Horton River Canoe Trip

From July 29 to August 20 we were kayaking on the Horton River in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The trip was lead by Rich Henke and Brian Elliott who did an incredible amount of planning and logistics to make this trip happen. The congenial group of six also included Pete Ackerman and Steven Cochran. This was a trip of a lifetime. Once we left Norman Wells (pop. 800) in a Sea Otter float plan and were dropped off we didn’t see anyone else. In fact about the only signs of humans we saw were a couple of footprints. Many caribou, some grizzlies, and lots of birds. Brian is a birder and was great about sharing his knowledge and pointing out birds and other animals we would have never seen.

We took lots of pictures and video footage, but so far we haven’t organized them. But other participants have and you can see their great photos at Rich’s Smugmug page, Brian’s Flickr page, and Pete’s new Smugmug page — make sure you can see the captions in his Best of… as his observations are quite interesting and informative. The journal he kept paid off. One of Pete’s photos also graced our Christmas card this year.

The Horton Rivers terminates in Franklin Bay, which is connected to the Beaufort Sea which connects to the Arctic Ocean, almost 70° north after traveling almost 400 miles. Some of the trip we were above timberline even though our elevation was about 500 ft. This is tundra country which is more interesting than one would expect. Fun to walk on if you’re not trying to get somewhere because it’s soft although sometimes wet, and the tundra is comprised of many varieties of plants.

All for now. Four months later: Pete had just posted his photos and in looking at them I’m reminded how extraordinary this trip was.

Other Horton River trip reports that helped us plan our trip:

Horton Canoe Trip Report – Jul 10, 2004 – Eston and Jackie
Jul 2, 2012 – Manrico and Liz 21 days, 20 nights on the river. Excellent trip report Includes 9 minute movie and 157 image slide show.
Traditional Arctic Kayaks—Jim Rutzick, HORTON RIVER, JULY, 1997
Horton River to Paulatuk 2007 — Freda Mellenthin

Photographs from Ishkashim, Afghanistan and Tajikistan

From EurasiaNet.org:

Two towns named Ishkashim stand opposite each other on the Pyanj River, which marks the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Against a stark backdrop of daunting peaks and dusty plains, life here, as documented in this photo essay by Diana Markosian, is marked by constant uncertainty.

Škaric / Scarich in Croatia and the United States

The Scarichs are from Brač. The first of our line of Scarichs to come to California was Vincent Gregory Scarich. Not many of us have visited family in Croatia. My (Greg’s) aunt and uncle, Rita and Gerry, visited probably in the late 70s. And Uncle Nick, one of Vincent’s sons visited from time to time. But no one I talked to knew who or where they visited. I was always told I was named after my great-grandfather Vincent Gregory Scarich from the island of Brač. However I’ve never seen anything in writing that confirms that his name was Vincent Gregory. His Certificate of Naturalization from 1905 has Visko Skarich (no accents). Škarić is Scarich in Croatian, so Skarich is yet another spelling.

Visko Skarich Naturalization

Before we went on our trip to Croatia we thought we’d try to visit some Scarichs if we could find any. My dad had some contact about 40 years ago, but never visited any relatives in Croatia. His uncle, Nick, had visited Croatia but neither my dad nor I could find any information on that. I tried one of my cousins since their parents had visited relatives in Croatia, but they didn’t have any information. I Googled and although I found plenty of Škarićs not much contact information or current information. The major of Split in 2000 was a Škarić and Split is the main port to catch the ferry to Brač. I also tried Facebook and found some Škarićs but not in Split or Brač. Nonetheless I contacted one, but never heard from her and real ized that I wasn’t likely to find any of the mostly thirty somethings on Facebook that would be interested in meeting us.

But in family papers I found that some distant cousins (Restovich) were buried in Postira, a town on the island of Brač. I also looked on a couple of genealogy sites but didn’t turn up anything. So we left on our trip with a plan to poke around the graveyard in Postira.

On our first full day in Croatia we were visiting a farmers market in Zagreb. Louisa saw some honey from Brač at a stand and the woman selling the honey said that there were lots of Škarićs on Brač. So we might find some, but I assumed that would be older non-English speaking and we wouldn’t learn much.

