Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Trolls welcoming us to the highway

Perhaps the most famous road in Norway and perhaps in all of Scandinavia is Trollstigen (or the Troll Highway). We experienced this fabulous drive as we traveled between Loen on the Innvikfjord to Molde near the coast on the Moldefjord. After breakfast we boarded our bus for a nice drive through this rural part of Norway until we reached Geiranger Fjord where we joined a ferry for a couple of beautiful hours. 


Entertainment was provided by some local singers and dancers in costume. We passed several abandoned farms. Our guide told us that this used to be good training ground for football players; they had to be really good to keep the ball from rolling down the hill into the fjord.

Extra beauty was provided by the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Legend has it that the ladies are being courted by the male falls on the other side. Unfortunately for him they aren’t terribly interested in his ministrations. 

At the town of Geiranger, we left the ferry for the Troll Staircase. We began with a climb out the fjord up a narrow road with 13 switchbacks. As spectacular as this drive is, it is not the Troll Staircase. About an hour later we reach the small town of Eidsdal to catch a short ferry across Norddals Fjord  to Linde and up the Golden Route to the top of the Troll Staircase where we stopped for lunch. A new museum and cafe are being built to accommodate the growing number of tourists. They have already completed an extensive set of walkways and viewing platforms offering a variety of views of the Staircase and the Stigfossen waterfall across the valley.

Perhaps you can count all thirteen switchbacks
Geiranger is a popular stop for cruise ships

Riding in a bus up or down these narrow switch-backed roads is not for the faint-hearted. Our 41 foot bus is just short enough to be legal on the road. At each turn, the front of the bus actually extends over the end of the switchback. Everyone else on the road waits while the bus completes the u-turn. A couple of cars and even a motorhome were forced to back up to give us room. Our guide joked about one driver having trouble with the process that he obviously wasn’t a Norwegian. The licence plate showed he was from Denmark where roads like this don’t exist.

This is the base for the road

A short while after reaching the bottom, we boarded one last boat for our ride to the spectacular Molde hotel where we would spend the night. 

The new visitor center under construction

Saltstraumen Maelstrom

Just north of the Arctic Circle in northern Norway we spent one night in Bodo as we waited to catch the early morning ferry to the Lofoten Islands. Bodo, the largest city in northern Norway, was burned to the ground by retreating Nazis at the end of World War II. Its rebuilding has not created a beautiful city, but it does have several appealing features. It is a transportation hub as both the northern end of Norway’s railway system and the ferry terminal for trips to the nearby Lofoten Islands. In addition, it is a nature center with nearby glaciers, trail networks, and good birding sites. No other city can boast such a large concentration  of sea eagles. 
Near Kjerringjoy
Like every Norwegian town of any size, it does have museums. One area history museum, an aviation museum, and outside of town the Blood Road Museum recounts the wars years under Nazi domination. We chose to drive out to an outdoor museum island, Kjerringjoy where we toured the outdoor farm and enjoyed the art gallery in one of the barns. The main exhibit was about Knut Hamsum who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. He lost favor in later years because he was a Nazi sympathizer. A local artist and sculptor also had exhibits. We stopped in the cheese factory and had a bite in the cafe to tide us over until dinner.

Two of the farm houses on Kjerringjoy

But the real attraction of the Bodo region is Saltstraumen maelstrom, one of the largest whirlpools in the world. Jules Verne used it for his book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Nordic word was introduced into English by Edgar Allan Poe in his story “A Descent into the Maelström”  in 1841. The first element is the name of the district Salten and the last element is the definite form of straum, meaning "stream" or "water flow".

A beautiful high bridge 30 km east of Bodo spans the narrow 150-wide opening between the outer Saltfjord and the large Skjerstadfjord creating the greatest tidal current in the world. The tide can reach 37 kilometers per hour creating vortices ten meters wide and five meters deep. To facilitate the large number of sightseers, parking is available at both ends of the bridge and the bridge has wide walkways along both sides. Tourists also have the option of taking a boat ride into the channel for a more exhilarating experience. Norway’s Coast Guard always has a boat in the area to save those who get too close.

We parked and walked up to the top of the bridge. Linda turned around while I continued on to the other side enjoying the view as I calmed the butterflies in my stomach. While Linda waited she watched a gull family trying to protect an injured baby from a larger predatory gull. Mom pecked at the larger gull while Dad harassed the predator from the air. Eventually the predator gave up and went away leaving the little one to die in peace. When I returned from the other side we headed back to Bodo for dinner and a bit of sleep before catching the 4:00 am ferry next morning. 

