Search Results for 'walking a village'



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.

 

 


On the way to Mt. Popa and Table Mountain, a popular tourist site southeast of Bagan, Burma, our guide parked alongside the road and led us into a small village. It’s one of the many memories of our recent trip to Myanmar that I’ll never forget. Back in 2011, I enjoyed Walking a Village outside of Varanasi, India on the way to Sarnath to visit Buddhist sites. After that experience, I vowed that I would continue to use this method of “slow travel” during future trips. I was not disappointed.

As we entered the village, we were enthusiastically greeted by small children. Some were shy, but most warmed up to me after I crouched to their level.

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As we walked among the thatch-roof huts, we introduced ourselves to a family sow and her brood who scurried away to hide underneath a nearby yam patch.

The family pig

The family pig

The brood of piglets

The brood of piglets

I was impressed with the use of solar panels in the village. One panel could power a small 6-inch TV. One home owner proudly showed how he could charge batteries to power a radio or a smart phone. He showed us his living space. I noticed that his motorcycle was kept inside, under the thatched roof.

Cycle in a village home

Cycle in a village home

This solar panel can power a small radio

This solar panel can power a small radio

Large solar panel on thatched roof

Large solar panel on thatched roof

A group of villagers were busy harvesting peanuts. They smiled as we passed by.

Villagers harvesting peanuts

Villagers harvesting peanuts

We didn’t meet many older children because they were in school. So we stopped on by to take a look at the classrooms before we returned to our vehicle.

Village school

Village school

 


On the way to Sarnath to see the Buddhist sites in India, we asked our driver to stop outside a village and let us walk through on our own, to interact with the locals. This is who we met.

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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.


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


1. Myanmar is more open to tourism than ever before. The country welcomed some 3 million visitors in 2014, about half of those international tourists. Five million tourists was a target set for 2015, although the numbers are not in yet. The number of tourists to Myanmar (Burma) is exploding because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival; they can travel freely throughout the countryside without escorts (this was not the case during my first visit in 2006); and Myanmar is the most authentic and untouched of all the countries in Southeast Asia. Tourists are rushing to see it before it turns into another Thailand. So now is the time to go!

My husband and I chose Myanmar as our international vacation destination for 2014. Because of skyrocketing tourism, hotels tended to be scarce during the high season, so we chose to leave in October and return in early November. We booked through Enchanting Travels, Myanmar. They organized an independent “slow travel” tour for us via auto and plane, with a local tour guide at each destination. Our round-trip tour included the bustling city of Yangon, the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, the fishing villages of Inle Lake, the stupas of Bagan, a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, and relaxing at Ngapali beach, where I had an opportunity to journal before heading home.

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You can access my blog posts and photos about my trips to Burma here:

Why Go to Myanmar?

Burma in My Blood

Walking a Village in Myanmar

Burma, My Next Favorite Place

I recommend booking hotel rooms in advance through a local travel company—at least for the first few days of your trip. Cash is king in Myanmar. You can exchange dollars for kyats as you go.  Credit cards are not widely accepted but ATM machines are readily available. WiFi is like dial-up internet of the 1990s in most places, but that only forces you to adapt to the slow travel approach. Just be patient, take it easy, and enjoy the spectacular scenery and friendly people. Pack for hot weather. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. We traveled in October during the “shoulder season” because we wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. If you visit in other months, you’ll suffocate (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll soak during the rainy season.

2. Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most charming cities we visited during our entire sailing circumnavigation. Now you can fly there from almost anywhere in the world. The city holds a special place in my heart because this was our refuge from a Force 10 storm that we encountered off the coast of Venezuela during the Maiden Voyage of Pacific Bliss. In fact, I wrote this about Cartagena in Chapter 7 of In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage:

Cartagena is a magical place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. But a word of caution: Once you come to see her, you will dream about when you can return. From its charming, old walled city to its historic naval and land fortifications to the posh, modern high rises and its tourist beaches, Cartagena dazzles and thrills. However, this is a city that cannot be devoured; she needs to be savored—slowly and deliciously. Mark my words: Gunter and I will be back!

The photos below are taken from Maiden Voyage.

