Uruguay

uruguay-map-0 Uruguay is a tiny South American Country nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Geographically the same size as Missouri, it has a population of 3.5 about million. Spain was the first European country to reach the area, settling the region in 1624. Not long after the Portuguese took over and a tug-of-war ensued. Then, Great Britain jumped into the fray. The control wars for domination ended in 1828. A national constitution was enacted, and on July 18, 1830 the democratic republic of Uruguay was established. One of the first acts of this new country was to gather and massacre its few remaining indigenous males. The women and children were “saved” and distributed as slaves. This inauspicious beginning has, in modern times, been eschewed. After a long period of military dictatorships, enabled by the CIA among others, Tabare Vasquez was elected president in 2004. As an overt symbol of independence from the US, diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored. Vasquez was wildly popular. He was succeeded in the presidency by Jose Mujica. In 2012 abortion was legalized. Same sex marriage was recognized in 2013. That same year the country legalized marijuana. Uruguay is financially stable, is one of the most secular countries in South America, has an extremely high literacy rate and enjoys a profusion of diverse cultural activity. It is a safe country with kind people and a decent quality of life.

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Colonia del Sacramento

In 1723 the Portuguese established Colonia del Sacramento (Colonia) along the east bank of the Rio de la Plata. We booked a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia. The boat ride took about an hour. We had been told a day trip to Colonia was plenty of time to explore. We opted for 3 nights and 2 days. It was a good choice. It gave us plenty of opportunity to roam the entire city, expanding our boundaries beyond the old town.

Lonely Planet describes Colonia as “an irresistibly picturesque town enshrined as a Unesco World Heritage site.” Apt and succinct. The historic district has narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with huge sycamore trees. Large palm trees house flocks of squawking green parrots.We stayed in a gorgeous plush hotel overlooking the river. With the windows opened, it sounded like we were on the ocean.

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Historic area.
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It is easy to rent electric golf carts to tour the city. This one ups the ante. We chose to walk.
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A sneak peek into someone’s backyard.
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Typical view.
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Because I’ve always wanted a pink house?
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The buildings are well maintained. One can see why the whole town has been declared a historical site.
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Lot’s of widely used pocket parks.
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The sycamores are great for shade and rain protection. Not to mention really pretty.

Montevideo

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay. Over 1/3rd of the country’s citizens reside there. I was enamored with the city. It has wholesome undertones in a big city setting.  Family life is obviously very important. The architecture is wildly eclectic. Older buildings in various states of repair sit alongside modern structures amidst fascist 1950 and 1960s style apartment buildings. The setting is as eclectic as the culture.

Bus travel between cities in Uruguay is comfortable, affordable and common. We showed-up at the bus station in Colonia at 11:30 am and boarded the 12:05 pm bus to Montevideo – reserved seat tickets in hand. It was a 2½ hour ride and a great way to see the countryside. Lot’s of agriculture, clean, wide-open and an interesting assortment of people getting on and off the bus. As if things couldn’t get any better, the bathroom was sparkling clean, albeit bumpy!

We arrived in Montevideo on Friday afternoon and left early Monday morning. The timing wasn’t great. Many establishments are closed over the weekend and Sundays are virtually shuttered. Not to be deterred, we donned our tennis shoes and hit the streets. One of the first things I noticed are the mate toting locals. Yerba mate is a tea made from Yerba leaves. It is pungent and contains a caffeine like substance. Friends pass it around. As best as I can tell, the whole country is cheerfully addicted.

The consumption of mate is more than just drinking. It is a ritual. Special cups are packed tight with mate leaves. A thermos of hot water is carried under the arm (some folks have special carrying cases). The silver straw has a flat filtered bottom. All day long, small amounts of hot water is added to the cup and sips taken from the straw, using care not to close the lips while sipping. If in a group, one person carries the cup and cradled thermos of water. It is passed among friends. I was introduced to mate in Argentina, but Uruguay seems to have embraced the love of the drink widely. Pardon the pun. Not my cup of tea.

One of the most interesting museums I have ever visited is in Montevideo. The Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Arts Museum) is incorporated into an 1800s prison. Created in a collaboration between Spain and Uruguay it opened during a 2011 bicentennial celebration. Exterior prison walls were left intact and are covered with an array of graffiti. The wall is a striking feature as you approach. The architecture of the prison is incorporated into the exhibits. Individual cells showcase art. Peep holes through the original prison doors give glimpses of exhibits. It is impossible to forget your setting. The museum is small, unnerving, and free to anyone who wishes to visit. When exiting out the rear, you walk through a small park and playground. Somehow, this helps cleanse the soul after an intense encounter.

The locals love their beaches. After work and on weekends, folks congregate along the waterfront’s Malecon playing beach volleyball, roller skating, fishing, bicycling, jogging and just visiting. It is a place to see and be seen. But, mostly to relax with friends and family. The brown river water was not to my taste, but the lifestyle is lovely. One could grow fond of most anything, given time.

One of the few things to do on Sundays, other than hang at the waterfront, is the Sunday market. It is huge! Filled with locals, there is every type of ware imaginable. Lot’s of haggling and buying. The propensity of this society to recycle is showcased by the volume of available used goods.

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As with most cities in Argentina and Uruguay, there are public trash and recycle containers on the streets. This is where one deposits disposables. In Montevideo, many of these receptacles are brightened-up by public artists. Porque no?

On Saturday, we took a tour of the Opera house. Not nearly as opulent as the one in Buenos Aires, but respectable with an interesting history. A couple of local actors were hired to spice-up the tour. They appeared on several occasions portraying funny skits filled with lots of physical comedy that could be understood in all languages.

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Hungry and thirsty after a long walk, we saw this place across the street from the Malacon. What a serendipitous find! At the Tincal Bar we were introduced to the chivito,  a sandwich invented in Uruguay. Anthony Bourdain called it the best sandwich in the world. He wasn’t far off. The name means “small goat,” but there isn’t any goat meat in it at all. The chivito consists of thinly sliced tender flavorful beef with endless options for toppings. Think ham, eggs, cheese, etc., etc. Served with a big plate of french fries, the chivito satisfied my monthly craving for a juicy burger and fries.

The US embassy is just around the corner from the Tincal Bar. It is currently undergoing a major renovation. Work on the $90 million project was continuing in spite of the government shut-down at home.

While in Montevideo we stayed at the Alma Historica hotel, a small boutique hotel right in the heart of old town. Very comfy digs for three nights.

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This is a wonderful public mural signifying girl power. Political messages in public art are rife throughout the city.

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As I celebrated the beginning of my 62nd year on planet earth, this old fart resonated.

Leaving Uruguay, we spent 5 more days in Buenos Aires. Stay tuned.

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Argentina – Patagonia

map_of_argentinaArgentina is a huge country divided into 8 geographic regions and 23 provinces (states). The Andes mountain range runs from north to south along the country’s western border, separating Argentina from Chili. The county’s national park system is huge, accessible and very well-managed.

We flew from Buenos Aires to the small city of El Calafate, gateway to Parque National Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), picking up a rental car upon arrival. El Calafate reminds me of a ski resort city. Lots of shopping and restaurants along the main drag. But instead of ski gear, young people haul fully loaded backpacks. We stayed in a vacation rental, walking distance from the heart of town. Then again, most everything was within walking distance in El Calafate.

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Conde and I stayed  in a this duplex, built by our proprietors who live across the street. They brought us a breakfast of fresh breads, jams and juices every morning.
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Steve and Jody stayed a few blocks away in a small house built by their proprietors. It is next to their home with a bell mounted on the fence for summoning assistance. No issues with safety — it is a small town where everyone knows everything.

In El Calafate there are dogs roaming everywhere. Most seemed healthy enough. That didn’t stop me from wanting to take them all home for TLC and a visit to the vet for a quick fix job. The entire region is windy. Really windy. So windy the rental car company warned us about the danger of our car doors being damaged by gusts. The skies are huge, with magical light and unique cloud formations. And, great sunrises and sunsets. There is a wonderful bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural. It boasts a 1½ mile circular path around a lagoon with views of a glacial fed lake. The cost of entry is $10US with all proceeds going  to sanctuary preservation. Conde and I battened down our hatches and checked it out. Part way into the walk I was joined by a canine companion. Whenever I stopped to gander or take a photo, she would lay at my feet, jumping up when it was time to move on. Just before the end of the trail she silently disappeared in the bushes.

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Flamingos. Natural inhabitants.
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Crazy duck
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The View
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Tero Tero – a very loud bird prevalent throughout the country.