Ten days later in Split we decided to reconnoiter the ferry to Brač the day before we were to go. I went to the ticket office and Louisa started talking with a person in line for the ferry that afternoon. He was a Škarić. Skaric at Split Ferry

The next day we caught the 9 am ferry and upon arrival drove to Postira and went for lunch. In talking to the waitress she related that although she wasn’t from Brač she knew there were Škarićs and suggested going about half a kilometer down the shore to a grocery store and ask about the Škarićs neighborhood that was nearby. A whole neighborhood! This is getting interesting. I suggested the village priest and we all agreed that was even a better place to start. She pointed out the steeple and after lunch we wandered up the hill to the church. No one in the church, but we saw a house that looked like it might be the rectory and called into the open front door. The priest came out and although he spoke very little English he got the gist of what we were after and brought out a big ledger book. I had a birthdate of 1859 and Vincent Gregory/Visko for a name. He started thumbing through the book and ran into about ten pages of Škarićs. The book appeared to have been recompiled about 50 years ago with more recent additions (the book was organized and all the old entries had been put in at the same time (we later learned that many of the church records were copied over when the communists took over and the originals hidden away). The priest finally homed in on one page and although the birthdate differed by a year from what I had, and the first name was Vicko not Visko, but seemed like a reasonable variant. No middle name either. He then got kind of a knowing look and he went to make a call. He said two o’clock and I talked to Mila, my (third) cousin would said she would come by in an hour. During the hour Father Ton?i Jelin?i? brought us some homemade wine to drink.

An hour later not one but two cousins showed up and soon their cousin soon showed up. They were all females in their mid-fifties and spoke fluent English. We talked for a while and Mila invited us to her house for happy hour. It turns out their cousin, Ana, is the family genealogist and had a partial copy of the family tree. Up until then we weren’t convinced that we had nailed down the relationship, but her tree had Vinko Juraj, a brother of their great-grandfather. And eventually I remembered when I was about seven I met a relative from Bolivia, Sonja. They had met Sonja and her son, Vincent, who visits Brač every couple of years. With all these connections we agreed we must be cousins.

Photo of Greg and cousins
Greg, Mila, Mirjam and Ana

Mirjam, my other third cousin, met and married an American in college in Zagreb, and has lived in New York ever since. Her daughter, Anya, was there also and in fact visits every summer (except for two years during the war).

The next day, Mila took us for a tour of our neighborhood, called Škarića Dvori. Dvori we took to mean neighborhood of the Škarićs. She pointed out numerous building, several plaques celebrating famous Škarićs. We met one older couple. He is a Škarić but spoke no English.

Obviously we learned a lot more about the family than I’ve written about here. The cousins are all generous and interesting. We had a great time and will stay in contact.

We’ve posted photographs from the whole trip to Croatia on our to our website here.

Cedar Mesa and the Valley of the Gods

Louisa and Greg camped and hiked in this area in the southeast corner of Utah on our way home from the Mountain Film in Telluride as described in the previous post. We just put together a photo book of Greg’s photos of this part of the trip.

Mainly posting this to see how Shutterfly presents the book. The full screen option is good. Edit: the option to view is now only via the link below.

Click here to view this photo book larger

Colorado and Utah Road Trip

We began our trip with the Telluride Mountain Film Festival. Mountain Film is held over Memorial Day weekend and celebrates adventure in the outdoors, nature, the cultures that live closer to nature, the environment and saving it for the future. This year the theme was Awareness Into Action. Also setting the background for discussions was a tribute to Richard Holbrooke—Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We were delighted to be the guests of locals, Nancy and Alfredo, along with Patrick, Janet, Judy and Paul. Thank you for your kind hospitality Nancy and Alfredo.

We then stopped by Janet and Patrick’s place near Telluride to see the progress on their property.

