Wapiti (Elk) Reconnaissance Mission in Canmore, Alberta

“Look at that tree over there,” my brother Brett pointed to a slender trunk off to our right, “see how all the bark is missing in that middle section?”

I shifted my gaze upwards from the red leaves covered in dew to the tree in question. One section had been whittled away. A deep red, smooth scar had replaced the bark.

“You can tell elk have been in this area, sharpening their antlers.” Brett continued, “Did you know that every year they shed their antlers and grow new ones? They grow 50 pounds worth of antlers in three months”

“No, I had no idea,” I replied, acknowledging the fact that they are a lot of things I don’t know but my brother does.

Instead of going on a regular hike today, I went elk tracking with my younger brother Brett—the outdoorsman. Although he doesn’t spend as much time in the mountains as before, he still goes climbing, both mountains and frozen waterfalls, from time to time. He is a fly fisherman and sometimes he hunts with a bow and arrow.

Even though I have mixed feelings about hunting, I respect my brother for hunting with a bow (as opposed to a rifle). When he does “catch” something—I hate to use the word “kill”—he takes it to the butcher and then their deep freezer is stocked full for the entire winter with jerky, sausages, ground meat, steaks, roasts, and pepperoni. I’m not a big fan of meat but they are.

If people had to go out and hunt their own meat, their eating habits would likely change. I know I turn strictly to fishing, but still eat eggs.


Wapiti, also known as elk, are one of the largest land mammals in North America. At one time, massive herds of elk covered the plains over the last century and a half they have been marginalized into mountainous terrain and heavily forested areas.

How to track an elk  – Brett Bilon’s tips

1. Location
Know where the elk are likely to be hanging out, to get their food, water and shelter.

2. Timing
The most likely time of day to see an elk is early in the morning or at sunset. The best time of year to see them is early fall, when they rut—males challenge other males in order to mate with females.

3. Optics
Good quality binoculars will you help spot them before they spot you.

4. Wind
Always stay upwind of the elk. If the wind blows your scent towards them, they will run in the opposite direction.

5. Silence
Elk have superior hearing, so be quiet. Consider setting up in an area where you think elk will pass through once they get out of their beds—flat grassy areas where they lay down.

The exception to this rule is during the rut where you can call with bugles, cow calls (squeaks and chirps) and thrashing of branches. The more noise the better when challenge-calling a big bull.

For more information about elk:

More photos but these ones are by Brett:

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MatadorU Exclusive: National Geographic Traveler Interview Series

National Geographic Traveler – Interview Series [Teaser] from Matador Network on Vimeo.

National Geographic Traveler’s editorial staff offer insider advice to aspiring travel writers and photographers at MatadorU’s New Media School for Travelers.

The National Geographic Traveler Interview Series is offered ONLY to MatadorU students.

Learn the essentials from National Geographic Traveler’s editorial staff: Keith Bellows, Amy Alipio, Norie Quintos, Marilyn Terrell, Kathie Gartrell, and Dan Westergren.

Topics include:

– How to craft a story

– How to pitch Traveler

– The essence of storytelling

– The future of travel writing

– Secrets to great travel photography

– How to understand light

– How to get discovered on Flickr

National Geographic Traveler has been “Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888”.

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From temple to breaks: Surfing in Sri Lanka

Please click on the link below to read my article
published in Matador Sports
From temple to breaks: Surfing in Sri Lanka

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Saving Sea Turtles in Trouble

Please click on the link below to read my article
published in Riviera Nayarit Fun
Saving Sea Turtles in Trouble

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A New Do in Sri Lanka

What do you do when the waves are flat? Take a tuk-tuk (three wheel rickshaw) to Pottuvil and get your hair cut.


Saloon - a Sri Lankan barber shop

Maybe the owner's name is Abi.

Sean is still smiling, but not for long.

