Saturday, October 31, 2015

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario—Canoeing & Camping on Carlyle & Terry Lake, June 26-July 03, 2014

Paddling on Lake Carlyle and Terry Lake

Catherine and I spent over one week camping on Carlyle Lake in June/July of last year and we thought that it would be a wonderful idea to visit the same lake again this year. Of course, we had to make a reservation many months before — after all, Killarney is one of the most popular parks in Ontario.
 
A very disoriented bear
The drive from Toronto took over 6 hours, but as always, it was very pleasant. Soon we exited highway 69 and turned into road 637 leading to the park and the town of Killarney. Not long after we spotted a smallish black bear, walking erratically along the road. We stopped and were watching it for a while. The bear appeared a little disoriented — it was walking on the right side of the road, then for a while in the middle, crossed over to the left, then again to the right and finally ran to the left, disappearing in the forest. Probably it had too much to drink the previous night…
 
Our campsite between Carlyle Lake and Terry Lake
After arriving at the Lake George office at 2:30 pm o’clock, we quickly obtained a permit, drove back to the Carlyle Lake access point, unloaded the car and at 3:30 pm started paddling. Last year we had been hoping to get campsite no. 55, yet were beaten to it by a group of young people and ended up on campsite #56, which turned out to be awesome! This time all the campsites were vacant and we were deciding between campsites no. 55 and 56. Although campsite #56 was, in all probability, better, we decided to try the other one, #55 — we had never camped there as well as it had a small waterfall and another lake, Terry Lake—as well as we could see our 'old' campsite #56. The access was a little difficult and we had to drag our stuff up the steep and rugged hill, but once we were done, we enjoyed this campsite very much.
 
On the way to the thunderbox
The thunder box (i.e. an outhouse without the house) required walking for 1 minute through a very beautiful area, but some campers were not using it, as evidenced by scattered toiled paper. Black flies, which should have vanished by then, were still active and biting. Later we had a nice campfire and went to our tent quite early.
 
Sue and Ian (and their dog) portaging from Carlyle Lake to Terry Lake
Our friends, Sue and Ian, arrived the next day at noon and all of us portaged over the waterfalls (15 meters) to the adjacent Terry Lake, where we paddled for one hour in hot sunlight. While portaging back to Carlyle Lake, Catherine fell into the water — well, at least she did not have to take a shower! While we were having lunch, Andrea and her daughter, Barbara (who had just written her bar exam) arrived. It turned out that Killarney Canoe had not delivered their canoes on time and despite 2 phone calls, they still waited for 2 hours. 
Beaver dam on Carlyle Lake

In the evening Catherine, Andrea, Barbara and I went for a paddle on Carlyle Lake. After reaching a beaver dam in the narrows leading to Johnnie Lake, we paddled back to the campsite under the glow of stars and the firelight of the campfire that Ian & Sue had built. Mosquitoes were bad and all of us had to spray. Earlier that day Barbara pointed out to a big water snake on our campsite — I was surprised to see it so far from the water!
 
Sue and Ian deparing
The next day Sue & Ian left mid-morning. We spent a few hours just relaxing and talking. Later Andrea and Barbara packed up and all of us paddled together, then bid them goodbye, paddled to the parking lot, chained the canoe to the tree and drove to the town of Killarney. The first thing that we noticed was that the famous red school bus, from which Herbert Fisheries Restaurant had operated, was gone! There was a new restaurant building under construction and Herbert Fisheries operated from a temporary trailer. A few days later we heard a news item on the radio about Herbert Fisheries — the owner said that when the old red school bus was being towed away, she felt like crying! 
Herbert Fisheries-indeed, very famous!

After having French fries and cold beer (the LCBO store is just a stone’s throw from there), we went to the town’s main store, Pitfield’s. Suddenly we noticed a sudden drop in temperature, the dark sky was crisscrossed by lighting and pouring rain followed. We sat at the back of Pitfield’s and watched passing boats in the channel. Once it stopped raining, we strolled along the channel and as I looked in the south-eastern direction, I could see  the outlines of Martins Island, Centre Island and West Fox Island, where we camped several years ago. Then drove to the lighthouse, but the road was washed out and we did not want to take any chances. We visited the local ‘self-serve’ airport — it was possible for pilots to turn on lights along the landing strip with their radio. It was getting dark, so we quickly drove back to the parking lot, unchained the canoe and in darkness paddled to the campsite.
 
