Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I've Moved On To Bigger and Better Things

And you can join me, too!

Please update your links to my new blog:


See you all there!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

But Of Course, Salt Spring Wasn't ALL Bad...

Lest y'all think my first trip to Salt Spring Island was all doom, gloom, and grumbling about the crappy hand drawn hiking maps, let me remind you what a wonderful and magical place it truly is...

Only on Salt Spring:

- Can you meet not one, but two people, who are members of the same chanting and meditation group as Marty and I (Siddha Yoga). In a span of 10 minutes!

- Can you search for mystical 'fairy doors' on a magical mountain hike. (Alas, Marty and I only found 5 of the 6 doors. But I did learn that one way to sound like a crazy lady is to ask an unsuspecting hiker, whilst huffing and puffing your way up the mountain, where the fairy doors are. Especially if they are completely and utterly unaware that there are 6 to be found on the hike...)

Me: (huffing, puffing, before we stumbled upon our first fairy door discovery) Excuse me, but do you know where any of the fairy doors on this hike are?
Unsuspecting Hiker: (genuinely perturbed) The what?!
Me: (more huffing, more puffing): You know, the F-A-I-R-Y D-O-O-R-S (saying it slow and all deliberate-like)
U.H.: (genuinely alarmed) The what??!
Me: (gaining a sudden awareness of what this interaction must seem like to Mr. U.H.) Oh, the woman at the Visitor Information Centre, at the Chamber of Commerce, told us that 6 small doors were built into the roots of the trees here. (trying to maintain a semblance of sanity and rationality. Tossing in big, professional-sounding words like "Chamber of Commerce".)
U.H.: (now genuinely afraid) I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you're talking about. (proceeds to give me an extremely wide berth while passing me. Disobeys numerous admonitions by B.C. Parks to "please stay on marked trails to prevent erosion and to protect delicate ecosystems". The bastard!)

Yes, the doors exist. I promise.

But only on Salt Spring can you look for fairy doors on one of your hikes!

Rejoicing on the top of Mount Erskine after discovering the 3rd of 6 doors!

Also, only on Salt Spring:

- Can you tour a beautiful lavender farm and dream of one day living on/owning such a sacred and serene piece of property

The orchard, with stunningly beautiful barn/log house in background. I want to live there:
Inside the yurt dedicated to yoga and meditation. I have a thing for yurts:

A close-up of the dream house:

And in the window of the dream house, a chakra light catcher:

This is how serene I would be if I lived at the lavender farm. And not just because of the lavender working its essential oil magic:

We came back from a mere two days on Salt Spring feeling like we had experienced a whole week's vacation... Simply put: it was amazing, and I can't wait to go back.

Note to people somewhere in the general Pacific Northwest area: July 6 is not only my dear mother's birthday-- it is also the day of the annual Lavender Festival at the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm. Check it out!

Just a Thought

Dear Tourism B.C. and B.C. Parks,

There's something to be said about decent maps and trail markers. As a diverse and gorgeous province, you have a wealth of stunning hiking trails, most of which can be used as tasty bait to lure adventurous tourists inside the provincial boundaries. (And once they are in, they are sure to spend money.) However, the hikes themselves are not enough. You know what visitors really need? DECENT MAPS AND TRAIL MARKERS.

Not everyone who checks out the hiking trails in B.C. is navigationally savvy. And even those that are would still like to know a few critical details about a hike before embarking on it. For example:

1. How do I get myself to the trail head?

2. How long is the hike? (Better if this is measured in good old kilometres, rather than by time, because the last time I checked, not everybody hikes at the same speed)

3. Where will the hike take me? I.e. what is the route?

4. How do I get back to my car (or bicycle, or the road) when I am finished the hike? Is this a loop trail or an out-and-back?

Seems pretty simple, right? Then why, B.C., oh why, on one of your most beautiful Gulf Islands, can you not provide clear and consistent answers to these basic questions in any of your visitor information provided materials?

An example might help to illustrate this point. My dear husband and I ventured onto beautiful Salt Spring Island this past weekend. We were excited to take in the Saturday market in Ganges and to experience some of the hiking trails that Salt Spring had to offer. We were armed with a hiking trails guide book, and we also stopped by the Visitor Information Centre to retrieve maps of some popular hiking trails. We were prepared. Or so we thought.

One of the hikes we attempted was to Baynes Peak on Mount Maxwell. Our guide book provided the following instructions to drive to the trailhead:

"On Fulford-Ganges Road... turn southwest onto Cranberry Road to Hobbs Road. Swing left (south) at the T-Junction and take Mount Maxwell Road to the main parking lot. The pavement ends at the 4km mark. Parts of the 9km route may be rough. The road is not suited to trailers and RVs"
--- from Hiking Trails II: South-Central Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

OK, so we were on Mount Maxwell Road in no time. As soon as we turned onto the road, the pavement ended. That must mean 5 km to the main parking lot, then? Sure.

Well, five or so kilometres later, we were indeed in the main parking lot, but said parking lot, unbeknownst to us, actually represented the end of the hike, not the trailhead. There were picnic tables full of families who had driven up for the day, and nary a hiking boot nor bead of sweat was evident on any one of them.

