The owners of the Chilliwack Sunflower Festival had been hosting an annual tulip festival since 2006. Then in 2017, while on vacation in Hawaii, they saw a sunflower festival there and pondered the possibility of expanding their operation. After some investigation, they opened the Chilliwack Sunflower Festival in 2018.
My wife and I along with some visiting family, took in the event on Monday and wow – it truly is a sight worth seeing. The gardens cover six acres and includes twenty-five varieties of sunflower as well as sixty varieties of dahlias. There are also several long rows of gladiolas. The map below shows the layout.
I didn’t know there were twenty-five varieties of sunflower. Most look very similar, but there are variations including giant sunflowers. And while most are the familiar yellow with a brown center, there are variations in color as well. Below is a lemon-yellow variety, much lighter than the traditional sunflower.
Most varieties of sunflower are quite tall, with some very tall indeed. An idea of the size can be seen in the photo of my wife and daughter below.
There are a few artifacts that have been added including a large double swing shown below. That’s my daughter and her husband.
And they also have a vintage 1950 Morris, somewhat rusted but interesting all the same.
The family owning the property is probably Dutch as there is a large wooden shoe at the entrance and a small windmill is one of the features.
We enjoyed exploring the sunflowers, but what impressed me most was the gladiolas and dahlias which are at the center of a horseshoe of sunflower beds. A large variety of dahlias were planted in long rows, and there were several rows of glads in vibrant colors.
One of the things we noticed was the large number of bees attracted to the flowers, particularly the sunflowers. There were the traditional honeybees as well as larger black bees, possibly carpenter bees.
Scattered throughout the fields are five lookout platforms. They are not very high, maybe two to three fee in height, but they do give you a chance to look over the tops of some of the taller plants and get a broader view of the fields.
While some of the sunflowers had faded, others were just starting to get into full bloom. Many of the giant sunflowers had gone to seed but are interesting to observe the layered structure of the flower.
The Chilliwack Sunflower Festival is quite easy to get to. From Vancouver, drive east on the Trans-Canada Highway to the Yale Road exit in Chilliwack. Turn right on Yale Road and almost immediately turn right on Royalwood Drive. You can’t miss it. There’s a map on their website.
Because of the current Covid-19 pandemic, you have to book ahead of time online. Payments are not accepted at the gate. It’s $20 per person if ordered on the day of attendance and only $15 if ordered a day or more ahead.
When we think of Antigua, we usually think of the Caribbean island, but there are in fact three others. Two of them are small towns, one in Australia and one in the Canary Islands. The subject of today’s tour is the ancient city of Antigua in Guatemala.
Founded in 1543 as Santiago de los Caballeros, it was the third capital of Guatemala which then covered most of Central America and the southernmost state of Mexico. It served as the capital for 200 years before a devastating earthquake forced the capital to be moved to Nuevo Guatemala (present day Guatemala City) in 1773. The old city was renamed Antigua Guatemala or Old Guatemala, later shortened to Antigua.
Antigua is located between two volcanoes, both still considered active, the Volcán de Fuego and the Volcán de Agua. Fire and water! From the harbor at Puerto Quetzal you can see both of them. The Volcán de Fuego is the most active one, constantly erupting. In the photo below you can see a little plume of smoke above it. It erupts about every fifteen to twenty minutes, usually just a puff like in the picture.
Major eruptions are rare but there were two in 2018. One on June 3rd of that year was the most explosive event since 1974, catching everyone off guard and burying several villages under ash and lava. 190 were killed and another 256 were reported missing. It was the deadliest eruption since 1929. The volcano erupted again on November 18th but the area was evacuated in time and there were no fatalities.
The tour bus taking us to Antigua passed between the two volcanos and through much of the countryside damaged by the November eruption.
After passing through the area and a couple of villages, we arrived at the embarkation point for Antigua where we boarded another bus. This one took us right into the old town, much of which has been reconstructed in the 17th century style complete with cobblestone streets. Our first stop was at a jade factory.
Jade Maya is a jade factory founded by archaeologists Mary Lou and Jay Ridinger. The couple discovered jade artifacts in 1974 and developed new jade discoveries as well. Mary Lou herself still runs the factory and museum and gave our tour group an overview of the history of jade in Guatemala.
The museum itself houses many Mayan artifacts and one of the largest lumps of jade anywhere. Skilled artisans are constantly making new pieces of jade jewelry for sale to the public.
