the Gardens to their grandson Ross in 1939 on his 21st birthday and he maintained the garden until his death in 1997. Ross created the night-time illumination system in 1953 and the fountain in 1964 on the 60th anniversary of the gardens.
Leaving the fountain, we walk back along a trail that rises and brings us to the Childrens’ Pavilion and the outdoor amphitheatre. The rising path brings us past excellent views of the Sunken Garden on the right and in a grassy area on the left we see three deer made of sphagnum moss. There are a number of these mossy creations throughout the park, including a cougar, a couple of rabbits, some ducks and an owl.
The Childrens’ Pavilion and Rose Carousel were opened in 2009. The horse and other creatures were hand carved. It is the only carousel on Vancouver island. It costs $2 to ride and my wife and her friend hopped aboard.
Across from the carousel is an amphitheatre where live shows are held throughout the summer season and at Christmas. Further along the path are two totem poles and just beyond that is a vast open area and a lake where fireworks are displayed every Saturday evening in the summer.
Continuing our journey we come to several large apple trees flanking the amphitheatre and then the Dragon Fountain on the left. Still further along, another fountain, the three fishes.
From there we arrive at the spectacular Rose Garden. A path parallels the garden taking you through several colourful arches. Then the garden proper, a large circular grassy field surrounded on all sides by roses.
At the far end of the Rose Garden is a covered path, a series of arches made of roses. A stunning display.
Leaving the Rose Garden we come to the Japanese Garden. This garden trails down a hillside toward Tod Inlet where the family moored its motor launch and spent a lot of recreational time. The Japanese Garden was the first of the gardens built by Jennie Butchart.
There is a trail from the Japanese Garden to a dock where they now offer 45 minute boat ride around Tod Inlet and the surrounding area. On the other side of the garden is a trail leading up to the Star Pond. Robert Butchart liked wild birds and kept ducks in the pond.
And just past the Star Pond is the formal Italian Garden, built in 1926 on the site of a former tennis court. The garden is surrounded on two sides by buildings, one of them the main residence which is now a restaurant.
Between the buildings is a path leading you almost to our starting point. Here you’ll find the famous Wild Boar statue. An exact replica of the fanous Italian statue created in 1620 in Florence, Italy. Like that statue, this one’s nose is shiny from people rubbing it for good luck.
Without a doubt, the Butchart Gardens are a must see for visitors to Victoria. And if you’re a local, the season’s pass is a bargain at under $60. We spent five hours there, including an hour for lunch after four hours walking the gardens. We left at 4:30 PM. But after dark, the gardens are illuminated, creating a whole different look. And on Saturdays in the summer there are the fireworks. Definitely worth a repeat visit.
Be sure to click on the Photo Gallery below for more pictures, or just scroll on through if you are on the main page.
There are a lot of scenic wilderness parks in British Columbia and many within driving distance of Vancouver. One that is well known to locals but not very well known to Vancouverites is Cascade Falls Regional Park near the City of Mission. It’s a two hour drive from Vancouver, but just 25 minutes from Mission.
Best way to get there is to take Highway # 1 to the Abbotsford-Sumas exit. Take Highway # 11 to Mission and turn right onto Highway # 7. Shortly after Hatzic Lake, turn left onto Sylvester Road. This is winding road that takes you up the mountain. After 14.6 kilometres, turn right onto Ridgeview Road for a kilometre to the parking lot.
Cascade Falls Regional Park is a 22 hectare park surrounding Cascade Creek. Its main attraction, of course, is Cascade Falls. You’ll find it up a winding trail, a fifteen minute hike that takes you to a viewing platform.
The falls itself is spectacular. A 30 metre drop carries the swift current to a deep emerald pool below. We were there in July but the amount of water running over the falls is heavier in the Spring. Although the water is cold, there were a few people in swimsuits gathered around the lower pool, cooling their feet and enjoying the view.
It is not recommended that people stray off trail, but there were certainly a few on the day we were there. From the viewing platform there is a suspension bridge that takes you over the creek and some additional lower falls which drop another 18 metres.
From the other side you get another excellent view of the falls. We were surprised to see a young woman at the very top of the falls standing in the flowing water snapping a picture of some friends.
After watching the young daredevils with bated breath, we wandered in the other direction. We could see additional cascades below and a calm area below that.
There were a lot of people surrounding the calm lower pools – a great place for a picnic lunch or a cool dip.
Upon heading along the trail back to the parking lot, we stopped to check out a giant stump. There are a few of them around the park.
