10 Days in Paradise

Travel is risky these days, but I was fortunate to find myself in one of the safest places on the planet, southern Quintana Roo, Mexico, with two of my oldest and dearest friends.

Laguna Bacalar

After masking up for the six hour flight from Portland to Cancun, I spent the night and was met at the airport hotel by Polly and Jim, who live 300 km south in the lovely town of Bacalar. Phoebe flew in from Costa Rica. We have known each other since high school and we’ve been missing our annual reunion trips the last few years, so it was wonderful to see them again.

On the drive from Cancun to Bacalar you notice immediately the enterprising nature of the local folks. Here Phoebe and Jim are buying sweet coconut drinks from a roadside stand. This highway is full of serious speed bumps (called topes in Spanish), and every tope has at least one fruit or souvenir stand, to attract the business of drivers who have to slow way down.

Casa Arcos, Bacalar

All my friends have been sending me messages from the CDC and State Dept. saying not to go to Mexico, and I appreciate the concern, but Bacalar is not like anywhere else in Mexico. It’s off the beaten path, they have almost no covid cases, and they seem determined to keep it that way. I was amazed at how seriously they take their safety measures. Every store and restaurant had us disinfect our shoes, then took our temperature, and gave us hand sanitizer, before letting us in.

Here’s El Manati’ restaurant where I enjoyed a Mayan Omelette for breakfast. In the background you can see a bunch of potted plants in front of the counter, to keep you distanced from the cashier. Besides the great menu they sold local products and beautiful crafts.

Here Phoebe and I are exploring El Mercado, Bacalar’s downtown farmers market. Lots of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables as well as clothing and a lot of other locally made items.

Bacalar has a lot of interesting architecture. This area is still pretty rural; Quintana Roo, in the eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula, has only been a state for around 50 years. It still has lots of wild areas and several Mayan ruins. The big attraction is the lake, Laguna Bacalar, known for its clear blue waters. Now that tourists are starting to arrive, a popular spot is Cenote Azul. A cenote is a sinkhole where the water is deep and very clear. Popular swimming holes.

We ate in several great restaurants. Here at Enamora, a local bakery, we had breakfast and listened to some music by Polly’s friend Willy. Besides being a talented musician, Willy takes care of Casa Arcos when Polly and Jim are in the US. Bacalar is a very friendly community!

We spent one morning in Chetumal, the capital of QRoo, about 20 miles south of Bacalar on the Belize border. Driving into town we saw this monument next to Chetumal Bay, celebrating the local legend of a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who married an indigenous woman.

Chetumal has about 200,000 people and lots of places to shop for things you can’t get in Bacalar. While Phoebe ran some errands for things she can’t get in Costa Rica, Polly and I visited the Museum of Mayan Culture.

Sadly the museum itself was closed, but we were able to visit the central gardens and galleries of works by local artists.

Below is a typical Mayan house, next to the type of palm tree that is used to thatch the roof.

Here are some more works by local artists:

Last stop in Chetumal was Chedraui, a giant supermarket chain that sells not only food but clothing, toys, office supplies, and just about everything else you can imagine. There was even a display of motorcycles in the front! Here’s part of their selection of chili peppers.

Don’t let the $19 price fool you, that’s in pesos, not USD. Right around $1.

Wednesday morning we went on a guided bird walk with guide Jacqueline of Ecotucan resort a little further north on the lake shore. We saw lots of the local residents and winter visitors like toucans, chachalacas, and Yucatan jays. Here are some ducks enjoying the sunrise on the lake.

Next morning Jim took us on a guided boat tour around the lake. He has a small electric motor that took us through the Pirates Channel and around the mangrove swamps at a leisurely pace, and without the obnoxious noise of a normal gas motor.

We headed out just as the sun was rising. The Pirates Channel connects two sections of the lake by which pirates brought out their cargoes of valuables such as exotic woods and bird feathers.

Mangrove swamps are common in tropical waters. There are lots of explanations for the name but I prefer to think the bushes themselves, with their long stems, look like they have legs and can walk around like a man.

There are lots of birds that make their home on the lake, like this Great Egret. This structure near the Pirates Channel was intended to be a restaurant but was never quite finished.

After our boat ride we had a spa day, then stopped on the way home at a Bacalar landmark, the San Felipe Fort.

In between all these adventures we prepared some fabulous meals and enjoyed many hours of conversation and catching up with dear old friends. I hated to leave and have to go back to the real world. At least I got a nice view of the Cascade peaks that always welcome us home to the Pacific Northwest. These are Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier.


The non-travel blog

Dear friends and family,

In this year of not traveling, I have missed being in touch with all of you and hearing your friendly messages and kind comments. So even though I haven’t been more than a couple hours outside of Portland since early March, I decided to share a new blog post about my adventures in my own backyard. Of course, WordPress decided to do a total remodel while I was gone, so bear with me as I learn how it works.

Pink Snow Day in Portland

I stayed pretty close to home in the beginning, as we all have to some degree. I mostly enjoyed walking around my neighborhood seeing the spring flowers–including what we call “pink snow day,” when the flowering cherry trees all drop their blossoms at once.

Another marker of spring in Portland is the long-awaited opening of the dozens of farmers markets. Here is my favorite vendor at the Hollywood neighborhood market. They have the best berries and for some reason the shortest lines.

Pablo Munoz Farms at Hollywood Farmers Market

Gradually we all got used to the idea of wearing a mask whenever we went outside. Here’s a little reminder from my neighborhood grocery store.

By July I was starting to realize I needed a change of scenery. I had a strong urge to look at something farther away than the house across the street. So I drove out to one of my favorite viewpoints in the Columbia River Gorge.

View of Crown Point from Portland Women’s Forum State Park

The Portland Women’s Forum did a lot to preserve the scenic beauty of the Columbia Gorge. They built this viewpoint in 1960. Vista House, which you can see in the distance on the top of Crown Point, is the most popular viewpoint, but from there you don’t get to see Vista House!

Lower Reservoir, Mt. Tabor Park

Closer to home, I love the view from Mt. Tabor Park. The extinct volcano has views in all directions, as well as two city water reservoirs. Downtown Portland is in the distance.

My next adventure took me to the St. Johns neighborhood in North Portland, home to the St. Johns Bridge and Cathedral Park. Legend has it that this graceful suspension bridge was an inspiration for the engineers who designed the Golden Gate bridge a few years later.

St. Johns Bridge

The support structure underneath the bridge resembles Gothic arches, which gave the area its name, Cathedral Park.

Cathedral Park, N. Portland

Fans of the TV series The Librarians, based on the movie starring Noah Wyle, may recognize this medieval looking structure that served as the filming location for their secret hideout.

Portland is full of lovely views from the surrounding hills. This was a rainy day in Washington Park’s International Rose Test Gardens. The Rose Festival had to be canceled this year but you can’t cancel the roses!

Washington Park Rose Gardens

This view of our newest bridge, Tillikum (Bridge of the People), is taken from the top of Terwilliger Blvd. This bridge doesn’t allow cars or trucks–only pedestrians, bicycles, and public transit. That’s so Portland!

Tillikum Bridge

The best view of Mt. Hood has to be the Jonsrud Viewpoint on Bluff Road in Sandy, OR just east of Portland. This land belonged to a family that built a house across the street and cleared the site to get a better view. In the late 80s-early 90s the younger generation of Jonsruds donated the land to the city and the viewpoint was built with support from the state as well as local citizens whose names are commemorated on the bricks.

Mt. Hood and Sandy River Valley from Jonsrud Viewpoint

Commemorative Bricks at Jonsrud Viewpoint

By now I realized I hadn’t seen a waterfall in a long time, and chose Starvation Creek Falls state park in the Columbia Gorge. A lovely place with an ugly name, it commemorates a train full of people getting stuck in a snowstorm. They survived due to the kindness of local people who brought them food.

Starvation Creek Falls

Of course, August is not the peak season for viewing waterfalls. But the Columbia River itself makes for good viewing any time of year.

Trail along the Columbia

Another kind of waterfall can be seen from the I-205 viewpoint, just before you cross the Willamette River into Oregon City. Willamette Falls is more of a “working waterfall” with locks that operated from the 1870s until about ten years ago. I once had the opportunity to go through the locks on a restored sternwheeler–quite an adventure!