Jody, with her amazing nose for the finer things in life, tripped upon a hotel and wine bar while out for an evening stroll. Turned out they served excellent food and a heck of a mountain view with Largo Argentina (Lake Argentina) as a front drop. We took our time with dinner at Los Canelos, absorbing the 180 degree sunset views. My hunger and soul were sated.

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Not an exaggeration!
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The glacial fed lake is in front of the mountains.
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The clouds changed constantly.

Glacier Perito Moreno is in the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and a 1½ hour drive from El Calafate. The roads are undivided two-lane highways with very little traffic. Cross winds are the biggest hazard. At the park entrance you have to get out of the car to pay. One person stays in the car snaking forward with the line, while another goes inside and pays the $20 per person entry fee. We parked in the lower north entrance lot. After a short walk, it was easy to set out along a complex series of steel catwalks running 2½ miles. One can access multiple views from both the glacier’s north and south sides.

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Lago Argentino provides a beautiful view while driving. It is the country’s largest lake.
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View of Glaciare Perito Moreno from the south side as we approached the park.
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View from the glacier’s north face. Adding perspective, the glacier rises 240 feet from the water’s surface and drops 170 feet below the surface. It covers an area of 97 square miles across a 19 mile stretch. It is the world’s 3rd largest reserve of fresh water. And, it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
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Walkway with a view from the north.
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North glacier wall.
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Close-up using my 300mm lens. The colors are true.

I managed to catch a calving in action. I heard the boom, zeroed in and set my shutter in motion. Note the clear blue surface after the face of the glacier has severed.

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Before leaving the park, we needed a bite to eat. Heaven forbid 4 hours might pass without a meal. We popped into a restaurant at the north side with a spectacular view. A fair fixed-price lunch menu was offered. We had hearty lamb and lentil stews with dessert and coffee. It was enjoyed by all. The waitress even brought us a bucket of glacier ice for chilling our mineral waters. Talk about the lap of luxury!

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Steve was enamoured. “A glass of 10 year old whiskey over 15,000 year old glacial ice.” That’s a conversation stopper.

On the way back to El Calafate we stopped at the oddest place. The Lonely Planet guide gave the Glaciarium a big fat one star. It is a museum showcasing glaciers. When we arrived in the parking lot, the wind was gusting so hard, I was pinned by the car door as I tried to get out. My shrieks for help were lost with the wind as I pushed with all my might to free myself. Success ensued. The Glaciarium is reputed to have an ice bar. No kidding. The bar is maintained below freezing and drinking glasses are molded from ice. Fur coats are provided. The bar wasn’t operational when we stopped. We pondered over whether to visit the exhibit anyway. The staff at the front desk was indifferent. We decided against the steep entry fee and made free use of the impeccable rest rooms. Tour buses were pulling into the parking lot as we battled our car doors against the wind before escaping.

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A very odd place in the middle of nowhere.
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As we exited on the Glaciarium’s steep dirt drive, a herd of running horses crossed in front of us. The area has wild horses, but we couldn’t figure out why these were running or even if they were wild.
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Then, across the road we saw another group of horses being herded. The energy was high. A short distance further, we saw five horses huddled with their rears touching and noses facing out surrounded by four dogs, holding them at bay.
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Steve & Jody

The next morning we loaded up the car for a 2 hour drive to the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We scheduled a stop for lunch in El Chaltan. From there it was a 30 minute drive along a dirt road to our hotel, El Pilar. Along the way (okay, maybe 30 minutes after we set off) we needed sustenance. Good thing we had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Something about snarfing down food from the trunk while standing on the side of a deserted highway makes it special. Life is good!

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Antipasta snack.
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We entered the north park entrance.
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Our hotel for 2 nights — behind Conde is the view from our room and a focal point for our hike the next morning. The mountain appears and disappears behind rapid changing cloud formations.

El Pilar is run by Cristina and Guillermo. In Argentinian Spanish, the double “ll” is pronounced “jee” – can be a bit of a tongue twister. The hotel is wonderful and has great food. There are no wi-fi connections. Guests congregated for cocktails around the fireplace before dinner and chatted over coffee and breakfast in the mornings. There were folks from all over the world. Before we set out for our 10 mile trek, we were provided with a sack lunch. It was not raining, which is a great thing. The wind was driving little pellets of frozen ice, but it was intermittent. The snow-capped mountains with glaciers tucked in their crevices surrounded us. I loved it!

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The hotel’s river powered generator shed. I wanted to set my cot up and move in next to the rushing water.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty and magnitude of this hike. We passed through groves of trees and wide-open areas with everything in between.  Sometimes we were in sunshine, at other times in the fog. The wind was intermittently intense. Here are a few  things we saw along the way.

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Well marked and easy to follow path.
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A very nice and well maintained trail.
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Crystal clear water. Everyone insists it is totally safe to drink. I abstained.
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Jody set the pace and I happily followed. Her red back-pack brought me an unexplained child-like joy.
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It was easy to miss the diversity of flora with the huge mountains demanding attention.
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The mountain formations varied in size and shape – The Andes!
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Lot’s of glaciers – in the middle of summer.
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My red beacon.
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And just when I thought it couldn’t get any prettier.
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The sound of the roaring river accompanied parts of the hike.
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Wow!

The next morning we were greeted by rain and winds. Given the conditions, I passed on the opportunity for another hike. As we drove from the area, we moved into sunshine. Another lunch in El Chalten, then back to El Calafate for a good nights sleep and plane trip back to Buenos Aires. Steve and Jody returned to Washington DC. We hopped a ferry to Uruguay.

Next, Uruguay and then some more of BA. Stay tuned!

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Argentina – Buenos Aires

Summer in January! The phrase makes me giddy. A promised reprieve from Portland’s dreary, bone-chilling, wet, gray winter days. Destination — south of the equator. First stop, Buenos Aires.

P1110643Approximately 3 million (living) people inhabit the vibrant South American cultural hub of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. But, before exploring the living, I’d like to share a visit to the Cementerio de la Recoleta.

P1110621The Recoleta cemetery covers over 14 acres, containing thousands of mausoleums, statues and monuments. It is an oasis filled with tiny, often ornate, houses for the dead. Mausoleums can house whole families. Their personalities, social status and cultural mores are showcased by decor. Cementerio de la Recoleta is known as the burial place for Argentina’s rich and famous, although some of the interred are neither rich or famous. Included among the non-living is the country’s beloved Eva Peron (nee Duarte). Think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s broadway musical and the movie version starring Madonna. To ensure the protection of  Evita’s remains, she was nestled in a fortified crypt and buried more than 16 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Another cemetery resident, Isabel Colonna, was only six days old when she died. She was reputed to be the illegitimate grandchild of Napoleón Bonaparte. Luis Firpo was a famous Latin American boxer, known as the Wild Bull of the Pampas. Forty three years after his death, Luis was included in the list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. The roster of residents in Cemeterio de las Recoleta is expansive. Argentina reveres its cultural icons.

The walled city of the dead contrasts with the abutting towers that house Buenos Aires living. Like most cities, BA is divided into neighborhoods. The cemetery is located in the Recoleta barrio. On weekends, the park in front of the Recoleta cemetery transforms into a crafts market where local artisans hawk their wares. The market starts and ends early. If you want plenty of time to peruse the goodies, don’t do like we did and sleep half the day away.

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A bit of Argentinian history

Like most of the Americas, Argentina was originally inhabited by indigenous people.  In 1536 the Spaniards arrived, but were quickly run out by the Queradi. Around 20 years later the Spaniards gave it another try. This time with more success. The city of Mendoza was founded in the west, not terribly far from modern-day Santiago Chili. Later the Jesuits arrived and build missions. Spain tired of the Jesuits and in 1767 they were ousted by the Spanish crown. In the early 1800s the Brits arrived and tried to take over, but were defeated. The city of Buenos Aires declared its independence from Spain in around 1810. The independence movement from foreign occupation spread throughout South American. In the mid-1800s a “forward thinking” fellow was elected President of Argentina. President Mitre ramped up public education and welcomed the Europeanization of the country. Immigration dramatically increased and the melting pot of Argentina grew. By the late 1800s Buenos Aires’s population was 670,000. Around that same time the Tango was born! In 1946 Juan Peron was elected president. First lady Evita created social assistance programs and helped lower class women and children, winning the love of the people. Evita died young and Juan couldn’t handle the job without her. In 1955 the country slid into recession. Then there was a military coup. From 1976-1983 the country launched into the “Dirty War” and an estimated 30,000 citizens disappeared. By 1989 inflation had reached 200%. Corruption reigned and the public coffers were drained. President Christina Kirschner reputedly robbed the country blind. In 2015 Macri was elected president. The country struggles to find economic stability. Government programs are being cut and the local currency is on a valuation roller coaster. Meanwhile, the lovely vibrancy of Buenos Aires and its resilient people shine through.

