Travel and Adventure



How my dream of cruising the Mississippi began.  I grew up near the St. Croix River, a tributary of the Mississippi. I didn’t know much about that river until elementary school. There, we learned to spell M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i and some of us even learned to spell it backwards: I-p-p-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-m. Settlers learned the word from Indian tribes living along the river banks, who gave the river various names such as Mis-ipi, Michi-sipi, Kitchi-Zibi, and my favorite, Mee-zee-see-bee.

When I was seven years old, my parents took my brothers and me to Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi in the headwaters area of central Minnesota. This small glacial lake is 1.8 square miles, 1,475 feet above sea level. It is located in Itasca State Park, established in 1891 and Minnesota’s oldest state park. In this 32,000-acre sanctuary, the Mighty Mississippi begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. “Just walk across on these steppingstones,” my dad said as he held my hand. “Remember this. You are walking across the very beginning of the Mighty Mississippi!”

My next exposure to the river that’s woven through the fabric of America was reading Mark Twain’s books. I especially liked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck and Jim bravely raft down the great river. “I will do that someday—when I grow up,” I vowed.

Life, children, and jobs interfered but I did manage to boat down that river when I was way grown up—in my forties. Divorced and proud owner of a 20-foot powerboat made by Cruisers, Inc., I spent most summer weekends on the pristine St. Croix River, upstream from the muddy Mississippi.  As a tribute to my fascination with Greek mythology, I named my boat Thetis, after the sea goddess who married Peleus and became the mother of Achilles. That didn’t work. My friends called me the “River Queen,” and before long they were calling my boat River Queen as well.

The St. Croix RIver, a Perfect Place to Camp
The St. Croix River, a Perfect Place to Camp

Often, I camped along the banks alone, sorting through my life. Later though, I invited a few of my girl friends who loved being on the water as much as I did. During my second summer on the St. Croix, my friends and I talked about taking River Queen further down the Mississippi. Did we dare?  Finally, we drummed up the courage to plan a women-only cruise from Prescott—where the boat was berthed—down the Mississippi to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  We spent an adventurous weekend there. On Monday, we motored upriver back to Prescott, at the confluence of the Mississippi and the St. Croix.

The Confluence of the Mighty Mississippi with the St. Croix River Credit, Pete Howard 2010

There was a reason for returning on a Monday. A major obstacle to cruising the upper Mississippi is the lock and dam system. Boaters cruising down the Mississippi were often stuck in the river’s locks for two-to-three hours per lock.  From Prescott to La Crosse, we would go through two such systems—Lock &Dam #3 near Red Wing and Lock & Dam #4 in Alma. Commercial barges transiting the locks sometimes took precedence. That policy changed after boaters reported being stuck for up to four hours in the system, forced to return upriver in the dark on a Sunday. (Some boaters used that as an excuse to miss work on Monday!) The state of Minnesota eventually succumbed to pressure. Barges were no longer allowed to run on Sundays.

Lock and Dam 4, Alma, Minn. Upper Mississippi River mile 752.8
Lock and Dam 4, Alma, Minn. Upper Mississippi River mile 752.8

The lock and dam system is a marvel of engineering that travelers along the Great River Road enjoy without the hassle of navigating that system. Built along the upper Mississippi River from St. Paul to St. Louis are 29 lock-and-dam structures, creating a “stairway of water” filled with pleasure boats, tour boats, and commercial barges. The change in elevation is significant: for example, the route from St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, to Granite City, Illinois represents a 420-foot drop. You won’t find locks and dams on the lower sections of the Mississippi though. Why? Farther south, the Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Ohio rivers flow into the Mississippi, making the river naturally wider and deeper. The barges I detested need a lot of river to operate. A “full tow” is made up of 15 barges, arranged three wide and five deep, pushed by a single towboat. Together, these connected barges stretch as long as 1200 feet! 

Lock and Dam system, Upper Mississippi
Lock and Dam system, Upper Mississippi

Undeterred by barge traffic, I again vowed to go down the Mississippi to New Orleans, not by raft, but in my own powerboat. I ordered a complete set of maps of the Mississippi, including all 29 locks and dams.

But before I could realize that dream, life again interfered. By the end of the ‘80s, I had sold my house and boat in Minneapolis and moved to San Diego for work. I had graduated from motor boats and learned to sail. Sailing became my new passion. The following year, I met Gunter and the rest is history. He had a dream of sailing around the world and that suited me just fine. After we retired from the business we’d taken public, we commissioned a Catana 431 ocean-going catamaran in the south of France. We sailed directly from the factory dock around the world and returned to that same dock eight years later. Boating down the Mississippi was a distant dream, long forgotten.  

When we completed our circumnavigation and purchased a second home in Wisconsin, however, that dream was revived. We were less than 30 miles from the St. Croix River, not far from my birthplace. We added a Mississippi Cruise to our bucket list.

The American Cruise Lines Lower Mississippi Cruise. Gunter and I received brochures from American Cruise Lines every year. We always had bigger, better travel plans, it seemed. But during the Pandemic, our interest in traveling the U.S. increased. With international travel closed, why not see some of the United States? As soon as river travel opened, we decided to make the leap. We chose an April “shoulder” cruise downriver from Memphis to New Orleans. A longer (22-day) river trip would begin in St. Paul, Minnesota and that wouldn’t be offered until June. By then, we’d be settled into planting and enjoying our gardens at Northern Bliss. 

On April 7, 2022 we flew from San Diego to Memphis, Tennessee to begin our Lower Mississippi Cruise on American Melody. Ports of call would be Vicksburg, Natchez, St. Franksville, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. Over Easter weekend, we’d enjoy the sights and sounds of NOLA from our hotel in the French Quarter. Mississippi—here we come!

Part II:The Role of the Mississippi in the U.S. Civil War is next.

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon and on her website.


Update on Tonga Relief:

Thank you, readers, for your interest in Tonga. International humanitarian aid continues to arrive by air and sea from Australia, China, France, Japan, and New Zealand.

  • Initial Damages Assessment (IDA) data has been completed and being is collected and analyzed by Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).
  • “28,900 people have received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance throughout the country.” (“TONGA: Volcanic Eruption”)
  • “Some 1,000 people (204 households) have received shelter assistance.” (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)
  • The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has supplied about 1.5 tons of maize and a variety of vegetable seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests.
  • Donors and international organizations have committed some US$ 27 million in financial assistance plus a considerable amount of in-kind support to the relief effort in Tonga. (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)

This Polynesian country of over 170 islands has intrigued me ever since I viewed a TV broadcast of Tongans on the beach greeting the new millennium on January 1, 2000. Their feverish dancing was contagious. Later that year, I was captivated by the news that the 440-pound King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had gone on a diet-fitness program and lost one hundred pounds! Gunter and I vowed to include this charming island in our circumnavigation plans.

Now, my heart continues to go out to the people of Tonga as I reflect on the few months that Gunter and I spent there during our travels. We sailed our catamaran Pacific Bliss to Tonga from Palmerston Island and arrived at Port of Refuge, Neiafu on August 28, 2002. I wrote this in my journal:

“The Kingdom of Tonga. The name evokes mystery, a sense of the exotic, perhaps because I have never been here before. Or perhaps because it is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. Tonga has a fierce reputation: It is the only island in the Pacific that was never colonized.”

Friendship, Tongan style. Captain Cook called Tonga the Friendly Islands because the inhabitants welcomed him warmly and graciously provided him with the supplies he needed. We cruisers enjoyed the warmth of the locals as well. One Tongan who became my friend was Lucy, the owner of the Unisex Hair Salon. Her salon was the best because it was the only one in town! A mother of seven, she didn’t sit around—even though she’d had a stroke three years earlier. “Do what you love,” a wise Tongan doctor told her. “You will gradually improve.”

A hairdresser to the Royal Family, Lucy talked about them unceasingly while she did my hair. “We love our princess,” she gushed. “She is a princess of the people. She is beautiful, like Diana.” Lucy continued to let water run through my hair. “And she comes to all our functions. She likes us.” 

I told her that we can’t let the water run that long on our yacht. “We make our water from the sea, so we have to use it sparingly.” 

“You can come here and use my shower any time you want,” she said. That’s the way they are on those islands!

Dedications in Tonga are a big deal. The first one I experienced was shortly after we arrived in Tonga when I attended the dedication of an elementary school. Gunter and I arrived at the stated time, but these events run on island time. And island time means take your time. Being early, we had the privilege of watching the preparations. Teachers decorated the speaker’s podium with Tongan mats, then they fastened them in the back with rolls of duct tape. King Tupou IV was in attendance, but a pole holding up the canopy hid him from view! We changed our seats so we could see him clearly. 

Tonga
The King of Tonga (left) and President of French Polynesia (right) speak at the dedication of a new school in Vavau.