Willamette Falls, Oregon City OR

The end of our summer is taking a strange turn, due to the wildfires you have probably seen or read about. The closest one to me is about 30 miles away, and is still only around 10% contained. For a week or so it filled the skies of Portland with smoke and ash, and we mostly stayed inside to avoid breathing the hazardous air. My neighborhood was not too bad–not sure why–but other parts of the city were almost invisible.

NE Broadway

Cabin fever began to get to me after a week of this. Luckily, before the fires got out of hand, I had made a reservation to spend a day and night at the Oregon Coast. After hearing from friends that road trips were possible–stores, hotels, and rest areas open–I realized it had been at least a year since I’d traveled to our beautiful Pacific Coast. I waited until after Labor Day to avoid the crowds and then set off for Cannon Beach.

Along the way I saw this Unidentified Flying Object (I believe it’s called “The Sun”) near the Sunset Highway Summit.

Cannon Beach was a bit smoky and very foggy, but the breathing was definitely easier. I couldn’t see much when I first arrived at Ecola State Park, but the fog cleared a bit later and the coast was fairly clear.

Morning, Ecola Point
Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach from Ecola Point
Ecola Point

After a short walk around downtown Cannon Beach with its restaurants, candy stores, and souvenir shops, I headed for my hotel at Tolovana Beach on the south end of town. This beach has my favorite views of the famous Haystack Rock. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be able to walk around breathing the fresh air!

Haystack Rock in fog

In a perfect end to a perfect day, it started raining that evening. The rain made it to Portland Thursday night and it poured all day Friday, cleaning our air and giving our firefighters some better conditions to work in.

Hang in there and maybe someday soon we’ll be able to do real road trips again!

Bermuda is Another World

My Road Scholar adventure to Bermuda began with a one-day layover in one of my favorite places: New York City.  I have a long list of stuff I want to do in New York and try to cross a few things off each time I have a chance.

After riding the E Train to the World Trade Center I visited the 9/11 Memorial. Oculus, the new Calatrava-designed transit station that replaces the one destroyed on 9/11, looks from the outside like a whale skeleton or an eagle flying, depending on your perspective. There is still a lot of construction going on in the area, much of it decorated with street art.  Brownstone Ocean, the mural above, was done by a Brooklyn artist who calls himself Hydeon.

The main part of the memorial is the two waterfall pools built in the footprints of the North and South Towers.  Behind the north pool you can see the 9/11 museum.  Around the edges of the pools are etched the names of all the people who died in the Towers, the Pentagon, and the hijacked planes. I haven’t been to lower Manhattan since early 2002, when those of us who came to pay our respects waited in line to be allowed out on the plywood viewing platform. A lot has changed since then!

An old friend used to call the High Line “a little bit of Portland in New York City.” This walking trail was made from an abandoned freight railroad that parallels 10th Avenue on the west side of Manhattan.  When it first opened I had walked the southern end up to Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District, but now it is open all the way to 34th St.  It’s a great place to enjoy art and nature as well as exercise.  The skyscrapers in the background are part of the new Hudson Yards development at the end of the High Line. The projection on the top of the skyscraper is the newest observation deck for views of the Manhattan skyline.  You can still see the rusty old tracks, in contrast with the unusual new architecture of Hudson Yards.

Here are some of the interesting art installations along the trail. You can also catch glimpses of the original Hudson Yards–the actual railroad yards that run underneath all the new development, near Penn Station.

If the High Line is a little bit of Portland, then Hudson Yards could be called “a little bit of LA.” It’s not terribly popular with New Yorkers, and it’s easy to see that it’s very different from its surroundings–big upscale shopping malls are not really a New York thing–but it sits at the north end of the High Line and I decided to walk through and enjoy the unusual architecture on the way to catch the subway back to my hotel. The two main attractions are the Shed and the Vessel. The Shed is the one that looks like a quilted jacket. It’s a gallery and entertainment venue.  Not exactly sure what the Vessel is supposed to be but it’s fun to look at. The copper face does a great job of reflecting its surroundings.  You can climb to the top and I did see some people peering down from there.

No trip to New York is complete without a Broadway show.  After entering every lottery and charity auction for the past few years, I decided to give up trying to win one and just buy a ticket to see Hamilton.  Absolutely worth every penny. Photos are obviously not allowed but I snuck a quick one of the set before the show.  If you have not seen this I wholeheartedly recommend it. The lyrics and music and staging are all just amazing.  It won lots and lots of Tony awards–I hope one of them was for the lighting, which is fantastic.  If you can’t see the live show, there will be a movie coming out next year…with the original Broadway cast!

Next morning I flew to Bermuda.  Originally my friend and traveling pal Maggie and I were scheduled to attend a Road Scholar program at the Chicago Jewish Film Festival during this time, but it was canceled because not enough people signed up.  Maggie, who has been almost everywhere, is very good at finding out-of-the-way places–I knew nothing about Bermuda and would have never thought to go there.  I love to sit and look at the ocean, so the Grotto Bay Beach Resort looked like the perfect spot. We got to know our fellow travelers over the first of many excellent meals, and settled into our rooms.

Next morning our program started with an introduction to Bermuda’s history and a visit to the historic town of St. George, settled in 1612. We started out learning about the many misconceptions people have, such as that Bermuda is in the Caribbean (it’s in the Atlantic) and that it’s a British colony –sort of–it’s actually a British Overseas Territory, and it’s self-governing, to a point. When it comes to things like foreign policy, the Governor (appointed by the Queen) has veto power.  But, if you’re thinking that they wear Bermuda shorts…you’re absolutely right! Our local guide Peter demonstrates the official garb, though in the evening he adds a suit jacket.

In the center above is a replica of the Sea Venture, an English ship that was headed to rescue the colonists at Jamestown, VA when it was caught in a hurricane and wrecked on the coral reef surrounding Bermuda. Later, when they realized what a disaster Jamestown was turning out to be, some of them returned to Bermuda to stay. Other than some Spanish and Portuguese explorers who made quick stops here but didn’t stay, those were the first people to settle the islands.  By the way, the title of this post comes from the “unofficial” national anthem, “Bermuda is Another World” by Hubert Smith.


Walking up the hill above the Town Hall we visited the old Statehouse and Somers Park, named after Sir George Somers, the admiral who directed the Virginia Company fleet of which the Sea Venture was a part. Somers is considered the founder of Bermuda, which was once known as the Somers Isles. At upper right is a typical Bermuda stone house.

The “moongate” in Somers Park was designed by a sea captain who had visited China, and they have become popular in Bermuda and are found in many parks and gardens. Winding up the hills we saw the famous St. Peters Church. The ruin is an old family home that fell into disrepair during a family fight over its inheritance. The island is much hillier than I expected, but it’s not too surprising considering it was created originally by an undersea volcano, then built up with limestone in successive stages of dune and sediment layers, depending on the rising and falling sea level.

Graves of the earliest settlers are found here in the churchyard, as well as some of Bermuda’s few indigenous plants. On the right is a Bermuda cedar, which is actually not a cedar but a juniper. Lots of older houses are built of Bermuda cedar, as well as furniture. The plaque identifies a separate graveyard where enslaved people and free blacks were buried. There were no indigenous people here when the British arrived, but they quickly began to bring in slaves, mostly from the Caribbean but a few directly from Africa.  These were used in unsuccessful attempts to grow tobacco, sugar, and other cash crops that failed to thrive in the sandy soil. When slavery ended in 1834 many stayed, and today make up around half of the population.

This plaque near St. Peter’s church commemorates a Methodist minister who was jailed for preaching what the Church of England considered heresy. He continued to preach from his jail cell through this window.  The inside of the church shows the Bermuda Cedar structure and pews.  At bottom right, a sign advertises the upcoming celebration of the settlement’s 400th anniversary. They invited the Queen, though she is unlikely to show up, but they’re hoping Prince Charles will make it.

After exploring the town awhile, we headed back to the hotel for lunch. On the right you can see St. George’s main street–notice the cars drive on the left! Lower right is the old stocks that were used to punish prisoners in the town square.