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Although we haven’t returned to this marvelous destination yet, rest be assured, it is on our bucket list! If you want to see the city, just book a hotel and take a city tour or travel around by cab. Be sure to spend a full day in Old Town Cartagena. While you’re there, you might want to take one of the many Spanish language courses offered. Or you might want to book a day sail to Islas del Rosario for some swimming and snorkeling. If you’re more adventurous, contact Worldview Travel about one of their jungle tours.

3. I never tire of Bali, Indonesia. But beware: Once you go there, you’ll return again and again. Bali has a special significance to me because Gunter and I spent our honeymoon there back in 1995. We rented a hotel at world-famous Kuta Beach, not far from populous Denpasar. If you like loud music and crowded beaches, this is for you. If you are more adventurous, you can do what we did. We checked out of our hotel after two noisy days and booked a four-day boat trip to Lombok and then to the Komodo Islands to see the dragons. Back in Bali, we spent the second week at the far side of the island, at a quiet beach resort with a volcanic, black-sand beach. We were instructed to hit the dong of a wooden carving outside our door to call for coffee service. Later, a server asked us, “Did you know that Mick Jagger slept here—in your bungalow?” Hmm. But our favorite part of Bali was the traditional town of Ubud in the interior, where we watched Balinese processions, visited carving and silver shops, and took in a Legong Dance at the King’s Palace.

When we visited Bali the second time, during our world circumnavigation, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. With Pacific Bliss safely berthed at the Bali International Marina, we took a taxi to Hotel Tjampuhan on the outskirts of Ubud. For one week, we enjoyed a totally hedonistic experience in a secluded hillside bungalow overlooking a lush valley.  Birds called back and forth, their high notes overriding the deeper sounds of rushing water far below. Squirrels raced up tall tamarind trees and red hibiscus blooms added color to the verdant landscape. We swam in a cool, spring-fed pool, and enjoyed side-by-side massages at a spa dug into the hillside above the waterfall. In the cool of the evening, we walked into town and enjoyed performances at The Royal Palace. Later during our sojourn in Bali, we booked a few days with friends in Sanur Beach—a much better alternative to Kuta. I haven’t been back to Bali since the advent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love book and movie but rest assured, this island will never lose its charm.

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4. Vietnam is a must visit that combines history and beauty—and they openly welcome Americans. We visited Vietnam in June 2006, along with a cruising couple who had set up our private tour for four with a local travel agency, Focus Travel. That worked out well because we could share a van and driver. In fact, the total cost for each of us to tour there for 10 days, including guides, private transportation, four-star hotels, tours, a cooking class, 10 breakfasts, 4 lunches and one dinner, plus domestic flights from Hanoi to Danang and from Hue to Saigon was $673. We flew from Langkawi, where Pacific Bliss was berthed, into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and our route from Hanoi to Saigon covered most of it, backed by central highlands and jagged mountain ridges throughout most of it. Fertile farms line the rivers and deltas. We loved Hanoi with its charming French colonial boulevards and landscaped lakes. The city was a wonderful mixture of old and new. In addition to taking in a Water Puppet show and a Vietnamese cooking class, we toured the Military Museum and the sobering Hao Lo Prison Americans called the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

DSCN2056 (2) Rice Fields of Vietnam

We found the people giving, gracious and anxious to please. I was fascinated to learn what the younger Vietnamese think about what they call “The American War:” According to them, that was but a blip in their history, following a1000-year war against China and a 30-year war against France. Yes, the older generation of Vietnamese are battle-hardened, proud, and nationalist. But for the energetic younger generation (the median age is 29) Vietnam is a place to succeed, to earn a lot of money, and to have a good time. They care little about politics; they were born since all those wars occurred.

From Hanoi we drove along the coast to Halong Bay, a World Heritage site, then flew to Danang with its stretches of unspoiled sandy beaches, and drove on to Hoi An to relax at a beach resort for a couple of days. In a town famous for its tailors, we dropped off clothing to be “copied” and picked up the next day. Next we drove over the mountains to Hue, the former capital city of Vietnam where we took an evening barge trip down the Perfume River. We flew to Saigon and checked into a 1920s hotel in the heart of downtown, great for shopping and touring a city that, in 2006, had no McDonalds, KFC, or chain stores of any kind. From Saigon, we toured the Mekong Delta and then drove through industrial areas south of Saigon—car assembly plants, and numerous manufacturing complexes. There, we could see that rapid industrialization was underway.   

