exploring the bc ale trail

The global pandemic brought our travel plans to a grinding halt, and of course we know we’re not the only ones experiencing cabin fever. So, with international travel still not possible, in June we skipped away for a week in Penticton, staying at a small motel with a pool and excellent cleaning protocols in place. Walking to the nearest brew pub, we discovered that we had also wandered onto the BC Ale Trail.

The BC Ale Trail is a cool way to promote the craft beer industry in British Columbia, created by Destination British Columbia and the BC Craft Brewers Guild. They have broken the province into 18 local ale trails – we were on the Penticton Ale Trail featuring seven craft breweries. We had previously visited some of them and this gave us directions to a couple more.

The Barley Mill Brewpub was our destination that first night in Penticton, and that’s where we picked up a Penticton Ale Trail map and downloaded the app. And get this – you collect 10 points for every visit that is at least 24 hours apart. Eventually you can redeem from 50 to 200 points, for branded glassware, growlers (with purchase of a fill), or growler fills (with purchase of a growler), or discounts on food and merchandise from the various breweries. It won’t take long for dedicated craft brew enthusiasts to collect enough points to start enjoying rewards!

We managed to make five stops along the Penticton Ale Trail. Our long time favourite in Penticton has been Bad Tattoo, and they remain our “go to” for great beer and fabulous pizzas. We also regularly drop by Cannery Brewing, it’s usually not too busy and has a relaxed neighbourhood vibe. New to us was Highway 97 Brewery and Slackwater Brewing. In our view, Slackwater offers the best IPA in Penticton, the hoppy 60 IBU-rated Intruder.

All the brewery restaurants and tasting rooms were in full COVID-19 cleaning and masking mode except the Barley Mill, not all servers were wearing masks and cleaning between guests was rather haphazard – not what you want to see at the best of times.

A few weeks later back in Vancouver, it was time to explore another local Ale Trail, this one on the North Shore. Although there are 14 participating breweries on the North Shore, there is a convenient concentration of breweries in and near the Lonsdale Quay. Very handy if you’re on foot and getting to the North Shore via the Seabus.

In fact the first brewpub is just a few steps from the Seabus terminal, the Greenleaf. Lucky for us on this sunny day, there was space for us on the outdoor patio. My flight featured a pale ale, two IPAs, and their grapefruit radler. The IPAs were disappointing, but I quite liked the Pie Hole pale ale.

The Tap and Barrel is a short walk from the other end of the Quay, but we skipped it because we’ve been to both the Tap and Barrels in Vancouver, and there was a line up. So our next stop was just to the east along an industrial strip of Esplanade. Father and son operated Beere Brewing has a small tasting room and lots of outdoor patio space. Deborah really enjoyed the Legit Snack IPA with hints of pineapple and grapefruit and I liked the Sure As Shoot IPA, creamy with citrus flavours.

A few doors door is the House of Funk with a much larger tasting room and lots of sidewalk and street patio space. Their Farmhouse IPA begins with a slightly medicinal taste, but gets better as you go. The House of Funk logo is the most striking on the trail today.

Up one street are two more breweries. At North Point on 1st Street, Deborah liked the sour, but I had mixed feelings about my flight of IPAs. They were okay but nothing stood out.

Our last tasting room was just up the street and down a flight of stairs. Streetcar Brewing’s hazy IPA was exactly what we were looking for: cloudy and juicy, with a strong and tangy citrus undercurrent. Our favourite beer of the day. By the way, the patio faces a quiet lane. It felt like we had stumbled across a secret neighbourhood hangout.

And yes, we collected lots of BC Ale Trail points!

world wanderers grounded by pandemic

Photo of Vancouver sunset

Recent sunset in Vancouver.

Like many world wanderers, we had to cancel our Spring travel plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had booked our flights, reserved a rental car, and lined up some of the accommodation we would need. But just as we were about to organize further, travel restrictions started to be put into place, the nature of the outbreak became clearer, events were being cancelled or postponed, and finally, the Canadian government urged people to avoid all non-essential travel, and to come home if they were already out of the country. Sadly, we cancelled everything.

Our plan was to head back to the warmth and slow pace of the Caribbean. We have made several trips to colder parts of the world, last year to the UK in the spring and to Eastern Europe in the fall. We were overdue to follow the sun and lay on the beach for three weeks.

We’ve regularly enjoyed the sandy beaches of Cuba, Cancun and Belize, but of all our Caribbean destinations, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica remains a favourite. Although, readers may recall that we have reported it has changed dramatically over the years. Once a laid-back backpackers paradise, it has become a crowded weekend getaway for SUV-driving families from the capital.

This time around, the beaches, tropical birds, and cultures of Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados, were calling. The Airbnb we lined up in Trinidad was a spacious cabin in the woods on a coastal mountainside, a 15-minute walk from a sandy Caribbean beach. We were looking forward to seclusion except for the birds, sandy beaches, and warmth.

We would then take a fast ferry to Tobago and be there for the Easter weekend. In addition to the usual festivities associated with Easter, the locals hold goat races that are apparently hilarious to witness. It’s from a time when plantation workers and others who could not afford to participate in horse racing culture, came up with an affordable option.

