About Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.
Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.
Latest Posts by Sherry Ott
“Hey, see you next year” Fraser yells as he backs out our boat from the dock and waves to the man on the dock. You can tell they’ve known each other for years. This is the last day the little floating village of Sullivan Bay is operating for the season. They are all packed up and ready to go for the winter. This little community of 40 to 60 people started back in 1929 as a provisioning base for the Great Bear Rainforest area of BC and still serves as that, but it’s a bit more modern now.
It has about 10 colorful houses built on floating platforms, a general store, gas station, a mechanic, laundry mat an airport, and surprisingly a par 1 golf tee. The general store has an air horn hanging on the door and a little sign that tells people to blow it if they need something. We are in remote BC Canada and I’m fascinated by the lives of these people who live in Sullivan Bay. I wish I could stay longer – maybe even tee off, but the bears are calling and the little village is in shut down mode for the season. All I have time for area a few pictures to capture it’s lonely beauty.
Airport waiting area. Float plans service the area. This could be the coolest airport I’ve ever seen.
Old gas can by the dock
Par 1 golf hole…you have to entertain yourself somehow in this little community. However I bet you loose a lot of golf balls!
‘Downtown’ Sullivan Bay
Need to get someone’s attention in Sullivan Bay – just blow the air horn.
Fiords leading into Sullivan Bay
White picket fence
The floating community of Sullivan Bay
Disclosure: I was a guest of Destination BC on this 4 day trip. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.
The floating walkways at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
My shoes squeak against the rubber ‘no-slip’ mat of the walkway, the air is heavy and the walkway sways ever so slightly reminding me I’m not on solid ground – I’m actually floating. Heavy mist and fog blanket the area in the morning making you feel like the trees are somehow magnets collecting the low hanging clouds in their magnetic field and beckoning them to stay.
Then is hits me, the smell of maple syrup, it’s like a wall of flavor that smacks you in the olfactory nerves and immediately reminds you that you are in Canada. The maple smell is not coming from the millions of trees surrounding me; it’s coming from the floating bakery where Chef Dustin is busy making homemade granola with maple syrup. How can you not love this unique little resort floating in the Nimmo Bay?
I arrived at Nimmo Bay Resort the night before by a series of planes that reminded me of Russian stacking dolls; each getting smaller and smaller the closer I got. The last plane was a floatplane. The are no roads in this part of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, so the only way into Nimmo Bay is boat, float plane, or helicopter. Soaring above the islands and inlets from Port Hardy was mesmerizing. Rainbows graced us with their presence, the sun broke out of the rain clouds and I practically expected a unicorn to appear.
Rainbows from my float plane window!
Smiles everyone, smiles! As the plane pulled up to the dock, a whole team of smiling people were standing on the dock ready to great us. As I looked out of the little plane window, I had childhood television flashbacks of Mr. Roarke. It was as if we were arriving on Fantasy Island however, there were no white tuxes – but there was plenty of fleece.
It takes a unique group of people to work out on a remote resort in the rainforest. First, it takes a love of the outdoors, and second you have to be able to work ‘off the grid’ in a way for 6 months at a time. The family-run resort started back in the 80’s. Floating platforms and raised docks created this small community among the trees. Fraser and Becky run the place with an amazing crew of dedicated nature lovers. Fraser’s parent’s started the lodge and are now semi-retired, living nearby in a bit less remote community. Fraser has taken over the business and continues to build onto it. New cabins are being built this off-season to accompany the yoga/massage room, bakery, lodge, staff living quarters, hot tubs, gift shop, and dry room filled with gear.
Floating arrival dock and doubles as a night fire pit under the stars
Cabins with a perfect view
Activities – Decisions, Decisions
The hardest part of each day was just deciding what to do in this wilderness wonderland. I personally could have just stayed at the resort all day or gone hiking and been happy, but the resort is actually set up to get out via boat and view the wildlife during the day and then come back together in the evenings. The area is known for it’s fishing, whale watching, sea lions, and bear watching; Nimmo Bay Resort is the perfect hopping off point for all of these activities. Plus they had 3 helicopters at their disposal, which made getting even more remote easily possible.
Upon returning at the end of the day’s activities you had more choices. Stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, hot tub, massage or drinking wine on the floating dock by the fire pit all before dinner. I chose to relax and soak in the hot tub sipping wine. The sound of the waterfall was mesmerizing as I sunk deeper into the hot tub – it was hot, but it felt good. I closed my eyes and imagined all of the stress oozing out of me in little droplets of sweat forming on my forehead – by wiping my brow I was in essence wiping away the stress. Life was pure and good in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Suddenly there was a commotion in the hot tub next to me as two of the Texans who were on a fishing holiday were causing a ruckus, splashing about getting out of the hot tub. I opened my eyes and made eye contact with them as they were running down the stairs towards the waterfall. Upon making eye contact, one stopped and came back to me and said in a southern drawl, “Come on – come in the waterfall with us, “ he yelled urgently, “you have to come nowwww!” His words trailed off as he seemed to hook me like a fish and tug me along towards the powerful waterfall down the wooden steps. I took the bait and just followed not knowing what else to do. My feet went into the water and it took about 4 steps for the reaction to hit my brain – holy shit it’s cold! But now I was committed, I had to continue. I got close to the spray slowing down with each fanatical step. I quickly dove under the spray and came up under the backside of the waterfall where the other Texan was. We both stood there shaking in cold excitement with big grins on our face. He then gave me the thumbs up and down we went again under the spray, running out of the water on the slippery rocks as fast as we possibly could.
Now I was awake. Really awake. Every neuron was firing, every little hair follicle on my body felt like it was rejoicing – it was completely invigorating – the quickest jolt to the system I’ve ever had.
The cold waterfall!
Activities via helicopter
Food – From Bay to Table
Chef Sandi must have the nicest view out of a kitchen I’ve ever seen. Her kitchen has a big picture window that looks out on the water and the floating dock. She was always found working in front of it talking to people as they pass by and providing the general vibe of the lodge. She worked tirelessly to provide 2 big meals a day for about 20 to 30 guests during the season. While we were there she whipped up incredible meals highlighting the local seafood such as smoked salmon. In fact – we had some sort of seafood every night with the last night ending in a crab feast – pure decadence.
Albacore Tuna~ togadashi seared loin, orange sesame tartar, pickled ginger, cucumber, edemame, pea shoot emulsion aioli
Crab feast! My favorite night!
The sound of the waterfall is always present at the resort – varying in sound and strength depending on what’s happening miles away in the rain forest. This morning it was roaring after a night of rain. The waterfall is actually the heart of this wilderness lodge. The majority of the lodge is powered on hydroelectricity using the waterfall as the source. In addition, it provides all the water for the facility. So yes, that waterfall that I stood under also powers the light bulbs and allowed me to brush my teeth – talk about multi-purpose. And considering we are in a temperate rainforest – there’s plenty of water to keep things going.
Yes, staying at the Nimmo Bay Resort is a splurge at $1500 to $2000 per person per day (all inclusive), but it will be one of the most memorable places you’ll ever go. In fact, it’s the sort of place where all of your fantasies may come true as you float in on de plane, de plane!
Take a seat and enjoy the silence.
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort – www.NimmoBay.com
This week I crossed oceans and time zones and landed in my 61st country – Ireland. I am so happy to finally make it here as 8 years ago Ireland was on my original itinerary, and thanks to my obsession with Asia – I never made it here.
The Adventure World Travel Summit is what finally brought me here, but I intend on staying for a while beyond the conference to test my driving skills on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal drive in the world – 1,500 miles winding through little villages, farmlands, and beautiful vistas. I’ll be meandering and adventuring my way solo through portions of the route over the next two weeks. My favorite things about road tripping solo is to meet new people along the way – and I know that Ireland has no shortage of great, friendly people who like to chat over a pint.