After lunch we crossed the road from our hotel to the Walsingham Nature Preserve. The palmetto, another of the indigenous plants, is easily recognizable by the bright yellow blaze at the base of each leaf. Here you can still see what Bermuda must have looked like to the first settlers–heavily forested with Bermuda cedar and palmetto, with secluded beaches, and ancient limestone riddled with caves.

Here is one of the many limestone caves…there are even a few on the grounds of our hotel.  In the pond, top right, the water is roiling because the tide is coming in. There are no freshwater ponds, lakes or rivers on Bermuda, which is the main reason the water has that gorgeous turquoise color like the Caribbean–no sediment to muddy the water. Tom Moore’s tavern is in a 17th century house. At the bottom is one of the multicolored parrot fish that frequent these waters.

Friday morning we set off for Hamilton, the “big city” of Bermuda. The group of islands that make up Bermuda sit in a fish-hook shaped formation, about 26 miles long. St. George is on the northeast corner, and Hamilton is about halfway to the west. It’s only about a 12-mile drive but Bermuda keeps a relaxing pace with a national speed limit of 20 miles an hour.  There are basically three roads, the North Road, the South Road, and…of course, the Middle Road. There is one short stretch of 4-lane “highway,” which was supposed to alleviate the rush hour traffic–Hamilton has only about 1000 residents, but 14,000 come to work here every day in industries like tourism, banking, and reinsurance. The building on the left is painted to resemble Bermuda’s flag, which is red and has the Union Jack in the upper left corner and the rather complicated Bermuda coat of arms (let’s just say that shipwrecks are involved). The other photo is the main commercial street of Hamilton, showing the pastel colors that are commonly used.

The Bermuda Historical Society museum was closed when we arrived, but fortunately our group leader, Tim Rogers, is on the board, and has a key, so we got a private tour.  Some of the things that interested me most were the display of wood carvings done by prisoners kept here by the British during the Boer War in South Africa. There were also some photos and information about some of the prominent black Bermudians, such as Dr. Edgar Gordon, a physician and activist from Trinidad who fought for civil rights and labor rights.  I should have taken a video of the clock on the right–the musicians mark the seconds by strumming and bowing their instruments.

From the museum we strolled through the Queen’s Park and over to City Hall.  The postcard mural is part of the Greetings Tour, and you may have seen similar ones in San Diego, Austin, and other US cities.

Some more Hamilton History–the memorial above showing people with protest signs honors events that happened in 1959 when a group of black students who had been away at college for a few years returned to find they were not allowed to enter the movie theater or bar in Hamilton. They organized a boycott and within two weeks they ended segregation in Hamilton! The city coat of arms at the right refers to Hamilton’s history–it was chosen to be the capital because it was more centrally located than St. George and seemed a good spot to keep an eye on the pirates who thrived in Bermuda.

Up the hill from city hall is the neogothic Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity.  It’s built primarily with Bermuda limestone. This is an Anglican cathedral that was built in the 19th century to replace an older church that burned in an apparent arson.

Steve was our knowledgeable and friendly guide to Hamilton’s Botanical Society gardens.  He showed us some native plants and other introduced species. The top tree is a kapok tree, an Asian variety whose seeds contain a fluffy cottony substance that was once used to stuff pillows and life preservers.  There were lots of banyans and other ficus varieties. The scary looking thorny tree on the right is called the Monkey’s Dinner Bell because when its fruits ripen they explode and the monkeys hear the noise and come running.

Plants have been brought to Bermuda by humans, birds, wind and ocean currents. Hydrangeas seem to thrive here, as well as the red-leaf croton. In the lower right is a poinsettia.

Some other things that caught my eye at the Botanical Society–I love the moose dressed as a tourist with his Bermuda shorts and camera! The truck driver, who stopped to say hello to Steve, seems to carry a mascot with him. The bronze sculpture commemorates a visit by John Lennon.

Saturday the group saw some more gardens, but all the walking in New York and the hills of Bermuda were bothering my knee, so I took the day off and hung around the hotel.  I explored the beach and views of the turquoise water, and checked out one of the limestone caves that was right down the hill from my room. We were supposed to go on a boat ride tonight with BIOS, the Bermuda Institute of Oceanographic Studies, but the wind was too high and they postponed that trip until Tuesday.


Larry was our speaker Sunday morning, and one of my favorite Bermudians.  He works as a mason, but really he is a bit of an archaelogist, specializing in taking apart 400-year-old buildings to see how they were constructed. We will see one of his projects a bit later.

After Larry’s talk, we headed out to Warwick Long Bay, one of Bermuda’s famous pink sand beaches.  It doesn’t look pink from a distance but when you get up close you can see the tiny chips of foraminifera, a microscopic organism with a reddish pink shell.  The cottage below shows some of the building techniques we learned about from Larry.


The early settlers built wooden houses because they had no way to cut the stone, but once they developed a stone-cutting process, especially one that could slice thin slabs of limestone, they switched to stone houses.  Notice the stepped roofs–basically limestone shingles, that are whitewashed with a lime coating that purifies the rainwater as it falls on the roof, rolls down the gutters and into the storage tank.  The early settlers probably collected fresh water by digging a hole in the ground for rainwater–this way is much easier and more efficient. The disadvantage of the white lime paint is that it shows the dirt and has to be repainted every few years. Now Bermuda is famous for their pastel painted buildings–an idea suggested by immigrants from the Azores and Caribbean.

Next day started with a visit to the Dockyards, a former Royal British Navy base.  Many of the old buildings are museums, shops and restaurants. The Cooperage, where we ate lunch at the Frog and Onion pub, was where they made and stored barrels for shipping.  The building with the corbel arches had ammunition storage. And the Commissioner’s House, on top of the hill, is a museum of Bermudian History. Behind Tim is a great example of the ancient dune formations, when sea level dropped and the limestone was blown by the wind at an angle instead of being deposited in flat layers under water.

We walked up the hill to see the museum, stopping to gawk at the ocean view. My favorite displays include a sculpture by Bill Ming called Family Circle, an homage to his African heritage; a couple of rooms describing interesting parts of Bermuda history, including their role in the “triangle trade,” and another showing immigration from Portugal and the Azores islands; and Graham Foster’s mural, in the main stairwell. The mural took 3 1/2 years to complete and shows Bermuda’s story from the wreck of the Sea Venture to the present day.

Mark Twain spent lots of time in Bermuda and wrote about it in “Innocents Abroad.” His famous quote, shown at the museum: “You can go to Heaven if you want, I’d rather stay here.” After lunch and shopping at the Dockyards we took the public ferry home for dinner.

Our next day was action packed. We started with a talk about politics with Randy Horton, a former speaker of the Parliament for the Progressive Labor Party.  He has a bachelor’s degree from Oxford and did graduate studies at Rutgers and George Washington U. He described the evolution of voting rights in Bermuda from the time when only white male property owners could vote. Later we visited the elegant Verdmont estate, built around 1710 and now owned by the National Trust of Bermuda.  The building at center right was the slave quarters and is now rented out as a private home.  The view from the front door is pretty impressive!

We ate lunch at a waterside restaurant belonging to BUEI, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. After lunch Hannah took us on a tour of their museum. She is one of several brilliant young women we met who are doing great work on oceanography and sea life. Here we looked at the old school diving suits that weighed a ton, in contrast to the new state of the art suit that has wifi and bluetooth and enough oxygen for several days!  Hannah was very well informed about ocean conditions and the problem of plastic trash that stays in the ocean virtually forever.

My favorite part of this museum was the magnificent shell collection. The one on the left is a type of scallop and on the right is a red abalone.

The map above gives you an idea of Bermuda’s geography–the islands are the green formation, and the yellow outline shows the coral reef surrounding the islands. The museum has a special Bermuda Triangle exhibit–we entered a large elevator door to a room where we sat on bleachers and watched a video describing our voyage to the Bermuda Triangle–then the video stopped and said we should exit out the door where we came in–except the door wouldn’t open!  It only took about 10 minutes for the museum staff to rescue us, but for a while there, we thought we might be the latest victims to disappear in the Bermuda Triangle!

