Tag Archives: travel

Coming Home

Coming Home Talbot-St-to-east-photo-D-StewartComing home after an absence, you see it differently.  When you leave one home to visit another, you get it both ways.  Going back to Ontario after a year in a new home, I was both visitor and resident simultaneously.  I was surprised St. Thomas looked the same, but how much does anywhere change in one year?

Talbot-St-to-north-dorothystewartMy eyes had changed, though.  I saw beauty in things I’d never really noticed for a long time.  Waiting for a pizza one night, I looked at the main street – the buildings themselves and the details of architecture we often forget to look at.  Chef Bondi Pizza, in business since the early 1970s, next door to Your Fish & Chips, in business for even longer.  Both with signage I’ve known all my life.  At 10 p.m. the street was empty enough to stand on the middle line.  Yet cars are driving somewhere, people singly or in pairs walk home or to the bars, dogs and their people are out for their late night constitutionals.

Talbot-St-to-south-dorothystewartBeing in Aylmer at a Scottish-surnamed, German-speaking family-run Mexican food shop, The Tortilla Store, buying corn Tortilla-Store-Aylmertortillas in bulk to bring back to NB.  Looking at the parking lot of The Bargain Shop across the side street.  A horse and buggy parked alongside the cars and minivans.  Getting teary-eyed outside the John Street Tim Hortons in Aylmer.  Waiting for my coffee, I automatically nodded to people at the tables.  They nodded back.  They may well be the same ones I’ve seen for years at the same tables at the same time of day.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the other outside this common meeting ground, we always nod hello.

horse-and-buggy photo D StewartMissing Aylmer; the complex mix of peoples in a small town, there long before the term cultural diversity became common parlance.  Stores and restaurants that have remained exactly the same since I went to high school there.  I hated Aylmer and all small towns then, thought the big cities had it all.  Eventually learning that, really, big cities become living in your own small neighbourhood for the most part and that getting away to see fields and forests requires a Clarkes-Aylmer photo Dorothy Stewartmajor expedition.  In Aylmer or St. Thomas, you drive only a few minutes and you are in countryside with cows and horses or woods.

In a London department store, the young sales clerk who waits on us isn’t busy so she starts chatting.  She’s counting the months until she graduates from university and can leave the small-town dust of London behind her for the Big City.  She can’t wait.  I remember being you, I think as I listen to her talk about what London doesn’t have.  But she will do well in Toronto.  I can see the virtues of Hogtown, but London Ont is big city enough for me now.  I was born and bred in real small town Ontario and I have grown old enough to appreciate that.

coming home, field-walk-photo-Jim-StewartThen returning to New Brunswick and what is now home.  No take-out pizza close enough to get it home still warm.  No Tim Hortons without a 20-minute drive.  But the stars fill the sky as they cannot do against the lights of any city or town.  The fields and woods beckon us to come for a walk.  Silence other than the songs and squawks of birds.

Ponta Delgada

I’m not a city person, but one city stays in my mind.  Ponta Delgada, capital of Saõ Ponta Delgada city centreMiguel in the Azores: a tiny perfect city.

Having flown in to another island, I didn’t see Ponta Delgada until it was time for my flight home.  I fell in love with a beautiful old southern European city – in miniature.  It was April, the weather was perfect.  I had been doing research and thought I might find some “talking heads” to give analytic background.  So I asked around.  Yes, there was a university in the city and a Portuguese national radio studio.  Yes, there were people on staff of both who knew about my subject, the Portuguese cod fishery, and would be happy to meet with me.

I was staying in the city centre.  A nice and inexpensive hotel, just what I’d asked my University of the Azores Ponta Delgadaairport taxi driver to take me to.  The university was on the outskirts of town, but it didn’t look that far on my map.  I walked out of the downtown and through residential areas to a beautifully laid out campus.  A very pleasant walk of less than an hour.  There, and later at the radio studio downtown, I met with two informed and informative men who told me about Portugal and the Azores vis a vis the EU, Canada and Newfoundland.

Between working forays, I explored the city and nearby countryside.  Having realized it Public beach near Ponta Delgadawas possible to walk to the university in interview dress, I put on running shoes and roamed further afield.  One spectacular day was spent at the beach near the city.  I was the only person swimming, still too cold for Azoreans, but to me magnificent.

Cantino dos Anjos on the harbour

glass from Cantinho dos Anjos, Ponta DelgadaThat evening I walked the short distance from my hotel to the harbourfront.  Near the yacht marina I went in the Cantino dos Anjos, a bar flying signal flags outside and in.  Busy and comfortable, with several languages discernible in the overheard chatter.  The bartender came over and asked my name and where I was from.  I handed him a business card.  Shortly after, he returned with a glass in his hand.  We make these for new visitors, he said handing me a tumbler with the bar’s name and mine etched on it.  Yes, that’s it in the photo, I’ve taken good care of it all these years.

Four young French sailors, one of whom spoke some Sailboats at Ponta Delgada marinaEnglish, began talking to me.  Nice guys.  They invited me to their sailboat the next day.  We sailed just outside the harbour at sunset, then docked and the cook whipped up a fabulous seafood meal.  They were leaving the next day, as was I, so they walked me back to my hotel and in smatterings of English, French and Portuguese we said what a lovely time we’d had.  No, I don’t recommend girls or women going off alone with unknown sailors, but this time it worked out safely and just fine and gave me a memory of ocean water on a warm Atlantic evening and lights twinkling on the silhouette of an ideal Lilliputian skyline.

City Hall at night, Ponta DelgadaSophisticated clothing and design shops, well-stocked bookstores, good discount stores selling everything, museums and galleries, lovely cafés and restaurants with outdoor patios.   Very few vacant storefronts.  A bustling downtown with beautiful old architecture well maintained, no skyscrapers, easy to navigate, Ponta Delgada is welcoming to tourists but not slathering for their custom.  I hope it hasn’t changed, it felt like an easy place to call home.

Musée Acadien PEI

If you have a drop of Acadien blood in your veins or if you just enjoy Permanent gallery, Acadian history, Musee Acadien, Miscouchethe distinctive sound of an Acadien fiddle, a place for you to go is the Musée Acadien in Miscouche, near Summerside.

A library full of binders of historical records, drawers of documents 3 generations of Acadian women with petsand compilations of genealogical research. I was there with only a few hours to spend, and a broad interest in all Acadian families with any connection to Newfoundland Mi’kmaq.  That’s a pretty tall order for assistance from archivists.  I figured I’d just poke around and get a feel for what was there.  Instead, files and books were pulled out and stacked on a table for me.  “Here, these might help you,” museum director Cécile Gallant said.

The emphasis is on Acadian family history.  But there are some church records from the nearby Lennox Island Mi’kmaq First Nation.  I started there, recording information as fast as I could.  I flipped through other files, recording names Earle Lockerbyand dates that seemed relevant to “my” people.  I looked at two huge published volumes of Acadien genealogy by Jean Bernard.  Vol. 1 was “A”: in PEI, for Arsenault.  It was also in the gift shop.  I bought it.  It seemed likely that everyone in PEI is somehow connected to the Arsenault family.I also bought Earle Lockerby’s Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians.  If I could read French, the gift shop has many books on Acadien history that I would love to have.

Museum exhibit rooms

A quick tour of the exhibit rooms.  A whole room with a permanent 3rd painting in Acadian series by Claude Picard, Musee Acadien PEIexhibit of paintings by Claude Picard, depicting the creation and official adoption of the Acadien flag in the 1880s.  In another room, a temporary display of the lives and work of Acadien women.  Exquisite photographs, both professional and family snapshots.  Spinning wheels and kitchen tools, knitted and sewn goods, the implements and products of women’s hands.

St. John the Baptist Church cemetery beside the museum.  Names so familiar to me from Newfoundland west coast families.  I’d see these same names if I went to a graveyard in Louisiana.  Same families, but their move wasn’t voluntary.  In the 1750s, when Britain Cemetery gates, Miscouche beside Museumtook control of North America, the expulsion of the Acadiens began.  Many were sent to what’s now the US, especially Louisiana where they became Cajuns, adding their heritage and language to the cultures already there.  Others were “returned” to France on ships, to a homeland they’d never seen before.  Acadiens escaped to Quebec and Newfoundland or hid out and were missed by the British. Some stayed in their new homes.  Some returned to their homeland when it was safe.

carved panel telling Acadian history on side of Museum building, MiscoucheIn the museum and the cemetery, you get a sense of how vast Acadian history is in time and geography, and how strongly rooted it is in this small island.

