17 Sep Sat - After traveling two days with an overnight in Frankfurt, Germany, we landed in Nairobi at 1910 and it took until 2230 to get through the airport, to the hotel and checked in. The longest wait was for the checked bag. It was one the last to come down the belt. That is why we prefer to not check anything, but with the Roger’s CPAP it has become necessary. There were probably a hundred guides outside holding signs with names. Instead of trying to read them all I just called out for who had ours. That worked well and after that others did the same. A trend setter I guess. It was about a twenty minute ride to the Eka Hotel past a lot of high rise office buildings. Luckily since it was late on a Saturday night, the traffic was light.
The Eka Hotel is quite luxurious. More so than we need. You have to go through security inside and out. The doorman wears top hat and tails.
18 Sep Sun--- I slept off an on, more off than on but am still refreshed a bit. The bed was rather hard. Had breakfast which was a massive buffet with things that are unusual from our stand point but did like the chicken giblets. Otherwise, I stuck with eggs, fruit and nuts, and a croissant.
Our driver guide for the journey to Maasai met us for a short briefing. One of the young men's name is Barack. Then we explored and lounged about the premises which are a walled armed compound. Wish there was something close to walk to but we are on the outskirts of town with no parks, stores, anything. There is a building next store that used to be a mall but is vacant. The sun was bright, the temperature moderate, air dry.
We had a couple of Tusker Lite beers and split a very rare cheese burger. It looked like the meat had been on the heat for 30 seconds on each side. I like my meat rare but wondered why they even bothered to cook this. ($30) Afterward we crashed for a while.
Later, Priya Sukhtankar joined us for dinner in Spur a restaurant with an American Indian theme decor. They serve steaks, hamburgers, and what they think are Mexican dishes. It was a pleasant evening. Although this was the first time I had met her, it was like catching up on old times. Priya is the daughter of Raxa and Shub who knew Roger when he worked on Ascension Island. We stayed with them when we were in England a few of years ago. She, like her father, is a physician and is living in Nairobi while she works for the Gates Foundation traveling to seven countries teaching how to measure babies. The program she is working is to figure out why babies are dying from malnutrition even though there is no obvious medical reason for this to be happening. A theory they are working on is that the mothers are so depressed that they are not properly feeding their children because they have too many to support and no help doing so.
19 Sep Mon --- didn't sleep. Up early to start for Maasai Mara. Wow what a ride. We stopped for a photo op of the Great Rift Valley and to be pressured into buying stuff. There are three or four little towns along the way that slowed us down a bit. At one we stopped for gas and again was pressured to buy. About half way to the NP we ran out of pavement. What was supposed to be the road is a 100 mile rut that the vegetation has been removed. Fred, our driver/guide took it at 40 mph. I wasn't sure my head would still be attached when we arrived and couldn't understand why we were going so fast.
Fred was trying to get us to the lodge before lunch was over. We made it by 20 minutes. After 6 1/2 hours of shake rattle and roll, we had a quick lunch, checked in, rested, then met for our 1600 safari. As we approached the vehicle, the rain started and immediately cooled everything down. Despite that, we had a good safari, seeing 12 species of mammals and 12 of birds. The highlight was a mom and baby lion eating on a fresh kill. This is why I wanted to come back to Africa.
The biggest annoyance is every stop along the way means beating off the hawkers. I am at a point in my life that I neither need nor want any trinkets or jewelry no matter how much I like them. Tourists have made monsters out of these natives. This is something we see where ever we travel.
20 Sep Tues--- This morning's sunrise over Maasai Mara was lovely as we meandered through the park. We saw a bunch more birds but only one other mammal, the side striped jackal. We did have better luck taking photos. After a late breakfast we caught up on Internet and took naps. Boy did that feel good. I was sick over night with a sore throat and sinus issues and didn't sleep well.
It seemed like it was lunch time too early. I ate light then took another nap before our afternoon drive when we added several new birds and a serval to our list. The bumpy rides get old but are worth it.
Ashnil Camp is really a lodge with canvas walls. Our tent had three single beds, a shower, toilet and sink. Each night we were provided with a hot water bottle in the bed to keep us warm that stays warm all night. Mosquito nets are attached to each bed but we never saw any mosquitos so the nets weren't needed. The power is provided by their own generator and is shut down three times a day including midnight to 0500 which means Roger couldn’t use his CPAP. A " torch" is in the room to get to the toilet in the middle of the night. The water for showers is heated by fire so only available certain times of the day. We had to be sure to be through with our showers by 2100. It was all sort of primitive luxury.
White Cap beer is pretty good. Not sure why it is served in such a big bottle. They do reuse glass bottles like we used to in the 60s before plastic. Speaking of plastic. Just like other developing countries we have visited, the roadsides in places are strewn with plastic bags and bottles. When you see the shanties you realize recycling is not a priority. I believe the roads would be cleaned up quickly if a token was paid to turn in bottles. I have seen where plastic bottles are being used to build houses. That could also be a way to clean them up and to replace the shanties. Just my thoughts. I am sure there are plenty of people with ideas and energy to see them through.
Wifi is provided in the reception/lobby area but wasn't very reliable. We were able to get a few things done before giving up. Reminded me of home.
There are 50 tents but only about a quarter were occupied while we were there. That is one of the reasons for picking this time of year. The meals were all buffet and very artistically presented. Your choices were international which makes sense since the guests were from various parts of the world. I tried to keep to familiar things just to keep my gut calm.
You don't see a bunch of garbage in this park. But then, you don't see any one who isn't with a guide in a safari vehicle. The trails the drivers use are a mess and I have mixed feelings about that. If getting there were easier, there would be too many people which could stress the animals and the habitat. During the great migration, the lodges are packed and I would not like to be there. There were about a half dozen safari vehicles (mostly a specialized Toyotas) while we were there from different tour companies. Ours was Africa Journeys but it looked like they all basically operate the same way. Two drives a day, morning and afternoon, hoping to find as much wildlife as they can.
21 Sept Wed --- It was a rough start to the day. I had sore throat, stuffed ears and sinus. Roger was suffering from diarrhea. For breakfast he got a visit from the camp doctor and a script for cipro. He had brought some but since it was available decided to get more in case he gets sick again later in the trip. By time we got back to Nairobi he was better. I was in worse shape though and just wanted to crash. Our room this time was next to a hall entry door which was quite noisy and there was hammering which made sleeping difficult. (Dinner at the Spur 20 tip at camp 30 to driver 40. Bell hop €5)
The drive from Ashnil Camp was even worse than going. We went on a different route because we were supposed to stop at a Massai village. Neither of us were up to it. I would have liked to see one but knew I wouldn't want the stress of folks trying to sell stuff. There was a lot more traffic on the highway, too.
22 Sep Thursday --- After getting up at 0600 four days in a row it was good to sleep until 0700. I was still tired but my throat wasn't as sore. We had a leisurely breakfast then checkout to wait for our driver. When he was fifteen minutes late I had the door man make a call. Nathan was stuck in traffic so another driver was dispatched. At the airport people were getting off buses and walking. The driver said we also had to do that to go through security. Everyone but the driver must exit. The vehicles are scanned as the passengers and their personal items go through scanners. At the entrance to the terminal is another security station. Then, one again before the gates. I was warned that Nairobi is a dangerous city. Yet, what was on the international news since we got there was a bombing in NYC, cop shooting a guy reading a book and the consequent riots in Charlotte, a cop shooting a guy because his car broke down in Tulsa. I don't like being in any city but didn't feel any less safe in Nairobi than cities in the US.
The flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar was uneventful. Processing through immigration was challenging and weird. They never asked for our yellow fever cert or the photos for the visa. Six people are involved in passport control. We met Meena, the tour guide and were hurried through changing money. Only to realize later that we should have gotten more. We would be paying for all meals except breakfast.
We were settled into our room at The Gassy Country House by 1600 which gave us time to rest. The facility is faded glory especially compared to what we had in Nairobi. The portion sizes for dinner were enough that we will be sharing meals. We had a couple of Three Horse beers which are made in Madagascar. Tried to save half of Roger's sandwich for the next day but even after a swap, we couldn't get the fridge to work. There was no hot water for showers.
23 Sep Fri --- Had a rough night because of my sinus infection. Had breakfast in hotel. It was very French, crepes and bread. Left at 0830 for Andasibe. On our way through Tana we stopped at a pharmacy for cough syrup and vitamin C. Traffic was terrible. Local busses are are overcrowded to the point that the back doors can’t be closed. We passed the US embassy compound. Not sure why we need such a big complex for such an seemingly insignificant third world country.
There were no public restrooms along the way so we had “bush parties”. This became a theme throughout Madagascar. The few public toilets we came across were too disgusting to use.
Brick yards spring up throughout the countryside. Clay from the rice patties and mud from the red dirt are used to hand make bricks. They are then stacked in huge mounds with holes left for fires. Long logs are set on fire and depending on the weather the fires burn from three days to a week.
We had a short time to get settled into our posh rooms at the Andasibe Hotel before our night walk along the road outside the park where we saw a bunch of tree frogs, a few chameleons, and two mouse lemurs, the smallest lemurs.
Dinner was at the hotel where we shared a fish dinner which was quite good.
24 Sep Sat --- During our early morning walk in the Anasibe NP we saw a few brown lemurs high in the trees but not well enough to get a good look. The indri indri were a bit more cooperative and we all managed to get good close views. Varuna Resort has an island with lemurs and we were able to interact with them as they jumped from shoulder to shoulder. My favorite thing so far. We had lunch at the resort, shared a beef stir fry. Tropical flowers, especially azaleas were in full bloom. It was a long ride back to Gassy Country House in Tana. By time we got checked in and ordered our meal it was 2000 and I was exhausted. Roger and I shared what they call chicken croquettes but looked suspiciously like chicken nuggets to me. We also shared a couple of the large THB. The second was served at room temperature. I can't stand warm beer. We asked for ice and were provided a few cubes. Not nearly enough for the large bottle of beer to be made cool. After asking again, we were provided with enough. I am spoiled when it comes to cold drinks. The more I travel the more I see that ice cold beverages is an American thing.
25 Sept Sun --- Another early day. Up at 0430 for a 0700 hour long flight to Morondava. This was the day my body finally said "no more". When we got to our hotel, Baobab Cafe, I stayed while the rest of the group took a short boat ride to a fishing village. The cough syrup I had taken earlier and my instrumental music in my iPad allowed me to sleep, soundly. Roger woke me at lunch and we shared a bowl of crab soup. After lunch, Roger strolled to the beach and I slept until 1630.
This is another hotel whose glory days have passed. It has everything we needed but is rather shabby. Our room had a balcony that faced canal with natural vegetation. The setting was quite pleasant and far enough from the heart of town so that it was not so noisy.
While having a beer in the restaurant area a young man came up with some fresh lobsters that looked good. We shared one for dinner ($12). The day of sleep did me good. I started feeling like a human again. I just needed to get rid of the cough.
26 Sept Mon --- 0500. Yuck. First stop was Baobab Alley. They are huge. Got some photos of local life. My hacking continues. Voice control keeps taking over my iPhone trying to call Liz.
Children call out "photo" and when you show them the image on the screen they smile big. One little boy hogged all the photos. The road was rough as promised but not as bad as the road to Maasai. We road in the lead car so the dust wasn't too bad. We strolled in the Kiringy Forest and saw two new kinds of lemurs, a foosa, and several birds. It was hot, in the 90s. When we got to the ferry, the last vehicle in our convoy had not made it. The ferry is a raft pushed by a tug whose motor sounded as though it would break at any time. I sat in the car where it was shady and had a breeze, but it smelled bad because we were parked in front of a restaurant that was cooking stinky food. This ferry ride that was billed as an hour really took closer to three when you include the wait.
Once we crossed, we stopped at the Mad Zebu for lunch that we had pre ordered. That is an important point. There is a saying here, "Mora, mora" which means "slowly, slowly". Even when meals are ordered in advance it can take a while to get served. Roger and I shared a zebu meat ball in a lentil soup which was pretty good. The meal was less than $5 plus a cold beer for about $2. That is the standard for what we have been spending on our meals.
We finally made it to L'Orchidee hotel in Tsingy at 2000, hot tired, sticky, and dusty to find that we did not have AC. There were little fans over the beds that provided a bit of air movement. Also found that the power in the rooms except for the fans goes off at 2200 making it difficult to recharge all the gadgets.
