I recently took an eight-day trip to Iceland, the land of fire and ice and loads of surprises.

My granddaughter Holly and I had been intrigued about Iceland for some time. Others in our family wondered whether we had lost our minds—giving up a gorgeous summer week in Wisconsin and to don warm clothes, tromp through tundra, and touch glaciers.

The joke’s on them! We came back raving about spectacular waterfalls, faithful geysers, steaming mineral baths, volcanic mountains, mysterious landscapes, turf roofs, and gorgeous flowers (yes, flowers—only the interior quarter of the country was frozen.)

Holly offered to rent a car to drive Iceland’s Ring Road. That eliminated the need to backpack our Canon Rebel cameras and bring layers of clothing on daytrips. Fortunately, we received a free upgrade to a four-wheel drive SUV Subaru Forrester, which we loaded down to “live on the road.” No group tours for us! Now we’re convinced that self-drive tours are the only way to go (during the summer). We used Reykjavik, the capital, as our home base and stayed right downtown at the Alda Hotel. That allowed us to acclimate during our arrival day and to beat the traffic to tourist sites the following days.

Thingvellir Park and Oxararfoss. The next day we awakened at 4 a.m., too excited to sleep. We opened the black light-blocking curtains. The sun was already up! By 5 a.m., we hit the road for the Golden Circle. We were surprised to have the road to ourselves. Our first stop was Thingvellir Park, which sits on a rift valley caused by the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. This stop overlooks the picturesque Thingvellir church alongside a meandering river. This is Iceland’s most historic site as well as a place of vivid beauty. Here, the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alþingi, in 930AD. The meetings were convened annually, outdoors.

Our second stop, a waterfall called Oxararfoss, was our favorite of the day. We meandered through a canyon flanked with rocky cliffs and fissures and filled with gorgeous wildflowers. After an hour, we reached a spectacular falls. We had it all to ourselves! We sat for a while, immersed in the sounds of nature: the roar of the falls contrasting with the gurgling river below.

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During our walk back along this natural amphitheater of Pingvellir, we stopped at Law Rock, where judgements were handed down by the Alþingi, the national assembly. This grand experiment in democracy occurred at a time when the rest of Europe wallowed in rigid feudal monarchies. I was amazed to learn that this Viking system lasted, despite lapses back into chaos, for three centuries. We continued to drive round Lake Pingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake at 84 sq. km.

Map of Lake Pingvallavatn Iceland's largest lake.

Map of Lake Pingvallavatn Iceland’s largest lake.

Geysir. Stop three was the site of Geysir, which has lent its name to all water such water spouts around the world. We had soup for lunch—lamb stew for me and cream of mushroom for Holly. Afterward, we walked along a trail called “the land of boiling waters.” We passed steaming vents, bubbling turquoise pools, and multicolor mud formations—all the way hearing the loud belch and burst of the big one. We finally reached Strokkur (the churn), which shoots upwards every five minutes or so to about 20 meters (66 feet). By the second belch, our cameras were poised for action!

Gullfoss, the Greatest Waterfall. Nine kilometers (six miles) further along Route 35, we reached Iceland’s best-known natural wonder: Gullfoss (Golden Falls). We followed a path from the upper parking area, overrun with busses and vans, leading down to the deafening falls, where the River Hvita (White River) tumbles 32 meters (l05 feet) into a 2.5km (1.5-mile) ravine. One can take another trail to get within an arm’s length of the awesome flow. No way! I felt the wind rushing from above and tugging me toward the waterfall. I saw tripods tip like toothpicks. That was close enough for me. I pulled my sailing jacket close around me and tightened my scarf around my neck. Every so often, clouds of spray descended in wind gusts, forcing me to turn my back to the falls. What a spectacular view of raw nature combined with stunning beauty!

After this thrilling experience, we were ready to return to Reykjavik to rest up for another day of touring.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

We travel not for trafficking alone,
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
__James Elroy Flecker, 1913

No name is as evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand. Founded in 700 BC, it is one of the most ancient cities of the world and the most famous city of modern Uzbekistan. In 329 BC, the city was conquered by Alexander the Great who said, “Everything I have heard about Marakanda is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.” During the centuries that followed, Samarkand became the key trading center along the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean Sea. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find that even after the capital was moved to Tashkent, Samarkand continued to play an important role in the region’s cultural and economic life. After Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991, the city became an important industrial, cultural, and tourist center.

Samarkand was relatively unknown to the western world until 2001 when the city was added to the World Heritage List. The 2,750th anniversary of the city, a contemporary of Rome, was celebrated internationally by UNESCO in 2007. Today, tourists can enjoy architectural masterpieces as splendid as the greatest monuments of India, Egypt, Greece, and ancient Rome.

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Gunter and I were blown away by the Registan Square in Samarkand—arguably the most splendid sight in all of Central Asia. If I saw nothing else during the trip, I’d have seen the best. An ensemble of three majestic madrassas built during the 15th & 17th centuries form the public square, the centerpiece of the city. I loved the expanse and grandeur of the square combined with intricate carvings and exquisite blue mosaic gracing the portals and domes.

Ulugbek's Observatory

Lois and Gunter rest after touring Ulugbek’s Observatory.

We walked on to visit mosques and mausoleums that dripped blues and greens; however, we were most fascinated by Ulugbek’s Observatory, one of the great archeological finds of the 20th century. Ulugbek was more famous as an astronomer than a ruler. He built his three-story observatory to observe star positions in the 1420s; all that remains is the astrolabe’s curved track. We had seen a similar observatory in India, but our guide claimed that Ulugbek’s lab preceded that one!

Map of Samarkand and Silk Road Cities

Map of Samarkand and Silk Road Cities

Most tours of Uzbekistan begin at Tashkent, the capital, and circle around to Khiva or to Samarkand. We ended our tour with Samarkand.

Our Uzbekistan itinerary had saved the best for last. Samarkand ended our tour. Our guide and driver took us back to Tashkent, the capital, where we relaxed for a day and then flew via Turkish Airlines back to Istanbul and then to San Francisco and on to San Diego.

Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace

Lois writes in her journal in the courtyard of the Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace.

If You Go:

Contact Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours, Office: 888-745-7670, Cell: 908-347-4280. Her company manages independent and luxury travel tours throughout the Silk Road Countries of Central Asia, as well as to Mongolia and Georgia.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

This is the final blog in the Uzbekistan series. Lois’s next blog will be about Iceland, where she will travel next week.

Uzbekistan camels

Gunter’s camel.

I know someone who vows he’ll never ride a camel again. That someone is Gunter, my husband─not that he wasn’t warned! As we prepared our itinerary for traveling Uzbekistan, my sister Ret begged, “Promise me you’ll delete those horse and camel rides from your trip. You’re not getting any younger.”

Visions of his painful-but-successful knee surgery flashed through Gunter’s head. “I rode a camel at the Pyramids and a horse over Mono Pass in the High Sierras. Yes, a man in his eighties should cut back a little. No horses or camels.”

That was then.

Dinner would be in two hours so we decided to pass the time by going to the camel corral. Mistake! We saw three camels being saddled up—three abreast—for a half-hour circle trip. Two men about Gunter’s age were on the outside with a petite lady about my size trying to mount the center camel. She gave up, saying that she couldn’t reach over the top of the double-humper to reach the stirrups. “Who wants to take her place?” the camel driver asked. There were no takers. “Someone volunteer!” he pleaded. Gunter’s hand went up as my stomach reeled in shock. He mounted his camel and they were off in a flash. No adjustments. After what seemed like forever, the three camels came back. Only one of them had a rider!

I could feel my stomach grip and my face go pale. Fak, our guide, took off running through the sandy trail. I followed, but soon lost sight of him rounding the bend. When I had run far enough to see, there was Gunter dusting himself off while Fak helped him stand. He seemed okay! “I was afraid I’d see metal from my knee poking out of my leg,” he grimaced. “First, the left stirrup came loose and fell off. Then the saddle started to slip and I began to slide. I knew I was going down. Luckily, I managed a controlled fall and then I quickly rolled out of the way of the camel’s feet.” He limped alongside Fak back to the corral.

Staying at a Yurt Camp.

After walking a village in Nurata, we wound around mountains and deserts, ending with a stunning view of Aydarkul Lake, sparkling as if it were a mirage. Then we turned back and into the Yurt Camp to check in. Gunter and I occupied a yurt near the office/restaurant with five single platform beds. We used the spare ones to spread out our belongings. Then we walked through the circle of a dozen yurts, past the campfire surrounded by wooden benches, and up the hill to the facilities, which resembled those of a typical western campground. I turned to Gunter. “Nice, but it will be a long walk at night!”

Dinner would be in two hours so we decided to pass the time by going to the camel corral. Mistake! We saw three camels being saddled up—three abreast—for a half-hour circle trip. Two men about Gunter’s age were on the outside with a petite lady about my size trying to mount the center camel. She gave up, saying that she couldn’t reach over the top of the double-humper to reach the stirrups. “Who wants to take her place?” the camel driver asked. There were no takers. “Someone volunteer!” he pleaded. Gunter’s hand went up as my stomach reeled in shock. He mounted his camel and they were off in a flash. No adjustments. After what seemed like forever, the three camels came back. Only one of them had a rider!

