Alaska. The Last Frontier.

Fairbanks is the farthest northern city I’ve visited in the U.S, and the starting point of our Alaskan adventure.  We’d spend a week touring on land followed by a 7-day cruise on Princess.  I usually like planning our trips, but I’ve been busy so it seemed like a good idea to let someone else do it.

In Fairbanks I felt like I was traveling back in time to the gold rush, the early 1900’s.  Mainstream downtown had an old-time feeling with dilapidated buildings, weathered men, and empty alleyways. It was drizzly and cold. We searched out a famed ice museum, finding it after circling the block a few times.

“This doesn’t look like the picture on the brochure.”  I said to my husband as we ducked inside the small building.

We sat and listened to a ten minute documentary about ice carvings and then the lights dramatically came on to reveal life-sized carvings behind the screen.   I bundled up and entered the 25° F room.  We took a few pictures, grabbed a sled and slid down an ice slide.  On our way out we met the chatty, very personable owner. We had a good conversation about the lifestyle of modern Alaskans, politics and business.

“Alaska has two seasons,” he said.  “Winter, and preparing for winter.”

We laughed.  I could imagine it as such. We also learned the brochure I was holding in my hand, the Aurora Ice Museum, was a forty minute drive outside of town.  Who knew Fairbanks had two ice museums?  ice barAt the Aurora we sat on ice stools at an ice bar, wearing big parkas while sipping apple martinis.  It was a true piece of art with different carved rooms and statues reflecting a spectrum of light. Designed as an ice hotel, the fire department shut it down because it lacked smoke alarms and other safety requirements.  Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m pretty sure big carved pieces of ice can’t catch on fire.

alaska pipelineOn our scenic drive back we visited a section of the massive Alaska oil pipeline.  The oil flowing through the pipeline is about 140° F.  My husband reached up to touch the pipeline but he couldn’t reach it. “Get on my shoulders and see if it’s hot?” He asked.

I shot him a dismissing look and then climbed on his large shoulders.  I hesitated expecting to get burned, and then touched it with my index finger. “Ouch,” I screamed. “Just kidding, it’s cold.”

Our cottage sat along the Chena River where we spent evenings watching shimmering water flow under blue skies. The sun never really set, remaining light well past our bedtime. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, but it didn’t happen.  I learned that it’s sometimes spotted this time of year, but the cloud coverage and daylight always on the horizon make it difficult from Fairbanks.

006    Along with several hundred other tourists, we went on a large steamboat for a discovery cruise along the Chena River.  Captioned by a fairly young woman and a strong energetic crew, they did an awesome job showing us some highlights of the local culture.  A tour director narrated through a sound system and TV screens throughout the ship. Native demonstrations along the shore highlighted the importance of fishing and hunting for food, shelter and clothing.

seaplane fairbanksWe watched a sea plane take off and then turn around and land.  He narrated from the cockpit and did another fly by after answering several questions from our tour director.

dog musherI enjoyed the sled dog demonstration by David Monson, a famous musher and husband of famed four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher.  He talked from a headset, his voiced echoing through the ship.  He spoke about his dogs and shared his experience in the dog races.  He jumped on an engine-less ATV used as a substitute for a sled. As the dogs pulled they quickly disappeared, reappeared in the background, disappeared and returned in the opposite direction all the while he narrated.

After a few nights in Fairbanks we joined an organized tour to explore Denali and a train ride to Anchorage where we’d board our ship.  Princess owns their own buses, lodges and trains in Alaska. They do pretty well organizing the chaos of massive amounts of tourists on different itineraries, and they employ an interesting mix of young Americans looking to travel and make money in the process.  I talked to quite of few of them and I was happy to see youngsters traveling while gaining experience in the process.  Alaska tourism almost completely shuts down mid-September, so they travel to other tourists destinations in the winter.  They lived in dorm-style housing in a neighboring town called Healy.  I could imagine the drama that existed in that housing.

into wild busWe had passed through Healy on our way to the lodge.  The area gained attention in the early 1990’s when a non-fiction book and accompanying movie called Into the Wild gained popularity.  The infamous bus currently sits on the side of the road, waiting to be moved back to its original location.

Denali parkmoose and Mount Denali, also known as McKinley, was beautiful.  On our afternoon bus tour we spotted a few caribou and
several moose.  One large male was really close to the road.  I’ve always wanted to see a moose in the wild,  such bulky, magnificent creatures with huge antlers.  It reminded me of Bullwinkle.

We muddied through hills, creeks and crevices on an ATV with a local guide.  He pointed out edible and medicinal plants.

He handed us a fresh picked berry.  “Try this.  It our version of watermelon.”

It was juicy, but a stretch to call it watermelon.  He was a true local. A rough, seasoned mountain man with an honest opinion.  When we returned to the lodge Mt. McKinley towered above, revealing its monumental size of 20,320 feet.  Only 30% of travelers in the region get to view the often cloud-veiled mountain.  We were some of the lucky ones.mt kinley

North Georgia Mountains: Always an adventure

mt yonah“We know you want to blow up that deer in your garden.  But it’s not deer hunting season.” Announced a southern accented radio commercial.  I burst out laughing with images of Bambi exploding to pieces.  We had just landed in North Georgia Mountains and the commercial and car rental experience reflected our country location.  We’d reserved an Enterprise car rental, but it was not delivered.  Instead the lovely airport manager decided to rent his car to us for $300 for the week.  It would do with 160,000 miles, dirty floors, and a CD combo cassette player.

Spring was in full bloom.  Mountain-laurel blossoming pink flowers, lush green trees, bear tracks, geese meandering, and a red-tailed fox wandering around our house.  The fox looked like my dog, and for a moment I wondered if she was outside.  It was the same size with a cute button nose just sniffing grass in our yard.  It probably smelled our pet, since the sniff ratio is much higher in animals than humans. A trait I admired.  I was often in awe over my dog’s ability to smell something miles away, including unfamiliar wildlife and her favorite food, bacon.  While hiking she’d regularly become fixated on a patch of grass.  “It can’t smell that good,” I’d tease her.

On Saturday night we visited our favorite biker bar hangout, Mondays.  Walking in alone, I felt like an alien, all eyes on me while my husband parked.  Seats cleared, whispers flowed, girls gossiped.  Yes, I was an out-of-towner, but really. I confidently waved down the bartender.  “A white wine spritzer and Bud Lite please.”

She wore a number, not name on her badge. Number 197, and I called her such. “Hey number 197 can I get…” throughout the night.  She carded me, laughed with me and we hugged at the end of the night. I got a job offer starting at 4 p.m. the following day.  “You can make a ton of money here,” she said as I departed, declining her offer.