Our last full day in Bermuda started with a trip to Cooper’s Island, another place of beautiful beaches and some historic interest. The US military used it as a storage base during WWII and NASA built a tracking site there, including an alternative splashdown site in case of bad weather elsewhere. The lighthouse is located on nearby St. David’s Island.  The flower is called a “false poinsettia,” which is kind of funny –Bermuda has a “cedar” tree that isn’t really a cedar, and an “olivewood” tree that isn’t actually an olive. But this actually is a poinsettia! It’s just a variety where only the center portion of the leaves turn red.


Of course the island has plenty of beautiful beaches–here’s one that is being visited by large numbers of Portuguese Man o’ War, a species of jellyfish.  Tim is showing us the purple sea snail, which feeds on the Man o’ War and gets its color from it.

Here are two great examples of the original and later Bermuda architecture. The stone house was built 100 years after the old wooden houses.  Although this particular cottage is a replica of the original palmetto-thatched cottage made of Bermuda Cedar. It was built by our friend Larry.

That night we finally got our BIOS adventure that was canceled a few nights ago.  Kyla and Hannah (a different Hannah) showed us an excellent presentation about their research with plankton, and the vital role they play in the ocean food cycle.  I wimped out and stayed in the lab while the others went out on a small boat to tow conical nets that trap the plankton (I’m not a big fan of boats, but I am sorry to have missed the photoluminescence that happens when the plankton are disturbed). The “tow”  has to be done at night because the plankton hide at lower depths in the daytime. Then Kyla poured us each a petrie dish of plankton-rich sea water to examine under the microscope.  It was pretty amazing to see the number and variety of creatures in that small amount of water.  What I hadn’t realized is that plankton is not a particular species, but any sea creature that’s unable to move against a current. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “wanderer” or “drifter.” The many different kinds include both plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton).

There was a full moon on our last night and a beautiful sunrise on the morning of our departure.  It was hard to say good by to this fascinating country, and to a wonderful group of travelers.

Texas weekend

Just made a quick getaway to visit all my old pals in Texas.  I flew into Austin and drove to Corpus Christi, seeing some great Texas sights along the way!


Cheap gas is only one of the attractions that brought me to visit South Texas every winter.  Here in Portland it was more like $3.75. This sign was in Corpus Christi, but I saw gas as low as $2 in Austin.

I’ve been passing the billboards for Natural Bridge Caverns, near New Braunfels, TX for many years and this time I decided to stop and do the tour.  This is a family owned site, and much larger than I thought it would be.  The Natural Bridge is just above the entrance to the cavern. It has quite a variety of rock formations.

Our guide was a brilliant young woman who had a degree in geology and geography. She couldn’t be stumped by any of our silly questions.

The original explorers had to crawl through narrow passageways but now the entrance has been made a bit easier. The caverns have been preserved thanks to the generous support of Clara Wuest, who gave pretty much her life savings to purchase the property and keep it open to the public.

The last part of the tour led us through this huge hall with the interesting roof, and we enjoyed the Christmas decorations on the way out.

The warm weather in Corpus Christi was a treat after a cold November in Portland. I was able to visit the Bayfront and some of my favorite birding spots. Meals and visits with good friends were the best part.  The statue above is the bayfront memorial to Selena, the Tejano music star who was born here and died very young.

On the way back to Austin I stopped in San Antonio, one of my favorite cities.  The River Walk never gets old.  The picture on top is the Arneson Theatre–the stage is on one side of the river and the audience on the other, so you’re likely to see a tour boat go by in the middle of watching your show!

After more visiting with old friends in Austin, I headed back to chilly Portland. Next planned travel is to Williamsburg, VA in April.

Midwest memories

In mid-September I set off on a road trip to visit my family in Minnesota. I had two goals in mind for the road trip portion–exploring the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota, and, on the way home, following part of the route I took when I moved to Portland 50 years ago.

I spent the first night in one of my favorite places, Coeur d’Alene Idaho, in its beautiful setting on the lake. Just before Coeur d’Alene, a stop in Post Falls suggested the influence of climate change in the area. At Falls Park there is usually a ton of water flowing over the dam, but today all I saw were the bare rocks with an occasional puddle.  Next day I enjoyed the drive through the mountainous silver mining country on the way to Montana.

In Montana, just past where I-94 splits from I-90 and heads toward Minnesota, I stopped at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument.  This is one of the Lewis and Clark Trail sites that dot this part of Montana.  The explorers stopped here to get a good view of this area, near where the Yellowstone River branches off from the Missouri. Native tribes used the site for centuries, as a natural ford across the Yellowstone and a trading site.

The main attraction here is the view from the top of the rock, so I was determined to climb the 200 stairs to the top. I had to stop a few times to rest and drink lots of water but I made it all the way up! The view out over the Yellowstone valley is worth it. On the way down I took the side trip to the spot where William Clark registered the expedition’s visit to the area in July of 1806.  There used to be a lot of pictographs and other evidence of native culture but it’s mostly obscured by more recent graffiti carved into the rocks.

We don’t usually think of North Dakota as a land of scenic beauty, but western North Dakota is essentially eastern Montana, with an arbitrary line drawn down the middle.  The first place you reach is Theodore Roosevelt National Park with its brightly colored rock formations reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota.  Then just east of Dickinson, you see the first sign of the Enchanted Highway.

Geese in Flight is the largest metal sculpture in the world. It is the work of Gary Greff, the artist who built several other sculptures along this 32-mile stretch of rural highway leading to the town of Regent, ND. Greff was inspired by the movie Field of Dreams to try to keep his little town alive.  All the sculptures use scrap metal such as old oil tanks and pipe.  Each sculpture has a gravel pull-off area to keep people like me from stopping on the highway to take photos. Down the road a few miles from the geese is the next sculpture known as Deer Crossing.

As you can see, local wildlife features prominently. Fisherman’s Dream is my favorite sculpture. I love that the giant rainbow trout is leaping out of the water to catch a dragonfly. The others are Grasshoppers and Pheasants on the Prairie.

Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again is another favorite of mine. Teddy and his horse are made out of old oil drilling pipe.  Just before you get to Regent you’ll see the Tin Family, mom and dad and their son. For some reason the Tin dad reminds me of Woody in the Toy Story movies. Arriving in Regent you can enjoy the Gift Shop and Enchanted Castle Hotel, all created by the artist.  It was after Labor Day so everything was closed but Greff leaves his phone number at the front desk in case you want to shop for souvenirs or stay at the hotel.  He has other sculptures planned for the area and has a kickstarter campaign to finance the next one. He maintains everything here by himself, so he can definitely use the help.


Arriving in Minnesota I spent a fun weekend with my brother and sister and old friends.  We went to a couple of trivia nights (undefeated for the weekend!) and binge-watched the new Hulu series based on the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.

My plan for the route home was to, at least in part, reproduce or at least reminisce about that original drive from Urbana, IL to Portland back in 1969. Of course, this time I would do it without the overloaded truck and trailer and the two infants, and staying at luxurious Super 8 motels instead of camping out in a tent.  That original route was along what today is I-70, which I decided was too far south, so I compromised and drove from Minneapolis to Des Moines, IA to take I-80 west. First stop out of Minneapolis is always the Top of Iowa rest area, which is probably one of the cutest rest areas anywhere.

Another interesting thing about Iowa these days…it’s covered with wind farms! From the local NPR station I learned that Iowa now gets around a third of its energy from wind. More importantly, the wind farms provide a steady income for local farmers whose livelihoods have been threatened by crazy weather and falling crop prices.  Wind turbines are credited with having saved many a family farm in Iowa!  Now on to Kearney, Nebraska to visit the Archway–thanks for the unique travel tip, Polly Gropen!!

The Archway celebrates the waves of migration that came through here, but there’s more here than the structure you can see from I-80. Inside the archway is a museum that describes the history of the route, known at various times as the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Gold Rush Trail, the Pony Express, the Great Platte River Road, and the Lincoln Highway. That last one stretched from New York to San Francisco and eventually became Interstate 80. There’s also a motel and some other features that remind me of similar ones along Route 66.

You can watch through the windows of the Pony Express station as a video shows a rider coming in and exchanging horses.  You can also see here a sad aspect of the old covered wagon trails, as the terrain got steeper and some of the heavier family possessions were jettisoned to lower the weight.