I could feel my stomach grip and my face go pale. Fak, our guide, took off running through the sandy trail. I followed, but soon lost sight of him rounding the bend. When I had run far enough to see, there was Gunter dusting himself off while Fak helped him stand. He seemed okay! “I was afraid I’d see metal from my knee poking out of my leg,” he grimaced. “First, the left stirrup came loose and fell off. Then the saddle started to slip and I began to slide. I knew I was going down. Luckily, I managed a controlled fall and then I quickly rolled out of the way of the camel’s feet.” He limped alongside Fak back to the corral.

Uzbekistan camel ride

Gunter points to the camels before he decides to take a ride.

The other rider had come back as well after his camel spooked and shook him off. He seemed okay.

That was then.

As they sat down to dinner, the riders were immediately offered shots of vodka. After that, we all enjoyed red wine. Our lives had returned to normal. We enjoyed nomadic, country-western-type songs around the campfire. As we walked hand-in-hand back to our Yurt, the night sky filled with a million stars reminding us of glorious night watches while sailing around the world.

In the morning after breakfast we asked the other rider whether he slept okay. “It was a terrible night,” his wife answered. “He was in pain all night.” I fetched some stronger pills for him from our Yurt, and she accepted them gratefully. “He will need them for a few nights, I fear.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Before we left Uzbekistan, I contacted her and learned the bad news: they had checked him into a hospital in Bukhara; x-rays showed that he had five or six broken ribs, plus internal bleeding. He had stayed in that hospital for five horrific days before being airlifted to a Canadian hospital in Dubai. At last report, the couple was safely back home in United States. All had learned a tough lesson: never ride a camel before you know it’s safe.

Lois Joy Hofmann blog image

I grow a beard and know things.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois’s next blog in the Uzbekistan series will be about Samarkand, crossroads of the Silk Road.

Gunter and I embrace the concept of “slow travel.” Our preference for this method of land travel is probably a byproduct of our slow sail around the world (it took us eight years). We like to decide on a destination, dream, research and read about it, plan an itinerary with plenty of spare time built in, and then go. And when we’re there, we like to take our time, surround ourselves with the power of place, understand the culture, and break bread with the locals if we can. Walking a Village is part and parcel of this experience.

On the way to Mt. Popa and Table Mountain in Myanmar (Burma), a popular tourist site southeast of Bagan, our guide parked his car and led us into a small village where we walked among thatched huts, met villagers, and visited a school. We also walked a village outside of Varanasi, India.

During our recent trip to Uzbekistan, we drove off the beaten path into Nurata, located in the foothills of Nuratau Mountains which stretch out hundreds of kilometers from Barren Steppe to Navoi and Kyzylkum Desert. This village is almost 200 kilometers from Samarkand. It was founded as ancient Nur in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, and the remains of his military fortress can be seen on a high hill to the south of town. The fortress was a strategic center for gathering an army before attacking neighboring lands.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

The elaborate water system Alexander had installed is partially used today. But the locals don’t care about which western conquerors were here; instead, they host Eastern visitors who come as Muslim pilgrims to visit the holy places and mosques. A settlement called Nur—at the foot of the mountain—contains the graves of many “who have seen” the Prophet Mohammed. This site was chosen as a settlement for its mineral spring, known as Chasma, which always stays at 19.5°C. According to legend, a fire rock (probably a meteor) fell from the sky and a spring of healing water rose where it hit the ground. Now, thousands of believers—most from neighboring towns—come to visit every year to view the strange radiance that sometimes appears over the spring. The complex contains a Friday mosque, qubba (Arabic for shrine or tomb) and a bathhouse.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

Far from industrial and tourist centers, this town of 25,000 leads an unhurried, idyllic life. The innocence and genuine hospitality of the residents is a primary reason that pilgrims and tourists like to visit Nurata. While our driver parked the car on the outskirts, our guide Fakhriddin, Gunter and I walked into town.

Eager to witness this hospitality for ourselves, we were not disappointed. We felt as if the town had been swept clean for guests: bushes and flowers had been carefully manicured, there was no trash on or along sidewalks, and smiling faces greeted us everywhere. While Fak tried to explain the inner workings of the unique system of underground pipe channels running from the spring, onlookers kept asking questions about us. We were their newest attraction!

“Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you like Uzbekistan? Why? What do you like best?” Of course, we couldn’t understand a word of Tajik or Russian, so Fak was bombarded with questions. He turned to us, “Are they bothering you?”

“Quite the opposite,” Gunter explained. “We want to talk with them. You can fill us in on the history later.”

“America! California!” a student from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, yelled to his friends. Soon his friends surrounded us and the questioning resumed.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

A teacher approached to ask Fak whether her International Language university students could come over to interview us. They were taking a cultural field trip. “How fortunate for us to find American English speakers,” she said. “That is unusual; few Europeans come here and almost no Americans.” We sat on a bench while a parade of students passed by. “Only one question each,” she instructed.

As we walk along the town’s main plaza, a withered man approached with a young boy, about 5 or 6 years old. “Photo of my grandson with you?” he asked.

“Okay,” Gunter said. “Come and stand here in front.” The grandfather releases the shy boy’s hand and gently pushes him forward. After he snapped his photo, his gnarled face broke into a wide grin. “My grandson will remember this photo for the rest of his life.”

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The center of attention all afternoon, we continued to walk and talk around the village. Those inquisitive-but-friendly people of Nurata will always hold a special place in my heart.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

 

 

Sharing Lap-Lap in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, Lois and Günter watch a local knead dough for lap-lap.

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to finagle an invitation to the home of a family who lives there. Or, when we were sailing around the world, we liked to invite locals on our boat.

My first experience receiving such an invitation was during a Cruising World charter. Heading back from a Polynesian church service in Yassawa, Fiji, a couple beckoned us from their thatched-roof dwelling. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” a man in a sulu (sarong) asked. My husband, Gunter, nodded and we walked over, took off our shoes, and went inside.

“We only have one fish, but we’d like to share,” his wife offered, while her young boy tugged at her muumuu-style dress. The meal had already been spread out on the floor on top of a tapa cloth. The small fish occupied center stage, surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes and what appeared to be back-eyed peas. We all gathered around on the floor and took part in the meager meal while answering questions about “those boats anchored in their bay.” They wanted to know about our cruising lifestyle and we wanted to learn about theirs. “Breaking bread,” although none was offered here, was a ritual we would repeat often during the nineteen years we’ve been retired, sailing and traveling the world.

Many years later, we were no longer sailing charter yachts; we had retired and purchased our own yacht, Pacific Bliss. While sailing to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu during our world circumnavigation, we anchored in Vureas Bay. The villagers there had a problem, they needed to fish to provide for their families, but the propeller for their only boat was kaput. Would Günter take a look? The propeller was beyond repair, so Günter offered to give him the spare prop for our dinghy. It was brand new, but we planned to leave Vanuatu to sail to Bundaberg, Australia, where we would store Pacific Bliss for the cyclone season. We’d buy another one next year. The villagers were flabbergasted and threw us a “Thank You Prop Party.” They strung flowers over fishing line hung high to surround the feast area. On top of mats, they spread various dishes donated by the villagers. One lady brought four of her precious eggs in a homemade basket as a gift!

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

During the Waterfall Bay Festival we invited Chief Jimmy and his wife Lillian for afternoon tea. I recount this in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. I’d put a double-sized load of cinnamon-raisin bread mix into the Breadmaker. The story continues:

“It is far too hot for tea…I served cold juice in cartons, and we talk in the cockpit. The Breadmaker beeps. Both visitors rush to see the machine. They had never seen a Breadmaker before! The chief makes that loud whistling sound, common to all Ni-Vanuatu when they’re impressed. We allow the bread to cool while we attempt to continue the conversation, but Jimmy is distracted. He just stares at the loaf on the breadboard. I slice half the loaf and place a slice on each of the small plates, along with knives to spread butter and jam. The jar of raspberry jam is labeled “Made in Port Vila, Vanuatu” but our guests have never tasted anything like it. It goes fast. I ask Jimmy whether he wants another slice. Of course, he does!

‘Go ahead, slice it yourself,’ Gunter says.

Jimmy cuts a thick slice. No tea-sized portions for him! As he slathers on the butter and jam, he says, ‘Very good. American lap-lap.’ He devours that slice and cuts even more. Before long, the entire loaf is gone!”

Lap-lap is the national dish of Vanuatu, similar to pizza, that’s baked in earth pits covered with hot rocks. The locals cover the crust with small fish, coconut paste, or smashed sweet potato (see my blog Why Travel.)

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Our most recent “breaking bread with locals” occurred during our trip to Uzbekistan. To our delight, Zulya Rajabova, owner of Silk Road Treasure Tours, had arranged a surprise visit to her childhood home in Bukhara. We had the opportunity to meet her parents, sister, numerous relatives, as well as two other travelers and their guide. The home is typical of Uzbekistan family compounds, a one-level U-shaped structure surrounding an inner courtyard. So while Zulya was busy running her company in New York, we enjoyed having a marvelous lunch with her family! After multiple courses, nieces and nephews performed for us. Saying goodbyes was difficult, but despite the surprise visit, we still had a schedule to meet—including a stop in Nurata on the way to a Yurt Camp near Aydarkul Lake.

Lois and Günter with Zulya's parents.

Lois and Günter with Zulya’s parents.

