Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Everyone has a bucket list - but how 'bout an "unbucket" list?

You don't have to be careful of cattle in Malawi - just ants.
These days, everyone seems to have a travel bucket list of places they want to go/experiences they want to enjoy.

But not every experience you have while travelling is an enjoyable one. In fact, if you travel enough, you're probably going to be able to easily put together an...

UNBUCKET LIST

These are my top 12 "do not repeat if possible" travel mishaps. Maybe you've experienced some of them - or maybe some of yours are even worse.

Anyway, without further ado, in no particular order are my "Infamous Top 10."

1. ANTS, PART 1. Sleeping with ants in a schoolyard in Malawi, Africa. This was during a 40-day overland trip through Africa, where we bush-camped most of the way. We'd crossed the border from Tanzania into Malawi, but weren't going to make it to the campground at Lake Malawi by nightfall so we got permission to pitch our tents in the schoolyard of a small town. Bad move. There were ants were so tiny, they could slip into the tent no matter how tightly the zipper was closed. They didn't bite - but crawled all over, inside our ears, and you could hear them communicating, a constant tinny humming noise enough to drive anyone mad. It was like a horror movie where a villain tortures you using ants. The school doors were unlocked, so many of us in the group moved inside to sleep in a classroom, it was that bad.

2. ANTS, PART 2. Pitching a tent right next to an army ant nest without being aware of it. This was funny - but only because it wasn't me standing in the next. We'd pitched our tent in a compound near the border of Tanzania and Malawi and my ever-present travelling companion, the Divine Ms. K discovered we had to move the tent - and was attempting to do so. However, they were crawling up inside her long pants and biting her - and they sting like hell! - so there she is in broad daylight shucking her pants and swatting ants with the help of one of the other women on the trip. A few locals walking by the compound found it quite hilarious to see this white woman doing the "fire-ant two-step." (Good thing she was wearing underwear...)

The Andes are gorgeous - but beware of altitude sickness.
 3. PERUVIAN MOUNTAIN HIGH. Not advisable to get THIS kind of "high" - altitude sickness in the Andes at the start of a four-day horseback ride through the mountains from lodge-to-lodge. Headaches, diarrhea, a few other symptoms, all unpleasant. Not unusual for many at high altitude/thin air, but not to be trifled with. I actually had to be taken back down to Ollantaytambo, a small village, to recover for a few days. And drink tea made from coca leaves (yeah, the same plant that cocaine comes from). Tasted yucky. I eventually caught up with the trip at the fourth lodge. Mountain Lodges of Peru did a great job looking after me, though.

4. DRINKING FROM THE ZAMBEZI. Back to Africa again. If you go whitewater rafting on the Zambezi and fall out (not unusual in 25 km and 20 rapids), be sure to keep your mouth closed. DO NOT swallow any water if you can help it. I did - and about 36 hours later, I was sicker than I'd ever been in my life, it was coming out both ends for a few days, then I had to recover from dehydration. Missed a scheduled canoe trip along a calmer portion of the river. Guess I'll just have to go back to Africa some day...

5. DID YOU GET THE FOOTWEAR MEMO? If you're told to wear sturdy footwear for a three to four hour hike along a coastal path in Wales, wear it. I did - but someone else in our group did not. One couple had proper hiking boots, apparently - but didn't want to get them wet. Doh! Why bring them, then? Instead, their feet got wet and beat up, wearing what were essentially loafers up and down a trail full of switchbacks and small footbridges with plenty of muddy patches. Then they whined about it. Double doh!

6. DON'T GO IN THE OCEAN WITHOUT A WETSUIT. If you're going to practise wet entries into a kayak - or even if you're just horsing around - in the Pacific Ocean, even close to shore off the coast of Alaska wear the wetsuit. I didn't, I got hypothermia and had to cancel the week-long kayak trip slated to start the next day. On the positive side, I got to see my first wild grizzly bear and several black bears up close. As well, and probably more importantly, some odd readings at the Wrangell hospital prompted me to get some tests done in Vancouver and I found out I had a bicuspid valve disorder in my aortic valve. I was born with it and didn't know. It meant that eight years later I was prepared for the open-heart surgery I had to undergo to fix it.

7. IF THE FISH SAMOSAS TASTE "FISHY" THROW IT BACK. I didn't eat the bad samosas at a market in Lilongwe - but someone very close to me did. And got as sick as I did from drinking Zambezi River water. Not fun. Especially when you're bush-camping and using "long-drops" for bathroom facilities. (At least when I was sick in the campground in Victoria Falls, I had access to real toilets.) I ate some samosas from the same market - but not fish. I was fine.