We shared a fried fish dinner that had way too much breading for my taste. At this lodge your choice is yes or no to the meal they prepare.
We all had been looking forward to being in one place for three nights to be disappointed by the accommodations since other places have been so much nicer.
27 Sept Tue --- At least we were able to sleep in until 0700. Breakfast like the day before was just bread and cakes. No protein. We took a pirogue to a cave and then to see the burial sight of some of the original settlers from Indonesia. There were eleven birds added to my list.
During our free time, I sat on the porch catching up with this narrative, listening to soft music, and watching the staff cross from their behind the scenes work area next to our room carrying linens, etc.
I can't believe that we made it through the Petit Circuit of the Tsingy National Park. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would agree to something so treacherous. For me the steep spaces between foot holds was the most difficult. Roger had problems getting through the narrow passages and had to get down to his knees to pass. Anyway, we both made it.
Dinner was a steak and potatoes. The original choice was goat stew. I don't like lamb and didn't think I would care for goat. Luckily there were a couple of steaks available and we took one to share.
Over night the humidity was oppressive. It brought back memories of growing up in Florida without AC. The sheet was used to sop up the sweat. I see why they change the beds every day.
28 Sep Wed -- After Roger left for more hiking in the Tsingy, I slept until 0800 when they turned off the power to the fan. The grounds of this resort have a lot of familiar vegetation. There are plumeria, hibiscus, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, Jerusalem thorn, mother-in-law's tongue, oleander, and copper bushes. Fruits are citrus, banana, papaya, fig, mango, and guava. There are also a lot of small butterflies and a couple of different lizards. The pests are large flying roaches and flies. Mosquitos were thankfully scarce.
29 Sep Thurs --- Survived the third night in the sauna. Glad to be up and out early. It was a long day on a miserable road. We again stopped at the Mad Zebu for lunch. It is amazing to have a gourmet restaurant in Belo Tsiribhina. If I had planned this trip, I would have left the Tsingy portion out. It really wasn't worth the discomfort of the ride and the un-cooled rooms. It gave us a view of life in the bush which is rough and sort of sad from a western point of view. I wonder how they feel about the intrusion by the tourists. The children love waving at us and seeing their photo images.
The highlight of the day was the sunset at Baobab Alley. Here the children offer you the opportunity for a "photo". As soon as you snap, their next word is "money". They have learned to play the tourists. Innocence is gone. We made it back to Baobab Cafe at 1900, but by time we got checked in, had our meeting, ordered our meal, and we're finally served, it was after 2200. The AC felt great! My first night without coughing.
30 Sep Fri -- What was supposed to be 0600 departure turned into 0830 because the bus which had come from Tana was dirty and needed to be cleaned. It was a thirteen hours journey on some paved but poorly maintained roads. We did see a man patching some holes with a manual asphalt roller. And later there were a couple of work crews building a new section of road. That got me thinking about how few workers there are with road work experience.
Our "sandwich" lunch was basically a loaf of bread with not enough ham to cover the surface. Another meal with almost no protein. Along the way was a gold mine, very unlike anything I had ever seen or read about. They pound holes in the granite then sift the dust to get about a decigram a day. They also pan in the river in a more traditional way.
Our last bush party of the day gave us the opportunity to watch the sunset over the highlands, reminiscent of the big sky of Montana. It seems weird to see glacial moraines at the equator. We went through dozens of small towns and villages that look deserted after dark. Not sure if they are in their houses since the windows are shuttered instead of glass.
It was 2000 by time we got registered into our rooms at the Royal Palace. Luckily dinner was a buffet ready for us. There was duck, fish, and tongue. Real food. Add a couple of THB and the bill was about $20 for both. The room was spacious and luxurious but the towels were ratty and there was no desk or chair. The wifi was great.
Along the route I started noticing solar panels on some of the country houses. It is the only power some have. A few were just large enough to charge their phones which surprisingly are everywhere except the remotest bush villages.
1 Oct Sat --- Left hotel at 0800 after a breakfast of crepes. Still no protein. I don't understand why eggs are so scarce with the millions of chickens we saw running free range. There was a brief city tour, a couple of photo ops including a brick yard, then we got to Ambositra and L'Artisan Hotel for lunch. We shared a pizza for $8 while being entertained by a dance troupe. Ambositra is known for it's crafts. I bought a small mask for my collection for about $7.
The restaurant was very nice and it sure was great to have fully operable toilet with a seat and paper. There is a lot of brick making in that area. This was a frustrating day with hawkers.
More bad road prevented us from getting to the NP in time for the night walk. The countryside is full of farms including a lot of rice paddies in various stages. Some being harvested while others are in a tilled clay state where they are using the clay to make bricks. They way they bake the bricks is interesting. Thousands of dried bricks are stacked leaving holes about two feet high underneath for the fires. Large logs are used and the fire is kept going for three days to a week depending on the weather. Charcoal is another industry that abounds in the highlands which supplies many cities with the fuel used for cooking. Just as we in the US have decimated our mountain tops to get to coal, Madagascar forests have been destroyed for charcoal. It does, however, keep the eucalyptus trees under control since they are invasive and were introduced from Australia along with pine trees from the US.
It is sad to see so many children not attending school. The poverty and barely subsistence life will continue. It is not unusual to see a very young woman (girl) carrying a baby on her back and another in her belly. Many of the children and some adults have only rags to wear and even though we saw a lot of laundry drying and women washing clothes, most are still dirty. This was the dry season and everything was dusty and dirty so it only follows that the children would be also.
Again, it was late when we arrived at the Centrist and we had to delay the night walk until the next evening. Another late dinner after another long day on the road.
2 Oct Sun --- We got up looking forward to an afternoon at leisure after a walk in the Ranomafano NP. The walk was in a rain forest and was nicely shaded which kept the temperature down but the humidity was high. The "walk" turned out to be mostly vertical on rugged terrain. Several times I felt I had reached my physical limit but of necessity had to keep pushing on. Roger also had difficulty and kept finding places to sit. This was the most strenuous, arduous, stamina testing, experience I have had in many years. It is good that I didn't know ahead of time because we would not have signed up for it. I thought the walk to Crocodile Lake in Vietnam was bad. It was a piece of cake compared to this. We did see three types of lemurs: the golden bamboo, Milne-Edwardsi sifaka, and red bellied and several birds. Our guide, Jerry Emil, has worked in the park since its inception in 1984. Although not formally educated, he has a wealth of knowledge gained from practical experience and by working with the researchers from various universities. He was with the team that discovered the golden bamboo lemur that is endemic to the park and is one of the reasons for the status of NP.
For lunch we ate at the restaurant at the park entrance. It took a long time and by time we got back to our hotel we only had 90 minutes for our leisure time. We collapsed on our beds and slept for an hour or so and then it was time for the nocturnal walk. Once we got to the park we had to wait 30 minutes for the group members who had opted for an extended afternoon walk. It turned out they were in the restaurant sipping tea. One of the petty annoyances of group travel. We saw a brown mouse lemur and several chameleons. I got some decent photos of them plus a brown tree frog and a leaf litter butterfly.
We didn't get finished with dinner until almost 2100 but I was in bed before 2130 totally exhausted. At 0130 I realized that the power was off but couldn't remember if that had been the case the night before.
3 Oct Mon --- out early again. On our way to Isalo we stopped in Anja NP where we had the opportunity to see communities of ringed-tailed lemurs. The babies jumping about were adorable and I got some good photos. Lunch was at the restaurant by the park we had min sao which was pretty good and easily divided.
Along the way we stopped for a photo op and were quickly over run by children. You could see them coming down the terraces. They were all dirty and in clothes that we wouldn't even consider rags. Many, especially the younger ones had runny noses and the snot was smeared on their faces. They were cute, friendly, and happy to see us but it was obvious that there was something contagious going around the village.
Before we moved on, Meena handed out biscuits to them and that made their day or perhaps their week. It is upsetting to see such poverty and unhealthy life style being perpetuated by the absence of education. I wonder if we tourists are helping or hurting.
Although the itinerary said we would arrive In late after noon, it took until 2000 to get to Sartana Hotel and until 2230 to get through with dinner. I hate eating that late and on that night, ended up losing my meal as I gagged no my pills and every thing came up.
This is another place that shuts its power off at night. It was also a tent. The wifi was impossible.
4 Oct Tues --- Got up early and tried wifi. It worked and then after our daily ration of morning bread we were off to Isalo NP and a hike up the mountain. Luckily it wasn't as bad a hike as the one in Antisibe NP but was still strenuous. While walking I reflected on the fact that it had been five months since the cancer surgery, ten months since my foot surgery, and nine months since my frozen shoulder. What this time in Madagascar proved to me is that I have recovered from all the medical issues of the past year and I am in better shape than I had imagined.
Lunch was a rather disappointing and expensive ($10 for one brochette and salads that we shared) barbecue in the park cooked especially for us. It was 1530 before we finished. That is a long time since 0630 to go on a piece of toast. There were a few lemurs to keep us entertained while we waited.
At least we did get back to the hotel at a decent time and ordered our meal. I wanted to eat early and didn't really care if others joined us. I was determined to not to repeat the previous puking fiasco. Some of the group weren't happy because we had just eaten. We set the time for 1900 and as per the norm didn't get through until 2030.
The wifi didn't work and we ended up in bed by 2130 before the lights went out.
5 Oct Wed --- left Sartana about 0745. This was the last time we all had to load onto the bus for a long haul. Shortly after we got going, we stopped in Ilakaka which is gem mining area specializing in sapphires but also other gems and fossils. The shop had pretty, simple pieces of jewelry that seemed to be reasonably priced but I don't need any jewelry.
Meena had asked us to fill our empty bottles with tap water and along the way we handed them out to the kids. The area we drove through was a desert in a drought and water was almost nonexistent. She also gave cookies and candy to the kids. One mother asked for soap and shampoo. An older gentleman entered the picture and got the children to line up quietly to await their turn. While we were taking photos, I looked up to see a young man in his twenties using a cell phone to photograph us. A little twist on who is the subject. In other villages we stopped long enough to give one person the the treats and water for her to distribute.
For lunch we split a pizza ($4) at La Terasse in Tulear. It was about 1700 when we arrived at La Mira in Infati where we had to go through the check in process and meal ordering. I needed a toilet so left Roger to stay for the time. The norm is whatever time you say you want to eat, you can be sure it will be an hour to hour and an half until you are finished.
It was great to get to a place before dark so we could enjoy the facility and watch the sunset over Mozambique Channel leisurely. And, the wifi worked rather well.
7 Oct Thurs -- leisurely day. Took a couple of naps, strolled on the beach. While walking on the beach we stopped to watch a man and his young sons bring in their catch. He looked up and said, "I speak English". I replied that was good. His next comment was "give money?" There were others trying to sell stuff that didn't interest us.
In the evening a local group sang and danced for us. Ariaries were running low and we needed money for tips so Roger cashed in $20.
It was a good last day in Madagascar.
7 Oct Fri -- The day started pleasantly with a 1030 departure for a stop in Tulear at La Terasse and another $4 pizza. Then on to the airport for a flight back to Tana. We had to pay €50 for our extra piece of luggage even though two pieces of ours are smaller than one piece of everyone else's. Another learning opportunity. Luckily Nancy had some euros to add to the few I had.
We got a couple of hours sleep after supper (min sao $4 and a couple of beers) at the Gassy Country House. At midnight we left for the airport. The flight was delayed an hour but it really didn't matter since we were scheduled for a five hour layover in Nairobi.
8 Oct Sat --- arrived at Nairobi Airport at 0630. The first thing we did was head for the ATM. It was good to get back to that modern convenience. A chicken sandwich, fries, and 2 Coke Zero was $13 at Hardee's. Wifi worked great. Two ice cream cost $10.
I had been concerned about Hurricane Matthew and the damage it could have done. Heard from Jeannette. She is fine. Still have a few other folks to check in.
Arrived in Dar Es Salam and was met by Muhammed from Global Volunteers. He led us to an ATM for some local currency then drove us to the hotel Slipway which meant driving past all five million inhabitants I think. I took a long nap while Roger figured out the currency. There was a grocery next door and we did a bit of shopping for toiletries and snacks (~$35). They actually have Diet Pepsi. I bought a new pouch for day use treks to replace the nasty one I had for $13.