Street level Pottuvil - men in sarongs and tuk-tuks

The barber didn't speak English and Sean didn't speak Sinhala or Tamil.

The local men gave their approval.

That's a bottle of Bay Rum Herbal Hair Oil.

The hairdresser massaged Sean's head with the magical elixir and then cracked his neck - something unexpected.


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Way Up in the Air

I wasn’t copping a feel, but I did smack the flight attendant’s bottom.

I collapsed into my aisle seat. Next to the window, a small, dark skinned woman in her late 20s balanced a large baby on her lap. The mother had dark circles under her eyes and was dressed in brightly colored clothing. It was early in the afternoon and I was already exhausted from the three hour drive to the Calgary airport. The flight to London would take about nine hours.

The woman and I started talking about babies; her daughter was 18 months old and very big for her age. While we were chatting, a passenger stopped at our row and loomed over us for a moment, before claiming the woman was in his seat. He didn’t even bother to say “Excuse me”; he just interrupted our conversation. They pulled out their tickets to compare. She had made a mistake.

The mom shuffled across the aisle and up one row, carrying as much as she could with her free arm. I passed the rest of her things over – a bottle, a blanket, a little stuffed monkey, and a plastic ring for teething. I didn’t even get to ask her if she was staying in London or if she was going onto some place else. My final destination was Sri Lanka.

Eventually dinner was served. I listened to Bob Marley while nibbling on a tasteless, cardboard-like bread roll. The peas and carrots were soggy. I couldn’t even bring myself to touch the sketchy looking main dish, something covered in a red sauce. Empty dinner trays sat waiting to be collected. The woman’s baby started twisting and turning in her sleep, forcing the mom to set her dinner tray down in the aisle.

I only had seconds to act, or rather react. I didn’t even see or hear the flight attendants coming. I just sensed the trolley cart, fast approaching from the rear of the cabin. Instinctively my arm shot out, at a 90-degree angle into the aisle. My goal was to prevent a flight attendant from trampling backwards over the abandoned dinner tray.

My hand did not strike where I had expected it to – in the middle of the flight attendant’s  back. He was tall and I was seated down low, giving me the perfect angle to thwack him square on the butt. Rarely do I turn red, but I could feel the color in my cheeks light up, my ears started to burn and sweat collected on my brow. I apologized profusely to the young man.

“That’s alright. I take what I can get,” he said in a French accent. “My bum’s so big that it couldn’t have been helped.”

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Kelowna: Downtown and Summerhill Winery – A Photo Essay

The last photo was taken by Brenda Bilon.

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Backyard wonder

“You wouldn’t believe it but in a few days, this one will have white blossoms that smell like oranges,” Conrad announced, while pointing to one of the larger plants in his front yard.

On the way back from our walk, we saw my mom’s neighbour doing some gardening. We stopped to chat and admire his plants.

“Would you like to see the garden out back?” Conrad asked.

“Yes,” Mom and I replied succinctly.

We filed in one by one. As we passed through the wooden gate, something sparkly caught my eye.  I turned to see what it was, but then I couldn’t look away. I was captivated by the dew on the leaves. It was hard to break free.

As we toured the garden, our guide pointed out the different plants and veggies but I couldn’t concentrate because the dew was still on my mind.

“You have such a beautiful garden,” Mom complimented.

“And edible too! That’s the best kind,” I added.

We perused the garden, which was an inverted U shape, coming out at the far side of the house. Grape vines twisted and contorted themselves. This area was still shaded from the high morning sun. Dew rested on the leaves here too.

“I can’t believe all the dew,” I exclaimed.

“Do you not have any in Mexico?” Conrad enquired.

I thought about it for a moment. We had dew in Mexico too, but I had only noticed it on the car windshield. Upon returning in September, I would have to take a closer look at the plants in the early morning hours to see if dew collected there or not.

We crossed back along the remaining width of the garden, passing pots of lush herbs. We were standing right back in front of the dew. I was once again at the mercy of the tiny water droplets.

