What happened next

Having brought you up to speed on why I was landlocked in Hawaii, I can spend a bit of time describing how everything came to be.

A few years ago I decided to pursued a dream that began about 40 years before that, when I was a university student in the arid, flat and decidedly ocean-less centre of Canada.

I took a little weekend crash course in Vancouver, basically to distinguish the front of the boat from the back, to learn which sails did what, and to memorize the names of the parts of the boat — keel, rudder, tiller, stuffing box, sheets, jib, genoa, main, boom, vang, halyard, guy, lazy guy (it’s a thing), Cunningham, leach, luff, foot, kite, head, galley, etc…. It’s English, but to me as foreign as Shakespeare.

I asked a neighbour who’d sailed for decades: “I took the course. Now what?” Next thing I knew I was on a race boat. Racing on Sunday afternoons. Racing on Wednesday evenings. Racing on long weekends.

Until that point, I didn’t even know sailboat racing was a thing. The Volvo (now The Ocean Race) yes, and the America’s Cup, yes. But all this club racing? I had no idea.

Anyway I jumped in fully and the rest, as you’ll know, is Facebook history.

With daredevil Ian on Wraith.
On Paragon in 2019, as we circumnavigated Vancouver Island

Two years ago, Covid happened and team sailing shut down. Some yacht clubs wouldn’t even allow people on the docks, much less encourage sailing together on a boat. Everyone I knew was pretty respectful of the rules and so that was it.

At the time I was sailing for a few different boats, big and small, feeling happy and humbled about being part of some sporty teams at such a later time in life.

With the wild and wacky guys from The Fugitive

Met some amazing women along the way, who’ve become great friends.

But poof, like that, like everyone else around the planet, life as we knew it had changed.

Repairs on Amazing Grace

One of the boats I knew used the opportunity to undertake some repairs, but for the most part, the vessels remained docked.

Finally last fall, and moreso this spring, things started to open up and some of the racing started up again.

Flying a spinnaker for the first time in a year….

One of the races back on schedule was the Pacific Cup, a 10-ish-day race from San Francisco to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. The start of the race would be early July 2022.

As not every boat lives in the city where the race starts, the boat owner typically arranges a ‘delivery’ — one delivery to get the boat to the start of the race, and another to return the boat home from the place where the race ended.

And that, dear reader, is how I came to have the opportunity to sail a great big boat on the great big blue Pacific.

I was asked (and interviewed) to check my interest and ability in doing the deliveries from Vancouver to San Francisco, and then back from Hawaii to Vancouver.

Amazing opportunity, amazing experience. Of course I said yes.

Aboard Shadow II

Shadow II is a TP52, meaning she was built for ocean racing (TP = Trans Pacific). She’s pretty, she’s big, and she goes fast. She also needs about 10 people as crew during big races, as the races run ‘round the clock. As such, there’s a watch system: Six hours on, six hours off, four hours on, four hours off, four hours on, six hours off, six hours on… and repeat over 48 hours. It’s a bit tiring at the start, but like everything, one gets into a rhythm and it works.

So in mid-June I was able to do the (first) delivery from Vancouver to San Francisco.

Shadow II

Ocean sailing. Prairie girl. Amazing.

It took a full day leaving from Vancouver, but eventually we were fully on the ocean — pure blue water and endless sky in every direction.

One of the guys, Andre, asked if I wanted to drive. Me. Big boat, big wheel, ocean, waves, compass.

After a couple of hours our watch was over and I thanked Andre for the opportunity to drive.

Hah! he laughed. You’ve got a lot more driving hours to come.

And so for the next five days, at least until the seas undermined my confidence, I drove as much as I could on every watch. Why not?

In the daytime we followed a compass bearing and at night, squinted at the glowing red of the compass, searched the sky to find a star (any star), lined up the star with some part of the boat and then used the star to remain on course.

It was all pretty remarkable. My watch consisted of three people (Andre and Doug) and it was just the three of us for five days. At the end of each watch, we’d touch base with the other group emerging from below, and then head down to prepare food, eat, brush teeth and sleep.

In the galley — prepping food for the next watch.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I have never been seasick. It may come from so many childhood years of reading in the car, but more likely it’s been good luck and good skippers. I haven’t been in the washing machine of mixed currents that I’ve read about, and I haven’t had to work on a computer below deck when storms are thrashing about (as navigators do) but I have texted and read a book and packed sails both above deck and below, so fingers crossed the luck endures.

Next stop: The first rule of sailing. If something can break, it will.


The best laid plans

Shadow II racing away from San Francisco, en route to Kaneohe, Hawaii

Well friends, the amazing summer sailing adventure didn’t leave the dock. Not in the expected way, anyway.