I recognized some of the same people from my last visit six months prior.  The tattooed girl who started a brawl last time, a bearded guy on her arm with his tongue down her throat.  Two girls flitting eyes toward me while whispering.

The following day, I noticed one of the eyeing gossipmongers working at a tourist shop.  “Hey you were at Monday’s.” I said. Followed by a smile and a cheerful, “Happy Mother’s day.”

“Yes I was there with my daughter.”  The one with the ponytail.”  She was cordial, her rosy face and shy smile reflecting embarrassment.  “Happy Mother’s day to you honey.  God bless.”

I got to hike and enjoy the town during our one week stay, but it was also a working vacation. Editing my novel, cleaning up our rental home for the season, and we bought a 1977 Cessna 150 to put in a flight school for profit. I would fly it back solo since hubby was flying the faster six-seater.  Yikes.  I had to learn the plane.  Nothing happens fast in the Northern Georgia mountains, especially commuting.  I only had about 45 minutes to familiarize myself with the two-seater. I felt overwhelmed and anxious about the long journey in an unfamiliar plane, named the Rita Rae from a past owner.

To my relief, a pilot friend offered his help getting the Cessna back to south Florida.
“You can’t fly that distance in a 150 alone. It takes all day, and you’ve never flown a 150.”

Whew.  I agreed.  I didn’t have the time to properly get to know the plane for a solo cross-country flight
Although I was up at the crack of dawn, we departed at 10:00 due to airport distance and pre-flight preparations.

704cx

  • Ipad with flight-aware for navigation and first destination loaded. Check.
  • Full tanks at 24 gallons. Check.
  • Test fuel for water contamination and drain a half cup of water in tank. Check
  •  Oil at six quarts.Check.
  •  Exterior normal and tires inflated. Check.
  • Radios frequencies and backup VOR frequencies written down. Check
  • Backup batteries, water and anything else I could throw in my purse. Check.
  • A healthy amount of adrenaline pumping through my heart. Check.

I rotated at 45 knots, staying in ground effect building to a 60 knot climb speed. Rita Rae seemed sturdy and powerful despite her size and simplicity.  My heart calmed as I settled at cruise altitude of 3,500, getting comfortable in the left seat with one hand on the yoke correcting for heading and altitude as needed.  Two and a half hours later we were in Alma, GA where my husband was waiting with our Piper Lance and a packed lunch.  The sandwiches he ordered was incorrect.  Not a problem for the guys, but I’m a vegetarian.

“It’s going to be a long day,” I sighed.  I was fine with peanut butter filled crackers.

After take-off for our next leg we realized we lost communication.  We could hear Air Traffic Control and other pilots, but they couldn’t hear us.  My co-pilot really came in handy at this moment.  I focused on flying the plane not allowing too much distraction, while he assessed the situation,  switching around all kinds of wires and frequencies.

“We need to find the nearest airport,” He said.

I put the lost comm code 7600 into the transponder “Let’s try to make Jacksonville.” I said while looking at our location on the GPS.  “JAX is only 80 miles.  There’s nothing out here, just small airports with no service.”

“I think I saw a handheld mic back here.” He fussed around behind his seat finally pulling out a small oblong mic, appearing ancient and tobacco stained.  He plugged it in and called Atlanta Center.”

“Loud and clear 704CX.”  It was music to my ears. Although we both remained calm during the 40 minutes since takeoff, not communicating with ATC for traffic advisories and flight following around active military restricted areas was a bit of a risk.

We had a brief fuel and bathroom stop along the space coast around 6:30. We were both tired and mentally drained, but we pushed on to our destination, Fort Lauderdale.  The sun set as bright lights shined from below. My eyes adjusted to the light change in the cockpit.  I had an emergency back up light on my lap for our final landing in Rita Rae.  It was 9:30 I was starving, exhausted, and desperately in need of a glass of wine.

New Orleans: Marathon, Music and Musings

fritzelsI signed up for the New Orleans Rock and Roll half marathon three months ago, taking advantage of the travel opportunity to make a fun weekend out of it. I booked three nights at the Royal Sonesta in the heart of the French Quarter, on Bourbon street, with its five-star ratings and an inner courtyard facing room, allowing for peace among the chaos. Upon arrival the street buzzed with performers, tourists, hobos and bead throwers. After all Mardi Gras was only a few weeks away, but it seemed like the party had already started.  Our chosen restaurant for the night, Grapevine Bistro, was a short walk with a few drink and entertainment stops along the way.  A crowd gathered around two break dancers jumping around to “I got a feeling“, a song by Maroon 5 that always gets my hips moving.  The next crowd was standing below a balcony of men and woman throwing beads for flashes of boobs.  A pair landed at my feet, so I looked up with a wide smile. Not this trip, maybe ten years ago.

At the Grapevine, I savored baked Brie, artesian salad and my favorite dessert creme brûlée, while my husband was in seafood heaven. Afterwards, we sauntered over to the oldest jazz club in the French Quarter, Fritzel’s, finishing our evening listening to live traditional jazz in a casual atmosphere. The walk back to the hotel was even more crazy with larger, drunker, louder crowds.  Oh, the French Quarter, how do I love thee?  The food, jazz, people, town… even if only for a few days.

marathon signSaturday centered around marathon preparation.  Finding the starting and finishing line, picking up my race packet at one of longest the convention centers spanning over six blocks, the running expo was in the last hall. Since a cold front left the city around 40 degrees in the morning and evening, I picked up a hat and gloves for my 13.1 mile run. I also acquired free samples of mostly energy boosters. Who knew they made energy jelly bellies.

After prepping my clothes, gear and caffeine for the following morning we headed out for an extremely well-behaved early evening around Bourbon Street. Well almost.  Music continued blaring and drinks flowed as we visited a few bars, for me that was white wine mixed with ice and soda water as a safe pre-race night drink.  At a close-by Italian restaurant, a small plate of linguine pesto soaked up the alcohol while providing a scrumptious carb-loading meal for the following day. The crowd outside was just beginning their debauchery as we ended a perfect evening at Irvin Mayfield’s jazz playhouse in the quiet comfort of our hotel.

By 6:30 a.m. I was bouncing off the walls from the energy drinks I sipped while getting ready, mostly a giant Monster green tea tasting like medicine. That combined with pure adrenaline and anticipation for the race had me acting like a caged lion pacing for freedom.  My hubby and pup slept through the madness.

