Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ABNA Calls

Sorry I won't be writing my usual column this week. All entries for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest must be ready to roll at 9:00 p.m. p.s.t on Sunday, February 1st. I intend to enter my novel "Destiny's Chain" in that contest so all of us ABNA veterans are editing like mad. Amazon is only accepting the first 10,000 entrants and it looks like it will be a bit of a photo finish. I'm hoping to be in and then the next step is to make the semi finals. Later on there will be a chance for the general public to read the 5,000 word excerpts of all the 500 sem finalists.

Last year, I did make the semi finals but have done a lot of work on this novel in the meantime. So we will see what happens. I'll let you know.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Around the Tip of South America

Anyone who has ever sailed around the tip of South America understands why they built the Panama Canal. Even in February—summer in that part of the world—the winds blow fierce and icy cold. And what is worse, the trip adds over 8,000 miles for those wanting to reach North America’s western shore. Makes you realize why the Spanish longed for a short cut as far back as the 16th century. My husband and I, along with another couple, cruised through the Panama this winter, but let me tell you about an earlier trip.

Two years ago we sailed on a cruise ship from Buenos Aires, Argentina on the Atlantic to Santiago, Chile on the Pacific. It was a delightful experience although much colder almost everywhere than I had expected. We completely sailed around Cape Horn which I hadn’t realized before was actually on an island. We were fortunate, on that particular day, that the seas were comparatively calm. The sun even peeked out behind the clouds a few times causing rainbows to form over the cape. Our waiter told us that, on the cruise two weeks earlier, the waves were sixty feet high and washed into the pool on the fourteenth deck of the ship. Although we have our sea legs to some extent now, we were glad to miss that one.

There were other worthwhile sights to see on that cruise. Three days after leaving warm and sunny Buenos Aires, we arrived at the windswept Falkland Islands, where we saw remnants of the war between Britain and Argentina. In unpopulated areas there were skeletons of helicopters, along with fields where live land minds still lay waiting to be dismantled. The country is beautiful in its starkness, but one wonders why anyone would go to war over it.

After circumnavigating Cape Horn, we sailed up the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina where, almost 18,000 kilometres from Alaska, the Pan American Highway come to an end. Touring through the countryside, we saw many dead tree stumps and numerous beaver damns. We learned that the beavers had been brought in from Canada and thrive here because there are no natural enemies. Apparently some enterprising soul thought that the cool year round temperatures would give them beautiful shiny coats. Not the case. Surprisingly, the weather, while cold in summer, wasn’t bitter enough in winter to give the beaver skins the gloss they need. So, while their fur is not that great, the animals continue to flourish and, sadly, are ruining the natural forests of the area. Just goes to show, it doesn’t pay to tamper with natural ecological systems.

Next week I’ll tell you about the journey through the fjords of Chile, touring some wonderful wineries in that country and our visit to the Magellan penguins at Punta Arenas.

(If you go here are a couple of mistakes to avoid. We should have picked a voyage that included a look at Antarctica. From what I hear and the pictures I’ve seen, it is so beautiful and unique that it is well-worth the extra money. Another mistake was to not opt for the tour to see the penguins in the Falkland Islands. At that time, visitors were able to actually mingle with them on the beach. I haven’t heard that they have changed that yet but, for ecological reasons, they may well do it. However, the people who did that tour say it was the most wonderful experience of everything on the cruise.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Mexican Adventure

In my travels abroad I have encountered many adventures but generally no real danger. However, there was a night in a mountainous region of Mexico when I threw caution to the wind and the results could have ended in real disaster.

Our journey through Mexico had taken us from the turquoise bay and curving, white beaches of Acapulco to the picturesque, silver mining town of Taxco perched precipitously on the slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The views from our hotel were enchanting and ecstatically we strolled the cobble stoned streets enjoying our first taste of the real Mexico.

Absorbing the ambience of the main square or Xocalo, we stopped to listen enthusiastically when a young Mexican in a small corner stall asked for a few “momentos” to explain the tour he was offering. “Senor, Senora, have you seen the Yucatan flyers here in Old Mexico?” he asked. “We offer you an evening of fun and entertainment.”

Here was something I truly was interested in and so, without even thinking of the consequences, we immediately purchased the tickets he offered. As promised, the taxi arrived at our hotel at 6:00p.m., just as the sun was setting over the western peaks of the high Sierras. Night falls quickly in the tropics and, by the time we had travelled a few blocks through the town, darkness had enveloped us. Soon we left all signs of civilization behind and the road wound into the surrounding jungle.

For the first time the sense of our vulnerability hit me. I thought of people who had vanished without a trace in other Latin countries. A man we knew about, living in a rented house in Puerto Vallarta along with his whole family, disappeared from sight one day, never to be heard from again.

No one at home knew of this new addition to our itinerary. Was this a trick? Were these a group of ‘banditos’ who would murder us high in these mountains hoping to get our money and our passports? Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. I moved closer to my husband and took his hand. He smiled reassuringly at me but in the small glow of light from the dashboard, I noticed his face had taken on an anxious look.

Just as panic was about to overtake me, we emerged into a clearing in the trees. Besides the outside arena where the pole for the Yucatan performers was set up, there in the middle of this jungle hideaway was a large, round building from which emanated revolving coloured lights and loud music—a Mexican disco!
Well, the show did go on—we had our evening of fun and entertainment—but the lesson I learned that night in a Mexican jungle about using discretion when travelling will never be forgotten.

Sadly from time-to-time we do hear of these disasters: a young girl on a vacation with fellow high school graduates disappears in Aruba; a passenger on a cruise ship to Alaska from Seattle is never seen again after stopping at Victoria, B.C. Just last week another cruise passenger disappeared without a trace. It happens all to often.

It pays to use common sense when travelling as it does in our own cities. There are areas in Vancouver that I would never walk through—day or night. So when you on vacation, be adventurous as you like, but be sensible about it. You want to arrive home safely with both yourself and all those holiday pictures intact.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Senior Moment

I was born in Vancouver, Canada a long time ago and have lived in British Columbia all my life. I worked in both broadcasting and the travel industry and have been privileged to travel to many of the world's lovliest spots. As well, there is much of beauty here in the west coast to discuss. I'm not one who is going to speak about politics or world affairs to any extent. I leave that to CNN and the pundits. But what I'll share is information about places I've been, areas of interest in the Pacific Northwest, books I like, etc.

I'm a five year survivor of Cancer (Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma) and hoping to stay that way. It's always a bit of a challenge to keep making those healthy choices. Perhaps we'll discuss that as well.
I've always considered my writing a hobby and now, in this second stage of my life, I'm ready to make it a career. Better late than never, they say. I've spent the last three years working on a book--a historical novel--based on my research regarding my Huguenot ancestors. My husband and I travelled all over France and England doing research for the novel.
I'm now working on finding an editor and getting it published so I'll let you know how that goes. They tell me completing a novel is an accomplishment in itself. Getting it published is the icing-on-the-cake. Well, it would be nice to get a little of the frosting that goes along with it. I'll let you know if that happens. Apparently it takes a lot of determination and a tough hide.

I hope you'll drop in every so often to see what is of interest to this senior.