Uzbekistan bride

Günter poses with a recently married family member.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Bukhara architecture

Bukhara architecture

From Khiva, we took a midnight flight to Bukhara, where we checked in at the Komil Boutique Hotel. This privately-owned bed-and-breakfast, built over 100 years ago, is located in the heart of the Old City. The young proprietor had waited up for us, and he graciously led us to a unique, exquisite room decorated in traditional style. Each room in the hotel remains as it did in 19th century Bukhara and ours was no exception. As tired as we were, we marveled at the intricately carved and hand painted walls, wood trim, and shelving. The old house was originally owned by a Jewish merchant, one of the wealthiest men in Bukhara, and was purchased 50 years ago by Komil’s grandfather. We enjoyed a wonderful night’s sleep and wandered into the 19th century breakfast room refreshed and ready to walk around Old Town. Because we were staying in the Jewish quarter, we explored that nearby area first. We visited the Bukhara Jewish Synagogue, and after that, the shop of a puppet maker.

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Amazingly, there have been Jews in Bukhara since the 12th or 13th century. They developed their own unique culture with its own language, Bukhori, which is related to Persian, but uses the Hebrew alphabet. Bukhara’s Jews still speak it, as do an estimated 10,000 Jews, most of whom now live in Israel. At the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Jews made up 7% of Bukhara’s population, but after they could exit, all but a few hundred left the country.

Bukhara was founded over 2500 years ago, and I must say, this ancient city stole our hearts! It’s one thing to be old, quite another to be beautiful and old. Bukhara blossomed as Central Asia’s religious and cultural heart as capital of the Samanid state in the 9th and 10th centuries and never looked back. In 1220 the city succumbed to the Genghis (Chingiss) Khan and in 1330, she became part of Timor’s Samarkand. Her second chance came in the 16th century when the Uzbek Shaybanids made it the capital of the Bukhara khanate. The city was turned into a vast marketplace with dozens of specialty bazaars and caravanserais, more than 100 madrassas housing over 10,000 students, and more than 300 mosques. From 1868 on, Bolsheviks took over and by 1914, the city was absorbed into the newly created Uzbek SSR.

In the late afternoon, we wandered around the central park where we watched robed men levitating. We wondered how they did it while we browsed souvenir shops. Our guide had reserved a front-row table for us in an outdoor restaurant, where we dinned to a folklore performance and fashion show. It was a fitting end to a wonderful time in Bukhara. We looked forward to the next day’s adventures, when we would take a road trip to Aydarkul Lake, stopping at villages along the way, ending up at Yurt Camp.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wisconsin Gardening

My Wisconsin garden is spring green in May

 I’ve spent the past week relocating our household to our summer home in Polk County, Wisconsin that we call Northern Bliss. Sailors forever, Gunter and I must have the serenity of water close by. We enjoy the change of pace from our city life in San Diego. There is another lake every four miles in our county, so we never lack the color of water. But after eight years sailing around the world, we also crave the color green.

I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity.

Aha! I’ve been gardening my first week here, exposed to all that green. Now that my creativity is back, I can get back to writing again. Before I continue the Uzbekistan travel series, I want to take you to my environment here. The days are getting longer. Sunrise was at 5:27 this morning and sunset will be at 8:48. On June 21, the summer solstice, first light will occur at 4:43 a.m. with sunrise at 5:21. Sunset will be at 9:02 with last light at 9:40. Plants love all that light so spring growth is intensive. I can almost see those ferns in my garden unfurling their delicate fronds.

Garden Ferns

Garden ferns unfurl as they mature

Did you know that fiddlehead greens are harvested as a vegetable? The fiddlehead fern fronds must still be tightly furled.

Martha Stewart even has a recipe for them! . Reportedly, they taste grassy (of course) but with a hint of nuttiness. Hmm. Many people say they taste like a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some detect a bit of mushroom. Watch out for those if they’re growing nearby. Also keep this in mind: Fiddleheads can cause symptoms of food-borne illness if eaten raw or improperly cooked. Be careful.

Have a wonderful and inspiring spring!

 

 

 

Fiddler greens

Fiddler greens served as a restaurant delicacy

For related blogs, visit https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/soft-focus/

and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/returning-to-northern-bliss-fifty-shades-of-green/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time through Father’s Day.

“You cannot make a drawing without shadows.” Anonymous.

Our final morning in Tashkent, we transferred to the airport an early-morning flight to Urgench. Then we drove to Khiva along the Amu-Darya delta, which stretches from southeast of Urgench to the Aral Sea. This region, an important oasis called the Khorezm Delta, has been inhabited for millennia. Along the way, we stopped to walk through the rooms of an ancient palace with a stone courtyard surrounded by a harem’s quarter, visited a caravanseri (inn for traveling merchants), and photographed an old mosque with 200 uniquely carved wooden pillars.

Urgench, Uzbekistan

Carriage used to bring a new bride to the palace near Urgench, Uzbekistan

Khiva seafood

My fish takes one last breath.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant specializing in seafood. Skeptical, Gunter asked, “Seafood this far inland?”

“It’s from the lake close by,” Fak answered. We saw fish was swimming in a tank outside the restaurant. At least, they would be fresh. What I didn’t realize is that they were carp!   Growing up in Wisconsin, I was taught never to eat these bottom fish. I ate a few bites, didn’t like the texture, and hid the meat under the skin. And then we traveled on to Khiva.

Khiva was an 8th century minor fort and trading post on a side branch of the Silk Road. The town remained an insignificant player until the 16th century when it became the capital of the Uzbek Shaybanids. Khiva ran a busy slave market for more than three centuries. Slaves were bought by Turkmen tribesmen from the desert and Kazakh tribes of the steppes. By 1740, the town became an outpost of the Persian empire and by 1873, its khan became a vassal of the tsar of Russia. Finally, in 1920 the Bolsheviks installed the Khorezm People’s Republic, theoretically independent from the USSR.

What I wanted from Khiva was a spectacular photo of its west-facing facades bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. What I got was clouds, rain, wind for two days. And I was still trying to recover from a cold. Our hotel, the 78-room Orient Star, offered us the chance to stay inside a 19th century medressa, with its hujras (study cells) converted to rooms. We were told to bend low climbing the high steps curving toward our room the second floor, but with my short height, I’ve never had to bend over for ceilings. Bump! Fortunately, I have a hard head! Because Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site, certain restrictions applied, for example, only one electrical outlet to plug in all our electronics (we each had an iPod and cellphone). No matter, internet reception was only available—quite intermittently—in the walkways facing the courtyard. I didn’t feel too much like a hermit; the bathrooms are made of fancy stone, similar to the rustic farmhouse décor currently in style.

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Pomp and circumstance: a dual presidential visit. The next morning, after a simple breakfast of fresh yogurt, wonderful cheese, warm bread and fruit, we found the courtyard and all the streets filled with frenetic activity. The following day, the president of Uzbekistan would be visiting Old Town Khiva, along with his guest, the president of Turkmenistan! Gorgeous young women from both countries were flown in. The day before the event, we saw them practice standing in a receiving line the delegation would pass by. Bands were blaring; dancers and other performers were perfecting their arts; all the while, locals swept the streets clean and gardeners planted wheelbarrows full of colorful annuals—gold marigolds and red petunias—along the parade routes.

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That evening, we attended a magnificent dinner, complete with a musical performance and a puppet show. I feared it would rain on Khiva’s parade because it poured most of the night. But while the morning dawned cold and windy, the rain had ceased. We skirted puddles along mud walls dating from the 18th century, rebuilt after being destroyed by the Persians. We were relieved to get back inside the walls to the familiarity of “our street.”

The plazas and streets looked deserted. “Where are the other tourists? Gunter asked.

“Oh, most of them stayed inside because of the weather,” Fak explained. I wondered what I was doing there! Then he added, “When the event begins, they’ll have to stay inside their hotels, or another hotel or restaurant. Security.”

Shivering, we ducked inside a restaurant offering freshly pressed ginger tea. How wonderful! I asked for the recipe and it turned out the chef was from Germany! Gunter talked with him about his experience coming to Khiva to train the restaurant staff in “western” ways.

A Special Ginger Tea

A Special Ginger Tea

We took an afternoon nap before packing for our flight home. Our morning flight–which had unfortunately been scheduled the day the two presidents would arrive—had been cancelled. The airport would be closed all day. Security.

We were driven back to the airport for our re-scheduled 7:30 evening flight, which we were assured would take off to Bukhara. The airport was still closed. The visiting president was apparently still in town. Our driver could not enter the airport parking lot, and only those with tickets were allowed into the terminal. We passengers had to pull our luggage from the other side of the building, around to the entrance. And then we had to wait, and wait, until close to midnight, when the plane finally took off. Our guide, Fak, was flying with us, so we weren’t left alone.

“In the U.S., if a visiting president were in a town or not,” I told him while we waited, “the government would not close the airport.

“It happens all the time here. How would they provide security for your president if he came to your town?” he asked.

“In San Diego, he would probably land at our naval base,” I said.

“Keep in mind,” Fak explained, “we do not have private or government airfields outside of Tashkent, the capital.”

Always expect the unexpected. These are but the “shadows” of a country just opening to tourism.

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Tashkent, Capital of Uzbekistan

Lois and Gunter in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Those of us who have grown up in a country that has known democracy for centuries have no idea what a difficult road this is for fledgling democracies that have recently broken free of the yoke of communism. While touring Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, we came to understand the struggle Uzbeks have gone through since gaining independence in 1991. Visiting the structures, monuments, and museums allowed us to gain an understanding of this proud and independent Uzbeck people.