 

Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean

The church and graveyard at Mont Carmel on the west coast of PEI. Here, the island feels Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, Ile St-Jean now PEIlike it should be called by its old name, Ile St-Jean, when it was part of Acadia. First seen at night, it’s scary and beautiful. The archway looming overhead in the twilight, the rows of headstones white and dark against the setting sun. ‘Oh My God’ isn’t blasphemous here. You feel the power of God – in the form of the Roman Catholic Church – on this windswept bluff with the church and cemetery from coast line photo Jim Stewartdark brick monolithic shape on the horizon pointing skyward.

Revisited in the daylight, still imposing but less frightening. I wander the graveyard – and see the names. Aucoin, Arsenault, Gallant, Poirier. Names I’ve known for decades, names from my genealogy database. Maybe not the same individuals, but the same names. My people with these Poirier grave Mont Carmelnames are from Newfoundland, and more likely connected to Nova Scotia. But I know there are connections between Newfoundland and this island. The people buried here are related to mine. This was all Acadia, with families that spread throughout the area.

I’d see the same names in graveyards in fence post cross memorial Sylvere Aucoin photo Jim StewartNova Scotia, Quebec, Louisiana, France.  Same families. In the 1750s, the British deported Acadiens to Louisiana and France. Some escaped to Quebec and the west coast of Newfoundland, away from British control. Others remained where they were, hidden. Some returned to their homeland when it was safe and some stayed in their new homes.

Acadien history in a graveyard

Acadien history is rich and has spread across North America for two and a arch at graveyard entrance photo Jim Stewarthalf centuries. On the west coast of PEI, it is everywhere around you. In this churchyard, it is awesome.

I don’t think to see if the door to the church is open. I am overwhelmed by the power of the building. Go in? Not when there is no Mass. It doesn’t occur to me to treat it as a monument, a landmark of beauty and detail of arch Mont Carmel photo Jim Stewartarchitecture – to sightsee. I step gingerly around the building, not going too close, afraid of it I guess.

A large brick house is beside the church, the priests’ house I assume. I see a car there, but no people. I imagine black-cassocked priests flocking around. Probably I’d have got a shock if a real-life present day priest or brother had come out, likely in jeans and sweatshirt. The new SUV sitting out front looks out of Interior of church from shepaintsred blogplace. So I’m glad nobody came out, maybe glad I didn’t try to go in the church. I like the picture I have in my head. But I’m glad that someone went inside: at shepaintsred, you can see what I missed.

The feeling of family reverence I had in the graveyard has stayed with me. Seeing names so familiar to me that they could be Magloire-Gallant Road sign, Mont Carmel PEImy own family. The solidity of community roots showing in rows of gravestones, hundreds of years of ancestors present with you.

(Click photos for larger views)

North Cape Trail, PEI

North Cape Trail map, from Bed & Breakfast Canada websiteWe went to Prince Edward Island in November for “oh, a day or so.”  Just off the bridge, in Gateway Village, an “olde towne” of new buildings with tourist services and shops, we get a map.  We decide to turn left to Summerside and the North Cape Trail around the west coast.  “Then we can do the centre Green Gables Trail then go to Charlottetown.  That’s probably all we’ve got time for,” I said confidently.

Three days later, we emerge back at the bridge from the northwest.  We never got to Charlottetown or anywhere remotely Anne of Green Gables-ish.  We didn’t even fully circumnavigate the west coast.  But, oh, what we did see!

dogs running on beach, Union Corner PEIAt Union Corner, an old school turned antique store, closed and for sale.  We can see the end of the side road, at the coast.  There is a provincial park, closed for winter, and a lovely shoreline for dogs to run on.  Leo got his first mouthful of salt water – didn’t like it, but loved the beach and the grassy meadows.

Sunset in Mont Carmel, a tiny Acadian village with a huge church.  Jim experimented with a 360º camera setting and I perused the map for motel chances.  Didn’t seem likely, but drive on, I thought.  After dark, we stopped at a gas station.  The guys inside got a good laugh when gate Notre Dame du Mont Carmel, PEIasked about places to stay.  Not outside tourist season, they said, only in Summerside.

