Sunday, November 9, 2008

Vancouver is a fun place to eat!

"Back From Hell" is the name on the sauce jar. It's like a challenge--daring me to try it. Top is off--jar has a spoon in it. It sits in a tray with four other less formidable-sounding sauces. All tops are off, spoons at the ready.

I lift an oyster in its half shell onto my plate, spear some of the freshly grated horseradish and dress the Fanny Bay oyster with it, then add a half teaspoon of Back From Hell. Once in my mouth, my sinuses lodge an immediate protest. I shake my head, take a deep breath, and confirm what my sinuses are shouting at me. I think I say something that sounds like, "Sunk in the ditch! That stuff is hot!" Actually, I don't think the sauce is quite all the way back from Hell.

It is great. It is tasty. It is Rodney's Oyster House on Hamilton Street in Downtown Vancouver. I didn't know about Rodney's. I guess I was just about the only person in Vancouver who didn't. At last--I am among the cognoscenti.

Rodney's is one of those one-of-a-kind establishments--the place to go in Vancouver for fresh seafood. Although I suspect that any number of dining establishments in this restaurant-rich town would challenge me on that comment. Can't help it--I'm just repeating what I heard from a local.

We had other seafood treats there as well, as in Slapjack soup (a kind of potato soup with oysters), garlic shrimp, and mussels. But the real treat for us was an order of fresh crab cakes. So fresh, in fact, that we walked by them, still in the holding tank, as we climbed the stairs to our table in the loft overlooking the bar and main-floor tables. Served on a plate with a salad of dark greens that was lightly dressed with vinegar and oil, these two breaded, golden brown cakes were moist and scrumptious. And of course, the full compliment of sauces remained on the table for our dipping delight. In addition to Back From Hell, the sauce tray includes White Boy Soul Sauce, Shallot Vinaigrette, Seawitch Sauce, and Johnny Reb's Espanola Hot Sauce. (If you're interested, you can find out more about--and buy--the sauces here: And adding to our dining experience, at least for me, was that our fare was served up by a hip, upbeat young waiter whose tattoos gripped one arm, crawled up his shirt sleeve, then appeared again crawling down his other arm.

Rodney's (1228 Hamilton Street) was just one of five restaurants at which we dined during our four full days in Vancouver. We were lucky in that the son of our travel companions lives in Vancouver (see photo above), so we got tipped off to a couple of restaurants we would have otherwise had to stumble across. Rodney's was one, Floata Seafood Restaurant was another. Told that this is where the local Chinese population prefers to go for dim sum, we accepted an invitation by our impromptu host to join him and some of his work mates for brunch. We went on a Saturday when dim sum is half-price from 9 to 11 a.m. I think we paid $8 each for the meal. Not bad. We found that lunch was typically costing about $65 for two, which included drinks and tips. Still, a bit expensive. Five of us ate at Rodney's for $160. While not inexpensive (except for our dim sum adventure), it is fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I've had it with Cuban cigars!

I'm officially going on the record as a cigar heretic: Cuban cigars are overrated. I have had the opportunity to smoke Cuban cigars in Mexico, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and last week, in Vancouver. I've even had one of those, "Hey--I know a guy . . ." deals from my neighbor. Truth is, I've been disappointed over and over again. These things cost from between $15 and $35 a cigar, but they seldom smoke better than my all time favorite: the Romeo y Julieta 1875 Exhibicion No. 3, a cigar that costs $3.50 and is made in the Dominican Republic. I can buy 10 cigars for the price of one of these overrated Cubans. I think all of the cigar aficionados are afraid to say that a Cuban is not absolutely the best cigar they have ever smoked. Well, I'm not an aficionado--but as far as I'm concerned, they do not live up to their "Holy Grail" reputation! The ones I have had do not smoke evenly and their flavor and aroma is less pleasing than my favorite, the Exhibicion No. 3. So for my money, I'll stick with the Dominican and Nicarguan and Honduran cigars, and some of those from other Central and Latin American countries. By the way, my birthday is September 18. Christmas is coming. Feel free to send me a box of cigars. You can find them at JR Cigars for $83.50 a box. ( (Just kidding. Kinda.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Of Corkscrews and Swamps

Now it happens that I screwed up. Unusual as this is for me, it did happen this one time. I rousted my wife from her slumber early Monday morning and set off to the Naples area for a bicycle tour of a wilderness area. And while we were sitting in a traffic jam on the freeway in jeopardy of missing what I thought was a 9 a.m. appointment, my wife pointed out that the tour was scheduled for 1 p.m. "That's what it says on the schedule you printed," she said.

I hate it when that happens.