Bourbon street was eerie in the early morning, the way I pictured the fictional Gotham City to be right before Batman’s arrival. Spotting a group of runners ahead, I swiftly caught up with them.  The street smelled of stale alcohol mixed with fresh-baked bread. The wind was blowing with an occasional strong gust.  My long running pants, three layers of shirts and  running beanie complete with a pony tail gap provided enough warmth.  A few young drifters slept in sleeping bags against the buildings.  Who would choose that lifestyle, I wondered.burbon 4 The starting line overflowed with runners prepping for the half and full marathon, like a skinny healthy version of Fat Tuesday kicking off Mardi Gras.  They had corrals instead of pace groups, and they seemed endless, winding around corners and streets. “How do I know what corral I’m in?”  I asked a stranger.

“It’s based on the first number on your race bib,” She said, and added, “They’re not that strict.”

marathonMine was seven, towards the front.  I was relived not to be in back of the 30,000 runners.  It was about ten minutes from the official start when my corral was up for release.  A thin yellow rope held us at the starting line until countdown and then we were set free as if bulls running in Pamplona, Spain.  I started my marathon playlist with my chosen first song, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys.  Every few miles a band played above my music, and then my earphones went silent after about mile five. I was also getting extremely hot.  After trying to talk myself out of it I stopped and removed one of my shirts, tossing it to the side entangling my earphones in the process. The music came and went intermittently as I tried not to let it bother me.  Around mile ten my left foot went from numb to shooting an intense pain.  All the little nerves in my foot protesting, I ignored it.  Many observers with creative signs lined the marathon course.

                    I thought you said rum, not run.  Do you still have your toenails.  Look alive you’re about to pass a cemetery. We’re looking at your ass, keep running. Run, Zombies are chasing you.  It sounded like a great idea a few months ago. 

Some bystanders offered jello shots, mimosa and even a slice of pizza.  I smiled, waved and looked forward to the near end of 13.1 miles.

I found my husband and dog at the finish line, took a nice long hot shower and then met up with an old friend for a quick museum visit and Jazz brunch. The small Voodoo museum I went to years ago was interesting, but this time I was looking for information to include in my upcoming book, Breakfast in Bimini.  The attendant was very helpful suggesting a few possibilities and resources to check out.  Brunch was simply amazing and I was famished.  Made to order omelets, eggs benedict and pancakes.  A traditional pirogue, a flat boat-shaped serving vessel, held salads, meats, seafood and specialities.  Dessert pies and king cake tempted at the stern of the pirogue.  It was my first time trying the purple, green and gold doughy cake, and my little sliver didn’t hold the hidden plastic baby, meaning I didn’t have to buy the next king cake. Mimosa and Bloody Mary’s were constantly refreshed.

Afterwards we roamed the streets of the French Quarter, leisurely checking out boutiques, street art and pop up jazz bands. The music continued to delight with the rhythm, creativity and talent.  Young hobos still abundant, I gazed into one young girl’s blue eyes, probably about 18 years old.  She looked pretty, clean and lost sitting next to her sleeping bag on the street with a bowl holding coins.  I understand rebellion, wanting to travel and experience life, but at what cost?  Would she be lost forever in an unrealistic quest?  I hoped not, but the French quarter draws people to its culture and some just get sucked into a romantic abyss.burbon jazz

The Year of Transportation disasters

It’s hard to forget the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 on March 8th, 2014.  The first in a series of unusual tragic disasters around the world, hitting Malaysia the hardest.  The routine flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China disappeared less than an hour after takeoff while over the South China Sea.  A multinational search began immediately for the Boeing 777 and it’s 227 passengers and 12 crew members.  The media was relentless in its coverage and in some cases aided in propagating numberous conspiracy theories.  The plane was hijacked and sitting in Pakistan or Afghanistan to be used against the U.S. or Israel for a nuclear attack by a terrorist mastermind, was a popular one that I briefly considered.  Another viewpoint indicated one or both of the pilots on a Jihadist mission.  Perhaps a bomb on board or the plane broke apart in flight, even though weather was not a factor.  The flight deviated from its scheduled route and after much analysis of various sources of data, experts concluded that the flight met its fatal track into the South Indian Ocean, just west of Australia.  We followed daily, questioning the resources and evidence until the public tired of the endless search and mass media frenzy.  Australia?  No wreckage even until this day at the end of 2014?  Will we ever know what happened?  It goes into the history books as being the largest and most expensive search in aviation history.

Four months later Malaysia flight 17 was shot down on July 17th over the Ukraine.  The television and web again buzzed with its own opinions and interpretations about the downed plane, and what was wrong with Malaysia Air for all its misfortune.  Russia and Ukraine pointed fingers at each other, in the mean time families mourned the tragic deaths of their loved ones, many from Amsterdam where the plane originated. It was most likely pro-Russian separatists using a Buk Surface-to-air missile, but nobody is willing to take responsibility for this needless destruction.  Casualties of an unnecessary war, 15 crew members and 283 innocent passengers murdered, travelling on another Boeing 777 with ties to Kuala Lumpur, its intended destination . Was Putin involved?  Bad Putin.

December 27th, 2014, the end of an already fatal year in aviation, Air Asia Flight 8501 disappeared.  Departing from Indonesia travelling to Singapore, the plane carrying 162 people vanished from the radar indicating turbulent weather along their path.  Two days later, wreckage and bodies were found just six miles southeast of the last known position, going in the opposite direction from the plane’s path. Is this another mystery flight catastrophe?  The black box is yet to be discovered, but given the fact that the crew asked for higher altitude and deviation for weather, severe thunderstorms probably played an important role.

The Sewol ferry sunk on April 16 off the coast of South Korea taking 304 lives, mostly young high school students on a field trip.  Abiding the captain’s command they remained in their positions to “stay put,” despite water entering the ship after the vessel capsized.  Meanwhile the captain and crew abandoned ship.  The inexperienced co-captain at the helm made a sharp turn and that combined with improper and overloading caused the ferry to list and sink port side.  Although with a prompt full force emergency response most lives could have been saved, they were not.  The Korean government was slow to respond and the crew unhelpful in such a dire situation.  Private companies and foreign governments came to the rescue before the Korean Coast Guard showed up at the scene.

On the same day the Air Asia flight disappeared,  an Italian ferry called the Norman Atlantic, carrying close to 500 people caught on fire. Almost all the passengers survived, one by one, being rescued by helicopter three at a time. Ten died in the disaster, but it could have been much more of a tragedy.

Am I still going to travel? Absolutely.  Staying at home, driving, or really doing anything exciting can be risky.  Life is worth the adventure and I look forward to plenty of it in 2015!

Breakfast in Bimini excerpt

end of world barDark in comparison to the bright sun outside, the rustic tavern displayed writing all over wood panel walls, underwear hanging above, and signed currency from many countries taped on a panel behind the bar. Names of boats and fishing teams, individuals with dates they visited, relationships broadcasted, love proclaimed.

“Interesting,” I mumbled.

My name’s in here,” Luke announced.

“My underwear’s on the ceiling,” Russ challenged. I looked up searching for the camouflage boxers I saw earlier on the trip. It was mostly ladies thongs, but boxers also hung from above like a flag revealing a conquest. My eyes shifted to one distinguished pair depicting a skull and crossbones with a patch over the eye, the typical Jolly Roger avatar faded and exposed on a single pair of boxers. I briefly thought of Jeff and his treasure hunting Davy Jones yacht, wondering if he’d left his mark in this bar. I continued scanning for Russ’s undies, my gaze landing on a pair representing the confederate flag. It was integrated with a rainbow of woman’s thongs. Blue, black, pick, multicolored, green and purple.

“That’s yours,” I pointed to the pair hanging in the distance. “The confederate flag, cowboy.”

“Damn, you’re good Kelly. But wrong. I wouldn’t give up a pair that nice.” He turned his stool in the opposite direction, pointing to a plain tan pair with grey scribbling’s. “Those are mine from 2001, during a wild fishing trip.”

“So you let people sign your ass while wearing them, or afterwards?” I asked, giggling at the thought of Russ running around the bar in his undies asking for autographs.

“On of course. A bunch of drunk girls in the bar signing my ass. Nothing on the front, I’m not that type of guy.”

I choked on my drink, spraying a mist of beer while laughing. “Oh, I could imagine.” Glancing at Luke, “So no undies on the ceiling for you, sweetie?”

Smirking, “No just a signature of my name and year, somewhere around here.” He searched the tavern, eyes scanning for a hint of recognition and then handing me a black sharpie, one of many sitting atop the bar. “Make your mark,” he said pragmatically.

Eagerly grabbing the sharpie and searching for an empty section to claim as my own, I noticed fainter scratching’s were written over with darker, fresher markings. I avoided busy walls and found a corner behind a speaker and wrote, Kelly and Luke, Breakfast in Bimini, 2011. Satisfied with my scribbling’s, I joined the two men sitting on bar stools, gulping a slightly stronger Kalik Gold.

“Ok, now the undies,” Russ blurted out, wickedly grinning.

“And I can do a shot from your belly button,” Luke added with an equally sinful grin. “It’s tradition in this bar.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” I addressed both of them with a smiling gaze. “But I’d have to say, this place definitely has character.”

compleat angler 1“You might change your mind after a few of these,” Luke said, handing me a Kalik Gold to go. Walking the streets of Bimini with a drink in hand is also tradition, ambling to our next stop, lunch at the Big Game Club. During our short walk to the restaurant we sauntered past some ruins stopping for a moment of nostalgia. Luke and Russ both filled me in on the colorful history the Compleat Angler. Ernest Hemingway was perhaps the most notable resident that slept, drank, and wrote at the Angler, but so did Jimmy Buffett, presidential hopeful Gary Hart got caught messing around at the bar and hotel, Matt Damon was spotted there and the less famous Russ and Luke with their past debauchery. Built in the 1930’s it was once the staging area for rum-runners during the prohibition. Prior to its fiery destruction just five years ago, it housed a small yet unique Hemingway museum and it was full of fishing pictures from every decade since the thirty’s. On any given weekend the bar was packed with drunken tourists and locals listening to live music from Stevie S while socializing, sometimes getting downright crazy. The two compared their most memorable stories, with passionate sinful laughs. I longed to have the same memory of the Compleat Angler. Now only a brick fireplace stood in the center of boulders outlining the three rooms and an outside patio. An A-frame wooden sign over a stone archway read The Compleat Angler, a reminder of its humble yet ornate vibrant past.

“How did it burn down and do you think they’ll rebuild it?” I asked.

The two chortled in unison as we continued strolling to the Big Game Club. “The fire was questionable, the owner was the only one who died. All the Hemingway memorabilia was destroyed. Lots of gossip about foul play, but no arrest were made.”

“If it was that popular, will they rebuild?”

Luke took a swig from his beer as we continued along King’s Road. “It’s the Bahamas, nothing much gets done around here.”

 

Discoveries along the east coast

Our annual trip in our single engine plane from south Florida, north to Philadelphia and Ohio, began with adventure. Scooting around thunderstorms during takeoff, our airspeed indicator failed.  The transponder, what identifies our plane to Air Traffic Control, was intermittent, and the two iPad’s we use for backup navigation were quickly losing power.  We only needed to make it to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for our first leg of the trip.

shipwreckWeather cleared within a half-hour flying north, so we flew along the central Florida coast with a flawless view of the unusually transparent water.  I have an archaeological permit allowing exclusive exploration to search for shipwrecks in a small portion of the Atlantic Ocean. I took the opportunity to visually inspect the area from air, knowing I would return in a few weeks by boat… an anticipated pre-planned mid-July expedition.  I spotted a curious dark outline the size of a ship.  Scribbling notes, coordinates and drawings, my mind raced through the possibilities as if I was winning the lottery before checking the numbers.treasure chest

A storm was nearing our destination, competing in a marathon for the runway.  One iPad died, the other had 8% power, and our airspeed indicator was still unresponsive.  We won by about five minutes, but we would continue the race the following morning.

Mossy trees, crickets and the faint smell of rain greeted me during a morning jog.  Roadside motels, restaurants and an amusement park provided visual stimulation as I listened to my audiobook.  I briefly peaked at the ocean waves and slightly turbulent sky at my turnaround point, arriving back at our hotel an hour later.

After fixing our airspeed indicator we were again airborne heading to the Philadelphia area, a three-hour flight.  I was flying, circling up between the bulbous clouds building in the region.  This tropical disturbance would later become the first hurricane of the season, Arthur.

robinFor the first time I found  simple but familiar creatures interesting while socializing outside in the summer air.  The ubiquitous northeast coast american robin was funny to watch hop around in the grass.  I’m sure other birds hop, but robins are like the kangaroo of the avian kingdom.  Blue jays and cardinals flew by, sat on fences and studied me as much as I watched them.

At night lighting bugs lit up the fields, bringing back memories of light bug 2my youth.  Similar creatures roamed Ohio, my hometown and our next stop on our journey.  I recalled catching lightning bugs and throwing white objects at bats for entertainment. Bats would dive white balls as we dove into the grass to escape. Simple childhood fun. Damn, I hope I don’t see bats this trip?