8. STAY OFF THE WHEEL! If you have bad knees like I do, try to avoid getting stuck on top of the wheel seat when you have to trade in a flight in a plane for a three-hour van ride down dusty, bumpy dirt roads in Ecuador. Not fun, pure agony, I didn't think I'd ever feel good again. It took a few hours for the aches in my knees to go away after unloading. Next time I'll get aggressive and grab any seat away from the wheel. If I ever have to ride a bus in Ecuador again, that is.
Heath River is a great place to see parrots - but it's not Manu.

9. HAVING A TOUR COMPANY PULL THE PLUG MID-TRIP. This happened in Peru. I spent a week in the Andes, horseback riding and visiting Machu Picchu, and I was supposed to spend the second week at Manu National Park and visit one of the world's best parrot licks. However, when I got back to the hotel in Cuzco, G Adventures, the company I'd made a down-payment to told me I was unable to get there due to complications with the airline that they'd contracted to fly us in there. Or some such rot. Now I'd arranged to pay 50 per cent of the trip cost and work the other 50 per cent off via a contra deal (I was giving travel writing and photography workshops at their Vancouver store for $150 a class at the time), but I suspect the person who approved that had since been told they'd goofed, and that the deal had been nixed at the head office. (I found this out after.) At the time, it left me stuck either getting a refund for the trip and hanging around a hotel in the Andes for a week or taking a less expensive, less promising but similar trip to Heath River. I chose the latter, expecting a partial refund on my return but when I got back I was told I had no money coming back. My 50 per cent deposit for one trip had become full payment for a lesser trip. Given all the circumstances, and the way my contact was acting (and she left the company shortly after that), it sounded fishy to me. I've never been a big fan of that company ever since.

10. LEAVING YOUR CAMERA AT HOME (DOH!) I once took a great four-day canoe trip on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, in Alberta, which is home to Spirit Island - one of the most photographed spots in Canada. I can't remember if I realized that was part of the trip, or not, but I chose NOT to take a camera because at the time I was working as sports editor for the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John, B.C. and I wanted a complete getaway from anything resembling work. That meant I wouldn't be taking any photos, since I did that pretty much seven days a week at my job. It also meant I had no photos of one of the most special places in Canada. And a few years later when I started freelance writing, I really wished I'd taken some photos of the trip. Maybe someday I'll return via a cruise on a tour - but it won't be same as doing it by canoe. And I certainly won't get any of the unique shots I could get from sitting in a canoe, paddling around the island.





Ready for a lake cruise?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A reminder of how soul-restoring a simple walk can be

Avalon Pond, Everett Crowley Park.
So I'm sitting at home, looking out the window at the birds flitting about at the numerous feeders in 
our yard, with two of our three parrots sitting on me...at the same time, I'm scrolling through the Facebook newsfeed on my iPhone.

I come upon a post in a group I belong to, "The Best Reasons for You to Walk in a Park," by Erin Acton. Now it turns out Wednesday was "National Take a Walk in a Park Day" (yes, there is such a day, I looked it up, there are plenty of websites dedicated to the topic.) I start reading the blog post, watching her video, and it start to resonate with me.

I'd been having a bad week, no, make that a bad week-and-a-half up to that point, one of those weeks where nothing seems to work or go one's way. It was starting to get depressing. But Erin's well-sourced suggestions about how a walk in nature, getting out in nature, can really help alleviate stress, struck a chord in me.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it's like I needed a nudge, a reminder, that taking a few hours out of the day to go for a walk, aside from the physical health benefits, offers larger benefits for the soul.


It's like I forgot what Henry David Thoreau wrote in his treatise, "Walking" on the matter:

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day, at least... sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
Thoreau and Emerson had it right.
Again, it's not like I was re-inventing the wheel; I just had to decided enough was enough, I needed to get out and get some fresh air, a bit of exercise (which I'd been neglecting the past several days for a variety of reasons), and commune with nature, albeit in an urban setting.

So I packed up my camera and tripod, and headed off to Everett Crowley Park, a 40-hectare park barely a five-minute drive from where I live, less than 500 metres from busy SE Marine Drive in Vancouver. I've been there before, but hadn't visited since 2008.

