Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Indie Travel - Day 30 - Where in 2012?

Where are you going in 2012?  Why is that place great for indie travelers? 

For a very long time, I've wanted to go to Thailand. I'm not sure why, maybe it's the wonderful food, or the ranting of my friends who have been there, or the Golden Buddha, it's just some place I need to see. Who knows the why of wanting to go some place? It just has a pull, a hidden meaning, a need to be seen. 

There are many other places, but Thailand feels like a place I could settle into, much like I settle into Mexico. Thai is probably a more difficult language to speak than Spanish, but what the heck? If I learn a few hundred words I ought to be able to get around at least. 

My impressions of Thailand is that it's warm (right!) and friendly, not too expensive, full of opportunities, and there's a lot to learn. It's a very different culture, yet there are many expats so I wouldn't be all alone as the only English speaker. 

One has to go where the pull is greatest. There's no way to cover every square inch of the world,  and no point in trying. And if it's raved about by others, there must be good reason. 2012 will be my year to find out. 

(Today is day 30 of the Indie Travel project. Whew. I did actually post one for every day, like I promised myself I would do. Now if I would make a goal to write 1000 words a day on my novel, maybe I could actually finish it!)

Thanks for reading along with me. It's great to have an audience, otherwise, it feels like I'm just talking to my self!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Indie Travel - one word

What does travel mean to you in one word?  


That's my one word. Any kind of travel, I feel alive. Even on a little weekend trip across my own state. I am more conscious of the environment, of my body, of what I say to others, my other words I feel more alive. Interestingly I also think about death more, how sad I will feel one day, to say good-by to all of this. To leave the people I love, to say good-by to sight and color, to no longer hear music, to end my existence on this planet. 

Lots of people believe there's a beyond. I don't. It's not an empty awful feeling to think there's nothing beyond this. It's not the end of hope or depressing. It makes NOW more important because someday there won't be a now, for me anyway. And if they are right and I am wrong, then there will be NOW beyond this life, and I'll deal with it the same way I deal with this life, with intense attention and as much love and joy as I can muster. 

Some people say I'll be in hell and it'll be horrible for all of eternity. Makes you wonder if they have ever really thought about how long eternity is. And why on earth they would believe a God can be all love, have created this incredibly beautiful world, and yet hate so viciously that he/she would condemn someone to pain for all of eternity? It makes no sense to me. If that is the kind of God that's out there, then I am a better person than God, because I'd never do that to anyone, for any reason whatsoever.  

Clearly I'm not a better person than God, so the God most people believe in can't possibly be the real God. That's my logic, and I'm sticking to it. 

Thanks to having traveled, I'm not stuck in a little mind-frame about God, the nature of people, or reality. That's not to say I have it all figured out, I'm just not stuck in my own thinking.  

Two Georges

George Mason and George Washington

Gunston Hall, viewed from the river side.
Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason, was just down the road from the state park where I was camping, the night after visiting George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. I had no idea what Gunston Hall was, there was just a sign pointing towards the river. What a treat to follow curiosity in that direction and experience yet another beautiful home, and learn much more of my country's history.

So who was George Mason? Was he the Mason of the Mason-Dixie Line that separated North from South and delineated the States who joined the Confederacy? Perhaps he was the inventor of the Mason Jar, that wonderful technology for preserving foods that allowed people to survive many an ugly winter with all the bounty of summer at their fingertips….

Wrong on both guesses. He was way more important to history.