A few weeks later, I attended the dedication of the new Arts and Handicrafts Center. The princess Lucy had praised took her seat on the stage and with a desultory stare, fanned herself during the monotonous dedication speech and long-winded prayer that followed. Halfway through the speeches, an intermission allowed us to walk around the hall and study the handicrafts for sale. The governor and princess dutifully rounded the tables. I watched them walk up to each display and talk with the artist. The ceremony continued. The princess spoke in Tongan and then English. “We have so many guests visiting us in Vavau. Welcome! May you enjoy your stay here.” Her warmth was contagious. I was impressed. After the princess spoke, groups of dancers performed, facing the princess—with their backs to the audience! 

Tongan children dancers
Boys pose after they dance for the Princess.

At the end of the performances, we all rose as the princess and royals stepped down from the dais and walked along the aisles toward the rear of the hall, shaking hands. I was seated on the aisle. The princess reached out and grasped my hand with a firm, confident handshake as she looked me right in the eye. Her smile was genuine, warm, and inviting. I began to understand why the only Polynesian monarchy continues to exist.

These stories, and many more, are told in the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific.”

  • Catholic Church, Colonial Style, Neiafu
  • Hut in Vavua, Tonga
  • Whale watching in Tonga.
  • Dance in Tonga
  • Boy dancer, Tonga
  • Cruising yachts

The death of King Tupou IV in 2006. The King died on September 11, 2006. Gunter and I were on a passage from Bali to Singapore and didn’t know about it until we read the Singapore Times at Raffles Marina. We realized that was the first King either of us had met. We were sad but weren’t surprised; he was 88.He had been the King of Tonga since the death of his mother, Queen Sālote Tupou III, in 1965. His son was sworn in immediately as King Tupou V, but the coronation would be held in 2007 after an official six-month mourning period. That made sense to us. What blew our minds were the Tonga Riots of November 2006. By then, we were in Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket, Thailand, pre-occupied with preparing Pacific Bliss for our January Indian Ocean crossing. As we worked, we wondered: Why would the peaceful, law-abiding Tongans storm their capital, Nuku’alofa?

The Tongan Riots. Tongans expected democratic reforms under the new monarch; after all, the government had formed a committee to do so following a 2005 strike by government workers. They demanded that a vote on at least some of these reforms take place before Parliament adjourned for the year. That didn’t happen. So on November 16, 2006, a pro-democracy rally of several thousand marched to parliament in Nuku’alofa. After the peaceful march ended outside parliament, an irate crowd of 2,000-3,000 took to the streets. The rioters spanned all ages, from children to the elderly; however, most were young men. As they rampaged through town, they tipped over cars, attacked government buildings, smashed windows, looted businesses and then set them on fire. For many Tongans, it was like a Christmas give-away bonanza that had come early. By the night’s end, the mob had burnt down a remarkable 80% of the Central Business District of Nuku’alofa. Six people were dead, and damage totaled millions of Pa’anga (the currency of Tonga). 

Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots
Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots.

The Tongan government, fearing that it was facing a revolution, quickly requested armed assistance from Australia and New Zealand to quell its unruly subjects. About 150 Australian and New Zealand troops and police officers arrived. After a few weeks, over 570 people were arrested, most of whom were beaten by soldiers and police.

Tonga’s Transition to a Constitutional Democracy. The ceremonial accession of King Tupou V was deferred to 2008 due to his decision to focus on the reconstruction of the damaged capital. 

Two ceremonies marked Tupou’s coronation. The first was a Taumafa Kava(Royal Kava Ring Ceremony). The king sat on a pile of handwoven pandanus mats facing the sea while 200 Tongan nobles and chiefs wearing woven skirts and seashells marched around him. He wore a garland of flowers and the traditional Tongan ta’ovala (woven mat skirt). Hundreds of baskets of food and seventy cooked pigs were presented to the King and his assembly of chiefs and nobles. Later that night, schoolchildren carrying 30,000 torches lit the sky to proclaim the coronation. 

A second, European-style coronation ceremony took place on August 2, 2008 in the Nuku’alofa Centennial Chapel, attended by royalty and nobility from around the world. Archbishop Bryce presented Tongan regalia: the ring, scepter and sword; then he placed the Tongan Crown on the monarch’s head. 

As a Crown Prince, King George had been in favor of a gradual transition to democracy. He said that the Constitution of Tonga protected free speech. After his coronation, he announced that he would relinquish most of his power and follow the recommendations of his Prime Minister, who would manage day-to-day affairs. The King also sold off lucrative business interests and announced parliamentary reform and elections in 2010. The royal palace spokesperson announced, “The Sovereign of the only Polynesian kingdom … is voluntarily surrendering his powers to meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people … [The people] favour a more representative, elected Parliament. The king agrees with them.” 

In July 2010, the government published a new electoral roll and called on Tonga’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so that they could take part in the historic vote on November 25. King George would lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers, but he would remain head of state. Unfortunately, a year later, Tupou V died from cancer. Friends and political leaders from around the world sent condolences. “He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “This will be his enduring legacy.”

The politics of Tonga currently takes place within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. The King is the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King from among members of Parliament, after having won majority support of its members. Executive power is vested in the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in the King through the Parliament, and judicial power, in the Supreme Court. 

The “Kingdom of Tonga” we experienced during our circumnavigation is no more. Tupou VI, the younger brother of the late King George Tupou, is now the King of Tonga. The current prime minister is Siaosi Sovaleni, elected on December 15, 2021.

King Tupou VI
King Tupou VI

“If a boat ends up on a reef you don’t blame the reef;
you don’t blame the boat;
you don’t blame the wind;
you don’t blame the waves;
you blame the captain.”

— Tongan Saying

(Tongan riots, 2006 – libcom.org)

The Tongan monarchy eventually got it right. The country may have floundered on a reef temporarily, but now it is solidly on course.

In case you missed them, click to read my Tsunami in Tonga Part I and Part II.

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Icelanders are at odds with each other, and they are split 50/50. This battle has nothing to do with politics; it has everything to do with aesthetics, conservation, and the color purple.

Lois with lupines
Lois with lupines

The Alaskan lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) is under attack. Warriors head for their battlefield in Eastern Iceland, armed with long knives and weed whackers. Their enemy? Purple lupines, stretching high into the mountains above—alien invaders that carpet gorges, sprawl over lava fields and climb the very mountains trekkers used to climb—without pushing through meter-high plants. These Icelandic warriors found that if they slash lupines during their peak blooming season in June, when all their effort goes into the blooms, they have a better chance at killing the enemy. Under the cover of twilight, Lupine Defenders, their pockets full of lupine seeds, visit the scene of devastation to spread them among the fallen, hoping they will rise again. 

Iceland botanicals

Defenders have a point. Tourists and half of Icelanders think the lupine fields are breathtakingly gorgeous. Plus, Lupine Defenders say lupine beauty goes well beyond skin deep. They point to conditions before lupines were introduced by the Icelandic Forest Service. Up to 40% of Iceland was covered by forest before the settlers arrived. Today, there are very few trees, and those that remain are small and twisted. A common joke among Icelanders goes like this: “What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up.”

After 1,100 years of settlement, much of the island was ecologically exhausted from overgrazing and slash-and-burn agriculture. Less than 25% of the island’s green cover remained and strong winds were blowing the remaining soil into the sea. In 1945, Hakon Bjarnson was sent to Alaska by the Forest Service to find plants suitable to revegetate his country. He returned with Alaskan lupine in his luggage, along with a clever plan. Besides reducing erosion, lupines would improve the soil at almost no cost. That’s because—as part of the pea family—they are “nitrogen-fixers.” The plants host bacteria that gather nitrogen from the air, transferring the gas to its root nodules and providing nourishments for other plants. 

Those plants grew quietly around Reykjavik for 31 years until 1976 when an initiative was made to spread the seeds throughout the country. The objective: to improve the soil so trees could grow. When tall, their shade would dominate the three-foot lupines. 

Iceland
Field of lupines Iceland
Field of lupines near Reykjavik.

The plan worked well—too well, detractors say. Scoops of lupine seeds to spread were made available at gas stations! Lupines are tall and dense, so they can starve small plants and moss of crucial sunlight. When I visited Iceland with my granddaughter in late July, 2018, we missed most of the early summer lupine season. When we drove the Ring Road, Route 1, we saw lupines growing alongside a stream, in a few fields, and at the botanical garden in Borganes (Skallagrimsgardur).  Along the way, we talked to many friendly locals and the divisive subject of lupines never came up. We were amazed, however, at the 600-plus species of moss! These lichens draw their nutrients from the environment and are easily contaminated. They grow slowly—about one centimeter in length each year. I’d hate to see any precious moss fields overtaken! 

There are over 600 species of moss in Iceland.
There are over 600 species of moss in Iceland.

Lupine Creep. “Exponential growth is the nature of an invasive species,” says Pawel Wasowicz, a botanist and lupine expert at the Institute of Natural History. The growth curve, he estimates, will peak in the next two decades. Eastern Icelanders have experienced lupine creep in real time. Over the past 17 years, the plant has spread up to 35-fold in areas of East Iceland. 