Catherine, Andrea, Jack, Barbara, Ian and Sue
Since we love having grilled steaks over the campfire, I had purchased plenty of beef steaks from Value Mart and marinated them. Unfortunately, they turned out so bad (tough, tasteless) that instead of grilling them, we stewed them, yet they were still very mediocre. It was not the first time we had such a bad experience — sometimes beef steaks are excellent, sometimes they are terrible (several months later we grilled a couple of T-bone steaks at Catherine’s house, yet they were so tasteless and tough that the next day we returned them to Value Mart). That was why from then on we decided to bring pork steaks or ribs, which are not only less expensive, but always turn out scrumptious.


During the remaining few days we paddled on Carlyle Lake — sometimes it was quite windy — and visited the town of Killarney once more, this time going to the church (that looked like a lighthouse) and the graveyard, located a few km north, along road number 637. There were plenty of familiar names — after all, most of the residents of Killarney are descendants of original pioneers who married Native women, so they were related and many possessed a Certificate of Indian Status. Such certificate exempted them from paying certain taxes, especially when they purchased goods on a reserve or the goods were delivered to a reserve. And since there was an Indian reserve close by (Point Grondine Indian Reserve — once we had camped there overnight) which straddled road 637, a new store and a gas station had just been built there. It was run by a native woman and she said that a lot of people from the town of Killarney came and bought gas there since they did not have to pay tax.
 
Catherine in front of the French River map near the French River Trading Post & the Hungry
Bear Restaurant
On July 3, 2014, we packed up, paddled to the parking lot and drove straight to the park, where we took a refreshing shower and changed our clothes. Then we headed towards Toronto, stopping for an hour at the Hungry Bear restaurant and visiting the amazing Trading Post, which had plenty of fascinating books, albums and videos on local history, innovative pottery (some featured paintings of the “Group of Seven” and Benjamin Chee Chee), Native Craft, postcards, clothing, shoes, colorful t-shirts, fishing equipment, knives, maps, carvings and food items. Granted, some of them are quite pricey, but are also quite distinctive.
 
Pointe au Baril
The second stop was at Pointe au Baril. We drove on road 644 and stopped at a lovely church. We kept driving until we reached Payne Marina. A couple (Mr. Rob Harris and his wife) with two very friendly dogs were just preparing to depart on their boat and while I was playing with the dogs, Catherine struck up a conversation with them: we were interested in canoeing in the area one day and were curious if there were any public islands/shores (i.e., crown land) where we could camp. Well, not only did they tell us a lot of things, but invited us for a 30 minute boat ride! Indeed, the area was very nice, although I was a little concerned about the open water we would have to paddle on. We thanked them for the tour. Incidentally, that encounter soon bore fruits. Once I got home, I spent a few hours studying the map of Georgian Bay and we ended up going to Franklin Island, where we camped for almost one week.
 
At our campsite on Carlyle Lake

Of course, I wish I could, one day, explore the interior of Killarney Park, yet it would involve plenty of often long portages. Nevertheless, we always enjoy paddling on portage-less lakes in Killarney!


Port Burwell Provincial Park, Ontario, May, 2014

In May, 2013, we went canoeing & camping to Algonquin Park, hoping to relax, enjoy Ontario’s wilderness and serenity and especially take hundreds of photographs of ubiquitous moose wandering all over the park at that time. Well, we did not take one thing into account: black flies! There were huge swarms of those tiny insects which, along with mosquitoes, were incessantly attacking us. We were forced to cut our trip short and left the park after just two nights. Not wanting to have a similar experience, we decided to go south this time, to Port Burwell Provincial Park, where black flies are non-existent. Although the area is totally different from the northern shield country, we were looking forward to visiting this park.
Our campiste

We left Toronto on May 19, 2014, on Victoria Day—the first long weekend of the season. After driving for an hour or so on Highway 401, we eventually took country roads and soon arrived at the town of Delhi (pronounced ‘dell high’), pulled into a pleasant town park next to the Tobacco Museum and parked across a small waterfall. Delhi has been known as the Heart of the Tobacco Country—it was here that basically 100% of Canadian tobacco is grown. Yet its production has declined over the past decades due to the dwindling of the number of smokers, thus leading to the weakening of the tobacco industry. Although there are still plenty of tobacco fields, we also saw a new, exotic crop—ginseng; it takes several years for it to mature and be harvested, but there is a great demand, especially from the Chinese community and its prices are very high.
Lake Erie Beach at the park-misty and mysterious...