After the Jade Maya visit we took the bus to the city’s town square, known as the Parque Central. This area is rich in history and the square itself is a beautiful park with trees and an interesting fountain. Many locals were hawking souvenirs and there were a number of shops on one side of the square.
The old fountain dates back to 1738. It was designed by Diego de Porres, the most outstanding architect of the time. Inspired by the Neptune Fountain in Bologna, Italy, Diego designed the fountain to show four water nymphs or mermaids spouting water from their breasts. Formally known as Las Sirenas, the Sirens, it is often called the Mermaid Fountain.
The heads were destroyed over time but the torsos survived , buried in the rubble. They were rediscovered in 1944 and now reside in the museum at the old City Hall across the street. Upon their discovery, noted Guatemalen architect Roberto González Goyri used them as a basis to recreate the fountain which you see today.
The square was filled with tourists when we were there, and there were plenty of locals in colorful costumes selling various souvenirs. Whatever they were selling, the women often balanced their wares on their heads.
The Parque Central is a perfect square and is surrounded on each side by the old barracks that served as the seat of government for 200 years, the Catedral San José, and by a museum and a variety of shops on the other two sides.
We explored the square and surrounding shops for some time before we boarded the bus again. We then toured some streets and passed the magnificent Iglesia de la Merced and passed under the famous El Arco de Santa Catalina.
We enjoyed our visit to this colorful and historical city. I leave you with two photo galleries, one of the Parque Central and one of the rest of our visit to Guatemala.
The next stop in our Panama Canal cruise, after leaving Panama, was Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We had booked something called Tárcoles River: An Eco Adventure, one of eleven different excursions available at this port of call. It is promoted as Jungle Crocodile Safari, which is a bit of a misnomer. But they also promote it as a Bird Watching and Tropical Mangrove Boat Tour and it is as a bird watching adventure that this excursion should be taken. Birds abound and when you board the boat, you are given a Bird Guide which shows 61 species of birds that you might encounter there.
The tour starts with an hour long bus ride to the Tárcoles River. There are a number of tour operators along the river and when we reached our destination, we took a short walk through a lush jungle garden to our tour boat.
Our boat then took us out on the Tárcoles River for a 90 minute tour. We headed up river and soon spotted our first crocodile. Most of the crocs we encountered (less than a half dozen) were just lazing in the river looking much like a log.
If you’re really keen on a crocodile adventure, this is not the tour for you. But if you are an avid birder, you’ll find many birds to look for. Though the bird guide lists 61 different birds you might spot here, we probably spotted about ten different species. Many can be found sitting in the shrubbery along the shore.
Costa Rica is covered by lush jungle, however the Tárcoles River has become very polluted. We saw old tires and other debris scattered along the shore and the river itself is an ugly brown color and certainly not a place one would want to swim, even if there were no crocodiles. A search on Google found reports that the Tárcoles is, in fact, the most contaminated river in Central America.
Most of the pollution comes from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city and home to fifty percent of its population. A report in the Costa Rica Star from 2016 notes what is dumped into the river: “Bottles, shoes, plastic containers, tires, toys, clothes, straws, umbrellas, brooms, electronic appliances; the list goes on and on. In 2007 the Bridgestone Company organized a general cleaning of the area and gathered 1000 tires.”
Given its condition, it is astounding what a wonderful assortment of wildlife make their home nearby.
Besides birds, you’ll also see banana groves and lizards, including iguanas. We spotted some horses along the river, probably from a nearby farm, and a couple of groups of recreational fishermen, though I don’t know why anyone would want to eat anything caught in this river.
But it was the bird population that was the most vibrant on the Tárcoles.
After cruising around for a while up river, we headed back down the river all the way to the coast. Along the way our eagle-eyed guide spotted a toucan in a tree at a fair distance from us. I could barely catch it with the zoom lens on my camera.
At the mouth of the river is the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific Ocean. Here birds covered entire trees along the shore, fish loving birds like the pelican.
After our tour completed, we went through the obligatory gift shop, which featured a couple of marimba players, and back on the bus for the trip back to the port.
We did see quite a few birds and a few crocodiles and other creatures, but overall, this was a bit of a lack-lustre tour. One of my friends who has lived in Costa Rica told me that the Puntarenas region is the least desirable place to visit in the country, largely because of the pollution.
We had opted for this particular tour because it involved a shorter bus ride to and from the excursion, but if we were to do it again, we would pay a bit more and travel a bit further inland to catch one of the other excursions, maybe the Hummingbird Gardens, Butterfly and Frog Park or A Walk in the Clouds or Costa Rica From the Sky.