Uzbekistan, like it’s Central Asian neighbors, is not particularly well known to the outside world. For about seventy years, it was one of the 15 republics of the USSR. Few westerners knew much about the culture and ethnic differences within this huge country. In 1991, after gaining independence, The Republic of Uzbekistan joined the family of “stans” that lie beneath Russia on the globe and span most of central Asia. We’re more familiar with Pakistan and Afghanistan because they’ve been in the news. Yet, it is Uzbekistan that contains the exotic ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara—reminding us of the Great Silk Road and the stories of Arabian Nights. It is Uzbekistan that’s the crossroads of cultures from Persian to Turkic, from European to Russian, from Chinese to Mongolian. We could see this cultural melting pot for ourselves in the capital city of Tashkent. Arriving on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul, we dipped into a vibrant, colorful, and exotic slice of Central Asian life. But this life is not the overwhelming chaos of New Delhi, or Cairo, or Saigon; it’s more constrained—with careful city planning, wide tree-lined streets, and well-kept architectural monuments and public spaces.

Having recently embraced tourism, Uzbekistan has yet to fall victim to globalization. Refreshingly, there are no ATMs, McDonalds, Starbucks or broadband outside the major hotels. But we did find remnants of Soviet-style restrictions and bureaucracy. And the people seem to like a certain order. That’s to be expected; change does not come overnight. We were reminded of this by our guide, Fak, now 33, who was only six years old when the country broke free of Russian domination. He represents this new generation—hopeful, ambitious, energetic and full of love for his country. It is the generation of his parents who remember how Russia had forced her satellite countries to furnish raw materials and products to fuel Russia’s empire; e.g., Uzbekistan was to provide natural gas, minerals (such as uranium) and cotton. Russia would, in turn, provide the food and products to keep the country dependent. So, when the country broke free, the people were starving; quickly, they had to grow and produce everything they needed to survive on their own. This was a tough time—becoming independent—but most saw it as a growth experience. They hated Russian domination as much as they loved Reagan’s “tear-down-that-wall” style of freedom.

Uzbekistan is a Presidential Republic. Elected for a five-year term, the president appoints ministers and selects provincial governors. The constitution was modeled after that of the U.S. and even the government buildings mirror the U.S. White House and congressional architecture. The current president, Šavkat Mirzijojev, took office on September 8, 2016. In his address to the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, he stated, “We are deeply convinced: the people must not serve the government bodies, rather the government bodies must serve the people.” He promised to eradicate the child and forced labor the country had experienced in the past to pick the cotton crop for export to Russia and China. And, he abolished past policies, such as exit visas, and opened the country to tourism and other investment opportunities, hoping to grow other industries to replace cotton exports.

During our time in Tashkent, we wanted to understand the people and culture of Uzbekistan by viewing what was most important to them. And that desire led us to Independence Square.

Independence Square tells the story of Uzbekistan as a country. The old monuments of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were torn down. Three others dominate the square:

The Monument of Independence, raised during 1991, is a large golden globe that symbolizes the desire of a young, independent state to join the world community. The 6-meter Happy Mother monument, completed in 2006 and placed in front, depicts a simple Uzbek woman as the symbol of the homeland, life, and wisdom. Her eyes are fixed on her child, symbolizing the birth of the young, independent state. The child is an image of the future.

In the square, our guide walks us by a memorial to those who never returned from the fields of World War II. Near an eternal flame are tragic figures of bereaved mothers who await their children, sometimes called “The Crying Mother Monument.” More than one million Uzbek soldiers fell in battle. From all parts of Uzbekistan, people come here to see and remember the names of their fallen inscribed in gold.

Our next stop: Khiva, a town founded back when Shem, son of Noah, reportedly discovered a well there. Little did we know what we would find.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Our travel took over a day—from San Francisco, to Istanbul, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When we arrived, our guide, Fakhriddin, was waiting at the exit of the airport with a sign. We walked into the cool early morning air to a waiting car and driver and were off to Tashkent Lotte City Palace. We were checked in by 2:45 a.m.

Günter and I were wide awake by 6 a.m. so we had a chat with AT&T in New York about how to switch our phones to Wi-Fi only and avoid international roaming. Then we enjoyed a deluxe east-meets-west breakfast soon after the dining room opened at 7 a.m. Our Day 1 schedule said, “check in and relax” but we were too excited. I’d fueled myself with a cappuccino and we were ready to stretch our legs and see the sights. “Just a short walk around the area,” Gunter said, “to get out the kinks from all that sitting. Then we’ll relax.” Famous last words. After 4.2 miles on our sports bands, we arrived back at the hotel exhausted. But already, we’d seen and learned enough to get a sense of place.

Navoi Theatre

Navoi Theatre. This Soviet-era Opera House, directly across from the Lotte hotel where we stayed, was built by Japanese WWII POWs but with the Uzbek design detail shown here.

Directly across from our hotel stands the huge Navoi Soviet-era opera/ballet theatre built by Japanese POWs using Uzbek architectural techniques. We walked around the huge building trying to get that concept into our jet-lagged heads while Fakhriddin (Fak for short) riddled us with other stories. I liked the one about the 7000 children—most of them Jewish orphans from Europe—that were dumped by the Soviets into the city of Tashkent along with orders to “just take care of them.” Rather than build an orphanage, the Uzbeks took them into their homes; sometimes half a dozen would be taken into one family and brought up along with their own children. That story introduced me to Uzbek culture: one of hospitality in which foreigners are treated as guests of honor. Tashkent has a sizable Jewish and Japanese population to this day.

I was amazed at the mix of nationalities and styles of clothing in Tashkent. Street vendors were dressed in multicolor dresses and scarves and clunky shoes with socks. But at the main thoroughfares, businessmen wore black suits, white shirts and ties with dark, highly polished shoes and women wore long sleeve blouses, blazers, and skirts at knee-length or slightly above—with nylons and heels. It could have been New York!

Tashkent plov and samosasAt one corner, an open-air restaurant was serving plov out of a humongous wok and samosas (meat-filled pastries) from another. “Take a look,” Fak urged. Plov—a conglomeration of rice, vegetables, and bits of meat swimming in lamb fat and oil—is a staple throughout Central Asia, but most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Each province has its own style, which locals proudly proclaim is the best. Rumor has it that drinking the oil at the bottom of the kazan (large cauldron) adds a spark to a man’s libido. “The plov here is the best,” said Fak while directing us to an oil-cloth-covered table. “You have to try some. I’ll make sure the cook selects portions that he’s pushed up along the side of the kazan, so you don’t get the fat.” Soon dishes of plov, samosas, and a heap of naan-type bread covers our little table. And we weren’t even hungry.

We walked off our lunch by walking through the near-by park, art lining the sidewalks. Then we walked a long way to the main post office to select commemorative stamps for a friend. By then, we were ready for a taxi back and a long, well-deserved nap!

Tashkent Barak Khan

If Day 1 was a taste of Tashkent, Day 2 was some serious touring. We walked through Old Town and much of the Khast Imon Square, ending with the Barak Khan Medressa (school) on the west side where we strolled along souvenir shops that formerly housed students. Northwest of the square, we peeked into the mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shoshi, a famed Islamic scholar and poet.

We ended our tour at the famed Chorsu Bazaar, one of Tashkent’s 16 open-air farmers’ markets. What an amazing and energizing experience! This slide show depicts a few of our many encounters with locals there:

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A restaurant bordering a park was the perfect place to eat and relax. As we were finishing our lunch, a bridal party asked their photographer to have a picture taken of them with us. Americans! How special! Who knew? This scenario would be repeated throughout Uzbekistan.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Silk Road Treasure Tours

Lois and Zulya in San Diego

Kublai asks Marco, “When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?”

“I speak and speak,” Marco says, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. The description of the world to which you lend a benevolent ear is one thing; the description that will go to the rounds of groups of stevedores and gondoliers on the street outside my house the day of my return is another; and yet another, that which I might dictate late in life, if I were taken prisoner by Genoese pirates and put in irons in the same cell with a writer of adventure stories. It is not the voice that commands the story; it is the ear.”     __Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)

What stories will I tell when I return from the lands of Marco Polo, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan? And who will listen? What will you choose to hear? The first step has been taken: Gunter and I are underway, and so excited! We’re flying Turkish Air from San Francisco to Istanbul, and after a brief layover, on to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The Culture and History of Uzbekistan

I enjoy reading about the history and culture of a country before I enter. This long flight gives me plenty of time. Although Uzbeks make up about 70% of the population, the country is ethnically diverse, with Russian, Tajik, Kazakh, Korean, Jewish, Armenian, Tartar, and other communities. Over the centuries, waves of mostly Turkic-speaking nomadic tribes passed through the area—interspersed with Greeks, Chinese, Arabs, and Mongols. We’ll meet descendants of a mix of cultures, dynasties, and cultures whose ancestors emerged and disappeared along the famed Silk Road. After the breakup of the Soviet Union and independence in 1991, many Russians fled and major cities who had been 30-50% Uzbek are now close to 100% Uzbek. I’m amazed to learn that Uzbekistan has a literacy rate of nearly 98%. Teachers are highly respected, and a higher social status is ascribed to those with a college degree.

