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May 4, 2011

Four Reasons Why Kayak Fishing is Growing So Fast on the Sea of Cortez

By Joe B. Houchin
ITWPA member

Now, if you’ve never kayaked, much less fished from one, your brain is surely asking for more clarification -- like, “Kayaking in the sea with a big, long fishing rod?” And if you’re visualizing those short boats resembling a cocoon that’s pointed at both ends and not much wider than the half a human body sticking up from the middle, with the boater working a double-ended paddle with total abandon… well, think again, sea pilgrim!

It took the kayak makers about 50 years to figure out that there is a huge market of novices beyond their hardcore whitewater challengers and long distance paddlers. To reach this vast new market, research revealed, a more user-friendly design was needed. Thus began a collaboration of their brightest design and marketing engineers to revolutionize usability and handling of the old standard kayak.  

First, they came up with an easy on, easy off, sit-on-top design that expanded their market beyond expectations. Then they introduced pedals with the paddles and made the kayak so slacker-friendly that any mortal taller than about four feet can now enjoy a memorable kayaking experience. Age hardly enters the picture. (I’m going on 70 myself.) Serious sea kayak fishing was one of the secondary explosions in growth resulting from these new handling designs, which have been increasingly accepted by avid fisherpersons around the world.










One of the greatest sea kayak fishing locales on our planet is in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez, right off the sandy beaches of Puerto Peñasco (aka Rocky Point) about an hour south of the Arizona border in the state of Sonora, Mexico. The sea here is calm and a variety of fish always seem to be waiting for a baited hook or lure to pass by. These photos are from our most recent fishing trip in a two-person pedal kayak. We launched from “Pelican Point” off Cholla Bay just around the bend northwest from Puerto Peñasco. In less than two hours we caught three trigger fish (a favorite for homemade Ceviche) and three spotted bass, throwing back at least half a dozen weighing less than two pounds.


Roland Mondragon, my kayak fishing mentor, is an experienced kayaker, sailor and fisherman who owns the Hobie franchise and local kayak rental company in Puerto Peñasco. According to Roland, who is featured in the photos, many experienced kayakers and fishermen appreciate the advantages of pedals on a kayak as well as the sit-on-top design. Here are just a few of the advantages noted by pros:








For fishing, the pedals make it much easier to maintain a position, thus allowing the angler to get in more casts where the fish are biting, especially on a windy day.
Propelling the kayak with your feet leaves both hands free to handle your catch and bait your hook without losing position.
Successfully maneuvering the vessel against waves or tidal currents is much easier with the pedal models.
And, certainly not least for the exercise conscious among us, with pedals and paddles on board you can choose upper, lower or core body workouts on every outing, or you can just pedal your kayak leisurely for miles through the smooth sea with surprisingly little effort.

If you’d like to take a kayak fishing break in Puerto Peñasco and get to know the Sea of Cortez personally, you don’t even have to bring a kayak. You can rent one (or a dozen) from Roland and Tammy Mondragon at www.kayakrockypoint.com complete with lessons, custom tours and estuary wildlife adventures.

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No Creeping on This Trail

By Nancy French
ITWPA Member
Photos by Gloria Apple

Flying down a mountain trail over fine crushed gravel, whizzing past wildflowers and trout streams, and rumbling over old railroad trestles on a bike can be the highlight of any visitor’s trip in southwestern Virginia. The Virginia Creeper Trail, built over the bed of the former Virginia-Carolina Railroad, travels through picturesque National Recreation and public lands. The 34-mile trek begins on Whitetop Mountain and delivers you, initially, to the town of Damascus. With a three to five percent grade, most of the first 17 miles is spent braking instead of peddling. From Damascus, ambitious bikers can continue another 17 miles over flat and rolling terrain to Abingdon, VA.

Biking down the mountain can also be a leisurely affair. Picnicking under trees, stopping to look out from the railroad bridges and relaxing next to a stream are wonderful ways to maximize your enjoyment of your surroundings. Most ages and skill levels can appreciate the trail. Families can rent a tag-along bike for young children or a pull-behind buggy for children too young to peddle or sit on a bike. Tag-alongs attach to an adult’s bike, tandem style, and the child can peddle or not.





When you have worked up an appetite, Creeper Trail Café, 11 miles down from Whitetop, has burger and pork barbeque-type fare. In Damascus, you can take a break at In The Country Bakery and Eatery. Offering grilled chicken wraps, specialty burgers and ice cream, they are located next to the trail as you enter town. The smell of freshly baked waffle cones will lead you to their door. In Abingdon, Trail Café (right next to the path) offers a more upscale menu in a casual setting. Their California club with bacon, turkey, lettuce, tomato and avocado, whiskey chicken crepes, and decadent daily dessert specials provide ample reasons for traveling the additional miles.    

Seven shuttle and bike rental businesses in Damascus and Abingdon rent bikes and deliver bikers to the top of the trail. If you opt for the more challenging route of going up the elevation gain of 1,646 feet, the transport services can take you back to Damascus. Whitetop Station to Damascus is completed in an average of two and a half to three hours. The full trail takes around five and a half hours. Transport services and rentals run from $13 to around $35 depending on services provided. Reservations are recommended, especially during the popular fall leaf-changing season in October.













Where to stay:
Virginia Backcountry in Damascus offers wilderness lodges, which include a private bath with hot water for $75 to $105. In Abingdon, they offer a fully furnished two-bedroom cabin for $135 to $155. Phone (276) 356-9782, website:http://virginiabackcountry.com/, address: 19000 Wild Plum Dr., Glade Spring, VA.

The Martha Washington Inn was built in 1832 and is furnished throughout with antiques. Rates run from $225 for a standard room to $695 for the premier suite. Phone (888) 999-8078, website: http://marthawashingtoninn.com/, address: 150 W. Main St., Abingdon, VA.

Transport and rental services are available from:

Shuttle Shack (276) 475-3773, website: http://www.shuttleshack.com/
Creeper Trail Bike Rental-Shuttle 
(276) 475-3611, website: http://creepertrailbikerentalshuttle.com
The Bike Station Rental & Shuttle  
(276) 475-3629, website: http://thebikestation.net/
Adventure Damascus Bicycles 
(888) 595-2453, website: http://adventuredamascus.com/
Blue Blaze Bike & Shuttle 
(800) 475-5095, website: http://www.blueblazebikeandshuttle.com/
JC’s Outdoors 
(866) 475-5727, website: http://jcsoutdoors.com
SunDog Outfitter 
(866) 515-3441, website: http://sundogoutfitter.com/
Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop 
(276) 676-2552, website: http://www.vacreepertrailbikeshop.com

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Yeah, It’s Hot, but It’s Fun -- a Day in the Desert in Phoenix, Arizona

By Bob Starink

Phoenix, Arizona is a very hot place. Temperatures are over 104 degrees daily for months. Most people who fly into Phoenix just as quickly escape north to the cooler heights of Sedona and the Grand Canyon rim. However, beyond Alison Dubois, Phoenix can provide quite a bit of entertainment if you delve beneath the heat haze.

We undertook one such adventure courtesy of Full Throttle Power Sports. We wanted to see the giant saguaro cactus and Full Throttle has ATV tours into the desert. They also hire out jet skis. So with a little enquiry, we were able to organize a full day tour of quad-biking and jet skiing all inclusive, without the worry of moving equipment and following maps.

We arrived in Phoenix on September 29 during an autumn heat wave. The temperature on our tour the next day ended up being over 107 degrees in the shade. But what they say about dry desert heat is actually true -- for hardy Australians burdened with heat and overwhelming humidity, this didn’t feel too bad.

Mighty saguaro cacti

The ATV tour was first up in the morning before the temperature became extreme. Two hours of riding in the desert through dried creek washes, along narrow winding trails and over some tricky rocky outcrops was truly a thrill. Many of the iconic saguaro cacti lined the route, like sentinels guarding our way. During a drink stop, we heard a rifle being fired. A local was calmly sitting in a picnic chair behind his pick-up truck target shooting. That’s the Wild West for you.


 After lunch the ATV trailer became a jet ski trailer and we were off on part two of the tour, to Saguaro (keeping with the theme) Lake. There are several lakes in the hills beyond Phoenix and all are used for water sports.