The shortest story: One thing went wrong, many things went right.

The shorter story: The big and beautiful Shadow II, placing fifth out of 63 boats in a race from San Francisco to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, lost her sail drive shortly after the finish line, and was rescued in the middle of the night by the US Coast Guard. She now sits, safe and secured, at a dry dock in Honolulu.

And if you’re in for the long story, here you are.

I left Vancouver for Honolulu last weekend, basing my departure on the estimated date Shadow and her crew were scheduled to arrive in Kaneohe, HI, southeast and around the corner from Waikiki Beach. I made my way to the Ilikai Hotel on Waikiki, rather famous, I learned, for being in the opening credits of Hawaii 5-0.

I just looked — Jack Lord is standing on the Ilikai’s balcony.


Now try to get that theme out of your head.

Shadow crossed the finish line shortly after midnight in 30 knot winds, in the dark of the night, and the crew wrestled her sails to the deck, wrapped, folded and bound them, then started the three-hour motoring trip to the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu.

The first photo shows Shadow (green icon) as she crossed the finish line, the second as she turned southeast to round Diamond Head and make her way to the marina.

The race tracker allowed me to follow along, hence these screen shots.

I waited up a few hours, then received a message from Julia, one of the crew, saying the boat’s propeller had been fouled and the boat was under tow by the US Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard!!

It was a long night of waiting but eventually all arrived happy and exhausted, hoisted a celebratory beer, and crash landed into an assortment of hotel rooms.

Sometime midday Sunday, all were awake, showered and shaved after 10 days at sea, add in a little retail therapy as civvies and boat had not ended up in the same location, due to the propeller mishap, and headed for drinks and a team dinner.

Monday morning we rented vehicles and made our way to the Honolulu Coast Guard where Shadow patiently waited in the harbour.

On arrival at the base we showed our passports (names and numbers recorded) and were escorted to the boat. If we needed to use the washroom we were escorted to the washroom. When we needed to fold and pack the sails we were escorted to a large grassy space and where a uniformed member remained with us until we were ready to be escorted back to the boat. When we were ready to drive away we were escorted off the base.

Overall we were probably a pain in the neck with our week-long daily disruptions, but we were grateful polite Canadians always.

This pic shows the boat shortly after we arrived Monday. Doug, one of the crew, had just donned scuba gear and gone below the boat to see the issue with the prop.

Turned out the prop and sail drive were damaged such that sailing back to Vancouver was not possible.

This whole unit, beneath the motor, is known as the sail drive.

We were all a little shocked — hardly what had been anticipated — but that’s how my fancy-pants week in Hawaii began.

I’ll fill in the rest of the details with a couple of subsequent posts, but in the meantime, I’m back home, everyone is safe, Shadow is safe, and the summer carries on.

Never predictable


When I lived in Japan in the early 1990s, I was lucky to share a train line with some remarkable people, some with whom I’ve kept in touch for more than two decades. Our relationships grew via handwritten letters, fax machines (so much faster than a letter!), emails (so much faster than a fax!), and texts (instant is the new fast).

And as luck would have it, some of them became friends.

Rick Newton, above left wearing a sweater he claims to possess to this day, and I traversed the Japanese countryside over the course of 12 months, crammed into my tiny white Toyota, frequently accompanied by Mark Z. (second from left) and my dear father (who stayed for three months), visiting fish markets, the achingly devastated Hiroshima bomb site, subtitled Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, countless ramen restaurants, x-rated Shinto fertility shrines, and beautiful deep steamy and sulphuric onsen — hot springs.

Remarkably we never tired of any of it.

Nor of each other, apparently.

So when Rick decided to abandon his law practice in Birmingham AL in order to open a yakitori restaurant this fall, I had no qualms about inviting myself along on one of his Japanese buying trips. I mean, could he really say ‘no’ given that it was my car that took us on all of our trips?

He said yes.




What you may or may not know about Tokyo (leg one of this journey) is that weird and wacky is just kind of the order of the day.

And so why not start your day with a visit to the MoCHA Cat Cafe?

I couldn’t think of a good reason either so in we went.


The cat cafe’s raison d’etre is to let you commune, cuddle, caress and basically get mellow with a room full of felines.

After paying a modest entrance fee we were directed to a hand sanitizer dispenser, swapped our street shoes for sanitized slippers, locked our belongings in a little closet and put on the requisite kittycat ears. Oh yes we did.

Then past a sliding wooden door into a room with the felines.



Some guests opted to feed the cats, either with a small cup of food and a tiny spoon, or a little cat lollipop. The cats jumped on to the plastic mat when they observed snack time had arrived, and sat waiting, rather patiently, for their turn with the spoon.


