Where have I been?

If you don’t know where I am, where have you been?

James and I accepted an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps and are now working in secondary schools in Mongolia.

We considered keeping paquitawashere as our main blog, but ultimately we decided to create a joint blog for Mongolia:

ProseandKhans.net

Go check it out.

If you can’t be bothered to do that, here is the low down: We have been in Mongolia since June 1st and moved to our permanent site in August. We said we would go anywhere in the world we were needed, but I definitely didn’t expect Mongolia; somewhere in the back of my mind I was half-way hoping for a tropical paradise. Now that I am here though, I can honestly say that I love it. Mongolia is such a special country and it is such a special time in its history. Having only been open to the outside world for about thirty years, Mongolians nonetheless have an incredibly rich and vibrant culture that is undergoing a lot of changes. I feel very lucky to get to live here.

Our Town.

Our Town.

Hanging with my host-sister.

Hanging with my host-sister in our traditional deels.

Being sworn-in  as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Being sworn-in as a Peace Corps volunteer, post training.

Mongolia is beautiful.

Mongolia, looking beautiful as usual.

Advertisements

France Trip Part 3: Storming the Beaches

Although we were in France an objectively long time, that time passed in the blink of an eye, unsurprisingly since we were having so much fun. We had to make decisions about how we wanted to spend that time, while still being respectful of my relatives’ schedules.

Much of the second half of our trip was spent on the West coast beaches of France, attracted by the spectacular seafood and surprisingly savory salt. If you think I’m joking, I’m not. James was skeptical and said: “I don’t get it, salt is salt”. I made biscuits with the Fleur de Sel (flower of salt) and James’ response was “I get it now. Can I have another?” and promptly bought bags for family back in the US.

Fleur de Sel is different from other kinds of salt mostly for the way it is collected in the salt fields of Guérande: by hand and with the help of the extreme tides. It imparts a rougher texture to the salt and leaves it’s mineral complexity untouched, which makes it more savory than outright salty.

Acting like an old salt.

Acting like an old salt.

It just so happens that one of my aunts owns a beach house near Guérande, which is a medieval, fortified city surrounded by salt marshes where “salt-farmers” continue to use traditional methods to collect sea salt. So of course we had to visit the area.

I do enjoy castles, now that you mention it.

I do enjoy castles, now that you mention it.

James make a friend.

James makes a friend.

The weather was cold and the sky seemed to be spitting on us, but since the beach was rocky, the stormy weather seemed appropriate.

An obelisk! Also known as a pre-lighthouse.

An obelisk! Also known as a pre-lighthouse.

We only had a couple of days around Guérande because another aunt and uncle had heard about our plans to rent a car to visit Normandy and decided that they wanted to come to. Oh, and by the way, we had to leave tomorrow for the timeline to work.

So we left Guérande in a hurry and headed to the beaches of Normandy in the backseat of my aunt and uncle’s car.

I’m not sure what I expected to feel when we got to the beaches of Normandy, but I certainly didn’t expect all the feelings.

If you don’t know about the beaches of Normandy, read a f-ing book. But seriously, the beaches of Normandy, tactically known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, were the landing place of the Allied forces during the Second World War during Operation Neptune, and it was a big deal.

I considered pulling a James and writing an elaborate essay on the various stories and importance of said stories because there are some touching, funny, and inspiring stories from that day, but ultimately, I am just not disciplined enough to bang out a complete history and certainly not informed enough to call it complete. I’ll stick with my experiences.

We spent two days driving up the various beaches and visiting museums. There was so much debris laying about in the aftermath, that just about every tiny town had it’s own jam-packed museum, so picking the right one to visit was difficult. We ended up sticking to the beaches and monuments themselves with the exception of the museum in Arromanches, where “Port Winston” was built. Because the Nazis were super uncool about loaning out a port to the Allied forces to land and unload materials, the Allies went ahead and pulled out an engineering feat by building a port in pieces in England and then towing it to Normandy. It was from here that all forces and all the material needed to support them were unloaded, truck-full by truck-full.

A remaining piece of the port.

A remaining piece of the port.

Before we got to the museum though, our first stop was Sainte-Mére-Eglise, a town best known for the paratrooper who got caught on the church roof on his way down, feigned death, and miraculously survived a whole night of German troops shooting at him from the ground.

They keep a figuring of him on the church, which I thought was a nice touch.

They keep a figurine of him on the church, which I thought was a nice touch.

Continuing our drive along the beaches, we simply stopped at places that seemed interesting, and there are plenty of places to stop. It could easily have devolved into a week-long trip, so we had to prioritize.

Atop an M8 Greyhound Armored Car (thanks for the info Roland!)

Atop an M8 Greyhound Armored Car (thanks for the info Roland!)

James setting a terrible example.

James setting a terrible example.

James, upon learning that I was not going to add any in-depth stories, took the computer from me and wrote the following:

Among the highlights were the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, where 225 US Army Rangers scaled the 100-ft cliffs with ropes and grappling hooks while under machine-gun fire. Their objective was to destroy six 155mm guns, to prevent said guns from being turned on neighboring Utah and Omaha beaches. After losing almost half their number scaling the cliffs, they found the guns weren’t even installed there. They later located and destroyed the guns, and held the position for two more days before they were relieved. By that point 135 men had been killed or wounded, with the survivors using scavenged German weapons after they ran out of ammunition.

Rock climbing is much more difficult when people are shooting at you.

Rock climbing is much more difficult when people are shooting at you.

The bravery, heroism, and sacrifice of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc has been memorialized with an enormous phallus.

The bravery, heroism, and sacrifice of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc has been memorialized with an enormous phallus.

Another highlight was a bridge over the Caen Canal known as the “Pegasus Bridge”. It wasn’t as visually striking as some of the other sites (spoiler alert: it looks like a bridge), but the story behind it is both compelling and wackily British. The very first Allied troops to land in France on D-Day were British glider troops, who landed at a quarter past midnight. Their job was to secure two bridges east of the landing beaches, so that the invading forces would be able to ‘break out’ from the beachhead. The first glider landed so close to one of the bridges that they nearly crashed into it. Taking the German forces completely by surprise, they captured both bridges after a brief firefight and with minimal casualties. It was all over by half-past midnight.

After informing their commanders of this with the distinctly British codewords “Ham and Jam”, they dug in and held the bridges against repeated German counterattacks throughout the morning. The plan was for commandos from Sword Beach to relieve them at noon, and their orders were to hold until relieved, which they did. Finally, at 1:30pm, they got their first indication that their relief was imminent: the tune ‘Blue Bonnets Over the Border’. ON BAGPIPES. It seems that the Scottish Lord Lovat, in command of the British commando brigade, had ordered his personal piper, Bill Millin, to play his bagpipes while they were assaulting Sword Beach. Under fire. While wearing a kilt.

Pegasus Bridge (or 'Ham', as it likes to be called).

Pegasus Bridge (or ‘Ham’, as it likes to be called).

Actually, THIS is Pegasus Bridge. They put the original in a museum when the bridge was replaced.

Actually, THIS is Pegasus Bridge. They put the original in a museum when the bridge was replaced.

Thank you for that aside, James.

The most memorable location was the American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach. It was on Omaha Beach that 2,000 men were killed in a matter of hours trying to advance just a couple hundred yards. I knew those numbers before, but there was something very striking about being among headstones as far as the eye could see and knowing that about a quarter of those people had died in a matter of hours just down the cliff. Most of those people had probably never traveled out of their home state before but crossed an ocean and gave their lives to stop fascism. It was extremely humbling.

