Aug 29, 2023

Taking a fresh look at exploring Washington's Yakima Valley

Views of the Yakima Valley from Gilbert Cellars winery

For Seattleites who haven't crossed the Cascade mountains into Central Washington in a while, a trip to the Yakima Valley might bring to mind acres of apple orchards, fruit-packing warehouses and juice processing plants surrounded by brown hills and sage brush.

The fruit industry is still alive - Washington continues to produce more apples than anywhere else in the U.S. thanks for an average 300 days of sun, a desert climate and irrigation -but, like everywhere, the economy is shifting. The valley grows half the state's wine grapes, and 75 percent of the nation's hops.

Due in part to creative young entrepreneurs returning to their roots, visitors will find wineries with tasting rooms overlooking lush vineyards, breweries and cideries; art galleries in warehouses once used for cold fruit storage; and restaurants serving everything from noodles and dim sum to Salvadorian pupusas.   

I made a three-day visit to the area a few weeks ago, the first in many years. I could have done without a couple of 100-degree-plus afternoons, but not only was I surprised at what I found, I left determined to come back, perhaps in fall or spring when the temperatures drop.

Here are some suggestions on what to explore: 

Downtown Yakima

Hotel Maison

Yakima is one of the oldest communities in Washington, and many of historic buildings in the walkable downtown have been repurposed as tap rooms, tasting rooms, cafes and restaurants.

Our group stayed in the Hotel Maison, former Masonic Temple built in 1911, now a boutique hotel with 36 guest rooms.

A few blocks away is the old Northern Pacific train depot, a major transportation hub in the early 1900s, now the North Town Coffee House, a cozy cafe with vintage decor, and near the site of Downtown Summer Nights, a Thursday night festival with food and craft vendors and live music. 

Other buildings and craftsman-style homes house restaurants and coffee shops. Locals like Mak Daddy, a roaster that keeps a guitar next to the fireplace, and  serves avocado toast topped with roasted tomatoes, feta and balsamic vinegar. 

Single Hill beer garden

Sitting vacant is a  sprawling former shopping mall awaiting someone with the money and vision to convert to another use. Meantime, Single Hill Brewing Co. occupies the former J.C. Penny tire center across the street. Its 16 taps dispense light beers, tart and fruity sours and IPAs brewed with local hops. A large outdoor beer garden faces a 1900s-era church turned into an arts center.

Outdoor adventures

Rafting along the Yakima River

A dry and rugged outdoor landscape defines the valley. Stop for lunch at the Canyon River Ranch in nearby Ellensburg, then float down the Yakima River canyon on a raft equipped with shade canopies, bench seats and a table for drinks and snacks. 

The resort works with guides from Red's Fly Shop to offer two-hour eco cruises ($95 per seat) along the Yakima River as it winds through rolling desert hills and basalt cliffs, some rising more than 2,000 feet. The canyon's crevices and cliffs are home for the densest concentration of nesting hawks, eagles, and falcons in the state. 

Horseback riders model for a photo shoot along the Cowiche Canyon trail

Walkers and hikers can get a feel for the landscape by taking the easy and flat Cowiche Canyon Conservancy Trail, a one-time railroad line that criss-crosses nine old trestle bridges over Cowiche Creek as it flows through a canyon with basalt walls on one side and andesite on the other. Notice the red and black rock formations as you walk on the gravel-packed main path, or follow one of the side trails that lead to views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams or the tasting room at Wilridge vineyard and winery on the north bluff.   

Drinking and eating

Tacos and tamales are what you might expect to find in an area with a large Latino population -about 50 percent in Yakima County compared to around 13 percent in Washington state. 

Get your fix of traditional fare by following the Yakima Valley Taco and Tamale trail, a list of 26 stops, then branch out and explore a new culinary scene aimed at tourists, Western Washington retirees who have relocated, and young professionals returning to their hometowns to work remotely. 

Chefs and foodies from around the world make pilgrimages to Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap which won a James Beard culinary award a few years ago.  

The four-table restaurant in Union Gap

Owner Felipe Hernandez

The Hernandez family turns out Texas-style tamales by the hundreds daily in a nearby commercial kitchen, but little has changed at the brick-and-mortar restaurant they opened 33 years ago. There are still only four tables and four types of tamales for sale (pork, chicken, cactus and asparagus when in season) for $2.33 each.

Kennedy Wilson-Avalos, manager at E.Z. Tiger, displays a Punch Buggy cocktail

Going in the opposite direction is E.Z. Tiger, a sleek and spacious dim sum and noodle restaurant in downtown Yakima. The all-female staff turns out Pacific Rim-inspired dishes such as Beijing dumplings and  green papaya salad. Signature cocktails include the Punch Buggy, a rum and lime juice concoction made with jalapeño simple syrup and tamarind paste from Thailand, then rimmed with ground grasshoppers imported from Mexico. 

Crafted in downtown Yakima

Crowded even on weeknights is Crafted, "considered Yakima's finest restaurant," according to a discerning friend who lives there. Opened by Dan and Mollie Koommoo in 2016, the downtown restaurant focuses on shareable dishes with ingredients gathered from within a 100-mile radius. Menus change frequently, sometimes daily. The vegetarian in our group didn't find many choices the night we visited, although a sample menu online lists many. The standout desert for me was the black sesame ice cream, an Asian treat rarely found on Western menus.

Freehand Cellars tasting room

Among many wineries with tasting rooms, Freehand Cellars might do the best for atmosphere and food to go with a glass of wine. Perched on a hillside overlooking the vineyards, the spacious tasting room has comfortable seating that invites lingering. On the menu is pear or peach caprese, a flatbread pizza and seared shrimp. 

More rustic is the farmhouse-style tasting room at Two Mountain Winery in Zillah. Matthew and Patrick Rawn, Fourth-generation family members began, converting 26 acres of Golden Delicious apples to vineyards in 2000. That grew to 150 acres across eight estate vineyard sites, certified green and sustainable. 

There's no food, but the winery encourages visitors to bring a picnic and relax on the grounds. The $10 tasting fee here is a bargain. Guaranteed you'll go home with a four- pack of Rosé , an idea the owners came up with one day while drinking Miller High Life out of clear glass bottles. 

Picnic packs of Two Mountain Rosé 

Beer lovers have lots of tap rooms and breweries from which to choose. One of the newest is Outskirts Brewing Co. in Selah. The young owners opened a few months ago after transforming a former horse barn and farm into a brewery and restaurant. There's live music on Way Our Wednesdays, a large outdoor patio and a bison burger on the menu. Kids welcome.

Local groups play Wednesdays at Outskirts Brewing

Thirty miles from downtown Yakima, the tiny town of Tieton is worth seeking out for its art galleries, mosaic factory and a cabinet maker housed in repurposed fruit packing warehouses.

Tieton artists are crafting mosaic tiles for the new Redmond light rail station

Tieton's main drag

Seattle art book publisher Ed Marquand and a partner bought nine buildings at auction in 2005 after the collapse of the red delicious apple business with the idea of connecting creative entrepreneurs with local resources. The goal was to improve the local economy, generate jobs and experiment with adaptive reuse architecture to revitalize old buildings.

Most of the vacant storefronts are now filled, with traditional businesses such as a Mexican bakery and Don Mateo Mexican-Salvadorian restaurant, sharing the downtown with an espresso cafe and a maker of handmade art books.

Recently opened is Nomad Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant with communal dining in the same location as Nomad Mercantile, a shop selling outdoor adventure gear, wine, cheese and locall-made goods.

If you go:

The Yakima Valley is 140 east of Seattle. Order or download a Yakima Valley Travel Guide from Visit Yakima

Aug 4, 2023

E-biking on Seattle's hilly Vashon Island is a Passport2Pleasure


Bikers relaxing at Dragon's Head Cider

As late summer fades into fall, the bounty of Vashon Island awaits 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle.

Boutique wineries and cideries are uncorking their latest vintages. Roadside farm stands brim with fruit and produce. Beaches, forested trails, cafes and galleries invite lingering on weekend afternoons. 

Just 13 miles long and eight miles across, Vashon would seem easy enough to explore by bike. But as serious road cyclers know, there's a reason organizers call an annual September ride  "Passport2Pain."

"It's rolling hills," says Erin Kieper, owner of Vashon Adventures which rents bikes on the island.

 "If you go down to the water, you have to come back up, and if you're not an avid cyclist, it can be daunting."

 Enter the electric bike or e-bike, a solution for those looking for a leisurely ride focused more on discovering Vashon's bohemian and artistic side rather than on a rigorous workout. 

 "They're a great equalizer for people who haven't been on bikes in a while, or hate hills, or who come with avid cyclists and just want to keep up," says Kieper. "E-bikes have gained in acceptance, and they've gained in popularity." 

Go five miles or 25. Think of touring Vashon on an e-bike as a Passport2Pleasure. 

Plan your route  

Breakfast at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe was our first destination as my husband, Tom, and I arrived on the island on a recent Saturday.

Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe

As most cyclists know, the challenges begin with the five-mile, 500- vertical foot ascent to town from the ferry dock.

Following a tip from other cyclists, we detoured away from busy Vashon Highway onto a tree-shaded backroad, rejoining the highway at the point where the shoulder widened, and ferry traffic had cleared. 

Our bikes, like the ones Vashon Adventures rents, are peddle-assist, meaning a battery powers three levels of assistance - eco, standard and turbo - requiring the rider to peddle at all times, with the option of using a gear shift, turning the battery off and peddling normally.

Keeping in mind our battery "budget" for the day - around 25 miles - we used turbo assist on the initial uphill stretch, then turned the battery off, and peddled normally as the road flattened out.

Bikers looking for a short ride need not go further than Vashon's compact downtown area to find plenty to explore. Locals love the Snapdragon for its plate-sized pastries and garden seating.

Saturday farmers market

A block north is the Saturday farmers market, the place to pick up fresh cherries and pepperoni sticks for a mid-ride picnic. Nearby are antique and thrift shops, art galleries and the Mukai Farm & Garden, a historic heritage home and Japanese garden open to the public for self-guided tours.

With a few destinations in mind that required a longer ride, we headed away from town, stopping first at Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie before detouring on backroads where there are no shoulders, but also little traffic.

The Coffee Roasterie is part museum, part cafe

Part coffee museum, cafe, country store, book store and herb, tea and spice purveyor, the roasterie is housed in a historic building, once the headquarters of Seattle's Best Coffee. We cooled off with chilled glasses of Wild Tonic blueberry-basil juice on the front porch, and bought a bag of roasted pistachios for later.  

The ride from here south to Quartermaster Marina on Vashon's east shore was our longest downhill descent. Our destination was Lavender Hill Farm, now closed for the season. 

Cattle and horse farms along Vashon's backroads

With so much downhill riding, we worried a bit that we might not have enough battery charge to make it back. Consulting our GPS, we rerouted for a more gradual climb, skipping a couple of stops that would have required more "turbo" power. 

Le Stockage farm stand

Serendipity rewarded us with a scenic ride past horse farms and cattle ranches. Using a map showing the location of farm stands around the island, we found miniature Italian pears at Peach Tree Hill farm. Another stand called "Le Stockage" stocked produce, cold drinks and snacks in a truck decorated with flowers and a wooden bench.

Back in town, with battery power to spare, we followed a sign next to a mannequin dressed as a butterfly. It pointed the way to the Outstanding in its Field Gallery  where owner Lindsay Hart  welcomes visitors with homemade lemon squares and coconut macaroons. 

A dozen artists display their works in her garden and in a repurposed shipping container. The theme changes monthly as does the mannequin's costume. For August, Hart dressed it like a cat to celebrate the "Dog and Cat Days of Summer." 

Two cideries and several wineries offer weekend tastings. All are worth a visit, but keeping in mind that we were on bikes, we picked just one - Dragon's Head -  where the owners have planted English and French cider apples on 30 acres of former strawberry fields

We ended our day relaxing at a picnic table with a glass of Airlie red, a semi-dry cider with a 6.9 percent alcohol content. But even if you don't drink, there's another reason to detour here.

Indicator Species

Overlooking the orchards is "Indicator Species", a silvery, 35 foot tall kinetic sculpture of a Plecoptera nymph, commonly known as a stonefly, sculpted by Ela Lamblin, CQ as a gathering point for communal celebrations.


If you go:

Weekends are the best times to visit Vashon when most things are open. Get there via a 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle aboard the Washington State Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry. King County runs a walk-on water taxi from Seattle's Pier 50 on weekdays. 

The Vashon Island Farmers Market runs Saturdays through October 15 from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

For map and description of farm stands throughout the island see Most accept Venmo or cash. 

A version of this story appeared in The Seattle Times on August 4, 2023

Jun 13, 2023

City escape: Rural delights await in B.C.'s lush Fraser River Valley


The former Canadian Northern railway station, built in 1920, was moved to its present location in downtown Fort Langley.

We love Vancouver, B.C.'s city vibe, but a few years ago, my husband and I decided to bypass the urban adventures for a weekend in the British Columbia countryside.

Fifty miles east of Vancouver, we discovered the rural Fraser River Valley and the suburbs Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge. At first glance, they seem to be a mish-mash of housing developments and strip malls, but a little research turned up hidden corners of tranquillity in the foothills of the Golden Ears mountains. 

Here we found dairy farms, nurseries, cranberry and blueberry fields on a giant flood plain protected by  dikes, long stretches of raised earthen mounds surrounded by farmland.

Built by Dutch settlers in the 1950s as a method of flood control, the dikes form an interconnected system of walking and bicycling trails along flat, mostly hard-packed gravel paths.

Fast-forward to our first return trip to the Fraser valley since the pandemic ended. This time, we found some new discoveries on the opposite side of the river around the quaint village of Fort Langley.

Since Vancouver wasn't on our itinerary for this time, we avoided the city by bypassing the Blaine/Peach Arch border crossing, and detouring from Interstate- 5 to the Lynden / Aldergrove crossing. Fort Langley is 15 miles north of the border.

The village brims with locally-owned cafes, restaurants, bakeries and tasting rooms, tempting visitors here to tour the Fort Langley National Historic Site, the former Hudson Bay Company's fur trading post declared by the British as the birthplace of British Columbia in 1858.

How to decide where to go when passing through for just a few hours? Chew On This Tasty Tours offers a roadmap for a self-guided, multi-stop walking tour called Local Flavour. 

Visitors are provided with a map and a timetable for appointments at sit-down and takeaway food and drink stops along with suggestions for visiting historical sites, art galleries and taking  scenic walks. Food, drinks, admission fees and surprise gifts are included in the $88 per person price. 

“It’s designed to have a day planned for you," says owner Lise Hines.  "You don’t have to think about it. Just show up, and hopefully after a taste of the town, you'll want to come back and spend more time exploring."

A couple celebrates their anniversary at the Little White House

We covered only about a mile of actual walking over several hours of tasting and sipping. Tours usually start with high tea at the Little White House, an eclectic clothing and home goods boutique with tables tucked into a cozy rooms and gardens. Guests have an hour to enjoy tea along with a tiered platter laden with scones, clotted cream, savory sandwiches cookies and macaroons.

A blacksmithing demonstration at Fort Langley National Historical Site

Other stops might be tailored to individual interests. After a walk through the Fort Langley Historical Site for hands-on gold panning and blacksmithing demonstrations, our itinerary called for a  stroll past shops and cafes in historic heritage houses along Mavis Street to the Kizmit Gift Gallery for a look at the work of Canadian potters, jewelers, painters and craftspeople.

Heritage buildings house cafes and shops along Mavis Street in Fort Langley

Baker Robert Giardino

Next came a stop a La Focacceria, where owner Robert Giardino  bakes and sells Italian Puglia-style flat bread studded with olives or roasted tomatoes. Giardino steps away from the ovens to hand out small bags of bread made with two types of flour imported from Italy, and gives a short explanation of the difference.

At visit to BC Buzz Honey, a maker of raw, unpasteurized honey produced by Fraser valley bees, came with a short lesson on the medicinal properties of ginger and raspberry honey. Following this was a relaxing sit-down wine-tasting and light lunch at Valley Commons, and Okanagan winery.

Republica's cafe in Fort Langley's Gasoline Alley

Rounding out the afternoon was a stop for iced lattes at Republica Coffee Roasters, and finally a visit to Into Chocolate for samples and a nostalgic browse through shelves stocked with vintage candies. 

When Hines started her business in September, 2020, "I wanted to see what I could do to help small businesses" struggling through the pandemic, she recalls. "Fort Langley has no cookie-cutter businesses," a reason she makes sure the owner or an  employee is on hand to greet visitors at the expected times. 

"I call them businesses with a face."

Farm-to- glass wines and spirits

The Fraser valley is a prime wine grape-growing area. Outside of town, several wineries welcome visitors into their vineyards for tastings, live music and meals. 

Bacchus Bistro serves lunches and dinners in an elegant dining room overlooking the vineyards at the Chaberton Estate, the valley's oldest winery with an outdoor picnic area. 

Close to the U.S. border crossing, Vista d’oro's vineyard is surrounded by fields on one side and Campbell Valley Regional Park on the other. Accompanying wine and cider tastings is "pizzam," a pizza creation with local artisanal jams spread on a crust topped with savory toppings and cheese.

Unique to the area is Roots and Wings craft distillery which partners Rebekah Crowley and Rob Rindt run on the farm that has been in Rindt's family for three generations. 

Stillmaster Rebekah Crowley

First came fruits and vegetables, followed by the transition to a sod farm Rob runs with his five brothers. Then one day while pondering ideas for a side business, he turned to Rebekah, and said "Do you think we could make vodka?"

The couple spun off a few acres next to the turf farm to grow potatoes and corn fed by natural spring water. She enrolled in distilling classes at Prohibition University in Kelowna.

Their goal: Do everything on site- from planting, growing, harvesting, mashing to fermenting and distilling.

When the law changed to allow distilleries on agricultural land, they were ready in February, 2017 to open Roots and Wings, the first craft distillery in Langley Township, five miles from the village of Fort Langley.

Starting with a 30-gallon copper kettle still bought online and shipped from Kentucky, they released their first spirit, a potato and corn vodka, called Vital Vodka named so for being "absolutely necessary for lounging or letting loose. "

Graduating to a 500-gallon still, they now produce 40 variations of locally-produced spirits from crops grown on their farm plus botanicals, wormwood (for their 72 percent proof absinthe), dill, mint, Russian garlic, horseradish and rhubarb grown by Rebekah mother, Marg Crowley, on her property down the road.

Rob, 39, is the "roots," a life-long farmer whose favorite drink is a plain potato vodka, while Rebekah, 43, with a technology background, is the "wings," the still master who dreams up new flavors and cocktail recipes printed on cards slipped in with bottle purchases.

Views of the Golden Ears mountains set the scene for relaxing outdoors with a cocktail on a shaded patio furnished with bright green umbrellas and red Adirondack chairs. Next door is an indoor sipping and snacking area inside two repurposed shipping containers.

Tasting room with bottles stacked floor-to-ceiling

The main tasting room is a single-wide trailer resembling a cabin in the hills of Kentucky. Inside are shelves filled with bottles decorated with colorful labels picturing the mountains and a vintage tractor they first used to plow their fields. Unique is a line of savory vodkas. There's dill pickled vodka, black garlic, horseradish, five pepper and truffle vodka.

"It's an ever evolving situation," says Rebekah. "We don't have investors, so it's just Rob and me pulling up our bootstraps and making things happen."

She works to come up with a name and a story behind every spirit and many of the drinks on an extensive menu of cocktails and flights.

There's Johnny Handsome whiskey described as "rough around the edges but deeply refined kind of spirit with the soul of a centenarian and the body of a barrel-chested Viking that will knock you off your feet." 

Cocktail time at Roots and Wings

A cinnamon whiskey and blueberry liqueur cocktail called  Wellers Streusel takes its name from Rob's grandfather Gert Weller who had a blueberry farm in the area, now run by family members as a U-pick farm in summer. 

"Man- o -War" - a bottled pre-mixed cocktail with bourbon, vermouth, orange liqueur and lemon - includes a dash of farm-grown horseradish ground by hand by Rob until his eyes watered.

The tasting room and bar store is open year-round. New additions include a vintage rail car installed in the back as a stage or live music events.

Planned for the winter holidays is a release of a peated whiskey made with smoked peat from a bog under Rob's grandfather's blueberry farm. 

Tourism informationTourism Langley 

Where to stay: Bed and breakfasts, motels, Airbnbs and RV parks offer many options. For a quiet farm stay, consider Sage & Solace, and organic farm with two guest suites, a pond, picnic areas and farm animals. 

Jun 8, 2023

Eat, Stay, Explore: Delve into First Nations culture in Vancouver, B.C.


