Wednesday, October 31, 2012

communing with nature Part II: Night


Our (two) nights at Bon Echo Provincial Park were something altogether very different from the days.  There's a very special feeling when the sun sets and all the light you've left is that of your campfire, the moon, and the stars.   

When you're around a campfire, far from everything and disconnected from the rest of the world (that is, the battery of my iPhone had died), when it doesn't matter what the time is and when its flow is hinted at by stories told, by gazing into the fire, by waves of warmth from hot chocolate and waves of cold from the air around, by the moon travelling through the sky, life is indeed different.    Even the glow from some neighbours' campfire in the distance the first night seemed surreal.  The second night - it was only us in the area...



We not only enjoyed the warm camaraderie of gathering around the fire.  We had some unexpected surprises too...

The first night, my husband got up at 3 or 4 am to go to the washroom.   When he came back, instead of crawling back into the tent to sleep, he whispered "You've got to see this!".  My curious me easily defeated my sleepiness and the cold and, when I came out the tent, I saw what he meant:  glimpses of the incredibly starry sky through the trees above.  Beautiful!  So beautiful we even went for a short walk, following paths lit just enough by a moon we couldn't see, straining our necks by constantly looking upwards to see the stars.   It seemed so easy to relate to our ancestors' obsession, awe and wonder regarding night, its mysteries, magic and myths...

Our second night was no less otherworldly (what, you think that adjective is too much? well let me tell you, it describes perfectly how it felt).   This time, all four of us decided to go to the lake.

Aided by what little moonlight got through the trees, we avoided using flashlights so our eyes would adjust to the minimal light.  It was not easy following the paths, and my mind was running wild with thoughts... about how terrifying it must have been to travel at night before there were lamps, about how every moving shadow and every noise would have been instinctively interpreted by our mind in search for patterns or danger, about how the myriad of stars must have sparked the same question over and over - "WHAT are those lights up there???".   That was one intense, fascinating walk.

And then, we spotted it, in the distance behind the trees, a big darkness by the horizon, with its own and different shade of black:  Mazinaw lake.  We reached it, we sat there, looking at it, at the massive rock face behind, at the stars above.  Then we moved closer to a small promontory by the water.  And there, while looking at the sky, all four of us standing close to each other, we saw it - a meteor!  Yes, I know, maybe shooting star would sound more romantic, but this wasn't romantic, this was awe-inspiring, as a meteor should be.   It was huge, very bright, it flew across parallel to the Mazinaw Rock for what seemed a really long time... Suddenly, a couple of glowing pieces broke off while the rest of the meteor kept rushing forward!    Like fireworks, the sparks burnt up, and a bit later the meteor did.  That was one incredibly lucky moment.  We waited to see if this would repeat itself.  But no.  It was a unique, beautiful spectacle of which, obviously, I have no photos to share.

I do have this other photo of the lake, the Mazinaw Rock and the stars.  Our wonderful human eyes could see way more than my camera could capture.  I tried editing the photo so it could approximate at least faintly what we saw... 



And that was our "glamping" trip - friends caring for us, deer, the colours of autumn, and a meteor/shooting star.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

communing with nature Part I: Day

For a long time we had been wanting to go camping.  I mean, living this long in Canada and not going camping even once?  And this September it finally happened.  Two friends, armed to the teeth with the latest camping technologies and with almost infinite camping experience and wisdom went above and beyond the call of duty and arranged things so that me and my husband, urban softies, could enjoy camping at a national park with a minimum of hassle (or, as they called it, we went glamour camping, or "glamping").

They chose Bon Echo National Park.  "Just" a 4 hour drive from Toronto, the park offered exactly what we needed for our Camping 101 experience: you could drive directly to the campground, there were flushing (flushing!) toilets within reasonable distance, and there was even a "comfort station" with showers, electrical outlets, toilets, washing machines... and yet, despite all that, all you had to do was step a bit away from those things and you could find yourself immersed in all-encompassing, serene nature.   Which included a lake (Mazinaw Lake).  And a massive rock face across that lake (the Mazinaw Rock).  With native pictographs.

We spent just two and a half days there.  And it was an experience I won't forget (yes, what a cliché, but true nevertheless).

To start with, for the first time ever, we built a camp!  Yeah, ok, I know, our friends did most of the work, and gave 100% of the instructions (can you believe those two found a way to make us feel useful even with our blatant ignorance and inexperience?).  It was definitely amazing to see how we went from nothing...  


...to our fully working camp!



There we had delicious meals, carefully planned and prepared by our friends, who went out of their way to make sure I could have a super vegan-friendly experience.  Like this vegan blueberry pancake with maple syrup and fruit salad with mint breakfast proves:


And since our basic needs (a place to sleep, plenty of food to eat, and security) were so well taken care of, we could enjoy all the park had to offer...

Like walks around Mazinaw Lake.   It was some 10, or maybe 15 minutes from camp.  Or more?  I mean, when you're there, time flows so differently and it's hard to tell.  Which is just so good!


Enjoying young groves of tall, harmonious trees.  Especially when you come across them by chance...


The vibrant colours of autumn!   No, we were not surrounded by red trees, as you can tell from our camp photos, but in walks here and there we found explosive reds and oranges and soft pinks, all the more intense against the surrounding green.  I must say we had to endure a somewhat (rather?) cold weather, especially at night, in exchange for camping in September and seeing these colours.  But it was completely bearable, and absolutely worth it:


There was also the odd detail -  a leaf, a tree root, a fungus... or even very alien looking fungi, too! (I mean, you have to admit, that thing in the last picture does look like it came straight from another planet, right?)


