Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Queen Charlotte, Skidegate and a rather unfortunate incident …

Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii
Queen Charlotte is the largest town in Haida Gwaii, but it still feels pretty small.

We were staying close to the harbour, which also had the large and helpful tourist information office, the Ocean View Restaurant with the great pizza, a lovely little café called Queen B’s, where we failed to resist the nice looking – and equally nice tasting – cakes, and a few other little shops and eateries.

Volunteer celebrations, Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii

This is also where the ‘town square’ is, complete with a small stage. We were quite pleased to discover that there was due to be an event on; it was a celebration of the volunteers in the community, and it was to have live music, food stalls, a cake, and a presentation to a specially honoured volunteer. It sounded interesting, and we were told everyone was welcome, so we decided to stick around to check it out.

Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii
Well, a few dozen people turned up. There was a band, and they were OK, at least until the vocalist let another band member have a go at singing, when it went a bit south for a few songs. There was a food stall, and there was a cake. They couldn’t cut the cake though, because that honour was for the person being presented to, and she hadn’t arrived. I don’t know whether or not she knew that she was supposed to be receiving something, so had to turn up, but an hour and fifty minutes into the two-hour event and she still hadn’t arrived. Oops.

Skidegate, Haida Gwaii
Further down the road, was the supermarket, and a few more places to eat, including a nice little shop/café/ice cream place called Junebug. That is pretty much it, but it covers all the necessaries, and we were pleasantly surprised at the quality in the places we tried.

There is no public transport on the island, and as you’ll know from my post about our arrival here, taxis are few and far between, so hitchhiking is commonplace. That would probably have been how we would have got between Queen Charlotte and Skidegate had we not managed to hire a car.

We had saved Skidegate and the nearby museum for our last day, as before we knew we were getting the car, it seemed easier to just make one trip in this direction, and then we would be in the right area to get the ferry from Skidegate in the evening. Having the car made things much easier though, as it’s a reasonable distance between Skidegate town, the museum and the ferry terminal, and as it turned out, there wasn’t a suitable café in Skidegate, so we still ended up driving back to Queen B’s in Queen Charlotte.

Model of old Skidegate, Haida Gwaii Museum, Haida Gwaii

Skidegate is the second of the two sites that the Haida people moved to when they abandoned their villages. The Haida Museum has a great little model of what the village would have looked like then, and while it is certainly very different now, you can still see the basic layout of the properties around the bay.

Skidegate, Haida Gwaii
There isn’t much to do in Skidegate itself, but then that wasn’t really a surprise by now, based on everywhere else we’d been. We checked out a couple of touristy shops, looked at a couple of totem poles, and that was about it. Our favourite thing in Skidegate was probably the old rusting fire engine that was sat on the grass, gradually disintegrating, with a tree growing out of the top.

Old fire engine, Skidegate, Haida Gwaii

We had also been told, by someone we’d met at the Airbnb the previous evening, to sneak a peek into the shed next to the fire engine. It was locked, but there was a small opening at the back that we could peer through. Inside, were the blackened remains of a totem pole, which had presumably been rescued from a fire at some point, but were now lying forgotten in this shed.

The main thing to do here though, is to visit the Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre. We did, but I’ll talk about those in the next post.

Burnt totem pole, Skidegate, Haida Gwaii

For now, I’ll leave you with the rather unfortunate incident that happened to Nic, as we were about to leave Queen Charlotte. We were walking back to the car, and passed under a lamppost. Just as we did so, Nic got splattered with bird poo. But this wasn’t just any old bird poo, this was courtesy of a bald eagle that was sitting on the lamppost.

Now bearing in mind that a bald eagle is generally between 70cm and a metre tall, with a wingspan of around two meters, you can imagine that they produce quite a lot of poo. It wasn’t pretty. Thankfully, because we had the bags in the car, Nic was able to grab a change of clothes and go and use the tourist information office loos to clean up and change. The eagle just sat there.

Old fire engine, Skidegate, Haida Gwaii

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Masset and Old Masset

Totem pole in Old Masset
With our two boat trips done, we still had a few days free in Haida Gwaii, and having seen just how small Queen Charlotte is, we decided to hire a car for couple of days to get a little further around the island. We were fortunate to get a car at short notice like this – indeed they originally said they didn’t have one, so I assume we got lucky due to a cancellation. If you are coming here, do book your hire car in advance. We used Gwaii Taxi and Tours, and they were very convenient, as they brought the car to us at our Airbnb and allowed us to drop it at the ferry in Skidegate when we left.

We decided spend our free full day going out to Masset and Old Masset, which were a good few hours drive away. It would have been nice to stop at Tlell on the way, especially if we had been allowed to be eating bad things, as the café there is apparently very good. Thankfully, being a bit short on time helped us to exercise enough willpower to avoid it.