A lot of immigrants from different countries have settled in Delhi and thus it is a very multicultural city. We saw a Polish, German, Belgian and Hungarian halls/community centers; we were told there used to be a Portuguese and Italian center as well. When we stopped at a garage sale (Catherine’s de rigeur stops), the vendors were of Dutch origin. We noticed a black flag in front of the Polish Hall; later I found out it was due to the death of Bazyli Piekarski, who used to be the manager of the Polish Hall.
Trinity Anglican Church in Port Burwell

Our next stop was the town of Vienna. When Catherine had been doing her research, somehow she got the impression that the town resembled the capital of Austria (she was told this in a phone conversation by a park office employee). I did not want to put her right and instead told her that indeed, there was an impressive Opera building and even Bizet’s “Carmen” was on. Catherine got quite excited about attending this performance.

“Why did not you tell me that in Toronto?” she asked, “I’d have brought more formal clothes.”

Once we got to Vienna, I had a great laugh! It was a very small, farming community, with just a few dozen stores. Pointing to a bigger, barn-like dilapidated building, I asked her,

“Perhaps this is the opera house?”
Plenty of wind turbines!

Yet there was another thing that might have put this town on the map: the Edison family once had lived there. Thomas Alva Edison’s father, Samuel Edison, had to escape to the United States after the Mackenzie Rebellion of 1837; otherwise Thomas Alva Edison might have been born in Canada! The young Thomas Edison spent many summers in Vienna with his grandfather. Interestingly, the original Edison homestead was moved to the USA by Henry Ford in the 1930s!

We also dropped in on a grocery store located at in intersection of two country roads. The store was doing a brisk business and it was also selling Mexican food and fabrics, mainly to the Mennonites living in the area. We were fairly surprised to see that they were using credit cards and driving all-wheel vehicles, not horse-drawn wagons!
Pet Cemetery

We also stopped at a unique cemetery for pets only (Sandy Ridge Pet Cemetery, south of Tillsonburg). There were plenty of nice headstones and tributes to the Rovers and Fidos of the world and a few fitting remembrances to the feline crowd. There were even inscriptions in Polish, Jewish, Russian, Chinese and other languages. While reading those poignant words, you could immediately feel that they were so genuine, flowing from the heart.

Upon arriving at Port Burwell Provincial Park, we went to the empty registration office. According to the posted information, we were supposed to pick a campsite and self-register. The park was virtually empty and we drove to campsite #118, covered with trillium flowers, but it backed on a factory nearby. So, we continued to search for the perfect non-reserveable site and finally found a very good site no. 36.

As I said before, the park was almost deserted (5 sites taken out of 356) and even though there were plenty of campsites around, we had been enjoying total privacy… until three college-age girls arrived and set up their tent at the adjacent campsite and proceeded to play nonstop talk radio on site even when they were off site! Honestly, sometimes I do not understand people…
Fred Bodsworth's grave in Port Burwell

The town of Port Burwell had a very distinct lighthouse (one of Canada’s oldest), Trinity Anglican Church and a cemetery where many descendants of the town’s founder, Mahlon Burwell, were buried. While camping in Port Burwell in 2006, I had seen an announcement at the local library about Fred Bodsworth, a well-known author, journalist and naturalist who was born in Port Burwell in 1918 and who was going to visit his birthplace and sign his books. Although I was not going to be in Port Burwell at that time, I managed to buy one of his most famous books, “The Last of the Curlews” (with his autograph!). Fred Bodsworth passed away in 2012 and we visited his grave at the cemetery.