This is how we came to hike down a mountain, rather than up. If you are ever thinking of doing this one day, it's not really recommended. For one thing, nothing beats the exhilarated rush of scaling a mountain by foot and finally being rewarded with a spectacular view. Honestly, it's kind of anti-climactic going from majestic panoramics up above to dark moss down below tree level. Still nice, but anti-climactic. Secondly, going down a mountain from the get-go means you still have to go back up to return to your vehicle. So the pain and suffering of the whole ordeal gets moved to the end of the hike. Come on. You sweat on the way up (at the BEGINNING) and scamper all carefree-like on the way down (AT THE END). That's how it should go.

In any case, down the mountain we hiked, following our 'trusty' visitor information centre-provided map and also consulting our 'very concise and clear' hiking guide book instructions:

Instructions: "At Baynes Peak (4), you will find the best viewpoint... The main viewing area near the sheer bluffs is fenced. From here you can hike northwest to find more viewpoints. The walk back to (1) is clearly marked. You can pick a route through open forest (2) where there is limited roadside parking. If you follow the park road east about 300m you'll find a minor, sometimes indistinct, trail (3) which winds through salal mainly along the north boundary. There are no trail markers. You can estimate the boundary by the size of the trees within the park... Avoid the south side trails: some are extremely dangerous. Only the trails from (4) to (1) are maintained."

Um, yeah. "Surprisingly" (truly, I'm shocked), we got a little lost on the hike. We started off on what must have been the south side trails... not marked at all. Beautiful and well-trodden, but not at all marked.

Marty posing next to the "Extremely Precipitous Dangerous Drop-Off", which had so lovingly been written onto our hand-drawn map.

In 45 minutes or so, we came to a dead end and the road back up. We were so not going to "hike" the road back up (so rustic!), so we crossed the road and discovered another trail. This one was marked with neon orange reflective tape and sometimes with neon orange reflective tiles that had been nailed onto trees. We figured we must be somewhere back on the mysterious route from "(4) to (1)", but even when walking in a straight line on the same trail, we discovered that some of the tiles had the number 2 scrawled on them, whereas others had the number 1, the number 3, the number 5 (?), and even "Gary's Trail" etched in permanent marker on them. So where the hell were we?

Don't get me wrong: the trail was still beautiful, and we were pretty certain that we would get back to our van so long as we eventually hiked "up". But how long would it take? Did we have enough food and water? Would we make it to the lavender farm afterward in time to take a tour before it closed? How much longer was this trail? To all of these questions, we didn't have the foggiest idea of an answer.

More time passed in the confusing sea of randomly numbered tiles, and suddenly we came across this:

Some other hiker, it seemed, had clearly been frustrated in this forest before and had taken it upon himself to laminate a little card of directions and hammer it to a tree. How thoughtful. And then again, soon after heading in the direction that was so helpfully pointed out by Mr. Lamination, we saw another novel trail marker:

This just happens to be a lid from a yogurt container that has been scribbled on in permanent marker and tacked to another tree! Note to B.C.: when your hikers have to resort to guerrilla trail marking tactics, perhaps it is time to invest in some DECENT (and preferably topographical) MAPS AND TRAIL MARKERS. Come on now!

The laminated sign and the yogurt containers proved to be the most clear directions we had received all weekend. We instinctively trusted in these rudimentary signs, even though their directions led us through a jumbled sea of more tiles marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and now "Frosty Trail". Eventually, we ended up back at the top, taking in the majestic views (again-- and this time at least a little sweaty), but cursing our stupid, not to scale, hand-drawn map, and our convoluted guide book.

We arrived at the lavender farm exactly 4 minutes before they officially closed. Luckily, we were still able to tour the farm on our own time. But B.C, had we known exactly how long the trail was and exactly where it was going, we could have planned our hike accordingly and finished it up with oodles of time to spare. A novel concept, I know, but come on... all the other provinces are doing it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hopelessly Devoted To You

Back in Calgary, I used to work out at the U of C Fitness Centre. At the time, some of my friends bought memberships to other gyms, feeling that the Fitness Centre at school was much too elitist and meat market-y (many Olympic athletes train there, and yeah-- I can definitely see how it might be a wee intimidating). I was too cheap (and broke) to explore other options. I figured that since the cost of my Fitness Centre membership was included (and mandatory) in my school fees, I might as well take full advantage of it.

Truthfully, I didn't find the U of C gym to be too elitist or full of bar stars, but it could be because I used to work out at the ungodly hour of 6 am. At that time of the morning, all of the people looking to score their next date at the gym were usually still hungover and/or sleeping... bless their hungover hearts. No, during my time there, I was typically joined by a handful of elderly U of C alumni who would faithfully do their gentle walks around the track. That was that, and life was good.