An anonymous grave.

An anonymous grave.

Omaha Beach itself is an otherwise pleasant beach that featured a modern art monument.

Reminiscent of crashing waves?

Reminiscent of crashing waves?

If you are spending any time in France, I would highly recommend visiting the beaches of Normandy, whether out of historical interest or patriotic duty. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I had never done it before. As I mentioned above, although we only had a couple of days to do it, I could easily have spent a week drifting in and out of museum and contemplating the meaning of sacrifice. My life is one of freedom and privilege, that would almost certainly not be so had Hitler not been stopped. The jury is still out on whether I would even have been born. A free democracy is a fragile state that we should be cherishing, not taking for granted, as we (Americans and Europeans, in particular) tend to do.

On a related note, please stop voting for Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

France Trip Part II: Gay Paris!

Oh Paris, Paris mon amour. It seems trite to say I love Paris, but hell, I love Paris.

Je vous kiffe, indeed.

Je vous kiffe, indeed.

After our stopover in Iceland, we landed in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where we planned to spend a week with my enormously generous, hilarious, and impossibly fashionable cousin Violette.

We had a lot of girly-talk to catch up on.

Reunited and it feels so good!.

I had been to Paris before (and wrote about it too) but James never had. Before leaving, he had put together a packed list of things we must do and see. I had little to no input into this list, but he was so excited about it, I let him convince himself that we would have more than enough time to see every street corner.

Right away, it became clear he would have to relax his plans a bit because Violette also had ideas about what we should be doing that included more time sitting in cafes, talking, and hunting down the cheapest packs of cigarettes in town. This is one case where the stereotype is exactly accurate: almost everyone smokes in Paris. As James said: “It almost feels like the city wants you to smoke”. And to a certain extent he was right: stores have a lit-up red sign on the street with “Tabac” written on them, or to Americans: “Tabacco here!”.

Our first day in Paris, we marched up to Monmartre like the good tourists we were: home to the Sacré Coeur and the most quintessential Parisian neighborhood (Amélie was filmed here, nuff said).

Two mostly Americans in Paris.

Two mostly Americans in Paris.

I recognize this place....

I recognize this place….

Violette took us to do some shopping with her in the fun and cheap, rummage-style shops around Berbés, near Monmartre. At Tati, a store with an inordinate amount of pink in it, she fell in love with a faux-fur covered stool that her apartment needed. Not yet ready to go home though, James led the way to Pére Lachaise, the oh-so-famous cemetery, which is possibly best known as the final resting place of Jim Morrison of the The Doors (or the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Moliére, and Gertrude Stein, among others).

Can't get me down!

No one can get me down!

Part of the deal of staying with friends is that they sometimes ask you to work for them while there. Violette conveniently planned to have a sofa brought to her apartment the second day we were there and casually asked if we minded helping.

It was for this reason that James and I woke at o’dark thirty on our second day in Paris to watch the sun rise over the Tuileries, the gardens in front of the Louvre, before hurrying back to Violette’s apartment, just in time to help hoist a sofa up three stories of a spiral staircase. I had been expecting the worst, but with three people, it ended up being a relatively trivial affair. After lunch and a cat nap, I convinced Violette to come with us to an afternoon at the Louvre.

Enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Enjoying the fruits of my labor.

They say you need a whole week to explore the Louvre. We gave it an afternoon. With a long list of “want-to-see” in Paris, the Louvre was one of those places that I wanted to see, but I also wasn’t willing to give it more time than, say, Notre Dame. It actually made good sense to drag Violette along too, because five artifacts in, she was already complaining: “If you read every single informational placard we pass, we’ll never even get past ancient Egypt.” She made a fair point.

I dunno, what does your look like?

I dunno, what does your look like?

If we thought waking up before sunrise was going to make us tired, we had no idea what day three would do to us; off we went to our first stop, the Eiffel Tower. Violette was back at work for the week, so the trip was back down to two travelers.

The Eiffel Tower must be seen up close. Up close, the detail work is so delicate, and the enormity of the structure is so impressive, it just doesn’t do it credit to see it only from afar.

View from the BatoBus.

View from the BatoBus (or, the Eiffel Tower from afar).

The Eiffel Tower is located right off of the Seine River. After having had our fill of staring upwards at the metallic structure, we walked down to the river and caught a BatoBus, a hop-on-hop-off, glassed ceilinged boat that cruises up and down the river. By then it was nearly 10AM, so we had a brunch of baguette and cheese rinsed down with a little wine (hey, it’s Paris, what else are you supposed to drink?!). The boat driver gave us a funny look, but didn’t say anything, and the other passengers looked at us with envy.

On the BatoBus (I never get tired of saying BatoBus)

On the BatoBus (I never get tired of saying BatoBus)

We stepped off the BatoBus at Île de la Cité, the sizable island that sits in the middle of the Seine and keeps the Cathedral of Notre Dame above water. The line just to get in the front door was insanely long, but fortunately, we were less interested in going in the front door, and more interested in going up the side door, which leads up to the spectacular views at the top of the bell tower. They only allow a limited number of people in at a time, so we still had to wait in short line, but, like most good things in life, the wait was totally worth it.

Casual look over Paris 1

Casual look over Paris 1

The wifi was terrible up there too!

The wifi was terrible up there too!

This one was having a snack.

Having a snack

Getting back on the BatoBus, we had difficulty deciding where to get off next, so instead we just stayed on the boat for the entire hour and a half loop, looking out the window and drinking the rest of the wine.

Finally, we got off at the stop closest to the Latin Quarter (or the university district) and up to the Pantheon, originally a big church, now a big secular mausoleum where even more famous dead people rest. If rubbing shoulders with Héloïse and Abelard at Pére Lachaise was not enough excitement for you, head on up to the Pantheon where you can have a one-sided conversation with the likes of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Pierre and Marie Curie. The number of recognizable names found in various landmarks at first seems astounding, until you remember how much history has taken place in this city. It’s only fitting then, that so many names should inspire awe.

By the time we resurfaced from the cavernous basement of the Pantheon, conversations with the Curies only half completed, it was dark and time to head out for a after-work drink with Violette. James, an avid brewer and beer-aficiado, found the beer in France to be lacking, and subsequently spent the rest of the trip trying to find a solid IPA.

Look at the size of this Hoegaarden! James remains unimpressed.

Look at the size of this Hoegaarden! James remains unimpressed.

CARTE SNACK

James considers the ‘Carte Snack’

The next day, we ambitiously set out for a place most of my relatives had never been (and not just because we come from a long line of farmers and stone-layers): Versailles.

Holy cow, gaudy doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ve never seen so much gold in my whole life. I cannot imagine how the first French revolutionaries storming Versailles must have felt.

Oh, this old place?

Oh, this old place?

There's no fighting in the war room!

There’s no fighting in the war room!

It's a hall... but with mirrors!

It’s a hall… but with mirrors and gold!

Marie-Antoinette had a fake peasant village built so she could play dress up as a farmer within the safe confines of her castle. The village is so perfectly quaint, it almost hurts.

Not in the picture: the freshly cleaned lambs for the queen to "herd".

Not in the picture: the freshly cleaned lambs for the queen to “herd”.

Casual stroll around the grounds.

