Category Archives: Camping

Canoe Camping on Lake Minnewanka, Canada


Who knows what the weather will do on a weekend in May in the Rockies.  You have to chance your luck if you really want to get out there, and after a long cold winter in Calgary you really do want to get back out in summer camping mode.  It was a last minute decision after a glass or two of wine with my outdoor enthusiast mate and before we knew it we were off too MEC to go and pick up our Canoe and Sea Kayak.  The deals are great and you can hire a canoe for $50 for the whole weekend.  After securing the canoe to the car, we were off.

It’s one of the things I have always wanted to do but have never got round to it and it was not going to disappoint.  The only concern we had was whether we had enough food and whether the wind would be up on Lake Minnewanka.

We got lucky as the lake was pretty calm and despite the forecast of rain in the morning we set out for the first campsite LM#8  along the lake.  There are about 4 campsites which are typical back country affairs and everything you need.  This one allows you to hang your food up and apparently this particular site tends to close in the summer as it is at the base of Alymer Pass which is a bit of a bear haven.

The lake was dammed in 1895 and a few times after that so scuba divers have plenty to look at with the old town still sitting under the water.  There’s a great hike around the side of the lake and a popular trail with mountain-bikers but be aware that one part of the trail is closed July 15th until September because of the amount of bear attacks in the last 6 years.  This is essential grizzly habitat.

Messing about on the water

Messing about on the water

The following morning we had tranquil water and we glided back but this lake is known to very choppy and many people have found themselves stranded waiting to get back or having to be towed…so be warned.

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Patzcuaro, Mexico


The more time I spend in Mexico the more excited I am by the people, the culture and the landscape. Driving into the western highlands of the Mexican state of Michoacan past old volcano’s and rolling fertile plains rich with a diverse flora and fauna I am struck by the how different Mexico feels as I move around the country. The Mexican experience is one that is continually varied. Here in Patzcuaro the center-point for the surrounding Purepecha Indian villagers who flock to the town to sell their crafts and food I can feel the spirit of the indigenous peoples striking in their traditional clothes. The air is rich with varied smells of foods and fruits and there are plenty of street cafes to hangout in and just watch the world go by, but never expect quiet because you are likely to have a mariachi band stroll up and start playing beside you at any moment. While your there try the local Tarascan soup which is on most menu’s made with blended beans, dryed chilies and tomatoes, poured over fried tortilla strips, with melted cheese, avocado and cream on top.

Plaza Don Vasco

Patzcuaro (pop: 50,000) in the western highlands situated in the Lake Pátzcuaro region of the Mexican state of Michoacán is famous for the Day of the Dead celebrations in November which is a mix of pre-Hispanic beliefs and Catholicism. The original meaning of Patzcuaro in the Purepecha language is “door to heaven” and this is not far off the mark even today. It is situated in an area thickly forested with pine, oak and eucalyptus so in the cool mornings the air smells divine. The town is a colonial gem with 16th century architecture, stucco walls painted white with dark red borders, friendly people, colourful markets, good food and a laid backness that gets into the bones. There are no major stores or chains just amazing buildings. Peak into any given tienda or store and you will see a long hallway leading to a courtyard garden. It’s is packed with churches, beautiful plaza’s that transform into markets depending on what day it is, Fridays are great as this is the major market day for the villagers from all around the lake who sell their wares in the main plaza’s such as Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. This plaza is named after the still revered Don Vasco , a bishop who fought for the rights of the local population rebelling against any ideas that they should loose their liberty and introduced the concept and skills which still persists today of each village producing a particular craft. Paracho is known as the guitar capital of the world, Tzintzuntzán pottery, Santa Clara copper products and Nurío woven woolens.

Market

And if you have a fascination with the catholic crafts step into the arcade called Casa De Los Naranjos on the corner of Plaza Vasco de Quiroga where you can buy many Dia de Los Muertos figurines, local CD’s and further into the arcade try making a selection from a wall plastered with hundreds of catholic crosses and iconography in that truly Mexican style. When I visited in April there were very few overseas tourists so if you have the desire to experience real Mexico this is the place to visit.

Crosses

Getting There

Patzcuaro Location – By air, there is a small airport that connects with Houston (4 hours), LA (3 hours), Mexico City (55 minutes) or take the luxury air-conditioned bus Primera Plus which is 5 hours direct from Mexico City for about $50 return. Getting to Patzcuaro from any place is Mexico is easy as long as you go through a major city.