Houses below the bridge

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Pioneer Hotel from the water
 Lahaina, the ancient capitol of Hawaii, is a fun combination of old and new, of fine art and kitschy tourist stuff, of history and activity hawkers, and some excellent restaurants side-by-side with Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Bubba Gumps, and gelato stands. The showpiece is the old Pioneer Hotel built in the early 1900s and long the only hotel on the island. It still hosts overnight guests and has a nice bar and grill for breakfast, lunch, dinner. The back side has some of those kitschy tourist shops while the front faces the harbor with its line up of 20 or more excursion boats offering snorkel and scuba tours, whale and dolphin watching tours, and dinner cruises combined with and occasional star-gazing tour. What more could you ask for in paradise?
The iconic Pioneer Hotel
Downtown street
We spent several house just wandering Front Street taking in the sights, stopping for a $5 Mai-tai, and enjoying a bowl of gelato to cool off in the sun. We spent most of our store time wandering through several of the fine art galleries talking to the sales people and marvelling at some of the prices. We purchased some of our favorite prints here back in the early 1980s at the Lahaina Gallery. Robert Lyn Nelson had just started out with what has become a standard over and under view of the water. He puts surface of the ocean near the center of the painting showing both what is under the water and the landscape above. Others have copied the style, but he is still the best. Lahaina Galleries is still in business and still offering his works. He has, of course, expanded his repertoire and now offers more standard views of the waterfront, city-scapes and even some abstract works. We were happy to see the prices on these pieces which are 3-4 times what we paid for them. 
Old Fort
This is one tree
On our evening stroll, we entered a different gallery, drawn in by the large African pieces that reminded us of our two trips to that continent. The artist and his children who are following in his footsteps were born in Zimbabwe and their animal depictions are so life-like we almost felt like we had returned to southern Africa. One painting of elephants in Ethosha showed the animals returning to the spot where another of their herd had recently died. That reminded us of waking up on our first trip to the article in the morning newspaper about the elephants who returned to the home of Lawrence Anthony two years since their last visit to mourn his passing. Anthony had saved this small herd of rogue animals who had been about to be put down. He took them on in his young game reserve and nurtured them to peacefulness by becoming their friend and mentor. He broke some of the ‘rules’ as he did so, but succeeded in settling them down so they could become a part of his game reserve. His memoir, The Elephant Whisperer, is a great read that may change how you think about these magnificent animals and their abilities. 
This rock was used by women giving birth
One of several old homes in Lahaina
On another day we had planned to drive down the coast to Hana, a 60 mile drive that requires about three hours if you don’t stop. However, the weather forecast promised rain, so we chose instead to head to the other side of the island in the rain shadow and visit one of the few National Wildlife Refuges on these islands. We weren’t expecting to see many birds with the strong winds we faced, but expected to have an interesting day anyway. We weren’t disappointed as we saw most of the shorebirds we expected and enjoyed a nice conversation with the volunteer at the visitor center. Because most of Hawaii’s wetlands were drained and turned into farmland or fish farms or built up into condo developments, the state has less than 10% of its original wetland remaining. Much of this refuge had been fish farms, but they have gone leaving some good land for the shorebirds and ducks that live here or winter here. The two most numerous birds are the Hawaiian coots and Hawaiian stilts. Coots are those black duck-like birds that seem to be everywhere. They are easily identified by their white bills and solid black bodies. Stilts are even easier to identify by their long, long legs and striking black and white coloration. Both are similar in appearance to those we see on the mainland, but each is a separate species as they have evolved separately over the hundreds of years they have been isolated here. We also enjoyed watching a small flock of sanderlings. Sanderlings are those shorebirds who flock together running up and down the beach at the edge of the breaking waves picking little bugs out of the sand. They seem like they are afraid of the advancing water, but are always just at the margin between wave and sand. The refuge includes a long boardwalk through the ponds near the seashore and a separately entered area a bit inland made up of former fish ponds now favored by the several ducks that make their way here for the winter. Only one of these ducks is endemic to Hawaii, but it is so closely related to the Mallard that they interbreed and the only ducks we saw here were the hybrid result of that interbreeding. The pure Hawaiian Ducks are still seen on Kauai and the Big Island, but it is probably inevitable that those will interbreed themselves out of existence over the next many years. 
It’s been over thirty years since we have visited Maui. This trip has shown us how much of a mistake it has been to not travel here more often. Or perhaps it wasn’t that much of a mistake given the other fabulous places we have been, but we will be back here again and it won’t be another thirty years in the future. Linda is already planning for an extended visit to this Aloha State in 2019. Next time we will include the Big Island in the itinerary and will certainly make it to Hana.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