Tashkent, our first stop, is the capital of independent Uzbekistan and by far, the nation’s largest city, with about 3 million population. One of the oldest cities, Tashkent was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219, but was later rebuilt and became a strategic center of commerce, trade, and scholarship along the Silk Road. Unfortunately, in 1966, a 7.5 earthquake devastated much of the old colonial adobe structures of Tashkent. Only a few older structures survived, so it was rebuilt as a model Soviet city, with wide tree-lined streets, vast squares, and fountains. Since then, many Soviet-era buildings have been taken down or remodeled with modern tinted glass, white walls, and concrete columns.

Uzbekistan with Tashkent

Uzbekistan with Tashkent

Today, Uzbekistan’s democratic president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who came to power in 2016 following the death of his dictatorial predecessor Islam Karimov, has initiated a new development, Tashkent City, a magnet for foreign investors. He’s kick-started an economic revolution to transform the Uzbek capital back into a business hub for central Asia and beyond. But rapid growth has its downside: many houses in the historic mahalla district are slated for demolition to make room for glitzy silver skyscrapers, luxury apartments, hotels, and offices. The process reminds me of how we saw China demolish thousands of hutongs in Beijing to widen freeways prior to the 2008 Olympics.

The future of The Silk Road.

I’m a curious traveler. Yes, I want to photograph those famous teal-blue mosaic tiles brought into the Silk Road markets by the Mongols. But I also want to gain an understanding of these people of Uzbekistan who form a mosaic of different historic, ethnic, class, educational, and cultural backgrounds. And I want to understand what the future holds these countries of Central Asia.

We are seeing the birth pains of a new world emerging before our eyes. We in the West wonder where the next threat may come from, how to deal with extremists, how to negotiate with states who seem willing to disregard international law, and how to build relationships with peoples and cultures about whom we’ve spent little time trying to understand. Meanwhile, “networks and connections are quietly being knitted together across the spine of Asia; or rather, they are being restored. The Silk Roads are rising again.” __Peter Frankopan.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time.

Uzbekistan and Central Asia

One week from now, Gunter and I will be on a plane bound for Uzbekistan. We can barely contain our excitement. We’ve had a successful pre-trip conference call with Zulya, our travel agent at Silk Road Treasure Tours. Gunter has retrieved our luggage from storage—two small suitcases and two rolling carry-ons. I purchased a new Baggallini travel bag and a Wallaroo foldable hat at Traveler’s Depot, bought some fun new clothes at Sundance and Chicos, and replaced my old sports shoes with lightweight, less showy walking shoes at Road Runner Sports. We’ve refilled our prescriptions and purchased travel-size personal items, 220-volt converters, assembled chargers, checked batteries, and charged up our Kindles.

Do it now. Don’t stress out.

We both realize that preparation one week in advance means less stress later, when we’ll want to say goodbyes without lists running through our heads. For this trip, we have new packing cubes. I’m looking forward to using them.

Packing Tips

Packing cubes and laundry bags always come in handy for storing personal items, dusty shoes, and of course, your laundry.

Packing Cubes

These larger cubes are great for packing folded shirts and tops, underwear, etc. You can keep them in your luggage, or unpack them directly into a dresser drawer as is.

Packing Tips Luggage Tag

Mark your luggage with a can’t-miss tag so you can easily distinguish it in the baggage carousel.

Packing Tips Day Bag

Bring a small daypack that fits easily into the outside pocket of your suitcase.

If you haven’t learned how to correctly fold a blouse or shirt, now is the time to practice—not when you’re rushed. Pack a few items into a cube like this: We’re taking one “wardrobe suitcase” that allows us to pack our clothes on hangers and merely hang them up at hotels, but if you want to pack one week’s worth of clothes in a 22” carry-on suitcase—without using cubes, here’s how:

Protect your back

Many years ago, we transitioned from backpacks to rolling carry-ons. It makes traveling so much easier. If you check your other luggage, do make sure to pack your electronics, reading materials and/or journal, valuables, medicines, and sufficient items to get by overnight into your carry-on, in the rare event that you and your checked luggage get separated.

Lois with red carry-on

Lois with red carry-on

When you read my next blog in this series, I’ll be underway. Sign up, if you haven’t done so already. I’d love to have you travel along with me at the middle of The Silk Road.

Silk_Road with Samarkand at the crossroads

Silk Road with Samarkand at the crossroads.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time.

Travel planning should be fun, not stressful. How can you make it so?
A Checklist Can Ease Your Stress
__ Do you need a passport? If so, allow plenty of time for it to arrive to your door.

__Does your destination require a VISA? Apply six weeks in advance in case you run into bureaucratic difficulties.

__Do you want to sign up for Global Entry?

Global Entry PassportWhat is Global Entry? Global Entry is a program of the United States Government’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. It makes international travel so much easier. To apply, one must complete the online application at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/how-apply. After your application is reviewed, you will be contacted to schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. At the interview, a CBP officer asks you questions, takes your photo, and collects biometric information such as fingerprints. Gunter and I signed up for Global Entry this year and will use this additional stamp in our passport for the first time during our upcoming trip to Uzbekistan. We hope to glide right through those long custom lines! I’ll let you know how it works out.

__Well before you travel, make sure your medical, dental, and eyecare is up to date. Will you require vaccinations? The week before you leave, refill any prescriptions you’ll need, including those little-used “emergency” pills—just in case.

__Prepare a sample itinerary. If you’re with a group, your travel agency will do this. Be sure to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Which reservations must be made early? If you’re traveling during high season, hotels may fill up fast.

__Purchase your train, bus or plane ticket or prepare your car for travel.

__ Check those sites that combine travel, hotels, and transportation in package deals, such as Travelocity, Expedia, Costco, etc. Will any of these work for you? (Beware, sometimes package deals are misleading and can be difficult to change later.)

__Make a list of clothes and personal items you’ll need to buy; if you’re shopping online, allow time for shipment and/or backorders. Check the weather in your destination – average highs and lows for the time of year you plan to travel. I retrieve our luggage from storage two weeks in advance and begin to throw in personal items and clothes I know I won’t be needing in the next few weeks. Then I repack a day or two before the trip and add any clothes I don’t want to wrinkle.

__Review your photography equipment; will you need anything else? Be sure you have backup flash drives in case you fill up your camera(s). If you don’t normally take a lot of photos, familiarize yourself with your camera’s operation before you go. Will you need to download parts of your manual? If using a smartphone, bring a back-up charger for the trip.

__What will your internet connections be like? Will they have broadband? Wifi? (I just found out that some places in Uzbekistan still have dial-up. I’ll probably transmit only in the larger cities.)

__ If you’re traveling internationally, inform your bank and/or credit card company in advance. You do not want to be without access to funds.

Raj Palace Entrance

Gunter on the Raj Palace stairs to our unexpected suite

Prepare To Expect The Unexpected
What if your expectations don’t meet reality? That’s part of the adventure and thrill of travel. When traveling in India, our flight from Varanasi to Agra was cancelled after we had already checked in our luggage. Our next stop was to be two nights at a hotel near the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, our travel company had provided us with a cell phone and India SIM card for just such emergencies. We called them, and within 20 minutes, they had solved the problem. A driver magically appeared as our luggage was coming back down the carousel; he led us to his car and we were on our way, driving overnight.

Raj Palace Courtyard

Raj Palace Courtyard

 

The dirt road was rough and at some places, the driver went off the road into the ditch to bypass construction zones, but by early morning, we stopped at the palace of a Raj to stay for the day and evening, and the following day, we were safely deposited to our hotel in Agra.

 

 

 

 

 

Raj Palace Light Fixture

One of the many exquisite light fixtures in our suite.

 

 

I wouldn’t have missed staying in that palace for all the tea in China (I mean, India). I felt like a princess as the rising sun shone through gorgeous stained glass and exquisite chandeliers illuminated every room.

So, prepare to be flexible. Don’t over schedule and take things as they come. Above all, don’t stress.

 

 

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time.

Do you stare at the window at work, nod off into a travel dream while watching TV, or dream of yourself in another place while you’re waiting in the check-out line at the grocery? Do you say to yourself I wish I could be there now…but I can’t? Maybe, someday…Why dream when you could actually do it? Here’s how:

Step 1: Prepare your bucket list and set your travel goals.

Do you have a travel Bucket List? If not, start a Pinterest Vision Board and pin your favorite travel ideas from the Internet. That will give you some ideas of where to go. If you already have such a list, so some additional work on it. I use an accordion-style folder and then add individual file folders inside. My Bucket List folders have expanded into an entire desk drawer over the years. You could divide your own list by national and international, long-term travel vs. vacation, must-do vs. nice-to-do, immediate and later, or simply year by year.
We’ve all learned how to set goals in business. We know that goals must be:
• Measurable
• Achievable
• Realistic
• Time-based
You can use this same goal-setting process to achieve your personal or family travel goals. For example, we added “Central Asia” to our Bucket List after we’d completed our world circumnavigation and wanted to travel to landlocked areas yachts and cruise ships couldn’t reach. About four years ago when traveling in Myanmar (Burma) we met a couple from New York who had been there. They recommended Uzbekistan because they had used a travel agent who had grown up there. We contacted her and set a measurable goal to go there in two years. That goal was achievable but not realistic because it was not the right time of year and we had time-based family obligations. We changed the plan to four years, and voilà! we will make that trip in April of this year.

Uzbekistan_3

Step 2: Decide where to go and make your travel plan.