Our next stop in Georgia brought about a different kind of animal analysis, that of my little crazy dog.  Last time we visited our home in the Georgia mountains, just three weeks prior, a mini tornado formed as I was walking my pup.  It was brief, just a few minutes of high winds spinning at 70 plus miles per hour, but she remembered.  When it happened she didn’t know what to do and I grabbed her before she bolted into the woods.  I teased her about being Toto in the classic movie The Wizard of Oz.  Now she won’t go outside past 6 p.m. about the time she was almost”Totoed,” she needs a psychiatrist. wizard oz

 

 

Wizard tornado 2

 

Breakfast in Bimini, Chapter 8 excerpt

staniel cayWalking off, I scouted the docks for Luke.  He was talking to a few guys near the fish cleaning station.  Nick was at the opposite end checking out a large European yacht I recognized as an Azimut, from three distinct windows on the side and its aerodynamic design.  One of the few boats I could spot and identify, it was also my dream boat.  This one was curiously named Davy Jones. My mind raced to where I’d heard that name.  One of the band members names in The Monkees, I knew from my youth growing up watching and listening to the pop group, but also from somewhere else.  I shook off the mystery name and strolled over to Luke gabbing at the fish station.  Nurse sharks swarmed below in a feeding frenzy for fish scraps, attacking like Komodo Dragons on raw meat.  They didn’t look so peaceful or harmless now.nurse sharks

Luke noticed me standing by his side.  “Hey, sweetie.”  He turned to one of the guys filleting fish, “This is my girlfriend Kelly.”

The tall, thin, shirtless stranger greeted me with a nod, “Nice to meet you.” He glanced at me then the fish he was cutting.  “I’d shake your hand, but they’re a bit bloody right now.”  Two large fish were splayed on the filet table and a bucket full of fresh meat lay between his feet.  He was wearing plastic blue fishing waders. “I’m Paul, and this is my buddy Randy.”  I smiled at the younger, less messy fisherman.  His fish scraps seamlessly fell from the table into the shark infested water.  He was barefoot wearing only a bathing suit and a knife attached to his calf.

“Dolphin?”  I asked, with my newfound yet limited fishing lingo.

“Yes Ma’am,” Paul answered.  “Got a few at sunrise, just out yonder.”

Luke chimed in, “They’re from Fort Lauderdale.”

“Neighbors,” I offered, peering into the sea for another glimpse of the bloodbath.  Although the accent was a bit country-strong for southern Florida.  My eyes drifted toward Luke, “I’m going poolside until we leave on the golf cart.”

“We’re leaving in forty-three minutes.”  Where does he get these numbers?  Not forty or forty-five.  So random.

Jamie, the blonde and the adorable dog, Yoda, were all sunbathing at the small pool. “What are you drinking?” I called out.

“Pina Colada,” Jamie responded.

I returned with two Pina Coladas and a small bowl of ice water for the dog.  “I brought some water for Yoda, if you don’t mind?” I asked, placing the bowl on the ground.

“Ahh, thanks.  I’ve been giving her ice cubs from my drink and she swims in the pool.”

“She’s such a cutie.”  I sat in the lounge chair between Jamie engulfed in a magazine and the blonde. “And a good traveler?” I added with a quick sip from my sweet cocktail.

She beamed a new motherly glow.  “Yes, I’ve only had her for about nine months.  But she goes everywhere with me.”

“Where do you call home?”

“North Carolina is home, but we’ve been traveling for the past few years on our boat.” She paused.  “I’m Jenny.  I’m here with my husband, it’s our fifth anniversary.”

“Congrats on five years.  I’m Kelly.”  I raised my drink to her unknown cocktail.  She lit a cigarette and I borrowed one.

“You smoke? I thought I saw you running.”

“Yes. I do both.” I mumbled.

She giggled with a knowing uninhibited grin. “No worries.”

I glanced at Jamie still absorbed in her magazine.  Yoda was under her lounge chair, resting in the shade.  “So you’re sailing around the Bahamas?” I probed for conversation.

“Yeah.”  She pointed to the marina.  “Our boat is docked over there for the next week.  It’s called Davy Jones.

My eyes widened through my sunglasses.  I’d assumed she was on one of the many sailboats.  “An Azimut.  My favorite boat.”  I took a sip, “And is your husband Davy?”

She giggled.  “No, it’s Jeff Johnson.  Davy Jones is a reference to shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea.”  She extinguished her cigarette into a close-by empty glass.  “Most people don’t get it, but he’s a treasure hunter looking for Spanish shipwrecks, mostly in the Bahamas.”  She clarified.  “He does web design and hosting for a living, but his passion is treasure hunting.”

It clicked.  That’s how I know the name Davy Jones.  It’s an idiom for the bottom of the sea.  Davy Jones’ Locker, or death to sailors. I started to fluster, my mind spinning through everything that had happened during our trip; boat disasters, pirates, my idol, portals, and nightmares.  Sensing my fear, Yoda jumped on my lap.  Jamie lowered her sunglasses and whispered through her teeth, “I caught part of the conversation, and I can see beads of sweat forming all over you, and you’re as pale as a ghost.  Breathe. Just breathe.  This has nothing to do with your dreams.”

“The symbol of death was just dropped on my feet,” I teeth-whispered back. “And the sweat’s from the hot sun.”

She smiled thinly toward me then to Jenny who was unaware of any conflict.  Jamie quietly nudged me and then turned towards our newfound friend, “We are going to change for our island exploration.   See you later this afternoon, I hope.”

“I think Yoda likes you Kelly,” she uttered.

“And such a cute name, how did you pick it?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t some omen.

“Oh, we’re Star Wars fans.”

I calmed at the response.  Great, the Star Wars Jedi master meets the sea devil. Following Jamie to the cottage, I imagined the dog and horned demon dueling it out with lightsabors to save the galaxy.  Somehow in my mind’s eye, the adorable pup won the battle before I even reached the doorstep.

Nick and Luke were waiting, ready to sightsee, “Has it been forty-three minutes?” I called out to Luke.

“Forty-four,” he taunted

We perambulated to the golf cart with no plans but to be at the airport around 3:00, or whenever we saw the Caravan fly overhead.  I wanted to stop by a local grocery store because I liked checking out foreign food, and Jamie sought boutiques, if we happened to pass one.  We were all in our bathing suits with cover-ups.  Jamie and I on the back of the four-seater with the boys navigating in the front.  Crossing the rickety bridge over Bonefish Creek, Luke in the driver’s seat, decided to stop and admire the fleeting fish.  A Piper Aztec buzzed us. “Not a Caravan,” Luke announced.

A small grocery store sat across from the creek.  “Can we check that store out,” I pointed to coral shack.

Luke pulled in front and Jamie and I jumped off the cart. I perused the can goods and cereal boxes.  Plenty of beans, rice, oatmeal and a few boxes of Captain Crunch and Cheerios.  The elderly Bahamian lady watched me like a bird stocking its prey.  “My God. You can’t come in here without a shirt,” she chided.