Enjoy my feed from Killarney!
Taking a walk thru Kells Bay Gardens in the Ring of Kerry along the Wild Atlantic Way
Arrived in #Ireland to a big storm. You don’t come to Ireland for the weather.
Trying my hand at coasteering (jumping off of cliffs into the water and floating with the wild waves) on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way #2014ATWS
River Flesk in Killarney. #irelandinspires
Listening to a beautiful musical performance by candlelight on Innisfallen Island. #2014ATWS
X marks the spot. Trees in Kell’s Gardens on the Ring of Kerry.
Tonight I lost my Guinness virginity. I not only drank my first one in #Ireland but I poured it myself too!
This October, I found myself in the world of fiords, rain forests, bears, whales, and remote rustic luxury. When I landed in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia Canada it felt other-worldly, sort of like New Zealand or Antarctica. I could hardly believe that a landscape and experience like this was so accessible to people in North America and that I knew so little about it. That all changed this week as I landed on water in a float plane and pulled up to Nimmo Bay Resort in the Southern part of the Great Bear Rainforest.
This is a location that photographers dream of and I’ll be sorting through the images for quite some time. Until then, you can get a glimpse of what I saw and experienced via my Instagram feed. This week’s In-stagram review is all about nature and the great outdoors. We went whale watching and bear watching in addition to hanging out in the waters and floating cabins of Nimmo Bay Resort. All of the experiences seemed to be stitched together on the last day when we met Mike from Sea Wolf Tours who taught about the history of the First Nations tribes in the area and how they related to the land, wildlife, and storytelling.
Double the fun at @nimmobayresort – shot this at dusk while we were coming in after a day of whale watching! #explorebc
Welcome to the Great Bear Rainforest. Arrived by float plane to @nimmobayresort . That was probably one of the most spectacular arrivals I’ve ever done second to Antarctica.
Transient Orcas found in Telegraph Cove area. Normally a group of whales is called a pod – however we all laughed when another boat captain came over the radio in sheer excitement and refered to them as a whack of whales! #explorebc
The helicopters are all safely tucked away for the night as the sun sets on another evening @nimmobayresort – I wonder what helicopters dream about?
Our bear watching venue – quite remote and near a fish ladder where you could watch the salmon making their way upstream. One would think this was enough bear bait for them to make a showing – but alas – they eluded me again.
Heading out for a sunset paddle @nimmobayresort
Totem Poles of Alert Bay – a fascinating and emotional history of the First Nations culture w @seawolftours
The sound of silence. This part of the Great Bear Rainforest @nimmobayresort has grown on top of forested land. The ground is like walking on a sponge. I could have spent hours there listening to the stillness.
Out on the water in beautiful BC!
A house ON the water in Sullivan Bay complete with picket fence. Put me here for the summer and I might actually write that novel I keep thinking about!
A view from Telegraph Cove. The blue skies have decided to show up!
Learning about the history of the First Nations people and residential schools. St. Michael’s is one of the last residential schools (barely) standing at Alert Bay next to the cultural center. #explorebc
Trekking under the jungle canopy in Peru
“The tarantulas are out all night so they won’t care if we are running a bit late,” our amazon jungle guide responded when I asked him if we could move back our night jungle hike in order to watch the World Cup USA/Portugal game. I was actually surprised at his answer for two reasons. First, even though we are in the remote jungle of the Amazon River Basin in Peru with only a generator for power and one TV in the employee’s quarters, we will get to watch the game. The World Cup is without a doubt the one sporting event that the world loves. Second, there are tarantulas out in the jungle close to our little rustic lodges? Eek! I was expecting llamas in Peru – not tarantulas.