And though we didn't run into any bears (and I don't need to run into any, thanks) we did get close to raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels and... deer!  THREE!  Unfortunately, the light was poor, the trees many, and therefore my pictures bad...


Finally, we (well, our two friends and me, my husband stayed in the camp) couldn't resist and rented a canoe to paddle around the lake a bit, have a bit of adventure, and get close to those native pictographs I had mentioned and which have been there for enough centuries for everybody to have forgotten what they originally meant.

Yet this is only half of the tale.  Our days at Bon Echo.  The nights, as has been the case for most of humankind's history, were a very different story, belonging to a wholly different realm of experience...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Basic pleasures

Tlacoyos (two made with blue corn) with beans, nopales (tender cactus) and red and green salsas. From a street vendor by the Market of Coyoacán. Vegan. Delicious.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

a visit to the gods of Tenochtitlán

@ the Museo del Templo Mayor (Mexico City).

Tenochtitlán, the rocky place of many prickly pears...


Welcome to the Mictlán, the underworld...


Sea-shells, the symbol of birth, decorating Mexica buildings... 


Camazotz, the bat god...


The goddess Coyolxauhqui (bottom), dismembered by the god Huitzilopochtli, and the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli (top)...


Tlaltecuhtli, the earth goddess, giving birth, nourishing herself from the blood of those walking on her... 


Tláloc, the rain god, whose minions would shatter pots of water creating rain and thunder...


Xipe Tótec, our lord the flayed one, ho flayed himself to feed humanity and who himself wears the skin of a sacrificial victim...


Monday, October 15, 2012

A day in colonial Mexico...


Have a look at a Tree of Life at the Museo de Culturas Populares of Coyoacán...


Then have some squash blossom (flor de calabaza) and corn smut (huitlacoche) quesadillas (with corn tortillas) at the Mercado de Coyoacán...   


Watch flowery vines wrap around trees at the Plaza de Santa Catarina (still in Coyoacán)...


Have an encounter with happy death around the street of Francisco Sosa...


Or see an ancient stone goal from a ritual indigenous ballgame at the Casa de la Cultura Jesús Reyes Heroles (yeap, still in Coyoacán, on Francisco Sosa)... 


And finally head to Chimalistac for a look at tiles, kitsch and virgins...

Sunday, October 07, 2012

ELEVEN: Farewell Terra Nova


Our last few days in St. John's were full of colour and life.   And drinks.  Especially since we were back in town for the George Street Festival!  Now, George Street would have nothing remarkable about it, except that it's packed to the brim with pubs and bars.  Some brag it's the street with  the highest bar concentration in the world.  I don't know, a number of places in Japan would seem to vie for that title.  Anyhow, back to George Street, this was a festival with live music, lost of people, and lots of booze flowing.   We were not going to miss this, were we!  So we got our bracelets to enter the festival and...


But you don't go to the George Street Festival to drink, you go for the concerts!  Well, locals do, because we had no idea who the groups were.   And you know what, you didn't need to know:  the music was fun, with an unmistakable Irish quality that matched the place perfectly.  Plus, the crowd was quite something, too: they were having a great time with the music (you can feel those Celtic roots!), they were drinking and toasting (along with the bands' singers and musicians!) non-stop and, curiously, it was the whitest crowd I've ever seen in Canada: you could count the non-Irish non-European looking people with one hand!  That was kind of weird, this being Canada.   But anyhow, that was one fun night!


The next day was chock-full of pretty sights.  As in PRETTY PRETTY.  First, we did something I had been dying to do:  we drove to the other side of the bay to see the city.   I was sure that the best views were to be had from there, and not from Signal Hill.  I was so right.  The weather was great, bright and sunny, and the walk from our parking spot to the lighthouse at the entrance of the bay gave us amazing views of the city.  Plus we met friendly locals and a very friendly cat on our way up to the Fort Amherst Lighthouse.


After soaking up the beautiful views, it was time for our next stop.  We drove to a place that is barely 10-15 minutes from St. John's, but is a world apart alright:  Quidi Vidi (pronounced as Kiddy Viddy, it seems).   What a quintessentially Newfoundland village!   It doesn't get any quainter than this, and the delicious weather just made it that much better.  At some point, we walked to some rocks, sat down, and just enjoyed the peace and calm of the place.  It was so nice that my husband even found some peace to do some Taichi on a dock.  Quidi Vidi, a place that in winter even gets a small parade of icebergs floating by the bay.   Crazy and beautiful.


Back in town, the rest of our last full day offered plenty of nice memories for keeping...

...supper at what had easily become my favourite place to eat (and to sit!), Rocket Café.  That salad there, it was to die for.  Really.  Unbelievably good.


...a visit to a used books bookshop where my geeky self a book from Yale University Press for learning Irish (at FIVE dollars!) and Rabelais's Pantagruel IN THE ORIGINAL SPELLING!


...one last try at local beers with a clear winner:  Fighting Irish Red Ale, produced at the Yellowbelly Brewery and Public House.  Accompanied by a no less superb pizza.  Nom nom!


...and a gorgeous round, full, bright moon over row upon row of jelly-bean-coloured old houses, that had us running up and down hilly St. John's like excited children, taking pictures and chasing the moon.


Thank you, Terra Nova (Newfoundland) for an amazing anniversary!