Skwachàys Lodge with totem pole on the roof 

Book a stay in Vancouver B.C.'s Skwachàys Lodge, and help support a program that provides rooms and studio space for indigenous painters, photographers, potters and film makers.

Take a nature walk through Stanley Park with a First Nations guide, and discover how aboriginal villagers lived off the land, using skunk cabbage leaves like waxed paper and horsetails as toothbrushes. 

Snag a table at Salmon n' Bannock bistro, and sample bison pot roast and candied salmon while sipping "Dreamcatcher" wine made by Nk’Mip Cellars, the first indigenous-owned winery in North America.   

British Columbia is home to 204 First Nations communities. Before British settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, the city of Vancouver was the traditional territory of three Coast Salish nations known as the Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam peoples as well as others.

Thanks to a robust and active urban indigenous population (third largest of of any Canadian city), travelers have many opportunities to learn first-hand about their cultural traditions.

Where to stay

Guests who overnight at the Skwachàys Lodge in downtown Vancouver's help support an artists-in-residence program that provides rooms in the hotel and studio space for 24 indigenous artists. Much of their work is for sale in a fair trade lobby gallery where jewelry, pottery, cards, weavings etc. feature their pictures and bios.

Fair trade gallery at Skwachàys Lodge

Paintings, carvings and sculptures by well-known indigenous artists decorate the rooms and public spaces. Bannock, the traditional native fried bread, is on the breakfast table.

"When you stay here, you're enveloped in indigenous art, and it tells a story about who we are," says Caroline Phelps who manages the 18-room boutique inn for the B.C. Indigenous Housing Society.

Paintings by artist-in-residence Mike Alexander

The hotel opened in 2012 as a unique indigenous social enterprise in a 120-year-old building that was the former Pender Hotel in downtown Vancouver's eastside near the tourist area of Gastown.

"When a guest spends their overnight travel dollars at the Skwachàys Lodge there is a social impact – people are housed," the hotel's website explains. "When a guest, a member of the community or a company purchases authentic Indigenous art at the Fair Trade Gallery, there is a social impact – a simple purchase fights cultural misappropriation and ensures that Indigenous artists are paid fairly for their work." 

For Mike Alexander, 48, a member of the Ojibwe Nation, landing a residency meant he had the work space for the first time to transition from making cards and smaller works to bold colorful wall-sized paintings.

Mike Alexander burns herbs for a smudge ceremony at the Skwachàys Lodge 

"It totally changed by artistic practice," he says. Alexander "gives back" to hotel guests by leading traditional "smudge" or cleansing ceremonies in an upper-floor room decorated with a blue sky mural.

Where to eat 

Growing up in Vancouver, Inez Cook,  a member of the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, B.C., says she always knew she would own a restaurant.

A career as a flight attendant came first, then, in 2010, she opened Salmon n' Bannock, a 30-seat bistro in West Vancouver, designed to showcase First Nations people and food.

Indigenous people invented farm- to- table cuisine, she points out, since they foraged, grew and cooked everything they ate. 

"I wanted to create a place where I could take people on a journey," she says. 

Homemade Bella Coola soda at Salmon n' Bannock

Earning her accolades on a Time magazine list of the "Worlds Greatest Places 2023 " is a menu that includes a candied salmon with a maple drizzle; a bison pot roast; and a mousse made with smoked and dried bison mixed with cream cheese and sage infused blueberries.  

An indigenous brewery in Langley, B.C. supplies the beer. Wine comes from Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos, B.C. There's a homemade Bella Coola non-alcoholic soda with hibiscus, rose hips, apples and oranges, garnished with blueberries. The bannock, a traditional native unleavened bread, is baked rather than fried, and served with cedar jelly. 

Visitors passing through Vancouver International Airport can treat themselves to an elk burger at Salmon n' Bannock On the Fly which Cook opened last February.

What to explore

Due to reopen late this year or early next after seismic upgrades is the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology which houses one of the world's largest collections of First Nations art, hunting tools, masks and other artifacts. 

In the mean time, for an overview of contemporary native art, visit the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. On display are Reid's gold and silver jewelry and a totem pole carved by James Hart of Haida Gwaii. 

Reid, who died in 1998, was an acclaimed master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, broadcaster, mentor and community activist. Born in Victoria, B.C. to a Haida mother and an American father with Scottish German roots, he began exploring his Haida roots at the age of 23

Current special exhibits include "Bright Futures," on through Jan. 14, 2023. The exhibit brings together Reid's art with new works by contemporary emerging and established Indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast. 