Carving in Masset's main street
We arrived in Masset in time for lunch, and stopped at the Mile Zero Pub and Grill. The restaurant bit looked pretty dull, so we sat in the pub area, which has the same menu. The choices are pretty standard, but they are very friendly there and the quality of food was very good.

Happily fed, we set off to have a wander around Masset. That took about ten minutes. There really isn’t anything here.

So we got back in the car, and continued on to Old Masset. Some of you may recall that in a previous post, I mentioned that when the Haida people had to abandon their villages, this was one of the two places that they settled. As such, Old Masset is still largely inhabited by the Haida people, and so there are a number of totem poles dotted around the village here.

Totem pole on the school in Old Masset
We took a look at them as we drove, and took a few photos, but we didn’t want to loiter too much, as most are in people’s gardens, so it would have felt a bit intrusive. It was nice to see the poles that are newer, more colourful, and still in use, but I am not sure that we really would have felt it was worth the cost and time to drive up here for them alone. We may have felt differently had we not already been to S’Gang Gwaay though.

Gin Kuyaas Haida Art Studio and Gifts, Old Masset
What we did think it was well worth coming here for, were the Haida art studios and galleries. Some of them were a little overly touristy, some were a bit overpriced, and some just had incredibly expensive pieces, but we found two places in particular that we really liked.

The first was the art studio of Haida artist Alice White, which is located in her B&B. We enjoyed a good look around, and found many of the works interesting, but settled on a small eagle and raven pattern that was painted on paper made from red cedar bark. This appealed to us, both as a nice image, and the fact that with the traditional material and the crest of the two Haida clans, it felt like a good representation of our visit.

Canoe store and totem poles in Old Masset
The other was Gin Kuyaas Haida Art Studio and Gifts, which is run by a Haida couple from a traditional Long House, across the way from the family canoe store and totem poles. This is a nice, simple store, which had a number of very nice pieces, that generally seemed better quality and better value than we had seen elsewhere.

We had taken quite a liking to some of the argillite carvings, so had been looking for a piece that we might buy. Argillite is a black stone, and though similar stone can be found elsewhere, this specific composite is only found in Haida Gwaii, and comes from the Slatechuck mine, owned by the Haida, and fiercely protected by them. Only Haida people are permitted to carve it. They used to use it as something to sell to Europeans, often with jokes at their expense, but these days the images have been refined and more in keeping with Haida styles in other materials.

Totem pole in Old Masset
We had earlier rejected a piece in another shop, because though exactly the type of thing we wanted, it was very expensive and in my opinion, not that well made. In the shop here, we found a lovely little box, with a bear image, that we loved, and that was a far more reasonable price. It was only after we bought it that we realised that the carver, Derek White, is a relation of April, the artist whose painting we had bought, with both being direct descendants of a famous Haida Chief and artist called Charles Edenshaw.

We had to wait to pick up the painting, so we drove back to Old Masset and had a drink at the rather nice Ground Gallery and Coffee House, where we nobly resisted cake. After collecting the picture, it was time to drive back to Queen Charlotte.

We decided to make a small detour to drive through tiny Port Clements on the way, which was interesting to see, but as we knew that our Airbnb host was kindly making us dinner that evening, we carried on home.
Old Masset

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of S'Gang Gwaay

S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii
Our second full day in Haida Gwaii meant our second boat trip with Haida Style, this time with a very early start, as we were heading right down to the southern end of the archipelago. Our destination was Anthony Island, and the Haida village of S’Gang Gwaay, or Ninstints, which is the name that white visitors gave it, based on the name of the village Chief.

Rainforest, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Today, we were on the covered boat with James, and as it was a bit bumpy, and the journey was around 4.5 hours each way, we were quite glad of that. A few of our fellow shipmates felt a bit queasy in the rough patches as it was. Nic was OK though, as he had taken a tablet just in case, and I was don’t generally have any problem with seasickness anyway.

It was a long journey down to S’Gang Gwaay, and we were all pretty glad when we finally arrived, even if we were a little disappointed that in order to avoid missing our slot with the Watchmen, we didn’t have time to stop and watch the couple of humpbacks that we had seen in the bay.

Watchman Kelsey, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

The boats and away from the village site, in order to avoid spoiling the experience in the village, so to get there, we took a walk through the mysterious looking rainforest, with its dark moss and ancient trees. The main trees here are cedar spruce and hemlock, which we learned to tell apart by the patterns on their bark.

We were shown around the village by Patrick from Haida Style, and Kelsey, one of the Watchmen. They gave us a great tour around, with lots of interesting information and some lovely stories about the carvings on the totem poles.

Totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Like Skedans, there were some remains of Haida Long Houses, and some collapsed and decaying poles, but unlike that village, S’Gang Gwaay also has quite a number of memorial poles that are still standing, and while the colours are long gone, the intricate carvings are still very visible. It isn’t hard to see why this was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Totems for guest Chief, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

We loved seeing the poles here. They may not be as well preserved as those that we might see in a museum or gallery, but there is something far better about seeing them still standing in the place that they were carved and raised, and where they served their proper purpose.

Standing here, they aren’t just a piece of artwork, they are a meaningful connection to the
people that once inhabited the village, as well as a stark reminder that those same people were decimated by disease brought by white colonists. Indeed, one of the poles, which stands a little away from the rest, at the edge of the village, is believed to be the mortuary pole of the Chief of another village, where the smallpox wiped out almost everyone, and the few that remained were allowed to join the village here.

Totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Now I’m definitely not one of those people who goes to places and claims to be able to ‘feel the spirituality’. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise when a place is meaningful, and S’Gang Gwaay certainly is that. It helps that Kelsey and Patrick brought the stories to life so well, but even without that, there is definitely a sense that you are somewhere quite special and unique. This was certainly the highlight of Haida Gwaii for us.

But whilst we did consider that the destination is worth the journey, if it felt like a long way out to S’Gang Gwaay, it felt even further on the way back.

Steller Sea Lions, Haida Gwaii
For a bit of respite, we stopped off again at the rock where the steller sea lions haul out and hung out with them for a while. We did think at one point, that we were going to be ‘seen off’ by one of the big males. He seemed to be mouthing off at us quite a bit, and made his way down to the water, as if he was threatening to come over and deal with us.

I wouldn’t say that he looked agitated by our presence – and certainly none of the others did – and he didn’t even seem that aggressive, it just looked like a lot of posturing. Perhaps he was trying to show off to the ladies or youngsters. Anyhow, he did get in the water, but didn’t come anywhere near us, just went and had a little swim around.

Haida Gwaii

We finally arrived back at Queen Charlotte later than expected, and glad that we had kept something quick and easy to cook when we got home after our thirteen hour day.

If you want to read about our other trip with Haida Style, and see more information about them, you can check out our post about Skedans, here:https://aroundtheworldin8000days.blogspot.com/2017/09/a-trip-to-haida-village-of-skedans.html

S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Remains of a Long House, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Rain forest and totems, S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

S'Gang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii

Steller Sea Lions, Haida Gwaii

Steller Sea Lions, Haida Gwaii

Steller Sea Lions, Haida Gwaii

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A trip to the Haida village of Skedans

Totem poles, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
On our first morning in Haida Gwaii, we had booked a tour out to Louise Island, to visit an old village called Skedans, or to give it its Haida name, K’uuna Llangaay.

We did our boat trips with a company called Haida Style, which is owned by two Haida identical twin brothers, Shawn and James Cowpar, and they run it with their sister in the office, their cousin, and a few others. They are certainly a busy bunch, as alongside this company, most seem to have various roles in the management of the islands, ranging from conservation to politics. This really does seem to be the case of having a finger in every pie.

Steller sea lions, Haida Gwaii
For the two tours that we did, they ran two boats, one that is fully covered and enclosed, and the other a large open zodiac with bench seats. For the covered boat, you can just go in your normal gear, and walk on and off via a ramp, but for the zodiac, you have to get kitted out in waterproofs and wellies, and you may be stepping off into shallow water. They seem to generally split the passengers by age, with the older ones on the covered boat, and younger ones on the zodiac, so if you have a particular preference for which boat you want to go on, you should tell them when you book.

We were on the zodiac for this trip, so once we were all dressed up in our gear, we set off. The zodiac is a bit faster, but also a bit bumpier, and being open, a lot breezier. We were quite happy though, as it was a lovely day, and we had time to fit in a quick visit to the rocks where the huge Steller Sea Lions haul out, and on a close by but separate rock, the seals.

Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
When we arrived at Louise Island, we landed at a beautiful little bay, that looked very inviting indeed. We peeled off our waterproofs, leaving them on the beach. We were warned, in no uncertain terms, that we should not leave anything like a phone or other shiny things on the beach – or indeed anywhere unattended – as there was a strong possibility of it being stolen. They have apparently got quite a problem here with prolific kleptomaniacs; the guilty perpetrators are not of the human variety though, here it is the ravens that you have to watch out for!

Remains of a Haida Long House, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
We were met here by the Watchmen. The Watchmen are Haida people who come and stay on the island during visiting season, to look after the village. In the past, Watchmen would have been the lookouts for potential invaders or other threats. They are depicted on totems by the tall banded hats that they wore.

These days, the Watchmen can be male or female, and they are less worried about murderous invaders, and more concerned about tourists damaging or even stealing, the remains of the village. The Watchmen maintain the pathways, that are denoted by clam shells, and guide people around the village site, explaining the totems and telling their stories.

