Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Why Wait? Do it Now.


Why wait?  I opened up Facebook the other day to see a friend’s status staring at me, reflecting back one of my basic operating principals.

I determined this to be good operating policy a long time ago for a not very profound reason.  We were living in Virginia and had three small children and a small budget.  Or perhaps it was North Carolina when we had three smaller children, an even smaller budget, and many jobs between us.  At any rate, Mark’s parents flew us out to California for a significant family event and we were going to take the kids to Disneyland.  You can imagine the excitement and buildup to this magnificent event.

The question was when to go – at the start of our trip or near the end.  Nothing prevented us from going near the start – we just didn’t.  And in the last week, Mark got sick.  Very sick.  Just a cold, flu-type thing, but he was weak and Disneyland was in real jeopardy.  It came down to the wire and he thought he was perhaps well enough but we might need a wheelchair to push him if his energy flagged, and then it rained.  His dad said it was folly to drive from Ventura to Anaheim in the rain and try to visit Disneyland.  We insisted so his dad insisted on coming with us and doing the driving.

We went, I’m sure the kids had a good time, but I have no memory of the visit at all.  My main memory is kicking myself for not going right away at the start of the trip.  Ever since that day so long ago, I have determined not to postpone doing things that are important.

Of course, there are varying degrees of import.  When you are young, broke, and have the chance of a paid-for Disneyland trip for your kids, that’s one kind of important.  Nothing really hangs in the balance.  Then there is the other extreme, when life hangs in the balance.

I suppose that could mean telling people what you’ve always wanted to tell them, something we always think might be a good idea but never quite get around to.  But when my mother-in-law died, my daughter Karen wondered why we wait until people die to say what we think of them.  She thought we should tell each other what we thought of each other right now – so my husband, our three girls, and I wrote individual essays about each other saying just that. It was hard work – that’s four thoughtful essays each – but I bound them in a booklet called Family Tributes and it was and is something precious to have.  As I reread, it’s also become something to live up to.

A more active interpretation of DO IT NOW is just that – do it now, don’t wait until life hangs in the balance.  About eight years ago I told my husband I would be traveling and I hoped he would come with me.  I was watching too many people in my school district save up and wait until retirement to start traveling, at which time they or their spouses dropped dead.  Literally.  And I watched a math teacher stand in our break room in bewilderment after his brother, barely 30, had died of a heart attack, wondering why he and his wife were working so many jobs all the time and never spending a dime.  He vowed to take the kids on vacation that summer.  There is never a good time to do something.  There is never the perfect time.  There is never enough money.  You just have to DO it while you have the health and the time and just enough money.

Another way to look at that statement to DO IT NOW is in an everyday kind of way.  My father recently died and in examining his life – which I’m just beginning to do, really – I’m starting to peel away the layers of a complex individual who used every moment doing what he loved.  He wanted to be an artist since he was a child and he was an artist.  From his boyhood until his 80s he thrilled to the feel of a paintbrush in his hand and the excitement of whatever he was working on.  He did what he wanted every day of his life. This is not to say he wouldn’t have liked to have had more money – but he made a choice and knew what he was getting into by doing what he wanted.  His entire life he Did it Now.

I think I just uncovered the key word in this reflection on DO IT NOW – choice.  Just what exactly do you want to be doing so acutely that you must be doing it now?  Coelho means of course what will fulfill your life, and I would wager not all of us can easily answer that question, but it’s worth thinking about.  Our book club just read and discussed his novel The Alchemist, which was about following your personal legend (which seems a contrived way of saying personal dream, but maybe it’s just the translation).  And it’s all well and good to follow your personal dream but if we are all running around pursuing our personal dreams I think chaos will result.

What started as a simple reflection on doing what we want now or we’ll run out of time has morphed into a crazy mess of doing what now, how do we choose what we really want to do, how far do we pursue it even if it means abdicating responsibilities, and are we talking about a grand scale here or just day-to-day.  Knowing that Coelho, who wrote the above quote that caught my eye, wrote The Alchemist, I think his quote is oriented toward the grand scale.  However, The Alchemist is a modern-day fable and we can take the message as we will.

I take it as a reminder on a scale large and small.  We all waste time, or misuse it.  Or fritter it.  But we do it less as we get older and understand that our own mortality is facing us and indeed, if we are going to do it, we’d better get on with it.  The question is, what is IT.  I think our hearts can tell us that answer to some degree.  What do we respond viscerally to? If we don’t know, it really will be too late.

I know what it is for me.  It’s not a grand answer.  It’s seize the moments as they come.  It’s not letting fear hold me back.  It’s keeping the enthusiasm and interest to see and experience.  Small example: I read two weeks ago that this year the bloom of Joshua Trees is unprecedented, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime.  My response?  Must see!  So we made it happen.  Can’t wait.  See, learn, go, do.  Teach.  Kids, grandkids, husband, friends, family.  Give them all experiences.  I think I have done pretty well in the DO IT NOW department.  But I do have to get to Antarctica.  Can’t wait long.  Money, health – who knows how long those things will hold out?  Like Coelho says, one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time.  I can’t get it all done but as long as I keep thinking, revising, reflecting, paying attention, and seizing the special moments, I think I’ll get enough done now of what I want to do.

