Mesa Rally 2014 — Carol

Wasn’t that a rally!

It’s all over except for the memories but we had a great time at the 16th annual Mesa Rally. Many thanks to our hosts Larry and Sheila and Brian and Wendy for a job well done. As usual many other volunteers pitched in and helped with small jobs and thank you to them as well.

The week started on Sunday for some – Tuesday officially. We registered 39 people in 19 rigs — a few attendees came for day visits from town. Usery Park was truly lovely – very green and blooming.

The week’s events included a Boules game, several card games, several campfires, lunch at Organ Stop Pizza, crafts, walks, Ranger talk, visiting and catching up with old and new friends, and of course FOOD. Great food.

Rally 2015  is already in the works – March 16 to 20th – the week following the Tucson Escapade.  Hosts will be Carol, Dottie, Don and Ed and Julie.  Put us in your calendar.

Thanks to picture-takers Larry, Don, Becky and Carol. Click on any photo to see a slide show. :-)

Madagascar Part 4 — Curtis & Verle

There are many unique memories but I will briefly describe some of them.

First and foremost are the lemurs which are indigenous only to Madagascar. We saw them in the wild in the ecological area and also in captivity.

A visit to a very large palm plantation included a walking tour of the palm oil production from the forest to the production line and finally to the many products derived from the palm nuts. A very large number of these nuts grow in clusters on the palm trees. The plantation also included many other plants grown without pesticides etc.

The evening of Valentine’s Day we enjoyed a dinner with family and friends at Ocean 501. This is an open air restaurant on the shore of the Indian Ocean. The light from the ice moon that evening shimmered on the waves of the ocean. A breathtaking sight.

One weekend was spent at Foule Point, a resort located behind a large coral reef two kilometers out in the ocean. On the coast the only place reasonably safe to swim is behind a reef. Otherwise the undertow takes over and your next stop is a long way across the ocean to India, that is if the sharks do not get you first. Even behind the reef there was a significant pull. We only stayed in the water to say we had been there.

We spent the weekend at our beach house and on the beach enjoying the many vendors and the company of our group. Everything from live turtles to massages were available from the vendors. Curtis and I had a massage and another had her hair French-braided. A delicious lobster lunch which consisted of one large lobster per person plus shrimp and potatoes was served on the beach.

On the final weekend we enjoyed a boat tour on the canal. The boat was powered but we had to pay first so the operator could go to buy fuel. We witnessed rocks being pulverized by hand for road construction, diving for sand to make cement, perogues which are the boats the Malagasy makes by hollowing out logs, loads of charcoal being transported to the city and many locales bathing and swimming in the canal. The charcoal is produced in the rural areas and is the main cooking fuel for their small hibachi-like stoves.

On our flight home we were able to see the lava flow of Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily from about 7 miles up. The picture is not good so not included but the sight was awesome.

Our holiday ended in London where we spent for two days. We stayed at the Rose Park Hotel near Paddington Station. The express train to Heathrow stops at this station.

While in London we toured a very small portion of the Albert and Victoria Museum. The building is large and six stories so it would take a week to see it all.

This is the last written information. The final post will be a colorful, pictorial finale.

Curtis and I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into our amazing travel experience.

See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Madagascar Part 3 — Curtis & Verle

Ambatovy is the name of the nickel refinery complex about 10 km from the city of Tamatave. The site includes the plant site where the nickel is chemically refined, the operational camp where the rotational workers live and the management village where the families reside. The actual mine site 200 km in the mountains. The ore is slurried and comes from the mine by gravity via a braked, very large pipeline.

Clinton and Joan live in the management village. The village includes identical homes, an international school, a clinic, a gymnasium and a large saltwater swimming pool. Early swims were wonderful. Most homes are two bedrooms but there are some with four for larger families.

Clinton’s area of expertise is the power production and the acid production. He is the manager of a group of five superintendents and about 400 employees. For those interested in the details of the nickel mine and refinery, a discussion with Curtis will be enlightening. Suffice to say that five of the Fort Saskatchewan sites would easily fit in Ambatovy. A tour by car took one and one half hours.

The pictures include before and after of Clinton and Joan’s home.  With the expert assistance of a local gardener she has created this oasis of growth in four years — also with the help of downpour rain (equals humidity) and temperatures from 24 to 40C year-round. The resident pet is Francene, a box turtle. He or she consumes one head of lettuce a day.