What looks like a framed photo, above right, is actually a window in the museum where you can watch the traffic go by below you on the interstate!  The metal buffalo are about the only ones you can see here anymore.  One of the displays mentioned that the horrible slaughter of the buffalo in the 19th century was encouraged by General Sheridan, who thought if their food supply was destroyed the native people would give up and leave the territory.

Just east of Laramie, WY is the Summit Rest Area.  This marks the highest spot (about 8600 ft.) on the old Lincoln Highway which is now I-80. Pretty nice view!

I’ve been thinking it would be fun to write a book about the best highway rest areas–hard to beat this one, in Echo, Utah just across the line from Wyoming. Besides the beautiful red rock formations, it includes a covered wagon with a Utah or Bust message, although it’s hard to see it except from the highway. The interesting white rock is on I-84 in an area called the Devils Slide.


After a short drive through Utah and southern Idaho, I finally entered Oregon. My 50-years-ago memory of Idaho was of huge billboards warning of “frequent blinding dust storms.”  My memory is all wrong, or things have changed since then–the message is still there but it appeared on one of those standard yellow diamond shaped signs. At any rate, I remembered thinking as I drove into Oregon that it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.  Taking NoDoz in Boise may have compromised my judgment on that, but not by much! The first Oregon rest area on US 26 has a great view of the Strawberry Mtns.

Of all the beautiful places I’ve visited in my 50 years in Oregon, the area around the town of John Day is one of my favorites.  After crossing three or four mountain passes, the land gets a lot greener around Prairie City and John Day.  Just west of John Day is one of the best Oregon scenic highways, OR 19 through the John Day Fossil Beds.  The road meanders along the John Day River to the town of Condon.


About 10 years ago a young couple from Portland bought the dilapidated Hotel Condon and restored it to its former glory.  On the left here is Main Street, and on the right, all the elements of the local economy…cattle, wheat, and wind! I love the undulating patterns on the rolling hills of mown wheat.

On a sunny day you can see five mountains from the Mountain Identifier pullout on OR 206 northwest of Condon (Jefferson, Hood, Adams, Rainier, and St. Helens). Mt. Adams was on display today, though the others were hidden in the clouds, except for an occasional peek at Rainier.  Adams is not as famous as Hood and Rainier because it is mostly on tribal land so it doesn’t have the hotels, ski areas, and other developments more common on National Park or Forest lands.


Last stop on the way home to Portland was Celilo Park. It’s a great rest stop on the Columbia River east of The Dalles. Before all the dams were built, there was a powerful waterfall coursing through a narrow place in the river here, where the native tribes built scaffolding across the river and used nets and spears to catch the salmon as they struggled upstream.

Summer is for road trips

So far it’s been an eventful summer with lots of visitors and some great road trips. Dear old friends Phoebe and Hugh visited in June and we booked an expedition on the sternwheeler Spirit of Portland, out of Cascade Locks, OR. We boarded our ship and sailed under the Bridge of the Gods, which you may remember from the final scene of the movie “Wild.” This is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia from Oregon to Washington.

It was a gorgeous day on the river and the breeze off the water made it feel a lot cooler than the 97 degree day we’d left behind in Portland.  One of the highlights of this cruise is passing through the locks at Bonneville Dam.  Here we are headed downriver, making the traffic wait while the swing bridge and lock gates open for us.

As we sailed down towards Crown Point, we got a good view of the life along the river that can’t be seen driving by on the freeway.  There are dozens of native American fishing platforms, and the remnants of fish wheels and other indications of the wild river that has now been dammed almost beyond recognition.  We could also see evidence of the huge Eagle Creek fire from two years ago. What appears to be red dirt is actually a plant that only grows after a fire.

Coming back upriver we got a view of Beacon Rock, one of my favorite hikes. The basalt column was named by Lewis and Clark on their journey down the river in 1805.  It’s among the largest monoliths in the world, along with Gibraltar, Stone Mountain, and Devils Tower…not necessarily in that order.  It was once slated to be destroyed to provide building material for the jetty at the mouth of the Columbia, but the owner decided to save it by donating the land to the state of Washington, and it’s now a state park. Going back through the locks, the big tugboat pushing 4 huge grain barges had the right of way.

At the end of June another adventure took me to Bellingham, WA to visit more old friends.  On the way I stopped at SeaTac airport to pick up Al and Rosie who had flown in from Minneapolis.  Our first excursion was to Friday Harbor on the San Juan Islands ferry.  On the way to the ferry terminal at Anacortes, we stopped at the historic little town of La Conner, where the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is held.  Fans of the author Tom Robbins will recognize the settings of some of his famous novels, including “Another Roadside Attraction.”

The next day David Neubeck took us to a great local breakfast spot called the HomeSkillet.  It’s a tiny place and the food is great so it’s always crowded, which leads to their famous “Eat it and Beat it” policy.  After breakfast we headed out for a drive up to the Mt. Baker ski area.  Along the way there were splendid views of Mt. Shuksan and several other snow capped peaks.

Though we only had a few glimpses of Mt. Baker itself, the clouds made for a gorgeous day in the mountains.  On the way back we stopped at a great bakery in Glacier, WA to sample the world’s best cookies.  That evening we were treated to a Bellingham Bells baseball game. The Bells beat the Bears from Highline Community College.

In mid-July my old friend Polly came to visit, and after a fun few days in Portland we set off on a road trip to her summer home just outside of Clarkston WA.  We definitely went the long way! Polly had never seen the Olympic Peninsula so we drove northwest along the Columbia from Portland to Astoria, where we stopped to visit the Astoria Column. As you can see, a 125-foot column on top of a 600 foot hill commands a pretty spectacular view of the Columbia and the ocean beyond. The murals show the history of the area “after the white man came.” Heading up the coast of Washington on Highway 101, we made a lunch stop at Kalaloch Beach.

After a great dinner and conversation with our friend Astrid in Sequim, WA we went to our Air BnB right on Sequim Bay.  If you ever want to visit this area, I definitely recommend this place! We had a whole house to ourselves, with a fabulous view of the bay and nice touches like the welcome sign.

We each had our own bedroom and bathroom and enjoyed the views of the sunrise over Sequim Bay.  From there we skirted the Seattle traffic by taking the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds and crossing to the east on Hwy 2.

It was a beautiful day for the short ferry crossing and we even got a view of Mt. Baker in the distance.  A highlight of the drive across central Washington is the lunch stop in the little Bavarian village of Leavenworth.

Next morning we made a little detour to Palouse Falls State Park, in the eastern Washington desert area known as Channeled Scablands. It sounds horrible but it’s full of beautiful surprises such as this 200 ft. waterfall just a few miles from where the Palouse River enters the Snake.  These formations were carved by the great Missoula Floods of the Pleistocene era, which roared through here, changing the course of the Columbia and other rivers.

I took a break from driving to visit with Polly and Jim and the latest denizens of the “Cute Little House,” a dozen or so ducks and some chickens.  Eggs will be coming soon, and some of the ducks are probably destined for the roasting pan, but in the meantime it’s fun to watch their complex social interactions.  Next day I headed back to Oregon, stopping for lunch at an amazing new restaurant in Walla Walla–Andrae’s Kitchen has great food and is located right downtown…inside a Cenex gas station!  I also got to visit with this sea serpent at the park next to McNary Dam, and had a restful stay at River Lodge in Boardman, OR.

This hotel right on the Columbia had beautiful views, and the sun conveniently set directly across from my room!

White River Falls near Tygh Valley, OR has been on my list for quite a while and the last day of this road trip seemed like a good opportunity.  Driving south from The Dalles, you get great views of the “backside” of Mt. Hood which Portlanders are used to seeing from the other direction.  On the way back north you are treated to a view of Mt. Adams as well.

At the bottom of the falls you can see the old abandoned power plant, and there’s probably a better view of the falls from there, but the steep trail had no shade and it was 96 that day, so I decided it would be safer to stay on top. The power plant stopped operating in 1960. This area is now an Oregon State Park.

I’m not quite done with summer road trips for this year, though technically the next one might not be until fall, a 2 week journey from Portland to Minneapolis. In the meantime I’m hoping to figure out a time for a California trip, if the wildfires cooperate. Stay tuned!

