Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lobster Fishing Protests in Nova Scotia

Written Saturday May 11, 2013

The wharf in Chéticamp was a buzz of activity this weekend. Fishermen here and around the Maritimes have tied up their boats, refusing to go out to empty their traps when they are being paid less than the ever increasing cost of their bait and fuel. At a record low price of $3.75/lb they will not be able to break even this season. After checking on their boats this morning and chatting about the results of the fishery associations meeting in Antigonish last night, the fishermen congregate around the back of their trucks to discuss the latest news regarding lobster prices. Most recently they’ve heard that Clearwater, the buyer they sell their lobster to, has been charged by Loblaws for being unable to provide enough lobster to the grocery store chain to fulfill their contract. A minor victory, but it provides some hope that the ripples of their protest are having an impact further up the line.

The fishing industry can be highly competitive with distinct fishing territories for each community and fisherman going to all lengths to protect their territory from others. A lobsterman might find his trap lines tangled in a knot, or worse cut from the buoy that allows him to find it again, if he drops his traps too close to the boundary of another fisherman’s territory. In a small fishing village the friendly banter between friends and relatives at the tavern in town can turn to aggressive territoriality if the unspoken rules around fishing etiquette are not upheld on the water. Most days, however, the interactions between fishermen are good-natured and friendly.

The Chéticamp wharf, locally known as “La Digue” has been an important place in this small Acadian fishing community for many years. The wharf here has seen many changes, from a series of small wooden wharves surrounded by the colourful houses of the fishermen who lived there to the industrial, paved wharf complete with a crab processing plant that exists today. Throughout these different physical phases however, the wharf has remained an important place for neighbors and friends to gather each morning during the fishing season to chat about their catches, different ways to regulate their stocks, and the fluctuating price the buyers are offering.

Around 2pm the last crab boat has come in for the day and started unloading its catch into the large transport truck waiting at the side of the wharf. This truck will take the live crab to a processor in New Brunswick. The processor accepts both crab and lobster and determines the buying prices at the wharf. As soon as the boat is unloaded and the fisherman has been handed his payment slip, the others strategically park their trucks in front of the transport truck so that it cannot leave the wharf. They maintained the blockade for about 3 hours Saturday afternoon before allowing the freight truck to leave. It was more of a warning than anything, but meant to illustrate that they mean business.

Many fishermen on the wharf today described the protests as one of the first times fishermen from around the province have been able to gather in the same room and actually agree on something. There seems to be a sense of pride in joining a movement with fishermen across the region. They hope that decision-makers who often have very little idea about the day-to-day challenges these small-scale fishermen face will hear their combined voices. The length and impact of the protests remains to be seen, but for the moment the lobster fishermen in Chéticamp assured me that they are willing to do anything it takes to maintain their livelihoods, support their families, and remain in the place they call home.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sarena and Shandel's Epic Vélo Adventure

Day 1
Woke up to rain this morning- went back to sleep. On the road around 1:30pm, later than expected. Break problems just outside of Magog. Nice guy named Robert from Lac St. Jean fixed my breaks on the spot even though they were nearly closing. Cost $25, a sacrifice I was willing to make in order to not have my breaks stuck to my wheel for the remainder of this trip.

I made the first bad call on directions. Sarena made the second. Lost in Magog, twice, first day of the trip. Realizing it's important to not just blindly follow each other no matter how confidently we say we know where we're going. Probably a good life lesson too come to think of it. The problem with taking a wrong turn on a bike is that it can put you hours off course. Stopped for the night just outside Georgeville. The road between Magog and here was stunning. Deer bounding through the fields at dusk, mist weaving its way through the trees, wide shoulders, rolling hills, old manor houses with stone fences and old guard quarters long abandoned.