We spent the following two weeks in Iringa Town with Global Volunteers working with the University of Iringa.
On the weekend we climbed the Isimila Stone Pillars and Gangilonga Rock.
22 Oct Sat --- Now to safaris. It felt good to be getting out of town and into the bush. The Iringa airport is very basic. It only takes two hours to drive to Ruaha so I wasn't sure why we needed to fly.
After we got in the air I was glad we flew. The view was stunning and informative. I could see how little of the landscape was destroyed by developers. Although I did notice slash and burn areas.
Upon arrival in Ruaha we were greeted by Ben, our driver guide who provided us a picnic lunch before starting our wildlife drive that lasted for five hours. I kept thinking how lucky I am to be doing exactly what I wanted to be doing at that very moment. We ended up seeing 29 different birds and 10 mammals. The highlight was seeing two leopards in a sausage tree. Ben had never seen that and was just as excited as we were.
As we turned into the Ruaha River Lodge we had to wait for a bull elephant to clear off the road. We were met by Graem, manager. It is a place so different from Iringa. This is why we went to Africa. Life is good. No wifi.
Before dinner some of the guests gathered around a fire with Graem and his wife Candy for friendly chatter. It was quite pleasant and relaxing. Graem and Candy are from Scotland and have been running long does in TZ for seven years. They came to Ruaha in June.
23 Oct Sun --- The river is almost dried up and quit flowing a few days ago. That means that the animals gather in the remaining pools. Behind our cabin various birds took advantage of the easy fish pickings. Impala took their chances as did the yellow baboons. Hippos wallowed and bellowed throughout the night. The morning drive was another awesome experience. What is it about being in nature that gets to my inner being. I could do this forever.
We saw a pride of lions who were stuffed after feasting on a Cape buffalo. There were four babies but they didn't cooperate with my photography efforts. Ben deposited us at the hill top restaurant for lunch. That was quite a climb, but the view was worth it.
Our idea was to explore the grounds in the afternoon but it was too hot and we tried to nap instead. It was too hot for that, too. At 1630 it was time for another drive. This time we added several more birds and crocodile to our list of observed species. The two day total: birds - 58; mammals -16; reptiles - 2.
Again, before dinner we sat by the fire for a sundowner with Graem and Candy. They are very easy to talk with. They are perfect for this kind of job. 🇹🇿
24 Oct Mon --- Ben picked us up at 0830 for a full day safari. Early in the drive as we were rounding a curve, there was a leopard. We didn't get any photos because it moved behind the brush. The other guides were not so lucky. There were a lot of elephants, impala, baboons etc. Our big hits were giraffes fighting, lions mating, and a spooked giraffe almost running into our vintage 1950s Land Rover. Ben stopped just in time. New today --- Birds - 16; mammals- 1; amphibians - 1; reptile - 1.
While getting my shower I slipped and fell on the slick concrete floor. I knew right away that my left foot was seriously injured. Roger came running and managed to get me onto the toilet before I sent him after ice and help. It seemed like it took forever but in a few minutes he was back with the ice and two Maasais. They got me to bed. Roger was embarrassed that I was just wearing panties and a bra. It had been difficult to even get them on. Every time I sat up I got dizzy and I hadn't wanted them to find me on the floor again. With the help of the Maasais we got me dressed and iced down.
Graeme came running down, too. There wasn't really anything to be done in the bush in the middle of the night. My big concern was getting to the toilet and I solved that by using a standing towel rack as a walker.
It is ironic that we had climbed all manner of rocks in the last few weeks with no injuries and I fell in a bathroom.
The Maasais stayed close to our cabin throughout the night but I did fine. By morning I had figured out that I could put some weight on my foot.
25 Oct Tues --- Graeme worked with our travel consultant Rhia, Safari Air Link, and local contacts to get us on a plane that eventually ended in Dar Es Salaam. There were six stops and any time we went below a certain altitude the plane heated up like a sauna. I was rather miserable by time we landed. I asked for a wheelchair and one was promptly provided. I breezed through security but Roger spent thirty minutes explaining his rocks.
Traffic on the way to Aga Khan Hospital was horrendous and reminded me why I hate cities. It took over an hour. We were immediately seen by an admitting physician who ordered an X-ray. Roger had to pay first. The X-ray showed a break in the fibula and a bruise on the tibia. After Roger paid again, a cast was put on that went up about halfway to my knee from just behind the ball of the foot. We tried to get crutches but the hospital didn't have any. I was told to take Zeradol, keep my leg elevated, and come back to see the ortho on Fri. After the doctor put on the cast she said "Polé" then asked if I knew what that meant in Kiswahili. She went on to explain that it is their way of expressing that they are sorry for my pain. After, I noticed how many "polés" and "sorrys" I heard. All said with such compassion you felt the sincerity.
We arrived at the Urban Rose hotel close to 2200. There is a steep incline with no rail and no wheelchair or crutches. It took three people and a luggage cart to get me to our very large and spread out room. We asked for a small bed to put next to the bathroom. The dining set had two plastic wicker style chairs that I could use to get a much needed shower. I was exhausted in more ways than one.
26 Oct Wed -- Roger went down for breakfast and ordered one from room service for me. He also arranged for someone to help find crutches which didn't take long. They gave me a bit of mobility but took a few attempts to get used to a rhythm. On the way up from lunch, the manager stopped us and called Barack our contact in Nairobi who had been waiting for an update. We hoped to leave on Friday after seeing the doctor to get back to our schedule. That meant that we would just miss Selous Game Reserve. The manager could hear my conversation and had a lightbulb look on his face when I was describing how difficult it had been to get to the room. Maybe he will come up with a plan for future guests. Lunch in the hotel restaurant was good but the spaghetti we shared for dinner was disappointing. It was supposed to have mushrooms but was loaded with garlic instead.
27 Oct Thurs. -- We hung out at the hotel. I slept a lot. I had a different soup for lunch and we shared some Manchurian chicken for dinner that was pretty good.
28 Oct Fri -- This was another hectic and stressful day. First waiting for a ride to the hospital, then figuring out their system, seeing the doc, getting a different cast, then the records, then transportation back to the hotel. That was the first three hours. After that it took another hour to figure out the next move. We left the Urban Rose about 1130 and it took over an hour to get to the airport. Getting a wheelchair turned into another issue. It is a good thing we had a letter from the doctor or we wouldn't have been allowed on the plane.
It all worked out in the end and we made it to the Olasiti Camp a little after 1600. We took time to rest then went to the lobby to use the wifi, have some beer, and then dinner.
It was refreshing to be out of the city hustle.
29 Oct Sat -- As we pulled away from Olasiti there was a crowd of thousands outside the gate with stalls selling all kinds of stuff. They were some how attached to the church that was next door. Whatever goes on at the church is sure annoying to the folks at Olasiti. They started singing and chanting at 0615. The resort is losing customers because of the disruptions.
We had a pleasant drive from Arusha to Manyara NP through Maasai land. The road was paved a couple of years ago so no potholes. We spent a couple of hours driving through the park. It is much different than Ruaha. The vegetation is much thicker and the animals scarcer. The most amazing sight were the thousands of white pelicans. We were familiar with most of what we saw. Red back were new as we're blue monkeys, brown egret, sacred ibis, and buzzard. There were saddle-billed storks.
Joseph deposited us at the Lake Manyara Serena lodge in time for a late lunch. They gave us the room closest to the lobby. I was happy to see the paved walks but they were still difficult for me with the cast. At dinner the manager asked if I would like to use a wheelchair. If I had known they had one, I could have explored the grounds more. We were overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Before dinner there was a troupe of locals dancing and doing acrobatics for a pleasant cultural diversion.
30 Oct Sun -- It was a lovely day for a ride in the Ngorongoro Crater. We left the hotel at 0800 and didn't make it to the Serengeti Serena Lodge until after 1700. The drive produced 12 mammals and 18 birds. The new mammals were hart beasts and rats. For birds new species for this trip were ostrich, arrowmac bobbler, spoonbills, and francolin. We did see other birds but our guide wasn’t very good with their ids. The rhino was elusive even after spending over an hour in one spot waiting for one to come out of the bush. The cost to get into the crater -- $300 for vehicle and driver and $150 for each passenger.
Traversing some of these lodges with a broken ankle is not easy. This one didn't have a wheelchair or any ramps. They do try to get us in a room close to the reception and dining and have put grab bars in the showers but it is still difficult to take showers. I use two chairs to make it easier.
A group of Maasais entertained us with some traditional dancers and songs.
31 Oct Mon -- With a long drive in front of us we left early and got to the border with Kenya about noontime. Getting through immigration from the two countries was easy and quick. Getting to the windows for the transactions was a bit tricky but I gimped along and made it.
While waiting for the Kenyan driver we ate our box lunches. There is always too much in the boxes. A young girl and her blind father were sitting in the shade of the vehicles in the waiting area. I gave her about half my lunch that I knew would just be tossed and I hate tossing good food.
The road from Arusha to Namanga was paved and in good condition. Once we crossed into Kenya everything changed. We were now on unpaved dirt roads. It took an hour to get to the Amboseli NP gate. While Yuda, our guide, was getting the required documents we were inundated with Maasais trying to sell us jewelry, carvings, and paintings. They were persistent but so were we with "no". It took another hour to get to Ol Tukai Lodge but we did start seeing animals along the way.
Ol Tukai is a gem. They loaned a wheelchair and have ramps. The bathroom was designed by someone who understands handicap needs.
After settling in we went for an afternoon game drive which was wonderful. There are a lot of elephants and we got to see several herds, one with about fifty including a lot of young ones. It was so dry that for a while the landscape was totally covered in dust. The horizon was spotted with dust devils. By time we returned to the lodge we were covered in dust, uncomfortable but worth it. Mt Kilimanjaro showed up and we got some good photos with animals in the foreground and the mountain behind.
1 Nov Tues -- An early game drive gave us an opportunity to see spotted hyenas frolicking with each other and playing in the water. A behavior that I never thought about.
A lot of folks told us that the rainy season starts in November and sure enough it rained. While watching the wildlife at lunch we heard thunder and I could smell rain. Just after Roger got me to our room, the rain came.
It was a welcome relief and calmed the dust. The evening drive was joyful as the animals frolicked with each other and bounced around as though jumping for joy. It was the first time we had seen that behavior. Without the dust the drive was very pleasant. We saw the mountain again. The rain didn't just calm the dust it also cooled the air so we took advantage of the fire to enjoy our nightly beers before dinner. You could here the elephants roar in the savanna as they passed by.
2Nov Wed -- There was a tiny snake at our door when we opened it. Not sure what kind but an employee wacked it with a branch to kill it. It took all day to get from Amboseli to The Ark in Aberdare NP. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't arrive on time for the game drive but on the way to the Ark we saw a leopard and it was still just light enough to get a good photo.
Driving through Nairobi was a mess even using the bypass. There were several smaller cities and towns along the way and a few small villages. It is interesting how different this part of the country is. I almost felt like I could have been in so many places in South and Central America. It is very tropical in nature with the colors to match. Of course we were close to the equator.
The lodge is unusual in structure but has direct views of wildlife. The bathroom was a challenge because the shower is small but they provided a shower seat that worked. The food was excellent. I had a beef stir fry and I think it was the best meal I had had in the entire trip.
Along with the leopard we saw hyenas, forest hogs, and at the lodge genets.
3Nov --- Up and out by 0830. Not really sure it was worth the effort to go to the Ark. the staff were very accommodating but the facility is not set up for wheelchair access. We managed. Then we were dropped off at the Arberdare Country Club to wait four hours for lunch. The grounds were pretty with flowering tropical plants, song birds serenaded, warthogs grazed, and pea fowl screamed. We had a nice conversation with a “retired” British gentleman who lives in Kenya. As soon as lunch was over we turned toward Ol Pajeta Sweetwater Tent Camp. By 1530 we were ready for a game drive.
It was a good drive. We finally saw rhinos. They were behind fences for their protection but we had wondered if we would see any. They were the last of the big five. We also saw lions mating.
Our tent was spacious and had a handicap bathroom that only needed a chair in the shower. For heat we had hot water bottles.
4 Nov Fri --- Knowing this was going to be a long day, we opted to start our game drive at 0800. It was a great last drive. There were plenty of rhinos roaming freely. We watched a Mama and baby interact with bull buffalo. That was entertaining. The last creature we saw on the way out was giraffes, the very ones that drew me to return to Africa.
To split my cast, Yuda took me to Mater Hospital in Nairobi. In the treatment bay next to me was a little boy of five or six. We waved and made faces. After the curtain was closed he started screaming and and crying and I could see that his mother was holding him down. It was only afterward that I could that he had a head injury and they stitched it without any anesthetic. He came to say goodbye and I told him what a grave boy he was. His mother agreed.
Afterward, Yuda managed to get us to the airport by-passing the first security screening. We got a wheelchair which I must say makes traveling in airports easier. You get a lot of personal attention even if you don’t want it.
5 Nov Sat - It took until 2100 to get home after stopping in Frankfurt, Germany, arriving in Tampa, retrieving our car, and driving three hours home.
Epilog - On Thursday 9 November, I had surgery to repair the broken bone. It is healing well.
ROAD TRIP 2015 - Mission - Completing visits to the continental US States
5 July Tues
After having a cookout with Sherry and her family yesterday we left for the road trip this morning and made it as far as Hudson, MI to the Sunset Acres Motel. A gem. Probably built in the fifties or early sixties but with micro, fridge, and wifi. Everything we need without all the stuff we don’t use. All for $50. Ate dinner at Rumors where we had a salad and shared a Reuben ($30) then walked around town for a bit.
The ride was long (9hrs) but no stress because we opted for the non-interstate roads where we saw a lot of farms and small town. Wheat is being harvested and the corn is about as tall as me but I didn’t see any tassels yet. There was also a lot of soy. I am curious how the grain silos work. Maybe one of our farmer friends will be able to explain it to me when we get to them. We had a bit of rain for the first four or so hours but the afternoon was quite pleasant. Later heard that there was a tornado between Jane Lew and Clarksburg. Glad we made it through before the weather got really bad.
It is so good to be back to flat land. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep. We have separate beds. Passed a big lake and realized how much we miss large bodies of water instead of just the Buckhannon River.
6 Jully Wed -
Drove straight up US 127 until it joined I75. The transition was smooth and the traffic light. Landscape transitioned from farms to woodlands for a while then back to farms. Second day we have seen huge wind farms.
Checked into the Sunrise Beach Motel about 1400 then went into Mackinaw City and had a late lunch at Nonna’s Cafe ($40) including a local Wild Beaver Tamer Ale. Afterward we got a good walk in looking for the right ferry terminal to get tickets for tomorrow and then looking for a grocery store. It has been a while since I did much walking and my feet are sore but I am glad we did it. While driving around town we found the Mackinac Lighthouse and walked some more.
It is lovely sitting here on the balcony watching the ferries go to Mackinac Island. A large flock of Canada goose just went by and there are ringed-billed gulls and Forsters terns. We saw a little blue heron and a great blue on the way today.
7 July Thurs -
Woke to a very foggy Lake Huron. Could barely see the water outside the room. I did capture a heron flying by but couldn’t see the bridge. We planned on taking the 0900 ferry to get the might Mac tour but got there early and ended up on the 830. I don’t think we would have been able to see the bridge anyway. It was still foggy when we arrived at Mackinac Island but things worked out well. We got on an early carriage and were able to get through with the tours and lunch (Tea Room in State Park $25 for soup and sandwich that we shared) by 1300 so we found Mary’s Bistro and had a couple of drinks ($20). On the ride back we were able to sit outside.
Mackinaw Island is very unique. They have opted to keep most motor vehicles off the island so transportation is walking, biking, horse riding, or carriage rides. This leads to a very smelly place. Horse drawn carts are used to move cargo from the ferries and around town.
When we left the ferry I drove out to McGulpen Point Light. Roger climbed to the top. That was the fourth lighthouse in two days.
This was a good recommendation from Nita and Mac. I have really enjoyed being on the water. It has revived me.
8 Jul Fri -
Wet and dreary most of the day but that didn’t stop us from going through the Soo Locks, both American and Canadian. We did manage to get a good walk in after dinner before the rain came again. Happy that I didn’t have to be driving in that soup all day.
9 Jul Sat
The weather was much improved but we still bundled for the train and boat ride to Tahquamenon Falls. It is a pretty tannin river but really can’t compete with our FL rivers for beauty and wildlife.
Why can’t parents control children? When did it become acceptable to let the kids control the adults? Does a license to be to be rude and annoying to others come with big fancy cameras? Some folks I have encountered the last couple of days seem to feel carrying the big SLR means they can get in front of everyone and monopolize the views.
I saw ten bird species, 4 black bears, one turtle, a deer, squirrel, and a chipmunk swimming across the river.
Ravens on tree tops
Gulls and eagles follow train
Feeding stop ahead
I’m walking in woods
Mindful of my surroundings
Talking to myself
10 July Sun -
What we thought would be a leisurely day turned out to be quite the opposite. We had breakfast, went to visitor center and learned that a light station was open today. After making a stop at Sand Point we decided to drive straight there and check out the other places on the way back. Once you get to Au Sable Trailhead which is a portion of the North Country Trail, you have to walk 1.6 miles to the station. We took the tour and Roger climbed to the top. I chatted with the guide, a woman about my age. Then it was another 1.6 miles back. The trail is actually a road so it is nicely graded and except for it being so long was a pleasant walk. I am just not used the exertion and this is the longest walk I have done since the surgery. I am tired but grateful that I am able to accomplish. Driving back to Munising we stopped at the Bear Trap for lunch which turned into dinner since it was five when we left.
We had scheduled ourselves for the Pictured Rocks Sunset Cruise and had enough time to take a quick nap before. The lake was calm and although the sun was hidden we still got some great photos. The return trip got a bit cold but it was all good. Afterward we walked up the hill for an ice cream before going back to the motel. It was after ten when we pulled into the parking lot.
It was a long day and I am tired in a good way.
11 July Mon -
This was the leisurely day we expected yesterday. At the Falling Rock Cafe we had breakfast and purchased a boxed lunch for a trip to Seney NWR. There is a 1.5 mile nature walk from the visitor center that is well maintained, has some boardwalks, benches, and overlooks. Trumpeter swans were nesting on the small islands in the pools and we saw loons, mallards, geese, and other duck type birds with babies. Song birds were in abundance but weren’t making themselves visible. We saw kingfishers, a cormorant, ospreys, a great blue heron, and an American bittern. There was a snake along the nature drive. The only mammal I saw was a chipmunk. Mosquitos and flies were in abundance.
Our picnic lunch at the Wigwam worked out well. A ring-billed gull stared at us hoping we would leave scraps but we didn’t so it moseyed over to the other occupied table.
On the way back we stopped in the Hiawatha National Forest to see the Bay Furnace. An old structure that was used for making steel. The rest of the day we relaxed in our room and ate up the left overs from several meals. It was relatively cheap day since there were no entrance fees or tour tickets.
12 July Tues -
Instead of going to Grand Isle, we drove to Marquette which was probably a good choice since the wind picked up and it was probably very rough on the water. Our hike in Presque Isle park started well but about 2/3 of the way through, a swarm of flies attached themselves to me and wouldn’t leave me alone. I spent probably a half mile swatting myself with my visor. Not sure if I am just especially sweet or they liked the DEET I had sprayed on, but they sure liked me. Afterward we went to the maritime museum and light house. As we were leaving, Gordon Lightfoot came on with “Edmund Fitzgerald”. Timely. After seeing and hearing about all these wrecks it makes me wonder how much money these shippers were making that they could afford to lose so many ships.
We had breakfast and Donckers, lunch at Portside, and a late dinner at Foggys.
Again a good day.
13 July Wed -
Our last day in MI was hot, 90, sunny, windy. Drove down to Escanaba first to the Sand Point Light Station. Their historical museum is the best we have seen on this trip. It was funded primarily by a retired doctor who grew up in the area before moving around to practice medicine. The most interesting thing that I don’t recall ever having seen before is how there was a candelabra type fixture over the dining table for a lantern. We turned west from there to Norway but the place I thought we would visit, isn’t open yet so we stopped at a few other interesting points before checking into the Viking Hotel where we were glad to get wifi at last. However, it works about like the one in Selbyville.
After a nap and cool down we went in search of a place to eat. Had to wait for the Talon Supper club to open. I had a salad with chicken and Roger a half rack of ribs, add a couple of beers apiece and you have $50.
16 July Sat -
Catching up for a couple of days spent with Ed and Joyce DeHaan in the Twin Cities. We arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday and they kept us busy. After dinner at their house we went for a walk around a lake and saw a green heron and an otter. It was the first time they had seen the otter. Friday Ed drove us to Lake Harriet where we had a nice stroll then walked around the rose and perennial garden. Some milkweed that grows in Fl was there with a monarch flying around it. There was also a northern leopard frog in that particular bed.
For lunch they took us to the Malt Shop which is one of their old favorites. I think that is the first malt I have ever had. Not sure the difference with a milk shake but it was good. We drove around until we found another walking trail then some resale shops before it was time for the dinner cruise on Lake Minnetonka. The evening was perfect for a boat ride and the sunset was one of the best we have had on this trip. A group celebrating a cousin’s anniversary sort of monopolized the boat and got louder as the consumption of alcohol increased. It was still a great couple of days and Ed driving gave me a day off.
Today we are in Fergus Falls, MN staying at the Jewell Motel. Another funky place for $58. Lunch was at Don Pablos and then we drove around town for a while but didn’t see as much nature as the brochures seemed to indicate. Maybe we just didn’t have enough info. The welcome center was closed. There was a rookery in Grotto Lake with egrets and cormorants. There was quite a racket and we had to be careful of the goose poop. Egrets are shedding and we picked up a few of the delicate tail feathers.
17 July Sun -
Crossed the border into ND from MN before 0900 heading for Tewaukon NWR. White pelicans are in abundance as are cormorants and Canada goose. In all I identified 18 species of birds and there were plenty I didn’t see well enough to peg. A thirteen lined ground squirrel surprised me by posing for a photo. We scared a raccoon and it scuttled up the road. As it turned around to see what we were doing, I got a good photo.
I used the walks in the woods for time to meditate and just think how grateful I am to be able to do all we are doing, both financially and physically. Silver Lake SP is in the Refuge. We took advantage of the quiet there to eat our Subway sandwiches that we bought in Fergus Falls. Our visit to North Dakota was only about 5 hours but it counts as having been there. We rode past miles of corn, wheat, soy, and even a few sunflower fields.
After lunch we drove to Waubay NWR, SD. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t pick up a map but the visitor center was closed and everything was locked up. What we thought was a half mile loop turned into three times that. It was all wonderful but I was tired from driving all day and my feet hurt. The GPS located a couple of motels in Webster which was only 20 minutes away. The Galley Motel isn’t very attractive outside but has everything we need. I even got a load of laundry done. The wifi is the best we have had. Boomer’s Cafe was in walking distance.
Once we crossed into SD, we noticed more cattle ranches than planted crops. White pelicans and egrets are in abundance in the many lakes.
18 July Mon -
A rather good rest considering we were sharing a very bouncy bed. Checked out, stopped for a Subway sandwich for lunch then drove to Lake Andes NWR. There were several places that the traffic was stopped for construction but nothing bad. A lot of repaving is going on. We saw three different methods, 6 inch concrete, asphalt, and bituminous with a layer of crushed rock.
It was an interesting ride through the miles of corn, wheat, and soy. Haying is happening as is baling of wheat straw. Farmers use the grass on the road side for hay. We guess that is cost saving because the roads don’t need to be mowed and the resource is used. Mama and calves are wandering the pastures. It was hot today and many times we saw herds of cattle in ponds cooling off. We had our first siting of prairie dogs and ring-necked pheasants along the route.
Our plan was to have our picnic then walk the trail in the Refuge. I needed to use the toilet and left the key in the ACC setting on the ignition. When we came out from the Visitor’s Center, the car wouldn’t start. After spending several minutes trying to figure out the codes on the dash we decided the battery was dead. We ate our sandwiches, and tried the car again. Still no luck. Roger went back inside and asked for help. One of the refuge employees showed up with jumper cables and got us going again. We took a short loop trail while the battery charged. On the way out of the park we stopped by a dam that had quite a few birds including the western and eared grebes.