Noticing my enchantment mom offered, “I bet Conrad would let you take a few pictures.”

Conrad confirmed.  I took for home in a hurry. I returned with the used Canon Rebel camera that my brother Brett had given me for Christmas this past year. I hadn’t used it all that much because it was somewhat cumbersome. A crack on the bottom half of the LCD screen reduced the visuals but did not actually affect the photos. From what I could see on the fractured screen, some of the photos were quite good.

The next time I saw my brother, I showed him the backyard photos.

“Wow Dez, your photos have really improved. You are starting to show some promise.”

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El jardin de Guadalupe


“Just give the bus driver 20 pesos, it shouldn’t be much more than that,” I told Katy as she boarded the highway bus to Bucerias.

On my stroll back from the crucero, along Avenida Tercer Mundo, I thought back to the last time I had walked down this road. A few weeks had already past since Tom and I broke up. On that last fateful day I caught two different buses back to San Pancho with my surfboard, and then walked the rest of the way home.  The walk to/from the crucero is much more pleasant when you are not laden with heavy parcels or a surfboard under the noonday sun.

As Entre Amigos, the big yellow and blue community center, came up on the left, I felt a strong pull towards it.  Today was the day that I would finally stop by. I had been meaning to go for months, but something always came up. Upon entering, the strange metal tree sculpture dwarfed me the same way it did last year. The colors, books and children created a sense of lightness in the air.

Nicole, the founder and president of Entre Amigos, offered to take me on a refresher tour – a lot had changed since last year. We visited the recycling area, including the new space for glass art. Then we headed out the back to see the latest: El Gardin de Guadalupe. I was impressed. The garden was lush with flowers and herbs all in tidy rows.  For the first time, I laid eyes on “compostlan” – the legendary compost pile that was nearly eight feet tall. Nichole introduced me to the man working in the garden – Poki.

“I’d like to come by tomorrow and help out,” I announced.

Poki seemed pleased.



On our way back from the garden, Nichole pointed out some tire planters that the last volunteer group had completed.

“Come by tomorrow around 8 and stay until noon if you can.”

“I will.”

As I walked the rest of the way home, I felt content. Content to have extra time, now that Tom was gone, to do something I had been wanted to do and had been meaning to do.

The next day I returned to the garden early, as planned. As I familiarized myself with the garden, the pineapples caught me eye.  Even though I had had my own a pineapple plant until recently, it did not have fruit attached to it. Over the past year my plant had grown too big even for the largest pot I had, so I replanted it at the El Estar Yoga garden. It must take a couple of years before the pineapple plant starts to produce fruit.  As I contemplated the life of a pineapple, I heard a big hello.

“I’m so glad you came.”

“Me too,” I replied.

One section of the garden needed some major weeding and this became my first task. I laughed as it seemed my duty was always weeding.  I didn’t mind though, I was good at it and it reminded me of working in my Aunt’s garden in Canada.

“There is something rewarding about weeding,” I commented to Poki, as I dug up and yanked out weeds.

He just smiled.

Photo by: Poki

In addition to weeding, I also collected magoes for composting and planted morning glories. Each day I went home covered in dirt, but with a reward from the garden: mixed greens, basil, flowers or plants. There was more to it than just the physical reward.

For more information, click on the links below:

El gardin de Guadalupe

Entre Amigos 

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Surfing Sirens

Photos by: Brenda Bilon

As I paddled out at a steady pace, I watched the reef pass below me. It was hard to judge exactly how far down it was, but I wasn’t about to get off my surfboard to check. The coral was hypnotizing. The rippled, purple spheres resembled human brains. I kept mistaking the blue sections of the reef for jellyfish and freaking myself out. My adrenaline was surging, like it does whenever I paddle out at a new spot for the first time or when the waves are too big. I shook my feet, hoping to release some of this excess energy, but to no avail. Luckily the waves were only medium-sized.