At times a bit of assertiveness was required but overall, the cats appeared willing to wait.


When we entered the cat cafe we discussed our plans beforehand, kind of like the agreement one makes before going to a time-share presentation: We’re not going to buy, right? Nope, no way. You know they’re going to pressure us, but we’re going to say no, right? Right. Agreed? Absolutely.

And that’s how we entered the cat cafe.

Thirty minutes seem like enough to you?

Oh yeah. Sure. No way we’ll stay longer than 30 minutes.

Yep, we’ve got things to do.

Sure do.

Tinkling music, contented cats, a cup of tea, soft light coming through the windows, that purring….


Hey Rick?


Ready to go? 

Sure, if you want.

It’s been an hour.

Mmmm. That’s nice.


After liberal use of a lint roller, we continued on to our next Tokyo event — a St. Patrick’s Day parade, complete with bagpipes, Irish setters, marching bands and samba dancers.

Weird, wacky and wonderful.







Not a dream this time


I’ve been having recurring dreams about Japan for 26 years. Even writing that sentence is nightmarish.

Early in the 1990s I lived in a tiny town mid-Japan, teaching English in two high schools as a participant in the JET program, where cadres of native English speakers populated classrooms across this tiny nation. Over the course of a few decades the Japanese government anticipated rapid globalization in education and commerce and wanted its country’s youth to have had at least a bit of exposure to the world’s dominant language.

Maybe the Japanese government was brilliant. But for those who grabbed the golden ticket, we were the lucky ones. In our towns and villages we were frequently “it” for the foreign population, the nearest English-speaking gaijin a train ride away. We were paid well, treated well, and outside of the classroom had all the time in the world…. to travel, savour and explore a unique country in a unique situation:

Would I ever have another chance to experience life as an illiterate minority?


When I left Japan in 1991 I thought, oh, I’ll be back. I travelled through China for three months. Oh, I’ll be back. I went to Thailand. I’ll be back for sure.

And thus began a quarter century’s worth of recurring dreams: I’m on a plane headed to Japan. I don’t have luggage, a passport, money or anyone caring for my children. Or, I’m let off a bus in the Kansai countryside, no money, no luggage, no one taking care of the kids, and it’s pitch black outside. Or I’m back in my Ikuno classroom, at the front of a group of thirty students all watching me expectantly.

Each time, in every dream, I stop cold and wonder, What was I thinking?!

I also remember, too late, that I no longer speak the language.

Like my other recurring dreams about being one week from a sociology exam and realizing I haven’t been to class in six months, or breaking my teeth, or having surreal conversations with my late mother, I wake up and think, well, thank goodness it’s morning.

All of which is a very long way to tell you that hurray! I’m finally back in Japan.


And savoury breakfasts are back on the menu.









That little snippet ran through my head more than a few times today. 

It’s a good thing Rio is so gosh-darned pretty given the hours we’ve spent savouring her loveliness. I won’t beleaguer you with tour-bus-tales-from-h*ll because given the outcome we actually could barely have asked for a better happier more hilarious day. 

The first clue things were somewhat amiss was when the tour bus showed up — new, clean, spacious and on time. Oh-eight-hundred, ma’am. At your service. Really? Wow. Rio’s efforts to put all the naysayers to bed has even reached the usually sketchy tour bus industry.

And for complete transparency, given that many of you are seasoned backpackers and know well the benefits of taking off sans plan in hand, let’s just say given geographical and time constraints a guided tour seemed the most efficient use of time.

On we hopped at 0801. This is easy!

We stopped to pick up other travelers from other hotels, adding and discarding along the way according to languages spoken, until suddenly there was only us back on the bus. Whoa. How did that happen? Gestured off, we got on to a much larger, longer bus. Ah yes. This makes sense.

More people on, more people off. Okay, so the promised five-hour tour includes an hour of transportation. Makes sense. Silly us. 

We stopped at 0900 and were gestured on to another bus, smaller shorter, better able to make its way up the hills. Makes sense.

Surprise! It’s our original driver, the fellow who pick us up from the hotel. 

We shrugged, he shrugged. Oh boy.

Another 30 minutes of Groundhog Day (the movie) transpired as we collected and discarded until we had a healthy collection of blonde Californians, a purple haired-Afro-American doctor with a bejeweled American flag on her baseball cap, and Pam and Obama-sound-alike David from Indianapolis, all very energized, enthusiastic and outspoken.

Our guide Mabel (pronounced mah BELL) was also very energized, enthusiastic and outspoken.

“I like Hillary. She is a sister, a woman, like me. You like Trump?”

No, the Americans assured her. Anyone who likes Trump would not be in Brazil.