We camped out in a field on the property of a lovely gentleman who runs a small restaurant out of his house. I was willing to just find a corner of the field far from the house and hide the tent, but Sarena suggested we'd feel better if we just knocked on the door and asked the guy. And sure enough, had we followed my instinct we would have missed the opportunity to meet the kind man who owned the land. He was cooking alone in the kitchen and had just two guests at the restaurant that night. It was obvious that he was the chef, server and host. And his hospitable nature become immediately obvious less than a minute after knocking on his back door as he was inviting us to sleep in the extra room in his house and telling us to come back later for leftovers. After filling our water bottles and insisting that it was the first night of our trip and we'd really prefer to sleep outside and eat the food we'd brought with us, he smiled a warm smile and his kind eyes bid us 'bonne nuit'.

We retreated to our tent for cold sandwiches and cheese curds, wondering what was the appropriate way to accept or decline such immense generosity should the opportunity present itself later in the trip, which it would.

Snuggled down in my sleeping bag now, hoping the rain lets up a bit tomorrow, although the clear construction glasses we bought at the hardware store in Sherbrooke are working wonders for keeping the mud out of my eyes. However, the border will be crossed tomorrow come rain or shine.

Day 2
Woke up to intermittent rain this morning- went back to sleep. By the time I emerged from the tent the rain had stopped and the sun was poking its hopeful head through the clouds. Made quinoa porridge for breaky, packed up and headed out around 10am, later than expected. Faced an unfortunate series of hills right off the bat- decided there was no shame in walking. I'm beginning to love the little details of the road that get missed when driving; conditions of the pavement, plants in bloom, discarded toys in the ditch, dogs barking, cows baying, the concentration of birds in different areas. But I particularly notice the smells; fresh cut grass, trees in bloom, dusty roads, cow pastures and fresh growth- spring so to speak.

Spent the majority of the day entertaining myself by mooing at the cows and neighing at the horses, they always look up or come running- gets me every time. Sarena convinced me to take a detour following a sign for "poisson fumé." Turns out the little salmon smoking business was run by an anglo couple. She also works as a nurse in Sherbrooke. It seemed impossible that after riding for a day and a half Sherbrooke was still close enough for a daily commute. Learned that this lady, Arlene was her name, has a brother who lives in Acme Alberta, just an hour away from Huxley, the tiny hamlet of a town I grew up in. Considering the amount of family I have in the area, I'm sure her brother knows an uncle or second cousin twice removed, making the two of us, standing there on this little farm in rural Québec, distanced by no more than 4 or 5 degrees of separation.

Song stuck in my head today: 'Butterfly' by Mason Jennings, must look up all the lyrics to this as I can only seem to remember the first two sentences of the chorus. Tried to sing other songs but there are too many butterflies flitting about my face to stay distracted for very long.

Crossed the border on bike today- felt like a million bucks. Stopped in at the post office to get a road map for Vermont.

Came to the small town of Derby and stopped for an ice cream. Turns out dairy makes you fart and spit, the former being very difficult while seated on a bike. That's the last ice cream for this trip.

Realizing we didn't have any plans further than crossing the border, we stopped in at the Village Bike Shop in Derby to ask for advice and directions. Finding the bike shop was more difficult than might be expected in a town with only 3 intersections. Apparently Derby-ites are not big into biking as we had to ask 3 people before getting confident directions to the shop.

On the advice of the guy at the bike shop we took highway 105 to Island Pond. 20 miles (32.2km) went by like a breeze. We were warned however, about McGabe Hill a 3 mile long slow ascent. There's something about the anticipation of such a hill that makes you hold your breath around each corner. But the hill we expected never came. There were hills no doubt, but all were modest in comparison to those we faced this morning. Felt pretty fucking invincible to have not even noticed the hill that everyone warned us about.

It was a little windy today but overall very agreeable. I'm amazed at how far our legs have taken us. I can honestly say there was no point today where I wished I wasn't on a bike- I'm loving this. There's something so grounding about having nothing to do but peddle all day. When warning us about the elusive McGabe Hill, the guy at the bike shop in Derby said "it's not too bad though, you just put it in a low gear and keep peddling." Indeed. It's all you can do and no amount of worrying will change that.