DSCN2035 (2) Tourist Boats, Halong Bay

With over 90 million inhabitants in 2014, Vietnam is the world’s 13th most populous country. A full 65% of its population is under 30. Since 2000, the country’s GDP growth in has been among the highest in the world, with the U.S. as its largest trading partner. When we were there, the populace was very excited about joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.  Since then, much has changed dramatically, so if you want to see parts of the old Vietnam with the simpler life, go there soon!

5. If you want a more adventurous vacation, check out Savu Savu or Fiji’s remote Lau Island Group.  We sailed almost all the way around Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, then left our yacht in Savusavu, on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu. We had obtained a special permit in Suva to visit Fiji’s remote Lau Group for a thatched-hut-on-the-beach experience. Not easy, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapters 8 and 10 of Sailing the South Pacific, my second book in the adventure series, describes two sailing seasons we spent in Fiji, where we had too many adventures to list here. Feel free to ask for advice in the COMMENT section below.

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What are your travel plans for 2016?


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. –Robert Frost

Lois at the Salton Sea Visitor Center

The Salton Sea. After a spring visit to Joshua Tree National Park, Gunter and I avoided the Anza-Borrego “super-bloom” crowds on the way back to San Diego and decided to take the road less traveled, turning toward Indio and the Salton Sea. We took CA Highway 111 to the North Shore Visitor’s Center. The Salton Sea, 34 miles long and encompassing 343 square miles, is the largest lake in California. It is an accidental lake, born from an engineering mistake made 111 years ago. A network of irrigation canals was built across the southern part of the Salton basin. They proved too small to handle flood waters and were poorly built. Inevitably, disaster struck when heavy rainfall combined with snowmelt poured into the canals from the Colorado River. The deluge broke through the canal’s headworks, breached the levees, and flood water flowed into the massive basin. The event created two new rivers, the New and the Alamo. Left to its own devices, the lake would have dried up due to evaporation rates of 180 cm per annum with precipitation of only 5 cm per year. But in 1928 Congress decided to use the manmade lake as a repository of runoff agricultural wastewater from the Imperial Valley, a process that continues until this day despite ongoing protests.

At the Visitor Center, we watched a short video about the ancient and modern history of the Salton Basin. Then we wandered around the area. One sign pointed out that there are 400 different species of birds that visit this sea; some of them stay year-round. Over 400 million Tilapia live in the sea as well. Cahuilla Indians once occupied these lands. Originally the Salton basin held a much larger body of water—ancient Lake Cahuilla, well above sea level. As the lake shrank, natives moved their villages down from the mountains and settled areas once covered by water. Fish camps followed the contours of that ancient lake. Fast forward to the1950s, when the Salton Sea became a tourist haven. Fishing, boating, hotels, and even a yacht club caused beachfront properties to skyrocket. Business boomed as visitors came from all over California.

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Bombay Beach. A friendly clerk at the Visitor Center said told us that Bombay Beach might be a good place to stop for a homestyle lunch. So, we drove further along 111, marveling at the desert flowers along the way. A small sign pointed to the settlement. We drove past a ramshackle bar/restaurant sporting a sign, Home Cooking. “This can’t be right,” I stammered as we ventured inside. I had imagined sitting on a patio under multi-colored umbrellas viewing the sea! The smell of rancid frying oil, beer, sweat and smoke assailed our senses. Gunter groped for my hand in the darkness. “Let’s get “outta here.”

Back outside and blinded by the sun, I looked back and quipped: “A collection of lost souls thrown into the dungeon.”

We pushed our Nissan onward through the sandy street, past run-down trailers, slab shacks with metal roofs, and rusty vehicles-without-tires collapsed into unkempt yards. As we turned the corner at a concrete dike that blocked the sea view, we encountered a block filled with child-size teepees. An “artist statement” says Ghost Town. Gunter laughed. “This place is a stitch!” We left hungry; that home cooking was nowhere to be seen.