“Why? They no like Brazil?”

No, Mabel. Trump supporters wouldn’t have a passport.

Okay, so to the Canucks in the back, that was pretty funny. Mabel didn’t quite get the humour but she got the point.

We arrived to our first destination, the base of the oh-so-massive Christ the Redeemer statue which overlooks the city and can be observed from just about anywhere, learned we’d have to take a tram to the top and knew we’d be spending at least another two hours in lineups — one line up for the ticket, the next lineup for the metal detector (today’s apprehended weapons were unobtrusive but observable in a tucked-to-the-side plexiglas box) and finally to board the tram.

And it was very hot — 33 degrees. 

“This is a nice cool winter day,” said Mabel. “You be happy.”

We’re happy, Mabel. We’re happy.

But Mabel’s cheeks were starting to shine. Three line-ups, another bus to take to even get to the tram… 

“I come here last week, before Olympics, it is only me and three people. This is very very busy.”

Well, maybe it was the significance of Christ’s outstretched arms but purple-haired Kay reached into her Mary Poppins handbag and pulled out a blue handicapped sign.

Mabel’s eyes widened then narrowed. We were in.

To the front of the line to get through the metal detector. To the front of the line to get on the bus. To the front of the line to take the tram. And so it went. Forty minutes at the top, have a walk, drink some water, take your pictures, and off we go. 

This statue really is something to behold. And worth the trip.

But then as now, I am very thankful for Kay’s handicapped sign.

Just a note — I’m sitting in our hotel room at the moment and am listening to music coming through the window from the entertainment over in the revitalized harbour area.

A woman is singing a samba-ized version of Hi-ho, Hi-ho, It’s Off to Work I Go.

I leave that one to your imagination.

Really so beautiful. 

When the first Portuguese explorers came to this shore line they saw all the islands (below) and the geographical layout made them think they’d come to a river (not knowing they were still in the ocean) hence Rio and as it was January, Janeiro.

River of January.

I wish I could tell you which beach…. Will get back to you.

Very pretty tho. We were at the top of Sugar Loaf (picture below), the iconic hump in every image of Rio. More evaded lineups (thank you, Kay), two cable cars (four in total) and a quick tour around the top. Mabel kept us efficient, constantly berating the always-at-work-Obama/David for talking on his cell phone. His wife said a big Chicago real estate deal was in the works.

“Hey, Canada!” he’d call me, in a perfect Obama sound bite. “Where are we goin’ now?”

Even as our little tour approached the seven hour mark, we were all pretty grateful to Kay’s magical pass which allowed us to bypass every. single. heart-breaking (to others, mind you lol)  line-up, particularly as she didn’t appear to have need for any assistance of any kind.

How is it you come to have that pass, I asked.

“Sometimes my legs don’t work. It’s the chemo. After the third round that can happen. Or maybe it’s the fourth. Or fifth. Oh heck, honey. I can’t remember.”

Hence the purple hair?

“You still gotta have fun, Canada.”

Oh gee. Have we stopped somewhere?

Could it be Açai Time?

And this photo-collage brought to you by the Amazonian princess. Apparently I didn’t capture every single Açai experience of the last couple of days.

“Hey Canada!”

Yes, Dave?

“Is that any good?”

Why yes, Dave it is.

It’s all very good.

The princess and I have been on a search for all things açai — do you know açai? It’s one of the wonder wünder marvy trendy hoopla’d foods that costs a Candian fortune to add to smoothies, salads, sorbets, however you want it. It’s an Amazonian berry crushed, mashed, puréed and eaten sweet or savoury, one of those recently rediscovered ancients that if consumed with regularity, should have us both living well to the time when our Bowen house-with-an-ocean-view becomes waterfront property.

So here’s how it’s sold in the grocery stores.  Pre-crushed, pre-portioned, pre-packaged into plastic bags about half the length and twice the width of a freezie (those summertime soccer field treats). In addition to being a healthy antioxidant addition to morning smoothies,  I understand açai can be mixed with onions and herbs to be used as a sauce with fish or beef.

A tigela is a bowl and here, anyways, the cups and bowls of creamy frozen açai are topped with fruit and granola. Bananas are best, according to the ladies at the stalls (we assume that’s what they’re indicating when after pointing to every other fruit they frown and shake their heads, proffering only sliced bananas with a big thumbs-up). 

We always go with the advice of the locals. And as my personal experience has proven time and time again, the nearer I am to the country in which they were grown, the more bananas taste like something I’d like to eat.

** It wasn’t until a mid-80s trip to India that I discovered what bananas were supposed to taste like, and learned I didn’t hate them after all. If you’re not a banana lover, you might try those teeny ones from Chinatown or another Asian market. There really is no comparison.