From the moment we landed in this hot, tree-dense part of Peru it felt different. It didn’t feel like Peru to me – it felt like Southeast Asia. The rain forest and the river and town just gave me that feeling. Megan felt the same – it brought back memories of Singapore for her and the rain forest that she grew up near. We had a shock to the system as we went from altitude and cool temps in Cusco to landing in the muggy Puerto Maldonado airport. The air was thick – welcome to the jungle.
We were quickly whisked away in a wooden boat for 2 hours on the river traveling to our remote huts in the jungle. During that time our local jungle guide, Fran, explained our activities for the next day. Apparently they included not only tarantulas – but also a 10 km hike in the jungle, fishing, cayman (alligator) spotting, monkeys, and lots of mosquitoes.
This was going to be a jungle animal safari. The Cayman Lodge was a basic jungle lodge situated right on the banks of the Tambopata river. There were simple cabins with bathrooms, mosquitoes nets and we were given ample candles since there was no electricity in the cabins. The eating lodge (also very simple) had generator power from 5 to 10pm –and there was one TV in the employee quarters which they kindly let us sit in and watch the soccer match.
That first night after the game we did go out with into the jungle with only a strong flashlight to see the nocturnal animals of the area. Megan and I were a bit squeamish and held on to each other tight as if we were walking through a haunted jungle – but honestly there was nothing to be scared of. We spotted a large sloth high up in a tree, a number of icky insects, and yes a big, hairy tarantula about 2 feet from us. At one point Fran had us turn off all of our lights to stand in the dark jungle and take it all in. Megan let out a little nervous gasp and held on to me as we were enveloped in darkness and a myriad of strange sounds.
A tarantula not far from our cabin in the surrounding jungle
The next morning we were awoken by a whole new set of sounds. As the sun rose the jungle animals woke up and started being vocal. As I lay in the bed surrounded by my mosquito net I listened intently. Not one single sound was familiar to me – in fact most sounded unreal like a recording you would hear on a Disney jungle ride. I sort of expected a Tarzan yelp to be interjected among the birds. But this was indeed real, and it was probably one of my favorite ways I’ve ever woken up.
After breakfast we were instructed to pick out rubber mud boots for our hike. I was a bit skeptical of hiking 10km in boots that were not real hiking boots – it sounded like a whole lotta blisters if you ask me. However they told me that it would be horribly muddy and that I wouldn’t want to use my own boots – so I took their advice.
Good advice regarding the boots!
The hike was not necessarily hard – it was flat, but it was hot. Fran pointed out various trees and told us stories of jungle life – and we were enveloped among the big trees of the rain forest canopy. We learned how to survive on termites as well as other random jungle facts. I somehow even got Megan to eat a termite! There was a lot of squirming involved – but she did it. We came to a lake and hopped in a wobbly wooden canoe and spent an hour in the hot sun looking for caymans and other bird life. The lake was so still. It felt as if we had found this hidden Lost World as birds took off and landed around us, and we paddled wobbling past caymans that were camouflaged like logs. Occasionally you’d see and hear a pack of monkeys swinging through the trees setting my Tarzan imagination off again.
Termites – dinner if you are in a bind.
Megan eyeing her termite snack.
On our way back to the lodge Fran had promised us some fishing. This normally wouldn’t excite me too much – but when he said we’d be fishing for piranhas – I was hooked (seriously – how could you resist that pun?). He fashioned a fishing pole out of bamboo stick, some fishing wire, and a hook. I felt as if I had entered the set of Giligan’s Island with my homemade fishing pole in hand. He had brought a small bag of raw beef and showed us how to put it in on the hook and fish in the river. It was hot crouching on the banks of the river – but once I start fishing I became addicted and focused despite the sun beating down on me. I had a number of little nibbles and would yank the pole quickly as Fran had showed us – but each time – nothing – just less meat. Even though I had no luck, Fran did. He pulled out a large piranha and we all shrieked in excitement as he showed us the razor teeth. It would be a part of our dinner tonight as we packed up and hiked the rest of the way back to the lodge.
