The last few days at Ja Ela

I did say yesterday that moving in day might be Monday but at this stage won’t be holding my breath.  Gate Late the builder has gone through the list of work for each room to be completed and Monday it is.   No odds taken on this happening though at this stage, although a suitcase of my clothes and sandals have gone down there today amongst a carload of curtains and packed holdalls from this house.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel after all – or perhaps we are just living in hope.

I managed to be quick enough out the gate this morning to take a photograph of the bread van which whizzes around the red sandy lanes hourly or so it seems.  It’s definitely not the same van each time as yesterday’s was more cream in colour, but highly painted too.  They all seem to play the same melodic tune.

the bread van.JPG

The ferocious watch dog, (Scene-a is the phonetic sound) is Sumitra’s constant companion.  Sceena is about 9 years old and is selective as to whom or what she will allow in the gates to the property.   Passing people and dogs are either barked at or totally ignored.   She is completely spoiled and some buns from the bread van are purchased for her, not every day, but most days.   She also knows when my son’s father-in-law (FIL) is not here because then she sneaks into the house and makes a beeline for the kitchen as soon as he has gone.   As soon as FIL is on the horizon she trots out of the house and lays under the large shady veranda.   She will not move if she is laying flat out in your way. This is her territory.   I wonder how she will take to the move.the-dog

I hope you can make out the two small palm squirrels in the photographs above.  They are about six inches long  and have stripes on their back.  I have seen these squirrels before but can’t remember in which country.    They make a piercing squeaking sound which I first thought was a bird.


These are the two enormous catfish in the indoor ponds.  There are several Shubunkin goldfish, and lots of little baby fish so conditions in the ponds must be right.  The roof is open to the elements with six inch planks of wood lined up on their sides, providing a bit of shade.  The larger of the two catfish aggressively attacks Sumitra if she steps in the pond to do anything.   He whacks her legs with his tail whist she is in his domain, but she is made of stronger stuff.

The other pond laying alongside and cutting further into the sitting room has a very large  Shubunkin goldfish which too has its own personality, that is if fish can have a personality.   It will allow nothing else to invade its territory save the smallest of baby fish.

The neighbours will come in and feed the fish when we move.  This house will be painted and put on the market.  Hopefully whoever buys it will be into wildlife because there is enough of it around.

The Land of Milk and Honey – Part One

Monday 26th September started very early in the Ja Ela house.  4.20 am to be exact as the son’s in-laws rose to prepare for the lorry which was to transport what it could of the yellow post-it note labelled furniture and boxes to the Pelawatta house.

The Most Auspicious time to enter the house was 10.20 am and to move furniture or ourselves in before the prescribed time is considered unlucky.  We were running the gauntlet of the Monk’s advice anyway as Gate Late the builder – whilst bringing about 15 workmen into the house over the past few days, was still not going to have the house ready for us to move into yesterday.  Jaia, the son’s father-in-law, was nominated to stay there last night but much was to happen before we deserted him to his lonely vigil.  (He has just phoned this morning to say he didn’t sleep a wink last night!)


Firstly think West Cork Time and double it.  Jaia and Sumitra woke me at 4.20 am but I was able to get back to sleep until around 6 am by which time they believed the lorry had abandoned us.   In any event the lorry driver and lad arrived at 6.30 am.   And so began the task of cramming what they could into this vehicle.

Meanwhile Sumitra was busily preparing for the blessing of the house and the Buddhist traditions which must take place to ensure harmony, peace and success in the couple’s new home.    Food was cooked, white rice and coconut, some small bottles put aside, oil, leaves gathered from one of the coconut palms in the garden.  The leaves were dry and brittle and shredded and folded into smaller strips.  Some fresh white flower heads which cascade over a wall on the lane, were neatly snipped off and dropped into a small plastic bag.  Sumitra swung the plastic bag over so it ballooned with air and neatly twisted and tied the top to keep the flowers as fresh as possible.  We did not have the brand new clay bowl needed for the ceremony so a call was made to Sumitra’s other daughter who lives near the Pelawatta house to have one delivered to the house for our arrival.