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La Casa Rosata (The Pink House). The Argentinean president works, but does not live here.
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Locals and tourists alike lounge in the shade of the lawn in front of the Pink House.
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Argentinians are proud of their heritage, bold displays of the national flag abound.
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A street protest questions the decision to close night school. Empty pots are beaten by spoons, signifying dismay with an empty pantry.
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The city is filled with well maintained litter free green spaces with public art.

On our second day in Buenos Aires we took a three-hour urban art tour hosted by Graffittimundo. The tour showcased graffiti hotspots, teaching about the artists and the social circumstances leading to the birth of graffiti art in Buenos Aires. The tour lasted three hours and is on my list of a must do when visiting the city. Graffittimundo is a non-profit serving the urban art scene. All proceeds from tours and events are funneled back into their mission. Our tour began in the Colegiales neighborhood. We wandered the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood and ended in Palermo Soho at a graffiti adorned bar and artist operated gallery in the rear. Not only was the tour a great way to see samples of various styles and periods of graffiti art, it was a fun way to be introduced to some of BA’s hipper neighborhoods.

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Our guide, Maryella, told the story of graffiti art in Buenos Aires. She incorporated a delightful enthusiasm and wit, always showing respect to the subject matter. Maryella’s incorporation of the art’s historical and cultural significance was executed with perfection.

Once street art becomes public, it is subject to alteration and is frequently tagged by other street artists. To many, this alteration is disrespectful to the original artist. And, perhaps it is. But in reality, the art is in the public venue and stuff happens out on the streets. An interesting exception to tagging public art exists. Note the floating scarf images. These are revered and never adulterated by others.

P1110779The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is a group of women whose children and grandchildren disappeared during the 1976 – 1983 “Dirty War.” Only a handful of the  disappeared have been recovered. The women of the missing have not stood by in silence. They began their quest to learn what happened to their loved ones while the war was still ongoing. It was a very dangerous time to speak up against the government. These women did not care. Their mission remains. Organized marches are held weekly,  demanding details about lost family members. Government denial and minimization of the numbers continues. Protestors wear white scarves, which have become synonymous with the search for answers about the missing.

Graffiti art has been embraced by the city. Each depiction has a story to tell. Police may stop and watch as a creation is being made. No altercations, handcuffs or squad car rides. No problema!

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Gran Cafe Tortoni is touted in guide books as the most reviewed cafe in Buenos Aires. We bit, arriving at 2:00 pm to a long line stretching down the block. Wait time, one hour. Our travel partner, Jody, had targeted the place and goaded us on. Her husband Steve, not so sure. After some feet shuffling, we joined the queue. All of us were super glad we did. The place is amazing! Not the food so much, although it is just fine. The cost of a table and meal is the price of admission. The entire cafe is an impromptu museum filled to the brim with original art and memorabilia from the global arts scene, starting in 1958 and spilling forward to current times. Wander the back rooms. Don’t be shy. Take time to look upward at the original stained glass ceiling fixtures. Peruse the glass fronted curio cabinets, chock filled with photos and newspaper articles. Check out the original art work gifted to the owners and crowding every space along the walls. I spent more time wandering around than sitting at the table. Do be aware, as you will need to dodge tray laden impatient waiters rushing about to accommodate hungry diners. And, resist the urge to succumb to a sense of impolite unease as you look over the heads of other diners at the art. Your discomfort will be rewarded.

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The home church of the current Pope Francis is the Catedral Metropolitana located in Buenos Aires.  A confession. I walked blind into the church, curious about its magnificence. Only after entering and reading the signage did I learn Pope Francis is Argentinian. After saying, “I thought he is Polish,” Conde politely said, “Trish, that was 2 popes ago.” I was raised Methodist, sort of.

The Catedral Metropolitana was build in around 1827. Not surprisingly, it is in pristine condition and quite beautiful. The guarded remains of Argentine Liberator General Jose de San Martin are interred in a grandiose marble mausoleum. Two guards frame the doorway stand motionless as visitors walk past taking photographs.

The Theatro Colon (opera house) is a must see. Several months before traveling to BA, Conde scored tickets to a sold-out performance of the Nutcracker. Only $25 per person. Beyond worth the price of admission. We celebrated December 30th with a 5:00 pm matinée. The performance was absolutely lovely and a great way to usher in the new year.  If you can’t get tickets to a show, the Theatro has guided tours. No expense was spared in its construction. It’s beautiful inside and out.

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Elaborate rose colored marble staircases – the handrails are cold and smooth to touch.
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Turn-of-the century lighting and gold gild are everywhere.
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Multiple tiers of seating – makes for a magical performance.
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Opera House – Stained glass dome and skylights.

The La Boca neighborhood is a hotspot for tourists. El Caminito, a cobblestone street near the southern edge of La Boca, is at the heart of the action. Caminito was originally home to sailors working the harbor. They painted their homes with left over paints, creating an  unintended eclectic bright-colored area. When the harbor wound down, community members capitalized on the unique nature of the area, keeping the festive bright colors and turning the area into a very cleaver tourist destination. I wanted to check it out. My three travel partners were good sports and went along. Unfortunately the museums in the area were closed for the new years holiday. I enjoyed El Caminito, but would put a visit near the bottom of the list, unless you are a big shopper.

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These odd live sized cartoonish statues are common throughout the country. Here, the pope hails visitors into the shopping mall.
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Here we have Evita, Che, our boxer buddy from the cemetery and the lady in green lording over El Caminito.
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Families gather for a meal in one of dozens of outdoor eating areas. Think steak!
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Conde and Steve were troopers, tolerating the shopping mob scene.
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Tango dancers abound. In La Boca, will dance for money.

Taking a break from the city, we booked a tour of the historic town of San Antonio de Areco and a visit to an Estancia. Guillermo González Guereño, proprietor of  Camino Pampa, accommodated us with style. His driver Juan picked us up at our hotel at 8:30 am. and dropped us off at around 7:00 pm. It was a fun day.

San Antonio de Areco, named for the town’s founding estanciero (ranch owner), is a small gaucho town with cobble-stoned streets, a town center park and lots of history.  It was developed in the early 18th century and preserves many traditions of the gaucho and criollo cultures. Gauchos were nomadic horsemen who lived in the pampas. They still prosper, but are no longer nomadic. In San Antonio de Areco, there is an annual festival called the Dia de la Tradicion (day of tradition). The town hosts the largest gaucho celebration in all of Argentina.

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Elaborate silver horse tack was a sign of prestige. The city has a working silversmith shop that is  the “go-to” for gifts for foreign dignitaries visiting Argentina.

After leaving the town, we traveled to an Estansia. The last couple miles of road was heavily rutted mud, worsened by a torrential thunder storm. We had to transfer from the van to four-wheel drive vehicles. The crazy sideways sliding towards a ditch was akin to a carnival ride. Well worth the price of admission. Once at the Estansia, we rode horses, gorged on traditional barbecue and danced.

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I rode this grumpy gal. She liked to pick fights with the other horses. Every time I tried to get her to slow down or turn, she head-butted my foot, hoping to unseat me. We did not bond.
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Lunch on the veranda.
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The barbecue chef. How about that apron!
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Enough meat for an army.
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The owner loves dogs and rescues as many as she can handle. They were everywhere in all shapes and sizes.  Made us happy as we missed our pup.
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Jody cuts a mean rug.
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Before joining in, we learned the moves.
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Spanish horses everywhere.
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Horsemanship demonstration. This gaucho gently coaxed his mare to the ground. Check out his boots. They are made from the skin of horse legs. In gaucho culture, when a prized horse dies, it lives on in a pair of boots.
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Yerba Mate is the local addiction. Caffeine rich green tea leaves are packed into a traditional cup. Hot water is added and the tea sipped from a silver straw. You see the mata cups and thermos bottles filled with hot water everywhere. Our guide Guillermo demonstrates the ritual.

We are off to Patagonia, Uruguay and then more of BA. Stay tuned!

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Murals of Portland Oregon

Public art rocks!

It can bring a flash of wonderment into an otherwise mundane day. Portland sports innumerable outdoor wall murals created by artists with something to share. Some of their messages are overt, others more obscure. Color, shape and creative design are a unifying theme in Portland’s murals.