So if you’re a long time Vancouverite looking for something new to explore, take a trip to Cascade Falls. And if you’re just visiting the area, this is one of many nature parks worth exploring. Do check it out! We’ll conclude with a few extra pictures.
On our last full day in Barcelona we wanted to see everything we had missed so far. A tall order. On our first day we had explored the fabulous Sagrada Familia. On our second day we took a side trip to Figueres to check out the Dali Museum. So we started our third day with a visit to Gaudi’s other masterpiece, the Parc Güell.
We hopped a metro to the Plaça des Lesseps station which is just a fifteen minute walk from the park. Visitors are warned to beware of pickpockets in Barcelona and we encountered one on leaving the station. I was walking up the steps on the right side holding onto the handrail when a young guy came up quickly behind me and tried to barge his way between me and the handrail, but my friend warned me and I held my ground. He went up the stairs empty-handed. When we got to the top I pointed at him and shouted out a warning, “Watch out! That man is a pickpocket.” He gave me an angry scowl and slunk back down into the train station.
The fifteen minute walk took us through some narrow streets and up a fairly steep hill which did have an escalator. When we emerged, there was the elevated plaza that is the centrepiece of the park.
Parc Güell was conceived as a housing development by banker Eusebi Güell. He had acquired a large plot of land on Carmel Hill and commissioned Antoni Gaudi to design the development which was to have sixty upscale houses. Work on the project started in 1900 and continued through 1914 but a variety of factors – complex leaseholds, lack of transportation, and the exclusive nature of the project – doomed the project to failure and only two houses were built, neither designed by Gaudi.
What Gaudi did build was the central terrace, supported by 84 Doric columns, as well as the central staircase leading to the lower terrace. And at the base of the staircase, two buildings – a porter’s lodge and an office (now called the Warden’s House) are pure Gaudi, built when he was at the height of his creative powers. And so were several viaducts, created in Gaudi’s distinctive organic style.
Güell died in 1918 and his heirs sold the property to the city. It opened as a municipal park in 1926.
The terrace is bordered by a long serpentine bench, sometimes called the wave bench. Like many of Gaudi’s works from this time, the bench is inlaid with colourful tiles. The upper terrace commands a brilliant view of the city and the Mediterranean in the distance. Looking down from the terrace, you also see the Porter’s Lodge and the Warden’s House, both also richly covered in mozaic tiles and reflecting Gaudi’s naturalist style – lots of curves.
We descended to the lower terrace and marvelled at the mozaic ceiling between the columns supporting the terrace. The lower terrace itself is often frequented by buskers providing some entertainment for the many visitors.
From the lower terrace we walked down the sweeping staircases and admired the giant mozaic salamander that is the centrepiece and a hallmark of Gaudi’s style.
We then followed a path underneath one of the viaducts. These large structures were quite different in style than the buildings and terrace. The supports and decorative elements were more reminiscent of the Sagrada Familia – a tawny jumble of stonework just piled together. No smooth lines except in the aggregate. Graceful and delicate looking despite the rough hewn edge.
Beneath the viaduct we came across another busker playing his instrument, and the path then took us past the Casa Museu Gaudi. This house was built as a show home for the Park Güell residential project by by Gaudi’s right hand man, Francesc d’Assís Berenguer i Mestres and Gaudi lived there from 1906-1925. It is now a museum dedicated to Gaudi and his works. We did not tour the museum.
We then walked over the viaduct and back down to the Porter’s Lodge which is open to the public as a gift shop.
Inside we found curved spaces everywhere. Gaudi was fond of curves and used them to good advantage. A narrow winding staircase took us upstairs. From the windows we caught a good view of the sweeping stairs leading up to the terrace.
On leaving the gift shop we came across another busker playing in one of the grottos at the base of the staircase. It was an interesting instrument, both percussion and stringed. He hammered at the strings with mallets creating a very pleasant sound.
As we were about to leave Parc Güell we came across someone in a salamander costume. He had a helmet to match which you could wear to pose for pictures with the man. For a modest fee, of course!
We had an enjoyable tour of this popular venue and still had time for more. But the wives and the men had different ideas of fun. So while our wives went shopping, Chris and I jumped aboard the Hop On Hop Off bus and took a last tour of Barcelona. We arranged to meet up with the ladies in the late afternoon at the statue of Christopher Columbus on the waterfront, after which we would explore another must-see Barcelona venue, La Rambla. And that will be the subject of my next post!
Please click on the link below to see an additional photo gallery of the Parc Güell or if you are on the main page, just scroll down. I’ve included links to official websites for the park and for the Gaudi House Museum.