The first drama was before we got to the main Ja Ela road.  We have to cross a railway line which has no safety barriers.  There was a queue of traffic in front of us all trying to cut across on to the main road.   The bell was ringing warning of the impending arrival of the train and it was a case of do we go or don’t we go, in case the train arrives first?   We did go and the train didn’t arrive first.

The next drama was when we were on the motorway.  Locals mainly don’t use the motorway as it has toll stations on it but it saves us a great bit of our journey and the traffic is light compared to the main drag.

Suddenly the son, driving, called, ‘Will you look at the size of that – it’s huge – it’s enormous!’   I twisted and turned from my back seat vantage point looking all around me for a huge truck, lorry or car.    Well that’s what you would expect on a motorway in any other country.

The enormous beast was a very large lizard, looking like he came from a prehistoric age, was at least six foot in length with a large swinging tail and he was crossing the six lanes of the motorway, (three in each direction) without fear or favour.  He was on his own territory and with his head erect, and ignoring the line up of cars, which had been commanded by a policeman to halt, the lizard continued looking neither right nor left, but headed in a completely straight line to the muddy river which bounded the other side of the motorway.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get my camera phone out quick enough to snap this.

The lorry had arrived at the Pelawatta house by the time we got through the traffic.  The traffic is crazy but this is an island approximately the same size as Ireland but with a population in excess of 22 million and I think each and every one has at least one car or tuk tuk or scooter.  Everyone is going somewhere.

I remember being told not to ride the clutch when I learned to drive.  If you learned to drive here – and I pity anyone who has to – you need to be taught how to honk your horn.  There are ‘let me through there please honks’, angry ‘get out of my way now honks’, and continuous honks which mean ‘I am coming through no matter what and you have been warned’.   Drivers just press the car horns for any little thing and it becomes a language which accompanies any journey here.   And I think my son is the only one who knows what indicators are for in this country.


We arrive at the Pelawatta House in good time for the ceremony.  Sumitra’s other daughter has sent a driver around with a brand new pristine clay pot.    We are almost ready to begin the blessing which will be detailed in the next blog.









The Sound of Music

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of film of the The Sound of Music but I saw the stage version in London when I was a teenager- over fifty years ago.

A girlfriend and I had made the journey from Edinburgh to London aboard the Starlight Special. This was by overnight train, leaving Waverley late in the evening and arriving in London around 6 am the following morning. The attraction was the ticket price – five pounds sterling.

The £5 entitled us to a seat and a journey.  We settled in a compartment where we were joined by a husband and wife who were making the same journey.

There were lots of lads aboard the train and we headed off to the buffet car, ‘for refreshments’ but really to eye up the talent.  The drinks were flowing, there was a good natured fun crowd and the stewards joined in the laughter and fun.   We headed back to our compartment at one point, but the husband and wife had stretched out full length on each side of the compartment taking up all the seats.  With nowhere to sit we retraced our steps and joined in the party which was in full swing.

Around 3 am the revellers started to quieten down and we stayed on in the buffet car playing cards with a group of lads who had no intention of closing their eyes all night.  We’d never played cards for real money before, but beginners’ luck was with us, either that or our competitors had really had far too much to drink.  We arrived in London having doubled the spending money we had for the week!

We were staying with a television personality of the time, the days of live television.  She got tickets for us for the Sound of Music stage show which would later become one of the most enduring favourite films of all time.

She had arranged for us to go backstage after the performance and meet the stars of the show.  But firstly she told us not to tell anyone we had watched the show from the gods!

We duly went backstage. It was exciting and thrilling and another world, although the dressing rooms were smaller than we expected.   After all the colour and atmosphere on stage during the performance, somehow backstage was duller, a bit jaded and didn’t live up to expectations.   I knew there was something different about the man who was the leading character’s dresser, but didn’t understand what was different or why.   It was to be quite a few years later before the penny dropped.

Fast forward eight years or so and I had a little boy called Raymond.  I used to sing him the song Do Ray Me from the Sound of Music and call him my little ray of sunshine.  In retrospect I don’t know why as he whinged and cried through the first two years of his life.    It was so constant friends gave up asking what was wrong with him.

He was happiest when he was taking things apart.  If he was silent you understood it was a clock or a watch which was being dismantled.    It got so that when he entered the house of anyone who knew him everything that was musical or mechanical or could be wound up was hastily put out of his reach.

He didn’t sleep as a toddler but was content in his cot as long as he had his Fisher Price wind up musical toy with him.   We would awaken in the early hours to the noise of the crank crank crank as his little fingers wound up the movement and drift off to sleep again to the gentle sounds of Little Boy Blue….

He wore the teeth of the movement completely out and the toy was eventually discarded.

He was my third child and as he got older would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you have me first?’  He had a reading age of 13 at 6 years old, so determined was he to be on the same reading books as his older brothers.  He always wanted to run or cycle faster than anyone else and one time flew over the handlebars of his bicycle. I was on top of a ladder removing a brick fireplace at ceiling height when he came in the house screaming.  His hand was covering his eye and blood pumped freely through his fingers.  I thought he had lost his eye, but thankfully his eye was intact.  He had a nasty cut on his forehead above his eye and a scar which he carries to this day.

He was two weeks’ late making his entrance into this life. I believe he has been trying to make up for those two weeks ever since.   He arrived without warning and within five minutes of deciding it was time to make an appearance.

(We had friends staying that weekend with us, friends who were childless and who would remain so throughout their lives.  They adored being in our home that eventful day in May.)

Many years later we went to Austria with Ray, one of his brothers and some others.   We walked through the tunnelled avenue, and saw many of the scenes where The Sound of Music had been filmed.

I remember being on a coach going into Salzburg and this is where I learned I was no longer the mummy who had to take care of things for the little boys.  The tour guide asked for either passports or some information and I opened my mouth to answer and deal with whatever was necessary.  But the little boy – in my eyes anyway – dealt politely and calmly with what needed to be done.  He was after all 27.   I relaxed back into the coach seat, having learned that a part of my job was done.

The little boy now has boys of his own who have appeared on stage in theatre and musicals, film and television but not as far as I know in The Sound of Music, at least not yet.




The Elephant Orphanage

We were picked up at our hotel in Negomba, Sri Lanka, shortly after 6 am. Two of my sons, two grandsons,  one daughter in law and myself aboard the minibus, driven by Sanjeeva, heading North and East to the elephant orphanage. Our aim is to get there for the 9 am feeding session.

When you travel to other countries and are ferried to popular tourist destinations it is very easy to become cynical. Is this a set up to extract as much cash from the tourist? I was uncomfortable on the way there all sorts of thoughts going through my head. Are the animals being properly looked after I wondered, although what do I know about caring for elephants?  The only ones I have seen close up and in real life were as a child when visiting Edinburgh zoo, and years later when I took my own children to zoos and circuses.

Sri Lankans are an industrious race, up early working, travelling on as wide a variety of transport as one could imagine. There are lots of new roads being built in the country. Some say it is spoiling the landscape and it will never be the same.

We cross several rivers, sometimes the same river a couple of times. We follow diversion signs to take us away from the delays caused by the miles of roadworks but make the orphanage with a few minutes to spare before the designated 9 am feeding time.  Sanjeeva parks the minibus in the car park opposite the entrance to the elephant orphanage amongst coaches, buses, trucks, cars and four wheeled drives.

We join the queues, one entrance kiosk for Sri Lankans and another for foreigners.  Tickets are available to buy bottles of milk to feed the baby elephants.

It’s already about 30 degrees and we walk to a sheltered area where the baby elephants are being fed   There’s a huge canopy above them, shading them from the searing sun.

The Keepers are very smart and uniformed. Like humans the babies display different characteristics   There’s the gentle baby who keeps in the background and who is pushed out of place by the greedy baby when a bottle is proffered through the round bars which separate the animals and the public.

It’s pure entertainment as milk bottle tickets are exchanged for large milk filled suckling bottles which are devoured in seconds.

I am alarmed when I notice the animals, even the littler ones are chained.  But I realise in an instant, these ‘babies’ are wild animals and extremely strong so some control is just a matter of sense and safety.

Because of my fall earlier in the year, and the heat, I can’t walk up the hill to where the larger elephants are being fed, but watch them from a distance.

Then the parade begins as the keepers round up the elephants to escort them to the river to bathe.  The numbers grow and we have not only the babies but the mums and dads and grandmothers and grandads too and everyone inbetween.

The traffic is stopped as the long line of elephants cross the road down the hill through an avenue of shops to the river.   Again the walk is too much for be but a three wheeled tuk tuk and driver quickly take me down the backstreets to the river edge.

One of my sons takes me to a restaurant overlooking the river and the bathing elephants.

It is simply bliss.  The keepers sit atop rocks in the river and the elephants do what elephants do best in a flowing river.

They are having fun, get bold at times and wander off in little groups on their own.  But a gentle prod from the keepers, a call back to order and like naughty children the elephants return to safety.

One of the grandsons declares, ‘This is the best day of my life.’   His dad bought a ticket so the grandson has bottle fed a baby elephant.  He will carry the thrill of the experience with him for ever.

We spend an amazing privileged two hours before the keepers begin to round up their charges.  They start to herd the lumbering elephants back up the hill, past the shops crammed with elephant souvenirs, to stop the traffic again and cross the road to the orphanage.

It’s a magical and emotional experience. These animals would simply not be alive were it not for the care they are given in the orphanage.  Some are land mine victims and have prosthetics.

The spin off is wonderful to see.  The keepers and orphanage staff are employed; the line of shops which flank the road to the river would simply not exist without the tourists and there would be no need for the restaurant where we had lunch overlooking the river.

Sanjeeva explains he had been to the elephant orphanage more than thirty times and never tires of visiting it.  I can understand that.















Sierra stands for Stagger

It’s like another language – stagger, crawler and runner.

Which one are you? Or are you none of them?

you Last year I was introduced to the terms used by airport staff to categorise people who had called for assistance either on arrival at airports or between departure points.

Sierra stands for stagger. Romeo for runner and I think Charlie is the code word they used for crawler.

Even though my late husband had required wheelchair assistance in the final years when he was still able to travel, I had never come across these terms before.

It was whilst I was on the first of five trips away last year that I smashed my foot, even before we got to Cork airport.

A minibus with broken side doors, no step to help access the back door of the vehicle, necessitated the assistance of the six foot plus driver to help five foot and a bit me climb on. My right left boarded upright and my left leg, even with me being pulled aboard by this giant of a man, just couldn’t make it and buckled in a heap under me.

I couldn’t speak as the tearing of ligaments, tendons and every other piece of me inside my foot broke free and fought for space as they ripped and began to swell and contort.

I limped throughout my journey and two flights to Marrakech and spent the first few days on a roof top sun lounger elevating my foot. We travelled to Rabat and back and I gamely carried on wincing as I went.

Things and my foot did not improve and eventually medical advice was to request assistance when travelling.

It was in Gatwick airport where I first heard the phrase, ‘I have two Sierras’ used.

A Romeo can walk, maybe not very far which is why they would need help in one of the golf cart type vehicles to cover the distance, often a couple of miles, between departure gates. A Sierra, a stagger, can walk a bit and can climb the stairs to enter the plane. But a crawler will need wheelchair assistance and probably need to be hoisted on to a platform within a vehicle which raises to allow level access into the plane.

I was grateful for the service throughout the time my foot took to heal – some ten months.

I met lots of interesting people during the time I waited in the assisted passenger area, people with all levels of abilities.

I experienced a whirlwind wheelchair journey at breakneck speed through the huge and magnificent Dubai airport. A medical emergency on arrival was dealt with by paramedics before anyone was allowed to leave the flight to carry on to the next stage of the journey.

And I was in danger of missing my connection but my wheelchair driver got me there in plenty time.

People are generally very polite and agreeable when they see someone in a wheelchair and will step back and out of the way. What they don’t do is look at you. It’s as if you are from another planet or perhaps they are worried that your lack of mobility might be infectious?

I met a gorgeous jolly black lady who was quite elderly. We were sitting patiently waiting for wheelchairs to take us through to the departure gates and she listed all the trips she had made even within the first three months of the year. She was a seasoned traveller.

She had sold her house and was spending the proceeds travelling between all her extended family. ‘I travel light and I am keeping going until the money runs out,’ she confided. ‘There will be nothing left for my family to fight over,’ she giggled. ‘And I am enjoying life!’

There’s a moral in there somewhere for all of us.


We are on a large cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, west of Juneau. Mostly everyone is out on deck at some point scanning the seas surrounding us. The ship’s outside speakers are switched off as their noise could encourage calving of the icebergs which stand like huge monoliths.

There are orcas in the distance, flipping in and out of the water. There are rules here about how close one can get to the wildlife.

We have whales in the waters surrounding Ireland too and I have been fortunate enough to be on deck in a 40ft boat when a 60 foot fin whale surfaced within 20 feet. The thrill of seeing this huge creature, the crenellations of its mouth, and its sheer scale, will stay with me for ever.

And then suddenly it happens. Naturally the icebergs begin to calve and with a sound like a rocket, huge pieces explode in a flurry of what looks like smoke. The ice shatters and islets form and float on the water. They are not white, but a deep turquoise blue colour, and almost immediately, a scattering of tiny birds appear, from I know not where, to land on the floating ice and as the surface of the ice melts they begin to feed.

The blue colour fascinates me. I ask one of the national park rangers who have come aboard the liner where the colour blue has come from. He tells me the ice in the iceberg has been compressed so tightly that the blue is the only colour in the spectrum that cannot pass through the ice.

It’s all a bit beyond me, but I am enjoying the experience, one that I wish everyone could share.

Quangos and false impressions

As political parties try to score points against each other in the appointment of a young man to a board – who are they trying to fool?

For any politician to say ‘it’s Fine Gael business’ is naive to say the least in this day of instants  and where lip-readers can bring the dubious remarks made by an equally naive PM to the masses in seconds.

It really illustrates how stupid they perceive us.  And we are absolutely not.

I was reminded of a train journey made earlier this year between Marrakech and Rabat or rather from Rabat to Marrakech.

First of all the story of the journey north when my friend and I had a pristine six-seater compartment to ourselves.  This was first class, cost less than Twenty Euros and the food served on the trolley was fresh, so tasty and presented in pristine paper wrappings.

The journey up was an education in the changing landscape and an education too, as my environmentally enlightened friend pointed out,  of the horrendous method by which rubbish was disposed of – merely ploughed into the land.

It was also an education for two older females travelling alone as we were propositioned by a very handsome young man who spoke French to my friend – asking for her phone number – whilst managing to wink at me and blow kisses to me whilst said friend’s head was turned in the other direction.

There are two train stations in Rabat and our pimp advised us to get out at the wrong one!   He departed from our carriage before the train reached Rabat and we don’t know if he got off the train or had seen more quarry in another compartment.  Another very handsome young man, almost a carbon copy of the first, chose to sit in our compartment within minutes of the first’s departure.

Our day was saved by a third and very studious young man with briefcase and laptop and perfect English who explained we still had two stops before our final destination.   The second young man vanished as we were explaining our predicament to the third.

Our compartment was full on the return journey as it was a public holiday, I think Mohammed’s birthday.  The IMF shared our compartment on the return leg together with two local businessmen.

The Canadian couple were employed by the IMF to investigate money laundering.    When they learned that we lived in Ireland, they said, ‘Well Ireland has done very well.  You have sorted your economy.’

Of course they were quickly informed of the knock on effects and the hardships ordinary people were enduring, the amount of suicides, the stress of people losing their homes, whole areas with no young people between 18 and 30.   They did believe us and were concerned.

So who are the politicians trying to fool?

I think it is set,  game and match, and perhaps game over.   There’s no free channel for the lies any more.


Kings Canyon, Northern Territories

We’re beginning to feel like seasoned travellers.  Been on the road now for four weeks and we’re meeting Dave the coach driver in the bar.

The bar is full of young back packers and our party is a mix of French, Dutch and German.  One of our party is a young English teacher from Malaysia who speaks five languages and she becomes our translator when our schoolgirl French fails.

Dave points out two young lads at the next table who are helicopter pilots.  Dave’s leading a four hour guided walk tomorrow morning around the Canyon.  We are wrecked with being on the road and partying too much at the casino in Sydney that we decide to blow the bank balance and book a half hour helicopter ride over the Canyon.

We hope the pilots don’t drink too much and stay out too late, but we have a great evening with all the young people.  As we go back to our room, I ask the girl at reception to point out the Southern Cross for me.

We walk to the cafe for breakfast but by the time we walk back temperatures are soaring and the flies are alive with a vengeance.  There’s a dead snake on the road, its outline defined by the hundreds of black flies feasting off its remains.

A strong wind has picked up so we think the helicopter ride will be cancelled, but promptly at 9 am there’s a knock at the door and we are picked up in the minibus.

We pay our money and sign documents freeing the pilots from any liability in the event of our demise.  A mere child takes us behind the office and we see what we think is a plastic bubble car.  This is our four seater helicopter.  The child is our pilot.

I am shoved into the front seat so I sit beside the pilot.  Julie hops in the back and sits behind me firmly strapped in with her fingers in a white knuckle grip on the back of my seat.

We have head sets and microphones strapped on.  I realise I have nowhwere to hold on to, save the handle which will open the door and my feet are placed on thin perspex.  There is nothing between me and outside but thin perspex!

I am terrified.  I can hear my boys saying, ‘You’ve done some really stupid things in your life Mum, but this must beat all.’

I remember the Japanese tourist who died in a helicopter trip whilst we were in Cairns.  I remember Dave saying how these guys love flying so much they are working for less than the dole!  I want to scream, ‘Keep the money.  Just let me get out.’

The child radios in to base and we are off.

It is awful.  We are buffeted by the wind the second we lose the shelter of the hanger building. The air vents at my left hand side puff air through and the pilot has trouble steadying the craft.  As we rise further I am rigid with fear and I hear him speak through the ear phones but when I open my mouth to reply no sound utters.  I am truly struck dumb with fear.

Rocking and rolling we fly over the complex out towards the Canyon.  The pilot radios in to base confirming our position and I know this is because they will need to know where to find the wreckage.

We are now over the beautiful canyon and the pilot points out the pin pricks which are our fellow travellers on the last leg of their walk.  I am too frightened to bend my head down to look as that would be enough to topple the balance of this plastic bubble so try to glance down without moving my body weight.

We were crazy.  We paid for a half hour trip when we could have just paid for a fifteen minute trip.

Again the child radios into base.  This time they will find the wreckage in the desert.  We fly further over the valley and then the pilot spots some wild horses.  I utter a soundless death scream and brace myself against the back of my seat as we dive down and he chases the horses over the floor of the valley. I think we are going to crash into the rocky cliff at the far side, but he pulls up from the chase and we rise above the cliffs with inches to spare.

We turn south and the wind is no longer buffeting through my air vent.  He points out the water source high on the Aboriginal land.  They have been here 20,000 years.  We are shown the sacred place where no women are allowed to go.  It is truly spectacular and a privilege to see.  We have seen a lot more from the air than the walkers would be able to see but I still can’t speak.

To my surprise we land safely but I still can’t speak.  The child goes off to the office and the other boy calls us over to the minibus.  Both of us are shaking and laughing and I realise my voice has come back now I am once more on terra firma. We ask the driver to thank the child pilot and explain why we were struck dumb.


Jim’s place

Dave, the coach driver, told this story when we were travelling from Uluru, Ayers Rock, to Kings Canyon in the Northern Territories.  From Kings Canyon we were travelling on to Alice Springs.

Each destination surprised me for different reasons, a lesson not to have preconceived ideas of place or people.

I always thought the story of Jim’s place would make a great film, and although not politically correct these days, from whichever angle you look – Jock Tamson’s bairns fits – if you think about it.

Jack Cotterill, together with his son built the original road through to Kings Canyon over a number of years.  He had leased land from an Aborigine and set up a small holiday complex.  He wanted all the world to see the beauty of King’s Canyon.  It was a hard life as they had dug the roads through by hand because they had no diggers or JCBs at that time.  But when the task was done, they were moderately successful.

Eventually Jack died and the Aborigine from whom the land was leased died too.  When Jim came to renew his lease, the grand-daughter of the Aborigine refused.  She wanted Jim out and to take over the holiday complex.  He took his case to court but she was within her rights to refuse to renew the lease.

Jim had buried his father, his young daughter and his memories over the years there.

There was however, a small clause, the original Aborigine who had leased the land to Jack Cotterill had insisted be included.  This was that when Jim was finished with the land he was to leave the land exactly as he found it.  Jim borrowed a JCB and raised the complex to the ground putting the land back as it had been first day.

Jim had a cafe when we were there in the late 1990s, simply known as Jim’s Place.

The government have since opened up the Kings Canyon Resort and made such a great job of camouflage that we didn’t realise the buildings were there until we were on top of them.

Our adventure at Kings Canyon when I was literally rendered speechless is for another time.kings-canyon-tours

Penticton, BC, Canada

Penticton BC Canada

It’s official.  Penticton BC is the new Napa, scoring higher temperatures, less rainfall than its US counterpart, and with Penticton’s wineries growing in numbers and reputation, it has become a major tourist destination for Canadians, Americans and visitors from Europe and beyond.  Predominately known in the past as a fruit growing region, and with towns like Summerland and Peachland fringing the Okanagan Lake, the success of its wineries has culminated in summer and autumn wine festivals, where local vineyards compete for the coveted gold standard awards.


However, the discerning wine buff has to be ahead of the pack as many of the best wines don’t make the Okanagan wine festival, and are sold out months ahead.   Wine tours are frequent and popular and probably the best way to gain an insight into the wines of the region.  With a drink driving zero-tolerance, being on an escorted tour or having a designated driver is a must.


Winery names like SYL, (See You Later), Red Rooster, Soaring Eagle, Black Widow, Dirty Laundry and Laughing Stock, always have an interesting story attached.   The ‘See You Later’ is supposedly named because the farmer’s wife departed with those words to her husband, as she left to join her farm hand lover and never return again.  ‘Dirty Laundry’ was so named because the site where today’s winery is was once where a laundry catered for the washing of ladies with a certain reputation.


Most wineries have a small charge for wine tasting which can be off-set against purchases or donated to some local worthy cause.  The drink driving zero-tolerance law has affected pubs and restaurants in the region much as the smoking ban affected the Irish pub trade, but enterprising restaurants now offer a takeaway service.  Everything in Penticton is within a ten minute drive, that is on a heavy traffic day, so takeaway trade works effectively.


The town sits between two lakes, the Okanagan lake to the north and Skaha lake to the south and lays within 70km of the US border in a valley gouged in the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago.  The larger town of Kelowna is to the north of the Okanagan lake and one may travel onwards from there to Revelstoke and the beginning of the Canadian Rocky Mountain range.


Summer temperatures are a comfortable 25 to 30 degrees and rainfall is light in Penticton.   Sandy beaches and safe bathing are plentiful with many beaches to choose from, even a nudist beach which we stumbled upon by accident.  The beaches have seated picnic areas, toilet and changing facilities and most have trees providing shade.


Bathing and swimming areas are clearly designated and some parts of the lake have diving board platforms set out a short distance from the beach.  Water sports of all kinds are enjoyed outside the swimming areas and all types of boats, including canoe, kayak or jetski are generally available for hire.   There’s lots of free water-based entertainment such as floating down the channel on a tyre or blow up raft, great family fun.


The whole town and surrounding areas turn out for the Grads, a great family event.  There are Rose Gardens in town where the teenagers dressed in their finery have their photographs taken and then they process through town in a variety of vehicles, horse drawn carts and carriages, tractors, trucks, sports cars – in fact anything with wheels and the more bizarre the better.    They celebrate ‘Dry Grads’ in Penticton with all the businesses coming on board, presenting gifts to be drawn for at the Grads Ball where no alcohol is allowed.  It’s illegal for alcohol to be consumed by anyone under 21 and the rule is strictly adhered to.


The town has golf courses open to visitors and is a mere 30 minutes drive in winter time from ski slopes.  The Okanagan Iron Man has been running for over 30 years and attracts participants from all over the world including two from Dublin in the 2011 Iron Man which took place August 28th in a blistering 33 degrees.   The other main festivals in the town are the annual Jazz Festival and the Elvis Festival but smaller festivals, growing in popularity, take place throughout the year.


There is a direct flight into the centre of Penticton, via Vancouver, British Columbia or by bus from Vancouver.  Penticton is about an hour’s drive along the lakeside, south of Kelowna, where there are also direct flights from other Canadian cities.