 I took advantage of beautiful fall weather, roaming the streets of my home town, camera in hand, searching for murals to share. I peeked around corners, across parking lots and into alleyways looking up, down and all around. My treasure hunt was rewarded.

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This is just a small sampling of outdoor wall murals around Portland.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these depictions as much as I enjoyed creating this blog.

Although I didn’t use it, I found there is a map of murals around Portland.

I would love to see your photos of murals from your neighborhood or from travels around the world!

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For All You Geezers On The Go, Keep On Keeping On!

America’s Wild West – Road Tripping!

PART TWO!

We loaded up the car, heading East from Portland for a 3½ week road trip.
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

What an adventure!

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We drove southeast from Bigfork (SE of Kalispell), stopping now and again to cast a fly  into the cold clear rivers along the highway.  Our destination, Three Forks Montana, 35 miles northwest of Bozeman.

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The Lewis & Clark expedition traveled through Three Forks. Sacajawea, a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe, served as an interpreter. She and her son traveled with Lewis & Clark from 1804 until 1806.

Three Forks was an important stopping point for tourists traveling to Yellowstone National Park on the Milwaukee Railroad. In 1910 Railroad Agent J.Q. Adams developed the Sacajawea Hotel at the town’s entrance, directly across the street from the train Depot. Smart guy.  In 2010 the hotel was restored to its historic grandeur. It is a beautiful place to stay with an elegant lobby, comfortable bar and very good restaurant. The “Sac,” as it is called by locals, is Montana’s only member of the Historical Hotels of America. Breakfast in bed is provided to all guests.

Three Forks is a tiny town with a museum, theatre, and a second hotel aptly called the Lewis & Clark Hotel. Other choices seemed to include religion, alcohol or activities at the Senior Citizen Center. Or perhaps a combination of all three.

I’ll remember Three Forks as the place little Ari got a HUGE grass seed lodged in his ear next to the ear drum. We went for an early morning photo walk. When we returned to the hotel, Ari started shaking his head, left ear down. I couldn’t find anything but it was clear he was in discomfort. About an hour later he let out a series of ear-splitting small dog shrieks. I was pretty sure security was on the way. An internet search and calls turned up a veterinarian in Bozeman who could see him in a couple of hours. It was settled, we loaded up the car and headed to Bozeman for lunch and a vet bill.

P1100153Compared with other parts of Montana visited, Bozeman seemed downright progressive. While awaiting our vet appointment, we found Dave’s Sushi located a few blocks off Main Street. A perfect choice. We then drove to All West Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Karyn Cook was wonderful. Little Ari needed to be sedated to remove the HUGE grass seed from his ear. We had a couple more hours to kill in Bozeman. I distractedly fretted away the time while waiting for Dr. Cook’s “all is good” call.

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Cumberland Island taught me a lot about the Carnegie family. In Bozeman I learned Andrew Carnegie donated roughly $41 million for construction of 1,679 public libraries in the US between 1886 – 1917. The Bozeman Classical Revival Carnegie library was built in 1902 and is one of 17 Carnegie libraries in Montana. The revolving golden horse on the Gallatin Lodge No 6 is iconic and somewhat mesmerizing. This Mason Lodge was built in 1883 and is still used for their meetings.

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Bozeman Street Art

Little Ari survived the medical process with no problems. And, he was really doped-up. I had to curl him up like a rag doll in his backseat bed. We were off to Yellowstone National Park.

P1100158 2We made a last-minute reservation at the National Park System’s Old Faithful Inn. If we had a first-born child it would have been sold to pay for one night in a dorm room style setting. The hotel is facing Old Faithful Geyser. But not our cheap $300 annex room with a parking lot view. First opened in 1904, the Inn is the largest log hotel in the world. The lobby is gorgeous. If you can see past the thousands of  human bodies, long lines, shrieking children and tired staff. An after Labor Day experience would have been much better. Next time.

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Old Faithful Inn – original wing
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Re-creation of sedated Ari.

When we checked into the Inn we learned it was not dog friendly as believed. Another place to stay was hours away and would have cost us dearly. Conde’ decided to smuggle Ari into the room. He gathered our sedated limp dog into a tiny neon lime green towel. Ari’s large bushy tail hanging out the side. Conde’ rushed to the Inn’s back door, up three flights of stairs and “secreted” Ari in to our hotel room. Only a million people saw it. Somehow, no one complained.

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Old Faithful erupting

I barely had time to start settling in when Conde’ burst back in the room,”Old Faithful is erupting, come now! Hurry!” I rushed out behind him to the hotel’s Old Faithful viewing deck. It was only after I noticed people staring at my feet that I realized I had forgotten to put on shoes. The scene reminded me of trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre through a mass of humanity. Pretty sure someone captured the back of my head in a photo.

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Steam rising from the earth 

The next morning we started early while the masses were still sleeping. Ari was groggy but happy to be out and about. The Yellowstone geysers are truly phenomenal. A vision into the hot boiling cauldron of middle earth. If you must visit during peak summer season rise early for the quiet morning calm and stay up late for the night stars.

We crossed the Continental Divide on our way to Grand Teton National Park.  When I first glimpsed the Grand Teton range, it  was love at first sight. A majestic rugged beauty.

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We stayed at the Jenny Lake Lodge right in the heart of the park.  An idyllic place, perfectly situated for hikes along the river. Our cabin was a quiet oasis with views of the Grand Tetons. Bicycles were included for rides down to Jenny Lake, or wherever one might want to go on two wheels. The restaurant was first class. I could have lived there forever.

They aren’t kidding when they say watch for bears. It is a bit like Southern Oregon where black bears abound. Don’t be deceived by the name “black bear.” They come in many colors, including ginger and brown. Black bears remind me of big goofy dogs. On the other hand, Grizzlies, aka Brown Bears, scare me.P1100419

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This guy was eating berries and didn’t care when we passed by on the trail.

I was sad to leave Grand Teton National Park. It was busy, but not crazy like Yellowstone. Jenny Lake trail was a beautiful. Wildflower were in full bloom. Next time I’m in the area I’ll take time to raft the Snake River. Alas, we had already over-stayed our allotted vacation time.  It was on to Jackson Hole Wyoming for a quick look around before heading across Idaho homeward bound to Oregon. The local paper says Jackson Hole has the biggest disparity between high and low-income levels of any city in America. It shows.

The sidewalks in Jackson are raised boardwalks. The shops vary between good value resale to high-end jewelry shops. It is very clean and surrounded by the true American West. Rugged mountain peaks in all directions. Restaurants everywhere.

Sculpture art abounds around town. Lewis & Clark’s presence is rightfully pervasive. P1100480

I’ve traveled the world and this is an interesting first. I saw this instructional illustration in the public bathroom at the Jackson Hole bus station … An illumination of  some very basic cultural differences around the world, and an unexpected fascinating representation of the diversity in visitors to the area.

Thanks for joining my adventures.  See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

America’s Wild West – Road Tripping!

PART ONE
We loaded up the car, heading East from Portland for a 3½ week road trip.
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

What an adventure!

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Along the Columbia River Gorge

I’ve traveled along the Gorge and hiked the area’s trails on multiple occasions. Each time I am awed by nature’s beauty.

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Bridge of the Gods – photo compliments of the internet

We crossed from Oregon into Washington on the  Bridge of the Gods.  The construction of  the Bonneville dam caused river levels along the Columbia river to dramatically rise, necessitating the bridge. The toll for car crossing is a whopping $2.00. The bridge is a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Pedestrians. Watch out for backpackers. They cross for free.

I do love a bit of trivia! Hang with me. Cheryl Strayed featured Bridge of the Gods in her book Wild. The bridge was notable as it ended her journey along the Pacific Crest trail. Reese Witherspoon portrayed Strayed in the film. Just after you cross the bridge and turn east, there is a scenic view-point with a tiny visitor’s center on the right. Denise McSweeney staffs the center. Her claim to fame? She acted in Wild as the toll booth operator.  Several times a week tourists (like me) take her picture.

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Wind and kite surfing on the Columbia river abound. One of the best spots to catch a view or to launch a board is three miles west of the Hood River bridge on the Washington side. We parked at the Spring Creek fish hatchery, stretched our legs and watched the scene. Wow!

Along this stretch of the Columbia river, Native Americans harvested salmon for over 10,000 years. Celilo Falls was a sacred tribal fishing area. The construction of the Dalles dam in 1957 buried the falls and tribal villages deep below the river’s surface.

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Maryhill Museum

Have you ever wondered where the euphemism, “where in Sam Hill” came from? Well, here you go. Quaker Sam Hill made his fortune building railroads and in the stock market. He migrated to Washington in the early 1900s, believing he had found Heaven on earth. Sam built roads across the state to allow others to share his vision. In the middle of nowhere, he built the Maryhill château for his wife. She was not pleased. I can envision her asking, “where in Sam Hill are we?”  Sam died in 1931. In 1940 Maryhill opened as a museum. It houses an interesting and eclectic collection. Sitting on a knoll above the river, the scenery is spectacular. There is an art studded vista walkway and a small sculptor garden. Maryhill is an interesting surprise in the middle of nowhere and is well worth a visit.

Walla Walla to Spokane

Just east of Maryhill we crossed the river back in to Oregon. It was getting late and we were ready to ditch the car. The Oregon side interstate suited the mood. Our destination for the night, Walla Walla Washington (say that 10 really times fast). The Walla Walla area is known for its sweet onions and Washington State wines.

Downtown is small, safe and clean. The city’s Main Street is line with wine tasting rooms, decent restaurants and fun shops. I like staying in the Marcus Whitman Hotel. It is a dog friendly hotel located in city center. Built in 1927, it underwent a major renovation in the 21 century. The old tower rumored to be haunted. If you stay there, skip the annex rooms and stay in the old tower.  P1090902Leaving Walla Walla we drove the Palouse Scenic Byway toward Spokane Washington. Stunning wheat covered rolling hills sculpted with plows go on for miles and miles. A wonderful drive.

Along the way we passed through Dayton Washington. I spotted a HUGE Jolly Green Giant etched into the hillside. What the heck? We stopped for refreshments and found this interpretive sign explaining why a town would showcase the Jolly Green Giant. More  trivia for the brain.

Spokane is a large city with a balance between old and new. And, it is home to the Historic Davenport Hotel.  The hotel opened in 1914 and “has served as a beacon of culture and refinement throughout the region for the better part of a century.”  The lobby is grand and the rooms luxurious. The hotel brags about the long list of famous people who have stayed there over the years. We arrived late and enjoyed supper in the lobby bar. The next morning I treated my Little Dog Ari to a walk in Riverfront Park. An auspicious way to start the day before loading up the car and heading to Montana.

Through Idaho to Montana

Interstate 90 crosses the Idaho panhandle over the Bitterroot Mountain range. The highest pass is 4,750 feet above sea level. In the heart of Silver Valley between exits 61 and 62 sits the small town of Wallace Idaho, pop. 784.  Wallace bills itself as the Silver Capital of the World. All downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Near town center is a huge public pool, constructed in 1939 as a WPA project. It has been fully restored and provides a perfect respite during hot summer days.

I like Wallace for its quirky personality and openly civic pride. There are plenty of good restaurants, fun shops and hotels. I enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Blackboard Cafe. The owner monitors the kitchen, serves diners fresh savory meals and creates whimsical fun-filled art on her Blackboard. Outdoor activities around Wallace are unlimited. Silver County sports a 1,000 mile trail system, fishing, camping and 2 downhill skiing areas. Next time, I’ll stay longer.

Welcome to Montana

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Dayton Montana – a worthy cultural introduction

Bigfork

Friends invited us for a week-long visit to Bigfork, a perfectly situated small town in the Flathead Valley.  Flathead Lake is huge and plays host to a myriad of summer water activities. Hiking opportunities abound. Clear views of the craggy Rocky Mountain range are the vista de jour.  Warm days and cool star-filled nights make Bigfork a great summer destination.

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Bridge Street Cottages are near the heart of the town and are a great choice for a short or extended stay. The Cottages just added a fully remodeled 2 bedroom 2 bath cottage with a huge deck. After an owner tour, I wanted to invent a special occasion just to stay there and celebrate on the deck. Another favorite of mine in Bigfork are the creations by Meissenburg Designs – Old Wood Signs. It’s a mom and pop operation producing fun vintage signs and great pillow covers. You can find their locally made creations while shopping downtown or just go online. Their humor and cheerful retro designs crack me up.

Glacier National Park – Day Trip

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Our gracious hosts, Don and Lou Ann, guided Conde and me north on an 1½  hour drive from Bigfork to Glacier National Park for a day hike. This park is a true American jewel. In 1910 President Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier as the country’s 10th national park. I am so grateful for our elected leaders who had the foresight to create a national park system that has lasted more than a century.  May our current leaders find that same foresight for our future generations.

We took a delightful 3-mile hike, crossing snow fields. In the middle of July! We were blessed with dramatic Rocky Mountain views, rivers and lakes all around. What a great day! Sometimes I feel so lucky.

Mother Nature didn’t let me down. The mountain goats and ground squirrels were out. We even spotted a grizzly bear. If you look in the picture on the bottom right, just where the streams create a vee, you can see it. Really…I swear!

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If you are driving into the park, a word of caution. Parking during peak summer season can be a hassle. Go early and consider some of the public transportation options.  Years ago we stayed in Glacier for 4 nights, hiking a myriad of trails. I highly recommend this technique. When you permeate the interior of the park, the quiet magnitude of the great American west truly emerges.

Please Join on Part II of America’s Wild West

Southern Montana & Wyoming – Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Thanks for joining my adventures.  See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Women’s Camping Trip

It’s an annual event I NEVER miss.  A group of women gather, set up Shantytown, and spend a week off the grid grooving on the outdoors. Talk about chill! We’ve been doing this for years … Geezers for sure. Laughter is our activity du jour.

A few days after the summer solstice we gathered at Hart-Tish Park  in southern Oregon’s Applegate river valley.  Destination — Doe Point peninsula on the lake’s Squaw Arm. Our personal paradise. First night we were treated to a Strawberry Full Moon. It really is rose hued! An auspicious beginning to a perfect trip.

We are the Solstice Sisters

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Chandra & Ginny
Terry
Terry
Doreen Chilling
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Trish reading
Trish
cathi chilling!
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Applegate lake was created in 1980 when the Corps of Engineers completed construction of a 242-foot rockfill embankment dam along the Applegate river. The lake covers 988 acres. Its southern end abuts the California border. Water depths average 85 feet. Starting in May, water is quickly released to regulate downstream water temperatures, ensuring a healthy steelhead migration.

calm lake view

Most of the lakeshore is maintained in a natural state. The water is cold and clear. Night skies are star-filled, echoing with bull frogs croaks and cricket chatter. The quiet pine scented air soothes the soul. A hiking / mountain bike trail is tucked in the trees along the lake’s shores. Boats are limited to 10-mph. Canoes, paddle boards and kayaks are a staple. Not a place for the party-hardy cigar boat / jet ski crowd. Stocked with trout, bass and crappie, Applegate lake is a fisherwoman’s mecca. Grumpy old fishermen are welcomed too.

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Chandra’s Boat – Patio Princess II

We pile our gazillion pounds of gear (no exaggeration, I swear!!!!!!) load by load, onto Chandra’s boat for the short cruise from Hart-Tish dock to Doe Point. We schlepp, and we schlepp, and we schlepp our stuff up the hill, setting up camp among the trees.  Truth be told, we now hire strong young friends to help set-up and break-down camp. We have a stocked kitchen, dish washing station, shower tent and portable loo enclosed by designer curtains. No girly need is gone unmet.

We each bring a tent.  Mine is equipped with two cots, one outfitted with down comforters and a full-sized pillow for a sound night’s sleep. The other cot serves as a surface for my “stuff.”  I love to leave the tent lid off. Perfect for star gazing and feeling the cold night air through the screened ceiling.  At night deer quietly graze amongst us.

tent ceilingAs with most years, this year we had visitors. Pre-designated dock pick-up times were arranged. Louretta, Amy and Ginny arrived with a wonderful array of foods to add to our larder. Lunch was served on the boat. They stayed all day. A wonderful time was had by all.

girls on the boatJust as we were finishing dinner, Glenn and Brenden – proprietors at Hart-Tish, unexpectedly boated up. They gifted us a cooler filled with ice cream bars. One bar made it  until morning  breakfast. Talk about happy campers!

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Louretta and Terry catch up
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Amy and Chandra swap stories

Trump & chandy's armLouretta brought a squishy headed squeezable Trump. The package label read, “love him or hate him.” I found myself aggressively twisting him into knots. Suddenly he burst, spewing white liquid from the back of his head. The gunk got all over my blue tee-shirt … just sayin…  He hung around for awhile until we regressed to gang mentality and stomped him into oblivion. We thankfully relegated him to the trash.

