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

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

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

The family pig

The family pig

The brood of piglets

The brood of piglets

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

Cycle in a village home

Cycle in a village home

This solar panel can power a small radio

This solar panel can power a small radio

Large solar panel on thatched roof

Large solar panel on thatched roof

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

Villagers harvesting peanuts

Villagers harvesting peanuts

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

Village school

Village school

 

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We are asked this question when our friends find out that we are off to yet another adventure on Saturday.

Gunter responds, “Why go? Because it’s there. And it’s exotic.”

“And because the country has recently opened up to tourism,” I answer. “It hasn’t been exploited—yet.”

In 2010, Myanmar (formerly Burma) held its first free elections in nearly two decades. President Thein Sein came to power in 2011 with the promise of reforms to reconnect Myanmar to the global economy. Burma will never be the same. A huge industrial park is scheduled to open mid-2015. Over 400 hectares are currently being cleared for the first section of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Some of the 22 factories set to move in will begin building their factories this month. But before the economy gains, the local monastery will gain its share. “With every corporate groundbreaking,” reports the October 18th Economist, will come a donation to the monks that may one day pay for a grand golden stupa.” (The monastery has much to gain because it sits on a finger of forest jutting into the park.)

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This first business park will employ 70,000 workers when running at full tilt. It will provide food, consumer products and construction materials for the domestic market and will export shoes, clothing and car parts. Two other such parks are planned.

When I visited Burma back in 2006 (see previous blog entry: Burma, my next favorite Place) the big question was: Should you go to Burma? Aun Lang Suu Kyi, Burmese Peace Prize Laureate and opposition leader, had asked tourists not to come because the money would only prop up the dictatorship. The income from the hotels would go straight into the government’s coffers. Even so, most of the people I talked with welcomed tourism anyway. They wanted to sell whatever goods they could in their meager stalls. Now, they are beaming. Because tourism is booming.

Investors are dreaming about investing in Myanmar. The country sits right between the massive markets of China and India to the north and Thailand to the south. It abounds in arable land, water and natural resources: oil, natural gas and precious stones such as jade, rubies and sapphires. From 2010 to 2013, foreign direct investment tripled. But the picture isn’t all rosy. There needs to be massive investment in education to create a well-trained work force. The average Burmese spends just four years in school!

As I stated in my previous blog: “That short trip gave me a taste of Burma I’ll never forget. But it was just an appetizer. Now I’m preparing for the main course.”

41 Girl  at market posing with tub

We’ll be there for almost three weeks. And most of that time, I’ll be off the grid. I’ll post stories and pictures after I return.

Did you know that there is a lake in this world where the jellyfish has lost its sting?

Gunter and I signed up for a snorkel-and-dive tour by Fish & Fins in Palau while attending the 9th Festival of Pacific Arts there. After a 45-minute ride, we were anchored in a shallow water spot called The New Drop-Off, near The Ngedbus Wall, widely considered to be the world’s best wall dive, dropping from knee-deep water to almost 1000 feet.

There are more than 1400 species of fish in Palau waters, and hundreds of species of corals. An underwater photographer friend once told me, “You can go to six different countries in the world to experience the greatest diversity of coral and fish, or just go to Palau.” He wasn’t kidding!

Wikipedia image, 425px-Palau_Regions_mappwnewz (1)

As soon as Gunter and I snorkeled toward the drop-off, a white-tipped shark swam lazily by. Green turtles and a lone hawksbill paddled by, unfazed. Small schools of blue line snappers hovered effortlessly, while gold-striped fusiliers, damsel and butterfly fishes accented the extraordinary view. I recognized species I’d seen in French Polynesia, Fiji, and Vanuatu, but in Palau, they were all together in one place. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Our second stop was Clam City, home of the world’s largest mollusks, four feet wide and up to 500 pounds. They rested in a sandy bottom eight to ten feet below as I floated over them, elated and amazed. Their huge upholstered lips reminded me of a ‘70s-era furniture store filled with overstuffed sofas of lime-green, orange, brown and rust.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience, however, awaited us in Jellyfish Lake, a saltwater lake on Mecherchar Island, about 18 miles from Koror. This is one of 70 or so marine lakes scattered throughout the limestone Rock Islands of the Palau Archipelago.  There, we could swim with thousands of fragile jellyfish without getting stung.  The lake had been cut off from the main lagoon eons ago, so without natural predators, their trailing tentacles lost their sting.

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Click on photo for source

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Golden Jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake. Photo Source: National Geographic. Click on photo to read more.

What Fish & Fins didn’t tell us was that our group of eight had to climb over a ridge through a tangled jungle to reach the lake in the interior of the island! Fortunately, Gunter and I were wearing sturdy reef shoes instead of flip-flops! Panting, we slowly picked our way up a steep coral-rock pathway grasping a handrail made of thick rope. At the top, our guide pointed down to a flat, green lake surrounded by jungle. “The jellyfish congregate in that spot of murky lime-green water you see at the middle of the lake.” We all rushed down to close the gap.

The swim-with-the-jellyfish adventure was worth every bit of that sweltering hike. We donned our masks and fins and set out toward the tantalizing middle of the lake. It seemed to take forever. Once there, I experienced the most unnerving, yet pleasant sensation of my entire life! I cautiously approached the school of jellyfish. Some of them gliding past my mask were the size of my hand; others were tiny as a snail. They were transparent…delicate… intricate, like butterfly wings. Soft, pliant tentacles brushed over my shoulders and down my arms. Then suddenly I was immersed in a strange, sensuous world of wonder. It felt like thousands of soft feathers stroking my entire body. I wanted to float there forever, still as can be. But the command of our guide to regroup broke into my reverie.

We enjoyed two more snorkel stops on the way back to Fish & Fins: through coral gardens of staghorn, sea fans, whip coral, and brain coral—in a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from blues and teals to red-orange, gold, and amber. None of it compared to my jellyfish encounter!

Note: Both golden jellies and moon jellies exist in the lake, but a sighting of a moon jelly is rare during the daylight hours because they generally only migrate to the surface in the evening to feed.  Although these species living in the lake have nematocysts (stinging cells), they are not powerful enough to harm humans. However, if you are known to have an allergic reaction to jellyfish stings, it is suggested you might consider wearing a skin for protection. Posted by Liz Tuttle

Click on photo for source

Click on photo for source

In continuing my “generations” blog theme, I wanted to share a personal story pertaining to “The Greatest Generation.”

Every year now, families mourn the passing of those who belonged to what Tom Brokaw coined “The Greatest Generation.” These were “the good warriors,” born from 1909 to 1928. The experiences that bound this generation together, however, did not begin with World War II. Before they fought, they grew up watching their parents lose jobs, scrimp and save during the Great Depression. And that frugal mentality stuck.

Last year, I mourned the passing of my Uncle James. Lester, my father, and the eldest of his siblings, had a warm spot in his heart for James, his only brother. He waited a long time for him to be born, because his four other siblings—Carol, Gertrude, Mildred and Agnes—were girls. James had a sunny, quiet disposition, and I could tell that he adored Lester.

Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I didn’t see much of Uncle James, who lived far away “in the cities” and serviced organs for a living for Schmidt Music. I was surprised that such an occupation existed! James always drove his family to the farm to see ours during the holidays.

What I remember most about my uncle was how he and his wife Marion, along with my father and my mother Sigrid, took off on an adventure to far-away Florida during the cold Midwestern winter of 1955. I had just turned thirteen the month before.

My dad wanted to check out the new humped-back Brahma beef cattle newly introduced to Florida. He dreamed of moving south to warmer weather. He yearned for the freedom of not being tied down to dairy cows. My mother was bogged down with children to raise. She had never traveled beyond the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  She looked forward to the first vacation she’d ever had.

In my family, tales begin and end with the year and make of a car. This one is no different.

1949 Nash. Photo Credit: Google Images

1949 Nash
Photo Credit: Google Images

My younger siblings and I watched Uncle James and Aunt Marion pull into the dirt driveway of our farm in a 1949 Nash. We all gathered around to take a look.  The front seats could lie flat, fitting into the rear seats to make a bed. Marion and James would sleep in there, and Sigrid and Lester would pitch a small pup tent each night. The Nash was stuffed to the hilt with all manner of food staples. The four planned to purchase fresh food and picnic along the way. They would cook outside on a small camp stove most nights.