It has changed a little; there is an additional trail that has been cut, parallel to an existing one. One of the things I do remember is a lookout along the Vista Trail, which provides a view of the Fraser River, less than a kilometre to the south. When I was last there eight or nine years ago, that portion of the river was all trees and other greenery; it's now all buildings and development along the shoreline. A bit sad, since I don't necessarily agree that's "progress." So far, the walk wasn't really lifting my spirits as I'd hoped it might.

But, I persisted on and a few minutes later down the trail, the magic of nature started to re-emerge.

I heard a woodpecker hammering away on a tree nearby. I located it, high overhead. Then I heard a chirping in the brush near the trail, the unmistakable sound of a hummingbird. Never managed to spot it, though.

Then still higher overhead, a hawk glided by, returning in the opposite direction a few minutes later.

Further along the trail, off to the left about 30 metres away sat a hawk on a tree branch. Of course, the bird flew away before I could get set up to shoot some photos, but it was still magical.

Eventually, I made my way over to Avalon Pond at the northeast corner of the park. There were always ducks there - usually mallards - and I'd even seen a heron there, once, high up in a tree.

The mallards were there...and so were a pair of mated buffleheads.

A male bufflehead patrols the pond.

Buffleheads are really cool diving ducks. Smaller than mallards and very unique looking. Plus, it's just a cool word to say - "bufflehead."

 Try it. Say it out loud a few times. It almost sounds like the kind of insulting name Bugs Bunny would call Daffy Duck in the old Loony Tunes cartoons.

But it's not - it's the common name for Bucephala albeola. A friend of mine calls them "saddle shoe ducks," which gives you an idea of what they look like, if you didn't already know.

Anyway, I tried shooting some photos and video from a trail that ran alongside the pond, then found a spot at one end where I could sit down a log, set up my tripod in an easy-access position and took the better part of an hour watching them swim and dive back and forth among the mallards. I even got a few good shots.

video
The mallards always seem friendly at Avalon.

Letting go, breathing - really breathing - I could feel a sense of peace and perspective start to take root in my being. I noticed some of the songbirds flitting about in the bushes around me. I spotted several hummingbirds and out of the corner of my eye a larger bird dodging about in the hardwoods 50 yards away (maybe a pileated woodpecker?)

That two hours I spent did wonders for me - other responsibilities kept me from a four-hour sojourn as Dr. Thoreau prescribed - got me back on the rail properly, which I was in danger of falling off (and with the fall, could a potential train-wreck be far off?)

Walking back to my car, doing some shopping for groceries, talking with people I met - it all just seemed better, following my walk.

While I enjoy watching the visitors to the birdfeeders in our yard immensely, sometimes a walk rewards one with different kinds of benefits. I resolved not to let it get to this point again, to take time to re-connect with nature via a walk in the woods, not just from my living room window.

And next time, I don't think I'll wait another eight years to go back to that little park that can offer such a balm for my soul.

Trail map for Everett Crowley Park.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New film provides a look at our birds and their journeys

What is the future for songbirds like chickadees?
I had the opportunity this past week to see an amazing new film, a documentary about birds. The film was called The Messenger.

Now the reason it was called that is mentioned in the film's beginning and reiterated once or twice as throughout the film.

It goes back to the fact that ancient peoples viewed birds as messengers - messengers from the gods, messengers from the other side, messages from the spirit world - and it is the film's premise that they are still messengers today - and the message they have for us is one about our own future.

The film delves into several issues migratory songbirds face in our modern world; one of them is the way that they can get disoriented by the light that we as humans create in our cities. It shows how, in cities like New York and Toronto, our night-time lights can really produce a negative impact on their migrations up and down the coast from north to south and back again.

Connected with that is the way thousands of birds kill themselves flying into our city's high-rise buildings. This issue resulted in the birth of the organization FLAP as a response to it.

Another issue facing songbirds is the hunting of them for food.

That's right - food.

In France, there is a huge controversy right now about how the centuries-old tradition of hunting ortolans for food. The film actually interviewed one of the hunters, as well as some folks dedicated to stopping the practice. Although it is now illegal, French authorities, by-and-large, look the other way.

The film also looked at other issues facing birds, a big one being pesticides - including the 21st century production of grains which have pesticides built right into them by seed manufacturers.

The movie also documents the way our industrial development - the need to drill for oil, most noticeably - and how it can affect the bird population in the boreal forest.

The film takes us all over the world - from the Eastern Seaboard of North America, to the jungles of Costa Rica, the fields of France, the prairies of Saskatchewan, and the boreal forests of Alberta, to name but a few destinations.