Finger Lakes

I’ve been wanting to visit the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York for quite a while, and now that my granddaughter Isabella is a sophomore at Cornell, in Ithaca, NY, I had a great motivation to finally get there.  I can definitely see why the town’s slogan is “Ithaca is Gorges!”

Ithaca is complicated to get to by air, so I started my journey with a flight to Boston, where I rented a car with help, hospitality and great directions from my sister Bari.  Then I headed west, making a stop in Fitchburg, MA just west of Boston.  There my niece Susan gave me a personal tour of the Fitchburg Historical Society, where she is the director.  The town has a fascinating history, like many New England towns. It was a hotbed of abolitionists before and during the Civil War, and many Fitchburg residents moved to Kansas so they could vote on whether Kansas would be admitted to the union as a slave or a free state. The small gray house with the flag in this historic neighborhood was once the home of freed slaves.

Fitchburg also has a small but excellent Art Museum, which was enhanced when I was there by the Art in Bloom festival. The festival features a flower-arrangement contest, as you can see from the view above looking through the Egyptian collection. The fast moving rivers in the area made Fitchburg an industrial giant, manufacturing everything from textiles to guns. After touring around the quaint New England town, Susan and my nephew Tim took me to SS Lobster, a great seafood spot, for dinner.

The Historical society is the tall building in the center of Main Street, and bottom right is the Common. The large rock in the upper-right photo is known locally as The Boulder. It was a glacial erratic that sat for centuries at the top of a hill above town, and people wanted to move it for safety reasons, but decided to preserve it in a more secure location instead of destroying it.

From Fitchburg I drove through the historic towns and Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts to Ithaca, in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York State.  If you look at a map of the area you can see where the lakes got their name. Iroquois legend says the Great Spirit put his hand down to bless the earth, though geologists prefer to think glaciers scoured out the lakes, valleys and gorges.  Either way it’s a beautiful place. Ithaca sits at the south end of Cayuga Lake, about 40 miles long and a few miles wide. The Cornell campus is on a bluff overlooking the lake and the campus is hilly and dotted with waterfalls! Above is the famous clock tower–despite the blossoming trees, it was snowing the day I was there.  On the right, the Ivy League campus contrasts with the new art museum. The building is not for everyone’s taste, but the views of the campus are fantastic!

Isabella recommended several downtown hotels but location is always the most important thing for me, so I splurged on the Statler Hotel, which is right in the middle of the campus and run by students from the School of Hotel Management. She showed me around the historic Ivy League campus and we ate some great meals in local restaurants. Here she is at lunch at the Coalyard Cafe–which really is in a former coal yard. Last year she lived in a dorm but this year she chose this house to share with some of her track teammates. There are lots of houses like this in the cozy, wooded neighborhoods around the campus, and they get to cook their own healthy food instead of eating dorm food!

Being on the track and cross country teams means Isabella only has one speed–all out! Still I managed to keep up with her somehow as we scrambled up and down the slopes and gorges of the Cornell campus.  Here you’re looking at Ithaca Falls, one of many on this stretch of Fall Creek. I would definitely like to go to school here! Besides the natural beauty, there is an atmosphere that says, “Exciting stuff is happening here!”


Taughannock Falls State Park is just outside of Ithaca–another example of the gorges and waterfalls of the Finger Lakes region.  If anyone’s interested in checking them out, I have a great book called 200 Waterfalls in New York State which I’d be happy to loan you. This one is taller than Niagara!

Driving the scenic route along Cayuga Lake, I came to the town of Seneca Falls. Besides being the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the site of the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, the town is thought to be the model for Bedford Falls, the home of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  There’s even an It’s a Wonderful Life museum in town, but after checking out all the other amazing attractions here, I didn’t have the strength for that one.  You may recognize the bridge, though. After strolling down Main St. and having breakfast at a local cafe, I headed to the main attraction, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  I really wanted to buy the t-shirt in the shop window, but sadly they were closed on Sunday.

After strolling the historic downtown, I was greeted at the NHP by these bronze statues…mostly representing actual historical figures in the Women’s Rights movement that was centered here.  They include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, who called for the 1848 convention. They came up with the idea after they met at the World Anti-Slavery convention in London, which they attended with their husbands.  They were appalled when the male delegates voted to exclude women from the discussions and decisions of the convention.

Next door to the Park Service facility is the remains of the original Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held. The darker sections of brick on the old chapel indicate all that was left of the chapel after it fell into disrepair. It was finally restored but they tried to retain as much as they could of the original structure. Despite limited advertising, 300 people attended the convention.

Exhibits inside the museum covered almost any aspect of the Women’s Rights and Women’s suffrage movements that you can imagine.  Upper left is the story of a Persian woman who fought for women’s rights and was killed for her efforts.  The Colored Woman’s Republican club sounds counterintuitive nowadays. And the cartoon refers to the many women who filled “men’s jobs” during WWII and were expected to just go back home when the war was over.

Two of my favorite exhibits, on the left is Sojourner Truth, abolitionist, author, evangelist, and advocate for human rights. On the right is Abigail Scott Duniway, casting her first vote in 1914. Oregonians will recognize Duniway, who has a park, school, road, and many other places named after her.

This interesting display, known as the Rochester Skirt, was created by women’s rights advocates in nearby Rochester, NY to honor some of the important figures in the movement.

There were lots of interactive exhibits for children, and one boy around 8 years old walked around the museum with his mom doing exercises in a workbook that enhanced learning.  Before I said goodby to my bronze friends, I read about Frederick Douglass, the tall man in the right hand photo, who was a great supporter of women’s voting rights. This was a controversial stand for him to take at the time, when some people worried that women agitating for their rights would adversely affect the passage of the amendment that gave voting rights to black men.


After enjoying the Women’s Rights Historical Park, it only seemed fitting to walk down the street to its neighbor, the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Right now it’s in a cramped Main St. storefront, but they are fundraising to  get it moved to this historic Seneca Falls knitting mill.  The Hall of Fame features women who are US citizens and have made enduring contributions to the development of the United States.  There are women here from every imaginable walk of life–politics, education, arts, military, and so on.

After a full day enjoying the history and contributions of all these women, I drove a few miles west to Geneva, NY. There I spent a quiet night on the shores of Seneca Lake before heading back into the white-knuckle Boston traffic.

Adventure Down Under

Australia and New Zealand have been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  Many times I explored trips that never worked out because of timing or other issues.  Finally I found the perfect trip with perfect timing and saw everything I’ve dreamed of and more!

Our journey began in Sydney, Australia’s largest city. Our hotel was located on Darling Harbor, an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s home to a new Convention Center, National Maritime Museum, and lots of great seafood restaurants.  There are so many miles of harbors, inlets and bays that it seems almost everyone in Sydney has waterfront property!

A pedestrian bridge crosses Darling Harbor at the Maritime Museum, which includes several historic ships as well as the beautiful building.  The Welcome Wall is a tribute to the millions of diverse people who ventured across the sea to Australia.


It’s hard to think about Sydney without immediately picturing the magnificent Opera House that appears to float in the water next to the iconic Harbor Bridge.  I would have paid the full price of the tour just to see the Opera House, and we were able to view it from every possible angle, starting with the view across the water from the Botanical Gardens.  The Opera House took 14 years to build, due to lots of conflict over the design, financing etc. The harbor location suggests sails, or shells, depending on who you talk to. One guide told us the locals have nicknamed it “Nuns in a scrum.” Rugby fans will understand what that means.



The inside of the Opera House is almost as amazing as the outside.  There are several different venues for opera, symphony concerts, childrens’ theater, etc. Amazingly, the interior theaters are not attached to the outside skin of the building. The concert hall above has great acoustics, and the organ has over 10,000 pipes. The smaller theater was being set up for a show that takes place in a night club.  The sign outside seems to cover anything that could possibly affect and audience!


From the harbor area we continued on our tour of the city. Sydney has 9 million people and we saw lots of beautiful parks and thriving neighborhoods. There are two Jewish neighborhoods and one near a naval base that is home to many military families.