Then it would be time to island hop once again and head up to Barbados. It is promoted as the “most English” of the Caribbean islands once occupied by a variety of colonial powers – many are still overseas territories of European countries.

We were looking forward to seeing more beaches and birds, and enjoying more cultural experiences. But it was not to be. We still have our planning notes, so we’ll get there some day.

In the meantime, a big shout out to the health care professionals on the front-lines of fighting this pandemic, the corporations shifting production to manufacture much-needed medical supplies and equipment, scientists looking for a vaccine and better treatment options, and ordinary people keeping things going with a whole range of essential services and supplies.

Together, we’ll get through this!

Photo of sign supporting healthcare workers

revisiting the amazon

unconquered_large_paperSince the start of the new year, it has been mostly damp, cold and a dull gray in Vancouver, with just a couple of short days of sunshine. In other words, perfect weather for reading a book that transported me right back to Amazonia, marvelling at parrots, macaws, and monkeys, and ineffectively trying to prevent insect bites.

During our July stay at the Napo Wildlife Center, an Indigenous-owned and operated eco-lodge deep in the Ecuadorian rainforest, we crossed paths with author Scott Wallace. He was stopping for one night on his way home after spending time even deeper in the rainforest, working with a photographer and researching an article for National Geographic. The resultant article and photos, decrying illegal logging in the rainforest, are in the January issue, now on the newsstands.

When we talked, he looked rested and in good health. It was a short assignment, perhaps without the discomfort, hunger, fatigue, and uncertainly he experienced when he traveled for three dramatic months by dugout canoe and on foot through virtually uncharted territory deep in the Brazilian rainforest in 2002. It is that perilous journey that is so compellingly described in Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes.

The purpose of the expedition, led by rough and tough frontiersman Sydney Posuello, at the time head of the Department of Isolated Indians, was to gain some sense of the numbers, range, and relative health of an uncontacted tribe known as flecheiros, or People of the Arrow. The trick was to do this without actually making contact with this extremely isolated group because contact inevitably resulted in the transmission of disease for which isolated Indigenous people’s had no immunity or cure. This meant the 30-person crew had to forge their own trail through untamed jungle, camp overnight and hunt for food without drawing the attention of the Arrow People, whose reputation was to greet visitors/intruders with a shower of poison darts. The expedition didn’t always go as planned.

With every page I was back in the rainforest myself, sometimes in a large canoe gliding along a flooded area between tall trees and hanging vines, watching monkeys watching us; sometimes struggling to manage my way along a narrow trail as birds and snakes scattered around us. Admittedly, most of the time on land we were following a modest trail and not blazing one ourselves, but we faced similar challenges, especially the voracious appetite of unknown insects. Every time Scott describes being bitten, I feel again the sting of the tiny wasps that attacked us along one trail, or the fire ants that didn’t appreciate our presence along another rough path. We were told the caimans were not as aggressive as their crocodile cousins, but like Scott we stayed clear of them just the same.

Although our chance encounter with the author was in Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, later in the year we travelled by boat on a stretch of the same Amazon tributary (Solimoes) he travelled in the book. Of course he ventured hundreds of kilometres further upstream from Manaus than our small tourist excursion would ever dare – but along with wildlife sightings and insect bites, we also experienced the stormy weather he frequently describes in Unconquered. One night our boat pulled into a side channel and then abruptly ran hard into the jungle – we thought the captain had left the helm or lost his marbles until we saw the crew throw ropes around the trees to hold us fast to shore – a storm was coming.

From our protected spot nestled in the trees we watched lightning crack across the sky and the rain come thundering down. It was only in the morning that we learned that the captain of a larger boat loaded with tourists had decided to brave the storm. The Amazon, however, can clearly be very unforgiving – the boat was completely blown over and capsized; initially several passengers remained missing and presumed drowned. Eventually all 28 passengers and crew were accounted for, but the boat and everyone’s luggage went straight to the bottom of the Amazon.

We were in the area for only a few days, but we also witnessed a rapid drop in water levels, just the way Wallace describes – fortunately our paddlers could still find a way around shallow areas and tangled treefalls where just a few days before roaring streams had carried us through a flooded forest. Thankfully, unlike Wallace and the rest of the expedition, we didn’t have to carry our luggage overland through the mud and bugs to catch our flight back to the city. Maybe it was a good thing I read this book after my own forays into the Amazon!

The Unconquered provides an exciting view from deep inside the rapidly disappearing Amazon rainforest. Despite the effort to designate and protect areas of the jungle for Indigenous use only, enforcement is minimal and as ineffective as the bug spray in our backpacks. Non-Indigenous loggers, miners, and hunters are taking everything they can get and leaving nothing behind but destruction and death.

This book is a great read, but for the sake of the People of the Arrow and other Indigenous groups under threat throughout the Americas, I encourage everyone to engage with groups like Amazon Watch, Amnesty International, and others working to protect human rights and the environment before it’s too late.

fringe festival profiles don

Just before we left Vancouver, Don was interviewed about his support for the Fringe Festival and how he became involved with his favourite annual theatre festival – the article, which mentions our travels, is in the latest Fringe newsletter posted here: