Among the Palms in Palms Springs

img_3535To get to southern California, we could have continued on the Amtrak train from Eugene, Oregon to L.A. But the train arrives in downtown L.A. around 9 PM, if it is on time. We did not want to get there so late at night. Nor did we want to fly to L.A. and then have to drive somewhere in a rental car.

So, instead of flying to L.A. we opted to fly to Palm Springs. Flights from Eugene are easy and relatively cheap. We found an Air BnB offer online that sounded attractive: a private little house in a resort at a reasonable price. Picking up a rental car at the Palm Springs airport, we drove to Sky Valley, perhaps a 30 minute drive by the light of a gigantic moon hanging low over the desert. img_3544

Here we had a park model mobile home: small but with a kitchen, sitting area, bathroom and bedroom. Best of all, it is in a gated resort with several gorgeous swimming pools that are filled by mineral hot springs. One pool is almost as warm as our hot tub. You can rent units here for as long as you like. We see many license plates from Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia! (http://www.skyvalleyresorts.com/sky-valley-resort)

The Palm Springs valley is a strange place. Baren hills rise sharply against the blue sky. Endless scrub brush covers the valley floor. Towns like Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Sky Valley, Indio, Palm Desert, Cathedral City and many more have grown into almost one large urban sprawl. However, the sprawl is low and the same color as the desert. Even shopping malls must have a building code so that everything blends nicely into the natural environment. And there is lots of empty land left all around.

img_3538

The visitor centre at the Nature Reserve is a palm log cabin!

Towering palm trees are everywhere. Too bad that the Santa Anna winds come howling down the mountains regularly. But the clear blue skies, the sun sets, the wild flowers, all make for a wonderful stay in this desert environment. Snow birds and movie stars make this area their home. There are lots of retirement homes and elderly care facilities, and I can’t blame them for wanting to be in this great climate. img_3548

img_3549Kees goes hiking each day in desert trail areas and nature preserves. We’ve walked through amazing palm groves at Coachella Valley Preserve (http://coachellavalleypreserve.org) I have never seen palm trees this size! We walked to one grove where the palms formed a solid wall, towering high above us. The trail led to a pond surrounded by these California fan palms. You can buy fresh palm dates in road size stands! img_3537img_3554

Advertisements

Koh Rong – an Island Paradise

IMG_1639

 

Knowing that we would be doing a lot of hiking in the heat, we planned to end our time in Cambodia with a relaxing time on a beach. We did a lot of online research to find a good spot. We’re not really into just sitting on the beach but we did want something where we could rest after our hiking.

IMG_1645

We talked to friends who had been to Cambodia and read lots of reviews on Trip Advisor and other sites.

We ended up selecting something a step up from the very cheap beach cabins where, on photos, we could look outside through the planks and where they often had no bathroom. IMG_1649

We picked Sok SanBeach Resort on Koh Rong, off the coast of Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a big ugly city with lots of traffic and lots of (Chinese) construction of highrises and casinos. We stayed near Otres Beach on the far west end of town to clean up and reorganize before crossing to the island.

The only way to get there, of course, is by boat. A few rinky-dinky “ferries” offer a way to cross the water, the Bay of Thailand, to Koh Rong. But really the only option is the modern catamaran operated by the resort. I must say I find it strange that you have to pay US $20 per person per ride to get there and back.  This effectively added another 80 dollars to our stay. I think that the resort should provide transportation if they want you to come. But…

IMG_1644We selected a seaview cottage, which was a good choice. The room is small but adequate. It’s nice that two lounge chairs are reserved in front of our room because all other chairs are claimed daily and occupied by towels all day long, even if people move on.

The other guests seem to be mostly French, some German and Italians, and some Chinese. China even offers direct flights to Sihanoukville….

Turns out this resort found its origins in the TV series Survivor. To accommodate the crew for Survivor Cambodia, they started what is now Sok San Resort.

You can watch that Survivor season here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9KMkP_frT8

IMG-20180228-WA0000

The resort is quiet, no partying or loud music. The food is limited: small portions and fairly high prices (27.- for an Italian Buffet). We walked into the village for a few meals (5.- for breaded pork and fries, less for Khmer food).

But it is the perfect place for us to veg out, swim in the warm sea, walk and even kayak. We went out with some other guests for a 2 hour kayak session on a small mangrove river that ended at the beach on the other side of the island.