So this little 400ml cup was prepared in some back room and also, I understand, mixed with guarana,  another magical energy producing Amazonian elixir.

Pushed along in little Revel and Fudgcicle-type carts are the purveyors of Açai-in-a-cup, all real, all natural, only a couple of dollars for a container and a lot more life-affirming that a plain old cup of HagenDaz. Or maybe not. But at least you can pretend to be healthier.

Included with this little pot was a spoon and a granola topping which, along with fruit, is the other preferred manner of enjoying frozen açai. 

But you knew there had to be an adult version, didn’t you? And this looks meek enough, doesn’t it? 


There’s some extremely harsh liquor floating around these parts that reminds me a lot of something brewed in the basement by a certain first degree relative of mine, called cachaça (ka-SHA-sa). Mixed with the tart and medicinal-tasting crushed açai berries, it’s a potent reminder of why sky-high Jimmy Choos should not be worn to formal functions. 

I sipped mine slowly. There was no other way that was wise.

Them ain’t raspberries.

And then, because it just had to be done, the most adult version of all.

The taste of this one is pretty much like the orange cloud on the bottle.

Next up: Northern country food that’s frighteningly slimey but startlingly good!

Bem vindo ao Rio!

Ah yes, another summer, another story. Last year my little one and I were toodling about the arctic circle. This year, the Olympics beckoned via our Athletics Canada connections and while none of us has been too sure what to expect, begging your indulgence, what follows is an attempt to share and elucidate along the way.

We wandered our first day only slightly travel weary — a lengthy sub-Equatorial journey but only four hours time difference — and found some of the positive energy and revitalization brought to the city via the Olympics. 

This area in the Centro neighbourhood appears to be an old shipping industrial area as it sits only a couple of blocks from the water, with warehouse-style buildings and railway tracks. 


Most of the buildings had huge line-ups so we weren’t certain what lay within, although they appeared to be sports-themed venues for children and adults, a place to try out the various events on a small scale.

At the tip of the peak in the picture with the yellow cat-creature you can see a slight profile of Cristo Redentor — Christ the Redeemer statue. There ought to be a closer picture of the statue coming later this week.


And if you’ve been paying attention at all to the reports of a heightened military presence in Rio over the next two weeks, I can affirm that we are feeling quite safe, although it’s a bit disquieting to think what the area would be like were not all these folks in place. Flashing lights, motorcades, sirens, the whump-whump-whump-whump of military helicopters…. it’s always good and smart to depart from one’s homeland for a while to appreciate the luxury of the lifestyle that is Canada.

And speaking of petty crime — I will say in advance that the photos this trip will not be to my usual, ahh, photojournalistic standards. At the last moment I elected to leave my camera at home and to use only my phone. Enough said.

Nothing like a familiar few letters to beckon from a rainy (sudden switch in weather; this is winter, after all) afternoon. Canada House is set to welcome friends and family of competing athletes. To soothe the gastronomically homesick there’s McDonalds coffee (what?! No Tim Horton’s?), Hudsons Bay Olympic clothing, Labatt’s beer, wifi courtesy of Bell, Oreo cookies, Wheat Thins crackers, and very very good food. 

All themed in red and white.

And very very friendly.

Following lunch we thought we’d head to a couple of events at a couple of venues. The various venues are spread all over the city, far and wide, north and south, far and wide, and far. Very far.

But how would we know that? 

Very far.

Too far for the subway, which we’d taken to get from our hotel in Centro to Canada House in Copacabana. Yep, that one.

Call Uber, said the smart people at Canada House. 

Oh Uber I love you. 

Download the app (thank you, Bell), address for pickup and destination, press ‘go.’ 

Your driver will be there in 10 minutes. Your driver will be there in 5 minutes. Your driver has arrived. Your driver’s name is Tomas. The vehicle is a Volkwagen with license number xyz. Your fare will be R$75, automatically charged to your credit card. Your destination is 20 minutes away.

Oh Uber.

Tomas spoke no English but his mobile chattered away at him for the entire journey.

Which (oh Uber….) took 158 minutes and cost R$111 (R$125 after I tipped poor haggard Tomas the R$14 I had in my pocket). I can’t be sure how Uber got it wrong but I think the chock-a-block Rio traffic might have had something to do with it.

So arriving somewhat behind schedule we did manage to witness the end of the women’s basketball game against Senegal (devoted Senegalese fans actually booed… Our team won anyway)…

…. and the field hockey game between Great Britain and Australia. The biggest dilemma of course was deciding for whom to cheer — the mother country or the commonwealth cousin? Discreetly, we clapped for both. No booing here.

