The Columbian black-tailed deer is the dominant large mammal of the temperate rain forest on the Pacific Coast of North America. Guests on board the Sea Lion were treated to a close encounter with this small subspecies of the mule deer during an afternoon hike on one of the picturesque islands in the San Juan group of Washington State. Towering Douglas firs with an understorey of salal typify this animal's habitat. Encounters with iller whales later in the afternoon ended another spectacular day.
Carrington Bay, Cortes Island, British Columbia Light filtered between the needles of the conifers and splattered the trail with random patterns. Here and there an imprint in a muddy pool told of wildlife that had passed before; a raccoon, deer, squirrel and bird. Eyes meandered from a rock to mosses and ferns carpeting the edges with green. Leathery leaves of salal shrubs glistened in the understory. Branches of white pine and western hemlock entwined in an embrace. The lacy foliage of Western red cedar held hands with friendly feeling flattened needles of Douglas fir high above our heads. A stroll in the woods offered an understanding of community relationships among plants. At the edges of the terrestrial world a different assemblage grew. Smooth white trunks with paper thin peeling bark narrowed to twisted stems, each adorned with clusters of magnolia-like leaves. The presence of madrone ( Arbutus ) reminded us of the uniqueness of this location where rainforest fingered with rain-shadow, arid land-loving vegetation. Gliding silently in colorful kayaks we were part of the sea as we examined the shore.
Our vessel Sea Lion has a huge presence in the picturesque Malibu Rapids, the constricted entrance into Princess Louisa Inlet on British Columbia's forested coast. Mt. Albert towers over this magnificent fjord. Today we enjoyed kayaking on the glassy and sun-drenched waters of the inlet, followed by a cooling walk among giant western redcedars, which have thrived for perhaps 500 years in the mist of nearby Chatterbox Falls.
A seven-and-a-half person tree! In standard terms, this would translate to a circumference of 35 to 40 feet or, more correctly here on Canadian soil, we should say 10 to 12 meters. The age? Quite possibly 500 years or so. Think of the stories it could tell of days gone by: of neighbors felled and turned to elegant war canoes; of sailing ships feeling their way along uncharted shores; of the arrival of settlers with commerce in mind; of missions and schools and cultural conflict; and finally of visitors such as us standing wide-eyed and miniscule at the base of living grandeur. Western redcedar, the tree of life!
The Kwakwaka'wakw people of Alert Bay, British Columbia are very proud of their culture, and are determined to pass their oral history on to successive generations. Guests of the Sea Lion were honored today to be invited to view this First Nation's collection of historic masks and coppers, on display in the U'mista Cultural Centre. Later, we entered their recently dedicated Big House for a celebration of traditional dances. The children of the Na'nakwala Dancers began with the Hamat'sa, which tells the story of a man possessed by the canibal spirit Baxwbakwalanuksiwe. We were then invited to join the dancers in the Amlala', or Celebration Dance (shown here) and to feast on sockeye salmon. Close encounters with a few thousand sooty shearwaters, a yellow-billed loon and killer whales ended another sunny day in beautiful British Columbia.
A perfect Lindblad Expedition day began with a rose-tinted dawn on the limestone cliffs of Menorca. Zodiacs took us to shore early for a visit to the site of a Bronze Age Talayat culture village. The famous T-shaped Taulas may derive from the Minoan cult of the bull, while the nearby rock mounds seemed to have a defensive purpose. We had been prepared for the visit with a lecture on Bronze Age archaeology in Europe. The drive from the site to the main town of Mahon (where Mayonnaise was invented), was through the recently designated UNESCO biosphere landscape of Menorca, famous for its cheese production. A walking tour of the town was completed before lunch, which was served on deck as we left one of the most spectacular harbors in the Mediterranean and the one featured in the first of the Patrick O'Brien Captain Aubrey historical novels. An afternoon at sea provided the opportunity for another lecture on bats by our very own William Lopez-Forment in full dracula costume! Not long after his lecture was completed, whales were sighted to the aft of the ship and there followed a spectacular display of breaching by a pair of fin whales, which delighted us all.
