Sable Island is one of Canada’s coolest Park Canada sites. It’s hard to reach but for those who make the effort, they will get a few hours with the world’s most isolated wild horses. Learn more in my latest story for Fodors.com here.
Canada has a new road and it leads to the Arctic Ocean (our first). The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway offers a 138-kilometres for adventurous road trippers. If you dream of tackling it, learn how in my latest story for Canadian Geographic Travel here.
“That’s a fairy door,” said Stephen Kerr – well known Ann Arbor resident and artist – pointing to the ground near the entrance of a local music venue. I knew Ann Arbor was home to thousands of artists but I hadn’t realized some of them were small enough to fit in your pocket.
Kerr explained that doors built for creatures shorter than fifteen centimeters are found on almost a dozen downtown buildings, “They are perfect replicas of the larger doors they are on.” I peered at the tiny oak door with a miniature stainless-steel doorknob and stained glass window,’ The Ark ‘ scrawled in black ink. Jeff Daniels plays the Ark when he’s in town and I could envision music-loving fairies slipping through the diminutive entrance.
“The fairy doors started appearing about ten years ago. Some stores have maps to help people find the fairy doors,” Stephen said. Self-described fairyologist, Jonathan B. Wight, was the first to discover a fairy door in his house in 1993. It’s rumored he’s behind similar doors that started appearing at downtown businesses in 2005.
Previously unaware that an urban fairy phenomenon had sprung up in the American Midwest, I set out to find a fairy. Peaceable Kingdom – an art and gift store – has fairy maps, a fairy door and tiny windows peering into a fairy-size replica of the store. I peered through the teeny windows nestled under the store’s street-front display, no easy feat on arthritic knees. A Jack Russell terrier ambled over to sniff my hand, happy to have someone at canine eye level, but the fairies were out.
With fairy-door map in hand, I set out on the trail of the littlest residents of Ann Arbor – sometimes called A2. It appeared fairies hung out in some unlikely places. Google’s AdWord headquarters has a fairy door, as does the University of Michigan’s MOTT Children’s hospital. The university is one of the world’s foremost research schools but it’s not above a bit of whimsy with its own fairy door.
At the Kelsey Museum of Archeology there are no fairy doors but the Egyptian coffin of Djehutymose has its own Facebook page. Somehow separated from its mummy, social media is helping Djehutymose. “Other mummies have liked its Facebook page and there is some discussion on the page about finding the missing mummy,” laughed Terry Wilfong, Professor of Egyptology. I wondered if the fairies could help.
At the University’s Nichols Arboretum, over three hundred of species of peonies waved in the early morning breeze, the fragrance reminding me of Saskatchewan summers. Tucked in the woods overlooking the carpet of peonies, a sign read ‘Fairy Woods and Troll Hollow’. “It’s for kids,” explained Intern Joel Klann, “they like to make miniature fairy houses out of sticks.”
My next destination was Matthaei Botanical gardens. I skidded to a stop at a large display inside the front door. A sign extolling people to ‘Build your own fairy garden’ was surrounded by tiny chairs, birdhouses, and even miniature wine bottles for the fairy with a preference for Chardonnay. “Have there been any sightings?” I asked Allison Correll, Visitor Services & Events Supervisor. She just laughed but I wondered about this Michigan preoccupation with fairies. If they were real, why settle here?
It could be the food. With over 200 restaurants, 65% with fairy-friendly outdoor seating, Fodor’s Travel called A2 one of “America’s Best College Towns for Foodies.” Maybe it’s because Ann Arbor decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s, or perhaps that just accounts for the number of people who think they’ve seen a fairy!
Thinking a bigger lens might help spot fairies, I headed to the Detroit Observatory, the second oldest building on the University of Michigan campus. Nearby Great Lakes create dreadful astronomy conditions, but in the mid 19th century it was necessary to have a planetarium if one wanted a research school so one was built. Even a fairy might find that logic confusing.
As my tour group watched Program Coordinator Karen Wight point the telescope towards the sky, explaining how early astronomers sighted stars, the doors to the room slammed shut – apparently on their own. “It’s the fairies,” cried one of our group. I spun around; it might have been a trick of the light, but for a second, I thought I saw a gossamer wing slip under the door.
An Urban Fairy Phenomena? Click to Tweet.
Fairy maps and fairy doors are a common feature in Ann Arbor. Discover how it got its start: Click to Tweet.
Discover how a trip to Ann Arbor could have you seeing fairies: Click to Tweet.
A large office supply company pioneered the idea of an easy button – one push and all your challenges fade away. What if you could make your trip to Canada’s national parks easier? Banff National Park staff has been trying to simplify outdoor adventures.
Last year Parks Canada launched Equipped Camping sites – a tent with sleeping pads is set up and waiting, removing the need to buy camping gear or stressing over how to assemble tent poles. At Two Jack Lakeside campground in 2013 Parks Canada constructed oTENTiks – sturdy tent/cabin hybrids to keep the rain out and your bones off the ground.
