Cayley Flies South

Travel.

Edinburgh, Scotland

There’s nothing quite as comedic as ushering 17 students and their suitcases on and off trains all day long, and that was our journey from Whitby to Edinburgh. We loved Whitby and were very sad to leave, but excited for the new adventures in Edinburgh - we didn’t know yet how exciting they would be! I snapped a few last lovely shots on a walk during our final evening.

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We still managed to enjoy the scenery when we left Whitby on Thursday, May 17, and our third train ride had some beautiful vistas with shaggy sheep, horses, and rolling green hills with darker forests than we had seen in England. 

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After milling about on the uneven stone streets of Edinburgh a bit, rather too much like the sheep we’d spied earlier, we arrived at Bar50 Hostel. This is a bit of a new experience, as I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, and our previous accommodations were a bit more like B&Bs. Here we’re 8 to small rooms occupied by bunk beds with not much space for anything. 

After settling in, wandering Royal Mile and touching loads of cashmere and woolen goods - Edinburgh is textile heaven - and ingesting a truly terrible hostel buffet dinner and participating in Quiz Night (The Tough Brets were robbed of our victory, robbed, I tell you), some of us went about a block away to a twin joint called Café Voltaire and Cabaret Voltaire, a more relaxed bar/bistro and a nightclub. They had a spooky atmosphere with tons of exposed, old brick, and we were to find out later that those rooms shared space with the back end of a ghost tour we did taking place in the old vaults under Royal Mile. But more about that later. After some cocktails on their part and a peaty single malt on mine, we did some dancing in the cabaret part. It was a sparsely populated deep house night, but between the two instructors and three students, we managed to liven it up a bit. 

The next day, Friday May 18, myself and a few fellow students got up relatively early to take in The Scotch Whisky Experience. We were ushered into gigantic moving barrels that took us through a light show illustrating the different stages of creation and maturation that scotch goes through - my favorite was giant yeast bubbles that started to flicker and light up frantically as we went through the room.

Next, we went to a tasting room where a guide explained the different varietals and characteristics of the four main scotch regions: Lowland, Highland, Speyside, and Islay - the guide didn’t touch on Campeltown or the Islands. We got a scratch and sniff card to pick a scent indicative of a region, the scotch we’d like a sample of. Lowland was quite light and citrus-y, while Highland was a touch darker, with notes of spice and vanilla. Speyside they presented with some honeyed, cereal, grainy notes, and Islay with strong, smoky, peaty, tobacco scents. I, of course, being made of stern stuff picked the Islay, and ended up with a nice little tipple of Laphroaig 10 year in a snifter that they sent home with us after. 

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We went into a display room to drink our little drams of scotch, a glowing, glorious mecca of a room which contained the world’s largest collection of scotch alight in glass cases. I snapped a few photos, including one of the oldest bottle of scotch in that collection, a sealed bottle of Buchanan from 1897. 

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The collection also contained a bottle of “Millennial” Scotch, a blend of single malts all at least 30 years of age. The combined age of the bottle total was 2000 years, thus the moniker “Millennial”. 

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At the end of the tour we stopped for one last little taste. Some of my companions had sweet hot toddies and I myself took the opportunity to sample the BenRiach 30 year old Speyside scotch, as I’ve always wanted to drink a scotch older than I am. It was lovely, lots of nice brown sugar, vanilla, and spice notes with just a touch of smoke at the finish. 

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I think the look on my face is a combination of sheer joy and just a touch of cat-who-swallowed-the-canary smugness about all the scotch.

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Such good sports about me being a huge enthusiastic nerd! 

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We continued on down Royal Mile, popping into a few thrift and wool shops, grabbing lunch and cappuccinos at a tiny café, and ending up at a wool shop we’d popped in at the day before.

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Laura, the woman working there, was just lovely and told us everything we’d need to know about the sourcing and the work done on the sweaters in her store - all wool from Scotland and made in Scotland, unlike many of the other stores along the tourist strip. In fact, some of her sweaters were made by the company who created the jumpers for the Harry Potter films, and I ended up getting one with a similar striped design. They were obviously very well crafted with high quality wool that still smelled just slightly of lanolin, and so cosy that I never wanted to take it off. She gave us a discount on them for being mutually lovely and then gifted the two of us who couldn’t afford to buy sweaters with some lovely lambswool scarves. We put them on to combat the chill in a nearby old church graveyard as we sat in the sun and made daisy chains. 