Cascading baskets of flowers suspended from old fashioned lamp posts decorate the city of Victoria, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Horse drawn carriages amble by and everywhere the British heritage of the region is hinted at through architecture and accents. Just north of town color exploded from every corner of Butchart Gardens. Barren pits, scraped from the earth as limestone was quarried, became a fifty-acre canvas to be decorated from the floral palette of turn-of-the-century artist Jenny Butchart. Her three-dimensional creation not only reclaimed the land but presented gifts to be savored by our senses all morning long.
The spectacular Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia were at their very finest in the early morning sunlight today. This 50-acre masterpiece, the destination of over one million visitors each year, began when Mrs. Jenny Butchart decided to beautify the limestone quarry on the family estate. The rainbow colors of dahlias, begonis, impatiens, hydrangeas, roses and fuchsias were just a few the plants in full September bloom. An afternoon visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum topped off a perfect day in Victoria.
Granada, Spain After docking at Motril, we boarded our buses for a full-day excursion to Granada. The drive was spectacular: a new road has been cut high through the Sierra Nevada, giving wonderful views of olive groves, citrus orchards, and avocado trees. Approaching Granada, we were close to the highest road in Europe. We arrived early at the Alhambra, made famous by Washington Irving, whose apartment we were later to see. This Moorish palace flourished during the 13th and 14th centuries and is one of the best examples in the world of Islamic architecture. A complex arrangement of courtyards, gardens and fountains reflects the Islamic view of paradise. Elaborate calligraphy, plasterwork and topiary were seen at their best in the early morning sunlight. Our guides explained the detailed symbolism of each quarter and we paused to see spectacular views over old Granada with the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, the source of the snowmelt water for the palace fountains. The Moors were finally expelled from Spain in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella achieved the 'reconquista.' After a leisurely lunch at the Alhambra Palace Parador, we proceeded into the old town of Granada itself. Here the highlights were the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella in the Royal Chapel and the priceless collection of Flemish paintings in the Cathedral museum. After shopping in the narrow streets of the old Arab quarter, we drove back to Motril, passing the cave-dwellings of the Flemenco gypsies, one of the many groups of people who have enriched the culture of Andalucia. We had returned to the Caledonian Star in time to watch our departure from the harbor during cocktail hour.
Suspense mounted as our bosun and his trusty Zodiac were freed from the stern. Their mission: to scout the sinuous, dangerous Malibu Rapids. All morning long we felt the walls of Jervis Inlet narrow, closer and closer, higher and higher. The fjord gave indication that we were nearing its head. Finally at noon, the slot was spotted: the passage to Princess Louisa Inlet. The entry was timed to the minute. Our Zodiac braved the waves and waited patiently until no push was felt, the water at rest. The signal was given and we moved ahead. Only at slack tide could our vessel pass, winding in sharp turns, each corner barely a ship's length away, each side appearing so close we could reach out and touch the glacially scarred rocky shores. We held our breath and then we were through. The Captain wiped his brow, a challenge safely met. Around us now sheer granite cliffs rose to meet seven thousand-foot-tall mountain peaks. Waterfalls misted here or cascaded there, appearing and disappearing behind the trees. Throughout the afternoon the constant murmur of Chatterbox Falls accompanied our steps through the woods or our float on a boat. A beautiful end to a wonderful week.
Crew members and natural history staff were our guides today as we explored the exotic terrains that form the Gulf Islands of British Columbia's southwest coast. Our Zodiacs took us to within inches of colourful sea stars, oysters, wading birds and marine algae, all of which make a living in the rich intertidal zone, while contorted arbutus and Douglas fir trees lined the rock bluffs. A choice of kayaking or an early hike on Cortes Island started another sunny and calm day.
Today, September 14, we arrived in Sardinia, our most southerly port of call to date. The morning was dedicated to a tour of Europe's most spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations in the Grotto di Nettuno (Neptune's Grotto). In the afternoon, we visited the principal Nuraghic culture archaelogical site, where we were briefed by a resident local archaeologist. It was interesting to make connections with the site visited the previous day. A tour of the local nature reserve was followed by free time in the charming medieval town of Algher, where a surprise visit to the recently restored miniature Opera House had been arranged. The continuing perfect weather provided an ideal opportunity for refreshments in the many outdoor cafes before we set sail for Corsica during dinner.