We all then headed to Fruita, a Colorado a mountain biking mecca. We all camped, some in motor homes, some in vans, and some in tents. Judy and Paul’s friend Wayne, a BLM ranger, had a couple of days off and showed us around. Paul H., another friend of Judy and Paul’s also joined us. When we arrived Wayne took us for a quick evening ride near Loma. The next day we did the Western Rim Trail, a great trail in both Utah and Colorado along the Colorado River canyon rim. Fun riding and incomparable scenery. The next two days with Janet and Patrick joining us, we explored Book Cliffs a few miles north of Fruita. Fun riding. Fast swooping trails, ups and downs, and attention grabbing trails along ridges, such as Zippety Do Da. We weren’t disappointed in Fruita.

Everyone headed off in their own directions and we went nearby to Colorado National Monument with steep red canyons. Camped two nights there and did a hike on the Monument Canyon Trail to Independence Monument.

Headed south via Moab to Cedar Mesa in southern Utah which includes Natural Bridges National Monument. Arrived late and the campground was filled up so we went just outside the monument into BLM land where you can camp anywhere, although they prefer you use existing sites. A mile or so off the main road we found a nice site along a wash. Better than the campground. Very quiet. We saw about one car per day while in our campsite. Plenty of things to see and do, the monument as well as endless Anasazi dwellings and pictographs in the many canyons.

Photos from our trip are posted in the our photo gallery. You may want to use the slideshow option: click on the appropriate icon in the upper right, and after the slideshow comes up you may want to click on the icon in the lower right  to view full screen (Flash needed). Or you can use keyboard arrow keys to go from one slide to the next.

Mysore India

We are now in Mysore, Karnataka. Today we re-arranged our train tickets so we can make it to Hyderabad for Padma’s cousin’s engagement party on March 6 which will be attended by many of the relatives Louisa met in 1997. It will be a great occasion and nice finale to our trip!

Unlike many breakfasts of vadai, paper dosa or idli and tea, this morning’s (western) breakfast was omelet, milk coffee,” butter toast jam” on the rooftop overlooking Gandhi Square. We chatted up a fun young German couple at university studying poli-sci and education. We have hardly met any Americans during the trip.

Wandering thru town after breakfast, we found the most stunningly beautiful Devaraja market with gorgeous produce stacked and displayed in eye catching arrays, hugh piles of flower pedals, jasmine, marigolds being strung and dazzling garlands wrapped with silver thread for weddings as their vendors called out to customers competing for their rupees.

Already our thoughts were turning to food again which is not hard find here. Evenings carts materialize on sidewalks and street corners whipping up delightful dosas (pancakes) plopped in a leaf bowl (biodegradable!) hit with a big dollop of coconut chutney and topped with a vadai (chickpea flour doughnut) or you could have Gobichanchoori as a snack, cauliflower in a dough mixture fried and served with a spicy sauce and sliced cabbage, chillies, onion. Great chased by a cold Kingfisher beer.
We walked on to Mysore Palace, home to the current maharaja, who supposedly still lives somewhere in the back of the palace. Hard to dream up something as opulent as this architectural mash up of Buckingham Palace meets King Tut’s interior decorator. Picture this—peacock blue, pink and gold fluted coumns with floral bases and caps rising up three stories to a stained glass ceiling of peacock feather patterns in the octagonal wedding hall surrounded by a scalloped arch colonnade with 36 murals of the maharaja’s birthday parade incuding marching bands, mounted regiments, caprisonned elephants with golden howdahs, white bullocks drawing silver coaches and a few thousand of his closest friends.

Just to show you how India has changed, we climbed the 1000 steps of Chamundi Hill to the Chamundeswari temple passing the 5 meter high Nandi bull statue on the way. A couple of real cows followed us up the steps looking for a hand out. Being pressed for time on the return, we took a new comfortable city bus with A/C down the hill!

The British influence in Mysore is readily evident with its wide neat boulevards and symetrical street layout. They actually have stoplights and drivers for the most part actually obey them! Unlike Madurai which was built with streets for bullock carts, foot traffic, and bicycles, now has to accommodate SUVs, buses hurtling down the streets, motos weaving in and out, autorickshaws dodging, and bicycles careening and bullock carts plodding along, itinerant cows wandering, dogs laying in the road PLUS pedestrians AND there is no sidewalk. Crossing a major busy street is a death defying adventure. What space would be sidewalk is being used by sidewalk vendors selling sugar cane juice or chat snacks or coconuts. Another notable factor is the unrelenting ear splitting use of car horns, bells, claxons, whining two cycle and roaring truck engines. It is non stop 24-7 off the end of decibel charts. Add to that blasting Tamil movie songs emminating from pirated CD shops.