Merzouga – we reach the Erg Chebbi Dunes


The Road to Merzouga

We had another long day ahead of us.  But it was exciting because we were heading to Erg Chebbi Dunes and our camel ride into the desert! The drive was uneventful save for our visit to the Ksar and Brahim’s house, which I discussed in an earlier post.  Along the way we noticed that the Berber women were wearing black cape-type wraps with bright yarn embroidery.  Then we must have been in a different tribal area because they were all black with no color.  And finally, they were sort of stripy.

We also saw kids playing soccer in the middle of nowhere.  The only place they could have come from was down quite a ravine – but kids will find a way to play soccer anywhere.

A big thank you Riad Nezha for the good signage!

Riad Nezha

We made it just before sunset and were taken immediately to the rooftop terrace for mint tea.  What a view!  A gorgeous palmerie and the dunes in the background.

View from Riad Nezha's terrace

Riad Nezha terrace

Later that evening we ate in their dining room – the only guests, we were ahead of the tourist season – and it was delicious. So far, the best food of the trip had been at Boumalne Dades and Merzouga.  Lots of vegetables and great seasoning. We remembered wonderful seasoning from when we lived in Morocco, but had been a little disappointed this time around.  The dining room is beautiful.

Riad Nezha dining room

The riad is fairly new and still in progress but building a top-of-the-line resort is certainly one man’s dream.  In this case, that would be Brahim, the owner, but he was ill, so we were taken care of by Mohammed, who has a degree in English literature.  He said he knew that was a rather impractical degree, but there you are.  He’s developed a particular interest in American fiction.

Riad Nezha was a wonderful place to stay and is going to be a luxury retreat – everything is so well thought out and so tastefully designed.  We were very happy with this accommodation.  We asked to have a guide provided the following morning.  No, wait – Mohammed strongly suggested we take a 4×4 tour with a guide – in fact, almost insisted, and we’re glad we did.  So we went to bed awaiting our “quatre quatre.”

Quatre-Quatre (4×4) into the dunes

Breakfast was in the dining room and two men ambled in who were returning from the camel outing.  They had had a cold day – we were going to have a pleasant one thank goodness.  Although there was haze which distressed me because it was my only chance to take photos of Erg Chebbi Dunes – precursor to the Sahara!  Little did I know haze was the least of my problems in getting good shots.  I’ve taken successful photos from a vaporetto in Venice that was rising and rocking with the current; I’ve taken mostly successful photos from horseback in Haleakala Crater in Maui, but those are nothing compared to camelback.  More about that later.

Mohammed, called Ahmed, came to pick us up for our “quatre quatre.”

He spoke Berber and a little bit of French; no English.  We spoke English and French and a little bit of Arabic but no Berber.  Hmmm.  Somehow it all worked out.  Most of the time. He did manage to communicate to us that Bush was a “crazy guy.”   So many people we met seemed eager to comment about Bush and Obama and their remarks always gave high marks to the latter while disparaging Bush. I’m not disparaging Bush myself with those remarks – it’s just interesting to see how the rest of the world sees us.

How Morocco Works

This is a good time to digress about how money and Morocco come together.  It’s an unwritten code that people will be tipped.  For example, once Brahim started showing us through the Ksar, we knew we would pay him something.  He said no problem about leaving our car unattended, so we knew someone would be watching it and we’d pay him.  It was great to have lunch at his house, but we knew we’d offer some money after for the food.  So we knew that wherever Ahmed took us on our excursion, we’d give some money to those involved.  And the system works.  It’s not so much money to give 10 dh to the person watching your car (a little over $1) or 40 dh to someone who gives you lunch (a little over $4).  Whenever someone offered to show us the way somewhere, we knew that it was understood that he was doing us a favor and we were going to pay him.  Plus, you tip the gas station attendant – no one pumps his own gas.  It’s a way to keep employment up I suppose, and it works .

Back to the 4×4

As we drove out we saw a little demonstration taking place, but it was clear that Ahmed wouldn’t want to discuss it so we didn’t.  We began driving through the dunes and I worked it out so if I said “photo,” he’d stop.  Soon I realized we’d never go anywhere if I kept saying “photo.”

Erg Chebbi dunes

Erg Chebbi dunes

See what I mean?  You would look at the dunes and they’d be one color; then you walk 20 yards in one or the other direction, and there would be a whole other view and color.  I could have spent days just slowly walking amongst those dunes.

We were driving over the sand when we didn’t really need to so I wondered if it was for show, but soon we were out – where? We had no idea.  We were heading to a nomad tent for tea.

As we approached, there seemed to be a couple of tents and an abandoned structure that was being used.  One tent was the barn with goats and sheep in front.

A little fenec (wild fox) was sleeping by some debris, and a cat was resting on top of a wall.


The structure had a solar panel.  A little girl was in the yard (which was actually the entire desert) and when she saw my camera, she took off.  Most Berbers and especially girls and women don’t want to be photographed.

Ahmed said nomad children do not go to school.  He grew up a nomad in that desert and knows every inch.  He spent many years of his youth shepherding the family livestock.

So we bent down and made it into the tent, which was not easy.  It wasn’t what I’d call comfortable.  The woman brought the tea and Ahmed poured.