(Samantha, Leaa, and Lauren)

 

 

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(Photo by Lauren Ray, @laurenray on Instagram)

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The Scottish poet Robert Fergusson’s grave:

For the evening, after some class presentations on Ian Rankin, Alexander McQueen, and the film An American Werewolf in London, we went to the Tron Kirk to meet our tour guide for The Auld Reekie Tours' Terror Tour. Our guide Ewan, dressed in some black 18th-century finery which stopped just short of over the top, was saucy and hilarious but knowledgable, imparting us with macabre and interesting bits of Edinburgh history, about witch trials, hangings, and the persecution of immigrants, about plagues and choleras and the intolerable conditions that earned Edinburgh the nickname “Auld Reekie”, or “Old Smokey,” for its horrific stench. We soon headed down a dark alley for the underground vaults of the Royal Mile, where our guide broke his characteristic gaiety to quite seriously stress to us the nature of the vaults; namely, that he believed them to be haunted, had experienced and witnessed firsthand a great deal  of disturbing, unexplainable activity within the vaults, and wanted our experience, while eerie, to be safe. We agreed to disclaimers, were explained possible experiences that could occur to us, and were told to speak up if we felt sensations like hair-pulling, heat, or scratches, as they could lead to more dangerous phenomena. 

The first room as we entered the passageway to the vaults immediately gave me a suffocating sense of unease, and as soon as I looked at the glass cases lining the walls I understood why. There were gnarled, blackened iron torture devices mounted against a red cloth background, each use more horrific than the one before. 

I do understand that the purpose of a ghost tour is, indeed, to give the tourists what they came for, but I did not get that impression with our guide, Ewan. He emphasized the history and the stories, but that nothing had been staged for us; the vaults were frightening in and of themselves. While the atmosphere was spooky, I felt some things during the tour that I truly do not believe came from only suggestibility. 

In the torture instrument room, I felt uneasy and in fact, a little overwhelmed, an overwhelming need to leave the room. I relaxed a little as we entered the dark vaults. These were underground streets originally built to house shops and pubs, but eventually became slum housing during the 1800s, when 40 people might occupy the same small, damp stone room. As limestone had been used for the construction of the tunnels, a great deal of precipitation had leaked through as it rotted over the rainy years of Scottish weather. 

Ewan told us some stories which were frankly, very gruesome, as we were booked in on the “Terror Tour”, the scariest historical tour. I will relate what I can remember of the stories, so a fair warning to my readers: the next section regarding the tour may be somewhat disturbing. 

Standing in the dark, dripping tunnel, illuminated only by the candle Ewan held, a pervading sense of horror stole over our previously merry group. Even without the spookiness of the atmosphere and the stories, it was not difficult to imagine the horrible conditions living down in the tunnels would engender. Body-snatching, murder, rape, and other atrocities were common in the tunnels, an area police almost never entered. We were told that the tunnels were beyond a shadow of a doubt haunted, and some of the presences we might encounter; a man who wandered about tugging women’s hair and throwing stones, a woman who had been raped by twelve men then had her brain dashed out upon a set of stairs, and a proprietress of an underground bar and brothel, a mother who had killed a man she caught abusing her child, then been hanged. Ewan told us that quite often children in the vaults would see apparitions that matched the description of the ghosts without knowing about them. 

As we stood in the darkened tunnel, letting the chill sink in, I heard a scratching on the wall a few feet to my side. My classmate Lauren was slightly closer to the wall than I was. Every time I glanced back at the wall, the scraping sound would stop, but as I looked forward again, it would start up. I nudged Lauren and asked, “are you touching the wall?” 

"No," she said, eyes wide, and stepped away from the wall. 

Ewan finished his introduction and began to lead the group past us, behind towards “Mary’s” area of the vaults. “Why is there a scratching sound?” Lauren asked, a slight panic apparent in her husky voice. 