Everyone visits Vancouver's Stanley Park, but few realize that indigenous people made their homes here thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized. The park remained home to indigenous villagers until they were moved out, and the area was turned into Vancouver's first park when the city incorporated in 1886.

Guide Shae Trotter explains all the ways native villagers use the skunk cabbage when they lived in Stanley Park

"It's the story of plants and trees and how we used them," says Shae Trottier, a member of the Tia-o-qui-aht Nations of Tofino who leads 1.5 mile "Talking Trees" nature walks for Talaysay Tours, an aboriginal eco-tour company that organizes walks and other outdoor activities focused on indigenous culture. 

As groups walk through the park and around Beaver Lake, Trottier explains how large skunk cabbage leaves were used in pit cooking to impart a peppery flavor and as modern-day waxed paper in which to wrap fish.

The Western Red Cedar was considered the "tree of life," because its leaves could be eaten, and the wood could be used for building canoes, roofs and storage boxes. The Douglas Fir was used for firewood and sending smoke signals "like a traditional cell phone." 

The way to harvest huckleberries, she tells school groups, is to pick them one at a time, instead of yanking off a branch "no more than you'd pull at your grandmother's arm.

"We think of plants and animals as our relatives," she says, "so we treat them the same way."

May 6, 2023

Ancient, modern Amman provides visitors soft landing in Middle East


A juice vendor in downtown Amman

Leaving our hotel with just a few hours sleep after a late-night flight from London, my husband, Tom, and I stepped out onto the streets of Jabal al-Weibdeh, a gentrifying hillside neighborhood in Amman, the capital of Jordan

The minaret next to a blue-domed mosque towered over neat rows of sandstone-colored houses and apartments. Cafe owners dusted off their patio tables. Springtime flowers bloomed in sidewalk gardens.

It was just 9 a.m. but already warm and sunny. We were headed out for a walking tour in downtown Amman - the oldest part of one of the oldest cities in the world - when I spotted a corner store. Before I could ask, the man behind the counter pointed to a cooler filled with bottled water.

"Welcome, welcome," said the owner of our neighborhood store

“Small, small,” he smiled, holding up a coin - the Jordan dinar equivalent of around 25 cents - indicating he couldn’t make change from the large bill I offered. 

“No problem. Free for you,” he said, refusing my offer to pay him later in the day. “Welcome, welcome.”

And so began our first day in Amman, a city continuously inhabited for 7,500 years, yet the capital of a country that only gained its independence from the British 77 years ago.

Located between Mecca, the holiest place on earth for Muslims, and Jerusalem, Jordan has played a central role in the history of the Old Testament (Moses and Abraham walked here); the Bible (St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River); and the Quran.

Yet while almost everyone is familiar with Petra, Jordan's major archeologic site; Wadi Rum, a desert valley area popular with rock climbers and hikers; and the experience of floating in the Dead Sea, few stay in Amman long enough to appreciate the most liberal city in the Arab world, and likely the most diverse.

Women who wear head scarves wear them in style

Bordering Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Israel, Jordan is predominantly Muslim with a large Palestinian population. It also has a significant Christian population, so it's not unusual to hear the Call to Prayer at a local mosque and church bells ringing at the same time. Cafes stock beer and wine for those who drink alcohol, and tea and shisha pipes for those who abstain. Head scarves for women are optional. Call it Middle-East Lite.  Amman provides a soft landing for first-time visitors in the Arab world. 

The Temple of Hercules

With 4.5 million people, Amman's city limits stretch far beyond the original old city built on seven hills or jabals. Towering over everything is the ancient Citadel with the ruins of the Roman Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace complex built during the 8th century on the foundation of a Byzantine church. Next door is the Amman Citiadel mosque with a restored domed entrance chamber.

The Amman Citadel Mosque

The original mosque is believed to have had a wooden dome, like this one which was constructed towards the end of the 20th century.

Downhill  and a five-minute- walk to downtown are the remains of a 2nd-century Roman theater when the city was known as Philadelphia. The theater is still used for sporting and cultural events.

Getting around foot requires a steep climb up or down connecting staircases, often hidden from view but marked on Google maps. 