Retracing our path next day.  More Notre Dame du Mont Carmel photography and a walk through the graveyard.  Driving west, past a lighthouse made out of bottles.  Later, in the tourist guide, I saw it was part of The Bottle House, chosen by AMEX as a “world destination.”  It was closed for the season anyway.

house, barn and boat, west coast PEIWest and north-west, photography and dog stops, feeling like long-distance travelers and a look at the map – we’ve gone barely any distance.  Inland to the four-laner, heading north.  We miss the coast furthest west doing this, but go back to it before Skinner’s Pond.

Schoolhouse at Skinner's Pond PEISkinner’s Pond, stomping grounds of Stompin’ Tom Connors.  The school house has been restored as a museum with his help.  Closed.  In a field kitty-corner, two young horses play with a dog.  Dog darts toward them, stops, horses jump back then dance forward toward the dog.  Over and over.

On up to the North Cape.  A lighthouse and wind farm on a spit of land, it is spectacular.  Probably crawling with people in summer, but dogs at North Cape, wind turbineswe were alone to explore, feel the wind, watch the sea.

South on the other side: a gentler beauty than the windblown glory only a few kilometers west.  Malpeque Bay gives shelter.  Overnight in Alberton, a beautiful town with a choice of four restaurants and several local shops.   Another full day brings us back to Confederation Bridge.

Alberton PEI, view from motel“Closed for season” signs are a clue to how busy PEI is in summer.  I liked it when we were there – places to stay and eat may be scarce but it’s not far back to Summerside, at least on the main highway.  The places and scenery are breathtakingly beautiful, I think, any time of year.

New England Fall

No Corrie St. Scene of the Week this week – on the road again!

river in New Hampshire, New EnglandDriving to New Brunswick by the American route, trying to pick out roads as the crow flies.  But mountains and forests in the north.   Looking at an out-of-date map, it looks like small roads and moose territory.  So a loop a bit south of where the crow would fly.  Across New York state to southern New Hampshire and go with the crow across Vermont.

Mountains, lots of deer crossing signs, then moose crossing.   Driving at dusk, then in the dark, winding roads up and down hills, lots of turns.  Then people crossing signs in ski and lake resort towns.  Great, I say, not enough you’ve got to watch for moose you gotta watch for people too.  But we see nothing alive on the road.

Church and graveyard in Hopkinton NHPicture-postcard towns take your breath away.  They look like Currier & Ives painted them some time long ago and they never changed.   Outside town, on the small roads, landscape vistas of trees of all colours up and down hills, fast-running water pounding over rocky riverbeds.

Cross into Maine, just as beautiful in a slightly different way.  Rockier, trees more windblown – a rougher woods beauty.

tumbledown museum in MaineAll through all three states lots of wonderful small houses with stuff all around them.  Collections of stuff.  Some artfully arranged, some just piled up every which way.  Strange stuff and more normal looking collections of old farm equipment.  It doesn’t look like it’s for sale, it’s just people’s stuff.

There are also collections of stuff for sale.  The “Antiques” signs are everywhere.  Go further into Maine and you see “Antiques” and “Books” signs on almost every second building.  Some are massive old barns or warehouses.  I cannot imagine how much stuff they have inside, plus what’s visible outside.

I think you could spend a week in these hills of antique and book dealers and keep very busy and maybe cover 20 miles.  If you also wanted to see the natural beauty by tramping in some woods, add another week to your plan.

We came to the Atlantic coast at Belfast in Maine.  A beautiful old harbour town full of – yep – book stores, craft shops and city centre at night Belfast, Maineantique dealers.  Olde Worlde store fronts on hilly streets that they roll up at 8 o’clock on out-of-season nights.  We found a new Mexican-Caribbean restaurant still open, La Vida.  Very good chili.

Then north on the coastal road.  Antique and book barns all along the way.  Old houses tumbling down with trees and brush growing up around them.  Neat and tidy bungalows.  Neat and tidy big old rambling frame houses.  Bypassing reluctantly the sideroads that take you right to the coast and the fishing villages dotted along the map.  A Canadian man we met in Belfast had said he and his wife tour around those back roads every time they come through Maine.  Easy to spend a whole day on just one, he said.  Next time for us.