"Well, now what are we going to do," she asked. So I had to save face. My solution was to do exactly whatever she said.

We saw a sign for the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It happens that my wife's friend had taken a tour there and recommended it to us, and I had actually researched it prior to our setting off on our trip. (It's true--I really did!) And, in fact, I had suggested we go to the sanctuary, but on a different day than our bicycle tour. As luck would have it, the sanctuary was more or less on the way to the tour appointment, so we set off to find it.

Turns out it was pretty easy. We were traveling south on I-75 from Ft. Myers toward Naples. We took Exit 111 (Immmokalee Road) 15 miles east and followed the signs to Corkscrew Swamp. We arrived about 9:30 a.m., a good time, actually. There were only a few people in the sanctuary at that time. Admission is $10 each. We also bought a $2 Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Companion Field Guide. Char and I are inexperienced naturalists, and we were able to identify quite a few of the birds and insects we saw along the way using the guide book. If you should ever show up at the sanctuary, the field guide is well worth its nominal fee.
The tour consists of a two and one-fourth mile walk (with a short-cut if you prefer a shorter walk of about a mile) along a board walk that snakes through the swamp. It's quite quiet, and people along the way tend to speak in subdued voices.

The Sanctuary was established in 1954 and comprises more than 6,000 acres of swamp land. Initially isolated and almost impossible to access, this small portion of the swamp is now available to those who wish to take a walk. It is home to one of the largest remaining stands of ancient bald cypress left in North America. And a lot of wildlife, too.

Many visitors to the sanctuary are bird watchers. Quite a few are taking photos. In fact, I am somewhat of an amateur photographer, and I was amazed at the cameras and lenses I saw. I encountered on couple, Reinhard and Jutta from Orlando (seen here), who both had cameras set up to photograph birds at a feeder. There is ample opportunity to take photos all along the boardwalk.

And if you have questions, you will soon encounter one of a number of field guides who patrol the boardwalk looking to answer any questions you may have. They are quite helpful and willing to speak with you until your curiosity is satisfied.

So it turns out that what appeared to be a small disaster after sitting for an hour in an I-75 traffic jam turned into a more or less very enlightening and fun--if somewhat serendipitous--experience with nature.

Of course, I took credit for this. I mean, after all, if I hadn't gotten started early . . .

It's Not Always Warm In Florida

Who would have expected cold temps and high winds in Florida. Well, I guess it's nothing new for Floridians who are used to the climate here. But I was quite surprised--unpleasantly so. After arriving on Saturday the 8th, my wife and I found our way to our condo, changed clothes (shorts and a light shirt--what else!), and took off for the ball park to take in a couple of baseball games. Well--baseball fields are always in the open and if there is the slightest breeze, it is magnified by a factor of ten compared to a residential area. Standing along the sidelines in a stiff wind and very cool temperatures, we soon grew cold. As the day wore on, it became colder. Finally, we could only sit through the third inning of the second game before we had had enough. We headed for home. Later that night, a weather forecast said temps would be dipping to 40. Wow! Seems more like Minnesota. Being from Minnesota, we just naturally think everywhere else in the country is warm. T'ain't so! I have to remember to pack something with long sleeves. You just never know. While the cool weather caught us by surprise, it warmed up by Monday for our bicycle trek through Bear Island in the Big Cypress National Preserve--a most enlightening excursion. And temps for the rest of the week will reach the 80s, which is quite normal for this time of year.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Thanks for coming over to the new blog site, BoomerTrekker. You will see the last three posts that I made on my former blog, BoomerTraveler. For all future posts, I will use this site. I want to remind you to leave comments or offer suggestions. Just use the comments link at the bottom right corner of each post.

Sierra Leone: "Consider yourself on the team."

Well--I've been informed that I will be on the team going to Sierra Leone in December. Barring any major problems, it looks like I will be making the trip. I can now begin planning in ernest. Much to think about. I'll need to discover more details of day-to-day activities. What will I take along? What can I expect to be doing? How will I record the trip (for my purposes).

I've thought that this would make a good piece for public radio. I've toyed with the idea of talking with a local public radio producer to see what I would need to do to come back with the right kind of material. Of course, when they finally stop laughing and wipe the tears from their eyes, I might not be quite as enthusiastic. Hey--what does it hurt to ask.

Anyway, there is much to consider and much to do between now and then, including saving the $2800 I need to pay my way. One small benefit is that the money is paid to a 501(c)(3) foundation, so I will get a tax deduction as a result. If any of you have any thoughts about this project, I'd like to hear them.