Decisions are never easy. And sometimes you can be overwhelmed by so many choices that the year goes by and you realized you haven’t gone at all. Think of it this way. Yes, there are so many places left to see, but you do not have to do it all at one time. So simply decide how long you can be gone and then block off that time on your calendar. Select a trip that fits your timetable and budget. If you don’t travel often, start small and stay close until you’re comfortable with longer trips. If you’re not comfortable traveling alone, go with a group or with a friend who knows the ropes.
What is holding you back? Bring that Thing out of the closet and examine it. Can you go anyway? If that Thing is money, think about what you can give up to make it happen. Going out for dinner? Going to theaters when you could get a subscription to Netflix and pop your own corn? Do you really need that new car, new sofa, new bike, new…? Remember, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” (see my last blog). If you decide not to travel, it’s because you don’t value it enough.

Step 3: Research your chosen destination.

This is the fun part. Do take the time to look through travel brochures and tag the specifics you want to see. Explore alternatives before you choose what you want. Research on-line comments about day tours and hotels, keeping in mind that complainers are more vocal than “happy campers.” Learn from the mistakes of others but stay optimistic and excited about the places you’ve chosen to visit.

The Travels of Marco PoloBuy guide books, travelogues, and history books and read, read, read. Watch movies and documentaries about your chosen destination. Immerse yourself into the customs and cultures of locals.
Right now, I’m buried in the romance of the Silk Road. My head is bursting with blue-domed cities filled with gorgeous blue tiles, remote yurts (yes, one night will be a yurt-stay), and colorful bazaars. I’m ensnared in the clutches of Samarkand, founded in the 5th century BC. In 329 BC, the walled city was taken by Alexander the Great who said, “Everything I have heard about Marakanda (Samarkand) is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.” This strategic city sat on the crossroads leading to China, India, and Persia. In Bukhara, two thousand years old, I want to bury myself into Marco Polo’s world, so I’m reading The Travels of Marco Polo, an illustrated classic about his excursions from 1271-1295. In Tashkent, the capital, I want to see for myself a city destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219 and rebuilt to become a prominent center of scholarship, commerce, and trade along the Silk Road. Altogether, I want to take on what has been called “the glorious weight of history” by understanding the customs and culture of just one country: Uzbekistan. Instead of sailing in the wake of ancient explorers, such as Cook and Zheng Ho, I’ll be traveling the sandprints of some of history’s greatest travelers and invaders.

The Travels of Marco Polo

What type of travel do you prefer? At our ages, Gunter and I opt out of group tours whenever we can. We prefer independent travel. We generally go through a travel agent who helps us plan our unique itinerary; sets up inter-country flights, trains, and cars; and books with a local guide. We also prefer “slow travel.” We choose a relaxed itinerary that includes time for leisurely breakfasts, “walking a village” (by ourselves, if permissible), and an extra day or two near the end for me to catch up on my journaling and posting before we head back.

Step 4: Make a commitment.

Those who achieve their dreams go out and do what others dream of doing. So, get out of your little bubble of existence today before you dig so deep into that comfort zone that you become mired and cannot claw yourself out.

“Some people live in a dream world and others face reality and then there are those who turn one into the other.” –Douglas Everet.

Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this  nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale at a reduced price for a limited time.

Trilogy_Instagram_2

Author Lois Joy Hofmann World Travel

Travel can make you rich in a way that nothing else can. It allows you to break habits, give yourself time to heal, reduce stress, expand awareness, and gain a new enthusiasm for life. It helps you rediscover the real you. As Rachel Wolchin said, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.” Instead of repeating the same life experience every year for ten, twenty, or forty years, travel can give us dozens of life-changing encounters in only one year. Travel is the difference between reading one page of the “world book” and reading the entire thing. So, come out of your bubble and into the real world.

Traveling Takes Us Out of Our Comfort Zone

Travel awakens your “inner child” by offering new, first-time experiences. It stokes your curiosity. But keep this in mind: “A foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It’s designed to make its own people comfortable.” –Clifton Fadman.

Yes, travel is inconvenient. But when you’re away from the unfamiliar, you’re open. And with a heightened state of awareness, you’re ready to tackle new experiences. If it scares you, it will also challenge you, so go for it!

A few words of caution, however: travel can be addicting. “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” –Michael Palin. Michael is talking about the traveler’s rush that hits you upon arrival to a new place. Like an elixir, the more you expose yourself, the more you want it.

Travel Helps Us Learn About Other Cultures

I admit to passionate affairs with destinations. I tend to fall in love with one country until I find another that I love even better. To me, reaching a destination with a purpose is so much more important than crossing countries off a list. That’s why I prepare so much—reading, researching, discovering all I can. I want to engage fully with the culture I’ll be in. And after you’ve been in many cultures, you’ll find that all people around the world, while different, are in many ways the same: They laugh, love, cry, eat, learn, and die. They care for family first, then their community or tribe, and want an even better life for their children. If you’re a person who learns best by doing, then go and explore this varied and wonderful world.

Vanatu Northern Banks Islands

While attending a festival in the Northern Banks islands of Vanuatu, we yachties learned how to weave using plants and to make kakai (island food), and laplap.

During a three-day festival, we invited a local couple from Waterfall Bay, Vanuatu for afternoon tea on our yacht, Pacific Bliss. The wife pointed to the placemat, a large photo of Sail Bay in San Diego. “Why you leave beautiful home like this to come here?”

“To see how you live,” I answered. She shook her head, surprised. I took a loaf of warm pumpernickel bread out of the BreadMaker, cut it into ample slices, lathered them with honey, and handed everyone a slice. Before long, the entire loaf was gone! This couple had never tasted bread before.

“This…our laplap,” the woman said. “We bake in ground. Put fish on top.” The next day, the local women showed us yachties how to make laplap.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll love to experience the different dishes prepared around the world. And don’t hesitate to take local cooking classes whenever you can.

Travel is About Creating Memories and Making New Friends

You create lasting memories when you open your horizons to different and unique cultures, cuisines, and landscapes. And many of the friends you meet “on the road” continue to be your confidants many years later. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you’ll be surprised at the ways you’ve changed. Be sure to take a travel journal with you so you can document your transformation. Who knows? Your next trip just might turn you into a storyteller!

Storyteller, leaves you speechless, Crater Lakes, Kelimutu, Indonesia, The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann, p 97
“Traveling Develops Character; It Opens the Mind”
Travel is not the reward for working; it’s an education for living. In fact, many Europeans view travel this way and take a year off between school and work to travel. It’s a time for new graduates to think on their own without others telling them what to do. Distance provides perspective and opens young minds to what’s really important. To travel is to evolve. Traveling Develops Character; It Opens the Mind.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” –Miriam Bia
…Coming Back to Where You Started is Not the Same as Never Leaving
“So much of who we are is where we have been.” –William Langewiesche
You go away so that you can come back and see the place with new eyes, new colors, and a different perspective. As I said in the last chapter of my trilogy about sailing around the world, “We’ve closed a momentous chapter in our lives, and we can never return to who we were before.”

And that’s not all bad. To Gunter and me, at this stage of our lives, travel is life, and life is travel. It’s as much a part of our makeup as the books we read and the food we eat. Sure, we love to spend time with family and friends, and we enjoy other activities, but to suggest that we stop traveling would be like saying we’ll stop learning, growing, and living our dreams.

About the Author: Embarking on an eight-year adventure at sea, former human genetics and biomedical technology CEO, Lois Joy Hofmann sailed around the world on a 43-foot catamaran with her husband, Gunter. Discovering the thrills, dangers, and bliss of the cruising life, she shares their passions, experiences and knowledge learned and Lois inspires others to “Follow Your Bliss”; you’re never to old to fulfill your dreams.

Sailing the World Travel Trilogy Book Special Now Available to the Public for a Limited Time!
LEARN MORE

Description: This thoughtfully written, beautifully illustrated Trilogy documents people and places around the world. Containing hundreds of color photos, these coffee-table- sized books are all three now available to the public.

When we can view a photo and immediately recognize where it was taken, that’s the Power of Place. We know that this place is different from all the other places on this planet. It is uniqueiconic. Examples of such correlations are:

  • Taj Mahal=India
  • Eiffel Tower=France
  • Pyramids=Egypt
  • Parthenon=Greece
  • Golden Gate Bridge=California, USA

Did you notice that all these icons are man-made? “Oh, what a wonderful monument…statue…structure…bridge…memorial,” you say as you snap the obligatory photo to bring home.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011 www.LoisJoyHofmann.com

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Sense of Place: Sensory Memories of Places Visited

Feeling usually involves connection. You get involved with that place. You bring yourself into the picture. You experience it. And when you bring that photo home and view it again, you’re transported back to that place, that frame of mind, that experience. Did you feel the spray from that waterfall as you stood on that bridge? Did you touch and smell those flowers as they rustled with the wind? Do you hear the chatter of those monkeys before they tried to steal your banana? Do you re-live the fear you felt when you saw that approaching storm?

waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

We swam in back of this waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. From Sailing the South Pacific

Elephant Kandy Sri Lanka

I’ll never forget this elephant in Kandy, Sri Lanka, who came right up to me on shore! From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back.

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Bring home the Passion of People instead of the Power of Things

Portraits of people inevitably bring back the connection you felt to that place. As I look through the photos of our eight years circumnavigating the world on a catamaran, and our travels around the world in recent years, it is those photos of people that create the memories all over again. I laugh, I cry, I remember, and sometimes, I even dream of going back to that special place in the world.