When we first moved to Victoria, Marty and I bought memberships to the least expensive club around: the local Rec Centre. It had many things going for it-- it was cheap, it had recently been renovated, and it was within a few minutes' walk of our apartment. However, it was also crowded and small. And did I mention crowded? I hated it there and only managed to drag my grumbling ass over there for a few measly workouts. For being the least expensive gym in town, I sure ended up paying an exorbitant amount of money per workout, if you're a geek like me and divide the total costs of things by the number of times you use them. (You know who you are!)

After my membership expired at ye olde Rec Centre, I hurried over to the YMCA to give that a go. What a difference! It's large, well-equipped (with both equipment and a variety of fitness classes), diverse, and just a few blocks away from my work. Plus, I'm now able to see why my friends gave up the U of C to come to a Y: every size and shape of person works out at the Y, and it's way less intimidating than the U of C could be. At the Y, you still see people working out in the latest Lululemon attire, but you also see a wide array of people sweating it out in an oversized 80s T-shirt and a ratty old pair of shorts. And yes, there are the people who are carefully groomed and well-manicured at the Y, but then there are also those who are more disheveled and who don't give a rat's ass what they look like for their workout.

I love it there. I like not giving a passing thought to the fact that my own workout attire is now a full 10 years old (and a little droopy on the bottom half... bought back in the day when bigger/baggier meant better!). I like feeling like I am 'somewhere in the middle' of the crowd: not the shortest or tallest, not the thinnest or heaviest, not the coolest or most awkward, not the most athletic or coordinated but also not the least athletic and coordinated. Yes, yes-- the Y here takes away most of the pressure and distractions that can characterize the gym atmosphere and makes it possible to focus on the only thing that really matters there: my workout.


I have developed a keen sense of self-consciousness in one area in particular. Despite the Y being home to a 'global village', mishmashed group of people working out, it still seems that mostly everyone has one thing in common: they all tend to sport an ipod or an mp3 player of sorts. Even the most disheveled looking old men in the faded neon t-shirts and shocking yellow short shorts have their ipod minis nestled discreetly in the armbands on their upper arms. I, on the other hand, still kick it old school. And by old school, I am not referring to the antiquities known as "discmans"; no, I'm talking about something a little bit more old school still.

I work out with one of those yellow Sony Sport walkmans affixed to the waistband of my pants. You know the ones... the ones like this (but more yellow, still) that were really cool in the 90s, when sweatbands and shimmery spandex leggings were the workout attire of choice. I still have one. It's big. And yellow. And instead of easily selecting which tracks to listen to while I'm sweating it out on the elliptical machine, I have to listen to the tracks on my mix tape (remember those?) in order. (Fastforwarding or rewinding is extremely slow on this machine and wastes the batteries big time). Plus, the 'auto flip' button on the walkman broke sometime... in the 90s, I'm sure... so when one side of the tape is finished, I have to suffer the awkwardness and embarrassment of opening the shell and manually flipping the tape. Oh, the shame!

I know that ipods and mp3 players have become so much more affordable than they used to be, and I also know that even the least technologically-adept of people can download music onto their ipods. So why don't I have one yet? I have no idea. I feel morbidly self-conscious flashing my giant cassette player around at the gym and yet... no ipod to make everything better at this point in time.

The truth is, I really like the mix tapes I made nearly a decade ago. I used to borrow random CDs from the library and record a song or two from each onto my tapes. Alas, I wasn't really clued into the whole 'demise of the cassette tape' trend until it was much, much too late. And now I have a bunch of really good (and random-- did I mention I didn't write down any of the artists or song titles? NON-REPLICABLE MIX TAPE MATERIAL. Very smart.) music on a bunch of tapes that need to be played in my hot yellow walkman.

Tell me how cool I am again?

Yeah, I know.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Wanted: A Czech Translator

Marty and I are hoping that you, or somebody you know, can speak both fluent English and fluent Czech (at an adult level).

You see, possibly the most generous and wonderful woman we know in all of Czech Republic-- Zdena-- has fallen very ill with colon cancer. The prognosis is not good. Already, she looks and feels sickly enough that she is refusing to have any visitors, lest they see her in her weakened state. Marty's parents, who only visit their home country once every three years, had to settle for a visit with her husband alone, because Zdena was too uncomfortable to visit with them, too.

During our visit (we stayed in a suite in their house for nearly 3 months), Zdena was always happy to indulge my sweet tooth (and her own!) Pictured here with our favourite: Geisha brand chocolate bar.

We cried when we heard this news. Now, we are hoping to send her a heartfelt letter. Alas, there are two complicating factors:

1. Zdena only speaks Czech. She and I had many moments of laughter, trying to communicate without Marty acting as a translator. I know only enough Czech to tell her "nerozumim"-- I don't understand. Her English is limited to words like "happy" and "rainbow".

2. Marty's Czech vocabulary is not sophisticated enough to tell Zdena everything we feel in Czech. He was brought to Canada from CZ when he was only 8 years old, so his Czech is rather elementary (literally).

Are you able to translate our English letter into Czech? Do you know of somebody who can translate our letter for us?

We are happy to compensate you for your efforts. If you are interested and capable, please e-mail Marty at:

marty AT martycultural DOT com (marty@martycultural.com)

Thank you so much!