Mortuary pole, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
After a cup of tea and some cookies, the Watchmen and our guides took us around the remains of the village. There isn’t a great deal here at Skedans, for a number of reasons. The islands have been abandoned for decades, as after the last outbreaks of Smallpox disease killed so many, what was left of the tribes all moved to new settlements in either Skidegate or Old Masset. Since then, the wooden structures that were here have largely decayed. That is, if the items weren’t already taken away by white people.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, many of the house posts and memorial posts were taken away to museums and art collections. Sometimes they were bought by agreement, although it is pretty dubious how much actual choice the Haida had, and whether they were given anything even vaguely resembling a fair price.

Memorial pole, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
One of the more interesting, and still just about standing, or rather leaning, as it has gradually lowered itself halfway down to the ground, is the memorial pole. The very tall pole has the remnants of some carving at the bottom end, but is more notable for the horizontal bands carved all the way up it. These bands – I counted thirteen of them – each represent a potlatch held by the chief of the village.

After our tour, we had the lunch that the guys had brought with them. For fish eaters, there were two types of locally line caught salmon, and then there was some lovely tender local venison too, as well as potatoes and salad. It was all very fresh and very tasty, so we were all very well fed and happy.

There was also plenty of time for chats with the guides, and to hear their stories. We liked the very open and informative way that they all spoke with us, as it gave us a genuine chance to hear about the islands and the Haida people, both as they lived in the past and as they live now.

Long House and Legacy Pole, Windy Bay, Haida Gwaii
On the way back, we made an extra stop at Windy Bay, or Hlk’yah. The village here is significant as it was the site of one of the key logging protests, that eventually stopped the mass logging, and led to the creation of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

However, the main point of interest is the 42 foot tall Legacy Pole that was raised here in 2013, to commemorate the twenty year anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement. The pole was carved by Jaalen Adenshaw, with assistance from his brother Gwaai, and Tyler York.

The pole has a ‘Land, Sea, People’ theme, and the carvings (from the top down) are:

-        Eagle - represents the sky and the Haida clan of Eagle;

-        Three Watchmen – represents the Haida Watchmen, past and present;

Legacy Pole, Windy Bay, Haida Gwaii
-        Visitor – represents those who visit the islands;

-        Marten – is shown running up the centre of the post, which is said to be the sound that happens before an earthquake;

-        Dog – represents archaeological findings that date human life on Haida Gwaii to 13-14,000 years ago;

-        Wasco, or sea wolf – a supernatural being;

-        Sacred-One-Standing-And-Moving – a supernatural being that holds up Haida Gwaii. When he moves, the islands shake, and he represents the big earthquake that they had here in 2012;

-        Raven – represents the Haida clan of the Raven;

-        Five Good People Standing Together – represents the people who stood in protest against the logging;

-        Grizzly Bear – represents archaeological findings that suggest grizzly bears were once on the island, and their link to the old Haida stories; and

-        Sculpin – a type of fish, which represents the sea.

Bald eagle swimming, Haida Gwaii
This was only a brief stop, as we had to get back out of the shallow channel before the tide went out and grounded the zodiac. This meant that we almost had to leave a couple of people behind, as they had wandered off into the forest. They just made it back in time, but otherwise they might either have had to swim out to us, or stay the night with the watchmen!

We had one final and unexpected treat in store on the return journey, when Shawn spotted an eagle swimming. Yes, I did mean to say swimming, and no, I had no idea that eagles could, let alone would, swim. It seems that this guy had caught himself a fish that was too large for him to be able to take off and fly, so he was swimming back to shore with it.

Bald eagle swimming, Haida Gwaii
We followed at a distance, with the intention of intervening and trying to fish him out of the water if it looked like he was in trouble, but he gradually edged his way there. Sadly, at some point he must have decided that the fish wasn't worth it and abandoned it, so after all of that effort, he was without his dinner, and he had to dry out his waterlogged feathers. Fascinating to see though.

Overall, this was a most enjoyable trip, even though there isn’t all that much to see at the Skedans village.

One small point about both of the trips that we took though, they did get back rather later than advertised. That wasn’t a problem for us, but is something you should bear in mind if you are thinking of planning anything that matters afterwards.

As it was late back, and we had not had the chance to do any food shopping yet, we decided to eat out at the Ocean View restaurant right next to the harbour. We had a pizza, and I have to say, it was excellent. The base was really light and airy, and the toppings were plentiful and tasty. I would certainly recommend the pizzas here, though they didn’t help our diets any!

And if you are have been reading this post in isolation, and want to know a bit more about the background to Haida Gwaii, then check out my previous post here

Skedans village, Haida Gwaii

Totem poles, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii

Skedans village, Haida Gwaii

Totem poles, Skedans village, Haida Gwaii
Steller sea lions, Haida Gwaii