Fifteen minutes from the Mysore, we found tranquil rice patties being plowed by oxen, sugar cane fields and big shady trees on quiet country lanes yesterday on a day trip to Tipu Sultan’s fortress and summer palace at Srirangapatnam. We rode rental bikes to a 9th C Vishnu temple and were enthralled by the beautiful elegant columns and colonnaded court. Chatted with one of the Brahmin priests to find out he has a colleague at the Indian temple in Malibu!

Leaving tomorrow for Coorg and the mountains! Namaste! Louisa

Peace and quiet at Honey Valley Estates

From Mysore we took buses and a jeep up to a small “resort” named Honey Valley Estate, a working coffee plantation (and former collection of bee hives). We arrived on Saturday to a collection of westerners, but more Indians, particularly from nearby (6 hours) Bangalore. Cool nights and eighties during the day. Today Sunday, we took a half day hike up to a nearby ridge to survey the area.

Good vegetarian food and good hosts.

Today a group of about 20 college students arrived from Seattle. They’re traveling for a week before settling in near Pondicherry to study sustainability, community, and spirituality—an interesting combination.

Mannarsala Nagaraja Temple

Haripad, Kerala, India

A change from Sri Lanka. India is dirtier, noisier, and the streets and sidewalks (when they exist) are in much worse shape; but seems more alive. Maybe because Colombo was more modern and therefore less interesting. But unlike previous experiences getting a train reservation and boarding the train was straightforward. Took maybe 10 minutes to book three train reservations. And the station although busy wasn’t hectic. Had to ask to find our car, but a train employee led us to our car. Even had some air conditioning in the station and cooled down to a decent temperature shortly after we got moving (on time).

We got up before 4 a.m. to catch our flight from Colombo to Trivanduram. Bought our train tickets and unsuccessfully tried to get a SIM card (anti-terrorism security!). Hung out in Anita and Bob’s room waiting for our 5 p.m. train and avoided the heat.

Arrived in Haripad to visit the Manarsalla Nagaraja Temple. Arrived at the Mandaram Guest House expecting a cold water dingy hotel, but found a tiled spacious hotel with hot water. But still basic, simple food, bucket showers, and tiny towels. Up in the morning to visit the temple. A bustling place. Walk in through a 2-inch deep moat to clean your feet. Music and ceremonies going on everywhere. One selects from a list of maybe 15 ceremonies and pays at the ticket office, gets a printed receipt and a temple “priest” performs the ceremony. One ceremony involved putting an infant on one side of a large balance scale while the other side is loaded if and equal weight offering—bananas, rice or other items. Music is played and words spoken. Hundreds of people and many ceremonies being performed. Photography and video recording was not generally allowed, so Louisa asked permission and was told the musicians would be available after the noon time closing. We ended up meeting them in a small room one of them occupied in front of the temple. A short iPhone recording attached.

Food is much cheaper here than Sri Lanka. Last nights basic dinner and two liter bottles of water was 100Rs or about $2.20. A thali plate in Trivanduram was about $1 each.

Yesterday was hot and humid, but it rained last night and today was overcast and cooler.

Tuk-Tuk—Story No. 2 from Sri Lanka (Bob Caplan, guest blogger)

We’re happy to republish another fun email by Bon Caplan.

29 January 2011
Hi Family and Friends,

Thanks for all the swell notes and news. Since last writing you, Greg and I climbed the 11,000 round-trip stair steps of Adam’s Peak to see the sunrise. Louisa and Anita bagged about 5,500 of them, deciding that 2500 descending steps should be their limit in order to pursue greater glories in the future. It would be great for Anita and me to sit at water’s edge here, enjoying with all of you a plate of papaya, mango, and fresh curd or perhaps a beer. Together we would watch the pond herons and great white herons take flight against the darkening skyline of mountains and silhouetted trees. What follows is probably some of what we would probably tell you about our day. And no doubt, were you here, you would have accounts of your own.