Casual stroll around the grounds.

The biggest laugh of the day came from the hall of statutes. France has always been an interesting place, but some of the rulers she has had must have been real characters. Take for example Charles VIII, who chose to pose for his statue in what can only be called booty shorts.

It's good to see men comfortable with their bodies.

It’s good to see men comfortable with their bodies.

Coming back from Versailles later in the evening, we decided we just weren’t tired enough, so we went over to the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed to the top in gale-like winds and rain, and paid homage to the unknown soldier entombed at the base of the arch. The unknown soldier is a representative for all the men and women who died during WWI without ever being identified. It is an especially moving symbol because so much of the French countryside and way of life was decimated by the first world war.

IMGP5102

On our final day, James desperately wanted to see the Hôtel des Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb is housed, as well as the Army Museum. Sadly, we were informed that the museum had been shut for the day due to a suspicious package. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, all Parisian landmarks were on high alert and liable to shut their doors at a moment’s notice. It was very strange to see fire teams of infantrymen conducting foot patrols through the streets of Paris, and I often had to remind myself why they were there.

Not letting the closure ruin our day, we went to the Rodin museum across the street to console ourselves in the shadow of the Gates of Hell. What really lifted our spirits, however, was meandering into the Musée d’Orsay and finding their special exhibit “Pictures of Prostitution 1850-1910”. It was spectacularly well-done.

Looking up into the thinker's eyes.

Looking up into the thinker’s eyes.

Looking into another thinker's eyes.

Looking into another thinker’s eyes.

A couple of weeks later, we had to go back to Paris for our flight home, and we decided to go back a day early, this time making it a priority to visit Les Invalides. James loved it, and I have to admit, I enjoyed it as well. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, make Les Invalides a priority, if only to see Napoleon’s tomb. His tomb can only be likened to a pharaoh’s pyramid. A huge cathedral stands erect around an enormous raised coffin made of red quartzite, which is surrounded on all walls with basserelief sculptures of Napoleon’s great works.

Wow.

Wow.

It should be said that Napoleon didn’t actually build this tomb for himself, rather it was built for him by King Louis-Philippe. It seems that during the 19th century, the best way to seem politically legitimate was by claiming some connection to Napoleon. Louis-Philippe decided to prove to everyone how awesome he was by shipping Napoleon’s ashes back from Elba and commissioning this incredible tomb.

“Yeah, Napolean and I were basically BFFs. I’m like the heir to his legacy, nbd.”
-Louis-Phillipe

James trying on Napoleon's hat for size.

James trying on Napoleon’s hat for size.

There is a reason everyone loves Paris (though the same cannot be said of Parisians). It is such an interesting city with so many beautiful things to look at. Paris is such a popular place to live (and expensive to boot), but I would probably choose to live here too if I had the opportunity.

During the trip, we were helped by a couple of things: first, we stayed with someone I knew, so no paying for a place to stay (unless you count the sweat from moving a sofa). Second, while James had to pay for a four day museum pass (which was cheaper than paying for museums individually and gave us the freedom to see all the museums we wanted), I met the criteria to enter all museums for free. Third, it was a conspicuously warm winter. This meant that we spent more time outdoors looking at things and less time being cold and miserable. It was a good combination.

All in all, our week in Paris ended up being relatively cost-effective and a gosh-darn good time too. The fun just didn’t end there, because Paris was not our final destination.

Five days after arriving, we boarded a bus and left Paris, heading to the French countryside to a begin a new story.

France Trip Part I: Ice to See You

Hello again! This is another guest entry by James, Paquita’s traveling companion/lover. It is to be the first of a three part series of posts, covering our extended sojourn to the land of crusty breads, diverse cheeses, and spreadable meat products: La France!

This entry, however, is not about France, but about how we got there. You see, the least expensive flights from North America to Europe are increasingly operated by airlines based in Iceland (Icelandair, in this case). Their service to North America is still relatively new, but the reason it’s so economical is pretty obvious when you look at a map. I’m surprised they didn’t think of it sooner.

Image courtesy of Icelandair

Seems like a good place for an airport…

They sit right smack in the middle of the great circle routes between the North American cities and the European ones. They have their hub in Iceland, and have one flight a day to and from the other cities they serve, timed for convenient layovers in Reykjavik. Their footprint at the airports outside Iceland is practically nonexistent.

The business acumen of the Icelanders doesn’t stop there, however. The real masterstroke is the “Stopover.” I don’t know if the airlines came up with the idea on their own, or if they got some sort of huge kickback from Iceland’s board of tourism, but it is pure promotional genius. The idea is simple: since you’re flying through Iceland anyway, why not stay a few days? It’s awesome there. So, the airlines let you extend your layover in Iceland for up to a week at no additional charge.

That’s right, no additional charge! Sure, you’ll need to pay for lodging… and food… and you’ll probably want to rent a car to see the island… Maybe a helicopter tour? See the countryside by monster truck? Maybe you’d like to scuba dive into the Mid-Atlantic rift? Or visit a fancy geothermal day spa?

Each “free stopover” ends up funneling hundreds of dollars into Iceland’s economy. Pure goddamned genius.

Anyway, Paquita and I fell for it, and we spent two spectacular days exploring southwest Iceland.

Reykjavik lies at 60-something degrees North latitude, just below the Arctic Circle, and our visit was in December. As a practical matter, this meant that each day only had 5 hours of daylight. Sunrise at 11AM, and sunset at 4PM. We wouldn’t have much time for sightseeing, but there were a few upsides: (1) The sun never rose very high above the horizon, causing the photographic ‘golden hour’ to last almost all 5 hours, bathing the landscape in a beautiful warm glow. (2) It would be dark for the remaining 19 hours, and if we could find a spot of clear skies, we might see an aurora for the first time in our lives.

So, our plan was to rent a car, explore the majestic natural wonder during the brief period of daylight, and hunt for auroras at night, or else explore the charming town of Reykjavik. Time permitting, we might also sleep.

Since this was wintertime, in Iceland, we thought it might be prudent to rent a 4WD vehicle. And prudent it was, since Iceland had their worst winter storm in 25 years the day before we arrived.

After 3.5 hours on various buses, ferries, and trains from Port Townsend to Seatac, and 7 more hours in the air, we landed safely at the Keflavik airport around 8 in the morning. It was still pitch dark as we collected our bags and rental car and headed out onto the snow-covered roads.

Growing up in Nebraska, I have plenty of experience driving in snow, but there was a slight problem: I have very little experience driving with a manual transmission. I’ve never owned a car with one, and have had only occasional practice. Paquita, by contrast, is a double-clutching, hill-starting pro with a stickshift, but has driven almost exclusively in the sunny climes of Southern California. Together, our powers combined to make us an acceptably competent motorist, and we navigated from the airport to Reykjavik. After finding our hostel and having a quick bite of breakfast, we embarked on a scenic drive called the “Golden Circle” just as dawn was breaking at 11AM.

Thankfully, the roads were mostly plowed by then

Thankfully, the roads were mostly plowed by then.

Our first stop was a national park called Þingvellir (or ‘Thingvellir’, if you don’t like typing the letter ‘Þ’). It is notable for two reasons:

(1) It is the site of a rift that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate. At one point, the rift forms a narrow fissure and you can walk down through it.

After they separate, which plate gets custody of Iceland?

After they separate, which plate gets custody of Iceland?