Ewan smiled calmly at her, his face lit by the flickering flame. “Ghosts, dearie.”

The first separate chamber didn’t seem too spooky. The second was the former site of Mary’s bar and brothel, where she stabbed to death the abuser of her son. Later I found out a classmate, Leaa, had seen someone she thought was our instructor behind her, only to find upon talking to her later, that Karen had been in an entirely different part of the room - that no one would have been behind her. 

The third room we went to scared me silly. It contained a large stone circle and Ewan told us quite seriously that we were not to step inside or even touch the stones of the circle with our feet; that people who had disregarded this condition had broken ankles, experienced vomiting, and even cardiac arrest minutes after tempting the forces in the room. The spot had at one point been a site where abortions were performed for unlucky prostitutes and other women, and so often women especially experienced uncomfortable symptoms in the room, but that the circle had been declared by mediums to be “demonic” rather than ghostly, and that the host of a lucrative paranormal investigation show had quit on the spot after she had been punched in the stomach while standing alone in the room. She had had a miscarriage four months before. A pagan coven who had rented out that room originally had attempted to cleanse it of negative energy, and immediately after rented a different room. 

I don’t know about “demonic”, but I was the first one to follow Ewan into the room, stepping carefully around the circle, and as soon as I crossed the doorway, my knees went weak, my heart began to pound, and I felt almost suffocated - my breath came short. I stepped up on the plinth at the back of the room beside Ewan, legs weak, and noticed that I could smell a strong, smoky scent, almost like pitch. As my classmates filed in around the stone circle, I asked, my voice low and just a little shaky, “why does it smell like smoke in here?”

Ewan looked at me, eyebrows raised, and said, “ah, you can smell smoke, can you? How many of you can smell it?” About a quarter of my class raised their hands, and the others stayed still. He explained that there had once been a fire in this section that had burned alive many people. The circle seemed to pulse in the candlelight, in the middle of the room. Eventually my physical discomfort subsided enough to be tolerable, but even as we left the room, I felt unsettled and uneasy, and my eyes seemed to slide away from looking at the space in the circle, as if just having it in my line of sight would allow something horrible to slip into my consciousness. 

The last room in the vault, though he explained to us had a “level 5 poltergeist,” didn’t have anything very spooky happen to us, though I did hear a noise come from an empty corner as we left. However, even though the room was larger, higher, and had a duct connected to a nearby nightclub and therefore should have been much warmer than any of the other rooms, it was utterly chilly. We could see our breath blowing out eerily in front of us in the light of the candle, and the tips of my fingers and nose started to ache in the cold. Ewan blew out the candle to give us a scare, and we all tumbled out of the room, and towards the exit, thoroughly spooked. As we are touring our Gothic Literature sites, this was the first one to really make me feel a sense of horror and bone-deep unease that is at the heart of the sublime and the Gothic draw, the fascination united with repulsion. 

After the tour, our class split up. I popped quickly into Brew Dog Edinburgh, a bar front for one of my favorite breweries in the world. Brew Dog is an unconventional and creative brewery that routinely produces the finest crazy beers possible. I have a bottle of their Tokyo Imperial Stout waiting at home, a 17% monster brewed with jasmine, cranberries, and specialty hops, and aged with oak chips. Can’t wait to try it now that it’s been sitting for 9 months. At the bar, it was too crowded with a bachelor party to stay for long, but I did get to enjoy the Cocoa Psycho, a 10% Russian Imperial Stout brewed with chocolate and espresso, which was very robust with a strong cocoa edge. 

I went with a group of classmates and our two professors to look for somewhere to dance, and we ended up at what Lauren would call a “chongo bar”, dancing to silly top 40 pop to finish the night. So that’s all we need say of that!

This morning, Saturday May 18, I woke up early in order to join some classmates on a hike up to Arthur’s Seat, a rolling trail along a jagged cliff rising out of massive green hillsides. It’s the site of an extinct volcano and thought to be a possible location of Arthur’s long-lost castle of Camelot. 