“Majestic Hotel, two-fifty (250 Rupees).” The driver nods. No argument here. We have offered more than local customers, but hopefully not outrageously so. Two dollars and fifty cents for 15 minutes and 5 kilometers. A pair will do, two tuk-tuks.

Greg and Louisa take the green tuk-tuk, Anita and I the red one. Louisa turns on her wide-screen camcorder, flicks on the sound. Ready for action.

We have just finished a tasty dinner at The Muslim Hotel in Kandy. Hotel means restaurant in much of South Asia. The Muslim Hotel’s three-walled open front edges the sidewalk and reaches back toward the alley. A fourth wall is not needed in this mild and humid mountainous reach. This place speaks of the ages. The cream-colored, sooted walls look as if they were last painted in 1912 or maybe ’15. The floors have an opaque grime covering that hides the source material. All this sets off the marble-top tables, wiped clean after each party and supported with black cast iron uprights of lacy design that may have arrived in the 1920s by English steamer, and might have been poured at British foundries. Or perhaps they have another story.

We enter the restaurant passing glass displays that face the street, displays with sweet and salty fried snacks. On our left is a glass partition behind which stands a man and bank of fist-sized wads of glistening dough. He reaches for one, tosses it as if he is making pizza, spins it on a hot metal surface, adds some spicy vegetables, folds it, and sends it into an over to become tri-cornered roti.

Our guidebook indicates that women are usually seated in back in a “family” section. A waiter points us towards a corner table hidden behind the baker. Louisa points to an up-front table and takes it. “It is better here,” says the waiter, pointing to the original table. Too late. I throw up my hands. “As usual,” I say, “the women control us. What can I do? I am ONLY a man.” I laugh, and he joins me. My comment is, of course, hyperbole, but less so for my culture than for his. So we both, I suppose, laugh for different reasons.

The Muslim Hotel is reputed to serve up superb samosas and naan. We order a variety of dishes including samosas, add in some ginger tea, and finish with a sampling of deserts weighed out and charged by the kg or fraction thereof. Rupees 560 for four, about $1.30 each and superior to $8 a person buffet we had at a tourist trap earlier today. As a popular advertisement for credit cards goes, food excellent, ambience priceless.

Sri Lanka’s tuk-tuks are 3-wheeled putt-putt taxis made in India. If you have never ridden in one, I can assure you, it is exhilarating, even accelerating. The engine is mid-ship assuring that the driver and passengers equally share the soothing massage of the two to four stroke engine. Appointments and controls include a fuel gauge, axe handle length starter lever, padded passenger bench behind the driver (seats two comfortably, three if the third is a child reasonably, and three to four painfully), accelerator and brakes on the handle bars (like a motor scooter), and black tonneau cover to shelter the occupants from sun and rain. Depending on the owner’s taste’s there may be various chrome accents and hand-stencilled sayings such as “Colombo Express” or some paramour’s name. Performance dept.: Torque is impressive. From a dead start, there is a head-jerking instant, off-the-line burst of speed reminiscent of a pumped up golf cart. Acceleration? 0-60 mph in…uh…let’s see…we, actually, these beasts top out at about 20-25 mph. So we’ll just say 0-60 in an infinite number of seconds.

Turning radius: I knew you’d ask. A Bajaj can probably do an about face in the circumference of a 1964 Cadillac Le Baron’s engine compartment. (Those of you who are from the Post-Detroit-Iron Age may wish to imagine an engine compartment large enough for a queen-sized bed, hopefully with its occupants well-warned and standing on the side lines along with the on-looking crowd and press corps.)

Safety equipment: Beeping horn. That’s about it, but hey, do you want a tuk-tuk ride or what?!
Ok. Ready? Here’s the scene. You have filled up on goodies from The Muslim Hotel, set on a price, and climbed in. The two drivers pull back on their axe handles, uh, starters, say something to each other (I’m just guessing, but here’s a wild and likely way-off speculation: “My ride is paying me a fortune, 250 rupees. How about you, Siri?” “250? Ha-ha. I milked mine for 300.” “Ok, ok, but I bet you 10 rupees that I beat you to the Majestic.” “Oh yeh?” “Yeh.” “You’ve got yourself a bet, sucker.”) And—whoa!! We rocket out into the night’s traffic. There goes the torque. I glance at Anita. Reassuringly, I see that she didn’t get ejected. Zoooom! Wow, right between two trucks and a bus. The way these guys are driving they could thread their way between Newtonian and quantum physics without even making Shroeder’s cat wink.