Pictured from left to right: Eurasian Plate, Paquita, North American Plate

Pictured from left to right: Eurasian Plate, Paquita, North American Plate

I cannot believe how cool this is

I cannot believe how cool this is. Paquita cannot believe I don’t need a coat.

(2) Thingvellir is also the site of the very first ‘Thing’, which is the Icelandic word for ‘Parliament.’ This was where the vikings who settled in Iceland first got together to make laws for themselves, since this was the only location epic enough for a parliament made up of vikings. The oldest parliamentary body in the world, the ‘AlÞing’ met here, outdoors, from the year 930 until 1799, with the ‘Lawspeaker’ presiding over the assembly at the ‘Law Rock’. They don’t meet here anymore, though. The pasty socialist technocrats in the modern Althing apparently wanted to meet ‘indoors’, with ‘heat’, and traded their majestic tectonic rift for a building in Reykjavik.

[footnote: The Althing was actually disbanded in 1800 by the order of the King of Denmark. It had lost its legislative function in the 1600s, and was functioning solely as the high court in Iceland’s legal system. When a new Althing was established in 1845, they decided to put it in Reykjavik, over the objections of those who thought the city was “too Danish”.]

Paquita at the Law Rock: It's a good Þing

Paquita at the Law Rock: It’s a good Þing

As tectonic plates go, the North American Plate is a pretty good one

As tectonic plates go, the North American Plate is a pretty good one.

The rift valley goes through a big lake, and you can scuba dive in the fissure

The rift valley goes through a big lake, and you can scuba dive between the tectonic plates.

This is where the vikings attended church when they went to the Thing

This is where the vikings attended church when they went to the Thing

Stacking rocks is expressly forbidden

Stacking rocks is expressly forbidden

Our next stop was the ‘Haukadalur Geothermal Area’, which is home to ‘Geysir’, the geyser that gave us the English word ‘geyser’. Geysir doesn’t erupt very often anymore (when it does, it makes the news), but fortunately for time-constrained tourists like ourselves, there is a nearby geyser named ‘Strokkur’ that goes off every 10 minutes or so.

Strokkur is such a showoff

Strokkur is such a showoff

The area around the geysers is surreal, full of hissing steam vents, oddly colored mud pots, and streams of near-boiling water.

This whole country looks like something out of Tolkien. No wonder most Icelanders believe in elves

This whole country looks like something out of Tolkien. No wonder most Icelanders believe in elves.

Next, we visited an enormous double waterfall named Gulfoss. It was spectacularly beautiful, and there were trails going almost to the edge of the falls!

Holy shit!

Holy shit!

However, as we hiked closer, we began being pelted with ice crystals. The spray from the waterfall was freezing in the air, and the wind was blowing it into our faces. The closer we hiked, the more intense it became. At this, Paquita drew the line. No more exploring the waterfall for today. We would go back to the heated car, and continue driving on to Reykjavik, where we would do other activities that didn’t involve being pelted with ice crystals.

Maybe we can come back in the summer?

Maybe we can come back in the summer?

We did make one more stop that day, just as the light was fading. We noticed a herd of small, fuzzy, Icelandic horses next to the road, and stopped to say hello.

This hand doesn't smell like food...

I think I speak for all the horses here when I say: I thought you were bringing food.

The weather that evening was too overcast for auroras, so we decided to explore Reykjavik and try some of the weird Icelandic foods we had heard so much about. We stopped at Cafe Loki, right across from the enormous church ‘Hallgrimskirkja’, and ordered a sampling.

It's a pretty big church

It’s a pretty big church

The verdict? Smoked lamb is delicious. ‘Mashed fish’ (plokkfiski) is so good we are going to try to make it at home. Dried fish tastes OK, but the texture makes it difficult to eat (butter helps). Fermented shark is… interesting. While chewing it, it is reminiscent of an intensely strong cheese, but the aftertaste is almost nauseatingly fishy. Icelanders normally chase it with a shot of Brennivin, a kind of aquavit. We recommend this approach.

We were not brave enough to try this Icelandic delicacy

We were not brave enough to try this Icelandic delicacy

At last, we retired to our hostel (Loft Hostel) for a few hours of sleep. It was a very nice place: clean, inexpensive, and with a fun atmosphere. I almost regret not spending more time hanging out in the hostel, meeting people, and exploring Reykjavik, but then I remember how awesome everything else in Iceland was. Maybe next time.

Paquita found a hat during breakfast

Paquita found a hat during breakfast

The next morning, we left Reykjavik well before daybreak and headed towards the southern part of the island. Our destination was a black sand beach called Reynisfjara, which I first learned about when I googled “Iceland” after we booked our flight. Not only does the beach have black sand, it has a cliffside made of hexagonal lava tubes, arches carved into cliffs by the pounding waves, and basalt spires rising like fingers out of the sea. This was a place we would need to see for ourselves.

Along the way, we stopped at a couple of waterfalls near the road (Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss), as well as at the base of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused the largest air traffic disruption since the second world war. Its name is also really fun to say out loud.

...

Paquita also insisted that we stop here. NorCal, Represent!

Waterfall 1

Seljalandsfoss or Waterfall 1

Waterfall 2

Skogafoss or Waterfall 2

Before visiting the beach itself, we decided to stop at a cliff overlooking it, called Dyrhólaey. We also drove up to the lighthouse there, which is apparently being turned into a hotel.

I would sleep here.

I would sleep here.

Elves. Seriously.

I think I’m starting to believe in elves.

I'm king of this rock!

I’m king of this rock!

Dyrhólaey is separated from the beach by a cliff and a tidal lagoon, so we had to drive all the way back to the main highway (the ‘ring road’) in order to get to Reynisfjara. We walked around on the beach until the sun began to set.

Hexagonal basalt that only exist in a few choice places in the world.

Hexagonal basalt that only exist in a few choice places in the world.

We took a leisurely stroll along this stretch of beach that shockingly discourages swimming.

We took a leisurely stroll along this stretch of beach that shockingly discourages swimming.

After a brief stop in the charming little town of Vik, we began the long drive back to Reykjavik.

There once was a cute town named Vik.

There once was a cute town named Vik.

I had been religiously studying ‘space weather’ reports of solar activity for the days we were in Iceland, and I knew that if we could find a spot of clear skies, we had a reasonably good chance of seeing an aurora. The cloud cover forecast was pessimistic, but there were a handful of breaks in the clouds where we could see stars, so we remained hopeful. During the drive back, we could see a faint glow on the northern horizon, somewhat like the lights of a distant city lighting up the clouds.

Finally, as we were approaching Seljalandsfoss, we hit a patch of clear skies and pulled in to the parking lot just as a geomagnetic storm was lighting up the skies with swirling green curtains and arcs. We stayed there for an hour to watch the aurora, even as our prime aurora-watching location became crowded by the arrival of a paid ‘aurora tour’ bus. However, you’ll have to take our word for all of this, as we were unable to successfully photograph the phenomenon. Next time I’m bringing a faster lens and a tripod.

As we drove back to Reykjavik, the aurora subsided and returned several more times, occasionally extending across the entire sky. When we arrived at the hostel in Reykjavik, it was still bright enough to be seen through the glow of the city lights.

By then it was about 11pm, and our flight to Paris the next morning was at 7:40. We needed to return our rental car when the office opened at 5:00, and the airport was about an hour from Reykjavik. In other words, we didn’t get much sleep.