Later we learned that Bombay Beach is a “census-designated place” in Imperial County, with a population of 295 per the 2010 census, down from 366 in 2000. Its elevation is -223 feet. A website called California Curiosities concludes: “I’ve seen the world after the apocalypse, and that world is Bombay Beach.”

Surprisingly, this disaster zone was a thriving resort town during the swinging 50s and 60s. An old sign, still standing, says, WORLD FAMOUS. LOWEST BAR IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE.

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Salvation Mountain. Hot, tired, and hungry, we drove further along Hwy 111 to Niland, where that same Visitor Center clerk said we couldn’t miss Salvation Mountain, right alongside the road at Niland. But we blinked, and suddenly Niland was in the rearview mirror. “Let’s go back,” I begged.

“No way!” Gunter was determined to head on to Brawley to find someplace for lunch. Then he recanted, “Well, if you drive.”

I spun around in the middle of the road (believe me, this is the road less traveled) and drove back. No mountain. I stopped at a gas station along 111. The clerk smirked as if he’d done this a thousand times. “Just continue two blocks and turn right onto Main Street. Go through town and take the road for about 2 miles. Don’t you worry when it turns into a dirt road. Can’t miss it!”

We bumped along through a deserted desert landscape until we began to see signs of life—lots of trailers and hippie-style shacks alongside the road. Then around a turn, there it was, a psychedelic creation bigger than life! The humongous artwork is made of adobe, straw, and half a million gallons of lead-free paint. Some areas are covered with murals, others with Bible verses and sayings. We parked alongside the road and rambled among all kinds of vans, trucks, and even a boat—all painted with Bible verses and art. Finally, we came to the mountain itself, painted with a red heart and GOD IS LOVE in the center and topped with a white cross. We saw groups of young people trudging to the top while others sang in groups at the bottom. What glorious diversity—people of all sizes, shapes, and colors were walking toward that mountain. Surely, the founder fulfilled his purpose!

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The Bible says that faith can move mountains. Did you know that faith can also create them? Leonard Knight wanted a mountain in his childhood dream to come true. He also wanted to move to California one day. Born in 1931 near Burlington, Vermont, he was something of a loner and said his schoolmates made fun of him for having a stutter. So, he dropped out of tenth grade and had to learn how to survive on his own. The New Englander spent most his years doing odd jobs in the Midwest. Then during a visit to his sister in San Diego in 1985 he arrived at this hardscrabble spot during a day trip. (Legend has it that he arrived in a hot air balloon.) After “landing,” he heard a message and began erecting a cross. Mixing water and hay, he applied a façade over a sandy ridge and then painted it with motifs and verses such as: Jesus is The Way. God Never Fails. God Forgives Sinners. He added flowers, suns, bluebirds, waterfalls, and a river that flows from the mountain to the Lake of Galilee in the foreground. He lived in a house on the back of the Salvation Truck, a vehicle decorated with the word REPENT writ large. For 28 years, he continued working on the project under the hot desert sun. He greeted visitors strumming his guitar and requested that all donations be in the form of lead-paint, preferably acrylic.

All paint is donated by visitors

The Salvation Truck King

“What started as a small monument of dirt and painted cement became, over time, a sprawling adobe and hay bale mountain complex, with peripheral structures made of telephone poles, tires, and car windows, as well as art cars and sculptures, all painted in a patchwork of stripes and color blocks of whatever paint was donated that week.”
—Aaron Huey, National Geographic

Salvation Mountain has grown to 50 feet high and 250 feet wide. It is truly unique and has touched and inspired visitors from all over the world. In 2011, Knight was moved into a care facility. He passed in 2014. A public charity, Salvation Mountain, Inc., was established in 2012 to support the project. coachellavalley.com

 

Leonard Knight, builder of Salvation Mountain

For more information on Salvation Mountain, go to their website at http://www.salvationmountain.us

Or watch an Amazing Places video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JAjIjXbe3Y or Roadside America https://www.roadsideamerica.com/video/61915

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 Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

 


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m posting the first of my Ireland blog series. My husband Gunter and I toured Ireland in September 2018 as part of a mission to reconnect with European cruisers with whom we had sailed during our world circumnavigation. We had the good fortune of being hosted by Patrick Murphy, a native Irishman who loves his country, and his partner, Geraldine. Upon arriving, we checked into a hotel in Howth overlooking the Irish sea with a view of Ireland’s Eye, a small uninhabited island off the coast. We were close to Howth Harbour, where Pat still docks his yacht Aldaberan after sailing it around the world. During the week we spent in Ireland, Pat took us to yacht clubs, maritime museums, and shipbuilding exhibits, including the Titanic Exhibit in Belfast. These are covered in another blog called Cruising Camaraderie.