It's a journey, a trip around the world, to see what it is these birds are facing - and what they, as messengers, are trying to tell us.
Female red-winged blackbird. Will their songs be silent soon?
Birds are incredibly adaptable, probably more so than mammals. Despite that, they are suffering. We're changing the environment so fast now, faster than birds can cope with it.

And while this does not bode well for them, it also has ramifications for us.

As one of the people interviewed in the film says, "Songbirds are really like the canary in the coal mine ... they are telling us something is wrong, something is happening on the planet that is not good."

That's why organizations like FLAP and Bird Studies Canada work so hard to try to figure everything out so we can make changes - for the birds...and for our own future.

The film is directed by Su Rynard. Not a scientist, not even a birder, really, she did a masterful job in bringing this film together. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous ... breath-taking beauty radiates from the screen. Probably why it's won so many awards.

Those of us who attended the movie were fortunate enough to "meet" and chat with her via Skype on the big theatre screen. Ah, technology. (Ironically, while technology can help us enjoy these types of experiences, it can also harm, as the movie points out.)

It played very briefly last Sunday, March 20 in Vancouver, at the Rio Theatre, one show and one day only. But it will be back again in May, for a showing May 9, again, at the Rio. Their website has information about other venues hosting it, and plans are in the works to

In the meantime, enjoy some of the marvelous footage in this trailer.



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Irish eyes are smiling...and it's not even Ireland

Does it get any more Irish than Guinness?
So, St. Patrick's Day is upon us ... and tradition holds that I should write something about Ireland in
my blog to mark the occasion.

The problem is, I haven't BEEN to Ireland. (At least not yet).

The closest I've been physically (and for that matter, spiritually) is Wales.

I have written a couple of published stories about Wales, as well as blogged about it, but we're not celebrating St. David's Day (is there such a holiday for the patron saint of Wales?), so that doesn't really count.

It's not that I don't WANT to go to Ireland...I've just always had other destinations on my radar. And it's not like there aren't things to interest me in that country. Never mind the fact it's the home of both Guinness stout and Bushmill's Irish Whisky, there are also some excellent birding and paddling opportunities there (although the chance of spotting parrots there might be slim to none...).

I always celebrate St. Pat's Day at home with some Celtic music, an Irish dish or two (this year I'm making a meatloaf baked in a Guinness glaze), and plenty of Guinness  (both in a glass and in the food), Bushmill's, Bailey's, and a movie or two with an Irish theme (The Quiet Man, The Fighting Prince of Donegal are two of my favourites) and some old episodes of Remington Steele that were set in Ireland.

video
 Let's do a little cooking with Guinness...

I often read stories from Ireland, from a collection called Irish Folk Tales by Henry Glassie, that I've owned for about 27 years.

I also receive regular press releases from Tourism Ireland ... in fact, the one I received Wednesday of this week was very interesting.

It was slugged, "St Patrick’s celebrations get the green light around the world - Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening goes from strength to strength with 190 major landmarks and sites taking part this year – celebrating Ireland and St Patrick."


The reason I say it's interesting for me is because, as the release states, "Some 190 iconic landmarks and sites around the world will be illuminated in green over the coming days – as part of Tourism Ireland’s 2016 Global Greening initiative to celebrate the island of Ireland and St Patrick."

It goes on to list many sites, and includes Canada: "several sites will join the Global Greening celebrations including  the 'green lantern' of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ontario" - which is a place I've visited.
At the Nature Museum, the reptiles chase St. Patrick...
The Calgary Tower is also involved in the occasion. When I worked as a communications consultant for the Alberta Wilderness Association in 1999 and 2000, the tower was (and still is) a big part of the AWA's schedule of annual events aimed at helping keep the province "green" with its Tower Climb held every spring.

Niagara Falls is also involved, a place I've visited many times, and written about a few times, as well.

My most recent visit to those places was to the Nature Museum. Amazing place, great for families, I could have spent an entire day there easily, rather than the few hours I had to squeeze in.

Other stops in my travelling life that are part of this initiative include Casa Loma in Toronto, Toronto's Distillery District, and in close proximity (but not an actual visit to) the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya's capital city.

So while I have not been to Ireland, I've been to many places that are helping mark St. Patrick's Day this year.

I guess in some ways, I've been there, if not physically, then certainly in spirit.

Maybe one of these days, I'll even get to go to the Emerald Isle itself.

Until then, I'll just wish you "Top of the mornin' from the bottom of me glass!"

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tuco: it's about an African grey parrot, but also much more

Usually, I write about travel in this space, although that does encompass a broad spectrum of sub-genres.