Even though we packed as much as possible into our visit to Iceland, we there were so many things we didn’t get to do. Iceland is an incredible place, and two days wasn’t nearly enough time. We’ll be back. Probably in summer.

How did we miss this!?

How did we miss this!?

The Great American Southwest or a Roadtrip in multiple parts

The United States is big.

This big.

This big.

It is easy to forget how big.

The United States is so big that even after homesteaders had taken their pick of land in the mid-1800s, national parks had been created out of the most spectacular sceneries, and national forests were erected from the land that was pretty but not quite pretty enough to be a national park, there was still land left over that we now know as Bureau of Land Management land (BLM), which constitutes almost an eighth of the landmass of this country. So when James and I decided to go down to the Southwest to pay a visit to my granddad (at to a lesser extent to get away from the dreary cold of Washington), we knew it wasn’t going to be a short jaunt. I took three weeks off work and we made plans to visit all the landscapes we could pack in.

Our first stop was Multnomah Falls, Oregon.

Like a two-layered cake, Multnomah is twice as pretty.

Like a two-layered cake, Multnomah is twice as pretty.

The night we stayed at Multnomah Falls as the only night on our trip we paid for camping. After doing the Portland thing for a whole two hours (during which we ate at a food truck downtown and had my glasses repaired in the stripper district) we found the closest camping to Multnomah, which is right outside of Portland on the Columbia River.

The next day we had a lot of driving ahead of us. The drive could have been pleasant, but instead all I had to admire was the vast expanses of nothing in Idaho, a state, which much like New Mexico, was underwhelming at best as seen by the highway. There weren’t even any rest areas. Ugh.

Hour 8. I am displeased with everything.

Hour 8. I am displeased with everything.

We set up camp on BLM land in the dark, wet, and cold. I was miserable. The next morning, my rather low opinion of Idaho started to turn around when we got to Craters of the Moon National Park. You have never heard of this place, you say? Let me enlighten you: this place is pretty darn cool. Thanks to volcanic activity, the entire landscape looks like the surface in the moon. So much so, in fact that some of the Apollo astronauts were send there to study geology.

The chain is there to keep people from falling into deep holes and ruining all the precious rocks.

The chain is there to keep people from falling into deep holes and ruining all the precious rocks.

Because of it’s relative lack of popularity, Craters of the Moon was absolutely deserted. The only person we ran across was a park ranger who was very excited to talk to anyone.

STAY ON THE TRAIL. WE ARE SERIOUS, WE WILL FIND YOU AND DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU LOVE.

STAY ON THE TRAIL. WE ARE SERIOUS, WE WILL FIND YOU AND DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU LOVE.

From Craters of the Moon we crossed in Utah, a state that took my breath away in more ways than one. When the Mormons set out to conquer the West (or to flee persecution, whatever), they had very good taste in landscape.

Before even driving into Bryce Canyon, we were faced with Red Canyon, part of the Dixie National Forest. Here was the part of Utah that was not quite pretty enough to be a National Park.

And we aren't even at the good part yet!

And we aren’t even at the good part yet!

We camped in the National Forest in dispersed camping not ten minutes from Bryce in the most beautiful and secluded camp spot around.

Looking back now, James and I both agree that Bryce Canyon was our favorite place during the whole trip. The pictures are but a poor interpretation of the real thing, but I think they give an adequate idea of how breathtaking the place is.

I can't breath. I have no breath. I am breathless.

I can’t breath. I have no breath. I am breathless.

It has been waiting for a slight breeze to blow it over for centuries.

It has been waiting for a slight breeze to blow it over for centuries.

Look how on top of things we are!

Look how on top of things we are!

From Bryce we drove the two hours to Zion National Park, Utah’s very first national park.

During the summer months, Zion closes its doors to all cars, so we parked at the visitor center and hopped onto the shuttle bus with our backpacks and hiked .

And to my left is the Altar of Sacrifice!

And to my left is the Altar of Sacrifice!

This is pretty big up close...

This is pretty big up close…

Taking an undeserved break.

Taking an undeserved break.

Sunset came, we took pictures, and had to face a dilemma.

A CLIFF!

A CLIFF!

My dad was going to be joining us for the Phoenix-San Diego leg of the trip and we had to pick him up at the airport the next day sometime around noon (communication had been fuzzy up to this point). We could either find a camp, get a couple hours of sleep, and pack up the whole site in the dark, wet, and cold to make it to Phoenix on time OR we could drive through the night, get to the Grand Canyon for daybreak and have an easy four hour drive after a car nap.

So we chose the crazy choice. At the crack of dawn, James had the camping stove out in the parking lot and I was setting up chairs on the edge of the canyon and together we were confusing a lot of day hikers. It was a pretty spectacular way to wake up (though to be fair, I had already been up for hours).

Not a bad place to start the day.

Not a bad place to start the day.

We tore ourselves away from place only because I would never hear the end of it if we were late to pick up my dad. Halfway to Phoenix I finally got in touch with him and got his flight number. Approaching the end of the conversation I said: “OK, we’ll track your flight, see you in a couple of hours!”. He responded: “You know my flight isn’t until tomorrow, right?” …

I admit I was a little upset at this gaping hole in communication that had cost us precious time at the Grand Canyon, but after a some coaxing by dad, I was convinced this was not the worst situation, after all, there are plenty of fascinating places to visit on the fly around Phoenix. We finally settled on making a side trip to an old ghost town my dad recommended from his youth called Crown King.

To our very, very great surprise, Crown King is no ghost town. It is alive and well, and some might say thriving thanks to the disposable income of proud rednecks from all over the state of Arizona.

We first suspected something was amiss when during the three-hour drive on the uneven gravel road across desert mountains, we were nearly run off the road by multiple convoys of souped-up Jeeps. When we crossed the tiny town of Cleator (pop: 5?), we were given a reason.

Turn around now! Do it!

Turn around now! Do it!

Cleator welcomes Jeep Jam.

Cleator welcomes Jeep Jam.

When we finally did arrive in Crown King, the place was so packed with ATVs and trucks that we could barely find parking at one of the only establishments in town that served over-priced beer (the other establishments in the town being a fire station, ye old saloon, and a general store). Lucky for us, we were told, we had come on a good weekend. Jeep Jam 2015 was in full swing and the annual chili cook-off had accidentally been scheduled on the same day. People were laughing about how drunk they were as they raced their ATVs with country blaring through the speakers.

We nestled our tent between a boulder, a tree, and the car and all I could do was hope we wouldn’t be hit by an ATV in the night and be killed.

Welcome to Crown King!

Welcome to Crown King!

Over the next couple of days, we picked up my dad, my grandpa, and an aunt, and headed down to a small state park outside of Tucson, AZ: Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Holy Moly, Kartchner Caverns is a very well hidden gem. I have no pictures of the place because the caverns are so obsessively preserved that no cameras are allowed and we had to go through a clean room before entering. After seeing many caverns go the way of ruined tourist destinations, the original land owner and the state park system kept the cave a secret for over fourteen years while they researched and developed the best way to allow the public in while preserving the cave as the “active” (stalagmites and stalactites are still being formed! OMG science!) cave that it is. All I can say is: it was so worth the trip.

We drove my dad back to San Diego, we stayed a couple of days there. I swam in the ocean twice every day just because I could before we made the long trip home.