“We are at the point of no return,” says Arni Bragason, director of Soil Conservation Service of Iceland. “The best thing we can do is reach a consensus about where the plant should be. That has been hard too.”  In the spring of 2018, his agency, the one that introduced lupine decades ago, called for its eradication. After 42 years of providing seeds to the entire country, the agency terminated its lupine project. Grabbing a free scoop of seeds at gas stations is no more! Most of the culling of plants, however, is carried out by volunteers. Cities and towns have been hesitant to allocate money, given the controversy that would entail.

Meanwhile lupine slaughtering parties, followed by determined lupine seeders, continue to roam the landscape.

Lupines along stream Iceland
A stand of lupine alongside a stream.

Do lupines destroy the view? The question is also a point of friction among Icelanders. Old-timers don’t care all that much about revegetation and reforestation. They care about image—and memories. They show visitors an iconic picture of Neil Armstrong salmon fishing in Iceland in 1967, two years before he made history with one small step on the moon. They’re proud to tell you that nine of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon came to Iceland first. “They were there because in the middle of Iceland’s highlands, NASA had found a landscape that paralleled the lunar: no vegetation, no life, no colors, no landmarks. The entire area was essentially a natural gravel field,” wrote Egill Bjarnason, in his recently-published book, “How Iceland Changed the World.”  

“The term ‘lunar landscape’ is a phrase often used to describe the boundless Icelandic deserts shaped by volcanic eruptions and covered in different shades of lava…their very barrenness is an asset,” Egill continues. 

Magnificent Desolation is the phrase Buzz Aldrin once used to describe the moon. Some Iceland homeowners love that view and regret that their magnificent desolation has been replaced by the color purple. Farmers, on the other hand, appreciate the lupine cover. They recall roads blocked by sandstorms many times every year. 

Magnificent Desolation in Iceland
Magnificent Desolation.

And so the debate continues. If you were an Icelander, which side would you take?

Stories about Iceland: 

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Pain in Paradise. The first half of June has passed in a whirlwind of activity. Due to a drought enveloping Wisconsin and Minnesota this spring, the unexpected happened: I had to water—not only the new plantings, but everything—trees, bushes, perennials, annuals, and yes, even parts of the lawn! As I trudged around our entire one-acre property called Northern Bliss, dragging a hose during sweltering, record-setting 90-plus-degree heat, I wondered “Where is the bliss?” Other summers, I’ve divided my time between gardening in the morning pursuing creative projects during the hotter afternoon. This June, I’ve spent the mornings watering and the afternoons recovering. For two weeks, muscles aching, I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. 

The local evening news was filled with stories of the unusual Upper Midwestern drought. After the first nine days of temperatures over 90, the talking heads exclaimed: “Our record in here for all summer is 13 days over 90! So far, we’ve had nine days and counting.”

 

Gunter and I chuckled at first. It never rains in Southern California, where we spend our winters. And here, the locals complain of the heat when the temps climb over 80! After 5 more days, we quit laughing. The temperature kept breaking records, the nearby St. Croix River descended to record lows, and even the Great Mississippi shrank under the bridges crossing from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Here at White Ash Lake, one could walk on the shore alongside the riprap that prevents dashing waves from destroying shoreline. 

The local electric company chose the middle of a drought to rake and sow grass to repair the parts of the lawn damaged by burying electric cables last October. We appreciate the good job they did, but their timing was way off. “Just make sure to water those two sections and you’ll be fine,” a worker told me as he climbed into their truck and it rumbled off.  Those sections are at the far corners of the property. Reluctantly, I joined hose lengths together to reach them. More watering! I ordered more sprinklers from Amazon (the local Menards—similar to Lowes or Home Depot—was 100% sold out). With sprinklers spread like octopus legs from the house and cabin, the two well pumps ran all day. The next morning, still in my PJs, I moved and reset them before the sun rose high.  But after 30 minutes, the 1946-era cabin pump had enough. It blew its fuse. 

“Better call Mike,” we said simultaneously.  (He’s our son-in-law and “fixer.”) He found that the pump had burned out—probably because the sand point well was depleted due to receding groundwater. 

“Better call a well driller,” Mike said. Well drillers here are busy, as are plumbers, builders, electricians, and handymen in this part of rural Wisconsin. They are “backed up” until late fall or early spring. Fortunately, we have no visitors booked for the cabin this summer and we do have water in our main house, so we’re okay. Besides, drilling a new well at the cabin would mess up my perennial garden. As for the grass, watering was no longer an option. We would just have to wait for the elusive rain.

Day Tripping. “Let’s blow this pop stand,” I said last Saturday morning. “The forecast is for rain on Sunday—Father’s Day. God knows the farmers need rain more than any other gift they could receive. I think it will happen.” We threw a bag with snacks and water bottles into our Equinox and we were off to Crex Meadows, a wildlife area north of Grantsburg, less than 40 miles away

Crex Meadows is known known as a staging area for Sandhill cranes, but they would have already migrated; however, there’s always something to see. The Meadows encompass 30,000 acres, with wetlands, brush prairies, and forests scattered across a gently rolling landscape. It’s part of the Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens. These “Barrens” extend from northern Polk County (where we live) to southern Bayfield County (where we visited last fall); it covers 1500 square miles. This huge, sandy plain was left when a glacier retreated about 13,000 years ago.  The southern part of the Barrens where Crex is located contains huge marshes, part of ancient Glacial Lake.  

The 30,000 acres of Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area is managed by the Wisconsin DNR, Bureau of Wildlife Management. This habitat is now home to over 280 bird species, 720 plant species, 96 butterfly species, and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Amazingly, every species of mammal found in Wisconsin has been on the Crex property at some point; even moose and mountain lions wander through occasionally.  You can download a map here. 

The Visitor Center wasn’t open when we drove through, but we picked up a map and bird checklist outside in a box to the right of the entry door. In addition to a number of small birds, we saw hundreds of trumpeter swans. Even though we have a resident pair on White Ash Lake, seeing flocks of them was exhilarating! Some swans were close to the overlooks and dike roads, so hiking wasn’t necessary to take these photos:

The Burnett Dairy Cooperative. This co-op has piqued my curiosity ever since I read an article in the local press about how they helped the farming community. It was the last week in March, 2020. Covid-19 had shut the country down.  Within a few weeks of the U.S. lockdown, Gunter and I escaped San Diego to wait it out in the country. With Wisconsin schools shut down, farmers here had lost a valuable distribution outlet. Milk and cheese were a vital part of state school nutrition programs. Restaurants also closed, causing the cheese market to dry up. And shifting butter production from tiny packets for restaurants to large blocks for grocery stores couldn’t happen overnight.

With distribution channels decimated, local farmers were forced to dump most of their milk. “Milk is being disposed of because of a massive and sudden loss of markets — more than half the nation’s restaurants are closed, sales of cheese are down 70 percent and some 44 percent of the nation’s cheese is sold through food service channels,” Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin announced.  Burnett Dairy, a vertically integrated cooperative, came to the rescue: “The Burnett Dairy Cooperative and our member farmers recognized an opportunity to make a difference during an extremely challenging time for our country and the dairy industry,” said Dan Dowling, CEO and president. “Farmers have always been the backbone of the national food supply, so we felt a responsibility to marshal our resources — and a little ingenuity — to fight hunger in our communities….” Cooperating farmers donated milk, Burnett Dairy made it into cheese, and Chell Trucking of Siren, Wisconsin donated refrigerated trucks to distribute cheese to food pantries and other nonprofit  organizations supplying free meals—including the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Dumping milk

Burnett Dairy was on our way back to Northern Bliss—that is, if we took the Hwy 70 route from Grantsburg. From the highway, we couldn’t miss the humongous dairy with its sign supporting Wisconsin farmers. As we entered the retail section, we couldn’t believe our eyes! The store is designed with an array of tempting eye-candy islands. It has separate sections for cheese, deli meats, souvenirs, and snacks. In one corner, customers were lined up for scoops of every flavor of ice cream imaginable. Grouped around the perimeter were coolers full of milk, cream, cheese, sausage and pizzas topped with mozzarella, Gouda or cheddar gruyere. The store was packed with families—a destination in its own right. The goodies are also available online. Go to the SHOP NOW section on their website to have cheeses, snacks, puddings and gifts delivered right to your doorstep. We tried the potato pork sausage: excellent!

Support Wisconsin Dairy Farmers sign
Burnett Dairy Coop
Burnett Dairy Cheese Board

Upon returning home, I had the urge to water, but I refused to give in. It WILL rain, I told myself. Sunday, I woke to the sound of a light, gentle rain—perfect for settling all that dry dirt. And later, the rain came down in torrents—a real soaker. Yay! A multitude of prayers were answered. The cold front brought a windy Monday but as I write this, the weather is perfect. The drought isn’t over, but this is a great first step!