Howth Marina

Howth Marina

The Howth Castle. This was the first of many castles we saw in Ireland, including the imposing Dublin Castle. It’s a hidden gem, the private residence of the Galsford-St. Lawrence family and still occupied by the descendants. The view from the top of the peninsula of Howth Head, northeast of Dublin, provides a stunning view of the harbour and village below.

Howth Castle

Howth Castle

Sightseeing in Dublin. During our first full day in Ireland, we took a city bus directly to City Centre and then bought tickets for a city bus tour, the best way to get an overview of this vibrant city. This gave us a nice overview of the city, landmarks such as the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery, Dublin Castle, the Temple Bar district, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse, and Kilmainham Gaol and Hospital. After that preview, it was time to walk the city.

The Story of the General Post Office. The main avenue in Dublin is O’Connell Street, 500 feet wide, with monuments to Irish history in the middle. All the way, we couldn’t miss the Millennium Spire, a 395-foot high stainless-steel monument which replaced the 19th century Nelson’s Pillar blown up by anti-British rebels in 1966. O’Connell street’s most famous landmark is the General Post Office, which Pat described to us at length. “See these bullet holes,” he said. “These were made during the Easter rising of 1916, when a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic. They and 1600 followers staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland here. They used this GPO as their headquarters.”

We talked with a “soldier” posing as a rebel outside the Post Office. Then we went inside to view commemorative plaques and statues about the Rising. We learned that the rebels, along with some 1600 followers, seized buildings in that area and clashed with British troops. Within a week, the British quelled the rebellion and left 2000 dead or injured. The leaders of the rebellion soon were executed. Initially, there was little support from the Irish people; however, public opinion later shifted, and the executed leaders were hailed as martyrs. In 1921, a treaty was signed that established the Irish Free State, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland.

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South of the Liffey. Dublin takes its name from the southwest of the city. Apparently in prehistoric times there was a dark pool (Dubh Linn) at the confluence of the River Liffey and what was once the River Poddle. During the 18th century, the Temple Bar became a center for merchants and craftsmen. The southeast was undeveloped until the founding of Trinity College in 1592. St. Stephens Green was enclosed in the 1660s but was private until 1877. Today the south is the hub of the fashionable scene, with designer stores and fine restaurants.

Liffey River

Liffey River

Trinity College. Visiting Trinity College, Ireland’s most famous educational institution, is a must. Since its foundation in the 16th century, it has produced many impressive alumni—including Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett. Entering the cobbled square surrounded by green lawns, 18th and 19th century buildings, and a 100-foot bell tower might have been like walking into a bucolic time-warp—except for the hundreds of students, posters, and booths filling the space. A student orientation event was in process and the lines were so long that we couldn’t get into the library. Too bad. I would have liked to view the 200-foot long room, with two tiers of oak bookcases holding more than 200,000 books. The Old Library is home to one of Ireland’s greatest treasures: the 9th century, lavishly illustrated Book of Kells, containing the four gospels of the New Testament in Latin. We exited the campus at the front arch, in between statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith.

St. Stephen’s Green. This 22-acre park with two miles of walkways is a great way to take a bucolic break within the city limits. It still has the original Victorian layout. Bedding plants are changed out during the year. We strolled past sculptures and around a serene, man-made lake. Lunchtime concerts are performed throughout the summer.