The husband drove up on his motorbike and sat outside the tent looking through binoculars.  I was trying to process this: we were in a primitive tent with a solar panel, the children were dirty and didn’t go to school, and Dad rides up on his motorbike and starts looking into the desert with his binocs.  Doing what?  Keeping an eye on his herd of camels so no one steals them.  Phew.  That alone made the stop worthwhile – all the incongruities.

Next up: a stop for a performance by the Gnaoua musicians.

The Gnaoas come from Africa, black Africa as Ahmed pointed out.  Their music is well-known and every year there is a huge music festival in Merzouga.  This year will be the 13th and Ahmed says the desert is full of people camping, musicians of all sorts – I’d love to be there for that.  We watched, clapped, and gave some money and we were off.

We drove and drove and drove and drove.  Where were we going?  Mining, Ahmed said.  So we figured we were going to some fossil mines since southern Morocco is a treasure house of fossils.  Geologists get excited about Morocco.  We had no idea.  We’d pass an oasis here and there thinking, well this has to be the mining.  When we finally stopped it was in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of Nowhere

The other side of nowhere

Ahmed took some water out of the 4×4 and I thought we were having a snack.  But he poured the water on some rocks and abundant fossils were revealed.  That was the “mining” we were going to.  Wherever there is a rocky outcropping in the sand, there are fossils.  We walked around and found our own.  Pretty cool.

It was lunch time.  We were taken to a riad, again in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but then Merzouga itself is in the middle of nowhere.  We had a good lunch behind the blue door, paid for it, and got back to the Riad Nezha.  Time to rest up for the camels.


Comments Off on The Road to Heaven – I mean Hana

The Road to Heaven – I mean Hana


We planned a couple of nights in Hana, which is on the bottom east corner of the island.  The Road to Hana is reputed to be difficult, with 54 bridges, narrow lanes and so on.  In fact, at the slack key guitar concert we went to later in the trip, one of the songs was 54 Bridges to Hana Town.  And I’d been hearing comments like these:

I can’t believe you’re going to drive that road.

I would never do that road again.

There’s really not that much to do.

Be sure you don’t have a big car because the road is so small.

That road is scary, really scary.


It went on and on.  How did I know what to believe? The travel guides Fodors and Lonely Planet offered opinions, but I’ve concluded that travel guides err on the side of caution.  Truthfully, I was getting a bit apprehensive because I don’t like heights and steep cliffs and it was sounding scarier and scarier.  But we were committed.

I was still turning the car situation over in my mind, and since we had to go right by the airport to get to Hana Highway, we stopped at Budget.  Long story and long discussion short – we left in a wonderful orange Jeep Wrangler, one of their most upscale cars, but we got it at our original price.

Mark with the jeep

Off to Hana!  Excited about it.  I had combined two guide books so what one didn’t have, the other would.  But oh how we miss Rick Steves.  Wish he covered the United States, not just Europe.

The road is full of curves and the bridges are very short – basically fording water drainage areas.  And the first “sight” is Twin Falls.  We didn’t walk up because the book said it was five minutes, the people coming down said it was 20, but there wasn’t much water mainly. It had been a low water year, and the falls elicited a reaction more like, “Oh, some water coming over a cliff,” not wide-eyed disbelief that such a creation exists.  But this is what the book said.  “Keep your eye out for the fruit stand just after mile marker 2.  Stop here and treat yourself to some fresh sugar cane juice.”

Twin Falls Fruit Stand

Who am I to ignore that? So at the little snack stand I got a cold cup of sugar cane juice.  Delicious. The canes of the plant themselves are smashed through a juicer thing and liquid emerges.  Since it’s not refined sugar, it isn’t so sweet.  Refreshing, actually.

Heading onward, we encountered many stopped cars and a man with six or so parrots.  He charged $20 for pictures and used the money for some bird refuge program.  Whatever it was for, we did it and it was lots of fun.  He slung those birds around by the beak or feet and they didn’t blink.  Or squawk.  And we have fun photos.

Waikamoi Nature Trail was the next stop.  This side of the island is rain forest so the trees host many epiphytes and lianas.  Not so lush as Monte Verde or Tortuguera in Costa Rica, but there were tropical flowers – those amazing, waxy-looking, strangely-shaped blooms.

I had visions of us stopping at waterfalls and little pools and getting wet, which we mostly did not.  Might have been different in a wet year.  But Mark did get knee-deep in one pool the guide book called little-known and hard to find, and it was.  Haipua’ena Falls was a slick walk up rocks, but I am nothing if not persistent, and we found it.

Sensory Overload

The ocean.  It is BLUE on that side of the island, blue like you can’t believe is real.  Eye-popping, with equally green greens growing on the hillsides.  We stopped at various places for photos, but this is not a stopping type of road.  By each bridge there are places for three or four cars to pull over but that’s about it.  Yet I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  This was a definite highlight of the trip, seeing this coastline.

What we call Rest Stops, Hawaii calls Wayside Parks.  We stopped at Kaumahina State Wayside Park for lunch and it was not fun.  Too many flies or something similar.  Payoff for lush green rain forest – insects.  But there was a view of the stunning blue ocean, and the rest of the road really fits that phrase “beyond description.”  How do you describe something beyond description?