I was surprised at just how much wildlife we were able to see in our short 2 nights at the lodge. Just think what we would have seen if we had stayed a week! We spent the rest of the day hanging around in hammocks, dodging the mosquitoes, and enjoying the sounds of the jungle – minus Tarzan.
A bird searches for food at the lake
Padding through the calm lake waters looking for cayman
A cayman floating in the water – looks just like a log until you see it blink it’s eye.
Megan hiking out towards the lake
Birds at the lake
Green everywhere you look
Our catch of the day – piranha
Disclosure: I was a guest of Intrepid Travel as part of the Niece Project, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
I recently returned to Peru’s glorious mountainous spot after ten years and sat again on the terraces of Machu Picchu. The scenery has the same awe-inspiring feel. And once again for the 2nd time I am left wondering ‘how did the Incas do that?’ as I gaze upon the stone architecture. There is a constant din of noise filling the background; a baby cries, a guard’s whistle blows, rules are yelled in Spanish. It’s the progress of tourism in the last 10 years. A decade brings many changes; changes in me and changes in Machu Picchu.
The UNESCO World Heritage site has thousands more visitors and a number of new restrictions. It’s open much earlier so that more people can have access to the site. The tree in the middle of the ruins is definitely taller. Tourists follow llamas around trying to get the perfect Instagram shot. All of the terraces used to be open to wander but now there is just ¼ of one terrace open to the public. It’s where I sit as I contemplate these thoughts. It’s where I sat 10 years ago and contemplated the thoughts of leaving my job to travel around the world.
This time I have my niece in tow she vacillates from being in awe of the ancient site and then simply wanting to go back to town and have french fries. Last time I had a point and shoot camera, but this time I have proper equipment and I am eager to take pictures. However, it is a challenge to shoot around 2500 visitors. Our guide talks but I don’t really hear anything he’s saying. I’m too busy plotting the next photo and watching the light spread across the ancient site.
Machu Picchu Terraces
Morning sun provides a spotlight!
Llama Grazing in Machu Picchu. See above, the same lone tree stands in the middle of the ruins – a few feet taller.
Machu Picchu as the sun rises
A llama checks out my niece Megan
Descending the steep stone steps
The view of the river below
Taking the Inca Trail through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu seems to be on everyone’s bucket list these days. The problem – not everyone can go on the Inca Trail (even if you plan it months in advance) as there are only 200 tourist permits given out a day for the trail. If you get turned away like my niece and I did, don’t panic there are alternatives to the Inca Trail that are just as impressive and often times more challenging! In fact they even have a Sun Gate too! The Incas built Sun Gates all over the Andes. Sun Gates, called Inti Punku, are structures built to honor the sun, usually at such an angle that they frame a distant mountain and welcome the first rays of the winter solstice. Above - Hiking to the ‘other’ Sun Gate along the Quarry Trail. The Incas had many built all over sacred sites in the Andes. This one looks over Mt. Veronica.
The Quarry Trail
My niece and I decided to do the Inca Trail alternative, the Quarry Trail offered by Intrepid instead. The Quarry trail was nearby the Inca Trail as both depart out of the little town of Ollantaytambo. The Quarry trail takes you through a few ruins, but it also has some things that are different than the beloved Inca Trail such as hiking through townships, it’s slightly shorter, and slightly higher in altitude (14,700 ft). And the best part – it was not crowded! In fact, we never saw any other hikers during our 3 days of hiking the Quarry Trail. In addition, the trail could be traversed by horse – therefore it left a smaller footprint as it took fewer porters and the supplies and camping gear were carried by horseback. However you still had a beautiful camp setting with loads of delicious food. Overall – this Intrepid Travel hike was a well-supported trip that provided a great alternative to the Inca Trail.
Quarry Trail Facts:
Distance: 16 miles
Duration: 2 nights camping, 3 days hiking
Altitude: 2 passes, the highest being 14,600 ft. (this is serious altitude – it’s not a walk in the park)
Organization: You are assigned a complete crew of horsemen and porters who put up the camp and maintain it, chefs, and one to two guides. Camping gear is furnished and food is included.
