Polar bears and their prison

Pics of polar bearsI don’t normally record ‘just’ travel experiences here but surely I can make an exception for polar bears. I had the privilege, yesterday, of seeing polar bears in the wild by Hudson Bay, Canada.

The one-day tour flew us into Churchill from where we boarded ‘bear buggies’ (the one pictured is from the other tour company but they each use the same kind of vehicle) to traverse the tundra in search of bear activity. It didn’t take long to find bears because a mum and her cub were crossing the road in the town. On the way to the wrestling bears and the mum feeding her cubs (see the pics in the collage), we saw an artic fox and some Willow ptarmigan, white birds with plumage right down to their feet; they are almost invisible against the snow.

Bear buggy

The town of Churchill has a bear ‘prison’. When bears come into town and won’t leave when asked politely, they are put into a hangar, where they are given only lumps of ice (no gin and tonic). When they were fed there, in the past, they refused to leave at all. After a while they are transported by helicopter out onto the ice on Hudson Bay, where they belong. This system saves the bears from being shot and the population from being mauled – a win-win situation.

It was a great day in spite of the biting cold – it was minus 15 degrees celcius with a wind chill of at least another -20 degrees, making it too cold to be out of doors for more than a few minutes, no matter how warmly dressed. The buggies have observation platforms at the back but no-one managed to be there for very long. The trip included coffee, pastries, soup and sandwiches – all gratefully accepted by everyone!



Cycling in minus 19

Studded tyre

Not me though! I have trouble being outside in that weather, though the air sparkles in the sun and that is just magical. These cyclists are amazing. One of them chatted and I took a picture of his studded tyre. Most bikes don’t have those tyres, but mostly they do have fat tyres, so that connection with the path is more stable. It is all relative, though.

Messy collage – sorry!

The cold is such that some cyclists wear full face masks. At least, in these temperatures there are not many others out, though joggers are still jogging.

I loved the sign that suggests we should not cycle on the seat – just imagine it!


Crocodile-free swim

Yesterday, while working at the Lakeshore, I was able to have a quick swim here at Sambani Lodge. I stayed at this idyllic lodge for several weeks in 2008. Much has stayed the same but the new management/owner are upgrading it, redoing the thatched roofs and, wait-for-it, they’ve installed a satellite dish. I was far too busy swimming, taking photos and have coffee (with hot milk) to check out what communication is now on offer here but it certainly includes a phone signal.

The beach is of white sand, the water is warm and shallow for a long way and the place was deserted. On my next visit I must carve out a few days to come here and enjoy it again. Meanwhile it was a lovely interlude with a dear friend in an otherwise packed schedule. No crocs were to be seen but they wouldn’t be here anyway as it is not near the river mouth and it’s not the right time of day for crocodiles. That might sound like a know a lot about crocodiles but I only know enough to be safe! After that I drove back to Mzuzu in a much shorter time than the outgoing 2-hour journey. I am getting used to driving here. Maybe.


Arriving in Malawi

After a smooth, but long, trip via London and Johannesburg, the arrival at Lilongwe is very pretty, at least on the outside of the building. Inside it’s not so good. There are four processes for immigration. First the visa form must be authorised and no-one asked for all that supporting evidence that I had compiled. Next you must pay the visa fee of $75.00. This takes ages but does produce a receipt. Then the visa itself gets written by hand and stuck into the passport – very pretty. Finally, you are in a queue for immigration and that’s all done. It only too 45 minutes or so.
In the baggage hall there are trolleys (good) but my luggage is not there (bad).

A charade is then played whereby it is pretended that there is a system for locating it and ensuring that it will come tomorrow. In fact, I will just go back there tomorrow and personally look around the luggage hall for it. Without it I cannot go on with my work here so here’s hoping.  Yup. Found the luggage the next day so on with the plan. Sorry the jackaranda tree is on its side!