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


In the United States, a big vaccine-fueled domestic travel surge is already underway. This summer season will be crowded, and ticket prices are already closing in on the expensive summer of 2019. Internationally, though, the recovery hasn’t taken off yet.

U.S. Travel—Planes. Airport screenings are up 715% from the first half of 2020, which isn’t surprising, due to Covid-19. But they are only 35% down from the 2019 rate. Traffic is rapidly recovering, especially to destinations in the South, the Rocky Mountain States, and Hawaii. One year ago, 56% of the planes at the four largest carriers—American, United, Delta and Southwest—were in storage. As of mid-May, only 21% of those planes were in storage. Some areas are already increasing airline seats: Key West, Florida will have a 141% increase above 2019 levels in June, Sarasota, Florida will be up 136%, Bozeman, Montana, 78%, and Fort Meyers, Florida, up 62%. The Salt Lake City and Orlando hubs are scheduling more seats. Guess which U.S. city will have the biggest loss in seats in June: down 51%? San Francisco. Apparently, this city is no longer a popular tourist destination!

Photo Credit: Bibhash Banerjee from Pexels

U.S. Travel—Hotels. Occupancy rates remain below 2020 levels and way below 2019. During the week of May 2-8, only 56.7% of rooms were occupied. More hotels are reopening anyway; for example, 284,000 additional rooms were available in the first week of May.

International Travel: The European Union took a big step to reopen their borders for fully- vaccinated travelers on May 19. Ambassadors from the 27 EU members agreed to these conditions: Final shots must be taken two weeks before travel from providers approved by WHO or the EU’s medicines regulator. Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J are all allowed. (The U.S., they say, will soon be added to the “safe” list.) The U.K. standards are different: it has the world divided into red, amber, and green countries. The U.S. is on the amber list: Visitors must test negatively for Covid-19 no more than 72 hours before departing and twice, on the second and eight days after arrival to the U.K.  A ten-day quarantine is still required, though after five days you can take an additional Covid test to get out early.

It’s complicated. European countries not part of the EU─such as Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein─are all expected to follow the EU commission’s recommendations. Iceland already opened to vaccinated tourists in March. If you’re interested in going there this summer, refer to my blogs about my visit there in 2018: Iceland, a Country Rich in Culture and Legend, Iceland’s Ring Road, and Discovering Iceland’s Southeast Coast.

Sculpture in morning light at Borgarnes, Iceland.
Sculpture in morning light at Borgarnes, Iceland.

Some countries may still be under curfew. Italy, for example, recently reduced a longstanding nationwide curfew to begin at 11p.m. instead of an hour earlier. By June 7, that curfew will be extended until midnight and then erased entirely by June 21. France has a nationwide curfew that begins at 9 p.m. Some areas of Germany, Spain, and Greece still have curfews as of this date. Shops, museums, and restaurants in most countries are open, but some restrictions still apply.  For European travelers coming to the U.S., it’s also complicated. In mid-June, my sister-in-law is flying to MPS from Munich, Germany via Iceland Air. She’s fully vaccinated, but will need a Covid-19 test 3 days before leaving. The U.S. required a letter from Gunter, her brother, explaining why she needed to come, as well as a copy of his passport!

Family Reunions. The overwhelming cause of travel booked so far this summer is for family visits or reunions. These represent 32% of group travel plans. Weddings represented another 15%. Some top group vacation destinations are seeing a doubling of reservations for June, July and August compared to 2019. If families had been seeing each other every other month, as in other years, their trip wouldn’t be considered a “reunion.” Now, families are making up for lost time.

Cruises. Cruise enthusiasts have endured a year of suspended cruises in North America and much of the world.  Since the “no sail” order was lifted, cruise lines are following the CDC guidelines for conditional sailing and implementing the changes required. Cruise lines have been releasing their new itineraries. There are strong bookings for Alaska and Europe, in addition to Caribbean cruises, which are always popular. You may want to book now for the next year or two—especially if you have a future cruise credit. Balcony cabins are more popular than ever. Note that cruise fares can usually be adjusted right up until the final payment date and cruise lines are offering flexible cancellation policies.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Traveling with Disabilities. Whether you have a temporary disability, such as recovering from a recent surgery, or a permanent disability, there are travel options for you. Wheel the World has more than 40 travel destinations and tour packages in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Travegali.com is an online platform that specializes in accessible tourism. See The Travel Channel for tips for traveling with disabilities. 

My husband and I attended my brother’s 70th Birthday Event at Lake Conroe, TX while he was recovering from knee surgery. I was also using a cane because of a femur fracture that was still healing. We planned on using the courtesy carts to manage the long distances to the gate. But “due to Covid” the volunteer services were no longer active. The airport offered wheelchair service instead. We also used complimentary wheelchair services on our return trip and again, during our trip to our summer home in Wisconsin, where we are now. Don’t let disabilities get you down!

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


“Kindness is the mark we leave on the world.”

Do memories of a place you’ve visited come back to you with a yearning, an ache, that pulls you back? You just may decide you’d love to re-visit that location that tugged at your heartstrings.

Why? At first, landscapes come to mind. You have visions of sweeping vistas, gurgling brooks, snow-capped peaks. But then your mind focuses in and you realize that it is the friendliness of the locals that make you want to return.

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I came across powerful places and friendly people who pulled us in and caused us to fall in love.

Local Women of Waterfall Bay

Two local women walk along the shores of Waterfall Bay collecting shellfish. Sailing the South Pacific, page 254.

The Propeller Thank You Party in Vanuatu. One place that stole our hearts was Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), an archipelago of 80 Melanesian islands. Gunter and I had recently attended week-long festivities honoring the installation of a new chief at Waterfall Bay, in Vanua Lava, one of the Northern Banks islands. We left fond memories those villagers behind and anchored in Vureas Bay on our way back to Luganville. As soon as we were settled, rowers came to welcome us. We recognized the men from the festival and remembered that they had to leave early because of a faulty prop. Gunter had looked at it there and tried to fix it, as had other cruisers.

     “How is the prop?” Gunter asked.

     “Still broken. We cannot trust it to go out to fish,” our friend Graham replied.

     We’re concerned. A setback like this could be disastrous for the village.

     Gunter offered them our dinghy’s spare prop. The villagers were surprised to see that it was shiny, black, and brand new.

     “Such a good prop, just for us?”

     “We will not need it. Soon we will leave from Luganville, sail past New Caledonia and on to Australia. We will leave our yacht there during the cyclone season,” Gunter explained.

     Grateful for the prop, the locals invited us to a thank you party.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
When we arrive, we’re amazed at the setting. A fish line has been strung between two lines and a post. Draped over that line is an abundance of tropical flowers and long plant leaves. Inside this boundary lies a western-style, rooster-print tablecloth covered with many mats and containers, all bursting with food: manioc with nuts, yam laplap-and-coconut, baked papaya, chicken with vegetable greens, and prawns.

“Sit,” an auntie commands us. She is a large, plump woman, wearing a flowered muumuu housedress. We settle onto the grass. About a dozen villagers gather around, but they all remain standing. I motion for them to sit on the grass, too. They shake their heads no.None of the locals—including the children—will take their own food until we begin to eat.

I say grace and then they pass the food to Gunter and me. We receive glass dishes and spoons. “Sorry, we don’t have forks,” our host apologizes. The village nurse, another guest, is offered food next, followed by a couple of men. Our host and hostess and the ladies who prepared the food all stand to the side, smiling. They say they will eat later. After we’ve eaten, the men tell us how much they appreciate the new prop. The nurse makes a speech telling us how much she and the village appreciated the bag of prescription glasses and sunglasses we had given them during the festival.Then she hands us a huge hand-woven basket filled with six eggs, one coconut, two pumpkins, and a huge green cabbage. “For your return voyage. Thank you from all of us.”

I’ll never forget this precious moment!

Tomorrow we’ll face the elements and whatever else is in store for us. But tonight, I glow in the happiness and joy that flows from this wonderful group of islanders.

We talk with them about our goal of sailing around the world. Graham asks, “Why would you want to do this?”

“To see how different people live around the world. And to experience happy moments like this one you are giving to us today.” Gunter says.

They smile and nod in understanding.

I may never return to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu. These islands are accessible only by boat. But the locals we met there will always hold a special place in my heart.

Vanuatu hut

Gunter enters a hut in Vanuatu.

Welcome Week in Bundaberg, Australia. Another one of these powerful places was Bundaberg, a small town on Australia’s northeast coast. We had entered the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Australia. Greg and Pat Whitbourne, Aussies we had met in Vanuatu, shepherded us into their country.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
The next day, when I come on watch at 0300, I can see the lights of Bundaberg glimmering on the horizon, as if the town is expecting us.

Australia, the long-awaited Land of Oz!

I make a pot of coffee. Then I sit at the helm taking it all in. A shooting star streaks across the sky. Surprisingly, a white tern appears from nowhere; it circles the bows and then lands on the pulpit seat for the ride on in. I view both events as a sign of good luck. Ahead—to our starboard—the running lights of Rascal Too bounce through the waves. Our new Aussie friends, Greg and Pat, are magnanimously leading us into their country.

Never before have I felt such a sense of elation and destiny upon arriving at a foreign port!

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

That elation continued as the town put on a Welcome Week celebration for the arriving cruisers.

Pat and I entered the Melbourne Cup Hat Day contest, scrounging for items from our respective yachts. The four of us entered the Brain Strain, Passage Story, and lethal Bundy Rum Drink contests. Finally, Gunter and I entered our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, into the Best Dressed Yacht competition, with the theme: We Love You, Aussies! We won.

Why wouldn’t we want to revisit such a friendly town?

La Dolce Vita at Vibo Marina, Italy. Our sojourn in Italy did not get off to a good start. While approaching the Strait of Messina, Pacific Bliss was caught up in drift nets, due to illegal bluefin tuna fishing—a modern-day La Mattanza.  Reggio Calabria, a port of entry, was jammed, with no room for yachts-in-transit. We were relegated to a commercial quay to wait while authorities took their time checking us in. Meanwhile, we found that all nearby Italian marinas were fully booked in July, disregarding the 10% international rule for yachts-in-transit. We felt like the Flying Dutchman, destined to travel the seas forever! Finally, we finagled a berth at Tropea for “one night only.” From there, we hired a taxi to drive us down the coast to search for marinas. The Stella Del Sud Marina, owned by an Italian-Canadian couple, was our best bet. The next afternoon, we arrived amid flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. We approached the breakwater as two men in a dinghy motored toward us. We knew where we’d be berthed so Gunter inched forward. One of the men yelled, “Stop!  We didn’t expect a catamaran. You’re too big!”

I visualized the Flying Dutchman scenario again. We’d be sailing another 40 miles to the next harbor in a thunderstorm. And who knows what we’d find there?

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Angela, the Canadian, came to our rescue. Soon her husband was standing at the end of the dock, gesturing and directing three dock boys, who pushed and pulled on a mess of mooring lines. Eventually, Pacific Bliss was cleverly tied to the end of the pontoon dock with two mooring lines holding the bow in place and two crisscrossed to hold our stern still.  There she stayed, straddling the end of the dock. The passerelle was set up for us to exit from the starboard swim steps. We never saw anything like that, but it worked! We had settled into a sleepy, laid-back Calabrian town. What a relief!

In my third book, The Long Way Back, I wrote about how we fell in love with this place and its people:
We are settling into the sweet life, la dolce vita, in Italy. This little town is growing on us. Vibo Marina is somewhat of a utilitarian place: the buildings aren’t grand—they’re simply old. The streets aren’t paved with ancient cobblestones—they’re simply narrow. The town is stuck in time, situated between two touristy locations: Tropea to the south and Pizzo to the north. And it’s just what we need!

After a week here, we know where to find the best gelaterias (on the beach front road), the best supermarket (Sisas, under the overpass—they even deliver), take-out pizza (a few blocks inland) and high-grade engine oil in four-liter jugs. We’re gaining some familiarity with Italian customs and the language—because we both speak some Spanish, and Italian is similar. But it’s the people who make life here a delight. Angela is becoming a valued friend; her family is gracious and helpful. And the rest of the marina staff treats us wonderfully.

I hope you’ve fallen in love with some special places as well. I’d love to see your comments.

You may also enjoy: Breaking Bread with the Locals

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 award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Winter? Bah Humbug!

That’s what I used to think when I was living and working in the Midwest. Then, winter meant donning layers upon layers of outer clothing, shoveling snow, starting and warming a cold car, and driving to work in heavy traffic, fearing for my life on icy roads—all work and no play. Even after Gunter and I retired and purchased Northern Bliss, our lake home in Wisconsin, I never dreamed of going there in the winters. It was our daughter-in-law Sabine who missed Christmas snow and suggested that we spend every other Christmas there. We consented because family trumps frigid weather. 

Frosted Evergreen

Wisconsin farmhouse

Holidays in the Snow

This past holiday season was our third, and best, Holidays-in-the-Snow event. Three of our four children and their families attended. We planned to spend as much time as possible outdoors. 

Amazingly, the weather cooperated. It was just cold enough to snow, but warm enough for winter fun, such as sliding, making snowmen, ice fishing, taking walks on the lake, and photographing the geese and trumpeter swans swimming on the open waters of the Apple River. 

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Winter fun in Northwest Wisconsin.

Mike, our son-in-law, brought corn to lure deer from the nearby woods over to our yard. At first, they were shy, but as we spread the corn closer to our home, they followed, and by the end of our three-week stay, came right up to our patio where we could watch through the sliding glass door!  

Deer

Feeding Deer

Feeding Deer

Deer outside window

One deer peers through the window of our house.

For Christmas, I presented Gunter with an edible birdhouse. We placed it on the birdbath near a pine tree. Eventually, winter birds found it and began to eat its sunflower roof and birdseed walls. Our pair of pileated woodpeckers appreciated the suet we hung at the feeder on the lake bank. They weren’t as skittish as they had been last summer.

Deer by edible birdhouse

Curious deer at edible birdhouse.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker at lake feeder.

With plenty of helping hands, even work was enjoyable. The men shoveled snow and kept the outdoor furnace stoked. Inside, the women baked cinnamon rolls and candy-cane coffee cakes and prepared scrumptious, steaming-hot meals.

Shoveling snow

Grandson Brett shovels the driveway.

Outdoor furnace

My son Jeff loads wood into the outdoor furnace that will heat the entire two-story home.

Rime Ice and Hoarfrost.

As if to refute my derogatory comments about past winters, nature put on a spectacular show that frosted our holiday cake! It’s not that often that this happens—fog and snow and hoarfrost all at once. During this special season, however, we were blessed with many days of this winter miracle.

Hoary is an Old-English word that means “getting on in age.” But hoarfrost brought out the poet in me. One day, I awakened to a calm, cold morning and looked out to see the entire world draped with lacy, feathery crystals that glinted in the low morning sun. A magical fairyland! I knew that this ephemeral, enchanting world would disappear as the sun rose high, so I jumped into my SORELs, threw on my Lands’ End parka, and grabbed my iPhone. Outside, hoarfrost trimmed the porch rails in dainty bridal lace. Woolen gowns clothed frozen flower heads, left in place for “winter interest.” Gleaming ice crystals snuggled barren tree branches. As I walked down the snowy driveway, I met a wonderland of pure white, a pearly blanket spread across the landscape. The earth exhaled and hoarfrost crystals formed on her breath. Dancing and sparkling, hoarfrost grabbed the sunlight and threw it about like a thousand diamonds. Hoarfrost turned our tall spruce, heavy with flocking, into delightful Christmas trees with delicate, blinking ornaments. A low fog, softer than breath, had turned our icy footbridge into an enticing path I dared not enter. Out there. Alone with Jack Frost.

Snow covered woods with sun

I returned to an animated household fueled by caffeine and full of laughter. A few of us crammed into vehicles to see more of this day that Jack Frost had built. We drove past idyllic scenes of farms covered in quilts of down, with only their red barns and pastel houses coming up for air. We passed an old, converted church hiding behind a massive snow-laden evergreen. And we stopped repeatedly to photograph each new scene—many of them monochromatic—in black and white and shades of gray.

Farm in snow

 

Converted church

Forest Road with hoarfrost

Later, my curiosity got the better of me. I heard a TV weatherman use the terms rime ice and hoarfrost and interchangeably, so I wanted to understand both terms. Here’s what I learned: Both produce exquisite ice deposits, but they form in different ways. Rime ice needs super-cold water vapor and wind. Liquid water in the air freezes into crystals on the windward sides of surfaces, such as trees and structures, building up and up in spongy, porous layers. Dramatic ice sculptures are formed from fog banks about 3000-7000-foot elevations under high winds. 

Rime ice can be dangerous. Ships can be disabled by freezing ocean spray. Planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour into a super-cooled, moisture-laden cloud can pick up ice that affects their lift. 

Hoarfrost is a direct deposition of atmospheric moisture in the form of ice crystals on objects like tree branches, plant stems, wires, and poles without the moisture ever passing through the liquid phase. It typically forms on calm, clear nights and gives objects their fairyland appearance, especially when illuminated by low-angle sunlight. “Hoar” is the frosty coating. Calm air conditions allow the complex, lacy layers to form. Hoarfrost requires a supersaturated column of cold air extending well above the surface of the ground. Moisture in the air condenses around nuclei, e.g., particles of dust. Once that starts, the moisture goes from a gas to a solid with ice crystals building up on everything. 

Lois and Fiona

Lois hangs out with Sabine’s dog, Fiona.

Family is everything. That’s our primary reason for our holidays-in-the snow event. This was the year, however, that I finally learned to love winter. Is it “the most wonderful time of the year” as the holiday tune claims? I wouldn’t go that far!  In a few months, I’ll be pining for spring and soothing that urge to dig in the dirt by planting my garden. 