And you needn’t ask how we got home. One hour and R$12.

Boa noite!

Ulu day

Looking east, deep into the Pang

Looking east, deep into the Pangnirtung fjord

We wake up knowing it’s our last full day. How much can we absorb, how much more can we savour this indescribably attractive corner of the planet?

The prime reason for visiting this remote Inuit community has been to explore food issues in the north. We have spoken with youth, elders, white, Inuk, government officials, residents of the community. Everyone has an opinion and there is no single answer for what is ‘right,’ what is the next step, what can be changed, what should be saved.

Every person interviewed represents a separate stratum of opinion. It’s stupefyingly complex. I will try to recount all these opinions in a series of coming posts, and of course Liliana will be exploring the topic this coming year for school. But on this last day, is there something, someone, somewhere we’ve left untapped?

Daily water delivery to Hannah's house

Daily water delivery to Hannah’s house

Liliana heads out Hannah’s door to take some photos of the landing turboprops, and for a final playdate with the puppy she’s befriended. I go to return the hazing gun (I bet not many of y’all can add that activity to the penultimate day of a vacation) and wander down to talk with a conservation officer at the far end of town. I want to get a permit to take home a raw sealskin and leaving Nunavut without a marine mammal exit permit might cause a bit of fuss on switching planes in Ottawa.

The south side of the fjord, at the west end of the hamlet

The south side of the fjord, at the west end of the hamlet

As I walk to the federal office I see a very small man out on his very small porch, sparks flying as he sharpens something on his grinder. I see the shape – a half moon with a metal stem.

“Hello!” I call out, in my friendliest southernly manner. “Did you talk to Hannah?”

It’s a hamlet, remember? Everyone knows everyone, especially elders such as Hannah.

He looks at me.

“Did Hannah ask you, telephone you to make an ulu?” I’d spoken with her about one earlier in the week and she’d said she’d ask around to see if someone would have one for me. Clearly I’d found that someone. What luck!

“Is that ulu for me?”

He’s quiet until now.

“You come back. Five o’clock. Fifty bucks.”

I smile. What a great little community. Here I am, walking along, and see the guy Hannah called to make an ulu. Wow! Can’t wait to come back and pick up the finished knife.

I make my way to the conservation officer’s building. A huge metal garage, packed with stacks of sealskins, maps, pamphlets, walrus skulls and a canvas kayak. The officer is a soft-spoken South African, from Kelowna, here for six years, while his wife stays in BC as his children finish up university.

Day 2 Saturday 074

I get my marine mammal release permit, tell him the location of some gigantic lumbar vertebrae (above, and contrasted with Liliana’s size 7 foot) we saw on the beach (he thinks they’re whale) and hear his opinion on Canadian sovereignty in the north. He’s enormously compassionate regarding the struggles of people in the north and he’s also a bit lonely. I feel badly for leaving him after 30 minutes of conversation.

I meet up with the patient Liliana who’s been perched on a rock and waiting an hour, and we go to say goodbye to Ooleepeeka at the Angmarlik visitor centre. Ooleepeeka is a sweet woman we met on one of our first days wandering around the hamlet. On an earlier visit she invited us in to have tea and cookies and to play cards with some of the elders… those little ladies tossed down the cards with gusto but without knowing the language or the card game we were happy to watch and listen to the laughter.

On this visit Ooleepeeka calls out some girls and asks them to give Liliana a crash course in throat singing. Throat singing is typically performed by females, sometimes with a competitive element (she who laughs first — loses) or to tell a story.

This particular entry level version they teach Liliana is just to get going… the girls demonstrate a few other patterns, beautiful and hypnotic. They hold on to each other to ensure they keep the rhythm.

After our goodbyes, we head back to the Lodge to say goodbye to Louis Robillard, whom we’ve not seen since our arrival, when he tried to clear out a room for us in his hotel, but equally never gave up on securing us our rightful spot at Hannah’s house.


Louis is chopping tomatoes and making ketchup in the hotel kitchen when we arrive and once he gets the last few in the pot he stuffs various herbs into a tea ball, tosses in the ball along with salt and pepper, grabs his pipe and tobacco and we go sit outside in afternoon sun. Louis has fierce opinions about what is wonderful about life in the north, and of course, about what he’d change if he could. It’s a good life, we concur.

We make our way back to see Hannah and to have a final dinner. Arctic char, boiled vegetables, and as a special treat for our last day, a cake. Hannah laughs about it – she is unsure about making a cake from a box and thinks maybe it should have come out more level. The cake is sweet – tastes like chocolate milk — crazily sweet but we are touched by Hannah’s joy in having a young person in her life.

As we are eating I thank Hannah for calling the man about the ulu.