Both initiatives have been popular – the oTENTiks are fully booked most of the summer – and now the Red Chairs are coming to Banff National Park. The idea for the chairs came from Gros Morne National Park where pairs of red Adirondack-style chairs were installed hoping visitors would sit and ponder great views. The chairs were so popular, “there were line-ups to sit in some the chairs,” recalled Greg Danchuk, Visitor Experience Manager at Banff National Park.
Now visitors can relax in the red chairs at several locations in Banff National Park such as the Hoodoos interpretive trail or at the Valleyview picnic area. “We placed them in places that are very easy to get to,” said Danchuk. There are nine pairs of chairs in the park with the possibility of adding more.
Although some people raised concerns initially that the chairs would encourage environmental overuse, Danchuk stresses, “They are not placed in the backcountry or hard-to-find areas. We would also never place them on rehabilitated ground. We will monitor them to see if there are any negative impacts but so far there has been no significant problems.”
From 2006 to 2011 attendance at national parks dropped. Concerned about the decrease, Parks Canada saw attracting new Canadians as a way to rebuild visitation. But with more Canadians living in cities, outdoor skills can be rusty or non-existent. Making it easier for people to experience the outdoors is a strategy being tried by park planners across North America and it seems to be attracting new customers to Banff National Park. “We project a 7% increase in Banff park visitation for the year ending March 31, 2015 and we think some of that increase is from initiatives like oTENTiks, Equipped Campsites and the Red Chairs that make it easier to enjoy nature.”
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Costa Rica’s 111-kilometer long Tarcoles River is one of the most polluted water bodies in Latin America. Plastic and paper litters the brown water’s edge and is embedded in the muddy banks. When seasonal floodwaters recede, ribbons of trash demarcate high water points. Sewage from interior cities and towns also drain into the river. It is a horrible place to swim.
But if you are a crocodile the warm, nutrient-rich water are a feeding bonanza. Dozens of American crocodiles line the riverbanks sunbathing in statue-like stillness. Others ply the water for a meal, their nostrils and unblinking eyes the only hint of the killing machine below. With an estimated 25 crocodiles per square kilometer, the river has one of the highest croc populations in the world.
Most people would not see Tarcoles River as a potential tourism attraction, but where others saw lemons, one man saw an opportunity for lemonade. Dr. Mario F. Orjuela, a veterinarian from Columbia who specialized in crocodiles, iguanas, snakes and toads, was struck by the area’s richness on his first visit in 1993. “While undertaking survey expeditions and night excursions, I began thinking of a way to show this hidden treasure to visitors, to let them know in an educative way about the fascinating creatures and the ecosystem of this tropical paradise. And so the ‘Jungle Crocodile Safari’ was born,” he said.
Dr. Orjuela died several years ago – a victim of crime, not crocodiles- but his company lives on. Over 6,000 people come from around the world each year to see these muscular river juggernauts. Two-hour tours on covered boats with open sides allow unobstructed views of 100+ bird species and the main event, crocodile feeding.
When I took a tour with Miles Phillip and his Texas A&M AgriLife Extension best practices’ tour, we met up with one of the Jungle Crocodile Safari’s managers. Willie, explained the challenges of co-existing with reptiles that bite is fifty times stronger than a humans, “There are two words to describe crocodiles – prehistoric and unpredictable.”
So it was with some anxiety that I watched our guide, Andrey sidle our boat up next to a very big croc and cut the engine. “This is Tyson,” Andrey said, pulling the croc’s tail into the boat and pointing out where National Geographic researchers had made a notch, “he’s the biggest crocodile on the river and named after Mike Tyson, the fighter.”
Tyson didn’t seem to mind the tail handling and lay with an unblinking stare that could mean either ‘I’m full’ or “you look like my next meal”. Andrey left the safety of the boat and stepped into the chocolate-colored mud a meter from Tyson’s head with a kilogram of raw chicken in his hand. Realizing a bad day on my job was never as grim as a good day for a crocodile guide, Andrey proceeded to swat 300 kilograms of wild crocodile on the nose with raw meat.
Crocodiles are capable of great speed bursts and I wondered how Andrey knew if the croc would be satisfied with the chicken or go for the whole enchilada. Tyson didn’t appear interested in the free meal so Andrey readjusted his position, moving slowly to avoid losing his footing on the slippery bank, before hitting the croc harder. Tyson’s jaws opened, shutters clicked in rapid staccato, and the chicken disappeared. Andrey jumped back in the boat. “Is this a well-paying job?” I asked, thinking the risk of losing a limb would be well compensated, but apparently not. “If I want to support a family, I will need to get another job,’ he replied.
However Andrey’s efforts have their own rewards. Since the tours started, crocodiles kill fewer fishermen. Willie said, “We try to feed the crocodiles up river and away from the mouth of the river where the fishermen are. And we have removed 10,000 tires from the river. It is the cleanest it has ever been.”
While Tarcoles River still looked polluted to me, the signs advertising crocodile tours scattered through Tarcoles town indicated Dr. Orjuela’s vision had been realized. Visitors are seeing the biotic richness of the Tarcoles River and locals are seeing richness from crocodiles and the tourism dollars they bring. An excellent example of turning lemons into crocodile-style lemonade!
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Discover why visitors are now seeing the biotic richness of the Tarcoles Rivers instead of the pollution: Click to Tweet.