We got to the EconoLodge in Yankton before 1700. Trying to check in was a hassle. I must have clicked on the wrong thing when I made the first reservation and there didn’t seem to be a way to combine the two nights. Now I have to check out to check back in tomorrow. Maybe I will have the same room and maybe not. Another reason to stick with the mom and pop motels. They don’t have the bureaucracy as the chains. We had dinner at Yesterday Cafe, a fifties style diner. It was okay and the price was good. On the way to the grocery store we stopped at KMart which is closing to see what bargains we could get, then a car wash, and scouting for a sandwich at the grocery. Also stocked up on alcoholic beverages for here and to take to Fort Dodge.
19 July Tues -
The countdown is now three. Nebraska is checked off the list. We spent the day on both sides of the Missouri River out to Niobrara State Park, stopping at the Gavin Dam on Lewis and Clark Lake on the way back to Yankton. Sat above the confluence of the MIssouri and Niobrara rivers for our picnic lunch. The caving cliffs along the bank were the high light of the day. We didn’t see much wildlife but an RV pulled out in front of us with the back covered in may flies some of which flew off with the movement of the vehicle. Just as we got to the dam an alarm went off warning boats of a coming change in the water. Then one of the gates open and water flowed through. We had dinner at the Fryin’ Pan after walking through the mall right in front of the hotel. It reminded us of the Crystal River Mall, almost deserted.
20 July Wed -
Today we came into Iowa at 1010 and arrived at the Thalacker’s in Ft Dodge at 1330. It was hot but we managed to get a short walk in. Spent the rest of the day and evening chatting, drinking wine, and watching the river flow by. There is a lovely view of the river and lots of birds at the feeders.
A storm a few days ago made a mess of some of their trees and there is a lot of debris to clean up. Once we got to Iowa the wheat fields vanished and we were left with corn and soy interspersed with wind farms. Several roads were closed as a result of the storms.
For dinner we had some good Iowa corn and steak.
21 July Thurs-
Hot. Walked the JFK park through the prairie then went to Clarion and the Heartland Museum to see Big Bud, the biggest tractor ever. Roger and I shared a macho nacho at Fuel and had ice cream at an old style drive-in diner. Did a load of laundry after a nap when we got back.
22 July Fri -
Up and out by 0800 for another hot day. Saw a sign for a NWR near McGregor, IA but couldn’t find it. Had lunch at Beer and Brats Garden on the Mississippi first. It worked out best to not find the refuge but it was annoying at the time. The NWR signage needs improvements. We stopped in Spring Green, WI to tour Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wight’s house just in time for the last tour and there were only two slots left. It was hot as we walked around and through.
I checked into Thunder Valley Inn a little past 1800. It is spacious and has everything we need but it is as Jean warned, a little tacky. As we got to Wisconsin Dells, the traffic picked up. It reminds me of Branson, built for tourists. Shelley emailed to say that she is too busy for us to visit so now we have to find something interesting in IL or IN. The internet here is not being cooperative in that regard.
We had dinner at Riverwalk Pub. The chicken and bread were good but the so called Greek salad was disgusting and the green beans needed the chicken skin for flavor.
23 Jully Sat -
The day started with a filling and tasty breakfast at Thunder Valley Inn with Jean Skaife. From there we hooked up with Marian Van Dam a young lady from Holland and Jean drove us to Witches Gulch where we had a very pleasant stroll. This is a place that is usually accessed from a tour boat. Jean has special permission to enter from the street. We went back to the Inn and changed cars for me to drive to the International Crane Foundation. Jean had arranged a golf cart which worked well since it started raining shortly after we started. I got a few good photos. She recommended Culver’s for lunch. It is a regional fast food place and was quite good. Much better that any thing we have. After retrieving her vehicle at the Inn I drove to her cottage. It is a bit remote which makes it quite lovely. The view out the back is to a pond and she has several feeders for birds. I recorded 11 birds in the hour or so we were there.
The rain continued throughout the day and finally subsided while we were at dinner at Ravina Bay. It wasn’t our first choice but the first one that didn’t have a waiting line. I had a salad because I really wasn’t hungry. The server was Ikatrina from Russia.
Tomorrow we leave this metro area and move east. I’ll be glad to be out of the traffic.
24 July Sun -
We had a leisurely breakfast before checking out of Thunder Valley. Sorry to miss Jean. Our first stop was at the Horicon NWR and the Horicon Marsh State area where we had a picnic lunch. We did a couple of short walks in the heat and that was enough. Crossed the Illinois line at 1520 then kept driving until 1700. That got us to Oglesby, OH and a Best Western. The car thermometer showed 94 for quite a while. Had dinner at Delaney’s then spent time looking for something to do inside on our way east tomorrow. Choices are slim.
26 July Tues -
Yesterday we drove across Indiana which got us to our goal of all the 49 continental states. The only thing we did in IN was stop at the Grissom Air Museum in Peru. It reminded me of my days on Patrick. Indiana was just like the other states we have visited on this trip. Miles and miles of corn and soy with a scattering of wind farms. It was great to be on straight level roads but I did get bored with the landscape. It is also a shame that most of the natural areas of the region have been turned into big corporate farms. It would have been nice to see some family farms but all we saw were mega farms. What will they do with all the corn and soy? Where are the tomatoes, green beans, squash, potatoes, etc.
As we pulled into Celina we noticed the Celina Motel and I made a loop back and checked in. A quick rest and then we set out in search of a restaurant. Found one on the Grand Lake St Marys but it was closed. Reversed our course and came across Pullman Bay Family Restaurant. The food was good and inexpensive so we went back this morning for breakfast.
Today we drove east and south working our way to Cambridge, OH after a stop in Newark for the earthworks. As we approached the Guernsey County Museum we noticed it had closed a few minutes before. The docent invited us in and gave us a tour. She was happy to stay late because it was hot and she doesn’t have AC at home. So, we lucked out again. She recommended Theos for dinner. It was good and the peach pie was the best I have ever had.
30 July Sat -
Wednesday was the last day on the road. The Salt Fork SP in Cambridge, Oh was a disappointment. By the time we figured out what there was to do, we had to head east because Roger had told Eddie II that we would be there for lunch. It was too hot to do much hiking any way. Eddie greeted us at the Hillbilly Snack Shack and bought us lunch. My Special Steak Sandwich was excellent but too big and I brought half home. Triadelphia is only supposed to be about three hours from Selbyville but between Morgantown and Fairmont traffic stopped. The first car coming up behind me almost crashed into me. His tires smoked as he stopped just a foot or two from my bumper. It took us fifty minutes to drive five miles. This is a good example of why I don’t like Interstate road driving. A stop in Buckhannon for gas and groceries got us home about 1700 just in time for dinner.
Thoughts for this trip:
Now, I have seen bits of all the states except Hawaii. This midwest road trip encompassed a lot starting with the time in the UP and ending back in WV. The weather has shifted from the 50s and raining to 90s and humid. We visited with friends from Cedar Key in three states and they gave us looks into their home towns that we would not have gotten on our own.
Our lodging for all except two places was with friends or in mom & pop motels. Some of which were rather tacky but all had what we needed, clean beds, showers, and safety. Wifi was available in all but one. Refrigerators were in all of them and microwaves were either in the rooms or accessible. It felt good to help out the local small business. Having the car right outside the room door is a real treat and so much easier to load and unload our stuff.
I did all the driving with Roger navigating. Sometimes that got stressful, especially since the GPS has difficulty staying off the interstates which we were trying to avoid. Detours were not uncommon and signage is often confusing. We went through hundreds of small towns, stopping at interesting places when we found them and helping out the local restaurants when we could.
I drove 4200 miles in 22 days through 12 states, slept in 14 beds, went to 20 or so parks and refuges, visited with 5 friends from Cedar Key, and one of Roger’s cousins.
On Friday 13 Nov the DeHaans, and Offerles met at our house for the trip to the La Quinta in Tampa where we checked in about 5. After a rest and settling in we drove over to the International Mall and had dinner at The Pub Tampa. Roger and I shared a Reuben then our little group went separate ways walking the mall.
It was a good start to our next adventure. The other six in our party had already checkin when we arrived.
This was the day of mass shootings in Paris.
Sat 14 Nov - Slept well then light breakfast at hotel, shuttle to airport. The checkin process to go to Cuba is a pain and requires a long lead time then a three hour wait. Not sure why but I guess it makes sense to someone.
Our flight was delayed because the incoming was late. Getting everyone through immigration and baggage pickup took an hour. Our guide, Milena, was waiting for us and brought us to the bus where we met Otneil, our driver. The delay of the plane meant we didn't get the promised bus tour of Havana. There was a couple of hours between check in and dinner so everyone went their own way. Roger and I napped then went down for a couple of cervezas. The Hotel Bella Habana gives a false impression from the out side. The exterior is elegant and the lobby well appointed. Once we got to our room we noticed how ratty it was. It had everything we needed but the standard was a lot less than we had hoped for. We sort of chuckled as we noticed the beds were spring mattresses that poked through, the pillows were laughable, the walls had not been painted in what we guessed were twenty years, the AC was questionable. But, it had everything that we needed for a shower and sleeping. It made us realize how spoiled we are. We found out later that Frank was attacked by bed bugs which kept erupting throughout the week.
I bought a road atlas and managed to communicate to an employee that I wanted him to show me where we are. He did so but had to borrow my glasses to see the print.
Sun 15 Nov - Surprisingly, I slept rather well between wake up breaks. Not sure if they were caused by the AC cycling on or my shoulder hurting. Looking out our window I could see palm lined streets, cars old and new, a street sweeper, and a crossing guard. Marathon day in Habana.
The group was up and out by 7:40 for the three and a half hour drive to Parque Natural Cienaga de Zapata where we picked up a local naturalist guide. We did stop for a potty break at Hato de Jicarita. A huge Witch moth was on the wall. This was the first of what were many restrooms with no seat and no paper. It really makes things difficult. We saw ragged buildings, lush countryside, and hitchhikers flashing money to indicate they are willing to pay for a ride.
A few facts that popped up on the way: killings cows is not allowed because they are needed for their milk; Cuba has the highest density of caves in the world; the butterfly bat is the smallest in the world; there are no venomous critters in Cuba; and all four types of mangroves grow in Cuba.
A stop in the park looking for the Cuban trogon turned into an unintentional blood letting when we were attacked by mosquitos that didn't realize that DEET is supposed to repel them. Never did see the trogon but did end the day with sitings of 16 different birds. The most common were the flamingos and various types of herons and egrets. Crabs are also a frequent site. We saw white and Cuban land crabs.
A loose horse galloping in front of the bus was quite amusing. Once it found its home place it turned off out of the road.
Cuervo Los Peces Restaurant sits right on the Caribbean and is a favorite spot for divers and snorkelers. We were served a very good four course lunch before continuing on to Playa Giron Museo which is dedicated to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Next was the checkin to the Playa Giron Hotel. The reception area was open air, right on the beach, a pool, two bars, and a restaurant. The rooms are another story. They are casitas far away from the public areas. I like the seclusion, but the facilities themselves are in great need of attention. The AC has to work doubly hard because the windows are louvers that don't close which also allows the Mosquitos to come in. There was a seat on the toilet and we had separate beds. After settling in and taking a nap we joined Mandy and Frank for Happy Hour. This was all inclusive and the drinks were not extra. Bonus. Dinner was a buffet that was tasty but not very warm. It did satisfy the requirement and the wine flowed freely. We all stayed and enjoyed the conversation for a couple of hours then hopped a ride back to the casita with Otneil.
I look at this place and can image that in twenty years all the casitas will be gone and large high rises will replace them.
Mon 16 Nov - after breakfast we walked to the breakwater behind the resort then loaded on the bus at 9:00 for a quick trip to a caseca to exchange money. That took almost an hour. We got to Cienfuegos about 11:30 and walked around the main square for an hour and a half. A quarter of that was spent getting everyone through the banos. There were a lot of beggars in the square. A quick downpour hit just as the kids were breaking for lunch from school.
Lunch was at Palacio Valle which is an old palace that was too extravagant to even try to describe. All the different textures thrown together overpowered my senses. The lunch was good, three courses, and a beverage and the view of the sea was lovely.