“The ulu! Ohhhhh! I forget.”

Oh, but that’s all right, Hannah, I say. I saw him today. He was making the ulu right there.

She’s not listening.

“Oh! I sorry, I forget to call.”

But I saw him today, I say. He was making it. I’m going back this evening.

“I no call.”

A pause.


“You get ulu?”

Uh, no. Not yet. I’m going back after dinner.

And how to explain my sheepish self that moment? Here I am, southern gal sauntering along, seeing a guy making a knife. Hey, buddy, wanna sell that ulu?

Hannah laughs and laughs. Then her eyes narrow.

“How much?”

Fifty dollars. She approves, tells me to get going and to pick up my knife.

When I return a little while later with my new ulu, she inspects it.


I’m happy she’s happy. Really Hannah? You think it’s a good one?

“I tell you it is nice. How many times you want me to say it?”

Ten times, I say.

“Nice nice nice nice nice….”

We have a good laugh and in the most fortunate of moments, I have my camera nearby when she reaches to hug Liliana. “I want keep you, honey. You [that’s me she’s talking to] can go home. I keep her.”

Friday Day 8 7

Hannah also finally shares the identity of the pictures in the hallway. Over the first few days when we inquired who they were she’d only say, “Old pictures. Old people.” Today she lets us know – they’re pictures of a baby Hannah.

If you’ve read any other of these posts you can probably surmise this is a tender moment. Hannah no doubt has seen scores of us southerners come and go, dropping in and out of her life. Small wonder that she might choose to remain reserved.

So the sharing of the moment where we see her, and her parents, from very long ago, marks a special final moment for us.

IMG_1321 IMG_1322

We are grateful.

A walk in the park

Monday Day 4 23

Today after breakfast we walk down to the floating dock to meet our guide Peter Kilabuk at his aluminum fishing boat. Peter has offered to take us deep into the Pangnirtung fjord to hike in Auyuittuq national park.

We’ve paid $12.50 for a permit to enter the park, we’ve watched a disturbing orientation film on polar bear encounters and have packed our granola bars, hazing gun and emergency whistles. Liliana confides, “If we see a polar bear, you shoot the gun and I’ll take pictures.”

Wednesday Day 6 2

As we motor deeper in to the fjord evidence of the glaciers’ carving power is striking. Deep cuts and gouges in the rock, symmetrical and round. The shapes are much different in contrast to the freshly born peaks and ruggedness of the Rockies and Purcells.

Wednesday Day 6 168

Peter has timed our trip to coincide with the tides – easiest for dropoff and pickup. About an hour’s ride in to the fjord he pulls to the shore. It’s the lowest point of low tide. We jump out on to the seaweed-covered rocks, clamber up the shore and watch Peter float away. If he should forget to come back we know there’s a CB radio in a cabin a few kilometres ahead. Of course, as the hamlet’s chief outfitter, he’d be the one to come back for us anyway.

And so we hike, over rocks, sandy stretches, masses of purple saxifrage. We leap over streams coming down from the mountains, fed by glaciers. This is amazing. I tell Liliana as we fill a cup with icy water, she is drinking some of the oldest water on earth. How cool is that? “Well it’s actually kind of gross when you think about it.” It’s all perspective, my friends. All perspective.

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After an hour we come upon a blaze orange cabin to be used in case of emergency, such as in pursuit by bear. Yes. We look inside. The CB radio, with a note that the batteries were checked July 9, 2015. There’s also a log book with entries from people beginning or ending their 100km hike to Davis Strait, just over there between us and Greenland. With only five hours to undertake we feel a bit like poseurs so don’t bother adding to the journal.

Wednesday Day 6 204

It’s not the first time this week, but I begin to understand the allure of living in the north. Big, bad, beautiful. The temperature for the most part has hovered around five degrees Celsius. One slightly warmer day and we were besieged by mosquitoes.

I talk to Peter about the weather, about the winters. The coldest they experience is about minus 40. I think, that’s all? That’s Winnipeg in January, and say so to Peter. Ah, but it’s colder in Winnipeg. They have all that humidity that cuts to the bone. It’s a dry cold here.

For those not from the prairies, that big sound you just heard is a Winnipeg guffaw. Winnipeggers love to defend their frigid climes by declaring, “But it’s a dry kind of cold.” So there you go, folks. Winnipeg is colder than Pangnirtung. I’d say a few of us already knew that.

Kidding! Kidding!

Wednesday Day 6 248

Five hours after drop off, the sun has gone behind the mountains, the clouds have moved in and the weather has chilled considerably. Liliana puts her socks and shoes back on, hats and mitts come out and we thank each other, for the thousandth time, for this awe-striking experience.