“Oh, I didn’t know.  Sorry,” I murmured.

Exiting the shack I glanced at Jamie wearing a cover-up.  She wasn’t far behind carrying four opened Kalik lights.  “I don’t think she liked your cleavage,” she kidded.  “What are you like a 36D?”

“C,” I corrected.  “It’s the islands.  Who knew?”

“Hey Kelly, did you tell Luke about the Davy Jones boat?”

“I met the owner, Jeff.” Nick said. “Nice guy.”

“Well we met his wife and dog at the pool.  Jeff’s a treasure hunter.  That along with the Davy Jones Locker euphemism leads me to believe my idol is still at work.  Maybe it wants to return to the bottom of the sea.”

The threesome snickered with Luke going into a lingering belly laugh.  “I think maybe the owner watches too much Sponge Bob,” Luke managed to cackle.

I blinked at the three, raising my lips slightly.  “Do you know what Davy Jones means, sweetie?”

His laugh teetered to a perpetual grin.  “Yes.  Sponge Bob had a locker at the bottom of the ocean that he kept some socks in.”  He went to a full belly laugh again and stopped the cart.

Nick spoke through his smile.  “I don’t know a thing about Sponge Bob, but in pirate lore it’s the devil of the sea and it’s meant to cause fear among seamen.  It’s mentioned in Moby Dick and Pirates of the Caribbean.”  He glanced back at me.  “But in reality, it’s just a name some guy picked for his boat.  Besides he looks harmless.  You should show him your idol.”

I shrugged.  “He’s still a treasure hunter.”

“And you’re an archaeologist.  You two should have a lot in common.  I’ll introduce you two tonight,” he concluded.

The heart of the Inca Empire

Rolling into Cusco after 10:00 p.m., I noticed the sleepy town I once visited was bustling with young twenty-somethings hanging around night clubs blaring hip-hop. They were circulating the streets and sidewalks as if buzzing around a bee hive. The dogs were socializing in a different manner. Packs of them scavenging on garbage piles scattered along the sides of streets and in empty lots.

“Damn, I don’t recall Cusco being this crowded or dirty,” I thought verbally.

hotel cuscoOur hotel was the complete opposite of the litter we had just driven through. With a Spanish castle motif, the Palacio Del Inka, was five-star luxury. It also held almost 500 years of history with some original Inca walls once home to the virgins of the sun. Part of the current structure was built for the Spanish Conquistador, Pizarro and his men. The open-air courtyard below our suite, offered a zen atmosphere where my husband and I could relax with a drink and cigarette.  I kept passing through the courtyard and various other rooms over the next 24 hours, getting lost each time, yet discovering a new maze back to our room.

cuzcoI wanted to run outside the next morning, but the hotel staff strongly suggested I use the treadmill due to pedestrian and car traffic. That combined with our altitude of 11,000 feet, I acquiesced.  A handful of North Americans from our travel group did an optional tour, but we decided to take a leisurely day to explore the city. The historic Qoricancha, or Temple of the Sun, with the omnipresent church of Santo Domingo sat across from our hotel. We agreed to explore the church later in the day and then headed to the main square, passing a original Inca wall along the way. The Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful colonial style squares in all of South America. Two enormous churches flanked two sides of the square, La Cathedral and Templo de la Compania de Jesus. I recalled the first time I saw La Cathedral twenty years ago during Easter break. I witnessed the traditional Inca procession of the saints in front of the church. My friend and I were the only tourists then, and it was sublime. Equally rewarding now we just hung out around the plaza. Wooden balconies surrounded the square, most of them part of the numerous restaurants. We had a few drinks with lunch followed by shopping, people watching and a brief visit to the underfunded Inca museum. A visible police presence caught our attention and we later learned that some workers were on strike due to unfair labor laws. They were throwing rocks, wavering on unrest. The police were in full riot gear complete with plastic shields.

We ended our afternoon with a tour through the church adjacent to our hotel, Santo Domingo. With a rich Spanish and Inca history, our local guide only covered the Inca story and she did it well, although I felt like the beautiful Spanish church we were walking through was being ignored. But then again the Spanish did sack and destroy all known Inca monuments, replacing them with their own. Once the Temple of the Sun dominated Cusco, housing more than 4,000 high-ranking Inca priests. Some of the walls, windows and niches are still visible inside of the church and this was the story we followed during our tour.

high pointWe were on the road again by 8:00 a.m. for the last leg of our trip, Lake Titicaca.  I was especially excited about visiting this southern region since I’d hadn’t been there,  although I studied the archaeology found around the lake as a student at UCLA under one of my professors.  Driving through the Andes I noticed mustard colored hills mottled with blackish brown soil, beet-purple mountains, valleys with pools of water, corn fields, a lonely railroad track paralleling the road, wheat-colored sheep matching the grass they grazed,  and simple shacks.  We stopped by an elementary school to meet the children and bring them much-needed school supplies, and then continued to our highest point of 14,500 to breathe the thin windy air and take a picture. Seven hours later after cruising through a town known as the cocaine capital we pulled into our headquarters for the next two nights just in time for a lightning storm over the lake.

I had some time for a light jog proceeding of our morning boat journey.  At 12,500 I was a little winded but after ten minutes I was doing fine.  I kept my jog short and turned around becoming annoyed at the minivans speeding by, men howling and dogs barking.  Although a short run, I was still proud of my highest run ever, gloating by my fellow travelers with several of them suffering from altitude sickness.

“You ran.  I can barely walk,” one of them breathed.

“It was just a short run,” I humbly said.

urosA boat ride brought us to a different world, a floating spongy one known as the Uros Islands.  They are floating reeds housing an average of three to five native Uros families per island.  We visited one and sat down for a demonstration. The reeds only last 30 years then they have to build a new island.  If there’s a fight among them they pick up their hut and turn it around, unless the disagreement is more serious, in that case they cut the island in half.  After the demonstration and a few laughs we were free to roam the tiny island.  The huts were modest with just the basics: a bed, roof with a blue tarp under the reeds to keep rain out, blankets, a four-inch black and white tv attached to a golf cart size battery, and clothes tossed in the corners of the room, just like my husband bundles his dirty clothes.  They had no bathroom, you had to jump into the lake for that, they shared a clay oven in the open area for cooking and they got around by reed boats and a paddle.

My husband went to the side of the island and lit a cigarette.

I gave him a sideways glance then looked at our guide standing next to him.”Honey, don’t catch their island on fire.  I don’t think you should smoke with all of this hay, it looks very flammable.”

He pointed to our guide, “Leo says it’s O.K.”