Honomanu Bay was accessible from a small road that may not have been passable had it been raining, but we zipped right down.

This bay is used mostly by local fishermen and surfers.  On calm days snorkeling may be possible, but Maui isn’t a place where you can just stop at any beach and jump in.  There are strong currents, turbulence, rips, and submerged rocks and hazards, and although there are surfers just about everywhere, I wouldn’t jump in the water without knowing it’s safe or in an obvious place where tons of people are swimming.  We walked around on the rocky black-sand beach, dipped our feet in the water, and went to what proved to be one of the highlights of the trip, which was…

Ke’anae and the Arboretum

Halfway to Hana. Took a turn down to this village looking for some banana bread.  Yep, all along the road to Hana, banana bread is for sale at little stands.  They grow lots of apple bananas in the region and somehow this banana bread thing got started.  The Fodor’s Guide said the best was in Ke’anae so we went to find the Ke’anae Landing Fruit Stand. Almost missed it because the name was so small – the letters you could really see said Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread.  It was so excellent, and we tried others along the way that did not begin to compare, some we couldn’t even finish and threw away.  This was worth it.  Sandra Hueu makes 160 loaves of banana bread a day, using 400 pounds of bananas a week.

This little town has about 30 residents who are able to fish, farm, and almost be sustainable in their food. Could you live on a little peninsula with 30 other people?  Yes is the answer because the coast is the reward.  I defy anyone to get tired of looking at the waves splashing against the rocks, the different colors in the water.

There’s a little church down there with of course a cemetery and the residents take care of it.  It’s called Lanakila ‘Ihi ihi o lehove Ona Kaua and was built of lava and coral in 1860, just as we on the mainland were embroiled in civil war.  A tidal wave hit this area in 1946 and the church was the only building left standing.

We crossed the street to Ke’anae Beach Park.  Mesmerizing.  The water is definitely not for swimming as it’s full of sharp lava, but oh my the color.  We could hardly pull ourselves out of Ke’anae.  That would mean stopping looking at the infinite variety of waves and color in the ocean. Oh well.  Time to go.

We stopped at a bridge to look down at Ching’s Pond – formed by the stream that feeds the Ke’anae Peninsula.  I don’t know how people got down there, but there were several swimming holes with folks splashing away, and even young boys diving from the bridge.  Which did not look like a very good idea.  Surely, though, they’d done it before and know the territory.

We found we were not done with Ke’anae after all when we stopped at the most amazing place …

The Ke’anae Arboretum

If we had not stopped here, we would not have known there is an Australian tree called the painted eycalyptus.  My goodness.  The trees are tall and skinny with branches just near the top, but the bark – it’s colored in shades of green, red, gold, rust, yellow, orange – as if an artist had painted it. I could grow old looking at that bark in wonderment for hours at a time.

I seriously would like to look at that bark so I have sent an inquiry to a nursery who sells them, even though we are the completely wrong climate.  I can’t begin to describe how inadequate the photos are.

Journey On

I think we were getting tired, because we seem to have missed Wailua, where there is a blue and white chapel built with coral left on the beach from a freak storm.  We did stop for the Three Bears Falls, which was the best we saw.  We parked in the area that said No Parking at any Time because that’s where people were parked.  We were also advised not to stand or sit on the wall.  We did lean against it, however.  That was not prohibited.

We also missed Pua’a ka’a State Wayside Park (which means “rolling pig”).  Had we stopped and walked a short bit we could have found two pools to splash in.  The idea of combining two tour books was not so great in retrospect because I missed these things flipping back and forth.  I should have typed it out myself – at least the mile markers and list of places I wanted to see,  and I wouldn’t have missed these two pools.


This is a roadside collection of fruit stands, a coffee house, a couple of “restaurants” and a gift shop, but it gets its own name. There are some residences somewhere because the population is 80. We did stop – Mark needed coffee, I needed a restroom, and we were beat.  We may have set a record for taking the most time to drive the Road to Hana.  Some folks we ran into were round-tripping it, but I don’t see how that is possible.  You certainly couldn’t stop at all the little places we did.  And we stopped more than I mentioned – anywhere there might be something to see.

Hale Manu, our guesthouse

We reached Hana Town and zipped right through because the place we rented was a couple of miles beyond.  It’s a two-bedroom guest house and as we walked in, Hawaiian music was playing and there were little flowers everywhere.  Wow! But then not so much wow as we found the lighting too dim to read by and the furniture quite uncomfortable.  We heated up the leftover Costco pepperoni pizza, had a glass of wine, and called it a journey.

The Miracle of Modern Travel: Orlando to Bakersfield in 24 Hours


It’s true.  It took 24 hours of navigating United’s Friendly Skies for me to fly coast to coast.  I usually like United Airlines, but this time, they get an F.  Not even a D-.

I try to leave Orlando

  • First, shuttle from Royal Palm Resort, or whatever the heck it was called, at Universal Orlando.  Trip was smooth.
  • Get travel update notice on my phone: flight will now depart at 4:45 pm.  OK, the connection should be fine.
  • Get tired of sitting in the airport because I am already exhausted from the heat and the fun.
  • Get travel update notice on my phone: flight will now depart at 4:50.  Just a five-minute difference.   Connecting flight still looks OK.
  • Wonder why I can’t find a Starbucks in the Orlando Airport.  Surely they have one.  I must be in the wrong place.
  • Get travel update notice on my phone that flight will now depart at 5:00 pm.  Now I’m in trouble although the United agent assures me I’ll make the connecting flight.  I am not so sure.
  • Oops! Another update.  The plane will now be leaving at 5:40.  I’m screwed.  But not too worried because surely there is a flight from Denver to Bakersfield late at night.
  • Hear thunder.  See lightning. The storm I hoped to see happened.  One of the lightning bolts lasted so long I could have taken out my camera, put it on the tripod, and captured the moment.
  • Dang.  There’s that little jingle from my phone again.  Travel update notice – flight delayed until 6:15.   This day is getting just a little too long and I’m still in Orlando.
  • The thunder storm continues and I get another update: flight will now be leaving at 6:25.  Not only that, but it’s listed like this:
  • Estimated departure time 6:25 p.m. on time.  Stop right there. If departure times are estimates how can you be on time? Or, you will always be on time.  Brother.  Irritation is setting in.

I actually leave Orlando, over seven hours after arriving at the airport.

  • We have an airplane! They have switched us to another gate and we have a plane that wasn’t scheduled for us.  I don’t know why our plane was late – and it was late, way before the thunder storm.
  • OK, the seats are three across and I’m by the window.  Not good, since I am a frequent restroom user.  I basically become dehydrated on travel days because I limit liquids for that very reason.  But still, I have to drink something.
  • The man in the center seat proceeds to cross his legs and extend his elbows over the arm rests on both sides.  In other words, he’s infringing on my already small space.  I try to engage him in conversation – just enough to say, “I’m so-and-so.”  That’s all.  I don’t want to be best friends, but he barely looks at me.  No, he doesn’t look at me at all.
  • I need to sleep but I can’t – I don’t like touching strangers which is one reason I attempted to introduce myself.
  • I see the picture on his computer desktop.  It’s he and his wife and they look very happy.  I can’t relate the picture to the man sitting next to me.

We reach Denver

  • It’s finally time to land in Denver.  I’ve received an update telling me my flight has been rescheduled for 6:15 the following morning! Which means if I am lucky enough to get to a hotel by 10:30 or so, I could possibly have 6 hours of sleep.  Inconvenient, but surely United will give me meal and hotel vouchers.
  • We deplane.  I reach for my things and they are wet.  My Chinese silk glasses case is soaked.  My brand new blue Harry Potter pillow with Hedwig is wet.  And everything smells like coffee.  I look under the seat and there is a tipped over coffee drink.  I ask the girl in that seat, “Did you have a coffee drink?” She thinks and finally says yes.  I tell her, “It spilled and it made my things wet – my brand new pillow from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, my purse and all my stuff. ”  She says she is sorry.  I just look at her.  She says she is sorry again.  And again, I just look at her.  I’m about to keel over from fatigue, and I can’t say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s OK.”  Because it’s not OK.

United fails Customer Relations 101

  • Most of the passengers obediently trudge to the customer relations desk.  It’s my turn and I’m barely hanging on.
  • I say to the representative, “I just want to let you know in advance that I’m on the edge with fatigue and I might cry.” He smirks.  Yes, actually smirks.
  • I ask for my hotel voucher and something for meals.  He says I don’t get one because weather delayed the flight.  I say that before the weather had occurred, my flight had been changed three times and I wasn’t going to make my connection.
  • He says, well, that’s not what “they” told him.
  • He hands me a discount coupon for a hotel.  I say, “At least I can get my luggage” and he says, no I cannot.
  • Why I ask.  Isn’t it coming off the airplane? It is but it has to go to a special area for rescheduled flights or something.  I can get it but it’ll take about three hours.
  • I’m reeling. I drop the discount coupon with exasperation and he says, “Don’t throw that coupon at me.”  What?  Idiot.  I didn’t throw it at you.  He snatches it away and says well if you don’t want it.  But I do want it.
  • Once more I ask, isn’t there any way to get me to Bakersfield tonight?  No, there certainly is not.

The Comfort Inn

  • I go to the hotel phone bank and call one after the other.  Full.  Full.  Full.  Full. Finally I arrive at the Comfort Inn.  They are not full.  I book a room, non-smoking with two queen beds, and am instructed to go out Door 508  and go to the third island.
  • I do this.  Vans pass by.  The Holiday Inn and Garden Suites, etc. etc. go by several times and I’m wondering about the Comfort Inn.  A van-type of thing goes by twice with Comfort Inn on it, but there are lots of things on it, and it parks not in the hotel area (and there’s plenty of space) but in the Off Site Parking area.  So I figure the Comfort Inn sign is just advertising.
  • On the third pass, after standing almost an hour waiting, I run up to the other area and ask if he goes to the Comfort Inn.  He says yes.  I get in.
  • We pass freeway exits with brightly lit hotels and I assume we’ll get off at one of those but no, we get off in an area that is barely lighted, and the hotel looks like a warehouse.  There is no sign of food, no coffee shop or even McDonalds close by.
  • I walk in. The lobby smells funny.  There’s a guy at the desk getting keys because he can’t get his door to open, but I think it’s because he’s drunk.
  • The carpet has holes in it.
  • I check in.  I mention that the driver doesn’t stop outside door 508 in the hotel area, and the clerk says, “No, he stops outside door 503.”  I said, “Oh.  I was told 508.”  He tells me that the airport people are always getting that wrong.  But the person at the other end of the Comfort Inn phone told me 508, and he seems to be the only employee in the hotel.  I let it go.
  • I ask if he has a razor and toothbrush.  He does, but he has no toothpaste.  Whatever.

I learn things

  • Calling something the Comfort Inn doesn’t make it comfortable.
  • Calling tissue heavenly soft doesn’t take away the feel of sandpaper.
  • Calling soap finely milled doesn’t mean it smells good.  In fact, it leaves such a residue that I wash with the shampoo.
  • A free toothbrush isn’t worth the manufacture.  I put it in my mouth and begin to exert pressure to clean my teeth, and the stupid thing bends in half.
  • I learn that the Comfort Inn vending machines have chips and candy bars.  I get a candy bar for dinner.

Carry-on bags

I put my meds in my carry-on just in case.  I should put in a nightgown and some toiletries but I didn’t have room for that.   Remember that I have been at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  And I took with me things that might melt and things that are fragile.This is what was in my carry-on.

  • Seven chocolate frogs in boxes that look like pyramids.  In other words, they are non-squishable.
  • Ton Tongue Toffee
  • A Honeydukes jar with horehound drops.
  • Some Chattering Teeth from Zonkos.
  • A Remembrall.
  • A Sneakoscope
  • Butterbeer glasses
  • A pumpkin juice container

Some day I’m going to laugh about this.

I leave Denver

  • Finally, I leave Denver.
  • I remember that I have a photo shoot that Friday for a feature in Bakersfield Life, a monthly magazine that the Bakersfield Californian puts out.  It’s called the Red Couch, and four women with the same occupation are featured in each issue.  This month the women are artists and I was asked to participate.  It took some doing to work around my schedule and get all four of us to the paper at the same time.
  • So, before leaving Denver, I check my calender on my Blackberry.  2:00.  OK, I will be showered and cleaned up and can make it at 2.  I remember that when I checked the time in Orlando, my Blackberry told me it was at 4 p.m.  I decide I’m not remembering correctly because that was impossible, and at this point, except for about four hours sleep, I had been up almost 24 hours.

Arriving in Bakersfield

  • Jennifer picks me up and we wait for the luggage.  It does not come.  I go to fill out the form and the guy looks at my luggage receipts and asks me if I was supposed to arrive last night.  Yes, I say.
  • He says that my luggage is not lost – it arrived last night.
  • Is this magic?  United could not get me to Bakersfield Thursday night but it could get my luggage there? What, is there some special United luggage plane that zooms around the country like Santa Claus delivering luggage?
  • I’m glad to have my luggage but dumbfounded that it arrived the night before.

Oh well

  • Home!  Bath! My kitties! Time to spare for the photo shoot.  I leave the house about 1:20 thinking I’ll be early, because something in my genetic code requires me to be early or on time.  I am never fashionably late.
  • I’m driving and Barbara calls on my cell.  She’s being featured also, and asks me, are you coming?  I say yes, it was at 2, right?  But I thought I’d come early. Wrong. It was at 1.  Oops!  I am already unfashionably late.
  • They wait and I check my calender as I drive.  It says 1:00.  HUH? And I realize what has happened.  Every time I changed time zones, the Blackberry changed my appointment times.  When I checked it in Orlando, I was on eastern time, so it did say 4:00.  I wasn’t imagining it.  When I looked in Denver, I was on mountain time and it said 2:00.  Arriving in Bakersfield, I set the Blackberry for Pacific time but didn’t think to look at my calendar again.
  • I think this is not a good feature of the Blackberry.  I think it would mess people up big-time.  It messed me up.

The end

  • My travel is over.  I am home and in bed by 7:00 p.m.
  • I am gearing up for dealing with United.
  • I am done with the no good, terrible, really messed up day.

William finds Bakersfield better than he left it


Reading yesterday’s post (Make Way for William) will catch you up – if you want to catch up – on who William is and why I’m writing about his visit.  Today I’m starting with Day Two of a three-day visit.

William, like almost every Bakersfield teenager including  my three daughters, vowed to never return to Bakersfield because it is such a crummy city with nothing to do.  Isn’t “nothing to do” the perpetual lament of young people? So William may not return to live like all three of my daughters did (one left again for Colorado), but as long as I’m here, W has to visit me.  And I’m going to be here until I go up in smoke.

I was aiming for a low-key, calming type of visit, although I’m not sure which one of us needed to be calmed.  In the morning we headed out to Hart Park, my favorite peacock-watching spot.

I took grape nuts to feed them but they didn’t seem to be tempted.  W had a good time, though, as we pursued peacocks with our cameras.  I mean, dozens of preening peacocks are pretty impressive, especially when they rattle those feathers on the back, and a tree full of sleeping peacocks is something to behold.

Next we went up to Panorama Park for a view of the oil fields.  The Kern River Field would not be termed beautiful by most people, but it has its own beauty, especially at night when it’s all sparkly.