Serene lake at St. Stephen's Green Ireland

Serene lake at St. Stephen’s Green

Back at City Centre, we enjoyed a magnificent lunch at Bewleys Grafton Street Café. But the food was only a small part of our fun there. We were seated in the main dining room on the ground floor. Although the café was jam-packed tightly with tables, we didn’t mind. The entire 1920s café was decorated with art nouveau and stained-glass windows designed by celebrated Irish artist Harry Clarke. After lunch, Geraldine and I walked to the second floor to find a charming art deco café, then went up another flight of stairs to discover a small theatre at the top. Do stop here—even if it’s just for a cup of tea.

After lunch, we watched the street entertainment for a while. This cyclist/knife juggler took our breath away. He deserved his tips!

On the way back, Patrick stopped to show us a tree carved with every species of sea-life imaginable.

Magnificent Carved Tree Ireland

Magnificent Carved Tree

Finally, enjoy “the craic.” Despite the sights, Dublin would be nothing without the warmth and conviviality of the Irish people. Craic (pronounced crack) is term for news, gossip, fun, or entertainment. It’s the perfect word for describing the bubbling, sparky mix of fun and banter that is Dublin.

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 Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.


Iceland was far down on my bucket list. But I had promised to take my granddaughter Holly there, and in July of 2018 I made good on that promise. This country far surpassed my expectations. It is indeed “the land of fire and ice.” Volcanoes spew fire and glaciers spawn ice floes. Eventually though, this country will explode your senses; it will grab you and pull you in. But only if you dare to venture out of Reykjavik and its touristy Golden Circle to explore the hinterlands along the Ring Road. My advice: Drive around the entire Snaefellsnes Peninsula for starters. You won’t be disappointed.

Iceland

The word Snæfellsnes might seem like a bit of a mouthful, but it’s less so when it is broken down. It translates to Snow Mount’s Peninsula, a fitting name for a long peninsula tipped with a glacier on top of volcano. “Snæ” means snow; “fells” meaning mountain, and “nes” means peninsula.

Borgarnes. We had reservations for Fosshotel in the town of Stykkishólmur and our guidebook, Iceland’s Ring Road, said the trip would take three hours nonstop from Reykjavik. No problem; we would sleep in. It was still light at midnight, but we pulled the light-blocking curtains in our hotel room and tried to catch some zzzs. Still, the light came through! We decided to set out early for the second day in a row. We’d beat the traffic out of the city and buy coffee along the way. Famous last words. We could not get coffee anywhere so early. Finally, driving through the foggy fishing village of Borgarnes at the end of a rock-strewn peninsula, we discovered Café Braka. The sign said “OPEN 9 A.M.” So, we wandered through this quaint town of 2000 souls and fell in love with it. Men with metal lunchboxes trudged toward the wharf and its fish factories. Other workers bicycled to work. Storekeepers opened shuttered doors. A narrow road into the Snæfellsnes National Park led to the town’s backdrop, brooding Hafnarfjall mountain–blackened with volcanic ash. When the café opened, Holly and I savored the egg dishes and sipped cappuccinos. “This was worth it,” we exclaimed in unison. Fueled with caffeine, we continued our drive around the peninsula.

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Volcanoes, Lava Fields, Waterfalls, and Moss. What amazed me about Iceland was that no two views were the same; in one photo stop, we could see moss sprawling and oozing over lava rocks, backed by a volcanic mountain, and to the side, snow-capped peaks! Ten minutes later, we would stop again to photograph a ridge with three different waterfalls. The drive was never boring. But after the 25th waterfall, we decided we needed to limit our stops. We’d already gone 8 hours into a supposed 3-hour drive and our destination was still far away. With light until midnight, we weren’t worried about having to drive in the dark; however, the hotel restaurant might not be open late and places to eat along this part of the Ring Road were few and far between.

Hellnar. Seeing a turf-roofed Fish & Chips restaurant and a little settlement—all painted black with white trim, caused us to stop again. Later, we stopped to view the famous pitch-black Búðir Black Church.

Rauðfeldsgjá is a deep gorge that cuts into Botnsfjall, an unusual mountain. In the summertime, it is possible to hike into the crack in the mountain wall, which cleaves all the way down to the root of the mountain.

auðfeldsgjá Gorge Snaefellnoss Penninsula Iceland

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge Snaefellnoss Penninsula.

Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs are uniquely-formed remnants of ancient basalt volcanic dikes sticking out from the sea. Both Lóndrangar and the hill Svalthufa are the remains of a crater eroded by the sea. Legend has it that farmers in the area never made hay on the hill because it belongs to the elves living in the area. Below the hill, the poet Kolbeinn Joklaskald reportedly had an encounter with the Devil. Younger lava fields surround the old crater ruin.

lóndrangar cliffs iceland

Lóndrangar cliffs.

Skarðsvík Beach was another must-stop. Surrounded by harsh, pitch-black lava, the soft orange-yellow beach and shallow baby-blue Atlantic Ocean provided a surprising contrast. Fortunately, we visited at low tide! An intact Viking grave was found here in 1962; the skeleton and his belongings are now preserved at the National Museum of Iceland.

skarðsvík-beach

Skarðsvík Beach.

After one final waterfall stop that we couldn’t resist, we were on our way to our destination.

Waterfalls Snaefellnes Penninsula

Waterfalls everywhere in the Snaefellnes Penninsula.

Stykkishólmur. After a day of country landscapes, we were treated to this charming town, the gateway to the numerous islands dotting Breiðafjörður Bay. With all its renovated, historical buildings, this town of 1200 souls felt like a place lost in time. What once was a library is now an art installation; a fish packing house is now a restaurant; an old recreation center is now a volcano museum. The architectural structure of church in Stykkishólmur fascinated us and the view from the church over the bay took our breath away. We arrived at Fosshotel Stykkishólmur in time to change quickly for dinner. Wow! That first sip of wine was lovely!

Stykkishólmur Iceland.

Stykkishólmur Iceland.

The Long Way Back to Reykjavik. Because we didn’t want to go back the way we came, we were forced to choose 40-50 miles of gravel road. Our SUV was a four-wheel drive and the roads were well-maintained; however, there were some challenging moments. Some of the roads were quite narrow—with steep overlooks and no guardrails. Was it worth it? Yes!

Skallagrimsgardur in Borgarnes. After that exhilarating drive, we needed a rest. We ended up back in Borgarnes at Café Braka for cappuccinos and muffins. On the way back to the Ring Road, we noted a sign for a public flower garden called Skallagrimsgardur. We’re both flower-lovers, so we had to stop. We were surprised to see such an abundance of blooms. We met a colorful display around every bend in the gravel path.

We realized that—although the growing season is short—the days are extraordinarily long.

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The Tunnel Detour and the War and Peace Museum. Again, Holly and I chose the road less traveled. Instead of returning through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, (3.6 miles long and 541 feet below sea level), we took the tunnel detour. Thank God Holly is an excellent driver! The detour curving above the peninsula was scarier than the tunnel. “Just don’t look down,” I warned Holly. In addition to the view, an unexpected benefit was touring the War and Peace Museum. I never realized what a large part Iceland played for the Allies during World War II. The entire island was turned into a defensive bulwark. Farther down the road, we stretched our legs by walking to a pretty little waterfall called Fossárrétt on the grounds of an ancient Viking encampment. It was a refreshing end to tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Photo Credits: Holly Ricke And Lois Hofmann

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 Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.


Blog 2, Danube series.

From its source, the Danube flows past the ancient kingdoms of Swabia and Franconia and the contemporary German towns of Ulm and Neuburg. But it is not until Regensburg that the river becomes Bavarian. Founded as a Roman garrison town, Regensburg was unscathed from wartime bombing, so its medieval art remains intact. The city’s primary landmark is the Steinerne Brucke, a marvelous stone bridge with fifteen arches that become higher and wider at the center, giving it a distinctive middle hump. I have visited Regensburg during other trips and never cease to be amazed.  On this trip, though, we joined the msAriana at Passau, one of the most visited cities in all of Germany.

Passau has been called the Venice of Bavaria, or the Drei-Fluss-Stadt, three rivers town. Dominated by rivers, Old Town is built on a peninsula whose end marks the confluence of the Danube with the Inn. A smaller tributary, the Ilz, emerges from a gorge to the north topped by two picture-perfect castles, complete with turrets and all. From a high vantage point, one can discern the rivers by their colors: The Ilz is black, the Danube is blue-brown, and the Inn is silver-gray.