Terry conducted a Tarot card reading.  Two of us picked the same card urging purification through detoxification. We were pretty sure it actually meant purification through retoxification.  IPA yoga poses were demonstrated.

We call them “our’s.” A pair of bald eagles and several mated osprey pair were predictably nesting on the lake’s shores. Every single sighting of these majestic birds of prey brings excitement and joy. The osprey oftentimes announce their presence by a loud splash. If lucky, it rises from the water with a sizable fish gripped firmly in talons.

Mid June – early July the waterfowl hatch babies. This year we shared our space with Canadian geese and their goslings. A Merganser mama braved the waters with her babies in tow. They huddled so closely, it was hard to count their numbers. Each day the babies grew bigger, showing more independence. Our last morning I saw the babies cavorting on the shore and diving back into the lake. Mama kept a close eye.

The weather was perfect for daily water play.  Our paddle board collection now numbers three. We paddle, swim and float perched on styrofoam noodles.

We cruised to the dam to say hello to our swifts. If you look hard you can see their eyes and yellow beaks peering out from the mud daub nests.

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Swifts nesting beneath the dam
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More swifts nesting beneath the dam

Breaking down camp is  bittersweet. The lure of a long hot shower and flushable loo is pretty strong, but the desire to remain isolated from the “real world” is a tough competitor.

breaking down camp

We made a commitment …  in the afterlife we will each appear at Applegate Lake’s Doe Point from midnight until dawn on the summer solstice. Word of warning for future campers. We’ll be there!

Sunset

Thanks for joining my adventures.

See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

Cumberland Island National Seashore

I had heard of Cumberland Island. After all, I am a Georgia native.  I just never got around to going there, until now. We spent a whirlwind thirty hours on the island and I loved every minute of it.

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The largest barrier island off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland is 18-miles long and ranges between 3/4 to 2½ miles wide. The Atlantic Ocean bounds the east. Tidal estuaries  and salt marshes flow along the west. The St. Mary’s river separates Cumberland’s southern tip from the northern tip of Amelia Island Florida. In 1972 the island received a National Seashore designation, preserving most of this pristine and history rich land.

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Approximately 150 wild horses now roam the island.
It is believed they descended from horses abandoned by the Spanish 500 years ago.
What a joy to encounter these beautiful creatures!   
Just don’t get too close. They kick and bite.

The National Park Service owns 40,000 acres on the island. The remaining 1,000 acres are split between 22 fee simple private owners. The 1,000 fee simple acres are not under the park’s jurisdiction. Recently, one of the fee simple owners (Lumar, LLC composed of Coca-Cola Company heirs) has been seeking permission to subdivide its land into multiple houses. Their acreage is located on one of the narrowest parts of the island, just north of the popular Sea Camp campsite. Negotiations have been ongoing. I sure hope heart conquers greed. The quiet regal beauty of this unspoiled island is a true treasure.

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The beach is the finest I have ever seen. We walked for miles. I couldn’t quit smiling. Good thing I brushed with sunscreen.
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Pristine dunes run the length of the island’s 18-mile long beach.

There are two public options for overnight stays: the Greyfield Inn or camping in one of four campgrounds. Either way, reservations are required. If you come for the day, or opt for overnight camping, take the Cumberland Island Ferry from St. Mary’s Check the rules and costs for bringing your own bicycle. The ferry has a first come – first serve policy with a limit on the number of bicycles allowed. Arrive early. Only one of the campgrounds has potable water. Make sure you have access to plenty!

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Entrance to the Greyfield Inn

Rather than camping, we opted for the Greyfield Inn. A couple of weeks before our NE Florida trip, we decided to visit Cumberland. We didn’t know the inn fills up months in advance. As luck would have it, they had one room for one night. A rare last-minute score. The cost to stay there is exorbitant. After catching our breaths and rationalizing, (the cost includes parking in Fernandina, transportation on the Inn’s private ferry, full breakfasts, lunches, dinners, kayaks, bicycles and guided tours), we bit the bullet. You only live once. Right? No regrets for me! When we arrived at the Inn’s private ferry dock, we were greeted by staff and taken on a tour and orientation. I kept thinking, “welcome to fantasy island.”

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Rock and nap on the porch to your heart’s content. But first, grab a lemonade from the kitchen.

Carnegie family roots run deep on Cumberland. One could spend hours reading about their influence, both positive and negative, on the island. Here are the basics. In 1881 steel magnate Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy purchased a huge part of the island. In 1916 Lucy died, leaving the lands to her nine children. Her will included a very complex and restrictive trust fund. The trust restrictions ended in 1962 after the death of Lucy’s last child. The Carnegie property was divided among heirs in 1965.

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Plum Orchard Estates – Construction of the 22.000 sf mansion began in 1898. It was a wedding gift for George Lauder Carnegie and Margaret Thaw.  The property is now owned by National Park Service. Daily tours are open to the public. Well worth the time!

Between 1881 and 1965 the Carnegie family built 5 sprawling mansions, including Greyfield and Plum Orchard, for family members. The family lived in Pittsburg during summers and on Cumberland in winters. It was a social honor to be invited to stay with them. The lifestyle was rich and famous east coast blue-blood.

P1080060Each generation of Carnegie heirs have lived at least part of their lives on Cumberland Island. Greyfield was converted to an inn in 1962 by descendant Lucy Ferguson. The Inn is still managed by the family. The sprawling estate is well-run and maintained respectfully with care. During our short time on the island we met several Carnegie descendants in chance encounters. We chatted with Lucy’s granddaughter on the beach. A sister-in law who manages the Inn was found in the Greyfield kitchen accompanied by her sweet terrier. When leaving, we rode the ferry with one of Lucy’s great-granddaughters and her toddler daughter. All were friendly and seemed pretty normal to me.

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Organic gardens provide fresh produce to the Inn.
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We hopped on bicycles and roamed the island along tree-canopied one-lane sand roads.

Long before the Carnegies, Cumberland island was occupied by humans. Aboriginal shell mounds evidence occupation as long as 4,000 years ago. Much later, the island was used by the Spaniards, who built missions. The British used it as a military outpost. There are African slave villages. The first African-American church on the island still stands. John Kennedy, Jr. was married there. It is open to the public.

Over recent years, most areas used for agriculture and grazing have been allowed to return to mature oak and pine forests. It is quiet and the birds play songs in surround-sound. The air smells of the sea, pine trees and horse poop. Nature offers adventure around every corner. Wild turkeys, boar, and armadillos roam freely. For a more structured visit, the National Park Service offers interesting activities and tours.

We even enjoyed dressing up for dinner. Sitting at communal tables, plied with ample food and wine, we chatted with interesting folks. Georgia accents were all around. How many syllables are in the word “four?” I eased back into my old roots, fittin’ right on in.

Thanks for joining my adventures.

See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival

northeast-florida-at-a-glanceWe traveled north from St. Augustine to Amelia Island.

Driving the scenic coastal route, we stopped for fortifications along the way. Neptune Beach, east of Jacksonville, was the perfect place for lunch and a short walk on the beach.

 

After lunch and coconut margaritas (for the non-drivers), we journeyed to the St. Johns River car ferry for a short ride across the river, docking at the south end of Amelia Island.

Leaving the ferry, we traveled through Amelia Island State Park, 200 pristine acres with trails, beaches and abundant opportunities for bird watching. Further north, we stayed in an ocean front condo for 2-nights, taking in the festivities of the Fernanadina Beach Isle of Eights 55th Annual Shrimp Festival.  Starting in 1562, Fernandina Beach has flown the flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, the Republic of Florida, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of American. The area is known for its abundant shrimp harvest. Thus, the name of the festival.

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View from the condo
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View from the condo

Filled with shops, restaurants and beautifully restored buildings, Fernandina Beach old town sports a historic designation. Typically quiet, (pop. 12,500), the town fills with thousands of people for the shrimp festival. I over-heard much grumbling from locals. It is safe to say they are not terribly fond of the hordes invading their typically quiet mecca. From a tourist perspective, it was a load of fun. The pirate and looting theme cracked me up.

P1070748P1070761P1070767The shrimp and crawfish were both super yummy. Dining tables? Communal plywood lidded garbage cans with slits in the middle for tossing shells. I do love this part of the country.

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After sunset, the Indie Rock Bank Flipturn  played a nice long set. Watch for this upcoming group of young Florida university students. They’re really good! Next, we were treated to the invasion of the pirates (an overblown lead-up resulting in a lame “event” with lots of “ARGHING” and not much more).

The night ended with a great fireworks display over the bay.

From Fernandina Beach, Conde and I traveled to Cumberland Island Georgia. Wow!!!

See you there.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

St. Augustine Florida

Spanish moss thrives. It drapes ancient Live Oaks and nestles into Palm trunk crannies, playing host to clusters of ferns. Towering Magnolia’s sport huge creamy blossoms. Doves coo in the morning. And, …I swear it…, the crows caw with a southern accent. People generously share smiles and pleasantries. There is no mistaking, this NE corner of Florida has deep south roots.

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St. Augustine bills itself as “America’s oldest city.” In reality, it is America’s oldest continuously occupied by Europeans city. A fascinating place with a diverse, and often violent, history incorporating cultures from around the world.

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Modern Day Florida

In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived on the shore of Matanzas Bay with 5 ships and 800 Spaniards, settling San Agustin, La Florida. It was the perfect strategic base for protecting resource rich Spanish territory and treasure ships from marauding Portuguese, French, English and Dutch challengers.

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1,000 years earlier, the Timucuan tribe settled the same area, creating towns and living off the riches of the sea. The Timucuan and Spanish formed an often tense co-existence.

To protect its sprawling territory from pirates and invaders, in 1672 the Spaniards constructed a massive fortress,  The Castillo de San Marcos.  Now a National Monument, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

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View of Matanzas Bay from Castillo de San Marcos
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Castillo de San Marcos with Old Town in the background.
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The Fort walls are constructed with coquina.  Coquina is unique to this region and continues to be quarried and used in modern-day construction.  Lovely to look at and sturdy!

 

Spain ruled St. Augustine until 1763. Then Great British took control. Under the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Year War, Spain abandoned Florida in exchange for full control of Cuba. The Brits were not too fond of anything Spanish, so proceeded to destroy communities in St. Augustine. This pillage lasted for 20 years, a part of history not fondly embraced by many in St. Augustine. In 1783 the Peace of Paris accord recognized the independence of the United States, ousted the British and returned Florida to Spain. The Spaniards proceeded to fully develop the city.  Many of the structures erected during this time remain. In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

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The lives of enslaved and freed Africans comprise an important, and under-reported, part of St. Augustine’s history. While Spain granted freedom to runaway British slaves in 1783, this right was not extended to all.

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This monument is located in the gardens of the Collector Hotel where the Emancipation Proclamation freeing Florida slaves was reputedly read.  2,000 slaves were freed that day.

During the 1960s, St. Augustine played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King sent Andrew Jackson to St. Augustine to stage a non-violent march. Horrific violence ensued when a white mobs attacked and beat marchers. On the site of the former slave market, a small tribute to this event was erected.

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There is much to do in St. Augustine. Old town has been lovingly restored, filled with amenities for every visitor. Lots of good restaurants and bars. Hop on/off tour trolleys. Horse drawn carriages are easy to hail. The Lightner Museum is housed in a beautiful building with a well curated collection. Just walking around old town is fun.

Our hotel was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens is a cluster of meticulously restored old homes in a bucolic park-like setting. The property occupies a full city block in the heart of Old Town. The hotel offers a complimentary hour-long historical tour led by Melissa. Her enthusiasm and intimate knowledge of the people who occupied the area is infectious and awe-inspiring. A native of St. Augustine, Melissa exhibited the immense pride many St. Augustinians carry for their city.  The entire hotel and its staff reflect this spirit.

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Historian and tour guide – Melissa know’s where everything is buried including the electrical lines and a small Spanish horse.

Minorca Prince Murat built the block’s first home in 1790. Napoleon’s nephew stayed there, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson. We stayed in the “newer” section of the Murat house. Maybe Emerson channeled my brain while I slept? I can only hope.

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From Dow’s collection

Other homes were added and expanded over the years filling the block. In 1939 Kenneth Dow, an eccentric and very wealthy collector (aka hoarder), purchased most of the houses. He and his wife filled them to the brim with amazing, and not so amazing, items collected over many years from their world travels. It was Dow’s dream that the houses and his collection be utilized as a public museum. Although the scale of this dream was not realized, the Dow Museum of Arts & Sciences was created, opening in 2000. A few of the houses were cleaned-up, furnished and opened to the public. There were self-guided tours operated group of women volunteers. As hard as they tried, it was clear the place was falling apart and the museum’s owner had no interest in restoration or helping realize Dow’s dream.

 

In 2014 David Corneal purchased the property and turned it into a luxury hotel, opening in 2017. Corneal was not a developer or hotel manager. Yet somehow he managed to meticulously incorporate artifacts from Dow’s remaining collection through-out the property. Corneal was respectful of preserving the history of the property while creating a wonderful peaceful refuge for visitors. It is a ton of fun to walk around the gardens looking for items from Dow’s collection, which are everywhere.

Oilman and Railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s wealthy fingerprints dominate sections of Old Town. Flagler was responsible for the beautiful brick roads throughout the city. Years later, when the city decided the brick was too difficult to maintain, it pulled many  out. Kenneth Dow followed the city trucks, filling his vehicle with discarded bricks. These reclaimed bricks were used to pave the paths throughout the Collector’s gardens.

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Flagler College
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Fountain Frog, in case you can’t figure it out.
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Sun Dial Fountain at Flagler College

St. Augustine lays claim to everything Old. The oldest house in America. The oldest fort. The oldest wooden school in America … It even lays claim to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth  The oldest fountain of youth in the Country? Hmmm.

Properties throughout the city have been cleverly repurposed. The St. Augustine Distillery  is housed in “Florida’s oldest ice plant.” This craft spirits distillery is hugely successful, producing good products with a local bent and an environmental conscience. Tours of the facility are conducted daily. Upstairs there is a nice restaurant and bar. Definitely worth a visit.

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My lovely nieces!

Anastasia State Park is located on Anastasia Island. The park entrance is a 10-minute drive from Old Town, accessed across the Matanzas River via the stately Bridge of Lions.                                                        There are beautiful squeaky white sand beaches with dunes intact.

Gopher turtles burrow in the dunes. They are a protected species, unknowingly helping to preserve an area well worth preserving.

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Gopher turtle burrow

 

We traveled to St. Augustine to visit family. They showed us a great time! There was enough to do to fill a week. Unfortunately we only had a couple of days. We will return to finish-up.

Thanks for joining me on my adventures! See you on Amelia Island.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

Washington State Road Trip

Dismal Nitch, Cape Disappointment and Jake the Alligator Man?

In typical Geezer On The Go style, we morphed a 2-day Seattle seminar into an 8-day road trip through Washington State.

Twenty minutes after leaving our Portland home, Conde’ and I, with puppy dog Ari in tow, crossed the Interstate-5 Columbia River bridge.  The Oregon / Washington state lines are at river’s center.  I find comfort in this equitable division. The Columbia is North America’s 4th largest river and a critical resource for the environmental and economic well-being of all who share her bounties.

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Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing – Internet Download.

We followed the river’s north shore for several hours. It was a cold stormy day with high buffeting winds accompanied by a staccato rap from slanting sheets of rain. Apt weather for a visit to Dismal Nitch.

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Lewis & Clark Expedition Route

On June 20, 1803 President Thomas Jefferson instructed Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead a 10-12 man exploration mission of the Missouri river and its “principal streams” to the Pacific ocean. They were to map and take detailed notes during the journey. The goal, to establish the best means for commerce across the great expanse of land, now known as the United States mainland. Lewis recruited Lieutenant William Clark to join the mission. The infamous Lewis and Clark expedition was born.

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A November 10, 1805 entry from Clark’s journal details a miserable 10-day delay to cross the Columbia and to return to Fort Clatsup (Oregon side). Clark’s precise description of their temporary campsite was “that dismal little nitch.” It is now a picnic area with interpretive signage along Highway 401 across from Astoria Oregon.

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I easily imagined the expedition’s angst on our visit. I too saw the rage of the mighty Columbia river roiling with windblown whitecaps. Without a doubt, attempting to cross in a small vessel during such weather would be foolhardy. I wondered what Clark’s journal entry would have read if they had traveled in the middle of August instead? Perhaps a historic picnic area called “Devine Nook” would have resulted.

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Jake the Alligator Man – Former Bar Bouncer in New Orleans?