George Mason was a boyhood friend of George Washington, they were, after all, neighbors. Both Georges were well educated planters, wealthy in their day like the Walton family (WalMart) is today, influential, and very involved in forming the new nation that would become the United States.  Mason wrote Virginia’s statement of human rights, some 19 years before the revolutionary war. When the Continental Congress was convened to create a national government for the fledgling country, instead of having it be a consortium of powerful but confederated states, he pushed for rights to be included because he felt the government that was being proposed was too strong, too powerful, and would eventually no longer be by the people and for the people. The list of rights was not included so he refused to ratify the constitution, thus alienating himself from most of his friends including George Washington. But a while later, James Madison introduced the language, based almost verbatim on Mason’s Virginian list of rights, that were eventually amended to the constitution, and are now our bill of rights. His name has passed from most people’s view of history, yet what he did assures us that we can speak our minds, worship as we please, own firearms for protection, assemble peacefully to protest, etc. The current “Occupiers” are part of his living legacy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Indie Travel - Gear

The right gear can make or break your trip. What is your favorite/must-have gear item? 

I am not now and probably never will be a gear-head. My interest in gizmos is in what they can do for me as a tool, not in the details. My camera is a complex and rather heavy Canon D40, and I know enough about it to take good pictures. Beyond that I don't care. It can have 11M pixel photos, (I think it does) or only 9 and I doubt I'd know the difference or care. It has a number of wonderful features like focusing and light metering on several points or only one, depending on how you set it up. It lets me focus or it'll do it for me. Most of the time, with my fading eyesight, I'm happy to let the camera do the work, I'll focus on composition. 

I have another Canon, a small light weight one that takes great pictures, and videos, but at the moment it can't read the disk, so it's out of commission. I sure hope the problem is with the disc and not with the camera. The problem with the little one is there is no eyepiece. The shots must be composed looking at a rather reflective screen on the back of the camera. I don't have much control over exposure, or composition, so must rely on messing with the photo when I get it downloaded to the computer. But it's light, back-packs well, and if it fell into a creek, I might cry but it wouldn't set me back financially. 

Because photos are about color, composition and subject matter. All the other stuff is fluff.  And I'm so grateful to be living in a time of digital photos and laptop computers, because I can follow all my passions with just those two items. I love to take pictures, I love to write. I love to post stuff for other people to read and look at, so that's all I need in the world to make me happy, a good camera, and a good computer. 

My laptop is a MacBookPro. 'Nuff said. It's perfect and has none of the ridiculous problems that other laptops offer. At Brenda's house, I plugged my Mac into her printer, printed out some stuff, and then unplugged it. I didn't have to install, reboot, diddle with a setting, or curse at anybody. A tool that works. That's all I ever ask. I don't need to know the techno-weinie details, and in fact find them pretty boring. Though I know most of my geek friends would cringe if they knew that. I guess they can cringe-away now, the jig is up. 

Indie Travel - Wanderlust

Share a photo or video that just makes you want to GO. RIGHT NOW.

One of the andadores, walking streets, in
San Cristobal, Chiapas, in the late afternoon.

San Cristobal is my next big destination, as soon as this Eastern Seaboard trip is over, and Christmas has come and gone. I'll be spending the winter in Mexico, six months of speaking mostly Spanish, taking fluency classes, and traveling around Oaxaca, the Yucatan Peninsula, and perhaps Guatemala and Costa Rica too. This is one of my favorite Mexican photos. It captures the ease of people, the laid back atmosphere, features gringos, Mayans, and Mexicans of Spanish descent. The andadores are beautiful walking streets with no traffic, not even bicycles are permitted, though many people still ride through slowly. The Mayan women walk around trying to sell their handiwork, always made by their mothers or aunts (but actually most of it is from Guatemala), and the shops are open till late in the evening, restaurants fumigate the area with wonderful cooking odors, wine bars serve tapas and a glass of wine for about $30p ($3 US), and people gather to visit, the favorite Mexican past time. 

It makes me want to be there NOW. But I have to wait. Damn.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Indie Travel - Photo

Post a photo of your favorite place and tell us what you love about it.

What??? Only one photo??

As a photographer who travels for the SOLE purpose of getting those great shots, it would be impossible to pick only one. 

But since Mexico is one of my favorite destinations, I'll post a few shots from the places I've visited. (I'm cheating.)