I grunted then climbed aboard the two-story reed boat for a ten minute ride with the rest of our group.

me flat mtAfter an excellent lunch of fresh pizza in Puno half of the group went to the hotel and the rest of us went to the Sillustani Tombs, an archaeological site full of pre-Inca and Inca funeral towers.  It started pouring just as we arrived.  Up the wheat hills, whitherward through the cold rain and mud we listened to our local guide’s brief description.  He offered to take my picture with a beautiful view of a lake and a mysteriously flat-topped hill that some think is a UFO landing site. I tripped lightly and then turned around for a picture, prior to looking down over a deadly cliff.  That could have been disastrous, I realized as I imagined my umbrella whisking me through the air like Mary Poppins.

If I had more time during this brief jaunt to Peru, I would have taken a few more days to explore some archaeological ruins dating to the pre-Inca Tiwanaku on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.

As the locals like to say, “The titi part of the lake belongs to Peru, the caca part belongs to Bolivia.”

I’m sure Bolivians would disagree and it gives me an excuse to come back to the region.

Our last night in Lima we spent together as a group. Our guide Leo had us all pick a piece of paper from a bag.  Of the twenty-four pieces, only two had “yes” scribbled on them. I received one of these.  Throughout our tour various people carried two small Inca dolls that Leo said we had to treat like our baby, but they would change hands every few days. My husband even kidnapped one for a few hours.  I got to take the female Inca as a reminder of our special trip in the Andes.

The not so lost city of the Incas

church lima 2 Our adventure began in the capital of Peru, Lima.  After a 6:00 a.m. arrival at our hotel and a long nap, a guided city tour of the historic capital awaited us and fellow Gate-One travelers.  The highlight of the tour was the Convento de San Francisco, a Moorish style colonial-era church with underground catacombs.  One of my favorite rooms was the library, with old yellowing books lining the walls from floor to ceiling, falling apart and turning to dust in the musky forgotten time-capsule.  Mostly written in Latin, it was paradise for a colonial-era researcher whom could read the nearly dead language.  I’d secretly hoped someone would transcribe and preserve the important documents the library held.  Natural light beaming from skylights and windows, along with humidity and time, would destroy books holding crucial information by the end of this century.  Two enormous music books the size of a standard suitcase were the focal point of the room.  We later learned these were exhibited on a thick rotating cedar music stand for the entire choir to view during mass, while a boy stood turning the page.

catacombs lima 3The catacombs took us deeper into the belly of the cathedral.  As we followed groups of tourists, my thoughts drifted towards earthquakes and how Lima had many great shattering quakes through time.  “It’s the last and worst place I’d want to be during an earthquake,” I whispered to my husband, lingering towards the end of the line.  I needed plenty of room in case of an emergency.  An extra benefit of this tactic was exploring rooms others mindlessly passed.  We peered into a large circular well filled with hundreds of skulls, a scene straight from Indiana Jones, and The Temple of Doom. My eyes widened as hubby urged me to take a picture since nobody was looking.

“No, I obey the rules as an archaeologist.”  I shot him a sideways look, “Besides, I don’t want any bad Ju Ju.”

bones limaCatching up with others passing rectangular ditches overflowing with large bones, mostly femurs interspersed with hip bones and skulls, I noticed many people covering their nose.  It was dank, but not too different from the library.  Perhaps the sight of numerous human skeletal remains automatically caused some to cover their nose and face, sheltering the possibly contaminated repulsive air they breathed. I shrugged worrying more about an earthquake burying me alive.

The next morning we had a quick flight to Cuzco and longer bus ride to the sacred valley, the heartland of the Inca. Exactly twenty years ago I’d visited this region and fell in love with the otherworldly scenery holding snow-capped mountains, winding roads, idyllic villages and green valleys filled with corn, potatoes and quinoa, all of which ended up in our home-cooked lunch.

“They work the land without tractors,” our guide gloated through the microphone.” You will not find more than ten tractors in this area,” he challenged. “If you do, then I’ll buy everyone a Pisco Sour.  Humm,” he added with is usual filler at the end of a sentence.   Not knowing how determined and thirsty his Canadian and American tourists were, our group spotted more than ten questionable tractors on our way to the Urubamba Valley and the Ollantaytambo ruins near our five-star hotel in the middle of nowhere.  Over the next few days ten more tractors would be found for another Pisco Sour, the local cocktail.

The sacred Ollantaytambo ruins were farming terraces for the Inca gods, cyclopean in every aspect coinciding with the stars rising and setting during important harvest times.  We separated, exploring on our own, meeting back at the bus for a brief ride to our living quarters for the next two nights.  Surrounded by the Andes in every direction, the views were spectacular. An unusual hail storm welcomed us during check-in, with frozen white pellets the size of M&M’s falling from the skies and the Inca gods above.  “Priceless,” I whispered to the heavens, admiring the lightning storm in the encompassing mountains.

The following morning I went for a challenging jog up the stone Inca village streets.  Unruffled dogs ruled the streets, sharing with donkeys, pigs, llamas, and kids walking miles to school, smiling while passing a crazy running blonde gringo. I was at 9,000 feet hiking uphill, jogging on flat areas and downhill.  With the sun rising at 5:00 a.m., it was already warming up by 7:00.

moray 3The bus took us on an optional tour to the surreal salt pans of Maras, then to the unique archaeological site, Moray, the highlight of my day.  Historical in magnitude, this Inca site was a testing area for crops, reflecting the importance of farming to the Incas.  At a single location they experimented with a variety of produce at different temperatures using a terrace system utilizing microclimates within the empire.  With this approach they were able to test vegetables in different environments, pushing evolution of corn, potatoes and other plants for maximum productivity.  I marveled at their technique and clever invention. Then I went back to the lodge for a massage and relaxing evening prior to our busy following day at Machu Picchu,the star of the Urubamba Valley and the Inca Empire.