On Maui, we signed up for one escorted trip, a Dolphin and Snorkeling cruise to the island of Lana’i. One thing we learned is that to say lanai (la-ni) is to speak of a patio. The name of the island is pronounced la-na-ee. The apostrophe matters.
Tour boat lineup

Our hosts for this trip was the Pacific Whale Foundation, a study group that promotes research paid for in part by the money they make from these tours. We left from the Lahaina harbor on the Ocean Quest at 8:00 after checking in at their office on Lahaina's Front Street. As soon as we were all situated, the crew came around with water in biodegradable cups made from corn. This is one of the small steps they are taking to keep plastic out of the oceans. Even if they do happen to get blown or dropped overboard, they will really disintegrate, not just break down into ever smaller pieces of plastic to be eaten by marine life to their detriment. This was followed by a breakfast place with two pastries and slices of orange and pineapple. 

Our ride to the snorkeling area is theoretically about 45 minutes, but we took  twice that as we searched for and then stopped to observe four different cetaceans. The first of these were humpback whales. A few of the boys have arrived earlier than normal from their summer feeding trip to Alaska. Males do arrive first. Usually whale-watching season begins in mid-December, but this year the tours have already started. This area amongst the islands of Lana’i, Maui, and Kahoolawe will soon be host to tens of thousands of these magnificent creatures who have come to give birth and create more babies for next season. At the highlight of the season, whales can be seen literally on top of one another as they jostle for breeding position. For now, however, seeing any humpbacks requires a bit of luck. Our skipper said that on his whale-watching trip the day before, he’d been skunked. We saw at least six in three different groups. There was no breaching today, but it’s always exciting to see whales.

We had a short look at a few bottlenose dolphins, one of the three species that live in the area. They were quickly left behind as we had a report of some false killer whales closer to our snorkeling area. There are only a couple of hundred of these animals in the entire Hawaiian Islands so to see them would be quite special. This would be first for a couple of the crew members along with all of the passengers. These are a different species from the killer whales we have in the Salish Sea at home, but live a similar lifestyle catching and eating the largest fish in the area. 

They are also highly social in behaviour. One of the experts on board told us about a research scientist  friend of his who had been diving with some of these animals. One of them caught a large Mahimahi and proceeded to present it to the scientist who accepted it with as much grace as he could muster. He returned it when the false killer whale indicated he wanted it back. He then passed it around to the other whales before settling in to make a meal of it. 

We also saw a pod of over 100 spinner dolphins. They are so-named because when they leap out of the water they will often spin two or three times before landing. They were a lot of fun to watch before we left them to head finally to Mahina Bay where we would spend a couple of hours snorkeling. 

With 85 snorkelers, I expected a bottleneck getting off the boat and again once we were in the water. Two other boats of snorkelers added even to the mass of people I expected to be competing with once in the water. None of that happened. We separated ourselves getting in the water as we readied ourselves at different speeds and several on our boat first took advantage of the Snorkeling 101 class offered by the skipper. Then when we got into the water, we spread out easily. Our larger boat anchored a bit further out from shore than the others which meant we had about a 50 yard swim to where we could see the bottom. At that point we were in quite a large area of coral where we could watch the more than 50 species of fish swimming below. We were also lucky enough to see a turtle feeding on the bottom. A few people found one close to the surface to swim with a bit, but we missed that one. The highlights for me were the turtle and several different schools. Seeing those larger groups spending time together added to the excitement of their natural beauty and variety of colorations. 

Once back on the boat, we were served lunch and drinks. Lunch consisted of a potato/macaroni salad and a bean salad along with a choice of hotdog, chicken burger, or veggie burger. A complimentary drink was a nice added touch with additional drinks for only three dollars. We did not see any more animals on our way back across the water to Lahaina, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the sun. The shower and nap when we returned to our condo finished the day nicely.