Writing and Books


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.

 

 

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

(a) collapse and kick back?

(b) embark immediately on the next challenge?

(c) celebrate?

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

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

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The book launch party for The Long Way Back.

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

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

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Gunter and Lois during the boat christening party in France.

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Our half-way masquerade party while crossing the Atlantic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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

It’s no surprise that I’m a lover of literature. I recently had a chance to answer some literary-related questions with Mikaela for her blog, A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This.

One of my favorite questions was, “What book is your childhood sweetheart? Why?.” To read my answer and chime in with yours, click here.

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“Clear the decks,” the captain would bark when I was sailing around the world in our 43-foot yacht, Pacific Bliss. This expression originated in naval warfare of the 1800s, when it described how a crew would prepare for battle by removing or fastening down all loose objects on the ship’s decks.

On our boat, our crew would scurry about, stowing any pans on the stove that could slide off, clearing anything personal from the galley and salon area so that all surfaces could be used for charts and navigation tools, fastening latches on the cupboards and lockers, and battening down the hatches.

Now, as a landlubber, “clearing the decks” means “get ready for action.” I must finish dealing with what I am doing so that I can focus on something far more important. My priority for 2015 is to complete writing the trilogy “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” But to accomplish that, I’d feel better with my research and files organized and easily accessible. That means getting my personal stuff and records (2014 tax files, etc.) out of the way and stowing the “history,” (the research and drafts of the already-published first two books in the series).

Clearing my desk clears my head. Does that make sense?

So I’ve swept the surface of my desk clean of extraneous stuff, put my journals and ship’s logbooks all in order (15 of them covering the last four years of our circumnavigation) and my two writing muses from the Austrian Alps are sitting on my reference shelf ready to encourage me by yodeling when I get stuck.

Journals and logbooks

Journals and logbooks

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Yodelers, my writing muses.

I’m interested in hearing from my followers. What process do you use to begin the New Year or a new project? How do you clear the deck?

It was rewarding to teach a workshop, “Author as Entrepreneur,” at the Southern California Writers Conference over Presidents’ Day Weekend. I enjoyed answering questions from writers during and after the workshop. After a packed day of general sessions, workshops, and one-on-ones, many attendees manage to brave the evening Rogue Read-and-Critique sessions that begin at 9:00 p.m. and often last until 2 a.m. I attended two “rogues” this year led by Matt Pallamary; they proved an excellent opportunity to read and obtain feedback on parts of the book I’m currently writing: The Long Way Back.

I’d like to share a segment of one of the stories for this week’s blog. It takes place off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Pacific Bliss is moored near the channel between two islands, Keswick and St. Bees:

In the cockpit, we watch a pale gold sun set beneath the hills…

As night falls, the real show begins.

Ann is the first to hear the strange primal sound, accompanied by a swoosh, like surf rushing through a small opening in a rock cave.  She calls us to the cockpit. 

“That must be a blowhole, over on the St. Bee’s side,” I tell her.

Günter counters, “But there’s no surf here, and the winds are not strong.”

“Whales!” We all shout. From then on we whisper, listening closely to the whale songs followed by the blow. Each stanza begins with a low moan, like an elephant, followed by a long screech that ranges from a low to a high frequency. The song changes to a long growl-like bark and ends with a monkey-like eee-ee, then the stanza repeats.

First, the haunting whale songs reach us from across the channel. Later, we hear them as the whales make their way south through the pass. We know that the plaintive sounds of the humpback can travel up to 20 miles underwater, but we’re so close that we can hear them from the cockpit. Above water. Magical!

While we discuss the route of the humpbacks in hushed tones, the sky turns into a glittering canopy of stars, covering us with nature’s glory while grunts, groans, thwops, snorts, and barks continue. Finally, we hear the noises fade toward the center of the channel. The show is over. We turn into bed silently, tired yet awed.

***

0830: “Whales! I see them coming through the channel!” Günter calls from the bow of Pacific Bliss. He has just untangled the mooring line and Pacific Bliss is now swinging freely, her bow facing ESE toward St Bee’s hills.

We all rush to the bow. Now—in the daylight—we can see the whales.  We watch, mesmerized, as two humped backs breach simultaneously.

“Beautiful!” Ann says.

“Powerful!” I answer. “I wonder whether they are signaling to the rest of their pod, just having a look around, or shaking off barnacles.”

“Maybe they are playing,” Jimmy says. “Just having fun.”

“They could be the same whales we heard last night,” Günter adds. “Coming back through the channel. If so, they might be staying around here for awhile. Probably mating season.”

“Or fattening up from all that food on the reef,” Jimmy comments.

We hear a few faint blows as the creatures swim out of range and on to the sea. Then nothing.

The show is over.

That’s what I love about traveling the natural world: it whets my curiosity; it propels me to learn more.  What a wonderful way to begin a new day! And what a whale of a day this is will be.      

Have you ever heard a whale’s song?  If so, I’d love to hear your comments. If not, you can listen to them here:

http://www.great-white-shark.com/whale-sounds.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKeGP-jPB50&list=PL50a2EHouN8FZf49QlSYV2dWKDUvQfgm2

Some humpback whale songs are sung during the in mating and birthing season, but others are sung for other reasons. Researchers now believe that humpbacks learn from one another and sing for complex cultural reasons.

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