All that stuff in the distance as far as you can see is oil wells.

William has a sense of style that gets him noticed.  When I was in London with him, a stranger asked if she could take his picture because she liked the way he was dressed.  I don’t understand cool, but W has it.  For instance, I would never wear something sleeveless, implying heat, with a knit cap, implying cold.

While we were up there an interesting guy, spotting my camera, asked if I was a photographer.  Would I take his picture with his mother and send it to him at the Sacred Gypsy Tattoo Parlour? Sure I could, and I did.

Did you know that if you click on a picture, you can see it full size?  Then just use the back arrow to return to the blog.  You may want to do that for this fellow.

Next we went downtown to the Museum of Art, Metro Galleries, an antique store (William is a shopper par excellence), Surface Gallery and the Padre Hotel.  William was suitably impressed.  Bakersfield does have a lively arts district and it’s getting better every day.

Thursday was visiting day.  We went to my daughter Jennifer’s and had a nice visit on the wine patio – a small area Jen and Matt created in their backyard.  I like the idea of a wine patio and want to work that into our landscaping!  Then we went to my parents.

My dad thinks William is amazing – movie-star handsome, brilliant, and poised to succeed in art if that’s what he chooses.  Which he has chosen.  Really, it’s more like art chose him.  I’ve had one other student who was chosen – Ries will be a writer.  I feel blessed to have taught two students who have been truly captured by their muse – William must paint and Ries must write.

Except for a small bit of repetition, W couldn’t tell how different my mom has become.  I marvel at how her lifetime of good manners and ability to comport herself around company has created this pattern of behavior that camouflages her dementia.

We concluded with a late lunch at Moo and our customary self-portrait.

The next morning, sadness at the Greyhound Station as I said goodbye for who knows how long, and William continued his travels across the U.S.  I’m glad he found out that it’s not so bad to visit Bakersfield – it looks like he’ll be visiting me more than I’ll be visiting him.  I would really like to go to London once more next fall, however.  We’ll see.  Depends upon the economy in general and our economy in particular.

I hate goodbyes.  My goodbyes come with abundant tears.  W knows to expect this, but I did pretty darn good this time – at least, until I got back to my car.

My Biblical Travel Story: A Cautionary Tale


Above is a map with Portsmouth Island, a barrier reef island off Ocracoke Island in North Carolina.  Along with Cape Hatteras and other islands, these form the Outer Banks.  What you are about to read is a true story and believe it or not, it’s understated.

A Biblical Journey

“When we were in the Outer Banks we went to Portsmouth Island – they had the most amazing shells I’ve ever seen.  And it’s really historical.”  My sister exhibited her usual extreme enthusiasm for anything related to the past.

“How do you get there?”

“Well, you have to find someone to take you and pick you up later on because no one lives there and it’s deserted, but”

“Wait.  What do you mean I have to find someone to take me?  Like who and where and”

“There’s just people with boats all over Ocracoke.  You’ll find someone.”

“Well, I might try, if I have –“

“No, you have to go. That’s all there is to it. The most amazing shells I’ve ever seen were all over that beach!”

So I’d go.  It did sound like an adventure and I was planning a trip to North Carolina, a major adventure in itself.  We used to live there and I hadn’t been back in forever.  Traveling just wasn’t in our budget, what with three teenage girls and a dearth of extra funds.  But when The Boys said they were moving to North Carolina, I blurted out, “I’ll come visit you!”

The Boys were actually men – Michael and Bryan – and they were actors.  Supposedly North Carolina was a hotbed of the film industry at the time, being cheaper to film in than California, and they could get their SAG cards more easily there.  The Boys were a little quirky, as most interesting people are, and I was having a hard time envisioning them crossing the country in their small white pickup truck.  But they did, so I would come.

To me, “I’ll come visit you” was a promise even though I didn’t say the words I promise.  I planned, flew, rented a car, and was on my way to visit the Boys, with stops planned along the route.  One was Portsmouth.

The day of the big Portsmouth Island adventure arrived. I set out from Ocracoke, one of the islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, former hangout of Blackbeard the Pirate.

I started asking around.

“I’d like to visit Portsmouth Island – do you have any ideas of how to get there?”

“Why would you want to go there?  It’s deserted, there’s nothing there, and”

“But my sister said there are great shells on the beach.”

“Are you sure? I don’t think…”

“I need to go.”  I hadn’t learned the lesson yet that maybe the locals would know more than I do.

“Ok then, ask Rudy.  He can take you out there and pick you up.  You’ll find him down at the docks.”

So I found Rudy but I got a little nervous – who was this Rudy anyhow?  What if he didn’t come back for me?  What would I do? How’d I contact anyone?  This was way before cell phones.  I had no idea what to tell him about where to drop me off, so he suggested dropping me at one end of the island and picking me up three hours later at the pier.

The die was cast and I was going to Portsmouth Island.  Bug spray in hand to counteract those North Carolina mosquitoes, I climbed in the little boat with the little motor and felt like I was in a bathtub toy.  But it got me there.