Read more about Northern Bliss in Lois’s past blogs:

Tornado Disaster at Northern Bliss

Recovery from Natural Disasters

Returning to Northern Bliss: Fifty Shades of Green

Fiddlehead Ferns Unfurling: My spring garden explodes in 50 shades of green.

Wise Old Oak

The Miracle of Autumn

Wander Birds: Migrating North

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 award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


FESTPAC, the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, was first on my Bucket List.

This week’s Sunday paper tells me that there’s a boom in people planning, but not making, travel arrangements. Until Covid clears, people just want to put some joy back into their lives. I’d don’t blame them. As an adventurer with wanderlust in my blood, dreaming of traveling again is like giving a drink of water to a parched soul. So, Gunter and I spent part of the day making out a new bucket list.

Back in 2004, during our world circumnavigation, we attended the Festival of Pacific Arts, the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders. This festival is hosted every four years by a different Pacific Island nation. At that time, we’d vowed to attend another one when the country and timing suited us. This could be the year! The 2020 festival was cancelled due to Covid and rescheduled for June 18-27, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The last such event, held in Guam in 2016, drew 90,000 visitors. This year’s festival will be made up of 28 nations, 3,000 delegates and could attract 100,000 visitors. I turned to Günter: “Because we have no schedule for this year, this fits perfectly. Shall we plan but not book?”

That turned out to be the applicable question. The very next day, Günter went back to the website to check on hotel reservations. The 2021 festival is now cancelled! The next one will be in 2024. FESTPAC will remain on my Bucket List but will no longer be Number One.

Fest Pac Logo

The following story about our experiences during 2004 FESTPAC is excerpted from The Long Way Back, the third book in my sailing/adventure trilogy:

A Taste of the Pacific Arts
Palau Marina Hotel, Koror, Palau
August 1, 2004

Even though Pacific Bliss is now berthed in Australia, I’m not quite ready to put the South Pacific islands behind me. I’d love to be able to sample even more of the culture of these islands before we sail on to Indonesia and ports beyond. So, I talk Günter into treating me to the Festival for my birthday. The Festival occurs every four years and changes venues, like the Olympics, but that’s where the resemblance ends. First, it’s a celebration, not a competition. And second, the way it’s organized is island-style: It flows freely from one event to the other; schedules are treated as guidelines. Attending the Festival will be a grand finale to our South Pacific adventures and provide a taste of those islands we haven’t visited.

We arrive at the Palau Marina Hotel after a day’s layover in Guam following a flight from Cairns, Australia. In the lobby—decorated with bamboo furniture and giant shells—our taxi driver introduces us to the Japanese man who owns the hotel. We bow and talk with him while our driver translates. Smiling Filipina waitresses lead us to our table where we enjoy an arrival dinner of sushi and Asahi (Japanese beer). On leaden legs we climb the steps to our third-floor room and crash. We will have two days to rest up before the action-packed Festival begins.

The next day, we order the “morning set” for breakfast: a semi-American breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs and toast, grilled sausages cut at a slant, and finely shredded coleslaw with dressing. For lunch, we order a bento; yakitori for me and squid for Günter. The side dishes here differ from our old standbys at Ichiban’s in Pacific Beach, San Diego: fish balls, poi-like sticky balls, spinach, seaweed, and other odd delicacies. Emily—one of the trio of Filipinas who works here—fans away flies as we dine on the veranda facing the peaceful harbor ringed by the tantalizing Rock Islands. Our view is a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, the sea’s sun-sparkles giving way to darkening wavelets as the wind freshens. A warm, tropical shower gently drifts past the veranda toward a perfectly domed, mushroom-shaped island, then encloses a backdrop of rounded hills in an ethereal mist reminiscent of Japanese paintings.

I turn to Günter. “Even if this is the rainy season here, I won’t mind.”

Mind? I will soon take back those words as I become intimate with the July-August weather slightly north of the equator!

As we leave the veranda for a sightseeing walk, a second shower appears. This time it’s the real thing. A million sharp-nosed bullets dive into the sea until it’s a mass of perforations, like a high-tech sound studio. We decide to retreat to our room to take our pensioners’ nap, a habit perfected in Australia.

Later, we don rain jackets and slog along the pitted dead-end street to the Palau Aquarium. Outdoor pools hold sharks, a hawksbill turtle, and a variety of large game fish. The magnificent interior contains the best live displays of marine life along a coral wall that I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, we walk to nearby Fish & Fins to introduce ourselves. This premier dive-and-tour operation is run by an energetic Israeli couple who sailed their sailing vessel Ocean Hunter to Palau eight years ago, fell in love with the fabulous marine life here, and—like many cruisers we’ve met during our voyages—decided to stay in the place that captured their hearts. They charter out their sailboat for overnight excursions to the Rock Islands, along with Ocean Hunter II, a motor dive boat. We check on snorkeling tours for later in the week.

Remarkably, the Opening Ceremony on July 22 begins without the omnipresent rain. “Alii!” begins Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. “Our home is your home; our food is your food; our island is your island; everything that we have, we want to share with you…except our spouses.” I chuckle. “The Pacific Way” has evolved! In a ceremony that reminds me of the Olympics, the delegates of 24 of the 27 participating nations march or dance across the PCC Track and Field, each to their own country’s traditional music. Each delegation presents gifts to the dignitaries of Palau according to the custom of these islands, stakes a box-art gift into the soil, and then performs in front of the grandstand. And what a show it is—absolutely awesome! For cruisers, I’d recommend the Festival over the Olympics anytime.

Günter and I privately declare the delegates from Papua New Guinea Best Dressed, not that they wore a lot of clothes! They sported flamboyant headdresses topping their fierce, tattooed faces with grass skirts and bare chests. (We had the good luck to talk to a few of these delegates briefly before the festivities began and noted their friendly dispositions. Later, Günter observed two of these warrior-dancers holding hands, as is their custom, as they ambled past the craft stalls.)

Lois and Gunter with Papua New Guinea Dancers

The Maoris of New Zealand draw gasps from attendees who have never witnessed their indigenous greeting: the warriors march forward—eyes bulging, tongues protruding, and spears thrust—while their women yell threats and twirl balls on the end of bungee-like cords.

The speeches, performances, and gift giving seem to go on forever as Günter and I shift our weight this way and that on the hard stadium seating. Then volunteers hand out box dinners of rice and fish (symbolizing a feast) to all. Yes—one box to every one of the participants: the media, the organizers, the dignitaries, and the attendees in the grandstand—all 8000 of us! Why? Because that is The Pacific Way. Altogether, the opening ceremony lasts five hours—despite a downpour during the last two—and closes with incredible fireworks, courtesy of Taiwan.

The Festival incorporates multiple simultaneous venues and activities—from symposia, movies, and plays to crafts, culinary arts, and natural history tours—forcing us to make difficult choices. We decide to make dancing our priority. Each of the 27 participating islands has entered a dance group into the competition. Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia, as sponsors, have sent performers as well. The dancing program continues day and night at the ball field, the stadium—and when raining—the gymnasium.

After attending dance venues for days, we narrow our favorites down to half a dozen:

1. Papua New Guinea: for their flamboyant style while displaying fierce demeanors and fabulous headdresses.

2. Solomon Islands: for dancing to the most primitive rhythms while hunched over huge homemade bamboo flutes.

3. The Cook Islands: for the toughest workout: Male dancers sensuously knee-slap to a fast, pulsating drum beat, then twirl their women in perfect sync.

4. Rapa Nui (Easter Island): for the best choreographed routine—sophisticated, yet vigorous—muscled bodies moving to a hot beat.

5. Yap (one of the Federated States of Micronesia): for an astounding Las Vegas style, all-male chorus routine—ending with pelvic thrusts bouncing critically placed feathers.

6. Torres Strait, Australia: to Aborigines for enacting realistic stories from their lives; in one dance simulation of fishing, the performer falls to the floor, catches the bait with his teeth, and follows a fishing line in, writhing all the way across the stage. That performance raises the roof!

The routines of the Hawaiian and French Polynesian dancers, though the choreography was polished, lacked the drama of indigenous dancing.

Festival Ceremony and Dancing

From pages 28-29, The Long Way Back.

As the festivities continue, we note that music of the Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians reflects a common, linked heritage while Asian Special Performances are clearly different. The songs of the Taiwanese highland tribes, for example, are sophisticated operatic arias with the typical dissonant chords of Asian music. They are 1000 years old!

This ten-day extravaganza has to be the ultimate Pacific tourist opportunity! Imagine mingling with locals from 31 islands while you’re shopping in the stalls, having lunch in Koror, or walking through the college campus to attend a symposium. We get to know and love these islanders as never before. We talk with and photograph dancers before and after their stage performances. Often dancers are having their own photos taken with performers from other troupes; we join right in. By the end of the Festival, I realize that the participants themselves are beginning to “mix it up.”

