Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bosphorus Cruise

View of Galata Tower and vicinity from the ferry

After a hectic week of work we found ourselves in Istanbul with a day to do some sightseeing. The guide books unanimously agreed that taking the 6 hour ferry tour up the Bosphorus strait to the Black Sea was an essential experience. It was cheap and best of all didn't involve too much exertion, so seemed like the way to go.

I fell asleep for much of the trip (exhaustion combined with stomach bug) but periodically awoke to witness lovely sights.

The experience really captured my imagination. The ferry crisscrosses the Bosphorus as it moves northwards towards the Black Sea, making stops to pick up passagers in the various towns and suburbs of Istanbul. The idea of jumping between two continents, 5 times in the same day and then having a brief glimpse of the Black Sea fascinated me.

Paula overlooking the Bosphorus at the Andalou fortress

We landed at the final stop of Anadolu and chose to wander around for the few hours before the last ferry back to Istanbul. We found a local cab driver who offered to take us on a tour of the local scenic lookouts. First stop was the old fortress that overlooks the town, originally built by the Byzantines and many centuries later occupied by Venetian merchants who traded with the Ottomans. The cabbie took off without asking for payment, telling us that he would be back after his lunch. There wasn't much left of the fortress, but there were some very nice views!

You blow me away!

The cabbie eventually re-appeared and invited us to get back in his cab in that polite yet firm tone that we inevitably experienced with the locals. We didn't have much choice anyway, so we went along with the flow as he sped at breakneck speeds over the primitive road towards the 'nearby' village that was the gateway to the Black Sea. He assured us of fantastic views to come. The meter was still running from the moment we got in his cab right through his lunch break and now as we sped towards the promised lighthouse vantage point. When we eventually arrived, the place was closed, and so he shrugged his shoulders and tried to appear as if this was something he hadn't expected. We did, however, get a nice view over the opening of the Bosphorous into the Black Sea which was worth the detour. The meter was still running..

My first glimpse of the Black Sea

The Black Sea wasn't really any blacker than other seas, but there was definitely something special about it. There is something fascinating about the variety of countries and peoples that surround it: Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia all directly touch it. Definitely worth spending some time studying the geography!

We still had an hour or so to kill before the return ferry, so we had Turkish coffee and delicious local ice cream. The cafe afforded a nice view of the Bosphorous:

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Algonquin Adventure

Algonquin Park is a great place to head for a tranquil voyage into unadulterated wilderness.

My brother Hassan and I spent a long time scouring the park map to find a suitable route. The original route we chose was more than double the length of this one, but we had to completely re-route after the second day because the water levels on the Nipissing were so low. It took us a whole day to travel a distance that should have taken a few hours.

But that didn't matter. We drove in on Friday (July 7th) full of enthusiasm with Hassan's new canoe strapped to the top of his Wrangler, well exceeding the speed limit on the gravel logging road.

Once we set off, things quickly slowed down. But that was exactly what we were after: 5 days of quiet escape from the city. And a chance to take some nice photos.

I brought the reliable Rollei with me and snapped away amidst the hard work of travelling through the rivers and portages of our trip. Not the lightest of cameras, and vulnerable to the weather, it was a risk bringing it along, but well paid off.

Algonquin II: Adjusting

Once inside the park, everything goes silent and your mind adjusts to its new surroundings: there are no cars or people or any evidence of man except for the occasional campsite or portage sign.

It takes a while for the brain to adjust. But after a few hours, the normal pattern of random thoughts and idle chatter dissappears into a calm tranquility. Making noise seems almost unnatural as the blades of the canoe paddles slip into the water.

The Rollei, equipped with Ilford Delta 100 film, seems to be at home in this environment where modern cameras would run out of batteries or memory disk space.

I keep it in the canoe behind me in a padded bag, ready for action at a moments notice.

Although quite flat, the park area is favoured by nature with a chain of endless small lakes and rivers that are interconnected by portage routes. The ancient Algonquin Indians spent their summers in the area fishing and collecting seasonal fruits and berries.

Pine trees line the shores and lie above a thin layer of soil that separates them from the solid rock beneath.

Boulders are strewn everywhere, and we have to pay constant attention to avoid the many boulders that lie just beneath the surface.