Little girl washing
her dolly in a spring in Uruapan.

Final moment for the bull,
in San Miguel de Allende

Tiny Purehepecha woman weaving fibers
for the hat making industry, Arocutin.

Resort on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro

Janitzio Island with fisherman in the foreground,
Lake Patzcuaro

Squash blossoms sold as vegetables,
Erongaricuaro market

Artful display of peppers in the market,
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

The weaver Pascuala with a chicken,
Zinacantan, Chiapas

Little Aztec dancer, part of a traveling troop.

Pyramid of the sun, Palenque

Splashdown at Misol Ha

Agua Azul waterfalls

Easter, almost anywhere
in Mexico. This picture was taken
at a little village in Chiapas

Purehepecha women doing embroidery on
the boat, Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan

Bridesmaid at a wedding
in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco

Vending cotton candy at a rodeo
before a heavy storm.
Arocutin, Michoacan
Tarahumara family going home with
donated food (due to terrible drought)
Casuare, Chihuahua

Winding road to the bottom of Batopilas
Canyon, Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua

Unfinished desert home, Chihuahua

Ruins of mining center,
Batopilas, Chihuahua

Baleen whale, Baja California

Sunrise, Baja California

Carnival Sculpture, Mazatlan

Bishop's Cajones (testicles)

Dancers in the street, San Miguel de Allende

Looking down into a lake,
Lagunas del Montebello National Park, Chiapas

Hacienda on a coffee plantation, Chiapas

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Indie Travel - Family

Family shapes who we are, but sometimes the family we create plays a bigger role in our lives than the one we were born into. Tell a story about how either of your “families” have impacted your life and your travels.  

Wanderlust has been part of my psyche for as long as I can remember, but I've often felt stymied by the impossible-ness of long term travel. Until the realization hit me: possible-ness is just a matter of choices. 

Do others guilt me into choices I don't really want to make? Does fear or lack of finances stifle desire? Am I so irreplaceable in my own life, I dare not leave it? 

Perhaps it was all those things that kept me from traveling sooner than this. But that's all over now. And family had a lot to do with both sides of the issue. 

Raising my son meant that I had to have a steady income, a job. And a job meant only so much vacation. We went lots of places, took 7 weeks off when he was 14 to travel to eleven national parks on a summer car-camping trip. It was wonderful. We often went around the state for short trips. I tried to give him the travel opportunities I didn't have as a kid in a family with three children and limited finances. 

My mother and step-father traveled a lot. Because they enjoyed it, and it gave them time away from the kids.  I would have liked to go to Denver and San Francisco too, and felt fairly put-upon by their trips, but in retrospect don't blame them a bit. They didn't let guilt prevent them from having a great time together.

My grandmother used to take me places all the time on trains, by car, and once in a while, by airplane. I lucked out being the only grandchild for five years. She was wonderful, always so kind and considerate. When I was four, a child on an airplane was fairly unusual. The Stewardess asked me if I'd like to be a Stewardess when I grow up. Having just sat on the Pilot's lap and touched many of the instruments, I responded emphatically that I'd rather be the pilot. It was 1958. She politely informed me that girls can't be pilots. I wasn't shocked. We couldn't be doctors or cowboys either.....

My mother and sister.
My mother's sister broke the stay-home mold by making the decision to travel full time. Against her sons' "better judgement" she and hubby sold everything, put stuff in storage, and bought a motor home. Two fifth-wheels later, they are still on the road after twenty years and now, approaching 80, they are thinking of settling down.