Hot cycling

I normally cycle in Scotland where wind, rain and midges are the major challenges and not necessarily in that order. How exciting then to come upon this ‘Group Cycling’ event in Florence – on a hill above Florence to be precise. Here hundreds of people cycled on gym bikes (I think this might be ‘spinning’) to music and loud encouragement. The moves were demonstrated by chaps up the front doing what the gang should be doing.

This seems a very strenuous activity and it was being done in 34 degrees Celcius. I can hardly walk on the flat in that heat, far less pedal furiously. At least one person looked as if he was about to have a heart attack. Emergency services were all around, as they needed to be. Respect!


How to open a bottle of wine

You couldn’t make up the series of things that have gone wrong on this Italian holiday. I am a very positive person but there comes a point when even I fail to see the positive side of ‘challenges’. I won’t bore you with luggage issues, or key issues but would anyone believe that it took three corkscrews to open one bottle of wine? The first corkscrew broke in the cork. The second one didn’t work at all. I tried a knife and a pliers-thing and then went back to the supermarket for another corkscrew. Having run of out isn’t-this-an-adventure, I did not even attempt to return the faulty one. Mercifully the third one worked.

On the positive side (see, I can’t resist it!) I had many happy memories of my student days trying to get into bottles without suitable tools and the wine here is cheap and lovely.


Lismore – wet and charming

Nippy Chippy van
A welcome sight when getting off the ferry

On the final day of our ferry-themed jaunt around the West of Scotland we went over to Lismore, by ferry of course.  Lismore is an island, ten miles long and about one mile wide, lying in Loch Linnhe at the southern end of the Great Glen. Of more immediate interest to us on the wet and breezy Sunday morning was the ‘Nippy Chippy’ van which sold HOT tea/coffee and home bakes, made by the young woman’s granny. Delicious.

Heritage display in the centre
Eerie museum of life in the ‘old days’

We had been told of a ‘coffee shop’ in the North of the island (otherwise why would we be there?) but it is way more than that. It is a heritage centre with a museum depicting life on the island in the 19th century. It was eerie in its stillness and the recorded conversations of the time. The café there is so welcoming! There is good wifi (how do they manage that?) and they don’t mind you sheltering out of the wind and rain all day.

whitewashed houses
The High Street of Port Ramsay

Since this was a cycling holiday, we did go a bit further afield and came to the charming high street of Port Ramsay – not a Starbucks to be seen! The local phone box is being turned into an information centre. There is a ferry from there to the mainland but not often on a Sunday so we gave it a miss – – another time.



Hidden gem and great sandwiches

It was a great start to a day that deteriorated badly later on. But it started with a free trip on the Corran Ferry – bikes and foot passengers travelling for free. We needed coffee and something for lunch on a 30 mile trip with no shops. The  guys on the ferry told us about the  Clovullin village shop. Yes! What a find. As well as coffee, bacon rolls and fruit the owner made us the best-ever ham rolls for lunch.

The wind whipped up after the first hill and it was the hardest ride we’ve ever done. Finding a place to eat that lunch was a challenge because it was impossible to be standing in the wind and rain for long before getting hypothermia.  When we did find a nook we enjoyed those rolls as no food ever. So do call into Clovullin when you are on Ardnamurchan. It’s not technically Ardnamurchan but Morvern … maybe.


Turntable ferry – Glenelg

The highlight of an adventurous day on bikes was the last working turntable ferry in the world.  This is the community owned Glenelg to  Kylerhea ferry which is manually operated and only takes six cars. It runs across the Kyle Rhea straits south of the Skye Bridge in Scotland.

We biked 41 miles around from Kyleakin, under the Skye Bridge,. The day included two viewpoints of 900 feet each. Spectacular. Exhausting. Felt great to have achieved it, tough though it certainly was.


Smooth tram-train link – finally!

Hurrah! Edinburgh finally has a covered, more-or-less warm and step-free link between the tram and the Fife train line – Edinburgh Gateway. If that wasn’t exciting enough there is a heater which can be operated by the travelling public. This is in the waiting area, out of the wind and rain which is so often a feature of our train stations in Scotland. Well done ScotRail!