On to Trinidad through the countryside, catching a doze here and there. A roadside fruit stand was an opportunity to taste some unusual things including honeycomb and "sugar apple." There, like so many places, we were greeted by dogs looking for handouts. These actually looked healthy except one only had three feet. Most dogs and cats we see are in sad shape with all kinds of skin conditions. It is really sad but a cultural difference to the U.S. where pets are royalty.
Some of the group wanted to stop in Trinidad for a quick look so we spent thirty minutes walking in a section of mostly residential with a few shops. Upon arriving at the Hotel Costasur we were greeted by a young couple salsa dancing and a cold glass of juice.
Our room looked out onto the Caribbean but opening the sliders was difficult and it only took a few minutes for the room to be swarming with mosquitos forcing us to close them again. This is another place that puts all its efforts into the public areas and doesn't pay much attention to the private areas. While the rooms are generally clean, the amenities are almost below basic. I was happy to see a seat on the toilet, toilet paper, and a shower, there was no table or chair in the room. Two single beds, a night stand, and a wardrobe were the extent of the furnishings. This resort was all inclusive and the dinner was good and plentiful with free flowing wine.
Tues 17 Nov - Leisurely start to the day with breakfast at resort. I found the restaurant to be sensory overload from the number of conversations going on at one time and left as soon as I ate. We loaded the bus at 9 for a short trip to the Valle de Los Ingenios lookout which is is at the foot of the Escambray Mountains and used to be home to about of dozen sugar plantations and is still a fertile valley but with various crops. Just below the overlook is a little farmhouse where an elderly lady waved and welcomed my photo op. Turkeys and chickens pranced around. The rest of the day was spent in Trinidad with the first stop at a pottery factory. This provided us an opportunity to help the local economy. The group opted to stay in town for lunch after the walking tour and to shop or relax in outdoor restaurants which is what we did.
Trinidad has cobble streets and quite a bit of commerce. Transportation includes horse carts and wagons, old US cars, motor bikes, bicycles, old Russian vehicles, and a few modern European, Korean, and Chinese cars. The streets are crowded with pedestrians and just about every open door has someone trying to sell something and begging is rather annoying. While you see folks working and hustling to make a living, there are also quite a few just standing or sitting around.
For lunch we chose Los Conspiradores where we sat under a large pink bougainvillea, a band played. I had a vegetable soup and a Bucanero, Roger and Mandy had sandwiches, and Frank a chicken plate. There were also some coffee and other beers. As we were leaving four of the others from our group came and we gave them our table and headed to where they had been having coffee, Cafe Don Pepe. We enjoyed quiet time on benches in a shady park before spending our last hour in the Don Pepe where Roger and I had piña coladas and the Offerles had coffee.
The ride back to Costasur was uneventful and we had a few hours to collect our thoughts, explore the premises, and relax before dinner. Afterward most of us went to the show which was a little weird but I think was a depiction of the Europen i.e. Spanish conquest of Cuba and the annihilation of the indigenous people in the name of religion. Later there was a local band which was quite pleasant and we got the treat of seeing Milena dancing. She was wonderful. All of this was part of the "all inclusive" resort fee.
When we returned to our room in the afternoon, the attendant had left us a nice note wishing us safe travels and an exhibit with the towels. The public areas of this resort are wonderful but more attention needs to be given the private areas. That has been the theme of the hotels.
We'd 18 Nov - it was a bright sunny morning as we pulled out of the Costasur Resort for a short jaunt to meet our transportation to Parque Codina. A Russian army truck with a Chinese engine and a Cuban driver got us Americans to Topos de Collantes where we picked up our naturalist guide. Janet says he is the only male in the country with that name and he has a sense of humor about it. His mother expected a girl. He started us with a welcome drink called a jinata. He was knowledgeable about the plants and birds and I added 11 birds to my list as we walked the trails and rested on the porch of the hacienda. Lunch was a traditional meal of rice and beans, Casaba, pork roasted on a spit, and Cuban bread.
The ride back down started out pleasantly enough but then it started raining. A little at first progressing to a heavy downpour. The guides scrambled to put down the panels but we still got wet because the metal roof leaked like a sieve. It was a little uncomfortable but we laughed as we commented on the all inclusiveness of the experience. We were relieved to get back on the dry bus for the long ride back to Habana. And, long it was.
Since Frank had trouble with bed bugs at Bella Habana, Milena had her agency move us. We arrived at the Atlantica at 8:30, rushed to get supper before the restaurant closed at 9. It took until about 10 to get into our rooms. I was tired from a day packed with new experiences and long drives. The room was the biggest we had had. It was houses with three and four individual bed rooms and a common area.
Thurs 19 Nov - Finally a breakfast that was served to us instead of a buffet, fruit, egg, and toast. What more do I need? On the way to the botanic gardens we detoured into A La Mar for money exchange. It is a neighborhood of Soviet era buildings in need of repair. The National Botanic Gardens are near Las Guasmas and there is a quite extensive pavilion with plants from all over the world. Our guides name was Rose which I thought was very appropriate for a garden employee. We had lunch in one of several restaurants on site then drove the grounds to see the trees that are also from all the world. Our city tour was cut short due to time constraints and folks wanting to alter the established plan. Otneil did drive us around to show the Malecon and the U.S. Embassy, the some of us went to the rum museum while others shopped at a huge market. We got back to our rooms at about 4:45 which provided enough time for a quick nap and relaxing before the 5:45 pickup in the vintage car taxis that took us back into town for a quick visit to the "Cristo".
We had the best dinner of the trip at La California, a privately owned establishment in a not so attractive part of town. Across the street was a sign renting rooms by the hour or day. The lobster was good. I wasn't so impressed with the cannon firing ceremony later but it was a bit of culture.
Fri 20 Nov - Our last day in country was long and eventful. Three of the group opted to go back into Havana for a city tour. The rest stuck to the scheduled activities and went to Las Terrazas which is an eco community and world Heritage site. Its claim to fame is the building of terraces to allow for reforestation of an area that had been totally clear cut due to subsistence, making of charcoal, and war. While getting the initial briefing by the local guide, another group came into view and we saw the Brucklers, a couple from Cedar Key. The village is called Rancho Curujey and is in the Sierra del Rosario Mountains.
On to Soroa and lunch at Villa Soroa before a stroll through the Soroa Orchid Garden with a guide who was very enthusiastic and a great birder. She called a Cuban trogon close enough to get good photos and brought my bird count total to 37. It was a long ride back to our resort where we had time to walk to the beach, have a couple of cool ones, and dinner.
Roger and I headed back to get ready for an evening out. The top step to the casita’s entry is a bit higher than standard and I tripped, landed on my face, my glasses tried to lobotomize me and I ended with doozy of a black eye. Ed checked it out and we decided I was going to live for a while, I got some ice to stem the swelling and we all headed into Havana and to see the Buena Vista Social Club. Milena and Otneil were concerned and offered to take me to the hospital to use up some on the mandatory Cuban medical insurance but I opted to see the show. Walking around Havana at night was much more pleasant than in the heat of the day when there are too many people for my liking.
Sat 21 Nov - Up early for the ride to the airport where we bade farewell to Otneil. Milena stayed with us until we got to customs. The line at the airport was horrible and it took an hour and a half to get our boarding passes. Going through immigration was quick. The plane was delayed an hour while baggage was loaded and a search for a missing boarding pass stub was conducted.
On he way from Tampa we stopped at the Monkey Island Restaurant (Yardarm) in Homosassa for our only meal of the day and finally got home about 6 p.m.
Thoughts and observations
When we went to Cuba three years ago the plane was only half full but the cargo hold was packed. This time the plane and cargo were full and they limit the amount you can take without paying. Last time most of the people on the plane were Cubans returning for family visits. This time along with the 12 in my group, there were several other larger groups of US citizens including an art tour and a “The Nation” contingent.
Cuba is much like other countries we have visited in their infrastructure. Clean water and sewage disposal are the most noticed deficiencies. The tap water is not potable and you must use bottled water which means you also have to be careful of what you eat to be sure it hasn’t been washed in unsafe water. Sewer systems are not designed for disposal of paper so a basket is placed by the toilet for the paper which can lead to some very stinky restrooms. Most public toilets do not have seats which leaves you with the choice of squatting over the hole or sitting on the porcelain.
We saw a 1950-ish Chevy speeding down the highway with a US flag fluttering and we asked about that. Milena commented that that is permitted now because we are “friends”.
Transportation for the masses is a problem. The public busses are loaded and ancient. Horse buggies and carts are common. Although Cuba is known for its old American cars there are also old Soviet cars, trucks, and busses. The newer vehicles were mostly Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Geeley, and Audis. I thought about how uncomfortable the rides looked but then also wondered how the roads would support any more cars. If all the folks riding the busses and horse carts were in cars they would have the same gridlock and pollution that we have in our cities. Hitchhiking is common and safe.
I asked Milena how the change in relationship affects her personally and she said she welcomes the internet and she has had to work harder because there are more US tourists coming. She doesn’t mind working and loves her job. She got a kick out of our group and said we gave her inspiration seeing that even we old folks could get around, have a good time, and a sense of humor about our selves.
University is free in Cuba but you have to work for the Government for at least two years afterward to pay it back. Your degree does not get the official stamp until that time is up. You have to work where you are told to whether you like it or not. Part of the university education is spent in the countryside working in fields. As more people become educated, less are willing to be farmers.
Women’s health care is a priority with birth control, abortion, and prenatal care readily available. In fact, if a woman misses a prenatal appointment she is visited at her house for an explanation. Six months of breast feeding is mandatory unless there is a medical reason to prevent it. A year of paid maternity leave is allowed that may be split with the father. It is illegal to kill a cow because the milk is needed for children and mothers. Vaccines are mandatory.
Little things that made me realize how spoiled we are: Toilet seats and clean public restrooms with free toilet paper. Nice hotel rooms. Wi-fi. Clean tap water. Really cold drinks. Grocery and drug stores. Room door locks that work. Door locks that work.
Except for a few folks that were hustling, the people we had contact with were happy to see us and loved the interaction. They are looking forward to more Americanos coming knowing that they mean money and positive changes.
This adventure started on Monday 10 August with an overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, WV and dinner at Tidewater Grill. We managed to get a few hours sleep before the alarm woke us at 4:30 for our 6:30 Delta flight to Atlanta with connection to Seattle Tacoma where we were met by Geri and Greg Evans. We stayed with them for three nights catching up, relaxing, and adjusting to the time change. The plan was to join Mandy and Frank Offerle in Bellingham for the trip north to Alaska and Yukon.
Friday 14 Aug - Made it to Bellingham by 2:45 in time to have lunch with Geri and Greg at Dos Padres. While waiting for our meal heard from Mandy that the ferry Columbia was broken and we wouldn't be leaving. We were provided vouchers for meals and hoped to leave the next evening. Now what? The travel agent had to hustle to figure something out.
Sat 15 Aug - After a very leisurely breakfast onboard, we ventured into town, took a short bus ride to Taylor Park which is a long walk along the sound. After a bus ride back to Fairhaven section, we stopped at Dos Padres for a cool one then went to Haggens grocery for some supplies. A call to the ship informed us that the boat was going. We called the travel agent to let her know the status and she told us our new itinerary. Our time in Gustavus would be compressed but we should still be able to fit everything in except a good night's sleep. Alaska Marine Highway hustled to keep the passengers content under a stressful situation. They provided vouchers for our meals. We got underway at 7:00 pm ADT and were treated to a lovely sunset behind the island mountains. (Great blue heron, cormorant, gull eating star fish.)
Sunday 16 August - Woke up to gorgeous view of mountain islands, had breakfast in cabin, passed a pod of orca near a salmon farm. Watched a movie about the artist community in Ketchikan. Started seeing a lot of birds - gulls, duck, tiny skimmer types.
After several hours of travel, the bellows broke again. The boat kept going but more slowly. Another change of plans and more free meals.
Monday August 17 - Called Nancy at Viking travel agency to arrange flight to Juneau and Gustavus. Ferry limped into dock at 9:00 and we walked and rode shuttle to Newtown section of Ketchikan. There were giant cruise ships and we commented on how glad we were to not have been on one of them with mechanical problems. Ketchikan has an interesting history but now is mostly a big tourist trap for cruise lines. A half day there was enough.