On the way up, we stopped for a wedding of a friend of James’. It was held on a working farm, and the bar was open even before the ceremony, so it was a good time. James had suggested we camp on the property, but for once I put my foot down. I was going to be high-maintenance and made the executive decision that we needed showers. This was the second night on the trip we had payed to stay anywhere.

After the wedding in central California, we made our way up to Mt. Shasta where we camped at the base of the mountain (again, for free) and hit up the Deschutes brewery in Bend, Oregon, where we were given a tour and free beer.

The next day, we tried to do some sightseeing at Crater Lake National Park.

I say tried, because as soon as we snapped our first picture and even before we took off for our short hike, the weather turned and it began to snow.

Wow, that is beautiful; let's hike up that hill to get a better view!

Wow, that is beautiful; let’s hike up that hill to get a better view!

What we were supposed to see and what we actually saw.

What we were supposed to see and what we actually saw.

Trudging back to the car, we had to concede that we had been lucky to see anything at all to begin with, because the rest of the trip home was a rainy mess, which adequately reflected my feelings of returning from vacation. After unpacking, things didn’t look so dire, and we have even gotten a few sunny days up here!

We have been back at home for a couple of weeks now, but because of life events, we have been extraordinarily busy (hence the delay in this post). A lot has been happening, but I digress. That will remain for another post. For now I will end by talking some cheese: America is not just beautiful, it is stunning. Louis C.K. says that Americans reach for the top shelf for words too often, but I say it was amazing because I was amazed. Way to go America.

Sailing the San Juans: Part III

When James and Paquita get away from everyone.

We were so sick of the crowds in Roche Harbor and so eager to hightail it out of there that we didn’t even fit in a single picture of the place. It was back on the boat for us.

English Camp to Sucia Island, via Roche Harbor

English Camp to Sucia Island, via Roche Harbor

North! To the future!

North! To the future!

It was a very long sail, partially because we hit a dead wind spot on the way up and partially because it was actually a long way to travel. Not that we minded the trip because the views that surrounded us were stunning. The farther away from Roche Harbor and San Juan Island we got, the more sparsely occupied the water became. We were hoping that our next destination of Shallow Bay on Sucia Island (pronounced Soo-sha) would be as deserted as American Camp, but instead, we found that we were not the only ones to have read about its stunning beauty in some or other cruising guide.

Being the tiny boat she was, Recess had no trouble nuzzling in to a far and shallow corner. It nonetheless took us three tries to set the anchor because the seaweed was so thick. The work it took to find a comfortable spot to anchor was beyond worth it when we looked around the boat; this was perhaps the most beautiful place in the San Juans (As it turns out, there are an estimated 20,000 “most beautiful place in the San Juans” and every single one of them is unique and spectacular).

Perfectly nestled between a cliff and a beach.

Perfectly nestled between a cliff and a beach.

We quickly inflated the dinghy and rowed to shore but not before James insisted that the water “should be warm enough to swim in” and dived in.

"This might have been a bad idea..."

“This might have been a bad idea…”

A view of Mt. Baker from Echo Bay.

A view of Mt. Baker from Echo Bay.

After touring the Southern part of the island down around Fossil Bay, we returned to the boat in time for sunset and a calm supper. One of the greatest joys of being in an anchorage is watching other people who are, in turn, watching and judging other people. The division of labor among most cruising couples seems to be that the man stands at the helm shouting instructions to his petite 80 lb pound wife who wrestles with a heavy anchor on the bow. The dysfunction is better than daytime TV.

The good weather turns off for the evening.

The good weather turns off for the evening.

The next morning, we were so entranced by the island around us, we could not bear to leave and decided on a later departure. Back to hiking around we went!

Relishing in being gross.

Relishing in being gross.

Examining tasty-looking mussels in the tide pools.

Examining tasty-looking mussels in the tide pools.

How were we supposed to leave on time?

How were we supposed to leave on time?

Finally tearing ourselves away from Sucia Island was hard, but reality had to be faced: leave now or stay another evening. As tempting as staying was, the possibility of missing out on another, even better anchorage was a powerful enticement. Additionally, James had promised that we would be anchored by ourselves for our last night.

The original plan was to sail down to Watmough Bay on Lopez Island but because of our delayed departure, it became clear that we were not going to beat the sunset. We changed our plan to stop at a little-known cove called Twin Rocks on Orcas Island.

Sucia Island to Twin Rocks on Orcas Island

Sucia Island to Twin Rocks on Orcas Island

Although we arrived just before sunset, we were, in fact, totally alone: no other boats in sight and only empty-looking vacation homes on the cliffs.

There is always time for a good meal.

There is always time for a good meal thanks to my trusty propane grill.

While Twin Rocks was a very nice stop, we got an early morning start so that we would have ample time to visit Watmough Bay before heading back to Anacortes.

Twin Rocks on Orcas Island, to Watamough Bay on Lopez Island, to Anacortes.

Twin Rocks on Orcas Island, to Watmough Bay on Lopez Island, to Anacortes.

Turning the corner around the last bluff and looking into Watmough Bay helped me understand why people say you can spend a lifetime exploring the San Juan Islands and still have more to enjoy. Watmough Bay is one of the many, many, many small bays around the islands that generally goes overlooked by the majority of cruisers.

Because there are never too many pictures of Paquita being a grill-master.

Because there are never too many pictures of Paquita being a grill-master.

We only had time for a lunch and a nap before heading back, but it was entirely worth the detour, if only to cement my desire to return as soon as possible. The sail from Watmough Bay to Anacortes was an adventure in itself. The winds picked up and we found ourselves keeled over and all our stuff falling from one side of the boat to the other with every tack. There is a reason my interpretation of “stowing for sea” is just putting everything on the floor in a giant pile. If there is going to be a giant mess to clean up at the end, you might as well start with a giant mess.

Epilogue

I live on a big boat. A very big boat. Some might say too big of a boat. Cruising around in a boat less than half the size of the boat I live on and having the time of my life made a lasting impression on me. Small boats are great. James and I might be the only people in the boating world who started on the dream boat only to decided that they were probably better suited for something smaller.

Finally, a few standout stars during the trip need to be mentioned and thanked:

Magma propane grill: thank you for providing us with our everyday bread (and literally every other meal). All is forgiven for that one grease fire.

Canadian Hydrographic Service’s Current Atlas: thank you for being a constant reference which we clung to like our trip depended on it. Who knew drawings of arrows could affect our decisions so dramatically?

Avon Redcrest inflatable dinghy: thank you for keeping us (mostly) dry. You are possibly the finest roll-up hypalon dinghy the 1970s had to offer.

Sailing the San Juans, Part II: San Juan Island

In Which Paquita and James Nearly Circumnavigate San Juan Island

Greetings, readers of Paquita’s blog! This is James, writing a guest entry. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the lucky guy who gets to cohabitate with your usual authoress.

James!

James!

We arrived in Anacortes when the charter company opened, and took care of the necessary paperwork to charter the tiny, tiny boat we had reserved. Now, every other time I’ve chartered a sailboat, the company has wanted to see some sort of sailing credential. US Sailing, American Sailing Association, maybe a Captain’s license with a sail endorsement… something to ensure they aren’t handing their expensive boat over to an incompetent boob who will drunkenly run it aground the minute they leave the marina. This time, however, the charter company apparently decided to waive that formality. Possibly because we had brought literally everything but our own boat. We immediately began loading the 22-foot boat with three dock carts full of gear, including (but not limited to): our own charts, current tables, compass, GPS, radio, a leadline, PFDs, foul weather gear, an EIGHT-FOOT INFLATABLE DINGHY WITH OARS, a crab trap, and a propane barbecue grill. Apparently we made an impression?