Arrived in Island Pond, found a campsite nestled in the woods beside the lake. Decided against asking for permission this time as it was not obvious who, if anyone, would have owned these woods. Bought two beers at the liquor store, was ID'd for the first time in years, and sat by the lake to enjoy the reward of our efforts. Discovered we could make a swarm of mosquitos dance by blowing on the top of our empty beer bottles. Must research this phenomena. Went out for a nice supper at the Pond Side pub, returned to our makeshift campsite to watch the stars in the clear night sky and are now lying down to the sound of a slow moving train chugging along in the distance.

Day 3
Woke up at 4:45am to a choir of a million different song birds this morning. Wide awake, yet certain Serena would not be impressed by my sudden early bird tendencies, I went for a walk into the sleepy town of Island Pond. Ted's market was just opening, so I went in to use the bathroom and eavesdrop on the local men shooting the shit while waiting around for the coffee to be ready. The plaid, leathery australian cowboy hats and north east American drawl made me smile.

Around an hour later, after convincing Sarena to get up and packing up the tent, we found ourselves back at Ted's drinking hot tea with a map of Vermont spread out over the picnic table discussing our options for which route to take today. An off duty cop buying two extra large coffees and a predictable box of donuts advised us to take the 114 back, "less hilly, awful nice road, take ya right back to Canada." Not sure we wanted to go as far east as the 114 would have taken us, we thanked him and continued to weigh our options. Next on the scene was Gervais, an unexpectedly Québecois man who grew up in La Patrie, the tiny town where I lived last summer. Gervais, as with the guy from the bike shop yesterday, suggested we take the Holland Loop road. So saying "merci" and considering that we were now 2 for 1 in favour of the Holland Loop we got on the road.

Found McGabe Hill. Turns out we weren't as invincible as we'd previously thought. However, still conquered it feeling pretty good about ourselves.

Waved to a group of 4 men in their 50's riding in the opposite direction, decked out in matching red spandex. Continued to trudge along at half their pace. Passed through the agricultural region of northern Vermont. Looks like it's fertilizer season as the sickening stench of manure spread over a large surface area proliferated the air. Impossible to breath in enough oxygen going up hills. Began to better understand the environmental arguments for not eating industrially raised beef.

Reached the intersection for Ayer's Cliff, our intended destination for tonight, at 11:30am. Feeling on top of our game we chose to turn right instead of left and go 20 km further to Coaticook. Day 3 seems to be the magic day. I felt incredibly strong, as if I could have kept on riding right over to the maritimes and across to Cape Breton Island, where I'll soon be moving for the summer.

Shortly after arriving in Coaticook, we heard a friendly "hey" and looked over to see our red spandex friends from earlier that morning sitting in the shade, eating ice cream (amateur move!) and waving us over. As we got to talking to this group of men from small town Vermont, we discovered we had a surprising amount in common with them. One of the guy's sons had done the outdoor leadership course at Capillano University in Seachelt BC, just across the sound from Squamish where I lived and went to school for the past 4 years. Another guy had spent some time in Alaska, so he and Sarena had lots to talk about. Another of them had spent the summer of '78 in Edson Alberta, after getting stuck on a bike trip, falling in love and ending up at the 'Welcome Farm', although I'm not sure about the chronological order of those events. I've never been to Edson, but I can only imagine it was similar to my WWOOFing experience in La  Patrie. They were doing a 'day ride' today, just 160km, more than half our total trip in one day, no big deal.

Now, you must understand that Coaticook is known for two things: ice cream and the Gorge. After descending an extremely steep hill we arrived at the info centre only to discover that it would cost $8 each to see the acclaimed river gorge. So rolling our eyes and shrugging our shoulders we proceded up the hill again anticipating the delicious ice cream that surely awaited us at the top (we'd already forgotten the unfortunate effects of the ice cream from the day before). We arrived at the top, panting for air, only to discover that the famous ice cream factory we'd heard so much about was, as with the Gorge, at the bottom of the hill. Unwilling to climb the hill a second time, we reluctantly settled for a popsicle from the dépanneur and continued to ride around in search of a sneaky spot to pitch our tent.