At Saguaro Lake, the cacti even manage to grow out of the cracks in th

e rock faces of the cliffs that line the lake. On this day at the end of September, the lake was virtually empty of watercraft so we had lots of open space to really test out the power of the ski. While the guides gave us a great show of jet skiing stunts, we were

Phoenix desert

content to fly across the waves they were creating.

We had a rest stop at a beach further upstream for a swim. The water temperature was surprisingly cool considering the constant heat. It was most refreshing. And there was a strong current, making me wonder where the water was coming from -- it’s not like it rains very often. Another stop on the way back was at a rock jutting out of the water, obviously put there by nature to jump off of.

By the time we got back to our hotel, it was late afternoon and we were very satisfied, but quite tired. A great day. Well done, Phoenix.

If you go:
We flew to Phoenix direct from Maui with Hawaiian Airlines for $360 each. Flights from Los Angeles start at $72.

For lodging, the Best Western at the Mall is an excellent choice with large rooms, free airport shuttle and hot breakfast for $120.

Picazzo’s Gourmet Pizza Italian Restaurant in Tempe serves outstanding food.

Our Full Throttle adventure cost $800 but they have cheaper tours and rentals available. See www.phoenixatvrentals.com for further details.

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Keeping the Flame of Craftsmanship Alive

By Herb Floyd
ITWPA Member

How is the flame on the Statue of Liberty related to a museum in Troyes, France, that celebrates ancient manual skills?

Few artisans can match the accomplishments of Serge Pascal, master repousseur. (Repoussage, for which there is no easy English equivalent, involves hammering on a sheet of metal over a curved anvil to create relief. The various concave and convex bulges may be shaped to resemble a flame or plants and flowers or even a crown.) At 64, Pascal has completely rebuilt major parts of two national monuments located an ocean apart and separated from each other by centuries of purpose and concept. Yet both works of art were done using many of the same basic hand tools and techniques passed down over centuries.

Pascal and his fellow workers spent two years rebuilding the flame on the Statue of Liberty. It was completed in time for the statue’s rededication on July 4, 1986. After returning to France, Pascal eventually became the director of a new institution that is now unique in the world, the Maison de l'Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (the Center for Tools and Craft Philosophy). He remained its director for 11 years.

Subsequently, Pascal made use of his skills to replace the main gateways to the Palace of Versailles. The originals were destroyed during the French revolution. 

The photo to the right shows the courtyard of the 15th century building which houses the Center. The building was completely restored by artisans using the same techniques and many of the same tools which were used to build France’s cathedrals and castles.

Repoussage, Pascal’s particular skill, is one of the 48 trades represented in the Maison de l’Outil, a half-timbered Renaissance building hidden away on a narrow cobblestone street in the medieval city of Troyes. The Maison includes a stunning showcase of hand tools. These are the type of tools skilled craftsmen used to construct the hundreds of churches, cathedrals, chateaux and splendid public buildings that help fill the architectural treasure chest of France.

Of the collection of some 10,000 hand tools, 8,000 are on display in 60 elegant glass enclosures. They represent 48 different trades. Most of the tools on display are from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many have changed little since the medieval period during which France’s great gothic cathedrals were built. 

Anyone who enjoys wood or metalworking, basketry, stone carving, pottery or bookbinding will be thrilled by the displays at the Center, “The Louvre of Hand Tools.”

The most prominent of the Maison’s exhibits are those dedicated to the blacksmith. The massive anvil that is used as a logo for the Center is displayed with a battery of tools used in the forging and shaping of iron. Hammers, tongs, anvils, anvil hardies, chisels, files, rasps and vises are displayed as well as fire pans and bellows.


 Tools are frequently arranged as they were used, so the visitor can easily imagine how they were employed. The workshops of barrel makers (tonneliers) are jewels of museum exhibition art. This manner of exhibition is repeated for the wheelwrights and cartwrights (charrons). In the exhibit of vannerie, or cane basket making, a half-finished basket with small wooden dividers on the end of each cane helps you to envision how the universal basket was made.


We learn from a side panel accompanying the leather-tanning exhibit that the father of Louis Pasteur was a tanner. Son Louis later became famous for his development of the rabies vaccine and particularly pasteurization. It is likely that Louis helped his father to tan hides well before the latter discovered his son had other talents.