The trail rose steeply at first, evened out, and then we ended up on a second section that was mostly red stone stairs beaten into the hillside. It was absolutely pouring, a right gale. Wind pounded us and mist rose up from below, obscuring Edinburgh’s cityscape so that all we could see were spires of towers rising above the white blanket, and some lights far off indicating the presence of the airport. The second leg of the climb was massively steep, with so much water pouring off the hillside that thick, red rivulets of muddy water streamed over our feet. 

It was an exhilarating hike. Rain streamed over our faces, and my wool sweater underneath my coat kept me relatively warm against the torrential wet and wind. We finally reached the top, remote and flat green fields dotted with rabbit holes and pellets. The wind nearly swept us off our feet and we all howled at the white void in defiance and wild joy. An amazing experience and another perfect illustration of a Gothic moment, as the wind blew rain into my eyelashes, my hood off my head, and the wool around my hands grew sodden. 

We have one more day in Edinburgh tomorrow. I’m sure it will be an exceptional one. 

Whitby, UK

So I’ve been awful and haven’t updated almost at all because it’s all been a whirlwind, so instead of backlogging I’m going to start current and work my way back as I can. A quick reminder that for my travels in the UK, I am travelling with 17 students and 2 teachers for a Gothic Literature field study. Having completed the first London leg of our trip, we set out for Yorkshire. 

We arrived in Whitby on Sunday, May 12, after an arduous rail journey. Our group travel agent neglected to give us our proper tickets and instead told us our reservation books were tickets. We narrowly avoided a hefty fine due to the kindness of a conductor who went out of his way to help us, though we did have to pay £3000 for new tickets. We changed trains at York and overall spent about 5 hours getting to Whitby. 

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imageView from the train. Approaching Yorkshire as you can see by the presence of sheep and cows in the fields. 

imageView from a country train station. Yorkshire prompts me to recall the Robert Frost poem Mending Wall:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun, 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 

We got into Whitby and although exhausted and somewhat flagging in spirit, if one can excuse the pun, we were buoyed by the charming appearance of the little fishing town. Whitby rises up from around its harbour, white walls and ochre roofs against green hillsides blooming under the watchful eye of the abbey ruins. We quickly settled into the comfort of Starfish House and went for a quick meal at the Resolution Pub. I don’t have any photos of the epic dance party/Canadian invasion of karaoke night that occurred thereafter… probably for the best. It was a wonderful night with a lot of talent and heart! 

A view of Whitby’s harbour entrance:

The next day we had a free day and my classmates went out and explored Whitby while I prepared my presentation on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, which I gave that afternoon. We had a group fish and chips dinner (I had a vegetarian pie, thank you) and then it was time for our Dracula walking tour. Our guide, the head of the Whitby Tourism Bureau, wore an appropriately spooky long black trenchcoat with a leather collar and red satin lining, a top hat, and black leather gloves. He led us down tiny alleyways, through the “Screaming Tunnel”, and told us spooky stories about the countryside, as well as stories about Bram Stoker’s journey towards creating his famous horror novel. We also learned a helpful new saying: “There’s the right way, there’s the wrong way, and there’s the Whitby way.”

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(Photo courtesy of my classmate MJ - @irandeckard on Instagram!)

We also got some wonderful photos during the sunset. Whitby is a very photogenic town. The large arch we are standing under is two whale rib bones. 

imageThe sun was setting so we got some lovely evening light for photos of the very beautiful little town. 

This is a lovely view of St. Mary’s and the ruins of Whitby Abbey across the harbour.

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The next day we set off to see The Museum of Victorian Science, a small working museum out of a garage workshop in Glaisdale. It is an amazing example of someone with a focused interest creating something amazing. The curator and creator of some of the items is an amazing fellow who has restored and even created some Victorian oddities. Lots of sparks and flashing machines!

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Today we had a free day and so I went for a tour of the ruins of Whitby Abbey and the graveyard. The site had held religious structures for thousands of years, and the current ruins dated from the 14th century. The graveyard of St. Mary’s was lovely as well with many old and romantic grave inscriptions. I had a nice sit on one of the flat tombs thinking about Lucy and Mina in Stoker’s Dracula. 