The upper right photo is from Gap Bluff, one of many parks with great views of the harbor. Since Australia and New Zealand used to be part of the British Commonwealth, they drive on the lefthand side, which took a little getting used to, even though I wasn’t driving. Oncoming traffic always appeared to be encroaching in our lane!  The hardest part for me was that they also walk on the left side, so I was constantly bumping into people, especially on a stairway that had a railing down the center so you couldn’t easily get out of the way.


As you can imagine, Sydney has plenty of beautiful beaches. Bondi Beach is a favorite cooling off spot in the hot Australian summer (temps in the 90s and 100s while we were in Australia, a tiny bit cooler in New Zealand).  This beach was made famous when beach volleyball was played here for the first time in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

After lunch at Circular Quay near the Opera House, we boarded our boat for the Sydney Harbor Cruise. The Quay is a busy place for ferries, water taxis, cruise ships and almost any kind of ship you can think of.  Here we are being greeted by Captain Cook himself as we boarded the boat. Garden Island was one of the first places the early British settlers tried to grow food.  Also pictured here, the Sydney skyline and some typical Australian humor.

Sailing around the Opera House!

From our ship we got to see more of the city, including these expensive looking houses–if you have to ask you can’t afford it! I thought Sydney would be a fun place to live, but I’m afraid I’d have to get 50 of my richest friends to pool their funds to buy a house here. And I thought Portland was expensive!  Renting isn’t much better. At first we thought it sounded cheap when our guide mentioned a price of $500, but it turns out that they pay their rent weekly here! On the other hand, people seem to get paid pretty well.  Nobody tips in restaurants because the wait staff actually gets paid a pretty good wage.

There are lots of lighthouses in the Harbor, the one above is Bradley’s Head. Nearby is a monument to all Australian sailors killed in wars.

More sights from the Harbor Cruise: Apparently climbing the Harbor Bridge is a thing! Luna Park is unique in that it is the only government controlled amusement park. After a checkered history of closings and accidents, it is currently used as a movie location. The new bridge is known as the Anzac Memorial bridge, honoring the Australia/New Zealand Army Corps.

We had a great Italian dinner in The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, where this sculpture recognizes the early settlers in the area. After dinner we couldn’t resist one more shot at the Opera House.

Next morning we drove up into the Blue Mountains west of Sydney to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Our day also included a stop at the Featherdale wildlife park. As our wonderful tour leader, Jonathan, explained, on such a condensed visit to Australia and New Zealand we would be unlikely to see much of the whacky wildlife these countries are famous for in their natural habitat.  Featherdale was a great place to see kangaroos, koalas, and other unique creatures. If you’ve ever read Bill Bryson’s book about Australia, “In a Sunburned Country,” you know there are a lot of different creatures here that can kill you! Featherdale has the dangerous critters as well as the cuddly kind.  And those kangaroos really do look like they’re boxing!

More critters–you probably recognize the crocodile.  The wombat (upper right) reminded me of the warthogs I saw in Africa…so homely they’re kinda cute!

Heading farther up in to the Blue Mountains, we stopped at Echo Point with it’s amazing views of the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley. Legend has it that the three sisters fell in love with men from a rival tribe, and were turned to stone by an elder to protect them.

Our next stop was a bit Disney-esque, combining fabulous scenery with a network of cableways and funiculars (not to mention gift shops and visitor centers) that make this spectacular wilderness a little more accessible to folks like me who are no longer able to do a 10 mile uphill hike.  After gawking at the scenery we returned for our last night in Sydney.

Next morning we left Sydney behind and flew to the village of Ayers Rock to see the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Uluru is the aboriginal name for the sacred site called Ayers Rock by later European settlers.  Kata Tjuta translates to something like “many domes.” As described by our excellent bus driver/tour guide Graeme, this is a sacred site, but not in the sense of a church or an altar; rather the rock formations tell the stories and show physical evidence of the Creation. Graeme showed us the rock paintings and described how the red color of the rocks comes from oxidation of the underlying stone–one reason why this desert area of central Australia is sometimes called “The Red Center”.  In the lower left you can see that even the pigeons are unique in Australia.

As if Uluru is not amazing enough in the daytime, the highlights of our visit were the sunset and sunrise views. While the sign says “sunset viewing area,” no one is really watching the sunset. They’re watching the effects of the light as they turn the rock vivid red.  A glass of wine and some snacks in the parking lot completed the evening.

Sunrise presented a totally different view. This is not Uluru but it’s neighbor, Kata Tjuta.  The partly cloudy skies last night and this morning were perfect for sky watching!

After breakfast we boarded our bus for the long day’s drive to Alice Springs. At one of the infrequent rest stops along the Stuart Highway, one of the first roads built in the area, we spotted this shower building open to “Sheilas” and “Blokes.”  And your eyes are not deceiving you…that truck is pulling four trailers! Hauling mostly mining equipment and industrial materials, these “road trains” are perfect for the long, straight stretches of desert highway.

Alice Springs sits halfway between Adelaide and Darwin, almost in the exact center of Australia.  The town has a proud military history, as troops were stationed here and many people were evacuated to Alice when the Japanese bombed Darwin in WWII.  On Anzac Hill is a memorial to the many Australians and New Zealanders who have fought in all the wars of the last century.  You may be wondering what all those boats are doing here in the desert…every year Alice Springs hosts the Henley on Todd Regatta.  This is a unique event that celebrates the desert environment–the Todd is one of many rivers in the area that are dry most of the year.  People roll their boats down the river on wheels, or carry them on their shoulders, any creative way to get to the finish. It’s the only regatta in the world that was ever canceled because of rain (in 1993).

We had another chance to see some wildlife at the Alice Springs Desert Park. A ranger told us about dingos, which have lived in most parts of the continent for thousands of years. They will attack and eat an animal as big as a kangaroo, and when cattle and sheep became big industries here, the dingos started eating the livestock. For many years the cattle stations tried to control the population until now they are considered a threatened species.

The bird show was another fun attraction, and a place to sit in the shade away from the 108 º  heat. A variety of owls, magpies, and falcons zoomed over our heads.  My favorite bird was this falcon that demonstrated how to break that emu egg by throwing a rock at it!

The town of Alice Springs started as a telegraph station in 1872. You can still see the original buildings and telegraph equipment.

After lunch in the busy Main St. area, we went to see two unique institutions that were born in Alice Springs. In the late 1920s and early 30s, a combination of radio communication and air travel inspired the formation of the Royal Flying Doctor service, which brings primary and emergency health services to remote Outback communities. In 1944 an educator heard a nurse give a health lecture to parents on the extensive network of radios used by the Flying Doctors.  This gave her the idea of presenting education for students in remote areas by radio through what is now called the School or the Air.

BTW one of the big supporters of the Flying Doctors was the company now known as Qantas, the Australian airline.  I always wondered why there was no “u” after the “Q”–that’s because Qantas is not actually a word, it’s an acronym for “Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service.”

The School of the Air is so impressive! At first the teachers just presented lessons on the radio, but eventually students were able to interact with the teacher and each other, helping with the social isolation in the Outback. Nowadays everything is done by computer and there are two TV studios here at the base where the lessons are broadcast. Students have to be 50 miles from a regular school, and they need to have internet service and a parent or other adult who can mentor them.

It was a definite shock for us to fly from the brutal desert heat to Cairnes in north Queensland.  Cairnes sits between tropical rainforests and the Coral Sea. Our hotel was on the Esplanade, a pedestrian walkway along the coast with lots of restaurants and views of the water.  I am used to pelicans that are either brown or white, so I really enjoyed the multicolored Australian pelicans.

The tropical air of Queensland was a relief after the desert, although I question the accuracy of that license plate slogan–there had been heavy rains and flooding for a few days before we arrived, and thunderstorms were predicted for the next day.

That weather forecast drove my decision to skip the Great Barrier Reef cruise. Two other members of our group also bowed out.  I am not real good with boats on a nice day, so high winds and thunderstorms put me over the edge. Still, I had a great day, starting with a visit to the Cairnes Aquarium, which was conveniently across the street from our hotel.  I felt like that giant prawn was giving me a dirty look–possibly because I had eaten 6 of his cousins for dinner the night before! One of the main attractions here was the shark and ray show. The kids really enjoyed watching divers come in and feed the sharks at the end of the show.