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama from Maiden Voyage by Lois Joy Hofmann 

Lois and Gunter Hofmann: Still traveling the world, embarking on one adventure after another

Their next adventure, Uzbekistan, touring the Silk Road, is coming up soon. She’ll be writing travelogues about their new adventures. Visit Lois’s author page at Amazon.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”   __T.S. Eliott

The word “circumnavigator” has many meanings. Wikipedia says, “Circumnavigation is navigation completely around an entire island, continent, or astronomical body (e.g., a planet or moon)…The first known circumnavigation of Earth was the Magellan-Elcano expedition, which sailed from Seville, Spain in 1519 and returned in 1522, after crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.”

Past and Present: World Explorers

 

Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Note that Magellan had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, the two most dangerous capes in the world, whereas Gunter and I could transit the Panama and Pacific Canals. (See our route below):

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation map

The Circumnavigation of Globe by Pacific Bliss, 2000-2008. (from The Long Way Back)

The second person to complete a circumnavigation (1577-1580) was Francis Drake, who discovered the Drake Passage. The English circumnavigator sailed westward from England but entered the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan. He was the first captain to lead an expedition throughout the circumnavigation.

The third circumnavigator was Martin Ignacio de Loyola who completed a westward circumnavigation from 1580-84 westward from Spain and then completed another circumnavigation from 1585-1589 eastward from Spain; he was the first to circumnavigate each way and the first to use an overland route during his circumnavigation. With his two trips from Europe to South America, Loyola was probably the most widely traveled man in history up to the 17th century.

Noted First Circumnavigators in History

There were many more firsts to follow:

  • Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri sailed around the world in multiple voyages from 1693-1698 using nothing but public transportation. He inspired Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • William Dampier, an Englishman, was the first to circumnavigate three times (1708-1711).
  • The Dolphin was the first ship to survive two circumnavigations (with Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret).
  • Jeanne Bare, disguised as a man during the first French circumnavigation, was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
  • My hero, James Cook, made the first circumnavigation that lost not one man to scurvy. (HMS Resolution; 1772-1775).
  • Sir James Simpson made the first land circumnavigation by crossing Canada and Siberia (1841-1842).
  • The paddle sloop HMS Driver made the first steamship circumnavigation. (1845-1847).
  • Joshua Slocum made the first single-handed circumnavigation (1895-1898). He wrote a sailing memoir, published in 1900, called Sailing Alone Around the World about his single-handed global circumnavigation aboard his sloop, Spray. His successful book inspired decades of voyagers.
  • During Operation Sandblast in 1960, the USS Triton made the first underwater circumnavigation.
  • Yuri Gargarin, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, circumnavigated the planet in 1961 for 108 minutes.
  • David Scott Cowper made the first circumnavigation by motorboat in 1985.
  • Dodge Morgan was the first American to sail solo around the world, nonstop. (American Promise. 1985-1986)
  • Hank de Velde, in 1997, sailed a catamaran around the world—eastward—in 119 days nonstop. To my knowledge, he is still the only person to perform this feat singlehanded on a catamaran.
  • Ellen MacArthur, to my knowledge, is still the fastest female circumnavigator. She sailed a trimaran B&Q/Castorama around the world in 71 days in 2005.
  • Laura Dekker, 16 in 2012, was the youngest person to complete a circumnavigation.

 

A Sense of Accomplishment

Anyone who completes a circumnavigation can’t help but feel pleased and proud of his or her accomplishment. I describe how we felt in the last chapter of my nautical/adventure coffee table book trilogy, The Long Way Back:

“We’re back where we started,” Gunter says. “It feels strange—like a miracle.”

“I know. We always sailed on…always westward toward the setting sun.”

We’re part of that uncommon and exceptional breed: circumnavigators. That word begins to sink in. What does that mean to us? We’ve fought the sea and won. Yet, in the end, we’ve taken that sea—with all it’s raw power and wisdom—into our souls.

A myriad of emotions assaults Gunter and me—feelings that we sort out and share with each other later. First, we feel the relief that we made it around the world safely. There’s a sense of completion, that we don’t have to push anymore. We’ve closed a momentous chapter in our lives, and we can never return to who we were before. But even though this adventure has ended, we know more adventures and Moments of Bliss lie ahead of us as we travel through life together. Beyond all that, there’s outright elation as well, and we bask in what we’ve accomplished. We set a goal, and we achieved it!

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation

Lois and Gunter on the deck of Pacific Bliss at the completion of their world circumnavigation

Last Saturday, I was on my way from San Diego to Corona Del Mar when my car broke down. Although I made it safely to the side of toll road 73, I was especially perturbed because I had to call AAA to be towed to the nearest garage, where the repairs took until mid-afternoon. I had missed my favorite conference of the year: the Women’s Sailing Convention, held at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club.

 

Even though there are many ways for women to learn to sail, this one-day convention is one of the most anticipated experiences on the U.S. west coast. “Gail Hine created the Sailing Convention for Women in 1975, and since then she and her team of instructors have helped countless women learn the brass-tack skills needed to safely and successfully run cruising sailboats, including dealing with unforeseen mishaps ranging from engine woes to rigging issues,” says Sail-World in their interview of her.

Women Sailing

During the Women’s Sailing convention, on-the-water workshops focus on skills such as climbing the mast to make sail repairs, while indoor workshops hone skills such as navigation.

I was the ship’s navigator and my husband was the Captain during the eight years we sailed Pacific Bliss around the world. And although my husband—a life-long sailor—could have taught me how to sail, I preferred to learn through certification courses offered by ASA (American Sailing Association). I started from the beginning, with Basic Sailing, Advanced Sailing, Basic and Advanced Coastal Cruising, and Basic and Advanced Coastal Navigation. Then together we took what I call the “basic training for ocean cruisers,” a 1000-mile sail offered by John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions. My husband and I had been partners in business, each with different responsibilities, and we naturally carried that over into our circumnavigation. I’ve learned from cruising the world that those couples who stay together and continue their mission have a clear separation of duties and responsibilities and have learned to work together as a team. That means that each partner must be confident, and women’s sailing courses allow that confidence to build.

Women’s Sailing Associations have been formed all over the world. Some go beyond educating their members to conduct community outreach programs; for example, CIWSA (Channel Island Women’s Sailing Association) strives to also foster a love of sailing in local girls, particularly those who might not otherwise be exposed to the sport.

How did you learn to sail? Do you prefer courses for women only, mixed courses, or courses for couples? Why?

The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hoffman

Lois works at her laptop computer on Pacific Bliss. http://www.LoisJoyHofmann.com, From The Long Way Back

Author of Maiden Voyage and Sailing the South Pacific, Lois Joy Hofmann’s latest book, The Long Way Back is now available.

One of the pleasures of traveling is encountering the unexpected. If you keep your options open and avoid planning and filling every hour of every day, you’ll experience all kinds of unforeseen adventures.

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I encountered the unexpected many times. On one occasion, we were guests at a tribal meeting in Sudan. We had a long, hot day running errands in Port Sudan and were dead tired by the time our bus returned us to the bay in Suakin where Pacific Bliss, our catamaran, was anchored. While filling our dinghy with produce and supplies, we encountered Kirstin and Hans, another couple from our cruising fleet.

“Ten minutes, tribal meeting. Mohammed has ordered the minivan for our group,” Hans announced.

“What does it involve?” I asked.

“Dancing,” he said.

“How long?”

“Only an hour.”

“OK, let’s go!”

The meeting was on the outskirts of Suakin. The van emptied, and we walked toward the performance area. Packed bleachers faced each other across a dusty circle; between them stood a  three-sided tent fronted by a row of white-robed, white-turbaned men sitting in overstuffed chairs. We spotted a podium to the side of the tent. Our group of ten cruisers made its way through the crowd of men and boys. Plastic chairs were brought in to seat us in front of the side bleachers.

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Turbaned politicians attend a tribal meeting in Suakin, Sudan.

One white-robed speaker after another came to the podium. After each speech, the crowd shouted hearty agreement, and everyone raised his staff.  This sequence continued for an hour or more, and it was getting dark. The speakers went on and on, and because we didn’t understand what was being said, it appeared as if they were just getting started.  The crowd loved it and erupted into rousing cheers for each message.  Finally, the last speaker wrapped things up, and music suddenly blared from two huge speakers.

The entire crowd rushed to the small circle of dirt in the center of the venue, with staffs and sticks waving high into the air. And the dance began! Chris, our crew, was right out there with them, having a blast. I stood atop my plastic chair taking movies in the fading light. I was over the dancers’ heads, shooting down into the crowd. I could see our friend Patrick standing on his chair, cheering and shouting. Then he couldn’t resist the excitement; he jumped off his chair and into the chaos.

The song seemed interminably long, but suddenly the music stopped.  And that was it! Men crowded around us yachties, laughing, smiling, and shaking hands. We hated to see it end. We’d have liked to spend more time with them, but we were herded into our mini-bus and driven back to the dinghy landing.

The following day, Boris of Li clarified what had happened: “That was a meeting of all the chiefs of the local tribes. They converged on Suakin for their meeting, and politicians joined them to represent the Sudanese government. Last night, each tribal chieftain gave a speech of praise and thanks to the government.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, two years ago, Boris explained, “Suakin had no electricity, no schools, and no hospital. These improvements have all been completed within the past two years. So now it is time to show appreciation.

“There were no women present. Why?” I asked.

Apparently, they don’t go to political rallies. These are for men only.”

I’m glad I was not born Sudanese!