Amazon link for NH CuriositiesClick on image for an Amazon link to books about “roadside curiosities” in the New England states.

Going to Graceland

Thirty-four years ago, Graceland became a memorial shrine.  The day before, August 16th 1977, the King of Rock and Roll had died in it, his home.

Andrea-and-Memphis-Caddy-(photo-H.-Edison)Despite liking Elvis, Graceland had never been on my ‘must-see’ list.  But passing through Memphis once, it seemed wrong not to see Elvis’ house.

Even pulling into the parking lot, though, I had quibbles.  “Our money will be going straight to Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s pockets,” I said, “there’s starving children who need this money.”  Still, we bought our tickets and went in.

Oh, I hope the starving children can understand the cultural value of Graceland.  It is wonderful.  Not just the place itself but those touring it and those working in it.  It is Graceland media-roomMecca for American culture in the latter half of the 20th century.

Our tour group shuffled through the house, oohing and aahing over the opulence, the excess, the fact that Elvis the King sat in these rooms.  The tour guide was informative and clearly enjoyed her job.  She was a child when Elvis died but she “got” him – the house, the magic.

Las Vegas jumpsuit Graceland museumThen the outbuildings, the museums of Elvis stuff.  His collections of firearms and police badges are laid out in glass cases.  There are rooms of display cases filled with gifts he was given.  His costumes, his gold records.  There’s every award and honourable mention he received from anyone anywhere.  Presumably there’s museum curators working behind these public rooms, sorting, preserving, cataloguing a life of a man.

You can tour the grounds.  A paddock near the house had about six horses in it.  A couple of them would remember Elvis.  The others were Lisa Marie’s and Priscilla’s.  They came charging over to the fence, Graceland horse paddocklooking for treats.  I pulled handles of grass, fearful I was going to be yelled at but no one said anything.  The horses happily munched the grass.

Quite close by is Elvis’ grave.  The true believers circle around it, taking pictures, looking down misty-eyed.  They stay there a long time.

Beside the parking lot, near the entrance, Elvis’ planes are parked.  The smaller one is called the Lisa Marie, both have TCB with a lightning bolt painted on them.

Elvis' dog Edmund-and-sitter-GracelandMy favourite moment happened while standing in line for the Elvis memorabilia museum.  Over on the lawn by the house, a small elderly dog was tottering around with an elderly woman.  I asked a young man checking tickets about the dog.  “That’s Edmund, Elvis’ dog,” he said, “he lives with Elvis’ aunt.”  I asked who the lady was.  “She’s a maid and her job is looking after Edmund.”  When I asked if I could go closer, he said no.  “It’s really for your safety.  He’s a nasty little dog.”  I liked his candor but wondered if that was why he was doing crowd control in the blazing sun rather than leading tours inside.

Andrea-at-Graceland-(photo-H-Edison)Edmund has left the building, and probably Elvis’ horses have too.  But I’m sure the magic of them and Elvis are still there in Graceland.  Taking care of business.

The pictures of Edmund and the horse paddock are mine from 1990.  My cousin Andrea Hutchison very kindly let me use photos from her 2011 trip to Memphis.

Rwanda

Skull among palms in fieldSeventeen years ago, one hundred days of genocide ended in Rwanda.  It was part of a long-standing conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, two groups who uneasily co-exist in the small Central African countries of Rwanda and Burundi.  This time, from early April to July, it was the Hutu doing their damnedest to wipe out their Tutsi neighbours, family and friends.

Canadian Armed Forces General Roméo Dallaire headed a small UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda and Burundi at the time.  He saw early on that there were genocidal objectives to what had seemed like intertribal fighting with colonial history overtones. More peacekeepers were deployed, too late to stop the massacre and without a clear mandate on use of force in a still-volatile situation.  An estimated 800,000 people, one-tenth of Rwanda’s population, were killed in that hundred days.  The majority of the dead were Tutsis, the numerical minority in the country.