Sierra Leone: The First Step

So I wrote a note to the list coordinator for the Sierra Leone trip and told her that I was interested in accompanying the group in December. Now I'm waiting to see if I can get on the list. It's sort of a first step and by no means guarantees that I have a spot in the group. Got my fingers crossed. But I have mentally committed to making the trip. I got pushed over the edge during a coffee chat with a friend at work. Both of us were talking about life accomplishments we wanted to achieve--she, an advanced degree, and me, my desire to combine travel with a humanitarian project. (The newly coined word for this is voluntourism.) By the time we were done talking, I was so revved up that I couldn't figure out why I was hesitating. So I stopped.

Well--now that I've decided to go, I thought I'd find out where I was going. A stop at a nearby Borders book store revealed that there are no travel books on Sierra Leone, which, upon reflection, made sense. Remember, this is the land of Blood Diamonds. The civil war there ended in 2002 (started in 1991), and the established government has slowly been putting the infrastructure and economy back together. It's still in abysmal shape, and the CIA Fact Book on Sierra Leone does not indicate tourism as a source of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In fact, the book store didn't have any books on this tiny west African country. So with the help of the patient customer service employee, I discovered a title of a book that looked like it would provide the background I need to enlighten myself. I didn't write down the title, so I can't tell you now, but I will eventually.

Sierra Leone is a poor country that is slightly smaller than South Carolina and has a population of a little over six million people. You can see its location on the map above. The official language is English (thanks to its history as an English colony), but Sierra Leonians speak at least three other major languages, depending on where in the country they live.

Inoculations and other precautions are necessary for this trip. Malaria is still common in Sierra Leone, as is Yellow Fever. Nasty stuff. So I've got some updating to do. I noticed during a recent physical that I'm due for a tetanus booster. I'll be getting current with all of that throughout the year.

The little community that our group would visit is Manonkoh. Look for the town of Makeni on the map above, sort of in the center. Manonkoh is south of that some distance and not shown on this map. It is there that this outreach group provides medical treatment, nutrition information, and health education to the local population. And it is there that the planned clinic will be built.

So the journey of a thousand miles has begun with the first step. (Actually, it's the journey of 5315 miles, which is the Great Circle distance between Minneapolis and Freetown, SL.) There you have it.

2008 Travel: Looking Forward

2008 brings with it commitment to two trips--one to Ft. Myers, Florida, in March, and another to Vancouver, British Columbia, in October, which is a new destination for me. The new year also brings a commitment to travel writing: I've enrolled in a travel writing class called Alternative Travel Writing with the intention of not only refreshing my reporting and feature-writing skills, but also producing at least one article from each of my planned trips. This is my year to publish!

I'm pumped about that!

Perhaps even more exciting is the possibility of traveling to Sierra Leone. While still a long shot, I am continuing to explore the opportunity. This would not be a leisure trip. I have gotten connected to a church outreach group that provides, and continues to develop, medical services to several remote villages in the interior of Sierra Leone. If I can find someway to make myself useful, I may be able to travel with one of the outreach teams headed for the west African country. The group is making trips in September and again in December. The mission for these two trips is to begin construction on a medical clinic. This, to me, is perfect material for what I think of as alternative travel. And, it would allow me to do something I've said I always wanted to do--give service to others less fortunate than I.

Wish me luck. I would love to venture into the Dark Continent.

And, as if that is not enough, 2008 also holds a couple of vicarious travel experiences for me. Two of my friends, both women, will be adding some great adventures to their travel dossiers.

One put her professional life on hold to fulfill one of her life's dreams: she has spent the last year in Peru studying Spanish and working with a nonprofit organization engaged in bringing medical assistance and life-skills training to some of the native people living along the Napo River in northern Peru. She will be returning in May after spending a year there. Although she lives in another part of the U.S., I am going to invite her to Minnesota to spend a couple of nights on the patio at our house so that I can quiz her about the trip and get a complete debriefing. Peru holds one of my Top Five Destinations To See Before I Die--of course, it's Machu Picchu.

The other plans to travel with her husband to New Zealand which, together with Australia, is also on my list of Top Five Destinations To See Before I Die. This young lady and her husband are adventurous types. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they plan to rent a couple of bikes and take off around New Zealand. Or, that they adopt the notion of vagabonding espoused by travel writer Rolf Potts ( and just take off for an extended walk-about. They're just the sorts of explorers who would do that. I need to have coffee with her soon to see just what she has planned for the New Zealand adventure.

So 2008 could easily become a busy travel year. I'd love it. I'm looking forward to it. I'll keep you posted on all of these topics as the days pass. Come back to this blog regularly; I will be updating it much more frequently this year. My primary travel writing goal this year is to have an article published. Now that I've got the goal, I need to develop a plan. More on that in the days to come. And more on the trips mentioned in this piece.