My mother talked about how difficult it was to sleep in a pup tent alongside the road; one night, they climbed back into the car to take refuge from the cold. The next night, they checked into a motel, but that was the only time. They may have stopped at a restaurant once or twice.  Frugal to the max, the four drove for about 4,000 miles on $45.00. That Nash averaged 25 mpg. My mother bragged about buying tangerines for ten cents a dozen, grapefruit for seventy-five cents a bushel, and carrots for five cents a bunch. Wieners cost 29 cents a pound.

The four travelers were awestruck by images of the south: vibrant roses blooming in Georgia; gray moss choking shade trees; tobacco fields stretching as far as the eye could see; and finally, lush Florida farms full of winter vegetables, pineapples and peach trees. But what I remember them talking about the most was how they were shocked to see separate restrooms for the colored folks, even separate entrances at drive-in theaters. Living in the rural Midwest, they had never seen nor imagined such blatant discrimination!

That Nash was a real trouper! It limped home the last four miles with a second flat tire—and without a spare. After business hours, no service stations had been open. There was no way to repair the tire. The four tired passengers stumbled into our farmhouse at midnight. I heard a ruckus, but being a teenager, promptly fell back asleep. The next morning I found that, finding all the beds full of sleeping children, Aunt Marion and Uncle James had simply crashed on the floor.

My father never fulfilled that dream of heading south until he moved to Texas upon retiring! Living so far away, he wasn’t able to see much of Uncle James in his later years. Aunt Marion was always very sweet to my mother, who was trapped on that dairy farm and eventually raised nine children there. Sigrid didn’t get out much, but she often talked about that Florida escapade. Who knows? Perhaps those tales of adventure fueled my own lifelong dreams of traveling! 

I love voyages!  I love mixing it up: the inner spiritual voyage and the outer physical voyage. While taking the “outer voyage,” circumnavigating the world––34,000 nautical miles in a 43-foot catamaran––I was taking an inner voyage as well.  Our ship’s library was stocked with hundreds of books.

After becoming a landlubber again, I began to consolidate my eighteen journals into a trilogy called “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” In the process, I undertook yet another voyage. Because, as Henry Miller once said, “Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.  The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become the path himself.”

After the creative exhilaration of writing each chapter of the second book in my trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific,” came months of grueling rewriting, editing, polishing, and proofing.  And just when I thought I was sailing toward the home stretch, all kinds of production problems reared their ugly heads.  But finally, all of them were solved, and there I was at LightSource Printing in Anaheim, watching the cover of my new book roll off the press.

Last Friday, the first copies of the book came out of Bindery, and were delivered to my home.  The remainder will be delivered to Amazon and other outlets this week.

I tell my audiences that I write to share with them the stories of my adventures and moments of bliss. That’s true. I do write to share.

Today though, I realize that Miller was right. Writing also allows me to take yet another Voyage of Discovery. It has been quite the trip!

Part VI of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

March 25: The Veendam arrives in a moderate gale.

Ushuaia from the Sea

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Strait of Magellan, and the easternmost part of the Pacific Ocean. Although the city of Ushuaia is in Argentina, most of the main island actually belongs to Chile. At 55° latitude, it holds the distinction of being “the southernmost city in the world.”

Ushuaia, the Southernmost Town in the World

The indigenous people were the Yahgan and Alacalufes (canoe Indians). Surprisingly, despite the inclement weather, they wore little or no clothing. Constant fires kept them warm, hence the region’s name: Tierra del Fuego, land of fire.

I’d always wanted to go to Ushuaia. Stories about the ceaseless wind, the snow-capped Andes, and the magical light had fascinated me.

Even though Günter and I are still not feeling well, and have cancelled our tour here, a catamaran cruise through the Beagle Channel and a ride through the National Park, we bundle up to walk into the town. The wind blasts us so hard it almost knocks us over as we head down the gangplank and onto the pier. We make it to the town’s main drag and then Günter, who now has bronchitis, turns back.

