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

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

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

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

“What does it involve?” I asked.

“Dancing,” he said.

“How long?”

“Only an hour.”

“OK, let’s go!”

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

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Turbaned politicians attend a tribal meeting in Suakin, Sudan.

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

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

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

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

“Why?” I asked.

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

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

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

I’m glad I was not born Sudanese!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

                                                                                                       ─William Shakespeare

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

“Lois Joy,” I said.

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

“My middle name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does your name mean?

Do you like your name?

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

Happy Hanukkah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) collapse and kick back?

(b) embark immediately on the next challenge?

(c) celebrate?

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

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

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The book launch party for The Long Way Back.

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

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

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Gunter and Lois during the boat christening party in France.

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Our half-way masquerade party while crossing the Atlantic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

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

 

 

 

 

Gunter and I first landed on Turkey’s shores in the summer of 2007. We confidently left Pacific Bliss “on the hard” in Marmaris Yacht Marina. The following spring, we returned to Turkey for the final leg of our sailing circumnavigation. While touring Istanbul, I was surprised to learn that tulips and St. Nick both originated in that country.

That spring, Istanbul was alive and glowing, in a festive mood. The city was celebrating its annual tulip festival, and colorful blooms were everywhere. Istanbul, with its bridges across the Bosporus Strait, straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. After enjoying the city for two days, my husband Gunter and I took a ferry trip to view the city from the river. It was a sun-splashed Sunday. We spent hours relaxing and chatting about Turkey’s past and its hopes for the future. Much of the conversation centered around the peoples’ love and respect for Atatürk, a charismatic leader, military genius, and celebrated reformer who modernized Turkey. “He made Turkey a secular country,” our said proudly.  “As a result, Turkey will never be like the other Muslim countries; in fact, we look forward to joining the EU.” The future for Turkey looked as rosy as those tulips fronting every landmark from the Blue Mosque to the Aya Sofya.

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We ordered coffees, and while we waited for them, our guide changed to another topic, the legend of St. Nick. “Did you know he came from Turkey?”

“I had no idea!” I replied. “I thought the Saint might have come from Russia. Our own legend is that he and his elves and reindeer live at the North Pole.”

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“I know your popular image is of the big belly, the white beard, and his reindeer, but that depiction came from your Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s.  Here’s the real story: Centuries before the Ottoman Empire, St. Nick got his start as a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey. He was born a rich man’s son, but he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor, supposedly dropped down chimneys. Poor people in Turkey are very proud; they would not have accepted gifts if he had just handed them to him.”

We all take a sip of our Turkish coffees while we listen intently. “Mainly, St. Nicolas helped the children and gave them gifts.”

“Where in Turkey did he come from?” Gunter asked.

“There is a statue of him with children in Demre, a town in Southern Turkey, and the old Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas is there.  Lots of Russians go there, but it’s not big on tourism.”

Reportedly, the Islamist government of President Erdogan has worked hard to promote the country’s Ottoman history, but he has repeatedly ignored Turkey’s rightful place in Christian history. I don’t expect the current government to promote the St. Nicholas story.

This Christmas of 2016, I look back on that Turkish Spring of eight years ago. And I fear for Turkey’s future. Turkey is overwhelmed with problems—frequent terror attacks, huge populations of Syrian refugees, and mass arrests and incarcerations after a failed coup. All this makes the country dangerous and drives tourists away. I don’t know whether I’ll ever visit Turkey again, but the country and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

I’m sitting on the top deck of the Ariana while the sun shines on the rippled but peaceful Danube River below. Controlled by numerous dams and locks, the medieval wildness of the Danube has been tamed centuries ago. We began our trip in Passau, Germany; we’ll reach the delta of the Black Sea before turning around to head back.

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The view from our cabin while traveling through Germany to our first destination in Austria

Called the King of Rivers by Napoleon, the Danube is really the Prince. The King title belongs to the Volga, the great River in Russia that drains into the Caspian Sea and is 500 miles longer than the Danube. And even though the Danube is the second longest in Europe, it is only the 25th longest in the world. The Danube begins in Germany’s Black Forest and ends on the Romanian and Ukrainian shores, in the delta region of the Black Sea, 1777 miles away.

While sailing, I’m reading “The Danube, a Cultural History, by Andrew Beattie.” He relates the stories of empires that have risen and fallen along the Danube, from Macedonians, to Romans, to the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, to the Nazis, and most recently, the countries that have shrugged off the yoke of Communist Socialism.

I wondered how such a river affecting so many countries could be governed. The book covers this in its last chapter. In 1946 a council of European foreign ministers announced the creation of the International Danube Commission, with headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. At first, only the Eastern bloc countries, along with Yugoslavia, formed this new body; then Austria joined in 1960. Germany did not join until after the  fall of communism. With the break-up of the Balkans in the 1990s, the commission rose to ten countries, with Slovakia succeeding Czechoslovakia, Serbia and Croatia succeeding Yugoslavia, and Moldova and Ukraine succeeding the USSR. There is probably no other river in the world whose navigable length is of such international complexity!

During this trip, we will see a panoply of flags displayed on the boats that ply this river. Just as during our world sailing circumnavigation on Pacific Bliss, it doesn’t matter much what one’s nationality is. In this river, we are all Mariners.

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“We are all in the same boat, and we only have one boat.” –Paul Anastas

Circumnavigators, of all people, appreciate how the earth is one. While sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands, twenty-one days without the sight of land, I would marvel at the curved horizon all around us; we were right in the middle of the dark blue sea.

Breathtaking days were followed by overwhelming nights. I wrote these words in my journal and later in my book, Maiden Voyage:

Pacific Bliss glides gently forward, skimming the ocean waves. I know she’s moving because I hear the slosh-slosh of her hulls against the waves and the occasional creak-creak of the mainsail swaying as it tries to touch the stars. I feel like I’m encased in a giant dome, surrounded by stars crowded together so tightly they resemble a thousand Milky Ways. I am mesmerized. I find many sections of the sky so dense with stars that I cannot separate the individual star from the primordial soup. I am seeing constellations that I’ve never seen nor heard of before, lights that have taken millions of light years to come to me.

I feel unimportant, insignificant. That’s how it is at sea, a mystical experience almost impossible to duplicate on land.

“A wonderful, starry night,” I write in my logbook at the end of my watch, “the stuff of dreams.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said that, to the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. A marvelous picture from Apollo 8 show the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black-cratered, torn, and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature. The thought, “God loves those people,” cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies 40 km high, a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead. Then O’Keefe goes on to say that Venus is friendly compared to the crushing pressure of white dwarfs or the unspeakable horrors of the black holes of neutron stars. He writes:

We are by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances were created for man to live in…Someone made a lot of special arrangements and took a lot of time so that each of us could be alive and experiencing this just-right world.

 

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As shown from page 28,  In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage

“The earth is what we all have in common,” said Naturalist and writer, Wendell Barry. During this Earth Week, and every day of the year, is up to each of us to cherish this gift and to treat it with the respect it deserves.