The plant pictures include the plant, the operational camp, the management village and finally the city of Tamatave on the shore of the Indian Ocean.

See also Madagascar Part 2.

Madagascar Part 2 — Curtis & Verle

Tamatave (Toamasina) is a port city of approximately 2-3 million people. No accurate count is available. It is a very interesting place.

The streets are filled with large transport trucks, a few cars and small trucks, some Tuc Tucs, thousands of push pushes, scooters, and people, the majority of whom are on foot. Only slim, trim people in this country.

As our driver said there is only one rule. It doesn’t matter if it is a person or a wheeled vehicle of some description, whoever is on the right has right of way. No traffic lights and very few stop signs. It seems to work quite well.

Among all this are numerous goats and zebu ( hump-backed cattle). The goats and cattle are an important factor on the city streets as they are the main recycling system.

The city has one traffic circle which consists of large pot holes and is usually partially flooded. All transport passes through this circle as it is the route to the main highway to the capital city, Antananoriva (Tana).

This city is about 300 km over the mountains via a two-lane narrow highway that consists of multiple narrow switchbacks and very deep gorge drop-offs. At one point one lane has fallen into the gorge. The trip takes 8 hours and there is only one place to stop or turn around. We rode about 60 km of it and that was enough.

The streets of Tamatave are lined with open market stalls, shops, restaurants etc. One menu included sautéed guts. The driver had eaten elsewhere and said he had a delicious lunch of chicken feet. Dining out is not for the faint of stomach. We have never eaten so many French fries.  

To be continued …

See also Madagascar Part 1.

Madagascar Part 1 — Curtis & Verle

January 26 to February 21 Curtis and I experienced a trip of a lifetime to visit our son, Clinton, and his wife, Joan, in Madagascar. They have lived there for four years as Clinton is one of the managers at the nickel refinery that was under construction and is now producing nickel.

The posts that will appear over a period of time will give readers a glimpse of our experiences. However, no words can fully explain what we learned from and feel about this opportunity.


These pictures span 24 hours flight time, airport lounges, security checks, high-speed trains, Chunnel Eurostar, and numerous underground rides. The Eurostar was a two-hour journey but only 20 minutes under the English Channel.

We left Edmonton on Sunday and arrived at Tamatave on Friday. Two days were spent recuperating on Reunion Island. Eventually we arrived at the Tamatave airport in Madagascar.

It is like no airport we have ever experienced. Tamatave is a city of about 3 million on the eastern shore of Madagascar. Clinton and Joan reside at Ambatovy, the nickel refinery site about 10 miles from the city. Tamatave is also a large port city.

A mix up of arrival times found us waiting in the outdoor lounge of the airport in 37C heat for 3 hours. Picture this. We did not know the local prefix for the phone number and only had enough ariary currency for two bottles of water. Numerous native taxi drivers were hovering for a fare. Finally a native who spoke a few words of English was able to provide the proper prefix.

Our son’s red face and endless ribbing of his co-workers for leaving his parents stranded at the airport at the mercy of Malagasy culture will linger for awhile.

The problem was that Clinton has always arrived on the Tuesday plane which does arrive at 12:30. We were on the Friday one that arrives at 9:30. Assumptions triumphed over the printed itinerary.

To be continued …

Click any photo to see a slide show.

Las Islas Marietas — Bill & Sharon

Last week we decided it was time to get some pics of the elusive Blue-footed Booby. (I know, I know we should get a life!).

So off to Punta de Mita by car to secure a panga, which is a small 24-30 ft. flat-bottomed boat. By driving to Punta Mita we save an hour boat trip from Bucerias, as the Marieta Islands are only about 15 minutes out from there. The flat-bottomed boat allowed us to poke and pry into the many grottos and caves of the islands. Our Captain was amazingly skillful, as often we were in water less than 1 meter deep.

What makes the the Blue-footed Booby intriguing Is that it’s only found in 3 places — the Galapagos and Marieta Islands and one small group of islands off Central America. They get their name from their awkward behavior on land and of course their blue feet. They are, however, graceful fliers and will dive from great heights to retrieve fish. They remind me a lot of penguins with their behavior on land.

On the way over we encountered a mother whale and her calf, and a group of dolphins, so an exciting start to the trek.

The Marietas are a birders’ paradise, with an abundance of sea bird species literally covering the islands.

Life is good!

Click on any photo for a slide show.

Click on these links for more info on the Marietas and the blue-footed booby.