Stairs to downtown

A street decorated with colorful lanterns

Using as our base the Locanda Boutique Hotel, a cultural project where the names of well-known Arabic musicians replace room numbers, we devoted our time to exploring Al-Balad, the Arabic name for the old downtown and Jabal-al-Weidbdeh, the cultural heart of Amman, with its art galleries, museums and vibrant cafe life. 

Downtown bookshop

Around town with Osama

Osama explains the many varieties of olives for sale in the vegetable souq

Nine of us - all strangers before today - follow our guide, Osama, as he leads us across a busy street, stopping traffic by holding out his left hand. We’ve signed up for his “Taste of Amman Free Food Tour” through, a clearing house for locals who create walking tours in cities throughout the world. Tips are encouraged, but there’s no obligation and no set prices.

Downtown Amman

One of many downtown murals

We'll soon be weaving in and out of the souqs - an ancient labyrinth of covered markets for fruits, spices, vegetables and clothes. But first we stop in front of a mural depicting a face divided vertically down the middle, half male and half female. It's a statement about equality among the sexes in a commercial area lined with shops all run by men. 

This mural and many others like it painted on the walls of businesses and buildings around Amman are meant to encourage dialogue on gender issues Some of it is aimed at correcting a mismatch between attitudes towards women working (90 percent of men and women approve) and the low percentage of women (14 percent) in the workforce. 

Female literacy rates are among the highest in the Middle East, and more women than men are enrolled in college. But leaving children with a relative in order to to work is still considered unacceptable as is having a job that requires late hours and time away from a family.

“We don’t have oil,” Osama explains. “So we need to invest in human beings.” 

Our first stop is the oldest bakery in Amman where fresh loaves are stacked under a sign written in Arabic. Then we plunge deep into the crowded souqs stocked with vegetables we don’t easily recognize and shops where bins are piled with artfully displayed spices, teas, olives and almonds. 

Spice souq

Watermelons for sale: $1.50

Socks and underwear salesmen

At the top of one flight of stairs is the Dar Al-Anda art gallery, housed in two historic villas with an outdoor terrace and sweeping views. Another stairway leads to a little cafe that serves mint and lemon juice and sandwiches made with za'atar, a spice mixture made with toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac and other herbs, that Osama promises "is good for health and the brain."  

Za'atar sandwich on the terrace of Dar Al-Anda

At the bottom of those steps, we take special note of  the location of Habibah sweet shop across the street. The specialty is Kunafa, a layered dessert with a base stringy cheese similar to a mozzarella and the top layers of vermicelli soaked in rose scented sugar syrup. Clerks in white coats cut slabs from a pizza-size pan, weigh the slices, and charge accordingly. 

Kunafa at Habibah sweet shop

After two-and-a-half hours of waking and a stop for bottles of Jordanian beer to-go, Osama leads us up a long flight of stairs to his home where he has prepared lunch for our group. This part of his tour was not advertised on the Guruwalk website. Rather he informed us in an e-mail after we signed up that lunch would be included. Dietary issues forced him to learn to cook healthy foods at a young age, he explained. Those skills led to a job as a chef at a hotel in Petra before he became a freelance guide. 

As we take places around his dining table, he retreats to his kitchen, and reappears with appetizers called mezze- bowls of homemade hummus, yoghurt, baba ganoush, a peasant salad called fatoosh and baskets of pita bread. Restaurants all over Amman serve their own versions of these dishes. Guidebooks point visitors to a crowded downtown spot called Hashem, but Osama's recipes are better, and there's no wait for a table. 

We could have made a meal of the mezze, but there was a main dish to come, and one Osama was very proud to have mastered. It's Maklouba, a dish found a 13th century collection of Arab recipes,  popular throughout the Middle East.

Our walking group at lunch

Vegetables such as carrots and peppers and chicken or lamb are folded into a mixture of rice and 13 spices. It's all piled into a pot and cooked over the stove, then tipped upside down on a plate revealing the layers of chicken, rice and vegetables. 

Osama brings the pot to a side table, inverts a perfectly intact Maklouba, then places the platter in the middle of the table for us all to devour.

"Welcome, welcome," he says. We remember what he said earlier about investing in people, and leave a generous tip.

Osama inverts his Maklouba