Gunter on the pier near the ship, bundled for the walk

Lois, Bundled for the walk into town.

All the streets climb up the hill from the port, as in San Francisco.  The cross-streets filled with restaurants, bars, tourist and winter apparel shops protect me from the wind.

As I walk along the streets, I begin to fall in love with this southernmost town in the world. Yes, Ushuaia is remote, desolate, and moody as the sun appears and disappears behind the numerous clouds.  Yet the town turns out to be quite charming and picturesque. The colorful buildings are a mixture of architectural designs, from colonial European to ski resort styles with steep roofs. (Ski season here will begin in six weeks.) On the corner is the yellow, multi-storied Horn Hotel. On the facing block is a cozy, blue-shuttered bed-and-breakfast with white fretwork and a garden of struggling blue lupines. Towering over the town is the massive A-framed Albatross Hotel. And behind it all lie the snow-capped Andes. Ushuaia is frontier town with lots of character and a cosmopolitan center of 70,000, all rolled into one.

After exploring the town, I meander over to the sailboat anchorage to take some photos. I cannot imagine the courageous and hardy spirit it takes to sail here! Only 100 years ago, the only people crazy enough to come here were convicts in chains. Prison inmates built the town’s railway, hospital, and port. That prison is now a museum that I pass on the way back to the ship.

Delayed by the port authorities, The Veendam leaves too late to view Glacier Alley, but we do experience a few hours of daylight while winding through Darwin’s famous Beagle Channel.

The Beagle Channel at Sunset Viewed from our Veranda.

The Straits

Part V of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

Writing about Patagonia is one of those rites of passage for adventure travel writers.

Yet, Patagonia is not a specific region on the map. It has never been a separate country. Vast and vague, it is an undefined region that encompasses 900,000 square kilometers of southern Argentina and Chile. Some writers say that it can be effectively defined by its soil—made up of basalt pebbles left behind by glaciers—and its flora, a low bush called jarilla. Other writers, such as Bruce Chatwin, describe Patagonia by its climate, a wind that blows incessantly with terrific force from October to March “stripping men to the raw” and making small planes fly backward rather than forward. Paul Theroux simply refers to Patagonia as “travel book country,” the kind adventurers dream of because it combines wilderness, wide open spaces, and the grassy plains of the pampas with the majestic backdrop of the Andes. To summarize, Patagonia is all about light, space, and wind.

While the Veendam plows through the rough seas surrounding Tierra del Mundo, the end of the world, I read up on the inland areas that we will not see during this cruise. I have plenty of time, since both Günter and I are holed up in our cabin with terrific colds and coughs. I begin with Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and proceed to Simon Worrall’s River of Desire. To wrap it up, I read a novel on my Kindle called See Before You Die: Patagonia, by J.E.Leigh, whose heroine is a travel writer/photographer who takes a trip to—where else?—Patagonia.

Travelers from Darwin on have noted how the very bleakness of Patagonia seizes the imagination. In other words, nothingness supposedly forces the mind on itself. Well, here I can sit out on the balcony of our cabin here and view the nothingness of the sea. And while sailing Pacific Bliss, I remember the nothingness of days at sea, staring at blue on blue underneath the dome of the sky.  I can remember night after night underneath a canopy of stars.  Is nothingness on land any different?

In Patagonia, the writers say, the isolation makes it easy to exaggerate the person you are: the drinker drinks more; the believers pray more and become closer to God; and the lonely become even lonelier, and sometimes commit suicide.  And everywhere, these eccentric personalities with fantastic stories turn up. Anything can happen. It seems to me, they could just as well be describing life at sea!

Perhaps Patagonia is just an ocean passage for landlubbers, substituting a horse for a boat!

Chatwin describes a poet he met who went to Patagonia for a visit and stayed for forty years. He cried, “Patagonia, she is a hard mistress. She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets you go.”

I could say the same about the sea!

Okay, so now I’ve dutifully written about Patagonia. I doubt that I’ll do it again.