But it’s not only the participants who are learning from each other. About 7000 people attend the Festival events here each day, including about 3000-4000 Palauans. One local says to me, “This is a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am proud to be a Palauan; I have seen my Pacific brothers and sisters, and now I know that there is no shame in being an islander.” (In Pidgin, this enlightened view is called Blong One Talk.)

An integral part of each year’s Festival is the Traditional Navigation and Canoeing Program. At sunrise on opening day, news helicopters hover above as smoke rises from a fire, triton-shell trumpets blare, and war and sailing canoes pass below Palau’s KB Bridge. Represented are war canoes from eight Palauan states and sailing canoes from Palau, Guam, and the Marshall Islands. Missing sailing canoes from Yap and Saipan, still underway, put a damper on opening festivities. They would show up days later. The monsoon season in Palau is not an optimal time of year for promoting the canoe program!

A few days after the official opening ceremonies, the “scheduled” races are held, although not one is even close to the time on the printed schedule. Günter and I take a taxi to the Friendship Bridge near the stated finish line for the kabekl (war canoe) race. We stand on the concrete jetty, cameras in hand, on increasingly wobbly knees. Then we spread our rain jackets on the concrete. And we sit. And sit. After about two hours, an announcer explains the rules for the two heats to be held by the canoes, to be followed by the play-off. Then we sit and wait again. About a half hour later, the announcer states that, due to the delay, there will be no final race. They will hold only the 1000-meter and a 500-meter. We wait even longer.

Nearby, a few ladies dressed in red and white—with towels over their heads to protect them from the sun—are cheering for the local Ngiwal State of Palau. I decide to follow their example. I stand and cheer, then sit and wait…and wait. Another half hour creeps by and finally the race begins. Everyone stands to cheer—this time for real. The ladies frantically wave their towels like flags. The red team wins. In the 500-meter, Koror wins.

All this waiting gives me the opportunity to talk with islanders. One stocky man in a red T-shirt that must be XXL explains how the Festival has spurred the sport of canoeing. “We’ve had races here before, but with motorboats,” he says. “Our boys didn’t know how to race canoes. You should have seen them only a few months ago. They couldn’t even paddle!”

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any sailboats in the harbors except those used for excursions. “Don’t they sail either?” I ask.

“No, ancient Palauans navigated by the stars and all,” he says, “but then they didn’t need to sail to other islands anymore. We have everything we need here. And sadly, the tradition was not handed down.”

Carrying on the island traditions and culture is exactly what the Festival aims to do. Hoping to learn how to navigate by the stars, we attend the Traditional Navigation symposium the next morning. Unfortunately, much of the discussion centers on intellectual property issues—how to prevent the usurping of traditional skills and knowledge by the West—as if we need those skills with the advent of GPS! Then the discussion turns toward how to get funding for the very program that some of the participants don’t want to share. The locals seem oblivious to the contradiction.

The Sailing Canoe Raceis scheduled for 1:00. This time, we take a taxi to where the canoes actually are, thinking that we will cleverly position ourselves at the start rather than at the finish line. By then, we have begun to understand “island time.” So, Günter keeps our cab while I venture toward the group by the canoes, potential racers who are preparing to barbeque their lunch.

“When do you expect the race to begin?”

“At one o’clock,” one of the racers responds.

“But it’s one-thirty now.” I point to my watch.

“I think the race is actually at four o’clock,” another canoeist volunteers.

“No, the program says that is the time for awarding of the prizes. Do you have a program?”

“No.”

“Hold the cab! We’re leaving!” I call to Günter.

Later, we hear that the races did occur that day—at 4:30 p.m. By then, two teams had decided not to race. Guam, Yap, and Palau—although mismatched—managed to paddle to the finish line against the wind and current under the bridge.

Booths and exhibits at the Festival

From pages 26-27 of The Long Way Back.

Festival activities keep us busy for the next few days. We enjoy hanging around Festival Village where we purchase souvenirs from various countries’ booths and sample their native food. We walk through the thatched-roof Pavilion to view tattooists, carvers, and weavers at work. One project, called MAT, calls for each participant country to weave a 2×2-foot square that will eventually be combined into one majestic Quilt of the Islands, to be displayed at the Palau National Museum. This Museum will also display a carved log with each country’s section, and one large storyboard representative of all carvers’ combined efforts. We view architectural displays and attend poetry readings, instrumentals, and plays. In a clever New Zealand stage play, two actresses recount the history of the Maoris from the first sighting of the white man.

During the final days of the Festival, the rains arrive to stay. A typhoon is moving toward Japan; all of Micronesia is drenched in the resulting weather system. The closing ceremony is moved to the college gymnasium. To make space, the country delegations sit on the wooden floor in the center. Even so, the grandstands are overloaded. Many Palauans are left standing outside holding umbrellas. I sympathize with this tiny country of 20,000 that has valiantly tried its best to be the perfect hosts to 4,000 visitors. But I’m proud of them as well. I’m touched by the warmth of the speeches and by the sincere effort to again feed the crowd in keeping with The Pacific Way.

“In today’s strife-torn world,” concludes Festival Host President Remengesau, “it is uplifting that so many of us have come together to celebrate the value and beauty of our heritage.”

May these Festivals continue to uplift, to teach, to inspire, and to celebrate the heritage of the islands. Attending the 9th Festival of the Pacific Arts was a birthday gift that I will cherish forever.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about the South Pacific are:

Breaking Bread with the Locals

The Pacific Puddle Jump 10-Year Reunion

Cruiser Camaraderie: Revisiting our World Circumnavigation

Reconnecting with Crew

Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling

The Largest Clams in the World

Visiting Levuka, Fiji’s Ancient Capital, during our World Circumnavigation

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 award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased on Amazon.

 


During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I loved Australia and the Aussies so much that we decided to spend another year in The Land Down Under. We stored our catamaran Pacific Bliss on the hard in Mackay, Queensland and took the tilt train south to Sydney. From there, we rented a drive-yourself caravan (camper) to tour inland through the Blue Mountains, Cowra, Canberra, and back to Sydney via the sea route. Although fall was turning to winter throughout the Northern Hemisphere, in Australia we were enjoying the spring-to-summer transition. My favorite holiday flowers for arranging are the red tropicals: ginger, anthurium, and proteas. Imagine my delight seeing fields of such flowers on display at nature preserves!

Field of proteas

Field of Proteas

Following are excerpts from my journal:  

Touring Australia’s Blue Mountains
September, 2004

Katuomba Falls Caravan Park.  Blackheath Caravan Park. Destinations roll off our tongues as the landscape passes by. We experience two days of dreary skies and depressing, intermittent rain, which makes our road trip anti-climactic after the sunny skies and excitement of Sydney. But on the third day, the weather clears and an ethereal, winter-pale sun peeks over the evergreened landscape before it descends below the foothills and treetops. It leaves a soft brush of amber on the clouds. It’s amazing how the van seems cozier, less claustrophobic, when there’s a hint of sun.  

Gorgeous, white parrot-like birds with yellow crests flit from tree to tree as we enjoy our sundowners. Ducks waddle toward the van while we throw out tidbits. I take a twilight walk up a hillside and stumble upon one lone rhododendron bush; the rest will bloom next month.  November 1 is the beginning of the Rhododendron Festival here in Blackheath. 

Called “Australia’s most accessible wilderness,” the heralded Blue Mountains looked like a collection of Sydney suburbs on a ridge of a cut-out valley—eroded highlands with valleys below. “These are certainly not mountains like our western Rockies,” Gunter grumbled.  But as we drove further, he changed his tune. Narrow river gorges wound through the lower mountains. As we rose in elevation, vistas opened to yawning canyons. Mountain streams tumbled over escarpments, falling to thick, tangled vegetation.

Eucalyptus against limestone

Eucalyptus against limestone

Blue Mountains Overlook

Blue Mountains Overlook

Sydneysiders are fortunate to have such a national treasure within a few hours’ drive. A brochure we’d picked up in Sydney stated: “What a better way to uplift the soul than a weekend of World Heritage Wilderness!” This heritage area, made up of eight nature reserves, was established in 2000. It contains 400 animal species, more than one-third of Australia’s bird species, 1,300 plant species, and 4,000 species of moths and butterflies.

For the first twenty-five years of European occupation, the Blue Mountains defied settlers’ quest to expand west of Sydney. Expeditions were turned back by impenetrable undergrowth, wandering gorges, and steep canyon walls. Finally in 1813, three men, Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth, and William Lawson, broke through after eighteen miserable days.  They were rewarded with a view from the top of Mount York never seen by Europeans. Grassy plains stretched as far as their eyes could see—plains, they believed, that could support a continent of millions.  During the next two years, the Great Western Highway was cut through these mountains and western migration began.  

Morning brings a bright sun and clear blue skies. We are eager to begin the trip to the top of the pass. From Blackheath, we’ll backtrack to Medlow Bath, then double back and proceed on to Bell, drive along the north canyon rim to Mount Tomah, then double back again to Lithgow, finally proceeding on to our reserved cabin near Lake Lyell.  It is a fine, crisp day for touring but the drive is long and tortuous. The two-lane route—the same one followed by those early explorers—is narrow with tight turns and sheer drops. In most places, the ridge is too narrow for turnouts, look-outs, and rest stops. 