Paquita at the helm in Rosario Strait

Paquita at the helm in Rosario Strait

Anacortes to Friday Harbor

Anacortes to Friday Harbor

We left Anacortes, sailed across Rosario Strait, through Thatcher Pass, skirted the northern tip of Lopez Island, and arrived at the first destination on our itinerary: Friday Harbor. We chose Friday Harbor as our first stop for three reasons: (1) It is the largest town in the San Juans, with the most stores and facilities in case we needed to buy anything we forgot. (2) In the event that we had any problems anchoring the boat, or living on the boat at anchor, Friday Harbor offered the most alternatives. (3) This was the evening of the first Republican primary debate, and if we got there early enough, there was the off-chance that we could find a bar in which to watch the latest developments in the slow-motion train wreck that is Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Sadly, we had mostly light winds during the crossing, forcing us to motorsail for much of the way, and we finally anchored in a little cove at the northern end of the harbor after the debate was already over.

'Recess' at anchor in Friday Harbor

‘Recess’ at anchor in Friday Harbor

Anchoring our tiny boat was an exercise in traditional simplicity. First of all, raising and lowering the anchor was done entirely by hand, no windlass required (+1 for tiny boats, if we’re keeping score). Also, as the boat had no electronic depth sounder (or electronics of any kind, for that matter), we determined the depth of the water the old-fashioned way: by “heaving the lead”. That is, casting a weight on the end of a line into the water until it touched the bottom, and measuring the depth using knots or other marks on the line. I am explaining it here, because based on the looks we received from the other boats at anchor, this procedure is totally unfamiliar to modern boaters. This is the way mariners have “sounded the depths” from antiquity through most of the 20th century. It was once so ubiquitous, its terminology of “marks and deeps” has given us common English expressions like “deep six”, and Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym “Mark Twain”. Now, apparently, a boat using a sounding lead is such a pitiful sight that other boaters would yell out to us what they thought the sounding was. Sorry, friend, I trust my leadline more than your memory. I’ll just be over here, keeping maritime tradition alive.

James inflates the dinghy, after using his leadline to feel smugly superior to other boaters

James inflates the dinghy, after using his leadline to feel smugly superior to other boaters

After setting the anchor, we inflated our dinghy (which, being almost half as big as the sailboat, completely filled the cockpit when inflated), and rowed to the marina’s dinghy dock. Almost everything around the marina was either way too expensive or already closed, so we had dinner at a combined Chinese restaurant/pizza parlor/bar, and then rowed back to the boat to settle in for our first night aboard.

Friday morning in Friday Harbor

Friday morning in Friday Harbor

In the morning, we decided that our explorations of Friday Harbor the previous evening had not done it justice, and we resolved to row back ashore and look around a bit more. Also, we discovered that the boat didn’t have an anchor light, so we needed to buy a portable lantern at the Friday Harbor West Marine. We explored a good deal more of the town, had breakfast at a little bakery away from the touristy main drag, and bought a few more provisions at a grocery store.

In hindsight, I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to take the dock cart out of the marina

In hindsight, I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to take the dock cart out of the marina

We returned to the boat and weighed anchor, heading south into San Juan Channel. Over the next few days, our plan was to check out the major sites in the San Juan National Historical Park, nearly circumnavigating San Juan Island in the process. Our first stop: American Camp, so named because it was the site of the American military encampment during the joint occupation of the island by the Americans and the British between 1859 and 1872, during a boundary dispute known as the “Pig War”.

Permit me to elaborate. [Pushes glasses up nose, preparing to nerd out]

I think I'm in love with this map. Possibly because I live in the "Disputed Area", and the Mexican border is just south of Oregon.

I think I’m in love with this map. Possibly because I live in the “Disputed Area”, and the Mexican border is just south of Oregon.

First, some background. In 1818, the US and Great Britain agreed to jointly occupy the ‘Oregon Country’—west of the Rocky Mountains, between Mexico (that is, California) to the south and Russian Alaska to the north. In 1844 James K. Polk, ‘Napoleon of the Stump’, was elected president on a platform of annexing the whole goddamned thing (“Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”), but he wussed out and settled for a border along the 49th parallel. He still invaded Mexico, though. Manifest Destiny!

Anyway, the border was established by the Oregon Treaty of 1846, which provided that the border would continue westward along the 49th parallel “to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca’s Straits, to the Pacific Ocean”. Trouble was, the region hadn’t been adequately surveyed, so the framers of the treaty had no idea that there was this great big archipelago—the San Juan Islands—between the mainland and Vancouver Island, forming several possible channels that could be the maritime boundary. When they realized this oversight, the British insisted that Rosario Strait (east of the San Juans) was obviously the channel intended by the treaty, and the Americans maintained that Haro Strait (west of the San Juans) was clearly the intended boundary. This left the San Juan Islands in dispute, but that didn’t stop American settlers from moving there, and the British Hudson’s Bay Company from setting up a sheep ranch.

Blue - American Claim Red - British Claim Green - Possible Compromise

Blue – American Claim
Red – British Claim
Green – Possible Compromise

They coexisted peacefully for a few years, neither side recognizing the validity of each others’ claims to the islands, until a large black pig caused an international incident. In June 1859, an American farmer became so frustrated by the pig eating the potatoes in his garden that he shot it. The pig was owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and British authorities threatened to arrest the farmer. The 18 Americans living on San Juan Island petitioned for military assistance, and Captain George Pickett (best known for his ill-fated charge at Gettysburg a few years later) was dispatched to the Island with a company of infantry. Meanwhile, Governor James Douglas (“Father of British Columbia”) was angered by the presence of the American troops, and sent warships to drive them out. Though the Americans were overwhelmingly outnumbered, Captain Pickett refused to budge, saying he would “make a Bunker Hill of it” if necessary. Captain Geoffrey Hodges, in command of the British ships, recognized that Pickett might be just be crazy, stupid, or ambitious enough to actually do that, and chose not to land his marines.

The Americans reinforced their position over the next two months, landing almost 500 troops, and installing 14 cannons and 8 naval guns in an earthen redoubt designed by 2Lt Henry M. Robert (who later achieved fame for his ‘Rules of Order’). Despite the Governor’s orders, the British chose not to land any troops. The British naval commander, Rear Admiral Robert Baynes, advised Governor Douglas that he simply would not “involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig.” Neither side fired a shot in anger, and before long the officers on both sides were attending church services together on the British warships, and sharing whiskey and cigars in the home of the aggrieved pig-owner.

View from Robert's Redoubt. It's a nice fortification, but you can tell his real passion was for parliamentary procedure.

View from Robert’s Redoubt. It’s a nice fortification, but you can tell his real passion was for parliamentary procedure.

However, when Washington and London received word of the situation, they were horrified that this frontier wackiness had brought them to the brink of war. President Buchanan dispatched General Winfield Scott, ‘Old Fuss and Feathers’ himself, to negotiate on behalf of the United States. The two sides agreed to withdraw all of their reinforcements, leaving a garrison of no more than 100 troops apiece. They would jointly occupy the island until the territorial dispute was settled.