Day 1 – The starting point of our trek was Rafq’a and where we meet the horsemen and porters. After an approx. 1hr walk we arrived at the small community of Socma. We rested there by the school house and had a snack trying to catch our breath after our first hour hiking up in altitude. A further 60min walk took us to the Perolniyoc cascade lookout. From there we continued on to the campsite, at 12,139 feet above sea level.
Our first stop at the Community of Socma.
The longer more gradual route up was still not easy. I was huffing & puffing.
Ruins along the Quarry Trail
Perolniyoc cascade lookout
Our campsite at 12,139 feet
Day 2 – A 3hr walk takes us to the top of the first pass, Puccaqasa (approx 14,340 feet). The snow capped peaks were gorgeous as we rose over the pass – well worth the slow effort of getting up there! The views of the valley below are spectacular – the whole day I felt small among giant moutnains and wide open spaces. We walked down for 30 min to our lunch spot, and then continued on to Kuychicassa (14,600 feet). From there we went down steep scree-filled switchbacks for 2hrs to a site the Incas called Inti Punku, (Sun Gate) with stunning views over the valley bellow and the Veronica mountain raising over the horizon. We camped that night near Choquetacarpo (11800 ft).
Our view we woke up to – not too shabby
Climbing slowly to the first pass. Puccaqasa (approx 14,340 feet)
First glance at the snowy peaks!
A local girl along the way comes out and greets us
Hiking between the two passes was my favorite part!
Our lunch stop – between the two passes
Heading down the steep decline towards the Sun Gate and our camp
It’s amazing what the chef can whip up on a single burner
Day 3 – Day three is all downhill hiking with a stop at the Kachiqata quarry (from where the trek gets it’s name), where we learned about the masonry of the Incas. The Incas worked the rocks up here and then dragged the rocks down into town across the river. Some of the boulders were huge – the size of cars! The Incas were so industrious and ingenious. We finished in Ollantaytambo again. From there we had a quick snack in town and then rode the train to Aguas Calientes Town that afternoon. Aguas Calientes is gateway to Machu Picchu which we tackled the next morning by bus.
Waking up on Day 3 to a beautiful view
Sheep aren’t phased by us in their grazing area
An old home in the valley
Cows at lower altitude…
There are plenty of other alternatives to the Inca Trail – so don’t despair if the permits are gone. The Andes are vast and offer many challenges!
We took a left off of highway 15 and drove through the north side of town. The familiar old weathered homes were there as usual. In desperate need of paint, love, and care I couldn’t help but wonder if people were cooking up meth in those homes in this small village town in Nebraska. My mind runs wild with the thoughts of Breaking Bad as I turn to look the other way at the water tower – the one icon of the town still standing after all of these years. In a quick ¼ mile we got to the end of town by the cornfield and took the right turn as we always do when we visit my aunt and there is was. Absolutely nothing.
A wide swath of nothingness threw my brain into a confused state. It was familiar, but it wasn’t. It felt real, or was it a dream? There were no trees, no homes, no cars, no electrical poles, no life – except for a few corn stalks. We stopped the car at where my aunt’s brick home used to stand. Nothing. I looked around – nothing. It was like a airport runway as I turned and looked clear through to the Main St. area which used to be hidden by houses and trees. All of the debris had been cleared away and put in large piles on the corner of town, but I could only imagine what it looked like right after the twin tornadoes rumbled through town.