Water lillies with beautiful flowers lie like jewels on the surface of the black water.

An ancient, twisted tree trunk lies in the shallows near on of our portages.

Algonquin III: Tranquility

Rosebary Lake was a welcome destination after several days of hard work. After a long portage we arrived at the lake just before sunset on the 9th.

That night it rained and we woke up to find the a moody view with clouds looking over the lake. We also found that most of our posessions were wet, including our sleeping bags, even though we had taken every precaution to keep them dry.

I took these shots as we headed for the Tim river, at the begninning of what we thought would be a several day trek, based on our experience of the Nipissing on the way down.

A solitary loon accompanied us in the lake, and we were sad to leave this peaceful place.

Algonquin IV: Practicalities

True to the old adage, 'Getting there is half the fun,' canoe tripping is all about tracing travel to its most basic origins. For a few days, Hassan and I returned to a simple nomadic existence, depending on the canoe and the food and equipment in our pack for everything.

The canoe is great for moving through water, but roles are suddenly reversed when we arrive at a portage (literally, 'carrying'). These are footpaths that link the different rivers and lakes, or simply provide a way around an obstacle like a dam or rapids. Some are a few dozen meters, others a few kilometers. All involve lugging the canoe and two heavy packs through the bush on foot.

Rivers sound easy enough to travel through, but in fact the Nipissing was a treacherous winding strip of water sometimes only a meter or two wide. We spent most of the time dragging the canoe through the water over countless beaver dams and shallow mud. We discovered halfway through the day that the water was teeming with leeches, and Hassan had to burn one off his leg.

We reached a campsite just before nightfall and were too exhausted to do more than cook dinner, pitch the tent and sleep.

In the morning we had the time-honoured breakfast of instant oatmeal, babybel cheese and trail mix. But somehow there is nothing more pleasing than enjoying this fare beside an open campfire in the middle of nowhere!

Algonquin V: In Colour

Yes, B&W is best, but I did bring some Kodak Porta along with me, which never hurts. . .

Its always amazing for me to think that my Rollei was built in 1939, long before the invention of production colour film, yet the Carl Zeiss lens was future proof!

So here is what the park looks like in RGB!

Like the name suggests this film is great for portraits and I put it to good use on Hassan. It was hot, but we needed to wear long-sleeves to keep of the nasty horseflies that bit off chunks of our flesh.

Sipping instant coffee before the hard work begins!

Algonquin VI: Wildlife

Throughout our voyage we constantly encountered the natural inhabitants of the park; at each twist of the river or stretch of lake we were welcomed by the local wildlife. The least welcoming were the countless beavers who dammed our route but who were generally invisible, except for the occasional glimpse caught as they swam away from the canoe.

Hassan's pocket digital came in handy for these shots. The Rollei's wide angle is not best suited for wildlife close-ups.

The rivers were the abode of the crane, that elegan long-beaked bird that seemed to guide us through the reeds, flying ahead of us as we made our way through the twisting path.

All kinds of butterflies and other insects perched on our canoe, curious at the unusual fiberglass craft making its way through their land.

But the most impressive encournters we had were with several moose. These massive animals awed us with their sheer size and strength. On one occasion, we turned a bend in the windy Nipissing river and came face to face with a grazing moose. He seemed to pay little attention to us as he filtered the river bed seeking the vegetation that moose spend most of their waking hours eating. Only after it had wallowed in the cool waters for some time did he decide to retreat into the shady pine boughs and let us pass.

Algonquin: Behind the Scenes

Normally I disdain digital, but on this trip, my brother's pocket digital camera came in handy -- especially since its 'weatherproof'. I thought these had some documentary value so I throw them in:

Beaver dams were a real problem for us and we had to carry the canoes over them constantly.

We had to watch out for leeches that stuck to the canoe and kept crawling towards us. Even direct hits with the paddle didn't seem to bother them.

We also had to deal with rapids. To protect the canoe we had to lower ourselves into the waters and hold the bow so as not to lose control. If we let go the canoe would have been taken downstream and wrecked.

The end of the rapids provided a nice place to meditate!

Teamwork was the key to our success!