Not 10 minutes later we heard a distant "allo!" from a guy on his bike on the other side of the road. Sebastian, we learned, was an unemployed aspiring musician with a soft spot for weary travellers like us. We asked him if he knew of any places we could hide our tent and he said he had lots of friends with land he could call. He invited us for dinner, which we couldn't refuse as our only other option was some left over trail mix and two day old cheese curds. We cooked a delicious curry together, talked about his life in Coaticook, Quebec and learning new languages. He called some friends who said we were more than welcome to camp out in their backyard. Feeling full of hope, fresh vegetables and steamed fiddle heads we got on our bikes again only to discover a tack had punctured a hole in Sarena's tire. Oh misfortune! Over the past 3 days, of all the things that could put a hole in a tire, a tiny tack, lying wrong side up on the ground is what did it. After a couple hours of frustration and  malfunctioning gas station air pumps, Sarena macgyvered her tire with a patch kit and got it back to fully functioning condition like a super hero.

When we arrived at the little yellow house on Ste. Anne street, we were warmly greeted by Francois and his wife Claudia who insisted that we sleep in their basement instead of outside. Exhausted and incapable of refusing their generous offer, we agreed. So curled up on a futon mattress on the floor, with the warmth of the wood burning stove on our faces and the generosity of strangers in our hearts, we fell asleep.

Day 4
Awoke to light rain, but undaunted knowing that Sherbrooke lay just 30km away. We were on the road by 9am with shouts of "merci" to our new friends and assurance from them that their basement door is always unlocked if we ever need a place to stay in Coaticook. And we rode. We finished off strong and in good spirits. Our last stop was at our favorite café, La Brûlerie de Café de Sherbrooke for a hot coffee and some time to reflect on our adventures from the past 4 days. We'd ridden 232 kms in 4 days and although ready for a hot shower, we were already scheming about future trips along the West Coast, across Canada, maybe the Cabot Trail this summer. With a better idea of our physical capabilities and an entirely new section of MEC opened up to us, the possibilities seem endless.

See our map

Friday, April 20, 2012


"Feeling lurks in that interval of time between desire and its consummation." ~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Is there a point where indulgence detracts from the experience of consumption? I used to think value came from the will power to practice restraint. Later in life I realized that I was taking this idea too far, that the value of the human condition comes from experiences. What we do seems to hold more value than what we refrain from doing. 

I just finished reading Brave New World, Huxley creates a society based on indulgence and it is a boring, predictable place where everyone gets what they want when they want it. They indulge in beauty, in youthfulness, in travel and sex with whomever and whenever they want. The Savage in the story introduces the concept of work and wait and earning a reward. He says that if the New World had a god they'd have a reason for self-denial, seemingly implying that this is where the human life gains the feeling that lurks between desire and its consummation.

In some ways I suppose this is true, yearning is what makes consummation so delicious. But is a concept of God really necessary for self-denial? Perhaps...I mean if it weren't for fear of judgement why else would anyone withhold from themselves all their corporal desires?

In many ways I think the world of Aldous Huxley has arrived. Without regard for an all-knowing being who has our best interest in mind, and who ensures just punishment for those who stray from the straight and narrow, we do indulge; indulge in consuming material goods without the toil of work, in consuming technology that makes our lives easier, consuming sex without restraint, alcohol as often as we like, sweet foods at the instant we crave them...nothing is forbidden.

Is it our personal responsibility to practice restraint; as an act of respect to ourselves? Simply in order to ensure the consummation is that much sweeter? Is that a good enough reason? Perhaps constant satisfaction, although weaker on impact, is greater in total than a few intense experiences. But then how do we avoid entering into the bleak, predictable, emotionless culture of the Brave New World? Are some forms of restraint more valuable than others? For example the wasteful consumption of material goods versus the satisfying consumption of sexual desire? Is restraint necessary in order to experience that feeling of intense fulfillment? And is it possible that the 'feeling' produced in the space between desire and consummation is partially responsible for the human tendency to submit to an idea of 'god' in the first place?