Invitation to journalists

Skeleton on beach at Gisenyi, Lake Kivu, RwandaAfter the bloodshed stopped, the Canadian Armed Forces invited journalists to come to Rwanda to see what they were doing.  I was lucky enough to go in September.  A word of advice to writers, travelers, students of the world:  if you ever have an opportunity to go to a war zone or any area of violence and conflict, take it!

I went with no knowledge of Rwanda, of military or UN action.  My predisposition was anti-armed forces, and against sticking our noses in other people’s business because we usually make it worse.

Bodies outside and inside Ntarama churchMy 10 days in Rwanda were earth-shattering for me.  I had been in conflict zones before, in Central America in the 1980s, but I’d seen nothing like Rwanda after the killing stopped.  I cannot imagine what it was like while it was still going on.

The closest I came was listening to a CBC radio news item that summer.  In almost silence, the reporter walked through the refugee camp at Goma, Zaire (now DRC).  She whispered into her microphone what she was seeing.  I sat down to listen, chilled in the day’s heat, following her steps over and around corpses and living people moaning for help or food.

Smell of death in Rwanda

In Rwanda, I saw skeletons and smelled the odor of death that lingered in massacre sites now cleaned of bodies. I saw gutted villages, houses burned and people gone.  Survivors starting to clean up and rebuild.  Can’t describe it – I did soon after getting back in a Patients, doctor and soldier in hospital, KibunguCBC Radio documentary Rwanda Maps.  I still smelled it then.

I saw military men and women from around the world – operating field hospitals, rebuilding telephone lines and radio transmitters, guarding and patrolling against insurgents.  On days off, they’d visit orphanages and play with the kids.  They ran radio stations for their own entertainment and that of the surrounding area.

They sometimes talked about what they saw and their own fears.  Soldiers in a military and political no man’s land.  They were not engaged in war, but they were not doing a straightforward peacekeeping mission where the lines, literally and figuratively, are clearly drawn.  They could use their weapons for their own protection or that of others if there was a real threat.  But many of the threats were invisible.  Land was still mined.  Signal Corps linesmen had to work in bush to rebuild communications lines.  The same bush that our Canadian Forces minders told us to avoid for fear of explosive devices.  “Keep on the beaten path, where you can see!”  they told us.  Wasn’t possible for the Signal Corps, however.

Peacekeeper Post-Traumatic Stress

Canadian Forces Grizzlies, stopped for bones in pathWhen my documentary aired, a friend said, “they bought you easily – a free trip to Rwanda and you’re a big Armed Forces fan!”  Yeah, I suppose that’s all it took.  That, and seeing the faces of soldiers.  Seeing them at work, then at play with the little kids.  Hearing them talk about what they’d expected and what they were seeing.  Watching them at a massacre site, telling us to use Vicks Vaporub and our gauze mask to block the stench of death.  Watching them look at skulls split open by a machete.  Them looking at the scattered bones of a child, gauging the age based on the size of their own children.

I later heard a soldier I’d met being interviewed about the need for treatment of post-Village children, base of Virungu Mountainstraumatic stress upon their return.  I could see why.  A night or so after my return, I was in a mall parking lot.  An employee put some wood in a dumpster.  Then he broke it to fit it in.  Crack!  I dropped to the ground like I’d been shot. I was only in Rwanda a few days, after the killing had been somewhat cleaned up.  While there, I never heard a gunshot.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 suite, Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaIt started with an email I received.  You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds.  A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000.  It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated.  I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard.  And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.

My husband delved into it further (sorry, links are no longer valid). The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one.  A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi.  And there is a converted jet with Hotel Costa Verde photo from its websitefabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica.  That’s it in the picture at top.  My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one.  I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.

I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Manuel Antonio is my very favourite Manuel Antonio, playing in the surfbeach in the world.  There is a public beach and a national park side by side.  Here it is as I remember it.  Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.

There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago.  Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach.  That was it.  Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments.  You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy me and parrot at beach bar Manuel Antonioany there.  On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks.  Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles.  There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head.  Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate.  The food was delicious, the owners delightful.

plane on airstrip at QueposManuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to.  Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach.  If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.

Now, I can’t imagine it.  A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests.  Special packages for wedding parties.  Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.  Yet I can’t help but think about it.  I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog.  I pigs scavenging on beach at sunset photo Dorothy Stewartwonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company.  Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.

Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land?  Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already?  Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?

Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years.  A few years ago I started writing a story about him.  I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year.  Click here to read it.

Portugal and Eco: The Knights Templar Castle, Tomar

Archways at Knights Templar Castle, Tomar PortugalVacationing in the Azores, my reading was Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It was my introduction to the Knights Templar and I fell in love. I was going on to Portugal, and Tomar with its Templar Castle was on my itinerary, come hell or high water. I met a friend in Oporto, and after a few days in that amazingly beautiful city, we headed south, with a stop in Tomar planned.

Driving fast because we’d got away late and wanted to get to Tomar before nightfall. Driving through the city of Coimbra, with its ancient university – no time to stop, gotta get to Tomar. On the highway through the city, looking at the map and out the window, I could see rooftops – “there it is, that’s the university over there”. My partner, driving, took a glance over. And that was our tour of Coimbra.

Roman Ruins

Just out of Coimbra, we saw a sign for Roman ruins ahead. We’d made Conimbriga Roman ruins, Portugalgood time, so decided to stop for a look. There was no one there, and we just walked in. It was astounding. Beautiful, peaceful, eerie almost. We spent quite a long time there because it demanded time and attention. Not attention to explanatory signage, although it was useful. Just looking at the mosaics and their beauty and the engineering and its beauty.

Feeling glad for having seen this true pearl of history, we continued to Tomar. I was a bit anxious; I feared it would be dark when we got there. We had to find a place to stay, had to find the Castle, I had to psych myself up for this pilgrimage to the holy land of the Knights Templar. Still, I didn’t regret our stop to see the Roman ruins.

View of Tomar, with castle on skylineDrove like hell to Tomar, got there almost at dusk. I’d been looking at the maps, so knew where the Castle was (plus it’s a castle, how can you miss it?). “Quick, let’s go there first, just to see it.” We drove through the town and headed up the winding lane that leads up the hill to the Castle. All the way through town, you see the Castle looming above you. The hillside is wooded. Darkness was falling. We park and jump out. Quiet, nobody around, just the trees and the massive dark wooden doors. I’m crying, I’d started on the way up the hill.

Tomar at Easter

There’s a sign beside the doors. It gives the hours for the Castle and its very few closed days.  Easter Sunday is one of them. This was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The castle had closed an hour before we got there. We had to leave Sunday evening; we had only blocked out the one night and day for Tomar. There was no choice; this was a working holiday and the holiday part was ending, with work starting Monday.

Easter Sunday Procession, TomarWe found a hotel and I read pamphlets about the Castle. Sunday morning, I went to Easter Mass and the procession through the streets. It was beautiful, the old church in the town square, the service, the old women in their black shawls, the little kids spit-polished in their best clothes.

Afterwards, I walked around the square and went to a park along the river that went through the centre of town. I sat on the grass and looked up at the Castle, stone battlements against the tree green and black and sky blue. I watched people strolling in the park with scampering kids, all dressed in their best clothes. All, like me, just out of Mass. Picnic hampers were unpacked, grannies called kids to come and eat. I wandered across the square again, quiet now, and went back to the hotel. We went to a restaurant, had a fabulous meal of seafood and drove around the castle grounds again and then out of Tomar.

One miss, two hits

View from Knights Templar Castle in TomarSo one big miss on the bucket list in this trip, and two unexpected hits: the Roman ruins and Easter in Tomar. And I never hear of Coimbra or its university without remembering yelling “there it is, look over there” and waving my arm toward a tower and rooftops way in the distance from a highway while the driver negotiates through high-speed city traffic reading road signs in a language he doesn’t speak.

I gathered these photos from several sources. The photo of the procession in Tomar I took that Easter Sunday. The panoramic photo of Tomar and the photo of the Conimbriga ruins I found online. American women took the photos from inside the Templar Castle, of the archways and the view from the top. I met them in the Algarve and we talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. When I told them about my trip to Tomar, they said “You poor thing! We’ll send you our pictures when we get home.”  And bless their hearts, they did. In their letter, they noted that they “hope these are Tomar, so many cities, so many castles…” But I am happy to look at them, and imagine myself in the Castle keep.