Brimming with excitement, I began walking along the shore ready to scoop up those fabulous sea shells.  But there weren’t any.  There wasn’t even anything to consider – was it a shell or wasn’t it?  There were no broken shells to pick up and discard.  I found a dead horseshoe crab and took a picture of it in case it turned out to be the main attraction, but truly, there was nary a shell in sight.  I wish I could show you the picture, but it was a bad one and I threw it away. Did Rudy take me to the wrong place?

Resigned, I headed inland towards the deserted town so I could make it to the pier on time.  I slogged through marshy land, squishy mud, and scratchy brush.  It was hot and humid.  I mean HOT and humid.  I wasn’t having fun yet.  My clothes were soaked with sweat, my shoes covered with squishy stuff, and there were bugs all around me.  I sprayed on some more bug juice just in case.

The closer I got to the town, the denser the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats got.  I kept spraying as I walked faster and faster.  I looked at my legs and they were black! There were bugs stuck to my legs, stuck to the bug spray.  It killed them all right, but ensnared them and now my legs looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  My arms were turning black, too. I futilely sprayed, brushed bugs off, and had to spray again. It was no use.  Starting to panic, I was practically running and saw the town ahead.

Now I was running – and I saw an actual house with an open door!  People were there!  Hallelujah, I was saved.  No time to knock – I burst through the screen door yelling, “Is anybody home?”

“We are.” A youngish sort of couple appeared.

“Forgive me for bursting in but I’ve been walking through the slough and I’m covered with bugs and hot and, I mean, I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer and I can deal with a lot but this is the worst…”

“What in the world are you doing here?  No one comes to Portsmouth in the summer.”

“You’re here.”

“We work for the State Park Service and we’re the caretakers.  But neither of us would think to venture outside without full mosquito netting, I mean head to toe, and covered with 100% DEET.”


“Here, why don’t you wash your legs off and we’ll give you some DEET to put on, but how are you getting to the main island?”

I explained, I washed my legs, I put on DEET, and waited for the helpful park caretakers to invite me to sit on their sofa until it was time to go to the pier, but they turned me out.  And I had to wander the deserted town until the appointed meetup.  It was an inferno.  Not a whisper of a breeze.  I tried gamely to see the historic buildings but it was so stifling inside that I thought the heck with it, I’ll go sit on the pier and wait.  I was silently cursing the caretakers for not letting me wait on their living room sofa.  It’s possible I wasn’t silent.

Oh well, I’d been through plague and pestilence, what more could happen?  I’ll tell you what more could happen.  A huge thunderstorm could happen, and did.  I was already feeling very biblical, what with the plague and pestilence bit, but now I was out in the open in howling wind, torrents of rain, and thunder crashing all around me. I supposed I was being tested with the flood, and soon Moses, or Rudy, would part Pamlico Sound and rescue me.

I huddled on the pier, soaking wet and steaming at the same time from the humidity.  There was enough steam to get out any wrinkles I might have had.  Too bad I wasn’t older!  At the moment, I saw nothing redeeming whatsoever about the big adventure.

It could have been worse.  I found out afterwards that I was lucky – I’d been there at low tide.  In fact, I had been walking through a tidal marsh!  Had it been high tide, I would have been wading through three feet of water to reach the town.  And who knows?  There may have been creatures under the water come in with the tide to torment me.  With my luck, there would have been a jellyfish invasion.

Now, over twenty years later, I still can’t say I find anything redeeming about the adventure of having the adventure – or the story I can tell.  I don’t know what my sister was thinking.  I swear, I’ll bet she had the wrong island and the wrong state or something because nothing about that godforsaken place had value.  It was historic, sure, but do we have to preserve every old town and place just because they existed once?  I say, no.

Adendum: Now, with the internet, I see that Portsmouth can be a nice place to visit but NOT in the summer.  Here’s a description from North Carolina Outdoors. Note that to escape the mosquitoes they ate lunch sitting in the surf!  Also, these people were transported by someone named Rudy, and I’ll bet its the same guy.

“So my wife and I were totally unprepared for the blitzkrieg that erupted almost the moment we left Rudy Austin’s charter boat (from Ocracoke) and started for Portsmouth Village. Sure, we had several bug sprays containing DEET in various concentrations, but even the strongest would only keep them from biting. Hundreds, (I promise I’m not exaggerating) swarmed us even after we were lathered in DEET. Like the dust cloud that trailed Pig Pen of Peanuts fame, they followed us everywhere we went, trying to fly into our eyes, noses, ears and mouths, and biting any shred of skin that wasn’t heavily lathered with repellent.

Despite the torment, we did a perfunctory tour of the village and then made our way across the tidal flat to the beach. Finally, thanks to an ocean breeze, we were able to enjoy our lunch relatively unmolested while sitting in the surf.

What did I learn? Next time I go to Portsmouth, I will wear mosquito netting. The people I saw who had netting covering their head, neck and torso, and wearing long pants, were strolling around like it was a day in the park. (Well, actually it was a day in the park.) And nothing I have endured in the outdoors has given me a greater appreciation for the hardships our ancestors endured than our encounter with the mosquitoes of Portsmouth Island. Imagine living here in the 1700’s without screens on your windows!!

On the positive side, I have talked with people who have visited the island in March and April who had no problems with the the insects. But I would be prepared for insects in every season.”