Jonathan had tipped us off to the unusual stained glass windows at the church across the road.  St. Monica’s War Memorial Cathedral opened in 1968 in memory of those who died in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.  The main windows tell the story of Creation, and on either side of the front entrance are the “peace windows.” This one depicts a fallen fighter plane that landed on the sea bottom and became part of a coral reef.

The weather outlook improved the next day, though the previous heavy rains affected us in ways both good and bad.  The original plan was to take a scenic railway from Cairnes to the rainforest town of Kuranda, then come back on the Skyrail cableway. The train ride was canceled for fear of washouts on the tracks, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the scenery by bus.  In fact, one of the main tourist sites along the way, Barron Falls, was more spectacular than usual, because of the rains. We had some free time to enjoy lunch and shopping in Kuranda. My favorite spot was this gem shop–opals and other semi-precious stones are commonly found in this area–the shop’s sign says “Established 90 million years ago.”

Boarding the Skyrail, we were able to get a view of Barron Falls from the other side, as well as skimming across the tops of the trees.

The “Kuranda Classic Experience” concluded with an aboriginal cultural performance. I loved the indigenous art style. Our guide Jacob introduced us to some of the traditional foods, and we watched a multimedia performance. That multicolored map of Australia shows the 100s of different “countries” that made up the diverse aboriginal world, with each one having as many as 6 different native languages.

Jacob and his friends also showed off traditional skills like making fire by spinning a stick in a pile of straw, playing the didgeridoo, throwing two or three boomerangs at once, and my favorite, throwing a spear using an atl-atl. The atl-atl allows someone to throw a spear twice as far as the Olympic javelin record holder!

Next morning we said goodbye to Australia and flew to Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand. New Zealand has strict environmental protections, and we were instructed to throw away any food we were carrying before we landed, and to wash the red dust and microscopic critters of the Outback off our shoes. Auckland is another harbor city, like a smaller, quieter version of Sydney. I loved the friendly greeting on the TV in my hotel room.

Auckland is located on a peninsula on the north end of the North Island, so it’s almost completely surrounded by water. Our bus tour included sweeping views of the harbor and the city skyline, as well as lovely homes and a park with a Rose Garden. The tower above is part of the Michael Joseph Savage memorial. Savage is a beloved figure in the history of New Zealand, a laborer who rose to be prime minister during the Depression of the 1930s and established programs such as unemployment insurance and social security.

Auckland’s War Memorial Museum is impressive, both inside and out. Every aspect of New Zealand culture, history, and natural history is explored here.  I found the map and displays about migration to Australia and New Zealand particularly interesting.  I had always assumed that both countries had the same people speaking the same language. I was totally wrong! The aboriginal people of Australia came from East India and other parts of South Asia as much as 65,000 years ago. They speak 200-300 different languages. New Zealand was settled only a few thousand years ago, by Polynesians from the area around the Society Islands. They speak a Polynesian language from which many of us would recognize a few words that are very similar to Hawaiian.

And yes, the little girl is looking at a gigantic bird! That’s a moa, a bird that was once common in New Zealand but now only exists occasionally in the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Leaving our Auckland hotel, located in a busy port area with private marinas and a huge ferry terminal, we drove south.  Our first rest stop was at this huge power plant, which uses geothermal energy.

A word about New Zealand’s famous Kiwi bird.  I never got to see an actual, live kiwi, as they are nocturnal, and even in places where they create artificial darkness cycles for viewing them, they always seemed to be shy the day I got there.  Here are some examples from the Auckland museum.  The kiwi is a flightless bird that is so common in New Zealand it has become a nickname for the people there. Unlike many demographic nicknames that are perceived as offensive, New Zealanders proudly claim the title of kiwi for themselves. When we Americans hear the word kiwi, we often think of the fruit, which was originally called Chinese gooseberry, until it was imported into the US from New Zealand and became known as kiwi fruit.


From Auckland we drove south to the famous Waitomo caves. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the caves, so I had to buy the postcard above to be able to show you the main attraction.  After walking through the impressive limestone formations, we all boarded boats to float down the last part of the cave, looking up at the ceiling that was covered with these brilliant blue glow worms.  Photos don’t do it justice anyway!  The poster shows a group of women ready for the expedition through the caves in the 1920s, before it had trails, stairs, or electric lights.

After the cave exploration we made a brief lunch stop in a charming little town called Otorohanga. They had lots of New Zealand history on display–I had forgotten Sir Edmund Hillary was from here–as well as a little bit of Kiwi humor at the restrooms.

For the rest of the day we visited Te Puia Thermal Reserve and Maori Arts and Crafts Center. I found the Maori culture fascinating. This place is not only a museum but supports and encourages traditional arts and crafts. Here you can see students engaged in learning wood carving and weaving with flax.

Te Puia is in an area of great thermal activity, and although we never got to see the biggest of the geysers, we did enjoy watching the smaller ones and the bubbling mud pots.

That evening we were treated to a traditional performance followed by a fabulous meal cooked in the thermal ovens. I can’t seem to get enough of the New Zealand lamb. We spent the night in the small town of Rotorua.

The bicyclist is on display in the tiny Rotorua airport, where you can walk right in the door and over to your gate…no security! If you’re making a connection, you go through security after you get to your destination.  We were on our way to Queenstown, one of my favorite spots in New Zealand. Arriving in Queenstown we saw my favorite of all the weird road signs on this trip, plus a map of the world made entirely out of jellybeans.

Arriving in the late afternoon gave us just enough time to see the spectacular view from the Skyline, an aerial tram. At the top station you can just gawk at the view of Lake Wakatipu, or sign up for all the adventures that make this The Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand–mountain biking, paragliding, bungy jumping, zip lining, etc. Next day we’d see more adventures on the lake, including something called the Shark Boat, which is a sort of enclosed jet ski that leaps in and out of the water like a shark.

We had a free day in Queenstown the next day to enjoy whatever our stomachs and courage could handle. A bunch of us, with the help of the hotel concierge, signed up for a cruise around the lake.  It took 2-3 hours to see the whole length of the lake and get back where we started.

Lake Wakatipu is one of the largest lakes in New Zealand, 50 miles long and 1250 ft. deep.  Queenstown sits on the north shore near the center of the lake’s length, and the Remarkables mountain range is across to the south. I thought I would have been over my disorientation about the sun being in the north by this point, but I still couldn’t seem to figure out where to look for sunrise and sunset!

Near the far end of our loop around the lake we were treated to views of the snow covered mountains in the distance. This was one of many parts of New Zealand that reminded me of Oregon.  Returning to downtown Queenstown, we had another fabulous dinner at the Beach House, on the edge of the lake.

Our last two days in New Zealand were amazing. We started off in the early morning for the 2-hour bus ride to Lake Manapouri, southwest of Queenstown at the entrance to Fiordland National Park.  There are more sheep than people in NZ, and we saw a lot of them on our drive.  After a pleasant cruise across the lake, we saw the Manapouri Hydro Power Station, an amazing feat of engineering that hides its turbines underwater and was put into service without raising the level of the lake as a traditional dam would do.

At the other end of the lake we boarded a bus for the 40-minute drive on a gravel road over a mountain pass to where we would catch the boat for our cruise on Doubtful Sound. We stopped along the way at a viewpoint for our first glimpse of the sound.  Doubtful Sound is the second most popular tourist destination in NZ, after the smaller but more accessible Milford Sound.

Doubtful Sound was first named Doubtful Harbor by Captain Cook, who wasn’t sure he could navigate out of it if he were to go in.  Later whalers and sealers changed the name when they realized it was more than just a harbor. Doubtful Sound is actually a fiord, although the differences are small and pretty technical. This whole area of the southwest corner of the South Island is covered with fiords, mountains, and tropical rainforest. The people on this fishing boat got pretty excited when we passed by, pulling in all their lines so they wouldn’t get snagged.

This boat ride was pretty smooth, though it got a little scary at the mouth of the sound where I thought for a minute our captain was taking us right out into the Tasman Sea. He just wanted to show us the rocky entrance, where some seals were sunbathing. Then we turned around and headed back up the sound and over the pass to the lake.