I don't know the answers to these questions. However at this point in my life I tend to lean toward indulgence and experience. Perhaps its my youth or the security I feel about not going to hell for my transgressions, but I don't think feeling and indulgence are mutually exclusive. The Brave New World is still a world of blind obedience to a higher power. And although I'm not sure that we can ever think solely for ourselves, as there will always be societal influences, maybe the key to uniting indulgence and feeling lies somewhere in consciousness and self-awareness of our choices. 

Thoughts on this topic are welcomed and greatly appreciated.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

To Dreamers

“…people are capable, at any time in their lives,  of doing what they dream of.”
~Paulo Coelho

I constantly find myself surrounded by people who take this philosophy to heart. If misery loves company perhaps adventurous, open-minded, life-loving people love company too.  I find myself constantly astounded by the incredible individuals in my life.

My friends are travelers. They inspire me to explore. Between all of us I’m sure we’ve covered most of the world. Solo backpackers searching for a slower pace of life, curious filmmakers and idealists following the call of the Alaskan wild.  They move to Spain and Iceland just because they can, to France to study a new language or to Korea to teach English.  Or they come to Canada after falling in love with it in a Canadian Studies class in Alaska.  Some have arrived here from Bangladesh, Korea or Vietnam oblivious of cultural differences and with just a basic understanding of English only to beat the odds and become successful, bilingual immigrants and students.  They are volunteers who nurse the sick in Ghana or deliver school supplies to Kenya. They show up in Haiti after the earthquake with no plans other than to help where needed. They book month long trips to Mozambique for vacation. They drive across Canada every few months. They take boats, overcrowded trains, sketchy taxis and they hitchhike.

They are unstoppable.

My friends change stereotypes.  They constantly revise my definition of normal. They live on the fringes; alternative lifestyles, currencies and ideas. They pursue unlikely career paths and apply to unknown, non-existent universities.  They are opinionated yet open-minded. They are comfortable with their sexual orientation and support their friends who have chosen alternative routes.  They are conspiracy theorists and protesters, well read and restless.

They are convincing.

My friends are lovers.  They stoke the passion in my soul.  They turn unlikely love affairs into beautiful relationships. They pour their beings into making long distance relationships work. They book plane tickets on a whim. They reignite old flames. They give all of themselves to their friendships, through late night tears, desperate phone calls and consoling support.  They are full of emotion and desire.  They are sacrificial, yet unwilling to compromise themselves and their own needs.  They are lovers of art. They start music careers instead of focusing on school, they take unpaid time off simply to write and compose. They take degrees in poetry. They are constantly contributing beauty to the world.

They are irresistible.

So here’s to one-way tickets, learning new languages, unexpected encounters with strangers, revolutions, good books, unrequited love, uncertainty and trusting that feeling in the pit of your stomach.

To those who constantly choose the road less traveled by, you inspire the adventure in my soul.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My love/hate relationship with French

Life begins to take on an unpredictable series of ups and downs when you're learning a new language. It's like being a passenger on an eternal roller-coaster, blindfolded, because you never quite get the knack of predicting when the next ecstatic mount or earth shattering decline will occur.  It makes you behave in ways you normally wouldn't, you become irrational and unable to explain your own emotions. It's worse than PMS.

The downs tend to last longer than the ups. Hours, days, weeks. This feeling starts growing in the pit of your stomach, triggered by a poor grade, an awkward conversation, a misunderstanding or your inability to remember a simple word you've just learned. It eats at you. You start to feel as if nothing in your life is going right, as if you'll never be able to figure out this language. You become jealous of people who are fluent, and develop an intense annoyance toward anyone who is bilingual, convinced that you will never achieve the same level of fluidity in this language. In usually involves an emotional breakdown, in a bathroom stall, on a crowded street or in a group of people you know who get that detestable, pitying look on their faces. You're tempted to become a hermit, leaving your room only when absolutely necessary (after all, you're never going to learn this language so why bother leaving your room?). The internet becomes your portal to the outside world of English, which inevitably equals happiness.