People tried to discourage me from going to Mexico alone, then again from living there. But starting this January, it will be home for six months. After that, Europe, then Australia, and Asia. At some point further down the road, circling South America is the plan, living longish periods of time in various places, and then after the wanderlust has abated, I'll come home to live in Los Alamos, NM again. Or maybe not. There is no crystal ball. I may run out of money long before that, or may find a way to make a passable living while living at large. Along the way, there will be people who will quickly become friends and some may join the ranks of chosen family. Because no place is wonderful without great people in it. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Washington DC

Ok. I know. I went to Washington DC over 2 weeks ago and haven't written a word about it. So here's what I did:

The Holocaust Museum
The Smithsonian Castle
The Lincoln Memorial
The WWII Memorial
The Portrait Gallery
The National Art Museum
The Air and Space Museum
A lovely Thai restaurant
A lovely Sushi restaurant
A movie: The Tower Heist
A double decker bus tour of everything, just driving past....
Spent many hours on buses and subways
Watched a man sleeping on a bench in the National Mall.
Had an ice cream cone, pumpkin flavor, yummy.
Witnessed a 4 car accident.

On Monday I got a late start, didn't know the bus and rail schedules and ended up in DC after lunch. So I bought a ticket for the double decker bus and we headed out, over the river, south to Arlington. On the way, the bus was stopped at a light and WHAM WHAM WHAM, three cars were hit by a speeding driver whose own car spun twice and ended up on the median. One of the cars was pushed into the bus two lanes over and mashed its front end. I'm not clear what happened as I was just sitting on the upper level enjoying a few seconds of no wind lashing my face, taking photos of an imposing sculpture on top of a low building. In a few minutes a police car showed up, then fire engines, then an ambulance. After a long wait we were allowed to back up and ease through the car mess all over the road and go on with our tour.

It was a canned audio tour, and not that informative. The afternoon was waning. It stopped in front of the Holocaust museum so I got off and went there. It's huge, new, somber and enlightening. And it answered for me, finally, the long burning question of how did a nation of perfectly normal people get so warped, mentally and emotionally, that the Holocaust could actually happen. The museum has a certain flow, and following the flow, you are taken to a time before WWI, then through Germany's defeat in that war, to its struggle during the world wide depression, to Hitler's slow rise to power and then instantaneous dissolution of democracy in favor of a dictatorship. By then, so many rights of the common people had been eroded, and the police/military were so powerful the people could do very little to rise up against that machine. And there were many who ardently supported it, it fit into their own ideas of being a world power. The rest of the world refused to accept Jews wanting out of Germany, so Hitler solved his "problem" in the most hideous fashion. When the story is presented in that plodding and gradual way, you can see how it could happen. I think my answers were found.

The museum closed as I was only about half way through. I know the rest of the story, the part I needed to hear was the beginning, the reasons. And it was sobering because I can see echos of it in our own country. Now that Habeas Corpus was tossed out, we no longer have the right to know why we are being arrested. Hmmm. And the Magna Carta has been more or less done away so you cannot protect your home from the police who want to enter for reason but without a warrant, your property can be taken at any time by the government for any reason it wishes as the "public good"  in condemnation proceedings no longer needs to be proven, and on and on. Are we marching toward a time when, for the "good of the country" martial law will be enacted? And how would we fight that? We have the most powerful army in the world. I'm a pretty middle of the road person when it comes to politics, and I'm glad our founding fathers made gun ownership a right. However, if the majority of gun owners back a dictatorship, we'll be in worse trouble than the Germans ever were. At this point in time, I don't see many gun owners out there protesting the gradual erosion of our rights, with the exception of those pertaining to gun ownership.

Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, and Yeager's plane.
Over the next two days I went to the Air and Space Museum and saw all the Firsts. The first machine to fly made by the Wright Brothers. (Funny how NC gets ALL the credit when the Wright Brothers lived, experimented, and worked in Ohio.) Chuck Yeager's plane, the first to break the sound barrier; Charles Lindburgh's Spirit of St. Louis - the first to fly over the Atlantic; and the first plane, SpaceShipOne, to fly into space and return, entirely under its own power; were all displayed together in a huge hall. The first human powered machine to actually fly, the Gossamer Condor, occupies a wall in the same hall. Wonderful displays of other firsts, like the first manned space capsule, the moon lander, etc, each had it's special spot. That museum alone took up the better part of a day. With aching feet I went to a movie and got an ice cream cone for dinner. I know, shoulda coulda had something more nutritious, but what are vacations for anyway?