Today, I'm reviewing a book. Tuco is not a travel book, although the author, Brian Brett, does describe some of his travels in places like British Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, and other destinations in the book.

At some point, paddling is mentioned in the book, although not in a big way.

It's also not a book about the third of the three protagonists in the Sergio Leone 1967 spaghetti western, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," played with panache by Eli Wallach. (Although as the author reveals, there is a connection with the movie.)

The book is about the author's relationship with his African grey parrot. It is an excellent read, and you don't have to have lived with a parrot to appreciate it. While Brett's relationship with his African grey is an important part of the book, it's also a springboard for much deeper conversations about the world we live in and the way we relate to it.

Subtitled, The Parrot, the Others and a Scattershot World, A Life with Birds, Brett delves into his relationship not just with Tuco, but with other birds and the world at large. The book actually is a third version of a three-set volume that is a memoir of his life and its struggles, paralleled by the struggles humankind has in the world, struggles to accept others as they are, struggles to prosper without destroying the world - a "scattershot" world as Brett views it - and how they are both reflected in this out-of-place bird's life.

I say out of place, because Brett views Tuco as an "other" of sorts. He himself was an "other," an outsider growing up, because of being born with Kallman syndrome (a condition that causes a form of androgyny) that created huge issues for him as he entered puberty and grew into young adulthood. "Othering" is what we all do to various degrees to anything we see as strange or different. It's othering that often mutates into bullying, something Brett put up with frequently while growing up in British Columbia.


We "other" birds, animals, people of different religions, races, sexual orientations - the list is almost endless.
An African grey parrot, at Bloedel Conservatory.

The theme of othering crops up many times in the narrative as Brett weaves his way through a tapestry of topics that include science, environmentalism, animal cruelty, bird-watching, travel, small-town politics, his early experiences with pet birds, and life with an African grey parrot.

It's all enjoyable to read, but as someone who has spent close to a quarter-century living with African grey parrots, those anecdotes about Tuco's antics were the most enjoyable, the parts I re-read over and over again, sometimes aloud to anyone who would listen (or anyone who would read the passages I posted on my Facebook page regularly while reading the book.) And there were so many of them that reflect and almost eerily parallel the experiences I've had with my greys. For example:
"When a joke is told in our house, Tuco is always the first to laugh, chiming in milliseconds before anyone else. Does he get the joke? Probably not. What he does is even smarter. ... For Tuco, the crucial factor in a joke is not the joke but the way it makes us behave. He measures the speaker's tone and recognizes it's a joke, not a drama or narration of events. Then, if he is in the room, assessing the speaker's inflections and body language, he can anticipate the timing of the punchline faster than any person can, and that's why he always beats us to the laugh."
That happens all the time in our house with my 15-year-old grey, Coco. 

The book is full of passages like that, stories that will have anyone who lives with parrots smiling, and perhaps even chuckling out loud.

Even those who do not live with parrots will find them humorous - and perhaps a bit hard to believe. But believe me, all the stuff he describes in the book about Tuco's behaviour is real. Most parrot keepers have experienced even more bizarre or outrageous behaviours by their feathered companions.


Tuco is one of the rare books that both entertains and informs. It also stimulates thought and introspection about how we view life, how we might deal with some of the issues described in the book.

The author does reach some conclusions, of sorts, and while I won't tell you what they are, some of what I read still percolates around my coffeepot of a brain, occasionally seeping out through its filters into my conscious. 

If you want to read a book that is just silly parrot stories, you might be disappointed. However, if you want to read a book full of those that also deals with some much more serious life issues - like bullying, environmentalism, or dealing with death - then this is a read for you.
 


African grey parrots in the wild. From the World Parrot Trust.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

When someone yells 'Duck!' at Oak Hammock, you don't hunker down


Canoes at Oak Hammock, waiting to be paddled.
Several years ago,  I drove across Canada from B.C., with the Divine Ms. K, literally “passing through” Manitoba on our way to Ontario. We only stopped overnight outside Winnipeg because a torrential downpour made it unsafe to drive.
 
The next day we were up early and gone quickly, rushing to get to Algonquin Park and experience nature during a four-day canoe trip.

While we did enjoy some wonderful encounters there, we had no idea we had been so close to another natural gem: Oak Hammock Marsh.

Having paddled in Algonquin several times, as well as several B.C. locales - including the Queen Charlotte Islands and the world-renowned Bowron Lakes - I’ve had plenty of memorable experiences in nature, seeing songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl in B.C.’s interior, on its islands, and up and down its coast.