Wednesday Day 6 196

Peter arrives at the pick-up point – a Nunavut flag stuck in a pile of rocks — precisely three minutes after we do and we sense the finality of our northern experience. Still a few things to do over the next day and a half – pick up some permits so we can bring home a sealskin (shot and skinned by Peter, cleaned and prepared by his wife using her “woman’s knife,” the ulu), return the (unused) hazing gun, and say good-bye Louis, Jason and some of the elders we’ve met – but there’s definitely the feeling that we’ve forgotten something, that feeling I get when I’m leaving Somewhere Wonderful.

Hannah has dinner ready when we return. Boiled potatoes, boiled peas and carrots, and large pieces of meat on a plate. Liliana has never seen a roast before. I haven’t seen one since my mother cooked one. She is so good, my girl. She takes a piece, covers it with potatoes and eats. She tells me later she thinks she’ll eat nothing but raw food and green smoothies for the rest of the summer. “I don’t even think I want toast.”

After dinner Hannah gives a startled Liliana a hug.

“I love you, honey. I want you stay with me. I make you mittens from seal skin, I make you kamik, I make you aumati (a hooded jacket).

“And I teach you cooking.”

We will miss this lovely woman.

Caribou and polar bears


Hannah is flustered and nervous today. Twelve people are coming for dinner and she needs to begin cooking. Maybe you go out soon?


Last night she fretted about a number of new guests arriving and proposed we sleep outside: “I don’t charge you for sleeping. Only for food.” I’ve heard the dogs whine and the ATVs rumble past and I don’t know how we’d sleep in the all-night sunshine but I tell her no problem. Liliana looks at me, says nothing.

Hannah's ulu stash

Hannah’s ulu stash

But this morning the worry about rooms seems to have passed and now she just wants us out of the house so she can cook for the crowd. She sits at the kitchen table, slicing up a caribou haunch with her ulu. Her daughter Julia pulls a pan of bannock from the oven, then finishes slicing up the Arctic char.

It will be a party, I smile to Hannah.

No! Not a party! I hate parties! I don’t like that at all.

I wonder what unhappy memory the word ‘party’ evokes for her and I wonder if it has anything to do with the banning of alcohol in Pangnirtung.

Diorama from the parks office. Cute and cuddly,  not like the orientation video...

Diorama from the parks office. Cute and cuddly, not like the orientation video…

As we intend to hike in the Auyuittuq park tomorrow, we go to the national parks office to register and have a compulsory one-hour orientation which includes a rather frightening video on what to do when confronted by a polar bear. My little chicken is sufficiently disturbed that the guide offers us a hazing gun – essentially a pistol with a charge that emits a sound similar to a screaming woman (yep, that’s what he said. “It really scares the bears.”).

Pang garbage dump with photobombing fly! (look in the very centre)

Pang garbage dump with photobombing fly! (look in the very centre)

After a wander through the abandoned Hudson Bay Blubber Station (ground it up and shipped it back to England to light their lamps, I hear) and the more contemporary turbot and Arctic char fish processing plant, we traipse a couple of kilometres east of the hamlet, down a dusty road to what’s referred to here as the Canadian Tire of the North. In fact, it’s the Pangnirtung garbage dump and we’ve been told that if enterprising enough one can find a piece or a part to fix, repair, replace or build anything. It’s all there. In fact, it’s a sad testament to the isolation of this northern community. Goods come in, they don’t go out. Cargo ships are in the business of transporting and they’d rather carry air than transport items without recompense. For who will pay to ship garbage? No doubt the answer to that question will be placed on a future generation but in the meantime cans, paper, glass, refrigerators, kitchen chairs, plastic bags and pocketbooks decay, rust and blow about the dump.

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Stew Caribou

Tuesday Day 5 117

Arctic char en four

Hannah greets us with a smile on our return. “I tired. I cook all day. You like caribou?”

Simmering in a large aluminum pot are chunks of carrot, potato, turnip and caribou. She dips in a spoon and lifts out a meaty cube. “You try.”

Have I mentioned that I’ve eaten more animal protein this week than I have in the last thirty years?

As I chew Hannah whispers to me about the young woman who has just taken a room for the night. “Not good. She vegetarian. She not eat my dinner.”

And Hannah is very proud of the meal she has prepared for the guests who are to arrive any minute. A pot of caribou stew, a baking pan of Arctic char, rice, salad, steamed vegetables, blueberry pie – all laid out with love and care by this rather elderly great grandmother.

I swallow the caribou and I tell her it is wonderful.

Her beautiful brown eyes crinkle with a grin. “You sure? You no vegetarian?”

For this week, Hannah, just for your sweet smiling self, I no vegetarian.