The Trinity Anglican Church was the gift of Colonel Mahlon Burwell. After John Strachan’s inaugural service at Trinity on May 22nd, 1836, the church was officially opened. Unfortunately, it was closed and we were unable see its interior.

In the nineteenth century Port Burwell was well-known for its shipbuilding; in additions, a number of fisheries operated from Port Burwell, albeit their success fluctuated, depending upon the fish stocks, which eventually declined and in 2014 only one fishing tug operated from Port Burwell—it was still possible to buy fresh fish directly from fishermen.

However, one of the most memorable industries in Port Burwell was coal shipping. From 1906 to 1950 a car ferry called The Ashtabula (the name is derived from ashtepihəle, which means 'always enough fish to be shared around' in the Lenape language), with built in track to transport railcars across the lake, made round trips from Ashtabula, Ohio to Port Burwell, shipping coal across Lake Erie to Canada and carrying newsprint and limestone from Canada to the United States. The coal was then transported by rail to such areas as Tillsonburg and Woodstock and often used in kilns to dry tobacco leaves. By 1955, the Ashtabula made 12,000 round trips, up to 250 trips per year in the postwar period. Eventually coal shipping stopped when diesel engines became popular. On September 18, 1958, the Ashtabula collided with the Ben Moreell, a bulk freighter, near its port in Ohio. Although there was no loss of live, her damage was so extensive that she was scrapped. At the time of the collision she was captained by Louis Sabo, who had spent 31 years, half of his life, on the Ashtabula. The preliminary inquiry by the Coast Guard accused Sabo of various infractions that led to the accident. The night before the full inquiry for disciplinary action was to be held, Capitan Sabo went to his garage, turned on his car and was found on the floor in the morning, asphyxiated. In addition, an insurance inspector, while examining the Ashtabula, fell through a hole to his death. Thus, two deaths were indirectly caused by the accident.
Mural in Port Burwell, depicting the port and the Ashtabula 

Today it is still possible to see rotted ties at the mouth of the Big Otter Creek, where the railway terminal used to be located. The rail tracks had been lifted long ago and a narrow path marks the old train route. About ten years ago I went to Port Stanley; there was a train operated by volunteers that took tourists to St. Thomas and back. One of the train’s engineers told me that he had driven the last train from Port Burwell.

We also went to the beach (on Lake Erie). Since it had rained previously, thick mist was enveloping the dunes and driftwood — the whole area resembled a scene from a horror movie! Catherine decided to go for a walk and soon vanished in the dense mist, only to re-appear after thirty minutes.
In front of a Mennonite store in Aylmer

The next day it was raining and we drove to the town of Aylmer, where we spent a few hours at a farmers’ market a.k.a. flea market, where we bought some vegetables and sausage. Quite a few of the vendors were Mennonites. Then we drove to a nearby Ontario Police College; every police officer in Ontario must spent 13 weeks training there. We received visitors’ passes and wandered around the building. There was a small police museum and a memorial dedicated to policemen killed in the line of duty—some of them I remembered as their shootings were on the cover pages of newspapers for many days. We also saw a lot of students—all were uniformed and even carried guns, albeit not real (as I suspected—I would not like to be a teacher arguing with armed students over their grades!). Outside there was a fake mall, firing range and driving training facilities. The college was erected on the grounds of the former Royal Canadian Air Force Station, constructed during the Second World War.
Torpedo room

Yet the absolute highlight of this trip was a new attraction that awaited us in Port Burwell—namely, a real submarine! It was the HMSC Ojibwa, an Oberon-class submarine that served in the Royal Canadian Navy, mainly spying on the Warsaw Pact navy. After being decommissioned, in 2012 it arrived in Port Burwell and is open for visitors.
The Submarine in Port Burwell