Getting ready to climb the 199 steps up to the abbey!image

I made some new friends at the top…

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Perfect day to explore the ruins. Luckily there was some warming ginger wine waiting for me inside!

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MJ doing some exploring and photographing of her own… 

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And a lovely panorama of the view from the top of the stairs.

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After that, I wandered through the town, bought some lovely jet earrings - Whitby was the place to get jet in the Victorian era when mourning jewelry was in vogue! After that it’s been a day of work, snacks, tea, rain, and some slumber party-ish escapades. We’ll be very sad to leave Whitby, it’s just a lovely little place. 

Tomorrow, Edinburgh by train! 

Round up to Saturday, May 4 2013, in London

The last morning I had in Mexico my dear friend Paola took me out to breakfast with her hijo Natal and our friend Jésus. It was a lovely, sunny day which was looking to hit 35º by lunchtime. My flight out of Mexico went without a hitch, and I thought about all of the beauty I’ve seen in Mexico as we flew low over the sandy crags and dry river valleys of the Baja. Seven months flew by in no time at all. I finally arrived in Vancouver on April 29, after a 9-hour layover at L.A.X, the worst airport ever. My great friends picked me up, even though my delayed flight didn’t arrive until just after 2 am. After about three hours of sleep I managed to make my first Gothic Literature course at Langara College, albeit slightly late and very dazed. We handed in essays and zipped through some discussion of the Gothic literature we will be studying: Shakespeare’s schadenfreude-laden Titus Andronicus, a saucy novella about a lesbian vampire and her victim Laura called Carmilla, by Joseph LeFanu, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as assorted poems and essays - lots of Keats, as one might imagine. 

I had a busy few days fitting in dinner with my extended family, vast numbers of errands, heaps of shopping (not ALL of it the fun sort) and just enough time to spare for a two-wheeled adventure and some much-missed craft beer in Gastown. In a whirl of packing and arrangements, I was back off to YVR, this time to meet with my friend Liv, who was in the course and incidentally, on my flight. We managed to get seats next to each other and settled in for our long journey, direct to Gatwick Airport with AirTransat. We had a very comfortable flight, during which Liv managed to score some hot water from our flight attendant and make two small pots of artisan coffee with her portable Aeropress. As she said, “if the coffee critic from the New York Times can do it, so can we.” As it was, her coffee hit the spot and came at the exact right time in the journey to keep me awake coming into Gatwick.

As some of you may know, I have a great deal of family history in England, though this is my first journey to the island. My father is English-born and spent his childhood in London, and my gracious grandmother on my mother’s side is also from London. She married my Canadian grandfather just after WWII and immigrated to Canada. I have heard many stories about London, about England, and many of the books I read or television programmes I watched as a child were British. I have always longed to go, and as our plane began to round over Gatwick and the neat, pale green fields with their misty copses of trees came into view, tears rose into my eyes, and I felt a strange sense of homecoming that I have never associated with anywhere except the town I grew up - a bone-deep belonging. 

Soon we were out of Gatwick and blinking blearily in the chilly morning air. We hauled our heavy suitcases on the train and headed to my friend Trent’s flat in Islington, where he and his gracious roommates made us feel as much at home as we were capable of feeling at our equivalent of two in the morning. We headed to Caravan, a local roastery and restaurant at the University of the Arts London campus, and got a delicious breakfast (poached eggs with melted aged cheddar and onion jam on toast? No wonder I felt at home) with some much-needed artisan coffee, and (skip this part, parents) breakfast cocktails - two spicy Bloody Marys on my part, very bracing.

We had a lovely afternoon with Trent walking along the canals and despite a nice warming brandy by candlelight on his little patio, soon Liv and I were crashed out in an upstairs bedroom as he and his roommates made merry. 

Itinerary

Just so y’all can see where I’m headed, and for future posterity when this blog is a nostalgic record of my travels…

Sunday, May 5  Check in 

Tuesday, May 7  11:00 Museum of London

Wednesday, May 8  **Free Day**  

                              Suggestions:  Old Operating Theatre/Spitalfields or Camden                 Market/Tower of London

Thursday, May 9   Travel to Strawberry Hill (Twickenham)  Guided tour begins 10 am
                       **Evening Free**


Saturday, May 11  Highgate Cemetery Tour 10 am


                            Freud Museum Tour 2:00 pm
                           **Evening Free**

Sunday, May 12  Train to Whitby!
           