Monkey Watch was one of the excursion options on our recent Panama Canal cruise. The tour left from the pier at Panama City, after we had transited the canal itself. Panama has a large harbor but it is not set up to accommodate cruise ships so we took one of the tenders to get to shore.
From there we took a bus that went up past the Milaflores and Pedro Miguel locks to the junction of the Chagres River with the Panama Canal. The Chagres used to flow all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, but when the canal was built, the mouth of the river was dammed to form the Gatun Lake, the largest man-made lake in the world at the time. The section of the Panama Canal from the lake to Gamboa is still considered part of the Chagres River. The boat launch was just the other side of the bridge that crosses the Chagres.
There were enough people to fill several of the canopied boats. Our route took us under the bridge and onto the part of the river that is part of the canal route.
We went downstream for a way to where the river widens into a group of islands actually known as the Monkey Islands.
We were told by our guide that we would possibly see three different varieties of monkey and that proved to be the case. We followed another one of the tour boats towards the shore of one of the islands, pulled in close and encountered some Geoffroy’s Tamarins, also known as the Panamanian Tamarin. It is a very distinctive species with its bulldog-like face, white chest and brownish-red nape.
These particular monkeys ventured close to take some treats, even venturing onto the tour boats. Below is a video of some Tamarin monkeys on the boat.
We encountered Tamarins again later in our excursion but after this group, we headed on and came upon a very lively group of Capuchin monkeys. The Capuchins are even friendlier than the Tamarins. There were also a lot more of them.
I also shot a video of these delightful creatures. It’s a bit shaky as I try to follow their movements but it captures their liveliness well.
The whole area around the Monkey Islands is verdant jungle. This is tropical rain forest and the rains, in fact, are one of the things that made the Panama Canal work. To move the ships up and down the locks uses up a considerable amount of water. Without constant replenishment, of the water, the canal could not operate.
The third group of monkeys we saw are the howlers. The Howler monkey is so named because of its loud guttural howls which can be heard three miles away. They are said to be the loudest land animal. The howls are thought to relate to territoriality and mate-guarding. The Howlers are a more reclusive species than the Capuchins or Tamarins. They did not venture down to the boats. They were often hard to spot, but we did see some that were clearly visible.
We enjoyed our jungle excursion. Along the way we got to see some of the activity of vessels navigating the Panama Canal as well as the wildlife. Below are some links of interest including an additional photo gallery of our visit.
The Panama Canal was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World in a BBC miniseries produced in 2003. A marvel of engineering, the story behind it is truly incredible. Almost everyone has heard of it, but few know much about it.
We had the privilege of taking a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles in November which crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the canal. The actual crossing takes eight hours.
The Atlantic side begins at the bottom of the scoop of Limon Bay where an inlet leads to the Gatun Locks. Everyone was crowded onto the decks to watch as we entered the locks.
The map below shows the Panama Canal. To call it a canal is a bit of a misnomer as it is actually a series of waterways that includes a bay, a set of locks, a man-made lake, a river, an actual canal, and another two sets of locks towards the Pacific side. Click on the plus or minis signs to zoom in or out on the map below.
The first European to cross the Isthmus of Panama was Vasco Nunez de Balboa who, accompanied by 1000 natives and 190 Spaniards, made the 40 mile crossing and sighted the Pacific Ocean in September 1513. He claimed the Great South Sea and all shores washed by it for King Ferdinand of Spain.
An overland route was established and the Spanish conquistadors who conquered vast territories of South America would ship gold from Peru to the town of Panama on the Pacific where it would be transported to the Atlantic by mule train.
From the mid-1500s to the mid-1700s, this route transported Spanish gold as well as silver from Mexico to be on-shipped twice a year to Spain.
The British eventually ousted the Spaniards from much of the Caribbean to claim dominance in the area. With the discovery of gold in California in the mid-1800s, the Americans now had an interest in the Panama crossing.
By 1875, the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had built the Suez Canal a few years before, expressed an interest in building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. The Suez Canal was 120 miles long. The Isthmuzs of Panama was only 40 miles across. What could go wrong?
In fact, de Lesseps success at Suez was part of his undoing. The Suez was a sea-level canal dug through sandy dessert. The Isthmus of Panama was a treacherous route that crossed vast jungles infested with yellow fever and malaria bearing mosquitoes.
De Lesseps was adamantly against building locks, believing a sea-level canal would do just dandy. French civil engineering was the best in the world at the time and the first crew of French engineers arrived in 1881.