Where to Stay

Camping – There are two parks here, I stayed at Villa Patzcuaro Hotel and RV Park has rooms and RV camping in a large garden out the back surrounded by eucalyptus and many birds. Not far from town to drive or jump in a collective.

There are many beautiful historic hotels at great prices in the town center.
Hotel Meson del Gallo, Dr. Jose Maria Coss 20. Single or double, $28; (52-434) 21474.
Hotel Fiesta Plaza, Plaza Bocanegra 24, single $37; double $43; (52-434) 22516.
Hotel Mansion Iturbe, Portal Morelos 59, (52-434) 20360, on the main plaza. is an elegant bed-and-breakfast; $70 for either a single or a double , breakfast included. Discounts for longer stays.

When to go

In terms of the weather, day-time temperatures are consistent year round but winter nights can be very cold as the town is at 7200ft altitude.

Major Fiestas

March 14. Don Vasco de Quiroga week: art and cultural fair, concerts. Patzcuaro.
March-April. Holy Week: processions, passion plays, Stations of the Cross, feasts. All towns.
May 3. Santa Cruz Day. Patzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, Erongaricuaro, Quiroga, Zirahuen, Tingambato.
Oct. 31. Kuirsi-atakua: ceremonial preparation of duck casserole in advance of Night of the Dead: Janitzio, Jaracuaro, Tzin tzuntzan.
Nov. 1 and 2. All Saints’ Day and Dia De Las Muertos: offerings to the dead (food, flowers, candy)
Dec. 8. La Senora de la Salud Day: Dances, Indian artisan fair, parades, bullfights. Patzcuaro.
Dec. 12. Virgen de Guadalupe Day
Dec. 16 to 24. Christmas processions in the streets, fiestas, fireworks, pinatas.

Interesting Articles

Deep in the Heart of Mexico, The New York Times

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Lazy Days at Bahia Concepcion, Mexico


The instant I arrived here I felt relaxed. Trying to read my book listening to the sounds of “The Band” drifting out from the neighbours cabin I found myself just gazing at the shoreline about 20 feet from the trailer watching a dog that from all account seems to be fishing. At no time did I see him catch as fish but his focus on the water around him walking along the beach with his tail wagging frantically for a least an hour makes me think that he may have had at least one vivid success in the past. Having meet the owner I later found out that this Labradoodle does fish. But the more experienced fishers are here and swallow up a lot of my gazing time. The pelicans sit in the water directly in front of me with their sinuous necks and enormous beaks resting in what no doubt is the most comfortable position possible, an S shape and their eyes observing all around. Having ignored for hours the incessant squawking of the two seagulls, who seem caught in some tortuous repetitive behavior picking and dropping things seemingly unable to fish and now engaged in a vicious fight trying to pull each others eyes out, the pelicans join me in trying to break up the fight.

pelican brown-mtybay

The pelicans fly in groups of about a dozen in single file over the water with a wave type approach to the flapping which I assume generates a air stream that allows those behind to glide inches above the water. Watching the world go by with a stillness I have never observed in a bird is the heron. With it’s tall thin legs and long pointy beak it stands solitary waiting in the water with the waves lapping against it’s perfectly still body to catch the odd passing fish. There are so many birds too numerous to mention. They spend less time on the beach and hang around the sandy fields of huge saguaro cacti perched on the tips of the cacti relaxing with their wings spread before soaring up into the sky to hunt for food. And best of all are the pods of dolphins who swim along the shore in the mornings with their fins bobbing in and out of the water.

As I sit in my trailer this morning looking out at the scene before me, the travel guide descriptions seem a little off the mark. The turquoise waters of the bay are nowhere to be seen instead there is a little drizzle which has been making an appearance on and off all through the night and it still lingering this morning. The water is uniformly grey. Most north Americans visit Baja to escape the cold winters up north but the winter months are not always that hot down in Baja. We have been informed that this is extremely unusual weather by those that have been frequenting the area for 10 or more years. There is cloud, sunshine and winds that sweep in during the afternoons and the water is tepid. For me this is perfect, long gone are the days of toasting myself in the sunshine, a task that was always an uphill battle with fair skin.