Even though I didn’t have much faith in her wave-assessing abilities, I had followed my mom’s directions to a new surf spot. If the wave really did exist – as my mom had claimed – it couldn’t be any busier than the main break in Lahaina, which was overrun with surfers. My whole family had come to Maui for my younger brother Brett’s wedding, and I was trying to squeeze in a surf whenever I could.

My mom was right! There was a beautiful, long, consistent, fast left-hand wave peeling over the reef exactly where she had said. Only one other person was out surfing. Reds and pinks started to light up the early morning sky. I wasn’t sure exactly where to paddle out. I needed to look for some kind of channel, where the water looked deeper. I had never surfed on live reef before, and I was scared. Some friends had told me horror stories about getting infected reef cuts in Indonesia. I would have to be extra cautious not to fall while surfing. After watching the waves for a few minutes, I paddled out into the ocean just off to the right of a little boat and hoped for the best. The cool water made me wonder if I shouldn’t be wearing a wetsuit top.

When I got closer, I was surprised that the tall, muscular person catching all those waves was a woman. She had long, blond hair and looked to be about 40. She welcomed me with an enormous smile. As we were waiting to catch a wave, she introduced herself as Marishia. She had grown up in Samoa, but had been living in Hawaii for a number of years. Marishia asked me how I’d discovered this surf spot and I told her that my mother, during her morning walk, had seen someone out surfing the day before. Marishia told me I was lucky; this was a bit of a locals-only spot.

She wasn’t annoyed, though, and started explaining where to catch the wave. “You see that house with the white trim windows? Just off to the left are two coco palms, when you see one palm line up right in front of the other then you are in the exact spot to take off.”

I wondered if she could sense my adrenaline. Nobody in my nine years of surfing had ever given me this kind of detailed, insider knowledge of a local break. She even explained where the channel was to paddle back in, after my surf. It was the same path I had chosen to paddle out.

Marishia continued to share her knowledge with me, “Make sure you don’t ride the wave all the way in, it gets really shallow on the inside.”

I was grateful for the tips. My shoulders relaxed a little. My fear of the reef slowly started to melt away.

Marishia shared her waves with me, asking me “You want this one?” or telling me “ This one’s yours.” At first, I was a bit off kilter; I had not surfed in about four months. After a few awkward rides, I managed to center myself. As the waves rolled in, the two of us took turns.

A little while later, another lady paddled out, on one of the shortest boards I had ever seen. Marishia introduced me to Janet. She was an artist and her son was some famous surfer, but I forget his name now. Janet was fast and her movements were crisp. As the three of us sat on our boards waiting for the next set of waves, we chatted. We shared waves, stories and positive vibrations. Aloha a word I’d heard so many times over the past few days that the meaning had become lost now resonated with me.


Two more girls, in their 20s, paddled out and joined us. And there we were – a handful of females, in four different decades of life, sharing some perfect shoulder-high waves. It was like being in a surf contest, when there are only four or five women in the water and no one else, but without all the pressure. Every one of us was catching perfect waves and a feeling of camaraderie prevailed.

Then a man on a paddleboard showed up. We greeted him. Instead of waiting for his turn to catch a wave, he did what no one surfer should ever do – he paddled into one of the girls’ waves, cutting her off and ruining her ride. He didn’t do it because of lack of experience. I have no idea why he did it, or why he continued. We called him off our waves, but he just ignored us. At one point he caused a collision with one of the younger girls, injuring her arm.

Marishia settled the issue; she banished him from our wave. “Get out of here. You know better than that. Get going, right now.” And she chased him away, paddling behind him.

We thanked Marishia. She just smiled and told us we were welcome, as if it were no big deal. For the first few minutes a slight feeling of discomfort lingered but it dissipated as soon as we went back to taking turns catching waves and cheering each other on.

For a more in depth explanation of Aloha, see:


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