Given the town’s poverty, the meeting must have been expensive. Each attendee received a can of soda and a candy bar, and during their stay, Suakin more than likely provided food and lodging for its visitors. We cruisers appreciated being invited for an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Sudan.  This event made our visit to Suakin even more worthwhile.

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Adapted from The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann. Available from Amazon and www.loisjoyhofmann.com. Photos © Lois Joy Hofmann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gunter and I have been members of The San Diego Zoological Society for decades. At the San Diego zoo, we often stood in hours-long lines to see the offspring of pandas that had been loaned to this zoo for breeding. Eventually, these delightful pandas would be returned to Chengdu. The panda program has been conducted in partnership with the Chengdu Panda Base. During dozens of visits to the exhibit in San Diego, I never dreamed I would ever visit the sister facility in China!

Imagine my surprise when Chengdu was included in Great China Tour by Australia’s Intrepid Travel!

During our tour, we flew to Chengdu on China Southern Air and checked into the Tibet Hotel there. The ethnic décor of our room would surpass that of any five-star hotel. A lone lotus bloomed in a pedestal vase; a quilted headboard covered one entire wall; dimmed halogen lights glowed above the bed and below the nightstands; moody lights backed the sofa; and the bathroom featured two sinks and counter that ran the entire length of the room.

The day of our arrival, we had a “free” afternoon before dinner, so we immediately went for a city walking tour. Although Chengdu has more greenery than most Chinese cities, the sky is always gray. Angi, our local guide, told us that the lack of sunshine is the result the city’s low altitude (500 feet) and the 82 percent average humidity. “The girls from Chengdu are considered beautiful because they have light skin,” she told us. “It is because they don’t have sun.” I suspected the gray was smog, not fog. Although Chengdu is not an industrial city, it had 4 million inhabitants (11 million including the suburbs) when we visited in 2006. By 2017, the city had grown to 7.8 million with 14 million in the administrative area.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back: “Chengdu, nevertheless, is a delightful city. Old men walk their songbirds in the part or sit around in their teahouses playing cards and having their ears cleaned. Old women play Mah-Jongg. Both men and women participate in outdoor exercise sessions. They appear content in their old age; wisdom lines their faces—as if they know more than they can possibly tell. And they do. During the Cultural Revolution, most of China’s park lands were torn up. We observe how Chinese love and appreciate their flowers and parks and birds; the terrible loss must have stripped them of all joie de vivre.

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Photo Credit: Intrepid Travel

Motorbikes, electric bikes, and pedal bikes are everywhere. One must be careful crossing the street or entering a taxi for fear of being hit. These are the machines of Chengdu’s youth, for whom life is fast-paced, determined and busy. How they survive the onslaught of the traffic here is a miracle, but they do manage to drive those electric bikes up to 50 kilometers to work, where they plug them in for recharging before the precarious ride home.”

The next morning, our Intrepid group toured a part of the extensive grounds, but not all of it.  The Chengdu Panda Base covers an area of almost 200 hectares! Since the center isn’t crowed, I revel in taking one photo after another, something I could never do in San Diego.

While the cubs frolic, the parents pose as if they aim to please their visitors.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was founded in 1987 with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. By 2006, it had over 100 panda births. Its stated goal is to be a world-class research facility, conservation education center, and an international educational tourist destination. It has partnered with many organizations to improve ways to conserve giant pandas. The research center has not taken any pandas from the wild for over twenty years.

01_PANDA_HEAD_STATUE_AT_PRESERVE

What a precious opportunity! If you travel in China, be sure to take one day to walk around the city of Chengdu and another to visit the Panda Base.  You won’t regret it!

 

 

 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

                                                                                                       ─William Shakespeare

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The name your parents chose to give you is powerful. Yet, many of us do not bother to ask why they gave us the name we have. My parents, uncles and aunts, and siblings called me “Lois Joy” as a child. I didn’t bother to ask why; I just accepted that name until I entered first grade. “Your first, middle, and last name?” the teacher asked as she filled in a line after each child’s seat number.

“Lois Joy,” I said.

“Is Joy part of your first name or your middle name?” she asked.

“My middle name.”

Later, my teacher came across another Lois and came back to me.  “From now on, you’ll be Lois G. and she will be Lois A.”

I continued to drop my middle name, even after my mother explained—years later—that she chose the middle names of all four of her girls—Joy, Faith, Grace, and Hope—for a reason. How thoughtful!  Yet I continued to use only my first and last name, with only a middle initial when required.

When I became an author, I initially chose Lois Joy as my pen name. But that was confusing, and besides, my husband, Gunter Hofmann plays a huge role as Captain of our catamaran Pacific Bliss in my sailing/travel series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss, so why would I drop his name?

Before we left on our circumnavigation, I opened a fortune cookie and read, “You are a heroine and will have big adventures.” Lois as the heroine? I thought my mother chose “Lois” as a Bible name. In II Timothy 1:5, the author tells Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice…” I researched further. The modern name “Lois” relates to an ancient Germanic word meaning warrior. Other translations say heroine. I learned that Timothy was Greek, but his mother was Jewish, which probably means that “Lois” was Jewish as well. In Hebrew, the name is “Laish,” meaning lion, typically a masculine name from the tribe of Benjamin.

During my recent birthday party, a comedian/entertainer sent by Loren Smith Productions crashed the party and asked for “Lois.”

In his skit, he claimed that, after relocating from Minnesota to California, I had changed my name from Lena to Lois so I’d fit in. No way. I was a heroine/lioness from birth! But I held my tongue and played along with his Ole and Lena skit. Today I researched the meaning of Lena. The fictional Norwegian name doesn’t mean anything. I love “Lois Joy,” the name my parents gave me.

What does your name mean?

Do you like your name?

Have you ever considered using your middle name as your first or last name?

Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

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These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

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The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?

What do you do first after you complete a big project? Do you:

(a) collapse and kick back?

(b) embark immediately on the next challenge?

(c) celebrate?

I just completed the third book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, called The Long Way Back. Producing it took me four years of researching, writing, production, and publishing. The final product is a 456-page book with over 300 images and photos, 37 maps and 19 Did You Know sidebars about the countries we visited during the final third of our eight-year, around-the-world voyage of 35,000 miles. I did what we always do after a challenging feat or new leg of a voyage: Celebrate!

Celebration: the action of marking one’s pleasure at an event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity.

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The book launch party for The Long Way Back.

My motto is “Celebrate, don’t deflate.” Don’t pop your bubble just yet. And do invite your family and friends to mark the occasion with you. After that you can regenerate and kick back. And only then should you invigorate by pursuing your next goal. Continue to live your dream, but give yourself a party and then a break before you burn out.

We practiced this motto many times during the eight years of our sailing circumnavigation. Before we set off on our Maiden Voyage, we had a boat christening party at the Catana boat factory in Canet, France. When we crossed the Atlantic, we held a half-way party en route and a traditional celebration at the end.

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Gunter and Lois during the boat christening party in France.

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Our half-way masquerade party while crossing the Atlantic.

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Each sailor puts his or her right foot on the table, a tradition after crossing a big ocean such as the Atlantic.

After our yacht, Pacific Bliss, was outfitted in San Diego for sailing the rest of the world, we held a South Seas party before embarking on a 21-day voyage to the Marquesas Islands the following day. Many friends survived the party and appeared at the dock to wave us on our way 3000 miles southwest. We spent two years Sailing the South Pacific, ending that voyage in Australia, where the final third of our circumnavigation began.

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Friends gave us a send-off before we sailed from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands.

We completed our circumnavigation, arriving at the same dock we left from eight years earlier in Canet, France. Then we settled into a rented villa in France and invited family and friends from all around the world to join us to celebrate our achievement.

I believe in living your life as you wish to be remembered. You never know when a tragic event will strike. Imagine time’s up. What better legacy for your friends and family than remembering all those events in your life that you shared with them!

You cannot live life on a constant high, especially after a long push to reach that success. So, after the party, it’s time to recharge. But don’t deflate: Regenerate! Do whatever it is that calms you down—read that great book you’ve left on the shelf, take a break in that hammock, walk in the woods or head for the nearest lakeshore or beach.

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Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

You don’t want to turn into a vegetable, so after you’re rested, it’s time to invigorate. For Gunter and me, that’s planning a few land excursions—places we couldn’t reach by sea. So, expect more travel blogs to come. You might want to invigorate by taking up a new hobby, embarking on a new learning experience, or searching for that new challenge. And when you achieve that goal, remember this: Celebrate. Regenerate. Invigorate. In that order.

 

 

 

 

“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

We writers are expected to wear two hats, that of an introvert who retreats to her writing cave and excels in words, phrases, and commas; and that of an extrovert, a flamboyant artist who tells tales and binds an audience under her spell. And sometimes, we’re expected to wear both hats at the same time.

This summer and fall, I couldn’t wear both hats and meet my publication deadline for the final book in the trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Something had to go, and that something turned out to be this blog. My sincere apologies to my followers.

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My lowly gardening and pool hat and my expressive roaring twenties hat. I failed to wear both at the same time.

Last Monday, The Long Way Back went on the press in Anaheim, and since then, I’ve donned my extrovert hat. I’ll be launching the book after it’s printed.

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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My book designer, Alfred Williams of Multimedia Arts, and the owners and staff of LightSource Printing have been wonderful! I can’t wait to unveil the gripping conclusion to my nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Coming soon to Amazon and www.LoisJoyHofmann.com.