Eventually, I did get a chance to visit Oak Hammock - and I was amazed at the variety and diversity of bird life there.

Of course, it helped that I was paddling; there’s no better way to see birds – especially wetland species – than from a canoe.
 
Coot family.
We set out early in the morning to escape the early July heat and give ourselves the best opportunity to see some of the 296 different bird species recorded here.

We were not disappointed. Just minutes into our journey, we spotted an American coot with babies. 

For the next two hours, we paddled through a couple of different wetland cells, spying gulls, terns, blackbirds, and several other species. 

But the highlight came as we paddled quietly toward a small island covered with American white pelicans.

When we came too close for their comfort, it was as if someone pressed a button - they took off en masse, a white cloud of flapping feathers rising up into the sky.

In addition to its wonderful bird-watching opportunities, the area offers something else many destinations I’ve visited do not: an incredibly entertaining and informative interpretive centre. 

With all of its hands-on, youth-friendly exhibits, a family could easily spend an entire day inside, saving the outdoor experiences for another day.

White pelicans hanging out on a small island.
The centre is not only a great spot for birding and environmental education; it acts as the hub for all Ducks Unlimited Canada operations, with its head offices located there.

Originally part of a marsh called St. Andrew’s Bog that covered roughly 47,000 hectares, the end of the 19th century saw the wetland area reduced to 60 hectares, most of it drained for agriculture.

Ducks Unlimited Canada became interested in restoring part of the wetland habitat as early as the 1930s, but it was not until 1973 that the area was designated as Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area. In creating a wetland area of roughly 3600 hectares, DUC and Manitoba Conservation joined forces to build 22 kilometres of earth dikes to help resort the area.

Twenty years later the interpretive centre opened, a year after construction of the building that also houses the DUC national headquarters was completed.

Today, the building and the wetlands stand side-by-side, proud symbols of wetland conservation at its best.
And it’s also a great place to stop and visit – not just drive by on a trip heading east or west.

(A slightly different version of this story appeared in a 2007 issue of Conservator magazine.)




Fall migration at Oak Hammock.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Feeling medieval? Channel your inner King Arthur



Where's that wench with a refill?
The crowd roars as the horses and their riders clash together. Shards of wood fly out in all directions as the two knights’ lances splinter against each other’s shield. They come to a halt, each takes another lance, then prepares to gallop at his opponent once again.

It may sound like I'm describing a scene from The Mists of Avalon or The Black Knight, but this joust is part of the evening's entertainment at the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, held at Toronto's Exhibition Place. 

The package also includes a four-course meal, served on tiers of long tables set in the Grand Ceremonial Arena where seats would normally be located.

Everyone involved with staging the evening’s entertainment gets right into the spirit of the adventure. The minute we entered the hall, a greeter dressed in medieval garb handed each of us a cardboard crown to wear, featuring the colours of the knight for who we were to cheer that evening. 

All the supporters for the black knight were seated in one section, the green knight supporters in another, etc.

Once seated, we feasted on an appetizer, soup, a whole Cornish game hen, a rack of spare ribs, potato and desert, all eaten from pewter dishes - without the benefit of utensils (apparently they hadn’t invented cutlery in the Middle Ages). 

That's SIR John, to you.
 In keeping with the medieval theme and atmosphere, the young woman who dished up our meal told us, “I’m Wendy, I’ll be your serving wench for the evening.”

During our meal, skilled equestrians first treated us to a display of excellent horsemanship, featuring Andalusian stallions. 

But the real fun began when the Druid entered the arena floor to say a prayer and mark the start of the knightly competitions, culminating in the jousts.

Even during real tournaments during the middle ages, jousts were not usually contests fought to the death. And while that maxim obviously still holds true at Medieval Times, we could certainly appreciate the athletic skill these modern-day knights require to gallop their horses against each other, trying to unseat their opponent without causing real injury.
She's following in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn.

Several knights competed in semi-choreographed battles, until one champion remained standing. 

That champion then selected a Queen of Love and Beauty from the crowd to end the tournament.

Before and after the dinner tournament, we browsed the souvenir area, where we could choose from a wide selection of clothing, mugs, swords and other collectibles to help us remember the occasion. 

We also had the opportunity to be “knighted” by the king, complete with a photo. 

Some of us chose to strike a pose with another character that better suited our personalities … like the executioner, for example.

Off with their heads!

(This story appeared previously in Westjet's Airlines Magazine in 2004).



Preparing for the jousts.