In March of the following year, the Royal Marines landed at Garrison Bay on the northwest coast of the Island and began settling in. They were well situated and well supplied, so before long, “English Camp” was a pretty nice place, with a formal garden and elegant hillside houses for the officers. In contrast, for the Americans, maintaining an outpost in the San Juans was a somewhat lower priority than that whole ‘Civil War’ thing we had going on, so it became a hardship post, with inadequate quarters and lousy food. It was a magnificent fighting position, very defensible and with a commanding view of the southern end of the island, but it was kind of a shitty place to live. There were several suicides, and the principal relief from boredom seems to have been visiting the forbidden town of Old San Juan in search of prostitutes and rotgut whiskey.

British ships anchored off San Juan Village, 1859

British ships anchored off San Juan Village, 1859

'Recess' anchored in roughly the same place

‘Recess’ anchored in roughly the same place

Friday Harbor to American Camp

Friday Harbor to American Camp

We anchored in Griffin Bay, where British warships had anchored during the early days of the standoff, and beached our dinghy next to the Old Town Lagoon. Long since abandoned, only a handful of wooden planks suggest there were ever buildings here, let alone a town with saloons and bordellos. We walked along “4th of July Beach” (so named because the rival military camps would get together for fireworks, sports, and merriment on Independence Day and the Queen’s Birthday), and then hiked along a road up to the site of the American Camp. The view, especially from Robert’s redoubt, is spectacular. But even today, you can tell the place was kind of a windswept shithole.

Pictured: Windswept Shithole

Pictured: Windswept Shithole

We rowed back to our little boat, and checked our crab trap. To our delight, there were two big Dungeness crabs inside! Unfortunately, they turned out to be female, and were therefore illegal to take. We threw them back, baited the crab trap again, and grilled some sausages for dinner instead.

Sunset in Griffin Bay

Sunset in Griffin Bay

Paquita contemplates 19th-century border disputes

Paquita contemplates 19th-century border disputes

I awoke before dawn to find the bay completely shrouded in fog. I had neglected to check the currents the previous evening, and realizing my error, I consulted our current atlas and saw that we needed to weigh anchor and leave IMMEDIATELY in order to avoid a big flood current in Cattle Pass. I roused Paquita and we hastily checked our crab trap, only to find the SAME TWO GODDAMNED FEMALE CRABS from the previous evening. I think female crabs have it figured out, and just raid crab traps with impunity whenever they find them.

We retrieved the anchor and were soon underway in the soupy fog. We couldn’t make out any of the island through the fog, so I manned the GPS and the air horn as Paquita steered by the compass.

Look at her! She's like a sexy longshoreman

Look at her! She’s like a sexy longshoreman

Despite some close calls with a few fishing boats, we made it through Cattle Pass and started working our way north into Haro Strait. The morning sun eventually burned away the fog, and the west side of San Jun Island came into view. This, we were told, was where the whales liked to hang out, but we never saw any. We entered Mosquito Pass (which, fortunately, did not live up to its name), and pulled into Garrison Bay around noon.

American Camp to English Camp, via Haro Strait

American Camp to English Camp, via Haro Strait

To our surprise, it was pretty crowded! American Camp had been nearly deserted, so we were expecting the other historical sites to be lightly trafficked as well. Not so, as it turned out. Maybe it’s because it was Saturday, or maybe it’s because English Camp is objectively a nicer place to visit, but the bay was positively full of boats. However, since our tiny boat had a draft of only 3 feet or so, we were able to drive straight past all the other boats and anchor in the shallows about 100 yards from the dinghy dock (+2 for tiny boats).

They had a dinghy dock!

They had a dinghy dock!

After setting our crab trap and having lunch, we rowed over to explore.

Don't move! You've got a flag stuck in your eye!

Don’t move! You’ve got a flag stuck in your eye!

English Camp really is a neat little place. Since the Royal Marines had the luxury of choosing a site for quality of life, as opposed to military necessity, they took the time to find the best spot on the island. It had a deep, sheltered harbor, a beach for landing troops and supplies, a flat area ideal for a parade ground (which had already been cleared of trees by the Indian inhabitants), and a hillside with natural terraces for additional structures. There were two streams for fresh water, a peach orchard, and the bay was teeming with shellfish. Also, since the colonial government was at nearby Fort Victoria, they were well supplied. While the American Camp was a hardship post, English Camp was downright cushy, with officers bringing their families to stay in prim Victorian houses overlooking the formal garden. In the 12 years of joint occupation, the American Camp had 15 different commanders. The English Camp had only 2. No one wanted to leave.

Formal Garden

Formal Garden

Garrison Bay

Garrison Bay

North from Young's Hill

North from Young’s Hill

Paquita and I hiked to the top of Young’s Hill, from which we could see the bay, the surrounding estuary, and across Haro Strait to Vancouver Island. On the way down, we stopped at a small cemetery, where 6 Royal Marines and one British civilian are buried. Even here, the difference between the American and English camps is plain: while the American camp was plagued with illnesses and suicides, 4 of the 6 Royal Marines buried here died by drowning.

After the Civil War, the US and Great Britain resumed negotiating the border dispute, but still could not reach an agreement. In 1871, the issue was put before Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia for arbitration. The Kaiser appointed a commission to study the question, and after a year of deliberation, he sided with the United States and declared that the boundary would be Haro Strait (possibly because it is wider and deeper, or possibly just to spite his cousin, Queen Victoria). In 1872, The Marines withdrew and joint occupation ended, bringing the “Pig War” to a close with only one shooting casualty: the pig.

San Juan Island National Historical Park is actually the only park in the United States commemorating the peaceful resolution of a dispute.

San Juan Island National Historical Park is actually the only park in the United States commemorating the peaceful resolution of a dispute.

Paquita and I rowed back to our boat in the afternoon, and found 3 crabs in our crab trap: 2 females and a male. We measured the male’s width, and he was just barely above the legal limit for Washington, so into the cookpot he went. Not without a fight, though. He was pretty feisty, and tried to cut the fuel line of our outboard motor with his pincers when we picked him up.

Pictured: Feisty Crab and Fuel Line

Pictured: Feisty Crab and Fuel Line

We dined on crab meat in one of the most tranquil settings I had ever laid eyes upon.

Holy shit, this photo

Holy shit, this photo

The next morning, we were headed north—Way north, up to the Boundary Islands—so we thought it might be a good idea to restock our fuel, food, and ice. On our way out of Garrison Bay, we made a little detour over to the resort town of Roche Harbor.

English camp had been a bit crowded, but Roche Harbor was an absolute madhouse. Boats of all sizes were coming and going, threading their way through the densely packed anchorage. We topped up at the fuel dock, then tied the boat up next to the customs dock to venture ashore. Walking up the dock, it became apparent that a significant fraction of the marina is reserved for enormous multimillion-dollar yachts. I’m not even sure the marina has slips for regular-sized boats (It probably does, but they must be tucked away out of sight somewhere, so the ultra-rich don’t have to look at them). Since the principal industry in Roche Harbor seems to be separating millionaire yachtsmen from their money, we didn’t stay long, and sailed out into President Channel, where a flood current urged us on to our next destination: Sucia Island.

English Camp to Sucia Island, via Roche Harbor

English Camp to Sucia Island, via Roche Harbor

Paquita at the helm yet again.

Paquita at the helm yet again.

Stay tuned for Part III!