The resort has fairly good wifi so I was able to get things done. It’s amazing how quickly our 5 days here went by. I could definitely stay much longer! IMG-20180228-WA0012

Island Time: Northern Vancouver Island

IMG_1142IMG_1190We have a week and a half to explore close to home. Often our trips take us across the world. This time, we don’t need to content with carry-on luggage or airports. We simply load up the car and leave home.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are close to some of the world’s most beautiful natural areas. We have seen much of it but have never been to northern Vancouver Island.

 

Most visitors come to the large island, about the size of The Netherlands, to visit Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. And while this is a gorgeous, friendly city with lots to do, the island has so much more to offer. On a previous trip we took our Westfalia camper through Victoria to Sooke and around the southern tip of the island to Port Renfrew and back to Cowichan. On this trip we saw stately rain forests, bears and isolated beaches.

IMG_1170

Cable ferry

We’ve driven through Port Alberni across the island from east to west to visit the small, quaint towns of Ucuelet and Tofino on the breathtaking west coast where surfers roam white beaches and hippies inhabit the coffee shops in town.

IMG_1129

Qualicum First Nations Campsite

But this time, we drive north through Nanaimo and Qualicum to our first camping spot on the shore of the Salish Sea: the Qualicum First Nations Campground. This beautiful piece of land along the east coast of Vancouver Island offers many RV sites right along the water. Each site had water and a picnic table, several had sewer service. There were no toilet buildings but a few very clean, odourless port-a-potties did the job. We enjoyed staring over the water and listening to the waves as we fell asleep in our tent.

IMG_1180

Only on the islands…

The next morning we packed up and drove north to the ferry to Denman and Hornby Islands. I hadn’t, until then, realized that you need to go to Denman first to get to Hornby. The brand new cable ferry ride took about 20 minutes. The fee of around 40.- was for two people and a car and allows us to stay on either island for as long we like, return fare included.

We decided to work our way back and scooted straight across Denman to Hornby. There we were surprised to find much still closed, even on the last day of May. The pub/restaurant by the ferry landing was closed. The bookstore was closed. And several signs along the way said ‘closed’. We drove several of the few roads on the island and liked what we saw: pastoral farms, very green, forests of tall evergreens and ferns. We found an eclectic cluster of Coop store, coffee shop, craft and clothing shops.

IMG_1152

Hornby

The detailed (free) island map showed a B & B, which did not seem to exist in reality. But a resort which, according to its website, was closed turned out to be open. Moral: don’t believe it until you see it.

IMG_1154

Sea Breeze

The resort where we ended up staying two nights because it was so wonderful, is called Sea Breeze: http://www.seabreezelodge.com.

It offers spacious cottages right along the coast line. We sit on our porch in adirondack chairs to sip our morning coffee. The cottages are very private. Ours has a kitchen and fireplace. At $145.- this was not cheap but the kitchen allowed us to make all of our own meals, which made it the same or less expensive than a B & B room plus having to eat out.

There’s even a very good hot tub to soak in. And on the blustery nights we spent here, we sure enjoyed the fireplace. IMG_1164

We managed to go for a wonderful hike during the only time it rained while we were on Hornby. We did the return Ford Cove to Shingle Spit Trail, about 2.5 KM one way. Gorgeous setting, relatively level and a well maintained trail along the coast, amid towering cedars, ferns and gleaming arbutus. Nice to spot lots of fossil rocks along the way. But no cafe, no patio, no pub on either side. Just a marina at Ford Cove with a little store.

From Horny we drove back to Denman, which is apparently nicknamed ‘Hornby’s speed bump’ since most visitors race across it to reach the ferry to Hornby. To us Denman did indeed seem less attractive. Many of its roads were unpaved and we saw a plethora of signs telling us to “keep out” and “no trespassing”. There were not many services on the island – we did’t find a patio on the water, nor a cute little pub. We did discover a very good coffee shop, well hidden inside the local hardware store! In the back, a secret garden with brand new adirondack chairs invited us to linger. The bookstore next door was open and well stocked with good titles.

IMG_1176

Denman

A 15 minute ferry ride took us back to the main island and we drove north to Comox, where we had booked a perfect AirBnB: the ground floor of a brand new house. A small living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom offered luxurious bedding and towels and everything we needed in a kitchen including muffins, fruit and coffee. For 75.- this was a perfect find and highly recommended.

Next blog: Port Hardy, Alert Bay and Telegraph Cove

IMG_1177