                         Check-in Starfish House

Monday, May 13  Orientation & Walkabout; Whitby Abby; Jet Museum


                         Dracula Tour 8:45 pm

Tuesday, May 14:  Museum of Victoria Science Tours:  groups of 5, 1 at 10 am, the next at 2:30 pm


              (Train from Whitby to Glaisdale Station; short walk from there)

Wednesday, May 15   CF May 14, for the other 10 people

Thursday, May 16   Check-out Starfish House


               Train to Waverley Station, Edinburgh!
               Check-in Edinburgh Hostel
               *Group dinner?*

Friday, May 17  Museum of Edinburgh


              Orientation & Walkabout
              Auld Reekie Tour 8:45

Saturday, May 18   *Free Day* ((Brew Dog Brewery Taphouse?))


Monday, May 20   Check out of hostel


               EARLY train to Manchester, Picadilly Station
               Check-in Manchester flats
               Factory Records Tour


Wednesday, May 22    Check out Manchester flats


                Train to London (Euston)
                Check in Soho/Upper Woburn again

Thursday, May 23   Victoria & Albert Museum:  David Bowie Retrospective Group Tour!!  10 am


               6 lucky students will see The Woman in Black
               Possibly the other 12 will go on the Jack the Ripper Walk 8:45

Saturday, May 25  _The Weir_ at Donmar Warehouse (matinee)


Monday, May 27    Students check out of flats & fly off into other adventures

May 4, 2013

I’m in London. I’m so tired my eyes are crossing. It’s 10:30 here, 2:30 Canadian time. It’s very strange to see a place that only existed via PBS before. As the plane was landing and I was gazing over the mist-shrouded fields and woods of England, I got a little teary-eyed; it felt like coming home. So much of my family heritage is here. I can’t wait to explore! 

But now… breakfast. More soon! 

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

My snap of the Baja California Whiptail. Nature is amazing!

My snap of the Baja California Whiptail. Nature is amazing!

Baja California Sur, a mouthful of romance. The name alone conjures up visions of turquoise waters, dusty cactus fields, whale tales slipping up and back into the waves.


I’ve seen a lot of wondrous things in my time here. One of the most magical things about living here has been bearing witness to every small bit of life thriving in this sometimes harsh land. Having grown up in the wet, verdant northwest coast of British Columbia, roughly 2000 miles away from Loreto BCS, every small function of life is miraculous and novel. Just yesterday I caught the blue feet of a Baja California Whiptail scurrying among the bases of the blooming pink bougainvillea, then later saw a Western Fence Lizard perched on the bridge I was jogging across. I’ve watched fish swim by and Great Blue Herons snatch them up, seen a frigatebird colony and watched an osprey take flight. I’ve looked in the eye of a grey whale calf while I petted its nose, salt spray in my eyes and mouth. I’ve nearly ridden my horse into a reared, spitting rattlesnake and I just brushed a dolphin as I leaned off a roaring panga into its frolicking pod.

One of the most beautiful moments I’ve had here was with my friend Hannah, who came down for a lovely visit with me. We sat on the beach near the Loreto Baja Hotel and watched small schools of fish flashing silver as they leapt out of the water, and I took some photos of the snowy egrets and heron doing their mighty best to skewer said fish. The bright sun began to melt like a pat of yellow butter over the diminishing iron blue of the faraway sierras. As the day had been overcast, the patterns of clouds that looked so like wave marks in sand lit afire bit by bit over the wavering horizon. Sunset on the Baja is glorious in that the horizon softens into a palette of pastel greens, blues, turquoise, lilac, and rose pink, all while the sky to the west is flaming over the mountains. We lay on my beach blanket and watched the sunset kissing the jagged peaks of the mountains upside down, as if we could lift our feet into the sky and stride away with it. Frigatebirds were circling in spiraling patterns overhead, holding still in the wind before breaking into synchronous fractal patterns. All we could do with the beauty spilling over us was bear witness.