Bahia Concepcion is a bay that is about 20 miles in length with about 12 beaches offering various levels of camping. Right now it is undeveloped but the developers are moving in. There is a remax office about 3 miles north of here selling beach side property that hints at the development that lies ahead. For those visiting these beaches for the last 20 years and there are quite a few of them here at Los Naranjos, it already feels more developed but as most of them know this is still a far cry from Los Cabos with it’s first class hotels and golf courses. For now it is a chilled out bay with much more interesting flotsam and jetsam living in the beaches for the winter months. We were led to the Los Naranjos beach after a brief meeting in Catavina with the warm and friendly Roy, the pastor of a non-denomination church that sits on the beach less than a mile from the campsite who normally spend 6 months a year here . When asked what he does he replied in a Missouri accent, “Ahh haeve ma church and am going down to visit the schools as Santa Claus.”

The campsite has lots of longstay people here, mostly American who either own or rent Palapa’s which are woodframe huts with a covering of palm fronds for a roof on the beach or like us camp in their trailer. The beach is unique in that it offers water and sewage but all the power is solar. There is fishing right off the beach and the bay provides great kayaking for those armed with their own kayak. Yesterday while the fishing dog was busy in the shallow waters, another mutt with his life jacket on had the pleasure of a whole mornings kayaking with his owner much to the jealously of the other beach dogs who frantically swam after the kayak out into the bay. The sense of home and community is what strikes me about this beach. Many people have come and introduced themselves to us, invited us for food and coffee’s trying to establish whether we are going to be one of the community here. One of our neighbours, an Australian couple who are 4 months into their 18 month trip started in Vancouver, have decided not to bother exploring Mexico much more and see no reason to leave this beach sooner than February (in 3 months). At $10 a night for a camping spot or $15 for a palapa and rv spot along with with side trips down to the southern most tip doable in a day I can see they have a point. The only downside here is that you are living in a English speaking ghetto nevertheless with the site being run by Mexicans and with the town of Mulegé10 miles down the road you can still experience Mexico and have somewhere to further those Spanish skills or like the pastor Roy there are ways to engage with the local community especially if you look like Father Xmas.

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Ensenada to San Quintin, Baja California


Driving from Ensenada to San Quintin (3 hours), and locating what has to be one of the most spectacular campsites so far on our entire trip – El Pabellon Rv Park , was different again. The small towns off the highway had no paved road at all. The streets looked like Serge Leone depictions of the wild west. Cars and trucks drove alongside the highway on the dirt roads and then jumped up the ledge to get back on the roads. Shops and houses were situated off the highway down desert roads which on this day had low visibility due to the winds that were whipping along the streets and the cars leaving dust trails. The air around us was at times quite dense with dust which looking at the locals seemed to be a normal occurrence as they had the hats and scarves wrapped around their faces for protection. This is the desert. Some of the land is farmed with an extensive looking tomato growing operation with greenhouses and a sea of plastic stretching out onto the horizon. Some of the land is left fallow due to the limitations on the water supply into Baja. Some of the water is sourced from the Colorado River in the US which is over a thousand miles away. The campsite was down a dirt road off the highway about 200 yards from the Pacific ocean set on the edge of some sand dunes. When we arrived there was only one other trailer which had about 8 OHV’s parked up next to it. These were promptly jumped on by a bunch of local teenagers and adults and ridden over some fantastic looking sand dunes. The beach itself was more like a road with vehicles driving through the campsite onto the beach and then alongside the ocean. So with the waves crashing, the sun setting and the full moon rising I cooked a surprising salty potato, lentil and split pea soup (saltiness came from the brackish water) which we ate whilst cooing at the various local dogs who came to sniff the strange soup.

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Camping Hints for WIFI Pirates


camper600OK I’ve got 10 minutes to blog. Why 10 minutes? Because that’s all the time I can get on this dodgy internet connection in the trailer. One minute it is up and the next it is down, so I have to choose my moment carefully when the little the green bars indicating connectivity flash at me and then conduct a stealth-like internet mission.

It’s interesting to feel your priorities shift when you are camping for an extended period. For the first couple of weeks I was totally focused on how nice the camping spot was and not the facilities. I can cope very well with pit toilets and no showers thank-you very much, WIFI was not even on the horizon. I was happy with primitive camping, none of that full-hookup malarkey for me. Give me the mountain or lake view, a south west facing aspect and privacy and I was as happy as Larry.Alas, 3 months on the road and priorities have changed.