We started in the forward torpedo room and our very knowledgeable guides told us a lot of fascinating details about torpedoes and the firing procedures. It was only possible to take photographs in that room. Then we proceeded to the Control Room, Engine Room, Motor Room and the Stern Torpedo Room. It was an absolutely captivating tour—finally I was able to personally see what I had only watched on TV! It was unbelievable how little privacy the crew had. There were six-foot bunks and there were more people on-board than regular bunks —after all, there was never time when everyone was asleep, so you slipped into any bunk that was unoccupied. Only the captain had a private stateroom—if you can call that a room, as it resembled a tiny cubbyhole-I am sure that inmates in Canadian penitentiary institutions enjoy bigger cells! The washrooms cubicles were so small that it was impossible to fit in without leaving the door open. Even though the submarine was decommissioned in 1998, the whole interior was permeated with the smell of diesel (which made Catherine feel nauseous). And then there was the motor room—according to the tour guide, the noise there was comparable to that of a jet taking off; those working there invariably suffered serious hearing loss. I could go on and on… the whole tour lasted just over 1 hour and cost just under $20, but other, more comprehensive tours are offered, which I would love to take in the future. In any case, I do not think I would be able to serve on a submarine, especially living there for months… I still prefer my canoe!
At Port Burwell Provincial Park--among Trillium grandiflorum, the
official flower of the Province of Ontario

We also drove along the shores of Lake Erie and arrived at Long Point—a very long peninsula, which is famous for bird migration and habitat—and checked out Long Point Provincial park. The open area, used mainly by RVs, was not very impressive, yet Catherine absolutely fell in love with much more cozy campsites close to the lake—they were sandy and much more secluded. Well, I know where we are going camping next May! Later we went to Turkey Point Provincial Park, with a long beach, albeit totally empty.


Overall, it was a very nice camping trip which allowed us to discover a new part of Ontario—and explore a real submarine! Although we still prefer the rugged Canadian Shield, we will certainly visit the shores of Lake Erie in the following years, especially in May or June.

More photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/albums/72157660215430430

Cayo Largo, Cuba—One Week at the Hotel Pelicano, January, 2014

Cuba, of course, is a (big) island—well, maybe too big for us… and we wanted to try something smaller and cozier. After some research we had our mind set on Cayo Largo del Sur, an island off the south coast of Cuba. It is approximately 25 km long an 3 km wide, has just several hotels (in its western part), an international airport and one of the best beaches in the world! Supposedly Columbus visited the island during his second voyage.

Just a week or so before our departure one of my clients called me and wanted to see me, but said that since he was soon going for vacation, we could meet at the end of January, 2014.

            “Where are you going?” I asked him.

            “We’re going to Cuba”, he said.

            “Whereabouts?”

            “Well, to a small island called Cayo Largo”

            “And when are you leaving?”

            “On January 17, 2015,” he said

I was quite astonished—what a coincidence!

            “Well, let’s then meet at the airport or on the plane,” I suggested.

He became a little confused at my rather strange proposition.

            “Why?”

            “Well,” I said, “we’ll be flying on the same plane—as well as I will be staying on the same island!”
 
View of the Sol Pelicano form the lookout Tower
And indeed, on January 17, 2014, we did meet him and his wife at the Toronto Airport, soon boarded a comfortable Airbus 310 and left just after 6:00 pm—no deicing was necessary. We had a very good food, average wine and I could see the full moon through the window. After exactly 3 hours and 33 minutes up in the air, we had a perfect landing. By the way—I did not conduct any business with my clients at that time!

We quickly cleared the customs, but had to wait for a long time to get the bags; a very nice, energetic and playful ‘working dog’ was sniffing at the bags, spending on some bags up to 10 seconds, but apparently did not find anything. The bus ride to the hotel took just 10 minutes—the shortest bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Cuba! Our luggage was unloaded from the bus while we were checking in. We were assigned room number 4319 (“Magnolia”) and also decided to pay 2 peso per day for the room safe. At the same time we exchanged $200 into Cuban pesos (got about 176 pesos).
 
The beach in front of the hotel
The room was on the second floor and faced the ocean. It was very spacious and had a telephone, TV, even a small fridge; the best thing was a big balcony with a generous overhand to protect us from rain. We could sit there, watch the ocean, listen to the soothing sound of the waves and admire sunsets.