Tuesday 18 August - An early start with a seaplane flight in lousy, rainy, foggy, weather got us to Gustavus just in time for us to board the St. Philip for a tour of Glacier Bay. After an hour or so the weather cleared and we had a wonderful but cold ride to Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier, the white glacier and the black one. There was a big cruise ship there which was annoying but it did give us perspective on size. We stayed long enough to see ice calving then headed back making a stop at Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers. JT McLaughlin was the ranger. He is from Ocala area and works in GBNP during the summers.
19 Aug Wed -- Early breakfast and ranger led walk through the forest where we saw a multitude of mushrooms. It was a bit misty bit not too cool. We then flew from Gustavus to Skagway. It was a wonderful flight on a little Piper from Alaska Seaplanes that flew low enough for us to see the glaciers on mountain tops at eye level. Another reason to feel sorry for the cruisers. There is no way what they see compares to that hour long flight. After checking into Sgt Prestons Inn, we went to the NPS visitor center, watched a short video on the gold rush then went for an interpretive walk with a ranger. I wasn't sure why this was an important stop on the itinerary but now see its importance. Our meal at the Bonanza Bar and Grill was a lunch and dinner combo. Roger and I shared a chicken wrap and bowl of chowder. Fish chowder is popular hear. It is basically a clam chowder base with other fish. I prefer the ones made with fresh fish although smoked fish seems to be the usual way of preparing the chowder.
20 Aug Thurs - walked the Broadway board sidewalk to the Sweet Tooth Cafe for a very large breakfast and ordered sandwiches for our ride to Whitehorse. The train ride was good with great vistas but a bit confusing as to where we were supposed to be and which bus to take. The High Country Inn was where we stayed, the Deck restaurant had a good fresh soup, the wifi was great, and I did laundry.
21 Aug Fri - Another early morning, up at 6 for transport to Dawson. Left without breakfast because restaurant wasn't open. Picked up two other couples who had also been on the Columbia with us. They opted to transfer to another ferry and went all the way to Skagway so they could trace a grandfather's route as a "sourdough". We stopped at Tachtun for fuel and picked up some food to eat in the van. Moving on we stopped at Five Finger Rapids for photos just as the fog lifted. It had been as foggy and dreary as I expected with short bursts of sun that come when we need them. I would have difficulty with the lack of vitamin D.
It was surprisingly sunny and pleasant when we reached Dawson City. After resting and walking about we ate dinner on the deck of Sourdough Joes. The prices here were high but we shared a meal so not too bad. While viewing movies at the visitor center we heard an announcement for a walking tour of town sponsored by Parks Canada and decided that since the weather was perfect it would be best to go instead of waiting for the morning.
22 August Sat - It was a good thing we did the tour because the morning brought cold and rain. It was in the forties. We walked back to Front Street, had breakfast at Riverwest Bistro, watched a few videos at the visitor center then headed back in the cold to our rooms. At 12:30 we went back to meet the guide for the Goldbottom mine tour. The Millar family work the claims but subsidize their income with tourism. They still live in a house originally used as a school in early 1900s. It doubles as a museum with archeological and paleontology finds. Some of the folks on the tour panned for gold and found a few sand sized pieces. All mining stops in winter and folks either travel or find other jobs.
Dawson City is the Canadian version of Skagway but without the cruise ships. I did see some Holland America tour buses but there is no deep water for ships. What sidewalks there are are board, the roads are not paved, and Parks Canada have bought up a lot of buildings that are now used for historical tourism. Similar to Skagway. The population is about 1200 at most. Many leave during winter. Very much the reverse of Cedar Key. There is one school with about the same number of students as CK but the facility looks brand new and the library serves all the public. A small hospital is being enlarged.
We had dinner at the Drunken Goat which was the most expensive Greek Restaurant I have ever eaten in.
23 Aug Sun - Not as cold but still dreary and rainy. Walked back to Front Street and Riverwest Bistro for breakfast where we also bought sandwiches for the long drive ahead. After packing, we stowed our luggage and walked to the Dawson City Museum where there are great exhibits from the area's history. The mannequins' faces and hands were modeled after current residents. They had another video narrated by someone whose family had been there for a few generations.
Before embarking on the long trek to Fairbanks we had a cup of soup at Belinda's Cafe.
The border agent was a bit snippy which surprised me. I expect that from the U.S. Agents but usually the Canadians are very pleasant and accommodating. It was a long route between Dawson City and Fairbanks over On Top of the World Highway. We were hoping to see wildlife but no luck. The population is sparse with pockets at small villages such as Chicken, Tok, and Delta. Ownership of houses around Delta Junction is distinguished by the clutter in the yards. Clutter indicates Alaskan, neat with flower boxes indicate Ukrainian heritage. We got a brief glimpse of the sunset over the mountains. Stayed at River's Edge Cottage. Nice place. I liked the individual feeling.
24 Aug Mon - After getting in late the night before, we slept in, then walked the mile or so to Fred Meyer looking for a sweatshirt for Roger and a few other items. We had a quick lunch at Alaska Grill. Didn't care for the soup. The afternoon was taken up with a ride on river boat Discovery III to Susan Butcher's kennels that are now run by her husband. The Chena Village is an Athabaskan settlement but I felt it was not very authentic because of all the hanging flower baskets and landscaping. Otherwise it was a good exhibit on life in the cold.
Before dinner we had happy hour on the patio by the river. It was nice to be able to sit outside for a bit. For dinner we went back to the Alaskan Grill and had a weird pizza that I didn't think too much of. Mandy's crab cakes were excellent though. Another trip to Fred Meyer meant we got in a good four miles of walking for the day.
25 Aug Tues - 7:00 bus ride to train station. The train was a pleasant enough ride. Why do people insist on using their phones and annoying everyone else in situations like that? A similar thing happened the day before on the river boat. Still no wildlife except Sandhills cranes and swans but we are seeing a lot of fall color. There was a bit of confusion at the station when the driver showed up in a six passenger van for twenty one people. Luckily a driver from another facility had no passengers and gave us a ride in a nicer vehicle only to get to Denali Village Lodge to find the computers down and the rooms not ready. We had lunch in the Goldrush dining room which wasn't very good and after finally getting our rooms crashed for awhile before again going to the restaurant for supper. I don't like being in places where I feel captive by distance to other dining establishments. The chicken sandwich wasn't very good but I did like the fries.
Aug 26 Wed - The schedule called for an early (6 am) start for a twelve hour tour with Kantishna Roadhouse. It was rainy and cool and stayed that way until noon when we finally saw blue sky and Mt McKinley. The wildlife viewing was disappointing. We did see moose, brown bear, caribou, Dall sheep, Ptarmigan but they were spread out to about one sighting an hour. The soup at the Roadhouse as really good and I got some photos of mushrooms but am not quite sure why we spent two hours there. Shortly after we started back through the park it started raining again and the driver, Kevin Hay, got word from the driver grapevine that there was a slide down the line. It turned out that there were actually two. One was quite extensive and held us up. After sitting for an hour Kevin decided to take us back to Tolkat visitor center for toilet facilities. There was a whole fleet of busses waiting for the go ahead. We finally got through that backup to make it to the next one that was a coal seam burst. It was almost 10:00 when we got back to the lodge and a very late dinner. Roger and I shared a pizza that wasn't too bad. It was a long day and another opportunity to remind me this is an adventure that requires flexibility and patience.
Aug 27 Thurs - finally a sunny day for a long coach ride to Anchorage. The masses of people waiting for transportation at Denali Village Lodge was reminiscent of Disney. I was glad to move on. Part of the ride I had two seats but at Talkeetna we picked up more passengers. The drop off was at the airport and we decided to pick up the car early which worked out well since there was a mix up in the hotel reservation and we ended up down town in the Clarion. That also worked out better. Dinner was at Benihana's and we had interesting conversations with a couple from the Air Force who are moving to Patrick AFB, FL and a father/daughter combo celebrating his birthday.
Aug 28 Fri - glad we have the Dodge Journey. It fits everything and is roomy enough for long trips. It took all day to get to Homer because we stopped in Seward at the NP and had lunch at Gold Rush Bistro. There were winds in the 60 to 70mph range that made it difficult to walk. The scenery is gorgeous and the road is good so the drive was very pleasant. Our view at Land's End Resort was fabulous. We watched the moon rise and the people run into Kachemak Bay water then run back to the fire on the Beach.
Aug 29 Sat - Roger and I had breakfast at Boardwalk Bakery on the way to Ocean and Islands Visitor Center where we walked the estuary trail before talking with Doug Stewart, the naturalist on duty. He gave us a good run down of things to do in Kodiak. We went back to get the Offerles for the ride on the Danny J to Halibut Cove. We thought the lunch was included but after checking realized that only the reservation was. This was another case of only one very expensive restaurant. If we had known, we would have brought sandwiches and had a picnic lunch. It was a good ride and we saw a lot of birds on the way. The bald eagles are destroying the kittiwake population on one of the bird islands. There were also otters, seals, and sea lions. Halibut Cove has a wonderful boardwalk all around the town area and out to the "isthmus". I hadn't seen much until I turned to come back and there were whales in the distance. Too far to get good photos. I did see a kingfisher and some gulls, too.
The next day we were scheduled to cross on the ferry to Kodiak so we chilled in our rooms after buying sandwiches for lunch. Both nights in Homer afforded wonderful moonrises over the mountains. We also saw otters and whales from our rooms. The variety of travel and camping apparatus was interesting. There was even an old Subaru with a tent attached to the top.
Aug 30 Sun - The plan was to have breakfast, check into the ferry terminal then chill in our rooms next door until departure at 10:45. When we got to the terminal, we found out that the ferry would not be leaving until 5:30 at the earliest. It didn't pull away from the dock until 7:45. Since we had all that time we headed into town for the Pratt Museum which was quite interesting and inside. There was a display of things found on the beach after coastal cleanup and turned into art.
While I parked the car, Roger went onto the ferry and got two cabins so both couples would have a place to sleep. That was an expense we wouldn't have had if the ferry had been on time. Plus, we had to pay for the room reserved in Kodiak at the Russian Heritage Inn.
August 31 Mon - The ferry arrived in Kodiak at 4:30 a.m. It took an hour to get off and to the Russian Heritage Inn where we woke up the owner to let us in. He gave us directions to King's Diner where we had breakfast. We took a nap break before heading out to see what was there. While searching for the ferry terminal we went to the visitor center. Voila! That is also the ferry port. We picked up a local map, walked across the street to the Kodiak NWR center to find it closed. Across the side street is the Barranov Museum which has a lot of info on the 1964 tsunami that took out a good portion of town. A shared lunch at Henry's and then a visit to the Coast Guard Base gave us time to get laundry done before crashing.
1Sep Tues - Another trip to King's for breakfast and a stop at Safeway for sandwiches for lunch got us started on our trek down the island to Pasagshak Park. we made a lot of stops along the way for photo ops. The scenery is magnificent, the weather was the best we had had since coming to Alaska, and the company was great. At the Olds River we saw salmon spawning and later at Surfer Beach there was a herd of bison. The salmon were expected, the bison, not so much.
I was excited about the fossils on the beach. You could see where the rocks were sloughing off the side of the cliff and how at one time this 150’ cliff was under water. It is obvious that a glacier had gone through there and at the other end of the moraine is a launch tower for rockets. We ate our picnic lunch then headed out with a detour to Chiniak down a long dusty unpaved road that had several real opportunities for photos. We went as far as the Rosalyn River before turning around. Didn't see the wild fire that had destroyed the library and some homes. It was good for the President to be in the state. He brought the best weather we had seen on the trip. We got back to town, rested then went back to Henry's for dinner, sharing a salad and fettuccine. I want to thank the President for coming to Alaska and bringing good weather. After two weeks of yucky, the sunshine felt good.
2 Sep Wed - Our plan to get going by mid morning was caboshed when Offerles overslept. We had a late breakfast at King's Diner then drove across the bridge to Near Island where we're were summarily kicked out of a Marine Research Center by a student. A little further down the road was the Aquarium which was free and interesting but didn't take long to go through so we headed on down the road and found a Rotary Park with a good trail through the woods. Drove around taking photos then headed north to a point we had not investigated. There were stops along the way for photos and at the end was another park with a path down to a black sand beach with a shallow area full of salmon. By time we got through it was time to get back into town so we could visit the Kodiak National WR. It is a very modern facility with excellent diorama right across from the ferry terminal. We waited for over an hour to be boarded and I had to back the car a long way into position. That was stressful for me. As soon as we got on board we ate the supper purchased earlier at Safeway.