Our group caught the early morning train on the fairly new Vistadome train to Machu Picchu.  It was first class travel with transcendent views of the towering Andes mountains leading up to one of the seven wonders of the new world.  We were dumped into a tourist town that didn’t exist twenty years ago.  Merchants, restaurants,and enormous lines awaited us.  I was flabbergasted from the growth of tourism such a forgotten empire attracted.  I took a breath realizing the world was now aware of the beauty of Machu Picchu, and it was not such a bad thing as long as respect for the site ensued.  Why should I be the only one to experience such beauty?  I was certainly glad I saw it in my youth, prior to the crowds, permits and limitations to visit the lesser known Huana Picchu, now a three-day or more wait.  The line moved quickly and we were on our way via bus along the winding road to the most popular archaeological site in South America.  My hands sweated at the cliffs we traversed in the speeding van, as it did twenty years prior.

machu picchuOne thing about Machu Picchu, you could never visit too much.  Always spectacular with something new to discover. I approached with new eyes and no expectations, realizing  it deserved recognition as one of the seven wonders of the new world.  With only a few hours to visit and feeling relieved that I’d visited before, the pressure was off to see everything within a few hours.  No studying or analyzing with an archaeological mind, just unbiased observation.  I listened to our guide while exploring the less visited areas such as the Inca bridge.   I took pictures from all angles including the spot of Hiram Bingham’s most popular photograph for National Geographic.  The truth is any and all pictures of the site are sublime because the location itself is photogenic, yet pictures don’t do it justice.  Even a panoramic could not capture what it’s like to experience Machu Picchu.  Perhaps that’s why it’s one of the wonder’s of the world.

It has hit the ranks of mass tourism, yet it’s something to see outside of pictures or documentaries.  A perfect end to the day with a beer and pizza after a rewarding hike among the giant civilizations of the new world.

We continued our journey to Cuzco and Lake Titicaca which I’ll continue next week in another blog covering Peru and the Inca Empire.

Northern California Dreaming

goldengateUpon arrival in San Francisco, California,  we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in our rental car, briefly stopping for a photo opportunity at a vista point overlooking the bay.  While snapping several pictures through the crowd, sailboats participating in the America’s cup were finishing up the day’s race.  An hour later, we arrived in Geyserville, the center of Sonoma County. Wine country.  Two bottles of chilled champagne and an amazing view greeted us.  From the balcony, vineyards and wheat colored hills traversed the landscape. A faint vinegar scent permeated the air, the smell of the harvest time I later realized.

We had dinner at the only restaurant in town, Catelli’s.  The food lived up to the standards of wine country;  fresh, organic, tasty vegetarian choices and five-star by every means.  We met the friendly owner and enjoyed plenty of good wine at the rustic, sociable bar.  The evening was complete with a stellar performance from the sky.  Stars such as Orion, the Three Sisters and the Big Dipper clearly noticeable among the thousands lighting up our evening.

Our first day of wine tasting we visited five wineries, a bit ambitious on our part.  Medlock Ames had the best Sauvignon blanc, served in a converted barn turned tasting room.  It’s quaint with an organic farm and picnic area.  White Oak was fun with a tipsy host giving us a spontaneous tour of the wine making process. Supported by eighty-five percent solar power, Clos de Bois is fairly large with a trendy gift shop.  Our visit to Trentadue was brief but they had excellent champagne. We just made Geyser Peak at closing time, the closest winery to our Inn, and we called it as day buying some wine and snacks to take home.  In-between the vineyard visits we lunched and shopped in Healdsburg, a vegetarian and boutique shop haven.  It was the perfect day followed by a night of dining and gambling at the nearby River Rock Casino.

vineyardsDuring my morning run I encountered grapevine lined dirt roads, smiling faces from cars passing by, chickens and goats. I breathed acrid vinegar, taking in the countryside while jogging to country music on my iPod.  After brunch, we hit some golf balls at a scenic drive range, visited a few boutiques and a microbrewery prior to resuming our wine tasting.  The Coppola estate was our final highlight of the self-guided wine tour of Sonoma. Complete with stairs from a scene from the Godfather, movie memorabilia, pool and gift shop.  I joined the family, by joining the wine club after a heavenly wine tasting.

“Welcome to the family,” the host smiled.

I grinned back with a warmth that I’d receive a wine package monthly.

The next day we hiked among the Redwood giants at Armstrong State Park.  An easy walk in the woods, until I did the forced march up to the ridge with an unhappy husband in tow.  I like elevation and the challenge, as he did not.

“I don’t give up elevation,” he’d complain.

“Enjoy the view,” I shot back.  “And don’t look up.”

Our next destination for two nights was a short forty minute drive to Bodega Bay, a small fishing community and tourist destination on the north coast of Sonoma.  A cozy wine and cheese tasting at the Bodega Bay Lodge lobby, welcomed us and other guests.  Our timing was once more spot-on.  After a blissful dinner at the lodge, we relaxed with a bottle of wine on the balcony, listening to the consistent faint sound of a fog horn and sea lions barking. A shooting star magically appeared, I silently made a wish.  At sunset the air turned arctic so we lit a fire in the fireplace with the bestowed Duraflame log. It was a refreshing change from Florida, yet again.

My morning run though the park resembled a Monet painting.  Ice plants, wild flowers, birds and deer filling every color of the spectrum in a subdued tone, seamlessly fitting the music I was playing on my iPod, classical Bach, a favorite from my teenage years.  Music and nature in harmony.  I spotted a buck and watched him forage the open fields, dancing to the sunrise.

bodega2We had lunch in the marina while searching for noisy sea lions and seals.  It was a beautiful drive along Pacific Coast Highway, exploring the coast and stopping for a drink or two along the way.  A massage at the lodge and another amazing meal completed our coastal visit.

San Francisco awaited us the following afternoon.  A charming drive south through villages along the coast led us back to Sausalito for lunch, to the same mexican cafe where we began our journey.  We drove to the center of San Francisco, Union Square, to the Handlery Hotel, our sleeping quarters for the next two nights.  The square, specifically Powell Street is the center of action in San Francisco including: vagrants, trolleys, pubs, clubs, restaurants and prime shopping.  The neighborhood Walgreens carried gourmet salads, a bakery, wines, souvenirs and two floors of everything anyone could need.

sf2The next day we did a self-guided bike tour of the city, the best way to observe and get a real feel for the local culture and environment. San Francisco, despite the hills, is truly a biking and green metropolis.  We started out riding through the hood, Market Street, a depressing homeless area I remembered from several visits in my youth.  We cruised away from the square into several neighborhoods full of beautiful historic homes, cafes, unique shops, and lush parks. We passed a soup kitchen, art murals, numerous views of the city and Golden Gate bridge.  It was flat for the most part with the exception of a few steep hills.  We had lunch at a local spot, then continued though Golden Gate Park, downhill past the Presidio and over the bridge as fog set-in, engulfing it as we crossed.  Arriving in Sausalito just in time for the ferry, we jumped aboard for the short crossing back to fisherman’s wharf.

In the evening we gorged on some light modern asian cuisine at E&O on Sutter Street.  For the second night we revisited an Irish piano bar, Lefty O’Duals, and we were welcomed by friends we had met the night before.  We drank, sang, and the piano player finally played my requested, Dancing Queen, by Abba as those surrounding the piano belted out lyrics in harmony.

sf 1I left the city smiling with unforgettable memories.