Photographs depicting artisans at work during the 19th century accompany some displays. Thus we learn that a woman, Juliette Caron, became a master charpentier (building framer) in 1882. She helped build the casernes (military barracks) in Montluçon. Another photo shows barrel makers standing beside examples of their work at the entrance to a small workshop in the Bordeaux region. 


At seven locations, TV screens show videos about a particular craft. In one, blacksmiths are shown forging two pieces of iron together, then hammering the finished piece, still glowing hot, into the desired shape. The videos are in French, but are easy to follow. And though all texts in the Center are also in French, audio guides in English are available to help explain the various exhibits. 


Troyes is located at the conjuncture of the Champagne and Burgundy regions. It can be reached in 1.5 hours by frequent train service from the Gare de l’Est in Paris. The town sits on a wide curve in the Seine, which is navigable at that point. The people are friendly and most remember that their city was liberated in 1945 by units of Patton’s army.

Today Troyes has refurbished its ancient center. The traditional half-timber and adobe brick style (colombage) is prevalent.

Many of the city’s hotels are within walking distance of the train station. Restaurants are numerous and reasonably priced. The central covered market is an artistic feast. Butchers, pastry chefs, delicatessens, fish and seafood merchants, cheese vendors, and fruit and vegetable sellers compete to organize their produce and products into a cornucopia of gastronomic temptations.


A specialty of Troyes that is known throughout France is one that would make most Americans hesitate. Chitterling sausage (Andouillette de Troyes) is a mixture of cleaned pork intestines and lean scrap meat from a pig’s head, plus trimmings from the cutting table. This mixture is stuffed tightly into a large pork intestine. It is best served grilled with golden pommes frites and a good red Burgundy.





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Go for the Food, Stay for the Music: Ristorante Incadese in Vernazza, Italy

By Chris Wildgen

Tucked a few steps up a side “street” (or stairs, really, as are all the streets in Vernazza except Via Roma), is Ristorante Incadese, also known as da Piva. Though Vernazza is a small town of about 500, da Piva is often overlooked in favor of the more visible restaurants on the waterfront piazza. But later on in the evening, visitors frequently follow the sound of music to da Piva, when Piva, the owner, brings out his guitar to sing local Ligurian folk songs, many written by him, and other Italian favorites on request. At times, visiting musicians join in and the music goes late into the night. 


As much fun as this musical entertainment is all by itself, it is appreciated most by first enjoying the freshness, goodness and simplicity of the local specialties for which da Piva is famous. “Simple but good” seems to be the slogan that the locals use for their favorite food, and Piva delivers this in his cozy and casual trattoria of 15 tables, half of them inside and half outside, across the sidewalk. 

In Vernazza -- and all of Cinque Terre -- two foods dominate all others: pesto and anchovies (acchiuge in Italian). Put out of your mind whatever you think you know about anchovies. Caught in the clean seas along the coastline of the National Park of Cinque Terre, these small, fresh, firm white fish form the mainstay of the local diet. To eat them is to share in the essence of the place, which has been dependent on the sea for over 1,000 years. Anchovies are the prime catch. 

Three favorite local ways to eat anchovies are fried (acchiuge mista), salted (acchiuge insalata) and with lemon (acchiuge al/con limone), any of which can be enjoyed as an appetizer.

For the next course, the primo, order the local pasta, trofie, or any other pasta, with pesto. Because the basil grown here is different from anywhere else, the pesto, too, is special, and redefines how pesto should taste.

Follow this by the main course, the secondo, with Piva’s specialty, the local casserole called Tegame di Vernazza made with layers of tomato, potato and anchovies -- another example of the combination being better than the sum of the individual parts.

Have a glass or carafe of the house wine, a white wine made from the grapes of the vineyards terracing the mountains around you. The inexpensive house wine is light and appealing and matches the food perfectly. Or you can splurge and order a bottle of the white Cinque Terre D.O.C wine.

For dessert, try the panna cotta accompanied by the local version of limoncello, called limoncino here. This is a bracing lemon liqueur, perfect as a digestive, and it doesn’t hurt your sleep, either. 

By now, if you have adopted the local dinner time of 8 p.m. (or later), the music may have started. Linger and enjoy it -- you already have the best seat in the house! 

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About May 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in May 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2011 is the previous archive.

June 2011 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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