I think one must reflect every time a change happens, and leaving the Baja is no exception. I’m feeling mixed emotions, but never regret. Hasta luego, Baja California.

My day of whale watching at Puerto Adolfo Lopéz Mateos began with climbing into a panga, a small outboard-powered boat, and taking off on the murky green water of the bay, where thousands of grey whales migrate every year to birth and raise their calves. Travelling farther, we kept our eyes firmly on the waves, waiting for our first glimpse of the whales we had heard so many excited stories about. Dark shapes, mostly in pairs, began to emerge from the ocean, blowing spray into the sunlit morning, the larger of the twos dappled with pale barnacles. At first the pairs kept their distance, rising intermittently and sinking for several minutes at a time. In my home province of British Columbia, stringent laws regarding proximity to whales have been placed in an effort to keep from disrupting migration routes. With that in mind, I watched the mamas and babies disappear into the depths with trepidation. As we approached the mouth of the bay, however, my doubts were swept aside. Anticipation nearly threw me over the side of the boat as water fizzed and foamed and a baby grey whale emerged from the ocean, mama only metres away herself.

There is a moment where the witnessing of the vast, impressive beauty of an impersonal expanse of nature transforms into communication with another being whose eyes are meeting yours and whose skin is unexpectedly soft under your hands. There is a sense of play, and of kinship, with the calves, who seem to enjoy covering boatfuls of people in as much salt water as possible. The mothers occasionally deigned to socialize with the boats, but left the joyful enthusiasm to their little ones, who bobbed up to different boats with unflagging friendliness. They showed off from farther away as well, rolling up out of the water over their mothers’ backs and splashing back down again with a cheeky wave of a flipper. Despite the presence of several pangas packed with enthusiastic folks in life-jackets stretching their hands toward the ocean, the whales were calm and social, returning to frolic with the boats without fail as if in shifts of people-watching, themselves. At the end of our tour I wore an enormous smile and a great deal of salt caked into my hair, and held the joy of playing with the grey whales to carry away with me.

November 4, 2012 - Summation

Today I was hula hooping out back beside my pool in the dying afternoon sunshine in my pink bikini, speakers playing some downtempo chillwave beside my sweating mezcal cocktail. Sounds pretty great, right? The frustrating thing about summarizing my time so far in Mexico is that we take ourselves along everywhere we go. All the issues which dogged me in Vancouver followed me to Mexico in some form or another, and exploration unfortunately comes second to human experience, every time.

What do I really mean underneath all that vague blather? I mean that while I find new things to love about Mexico every day, being a foreigner by herself can be alienating and isolating no matter how friendly the people around you, and I’ve been struggling with that a great deal. The small community I’m in has very few residents anywhere close to my age. My mobility is restricted here without a vehicle, and I’m gong to look into renting a car every three weeks or so to run errands and explore. Currently, we’re experiencing an exploding mosquito population, severely limiting my ability to be outside, and frustrating the heck out of me as well as the rest of the community. Between that and working six days a week, it’s been difficult to look past these small and personal woes and see my visit in Mexico as the great adventure — BUT, I do realize it’s what I signed on for!

Gripes aside, there have been a couple of notable things. I had my first small exchange entirely in Español last weekend at Tienges, the local weekly farmer’s market, about whether I wanted brown eggs or how many. We celebrated Halloween and then Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead here last week, which lasts two days, November 1-2. We had an altar, pan de muertos, and some paper skull and skeleton hanging decorations, as well as a big party at which a local band rocked out, and I bartended and made some pretty killer margaritas. It was pretty fun to dress up as La Catrina with my coworkers, and the community showed up and got rowdy.

Dia de los Muertos

Right to left: Me, Paola, Jennifer, Caroline, the birthday girl!, and Sofia.

To wrap up this blog post, I guess the conclusion I’ve come to in the last few days is that this is an adventure and I should treat it like such. I should snap up the opportunities to do things that make me happy and explore the culture I get to be a part of. So I’ll try to throw myself in a little more wholeheartedly, and hopefully I’ll have some exciting things to write about soon.