Gunter is an experienced mountain driver; even so, this route requires intense focus. 

At Medlow Bath, we stop to see the Grand Hotel, a famous meeting place for world dignitaries. Melba, a famous Australian opera star, sung here. Other celebrities have taken advantage of the hotel’s hydra baths for more than a century. While we stroll through the old hotel, we note that the place still has a regal flair: a smart-suited and suitably aloof male receptionist hands us a typed information sheet about the hotel. We enjoy a cappuccino on the deck with a wonderful mountain view and then we’re off to the next stop: Govett’s Leap.

We joke about the sign saying 15-Minute Walk to Bridal Falls.  “It doesn’t say how long the return is!” I warn. “But let’s go anyway. We need a little pensioner’s walk.”  

We’re back at the parking area in one and quarter hours. We did take our time, though, past the stepping blocks over the river to the other side. The morning sun brightened the deep, verdant valley. The river was wonderful, cascading over rocks banked with yellow blooming acacia, rust-colored banksias (bottlebrush), and delicate yellow, white, and blue mountain flowers. Bridal Veil Falls, a tantalizing stream of water and fine mist overhanging a rock garden of moss and ferns, was well worth it. By the time we returned, huffing and puffing up all those steps, lazy sheep-clouds had drifted in. They stayed with us for the remainder of the day, providing cooling interludes.

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Bottle Brush Plant

Bottle Brush Plant

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Our next stop is Evans Point. We amble over to a must-see lookout over pulpit rock. Afterwards, Gunter re-parks the van so the view from the rear window has the valley view. This is when driving a campervan pays off! We enjoy our smoko of chicken breast, dressing, and whole wheat bread.      

Our next stop is Mount Victoria. Gunter buys a few used paperbacks from a quaint, old shop attached to a house that has been in the owner’s family since the early 1900s.  Across the street stands the historic Victoria and Albert Guesthouse and Restaurant, where dining on the wooden, green-railed veranda has been a tradition for over 100 years. The street is lined with blooming pink and white ornamental and fruit trees. What a wonderful time of year to tour the Blue Mountains! 

From the GWH (Great Western Highway) the Darling Causeway links Mount Victoria to Bells Road, which takes us toward Mount Tomah. We continue on to the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens (called Australia’s Coolest Botanic Gardens) developed by Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden. Here, at 1000 meters above sea level, many plants not suited to Sydney’s climate can be grown successfully. 

I’ve fallen in love with these gardens—and especially with the collection of the largest proteas I’ve ever seen. Their wide-open pink blooms remind me of sunflowers backlit against a glowing sunset. The pond’s rock garden, with shimmering lime-colored reeds complementing its gray rocks, is the perfect setting for contemplation and meditation. The blue haze from the mountains turns this place into a heavenly delight.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about Australia are: 

Climbing the Coat Hanger

The Challenge of Writing about Australia

Pavlova from Heaven? No, Australia

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 award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased for the holidays on Amazon.


Thanksgiving in 2020. This year, our uniquely American Thanksgiving will be like none other. No one will be sorry to bid 2020 farewell, with its devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods, global pandemic, and turbulent presidential election. Travel plans have been abandoned; communal gatherings with friends and family cancelled; and we mourn those who are no longer with us. 

Gratitude. Yet we must continue to be grateful for what we do have because being thankful is a state of mind more nourishing than any feast. Gratitude soothes our souls. Little did I know in March of 2019 what would lie ahead. This is what I wrote then: “I’m also grateful for the opportunity to travel by land and sea. I would not trade our eight years spent circumnavigating the world for any object money can buy. Travel has taught me to invest in money, not stuff. It has taught me to collect memories, and to press them—like flowers between pages of a book—within the folds of my heart. I’ve taken thousands of pictures, and when I look at them, I realize that I’ve collected the sights, sounds and smells of nature—and the laughter, joy, and sorrow of people around the world.” During this pandemic, collecting memories have become even more important.

Twice during our world circumnavigation, we celebrated Thanksgiving abroad. The first time was at sea during our Maiden Voyage. We had experienced heavy seas during our Gibraltar-to-Canaries passage, and I used our pressure cooker to make a meal from a frozen chicken and what was left of our tired vegetables. I wrote a blog about that experience called Thanksgiving Then and Now. During the sixth of our eight years onboard our catamaran, Pacific Bliss was berthed at Yacht Haven Marina in Thailand where we prepared to cross the Indian Ocean. I yearned for a traditional American Thanksgiving. We finally found one at the Phuket Marriott Hotel. Here’s an excerpt from The Long Way Back:

An American Thanksgiving in Phuket
November 24, 2006

     “Pacific Bliss is a vessel of splendor and tranquility…with a beautiful navigator steering us to exotic ports,” Günter says poetically, pecking my cheek. “I like it here.” 

     I love it when he says such things, but I have cabin fever. I’ve been supervising the teak varnishing and oiling project for a week now, never even leaving the marina, and I’m dying to get off this boat. Besides—it’s Thanksgiving! We don’t know if Phuket restaurants offer a celebratory Thanksgiving dinner, but Günter thinks the Marriott, an American-owned hotel chain, is our best chance for getting one. So, towards evening, I change into a special sundress, and I even curl and spray my hair. But as we walk down the long “A” Dock to our rental car, it begins to rain. And by the time we’re a few miles away from the marina, trying to find the Marriott Hotel, the storm hits with a fury—thunder, lightning and a driving, sideways deluge.

     “I can’t see a thing through the windshield. I’d rather be back on the boat,” Günter complains. 

     I’m so disappointed I could cry. “Let’s just pull over and wait it out,” I plead.

     “Could take an hour,” Günter grumbles, but he complies. 

     Fortunately, before long, the rain eases. Then we drive through pooling waters on a long, narrow, unlit road that skirts the airport. A sign reads: “Temporarily No Access,” but we slosh through anyway. When we finally exit, we discover we’ve gone in a circle, and we’re back near the entrance to Yacht Haven!

     “Let’s try this direction,” Günter says, turning onto the main road and heading back toward the marina. Then, a mere seven minutes after passing the marina, we come to the Marriott Hotel, and the rain stops magically, as quickly as it had begun. I can’t believe it. There it is before me—Civilization! A wide, imposing entrance beckons, with valet parking, an infinity pool that stretches all the way to the Andaman Sea, intricate wood statues and carvings, and rich, Thai décor. I can’t wait to get inside and, once there, we stroll past bubbling fountains with overlays of gold and into one of the hotel’s three restaurants. 

Tropical grounds at Marriott on Andaman Sea

The gorgeous tropical grounds at Marriott on Andaman Sea.

     Günter spots a “Thanksgiving Buffet” sign. He’s drawn by an enticing aroma wafting from a huge wok where a slim Thai woman sautés a scintillating, butter-and-cinnamon mixture.

     “I’m suddenly very hungry,” Günter says.

     “Me, too.” 

      “Do you have reservations?” asks a beautifully gowned Thai hostess with a concerned smile.

     “No,” I answer, with a concerned frown.

     “We are all booked, but I will try to find you something.” 

     My heart sinks. 

     She hands us over to a waitress with shoulder-length ebony hair, who flashes a huge Thai smile and leads us directly to a poolside table for two, which overlooks those fabulous fountains of gold. The table has a RESERVED sign with the name of the guests neatly printed in black. “These people didn’t come,” she explains, whisking away the folded cardboard. 

Fountains at Phuket Marriott Nai Yang Beach

Gold fountains grace the Hotel Marriott.

     A bus boy promptly places a crisp, white napkin on my lap. “Would you like the wine buffet, or should I send over the wine steward?” he asks in perfect English.

     “Send the steward.” This service is more like it. We have arrived!

     The buffet is exotic: a mix of American, International and Eastern dishes; twenty different salads; a fresh oyster bar; mussels, clams, and sushi; butternut squash soup made with maple syrup; corn bread; twice-baked potatoes; au gratin potatoes; beans with almonds; okra with tomatoes—and two, huge, carved turkeys. As for the desserts—well, they’re to die for: pecan pie; sweet potato pie; “American” apple pie; mousse; hot brownies with fudge sauce; and an ice cream bar where one can order a real banana split and pass out from pleasure! After eating my fill, I settle for one scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of two small wedges of apple and sweet potato pie and, somehow, manage to find a place for them in my distended stomach.

Seafood plate at the buffet

The Thanksgiving buffet includes a fresh seafood bar.

     We sit at that intimate table for two hours and then return blissfully full to Pacific Bliss. Tomorrow, we’ll fast!  We’ll live off our memories of a unique and extremely satisfying Thanksgiving and add this to our ever-growing treasury of sailing experiences in foreign lands.

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 award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased for the holidays on Amazon.

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