Next day we were up at 8:00 am, showered and went to the buffet-style restaurant for breakfast—I had 3 eggs, piece of bread, yogurt, sausage, some fruits. The orientation took place at 11:00 am in the theater by our rep, Samir. He mentioned a recent accident: according to his version, a Canadian tourist, after having several drinks, got on the scooter along with her very small baby and had an accident in which her child was killed. She was detained in Cuba for some time, but eventually released and left for Canada. He also told us about the daily train that could take us to other hotels/beaches and other activities.
Every day we were playing with the three adorable puppies; their mother did not mind!

After the presentation we went to the beach and got a type of A-frame palapa, close to the beach caretaker’s hut. After a while we noticed that he had a dog… with three small, one-month old puppies! Sometimes we played with them and even took them to the palapa! The caretaker told us about the level 4 hurricane Michelle that occurred in November, 2001: before the hurricane, all the tourists had been evacuated and only a handful of Cuban employees stayed behind on the island. The island was hit badly and in no time was flooded due to a 6 meter storm surge. Even though most hotels have been rebuilt, one, I believe has not. Also, the caretaker told us that the beach had been much nicer and it had not had any rocks that we saw—apparently the hurricane had also devastated beaches, which used to be wider and more sandy.

There was a beach bar (Beach Ranchon) just on the beach that, in addition to serving snacks and drinks, served lunch—I love various salads! One evening we had a tasty a'la carte dinner there.

In the center of the resort was a viewing tower and we claimed to the top a few times, the view was quite impressive!
 
Catherine under the palapa with one of the three puppies
We also visited the adjacent hotels: to the east it was the Villa Lindamar and it catered almost exclusively to Italian tourists; to the left the Hotel Sol Cayo Largo, which we also visited—according to TripAdvisor, it was rated number 1 hotel on Cayo Largo; ours was number 2. Indeed, it was a bit posher hotel (had 4 stars, ours only 3), with nicer décor—but we liked ours very much! My clients stayed at the Sol Cayo Largo; one day we met up went snorkeling in front of their hotel.

The local 'train' took us to the Playa Paradiso, we waded in the shallow water and walked towards Playa Sirena. Both were quite pristine and wild; once we walked farther from the beach bar, there were very few people around. I spent almost an hour wading in very shallow water whereas Catherine kept going much farther, exploring other parts of the beach.
 
Iguana
Unfortunately, the hotel did not have any bikes for rent, so we decided to go for a walk along the road near the hotel. Soon we reached the Tower Gardens (near an old water tower)—probably it had been damaged by the hurricane and now appeared to be quite abandoned. There were two ladies caring for a garden and one showed us an iguana that was suntanning near the garden. Later she told us to follow her and took us to a pond, where she pointed to crocodile sunbathing! We were observing it for a while and then he suddenly opened his mouth, giving us a good scare! We saw another iguana as well as an egret.
 
Real crocodile!
By bus we went to the village of Cayo Largo (called “Pueblito”), which is probably inhabited exclusively by Cubans employed at the tourist industry. We were told they work at the resort for several weeks and then have time off and go home; most of them live on “Isla de la Juventud”, Isle of Youth. All supplies to the island are brought by a barge and once we saw it, being towed towards the island.


We went to a restaurant, to a dock under which we saw plenty of exotic looking fish and to the turtle farm, “Centro de Rescate de Tortugas Marinas.” We saw a bunch of colorful turtles swimming in a pool. Turtle eggs are collected from the island and brought to the farm for incubation; once they hatch, baby turtles spend some time at the farm and later are released to the ocean.

Since the airport was located close to the hotel, we could see (and her) planes arriving and departing; some were smaller Cuban planes, going to and from Havana and their pilots often had meals at the restaurant, I chatted with the a couple of times.
 
Catherina at the Sirena Beach
On the day of departure instead of taking the free bus, we hired a taxi for the short ride to the airport; this way we got them before everyone else did and could find a great table in the restaurant. Later my clients jointed us and we spent over one hour chatting before heading to the plane. As always, I made all my shopping at the airport; I was glad I had cash, as the store did not accept credit cards due to technical problems. The flight was relaxing and we arrived in Toronto around 2 am.


Normally, when we travel to Cuba, we try to explore nearby towns, see local attractions and mingle with the locals. But we came to Cayo Largo to mostly relax on the beach—and we had a great trip!