The Long Beach Peninsula claims fame to the longest beach in the US. In the town of Long Beach one can snag a great basket of fish and chips, eat Willapa bay oysters and shop for souvenirs. Long Beach is also home to Marsh’s Free Museum which is a misnomer. Marsh’s is actually a shop crammed with trinkets and curios for sale. Marsh’s main draw is the mummified body of Jake The Alligator Man, an unofficial and hugely embraced mascot of Long Beach. Stories of Jake’s origin’s remain murky. Part of his mystique.

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Continuing Along The Lewis & Clark Trail

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Cape Disappointment State Park  comprises 1,882 wooded acres on the peninsula’s far southern tip. You can see the Columbia river and Pacific ocean merge in a majestic confluence. The narrow passage from the ocean into the river used to be very dangerous and often resulted in disaster, including many sinking ships. Thus, the park’s name.

In reality the area is far from disappointing. There is ample camping and lot’s of hiking trails. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is well curated and fronted by the remains of Fort Canby’s two circa 1905 batteries. The historic lighthouses are interesting, offer stellar views of the ocean and are, well, historic.

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The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is divided into three distinct areas. One section is on the north end of the Long Beach peninsula, just past Oysterville and abutting Leadbetter Point State Park. Plenty of bucolic nature filled hiking trails, some with views of Willapa Bay to the east and the Pacific ocean in the west. A delightful way to spend a few hours among nature.

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Leadbetter Point State Park
Long Beach to Port Townsend for a Ferry Ride

After 2-days exploring the peninsula, it was time to move on.  We got an early start for a 4-hour drive northeast. The goal, a 3:30 pm ferry reservation from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island with extra time for exploring along the way.

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Art Trail – Willapa National Wildlife Refuge – Can You Spot Conde?

Our first stop was a section of the Willapa Wildlife Refuge along southern Highway 101 just west of the peninsula. A bayside gallery art installation trail meanders in a 1-mile loop peppered with interpretative boxes and wildlife sculptures. The morning was clear and chilly. The air damp and filled with the sweet aroma of fresh evergreens and earthy forest mulch. I relished the head clearing tree bath stroll. An auspicious beginning for a fun-filled sunny day.

 

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One Of Many Tiny Sculptures

Leaving the refuge we traveled northwest, stopping at Alderbrook Resort in Union for lunch. The food was very good and a healthy welcome change from fish and chips. The restaurant overlooks the Hood canal with views of snow-capped mountains. After lunch we continued north along the Hood Canal on a scenic, twisty, two-lane section of Hwy. 101 through the Olympic National Forest. I learned the canal is popular with scuba divers due to its “calm clear waters and giant Pacific octopus.” Didn’t partake in that adventure. Just before the Hamma Hamma river we encountered the Hama Hama Oyster Farm Can’t explain the spelling disparity. Too bad we weren’t hungry!

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Giant Mounds of Oyster Shells

We arrived in Port Townsend almost an hour before our car ferry reservation. The ride is 45-minutes across Puget Sound to the Coupeville ferry port on Whidbey Island. We took advantage of the extra time to drive through Port Townsend. Beautiful historic Victorian homes spot hillsides overlooking the Sound. A dreamlike setting. Almost made we want to live there … almost… It was a rare sunny day.

The Washington ferry system is incredibly efficient. We disembarked right on schedule, drove to our cabin on a pond in the woods arriving before 5:00 pm. We cooked our dinners in. At night the frogs serenaded with oddly timed symphonic compositions. What a wonderful base for exploring Whidbey Island!

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Our Cabin in Greenbank, Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is approximately 50 miles long by 12 miles wide, population 80,000. It is home to a large US Naval Air Station and Field. There are acres of active farmland, old growth forests and plenty of public spaces for hiking, camping and enjoying the spectacular scenery.

On our first day we visited Oak Harbor, the island’s largest city, pop. 22,000. I was really glad we happened upon, and popped into, the Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center  A delightful young woman imparted ample useful information. I left with an armload of free maps that proved essential for planning daily hikes. And, she threw in a couple of bottles of water, gratis. Made Ari happy.

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A Funny, And Apt, Twist On Typical Park Signage

Washington State Park system requires a paid pass for parking. Called the Discover Pass, you can pay $10 for each single day or $30 unlimited for one-year access. Many parks have kiosks where you can purchase on site. There is a $99 penalty for failure to use a parking pass.

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View Of Fidalgo Island From Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park is at the far northern end of Whidbey. The park’s name comes from the area’s proclivity to shifting fogs. There is hiking trails on both sides of Hwy. 20 and across Deception Bridge on Fidalgo Island. (Learned this from a Chamber map). We picked the areas of West Beach by Cranberry Lake and then to North Beach for our hike. It was rainy with welcome sun breaks. Loved every minute of it.

Whidbey Island has a number of cities ranging from “don’t blink” tiny to real cities.  Each area has a distinct personality. Some are touristy and others totally local. We ate everything from  local Bar-B-Que in Oak Harbor, Jalapeno Cheesburgers  in Clinton to duck confit in Langley.

Just north of Langley are lush hiking and horse back riding trails, created, preserved and maintained by the non-profit Washington Trail Association. The Putney Woods, Saratoga Woods, & Metcalf Trust Trail System provided a quiet clean air escape from the world on well marked and maintained trails. We did not see another sole the day we visited.

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We spent a couple of hours in the delightful tourist town of Langley before catching the Clinton ferry for a 20 minute ride back to the mainland north of Seattle. Lot’s of good shopping, book stores and cafes. Whales frequently pass through the Sound along Langley and can been seen from the beach or boardwalk.

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I’m ending the story of our Washington road trip on Whidbey Island. Seattle is a story in and of itself.  Thanks for joining me on my adventures! See you next month in St. Augustine Florida.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

Palm Springs California – Mini VaCay

Portland winters can be tough. Bone chilling drizzle and endless gray skies. When ennui settles in my soul its time for SUNSHINE!  Nature’s Vitamin D. Southern California is a sure bet and is only a 2 hour plane flight direct on Alaska Air.

Palm Springs has become a repeat destination. With a disclaimer:  A sprawling automobile centric lifestyle spans from Palm Springs south to LaQuinta. The main roads are lined with ugly big box stores fronted by expanses of asphalt. Ritzy resorts with high-end golf courses are in over abundance and consume an obscene amount of water in an arid desert climate. Wealth is frequently flaunted like a badge of honor.

Yet, I’ve developed a fondness for Palm Springs proper and many of the surrounding amenities. I enjoy the distinctly California mid-century modern architecture with a Hollywood legend vibe. It was a renown playground for the stars in the 1950s and 60s. Old Palm Springs is a fun place to window shop, browse galleries and eat California style.

 

 

The air is dry and winter nights can be delightfully chilly with star studded skies. The high-desert sunlight and drop-dead gorgeous mountain views are stellar. Great hiking opportunities include the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

I just returned from a six night mini vacation to Palm Springs with my friend Sue. She bought a hip home in a Mobile Home Park developed in 1958. Common areas are painted turquoise and the streets have names like Mars and Jupiter. A hiking trail to Bob Hope’s old home runs right above her back yard. What’s not to like about that?

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Norma’s Restaurant at the Parker Palm Springs Hotel. Yummy lunch with Sue.

While in Palm Springs we participated in some Modernism Week events including a 2½ hour open double decker bus architectural tour guided by the flamboyant Charles Phoenix  Tons of fun and a great opportunity to soak up sun.

 

One of my favorite sites is a home smack dab in the middle of The Movie Colony neighborhood. Artist Kenny Irwin, Jr. has turned the yard of his father’s home into an alien inspired sculpture gardens. Tickled my fancy.

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Alien Sculpture Garden

A fun thing to do while in the area is take a Big Wheel Bike Tour downhill along the San Andreas Fault. The tour company takes you to the top of the mountain where you mount your bike for the 20 mile downhill roller coaster ride.

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Downhill along the San Andreas Fault

 

The Mojave and Colorado deserts come together in Joshua Tree National Park  which is only an hour drive from Palm Springs. You can drive the park road, stopping for hikes along the way.  Pack a picnic and take plenty of water, as there are few amenities in the park.  It’s fun to sit and watch rock climbers while soaking up some rays.

 

It can be fun to stay in the community of Joshua Tree for a couple of nights, spending days exploring the park.  Spin and Margie’s is a great 1950s gussied up motel.  The rooms have been remodeled, some with little kitchenettes. Their desert garden has a BBQ grill and fire pit for guest’s enjoyment. Camping is another great options. Make sure to blanket up as the high desert nights can be cold!

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Mini Vacays can do the trick when time is in limited supplies. Next month we head out on a road trip to Washington State. I look forward to catching up with you then.  Thanks for joining me on my adventures.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

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