There’s Louisa with her camcorder. “You’ll never get me on your lousy video,” I shout, feeling the competition of the moment. “Think again, buster,” Louisa screams back over the whine of our chariots, “I’ve got image stabilization.” “Image-smimage,” I yell back. “With these roads you’re gonna’ need earthquake stabilization.” Her and Greg’s tuk-tuk takes the lead. Hey Greg, no fair offering the driver an extra 10% if he wins. Zap, zap, zap, zip. A haa! Now OUR driver has the lead, using a tricky manoeuvre (English spell check here, folks) in which he’s straightened a rather ragged line of Buddhist monks heading for home while bringing a screaming ambulance (which Sri Lankans prefer to ignore, especially in heavy traffic like this) to a full stop.

Say, what’s that white thing ahead of me in the dark? In the blinding oncoming light of a few more tuk-tuks, an Indian-made Maruti sedan, two Mitsubishi jeeps, and a Tata truck I discover that the white thing is my hand. My hand? Gads, I’m holding the handrail too tight. I must have squeezed the blood from my hand. I wonder where it goes when you do that?

My body sways right, then recovers. We’ve just curved around a stopped bus (right hand drive, folks; add two points for further disorientation regarding whether you are about to be killed or not). My free hand brushes against my leg. Feels wet. What’s that? I am wearing my headlamp so I can read the currency when we get off at the end of the trip (optimist, Bob? Don’t you mean IF you get off?). I flick on the light. My right pant leg is spattered just below the knee, some kind of red glop, looks like strawberry jam. Let’s see. Of course! It all makes sense. Three hours ago we were finishing a visit to the National Botanical Gardens just outside Kandy. Giant bamboo, a ficus that spread 2500 square meters, splendid palms, orchids. Magnificent. Some bird must have bombed me. A sway to the left. What’s that? We’ve narrowly avoided something enveloped in a cloud of diesel. I look to the left. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth is lit and reflects in the still waters of Kandy’s central lake. The tooth is Sri Lanka’s most precious relic, and no wonder, for it is believed that all of The Buddha’s words passed by that tooth.

We brake hard, then the driver throttles it. I am slammed back into the seat. I look at my pant leg and wonder if the mess will come out. If not, I’ll have to toss the pants. No matter. Sri Lanka is a major clothes manufacturer for many companies abroad. My pants may have been made here. Anyway, I’ll just pull up the pant leg and see if my leg is full of slop. Another jerk to the right, then a return to the left. Look at that! The stuff has dribbled down my leg. It even feels a little crusty. What a mess. I look at my fingers. Red. The stuff smears easily, shines. Hmmm. No notable odor. That’s odd. There is a throttling sound on the tonneau. We turn off the main road, climb steeply up an unlit lane, and disappear into a downpour. In its midst, the following comes to mind and takes this form:

“Say, Anita.”

“Yes, Bob?”

“Question for you.”

“Yes, Bob?”

“Do you think tuk-tuk drivers charge extra for small animals?”

“How small?”

“Oh, really small.”

“How really small, Bob?”

“Oh…I’d say about the size of a leech.”
—- —
Bob Caplan, Ella, Sri Lanka, 29 January 2011.

Kataragama Puja

Kataragama pujaQuite the scene even on an off day. Three times daily pujas. And outside young men dancing widely for hours to a few drums. And apparently without any special fuels such as alcohol. Kataragama is one of the two top pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka, the other being Adam’s Peak. In a big park like setting houses of worship for all religions and sometimes hard to tell if a facility is Buddhist or Hindu.

People are bringing offerings to a Buddhist temple and receiving a tika and other blessings. We’re now in Colombo and we were in Kataragama about a week ago.