I first heard about the storm and Pilger’s destruction while I was in Peru traveling with my niece. Yes, ironically as I was on the Niece Project, my aunt’s home was being destroyed. We were getting ready to be offline for a few days for a Andes hike so was checking Facebook one last time. I saw a post from my cousin saying my aunt’s house had been destroyed but she was ok. I had no idea what he was talking about. It’s devastating hearing bad news when you are thousands of miles away in a foreign culture. You feel helpless. Luckily with internet connectivity it’s fairly easy to be in communication quickly. I immediately sent messages off to my family trying to get more information, but there was nothing I could do but watch the aftermath from afar. Digital hugs aren’t the same as the real thing – one of the downsides to always being on the move.
The image of my aunt’s home on Facebook was the only information I had
Aerial view of the path of the tornado. The town is really small and my aunt lived near the bottom left corner where everything was blown out into the fields.
In June EF4 twin tornadoes ripped through a cross section of the tiny town of Pilger Nebraska, a town where my relatives and parents called ‘home’. A shrinking population of 328 people and no new growth meant that the community already had a lot stacked against it, but now this may be the final blow. 75% of the buildings in the town were damaged or destroyed. 45 to 50 homes were completely demolished, including my aunt’s on the end of town. The tiny Main Street area and buildings were left in a pile of bricks and the main business in town – the grain elevators – were left in a pile of twisted metal as corn and soybeans covered the whole town. My aunt who hid in her closet under a pile of quilts was ok, but said that when the noise was over, she looked up and saw blue sky – her roof blown off. Two people were killed in the storm and many injured.
See Video here
As I visited family in the Midwest this month, I of course wanted to go see my aunt and the town. It had been 2 months since the tornado, so I wasn’t really sure what I’d see in the twin tornado aftermath. I was gobsmacked as I looked at what was left of the town. The brick school where my parents had graduated from had been destroyed and then torn down. Only the facade remained. There was one miraculous tree standing as the rest had been cut to stumps on the tornado’s path. The church where I played my piano recital of “Here Comes the Clowns” for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration and subsequently the location of my grandfather’s funeral had been leveled. Only the cement foundation and the brick bell tower somehow remained. A miracle? Maybe. Main Street only had 2 buildings life – one of which was the library. The fire station and village clerk’s office was still in shambles as if people just gave up with the cleaning process and left it as is. There were American flags everywhere and the letters “OK” spray-painted on homes that looked as if they were held together by a thread. Stalks of corn and soybeans grew everywhere in the middle of this nothingness as when the grain bins were destroyed it left seed everywhere and now had taken hold in the newly upturned soil. Everywhere I looked it felt surreal, as if I were in a movie set.
One of the few buildings near main street still standing
The village clerk’s office remained as is after the tornado. The whole town looked like this, but now was demolished.
There was a single grain bin standing – a new one that had been constructed since the 10 had been destroyed. The rebuilding process had begun. But after spending the day with my aunt hearing the stories and seeing the aftermath with my own eyes, I’m left wondering if Pilger will ever really be rebuilt. I don’t have high hopes. As I wrote about a couple of years ago, the town was on a fast decline prior to the tornado – and this might just be the final blow. My aunt won’t relocate there, she’s still trying to decide what she will do, but there’s really nothing for her there any longer. I’m trying to convince her that this is a blessing really – she needed to downsize, she wanted to move, so maybe it will actually work out better for her. However at 75, she’s not quite as comfortable with nomadic living as I am.
A flag flies on a remaining tree stump. You can see the nothingness in the background. This was the direct path of the tornado.
The clean up still continues and some rebuilding has begun, but I’m left wondering what is Pilger’s next chapter? I don’t really know. I have the pictures and the memories of what this little community once was and that will have to be enough for now. My grandparents are buried there, my parents will be buried there – so I know my time with this little town isn’t finished.
More Images of the Aftermath:
A single tree survived in the path.
Corn and soybean seeds spread throughout the town and is now growing everywhere.
The path. Standing where my aunt’s house used to be looking through the empty section of town
Before and after of my parent’s high school.
The village clerk’s office before and after
The row of grain elevators in the center of town before and after
Main street before and after
Top photo credit: Twin tornadoes heading for my aunt’s home. Image courtesy NYPost.