I have finally succumbed to the lure of the power and water hook-ups, in fact this week we have gone as far as using the full-hookups – power, water and poo. Showers are at absolute must and above all there’s the WIFI. Sod the view – how is the bloody WIFI connection. Somehow having internet in the trailer makes us feel instantly at home as we can go out each day and get the views but when we get home we love a little bit of WIFI. So for you pirate travelers out there here is my essential travel accessory that increases the WIFI range. We use Netgear Rangemax which is a cheap little device that you plug into your laptop and it goes finding all the WIFI links around or will just boost the link at your campsite. In fact you can go back to primitive camping and be a smelly WIFI pirate.

In Mexico you can get internet. There are internet cafes in most towns, hotels and most campsites in fact I have found more consistent internet availability than in the US.

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Bitter Sweet Video Calls while camping


 

It’s amazing to think that even 10 years ago going on a road-trip would be quite a different experience in terms of communication back home. You would have minimal contact with the friends and family that you left behind with communication consisting of snail-mail or phone-calls to say “I’ve arrived but I’ve got to go cos this is costing me a bloody fortune”!

Belonging to the generation that used to bang the top of the television to get the picture level on the screen and used to let the TV ‘warm-up’ before watching (computers were not in my everyday consciousness), I have already witnessed an amazing acceleration in technology. Although I am ‘only’ 39 I have felt the radical changes in the work-place and my social world. Today I can sit in a trailer in in Moab, Utah and communicate with friends and family in Europe for free either through Skype or MS Messenger. Not only can I talk to them as often as they can bear – I can also see them through video calls. I can put my photo’s on Flickr, my videos on youtube, my thoughts and ramblings on my WordPress blog. This makes the world feel like a much more accessible place. But these feelings do not represent the true reality for the people in our world.

xo-laptop.jpg

Technology is changing some of our lives at a pace that is hard to comprehend but for the developing world it is a different story. There are efforts in place to help accelerate that change like the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, sponsored by MIT and Red Hat whose goal has been to create a laptop that is energy efficient, GNU/linux based that can be used for education and costs $100. But this is a drop in the ocean for the 767 million people who now live in Less Developed countries. Technology and innovation are necessities not luxuries for these countries if they are do have any chance in reducing poverty in the coming years. So as I sit here in my trailer happily biting my friends with the werewolf application in Facebook over a glass of wine, there is also a bitter sweet edge to it that this is a luxury and not a necessity. At least the drop in the ocean for the OLPC initiative is putting technology and communication tools in the hands of the children who will be inheriting global problems such as climate change and the same old cruddy religious wars and political greed.

So with the Christmas spending fiasco that will be upon us in no time here’s an idea for making a difference, for $300 there is the XO Give 1 and Get 1 – this means you can buy one for your child and one for a child in the developing world.

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Moab, Utah, USA


 

Boy oh boy where do I start with this funky little town. Moab, pop. 4779 is nestled in the heart of Utah on the Colorado Plateau and is a far cry from most people’s mental image of a Mormon city. The town is a geological mecca in the heart of canyon country, with most visitors coming here for purely hedonistic reasons. There are still the usual laws around alcohol with the state controlling the sale of liquor and beer with over 3.2% alcohol content but that’s just the way it is in Utah. Moab has a dramatic desert landscape where jutting red rock cliffs tower above the Colorado River. It is considered to have some of the world’s best mountain biking trails with oodles of divine and scary terrain but even a novice can experience the wonders of slick-rock in playgrounds such as Barlett Wash but the most popular one which is not for the fainthearted is Slickrock trail which put Moab in the map for the mountain-biking enthusiasts.

Mountain-biking is just one way to enjoy the landscape – the other is off road vehicles. If you wander down main street late afternoon you will see the most fantastic selection Map of Moabof jacked-up mud caked jeeps just returned from the one of the many off-road trails on offer to test your vehicle to the limit. And if you’re not into any of that scary stuff then you have all the national parks to explore. Utah is known as the National Park capital of the US. The scenery offers everything from wind-carved arches in Arches National Park just 2 miles from Moab to massive stone walls molded by the Colorado and Green rivers. Other parks nearby are Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Castle Valley, Fisher Towers, Capitol Reef, Zion National Park, Bryce National Park, Trails of the Ancients to name a few.

And of you are still looking for more entertainment there are endless festivals and happenings to check out. Watch this space for a review of the annual pumpkin throwing festival on Oct 27th. pumkin_poster_2007.gif

There are motels and campgrounds galore to suit budget and comfort needs. We are staying in Slickrock Campground having done a little too much primitive camping the last couple of months – hot showers and internet were a necessity. And to really get the Moab vibe, tune into KZMU radio which has some pretty diverse and cool shows to listen to.

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