Until, by some sudden change in the winds, an experience comes along that puts you on top of the world again. It could be as simple as fully understanding a conversation, using a new word correctly or telling your first joke in a new language. It happens when you discover that a new door has been opened, a communication barrier is broken down and you find yourself adding yet another pearl to your small but growing collection of ways to express yourself in another language.

My latest high came from a picnic and a bonfire. There are certain things that don't need translating and sitting on the grass enjoying a picnic after a swim in the lake is one of those.  The whole afternoon was a mix of French, English and Portuguese. And as I listened to this melange, understanding some but not all of the conversation, I began to realize the beauty of learning a new language. Regardless of where I was at in French, I was now able to understand a bigger piece of world around me.

That evening we had a bonfire at my house with all of my roommates. After a couple glasses of wine I discovered that I was understanding more of the conversations around me than I ever had before.  I was able to speak in a way that conveyed more of my personality.  And that was all it took, along with some gentle corrections (nouvelle, not nouveau) and a word of encouragement (ton français est vraiment bon) and I was back on top of the world. I was able to make people laugh and simply enjoy the company of new friends, and when it comes down to it, that is the essence of what makes me happy in English too, so maybe this whole experience doesn't have to be so foreign after all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beautiful People

The Dayak people are one of the last people groups in the world that globalization has reached. It has only been in the past 10-15 years that their traditional hunter-gatherer, subsistance lifestyles have been replaced by reliance on money and buying their food.

We spent an afternoon with one of the Dayak villages up the Mahakam river. The journey there took nearly 24 hours by house boat, with the last 4 hours of the journey continueing in motorized dug out canoes. Along the way we came across many riverside communities. In fact, they weren’t even river ‘side’, these communities were actually built on stilts in the middle of the river! Along the way we saw proboscis monkeys, a poisonous snake, a monotor lizard and many brightly coloured birds and butterflies. If you ever get an opportunity to spend the afternoon going up a river in the rainforest in a dugout canoe, do it, whether you have an interesting destination or not, the trip will be well worth it.

Arriving at the Dayak village brought forth a mix of emotions. Women and children in brightly coloured clothing were scurrying along the boardwalk to gather at the place where our welcome ceremony would take place. It is true that this community relies heavily on ecotourism to survive and this source of income allows many of the men to avoid having to work for logging or coal mining companies. But who were we to come into this beautiful, isolated little village and demand that they entertain us with their dances? Was our very presence cheapening their sacred traditions? They involved us in the ceremony and as we danced with them we ever so slightly gained a glimpse of what it means to be Dayak.

However even the term ‘Dayak’ has no distinct meaning anymore. The clash of traditional and modern was obvious from the dancers we saw in front of us dressed in traditional clothing and the other villagers watching their friends perform as they were dressed in ‘Nike’, ‘Slipknot’ and ‘Oakley’ t-shirts.

After the ceremony we talked with the chief and Victor, the one man in the village who speaks English. When I asked him how he learned to speak English he told me “the radio”. Imagine the dedication it would take to learn a language strictly by listening to someone on the radio! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have that dedication because I speak the universal language. There are no other languages I absolutely need to know. Sure learning other languages is fun when I’m travelling and is respectful to the cultures and people I visit, but I will always be able to find someone who speaks English, and I will never fully understand what drove Victor to learn English from a radio program.

As our dugout canoes sped along through the river and the setting sun filled the sky with striking oranges, pinks and purples, I sat and wondered about the existance of this remote group of people and how different the lives of the children in the village are compared to when their parents were young.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The following two blogs are ones that I submitted as assignments on the expedition website. But I thought that seeing as many of you are probably not following the expedition website, you might like to read them on here.