Over twenty years of effort by the French ended in failure. Over 20,000 men died of yellow fever and malaria in the effort. 800,000 investors were wiped out. The de Lesseps were prosecuted in a huge bribery scandal. Even the late involvement of Gustave Eiffel could not save it. A new company took over in 1894, the same year Ferdinand de Lesseps died, and kept what was built in saleable condition. Eventually the American government took over in 1904 and finished the canal in 1914.
The Americans took a different approach to the French. They maintained and expanded the work done on the Culebra Cut which runs for nine miles from the Chagres River (Gamboa on the map) to where today’s Pedro Miguel Locks (not far east of the Milaflores Locks) are located. But they dammed up the river in 1906 at the Atlantic Ocean, creating the largest dam and the largest man-made lake in the world at the time. Most of the distance traveled through the Panama Canal goes over the Gatun Lake and a section of the Chagres River.
The original locks have two channels, one going in each direction. A parallel set has recently been built to accommodate larger ships. They were opened in 2016. We took the old set of locks, the original Panama canal.
The operation of the locks is impressive. The Gatun Locks raises ships 85 feet above sea level in three stages to reach Gatun Lake. Below is a video of the gates closing behind us at the first lock.
After the gates are closed, water is allowed into the lock to raise the ship to the next level. The water flow is quite swift and you can actually see it going up. The video below captures the water flowing. Watch the water level against the lock gate to see how quickly it rises.
Ships do not go through the Panama Canal’s locks on their own power. They are towed through the locks by train locomotives known as mules. Two mules on each side, fore and aft, tow the vessel.
As vessel traffic is in both directions, we entered the middle lock at the same time that a ship going in that opposite direction entered. The video below shows our ship and the cargo vessel Chasselas passing each other as we enter the middle locks.
About a thousand ships passed through the canal the first year it opened. In 2008, 14,702 ships passed through. It brings in revenue of $2 billion a year on costs of just $600 million. The Americans retained control of the canal until it was handed over to Panama in 1999. The treaty stipulates that the U.S. retains “the permanent right to defend the canal from any threat that might interfere with its continued neutral service to ships of all nations.” Panama has complete control over operations and has, in fact, expanded and improved the canal’s operations since taking control.
We were on a lower deck while passing the Charrelas and notices the shadows of people on the upper deck against the top of the freighter. An interesting sight.
Finally we were in the third of the Gatun Locks and ready to enter Gatun Lake for the sailing to the Pedro Miguel Lock some forty miles away.
Now I don’t know if this ritual is carried on by all cruise ships passing the canal, but our ship had an elaborate ritual, the Transitting the Panama Canal Official Ceremony, at noon on that day. The local native Chief Seneco and his wife, accompanied by two “mermaids” took seats of honor at the Centrum as the ship’s executive staff paid homage to the Chief and asked permission to travel across their territory.
Our Cruise Director, Steve Davis, conducted the ceremony which included executive staff members doing penance for alleged transgressions, like knocking on stateroom doors in the middle of the night as a prank, using too much hair gel, spiking drinks in the day spa, or turning up the sensitivity of the metal detectors so everyone would beep on returning from a shore excursion.
Punishments for these transgressions got moire severe as the rank of the executives staff members got higher. First they had raw eggs mashed on their heads, then they were pied, then spaghetti poured on with tomato sauce, and when the Hotel Director and another fellow were brought forward, they had to kiss a fish.
Cruise Director Davis revelled in this melee as he announced them and “punishments” were inflicted. But as the ceremony reached an end, Chief Seneco commented that there was one transgressor who had not been brought forward. Yes! Cruise Director Davis himself. Below is a video of Davis getting his come-uppance.
We continued on through the Gatun Lake until we got to the mouth of the Chagres River. The Chagres River used to flow all the way to the Atlantic but now most of it has become the Gatun Lake. What remains is navigable and dotted with little islands. Our excursion the next day took us by bus to where the Chagres meets the Culebra Cut and from there we took a motor boat along the Chagres to the islands near Gatun Lake. The islands are populated by monkeys.
We saw a number of freighters along the way including a liquid natural gas carrier.
The Culebra Cut is an actual canal, started by the French and completed by the Americans. It runs nine miles from its junction with the Chagres River to the Pedro Miguel Locks.
All in all, the transit of the Panama Canal was an entertaining and informative event. I bought a book about the canal on board and the history behind it is a fascinating story of daring and courage, hardship and failure, political intrigue, and ultimate triumph. Truly one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.