The ferry,Tustumena, left close to on time and stopped in Port Lion. Slept as best we could on not so comfortable beds and we actually got into Homer early. That was a big surprise after the other two experiences on the Alaska Ferry Highway. Being an hour early was helpful in the long drive to Anchorage to catch our flight to Seattle. The view out the plane window was magnificent and provided a lot of great opportunity for photos of glaciers on mountain tops. It was almost 9:00 when we checked into the Rodeway Inn. That gave us enough time to walk next door to the Clarion for a quesadilla and a couple of beers.
The Rodeway was a bit tacky but cheap. Roger woke up with bug bites all over.
Fri Sep 5 - A 7:30 a.m. Shuttle got us to the airport where we said farewell to the Offerles. Delta actually let me change my ticket to match Roger's without cost. That gave us time for breakfast before flying to Atlanta where we had several hours before the last leg to Charleston, WV. It was 11:30 before we got checked in to the Holiday Inn Express where we found our car to be in good condition although a bit dirty. We drove to Selbyville the next day, Saturday.
This turned out to be another great trip. I am grateful to be physically and financially able to enjoy my life and am especially appreciative of friends like Mandy and Frank Offerle who were great company and traveling companions. The climate and terrain is just opposite of what I am used to in Florida. I learned more than I could ever imagine about the goldrush and its effects on Alaska and the Yukon Territory. My only disappointment is that I didn't see as much wildlife as I had hoped.
It is obvious that the glaciers are melting, the sea water is rising, and the overall weather pattern is changing. The temperate rain forest was in drought and on fire, the desert was getting daily rains, native villages are in need of relocation as the water encroaches. For my tastes there were too many people at Denali NP. Since I was one of the masses, I really can’t really complain.
Not sure I would recommend the ferry system at this point. It would be a great way to travel if they didn’t breakdown. I know the problems were “not normal” and worse happens when there are anomalies on big cruise ships. The slow pace affords good views and wonderful photo ops. The staff on the Columbia did an awesome job of keeping the passengers informed and making a bad situation tolerable. All our meals were free and we were allowed to stay on board as long as needed to make other arrangements.
I used Viking Travel in Petersburg, AK and they were great to work with especially in the rearranging of the schedules. This is the second trip in a row that we have had to make changes on the fly and working with an agency in the area has been great.
June 14 Sun - We had a more time than needed to get to our condo in Hollister so we took a couple of detours along the way. The first was a drive through the Oachita National Forest which proved to be dusty but had some good vistas. We did see a deer and only one other vehicle which followed us for a while. The roads reminded me of WV. The second detour was into the Holla Bend NWR. We hoped to find a bench to eat our Subway sandwiches but there aren’t any. There is a nice observation tower with scopes but in June the migrations are over so we only saw a few song birds, a hawk, and some vultures. We ended up eating on the swing on the porch of the visitor center. We crossed the state line about 4:15 and checked into the Emerald Point condo at 4:30. Lois showed up about 5:30 with Cheyenne and Dakota. Went to grocery store and ate in condo.
June 15 Mon - Ventured into Branson and bought tickets for some shows and rides ($275). There is a $300 discount for four if we will tour a resort tomorrow. Lunch at Fishhouse, Cheyenne paid ($45). Drove to the Dewey Short visitors’ center at the Table Rock Dam. Interesting exhibit and free.
June 16 Tues - Roger and I went to the Wyndham resort tour. It took over three hours and was very high pressure. At the end I kept saying we wanted to leave and to give us the slip that said we were entitled to the discounts. They were not happy that we walked away with out buying $50K or more worth of resort and hotel points. Four people tried to convince us that this was the best thing since sliced bread. It was exhausting and we went back to our place for lunch and a rest before going to pick up the tickets. I think our mistake was telling them that we travel a lot. The best thing would have been to say that we had saved for years for this trip and probably wouldn’t be making any more for a long time. Lesson learned. Lois drove to Springfield to take her son to the airport to fly back home. He just didn’t want to be here because there was nothing for him to do. We saw the Acrobats of China.
17 June Wed - Another full day. Started at the College of the Ozarks which requires all students to work at something on campus. The school is basically maintained by the students. It is an agricultural college with its own grist mill and green houses. They make their own jellies and sell them along with the grains in the shops. Plants are also available from the greenhouses. There is an old one room school exhibit and the wonderful Ralph Foster Museum which is billed as the Smithsonian of the Ozarks.
After that tour we went back to the Landing for lunch at the Black Oak Grill then too a cruise on Lake Taneycomo which ended at the fountain for the hourly display of shooting water and fire. That gave us just enough time to drive to the Shoji Tabuchi theater where we had dinner next door at Paradise Steak House. I had read something about this guy. He is from Japan and was trained as a classical violinist, fell in love with fiddle playing after seeing Roy Acuff and came to the US after college to learn more about American style music. It is amazing what sounds he gets from the instrument. He wasn’t as flamboyant as Liberace but I think he took lessons from him with all the costume changes.
June 10 Wed - After driving through Vicksburg National Military Site and touring the USS Cairo Museum there we headed into Louisiana and stopped at Poverty Point, a World Heritage Site and the oldest known man made earthen mounds in the hemisphere dating back to 1700 BCE. We stopped at the Biedenharn Museum in Monroe which is the story of Coca Cola bottling. He was the first to bottle the stuff and the first to be issued a franchise to distribute. Today we had American history, ancient archeology, and retro culture. What will tomorrow bring?
June 11 -Thurs - Out early to Black Bayou NWR. Walked along the trail and boardwalk that goes out over the bayou. Gorgeous. Some of the trails were closed because of flooding. We could see the results of labor cuts in this refuge and in others. Maintenance just isn’t keeping up. Spoke with their LE. He knows Kenny but we didn’t get his name. Crossed into AR about 1:00 and had lunch at JJ’s Barbecue in El Dorado. Made it to our room at the Econo Lodge in Hot Springs at 4:30. Late dinner at Angel’s Italian.
June 12 Fri - Explored Hot Springs and learned that the the purpose of NP is basically to maintain the quality of the water in the springs. Their visitor center is an old restored bathhouse in the center of town. The area has been under federal protection first as a reservation and then as a NP since 1817. It is an okay small city with lots to do. We drove to the top of the mountain and took the elevator to the top of the tower to see the whole area and then walked through their aquarium. After lunch at Rolando, we went back to the room and napped before the Maxwell Blade Magic Show and another late dinner at Rolando which was too much food especially that late at night.
June 13 Sat - Happy Birthday Roger - The Garvan Woodland Gardens was our first item of the day. We opted for the golf cart which worked out well since I had a blister from a bug bite on my toe and was having difficulty walking. It is a pretty place managed by the Arkansas University. Lunch was the leftovers from the night before. Our trip on the Belle of Hot Springs involved rushing in and out to get away from the rain. There was time for a rest before going to the Five Star Theater for a dinner and show to see The Taffetas.
6 June Sat - We had until 5 CDT to get to Santa Rosa Beach to visit with Roger’s high school classmate Bill Lane and his wife Carolyn. That gave us plenty of time to explore the coastal route and detours into St Joe Penninsula SP where we took a short walk on a nature trail but decided it was too hot and turned back so we wouldn’t get too sweaty. The first Florida Constitution Assembly was held in St. Joe and there is a state museum there that we spent an hour or so walking through. The Cape San Blas lighthouse has been moved to St Joe. We stopped for photos and I found a bench to take a quick nap.
Driving through Tyndall AFB Roger wanted to look for some new sneakers at the Exchange. We were successful and headed on west. The traffic around Panama City was as bad as we had been warned. My thought on that area is that someone took the worst of Cocoa Beach vicinity and Orlando and made things 20% worse. Doesn’t interest me at all and the traffic was horrible. I can’t imagine what rush hour is like. The St Andrews SP is a very beachy place with lots of sand dunes. Roger’s SP pass is coming in handy as we make our way along this Forgotten Coast. Roger was stationed at Tyndall in the 60s and is amazed at the development and environmental destruction.
We arrived at the Lane’s house exactly at 5:00 which surprised us all. Bill and Carolyn are very gracious hosts, allowing us to stay in their guest cottage and providing a wonderful filet mignon dinner with lots of genial conversation. Their house is lovely. It made me think of the houses I see on TV that you find in Alaska and seemed out of character for FL but at the same time I think that gives it more character and speaks to their individuality.
7 June Sunday - The first stop today was Grayton Beach SP where we had a pleasant nature walk that took us through several habitats. Towhees gave us an opportunity to study them and we also spotted a flycatcher, a finch some cardinals and mockingbirds. This would be the most birds we saw at any of the parks. They disappeared as the day warmed. At Deer Lakes SP there is a long boardwalk through the dunes that ends at the a beautiful sight of the aqua blue waters. I really got a feel of the Caribbean. It is a shame to look past the park boundaries and see the destruction of the dunes through development. To get these parks requires traversing 30A. What a mess. It is over developed and full of cars and people. You can have it.
Camp Helen SP has a nice nature trail and we saw lots of tiny frogs and skinks and I heard woodpeckers but never saw them. While looking for a place for lunch we tooled through Grayton Beach City. It looks like an interesting place but there were too many people and no parking so we moved on. Found Hurricanes Oyster Bar and split a salad and chilichonga. The last park was Eden Garden which has a decent nature trail but it had gotten so hot that the yellow flies were out and I was too tired to keep going. So, we headed to Publix and then back for a rest before going to dinner at the Bay with Bill and Carolynn. Life is good.
8 June Monday - Had lunch with Roger's sister LeAnna and her two boys along with some of their family.
9 June Tues - We spent three days in Santa Rosa Beach with Roger's Boone HS classmate Bill Lane and wife Carolyn. We enjoyed their wonderful hospitality and great conversation and are blessed and grateful to have such gracious friends. There are a lot of State Parks in the area and we used Roger's life pass exploring them. It is great that we have the state parks otherwise real Florida would be totally annihilated to make room for human habitation.
On our way to Vicksburg today we drove part of the Natchez trace.
Breakfast at 2 Al’s which is paid for with the hotel stay. On the way to St George Island (SGI) we stopped for photos of Crooked River Lighthouse. Got to SGI before the lighthouse opened but was still cool. The island reminds me of so many beach and Island towns that have and are letting developers destroy the environment. I understand wanted to sit and take in the ocean because it is something I love to do but seeing the dunes destroyed to put up condos is heartbreaking and I can’t help but think about what happens when the first hurricane comes through and the dunes aren’t there to protect them because they have been flattened. That being said, the SGI State Park is doing a great job of restoring and protecting their end of the island.
Toured the Apalachicola National Estaurine Research Center that is a joint venture with FL DEP, NOAA, and Franklin County. Lots of good stuff but the marsh trail was closed which was a disappointment. Lunch at the Blue Parrot on SGI where I got my oysters. Couldn’t see coming here and not sampling the local fare. This afternoon we went to the Camp Gordon Johnston WWII Memorial Museum. Roger’s father did boot camp there. The Carrabelle Historic Museum was next then we just drove around looking at what is down all the streets. There were many developments plotted out in the early 2000s but went bust with the economy in 2008. On the way to dinner we looked at the “Bottle House”. A lighthouse and a small structure are made of bottles and concrete. There were citrus trees growing there. I can’t believe they grow this far north. We were unsuccessful in getting any to grow in Rosewood.
Finally met Skip, the owner of the hotel and got some good local history.
Dinner was a shared crab cake meal at Fish Camp.
We started our road trip today. Passing through Stienhatchee and Keaton Beach before turning west. Detoured through St Marks NWR to the lighthouse. Saw some birds including these oyster catchers. We are spending a couple of nights in bustling downtown Carrabelle where the red snapper are running and in season and the children have a game called "redneck biking" (notice the crack). All around a good day if I forget about the dozens of yellow fly bites.
We are staying in the the Old Carrabelle Hotel, acharming place. Everything is sort of self serve. I have yet to see or speak to the owners. It looks like we are the only folks here tonight so that means it is quiet.