I loved the pastel colors of houses lining the riverbank—pale yellow, russet brown, amber, and lime-green—meeting the baby-blue sky above. From the river banks, we climbed through a maze of narrow streets to reach the cream-colored St. Stephens Cathedral. What a treat! No wonder Napoleon said that in all of Germany, he never saw a town so beautiful. 

Celtics established and fortified their settlement on the Passau peninsula in 500 BC, trading salt up and down the Danube and Inn rivers. Romans replaced the fort with a camp in the first century AD. In the Christian era, the city was reborn and eventually became a prince-bishopric with its ecclesiastical rulers ruling along the Danube as far as Vienna. Passau became rich through trading flint, ceramics, wine, and grain. Products were offloaded at Passau and sent via pack animals far into Bohemia. Back the other way came hops, malts, spirits, animal hides and wool. Merchants made sure that their Rathaus (town hall) was one of the most splendid civic buildings along the Danube.

After touring Passau on our own and ending with coffee in one of the many riverside cafes, we boarded the svAriana for our cruise down the Danube. The top deck provided a view for miles.

DSC00664 Ariana Ship's Bell.jpg

Fifteen miles downstream from Passau, the Danube becomes a wholly Austrian river; however, four centuries before Charlemagne’s rule, the river was the boundary of the crumbling Roman Empire. Craggy granite heights above riverside towns were used by the Romans for forts and lookout stations. Now those fortresses hang onto bluffs, and hide behind breaks in the forests, abandoned to the ravages of nature. I imagine that each of these castles has a story to tell. We do know that some rose again as medieval castles, and later, others were turned into restaurants-with-a-view.

In no time, we were about to enter the first set of locks. I was amazed to see how close the ship came to the edge of the locks—not much over one foot! All these locks along the rivers differentiate a European river cruise from an ocean cruise. The Danube has most of them, a total of 19 locks; most of them (15) are between Regensburg and Vienna; one is between Bratislava and Budapest; and two are at the Iron Gates between Budapest and Bucharest. And finally, the last one is at Cernavoda, close to the delta.

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Dikes have been built to prevent floods along the Danube ever since the 16th century. Only about a fifth of the floodplains that lay along the Danube in the 19th century remain. Now, the Danube itself is regulated along over 80% of its length. Around 60% of the yearly electricity generation within the Danube River Basin in Austria originates from hydropower. After svAriana had passed through the locks to the other side, we viewed vast swaths of generation stations.

Europe is the birthplace of the bicycle and cycling culture runs deep. And the Austrian Danube is most likely the most famous cycle route in all of Europe. As we sailed downstream, we saw bicyclists on the banks cycling downstream. Most start their bike tour near Passau and end in Vienna; however, some continue to Bratislava, Slovakia, only 35 miles away down the river. The route is easy for beginners: There are few hills, and most of the ride is on paved paths that follow the river as it passes through the Eastern European countryside. One 13-day, 526-mile ride (named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “50 Tours of a Lifetime”) from Experience Plus begins in Germany and winds past „impressive Bavarian monasteries, verdant Austrian vineyards, and pristine Hungarian villages before ending in the imperial gem that is Budapest.“ Melanie, because I began this blog on a German typewriter while staying at my step-daughter’s home in Germany, now Word does not allow me to fix the quotes. If you can, fine; if not, just type the preceding sentence over or reword so that it is not a quote. Thanks. Another travel company, AmaWaterways, offers a cruise combined with cycling stops. To some, cycling is a welcome change from the usual cruise-excursion voyage, but I prefer riverboating combined with bus and walking tours.

dsc00646-bridge-across-danubedsc00900-bicycles-on-board

During one of these walking tours (in the pedestrian lane of the bike path), our guide described past use of these trails. The bike route follows former bridle paths that run along the river from Passau to Vienna. But before that, commercial ships were pulled upstream by teams of horses.  And before that, slaves of the Roman Empire pulled those ships along! For most Americans, traveling Europe is living a history we don’t know much about. The advantage of cruising Europe is that I can come back to the same cabin every day to research what’s coming up next.