Lincoln Memorial Mess
Really enjoyed the Lincoln Memorial. They're tearing up the reflecting pond and replacing all the pipes and the concrete 'floor' and it's quite a mess. I spoke briefly with one of the workers in Spanish. He said it would be finished in 6 months, in time for the influx of tourists next summer. Inside the building, a docent was giving a little talk. There were hundreds of school children in large groups posing on the steps but inside it was relatively quiet. He told about the architect, the contest that was held to pick a designer, a sculptor, etc. Very interesting stuff. The monument opened in 1922, almost 70 years after Lincoln's death. Around the exterior are the names of all US states, though a few had to be added after the fact.

I had wanted to save the Vietnam Memorial till last. But alas I didn't get there. There is so much more to see. I will need to find a way to rent a place near DC at some point in retirement, and go every few days in order to see it all, and I would want to see it all. The portrait gallery alone would take at least three full days to do it justice. And I never got over to the Natural History Museum or any of the other 'biggies'. It was too mind boggling. So I went on down the road, to Washington's house,  Mount Vernon, on the Potomac.

That tour led me down a path I never expected to travel. Virginia is the home state of 9 presidents. So I went on a tour of Colonial and Presidential homes, and other historic parks. More to follow.....

WWII Memorial

A family's private statement at the WWII memorial.

Restaurant inside Union Station.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Indie Travel - Giving Thanks

Seeing what others have – and don’t have – around the world often helps us appreciate our own good fortune. What are you thankful for this year ?

I'm sitting in the house where I came 7 weeks ago to house sit, not knowing anyone. Now I am house sitting again, more as a guest than live-in help. The neighbors have all become friends. One took me to dinner at an old farmhouse restaurant that routinely feeds hundreds on Thanksgiving day. Tomorrow I'll cook a turkey and the other neighbors will come over for dinner in the evening. The owner is off enjoying herself at the beach.

I'm grateful for the generosity of people I meet while traveling. The hospitality is radical.

In this town seven weeks ago, the owner of a car repair shop fixed my sliding door on the van and didn't charge me a dime. Since then, the mechanism that holds the back of that same door came lose and fell inside. I could have tried having it fixed somewhere along the way, but chose to wait until I got back to Siler City. Yesterday, the same guy took the door apart from the inside, fixed the latching mechanism, and only charged me $30 for at least an hour's work.

I'm grateful for people who do a good job, don't overcharge, and are generous with their creativity and problem solving skills.
A little sample of this beautiful life. 

All through Pennsylvania and Virginia, I saw very little grinding poverty, but here in North Carolina, there are many who live in trailer houses, or very run down homes with tarps and tires on the roofs. Old beater cars grace the roadways, belching blue-black smoke. Mangy stray cats prowl around in the woods. That said, I am staying in a lovely home with a luscious yard and two sweet kitties who love being petted. The contrast between have and not-have-as-much is more vivid and apparent here.

I'm grateful for modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and forced air heat, for telephones, computers, high speed internet, electricity, and for animals who give more love than they ask for.

Mostly I'm grateful to be alive experiencing this world, whatever it tosses in my direction. For I lucked being born in this time, this country, with a strong body blessed with good working parts, to middle class parents who saw to it that I received a decent education, and on and on.  I won the lottery of birth. I won it!! And I'm out spending it all, cause I can't take any of it with me.

Indie Travel - Love Affair

When we travel, our senses are heightened. We feel more alive and we’re more free to do things we might not at home. We can be who we want. There’s an air of urgency to everything we do – we know our time here, in this place, and with these people, is limited. If we want to do something, we have to do it now. It’s no wonder then that many travelers have relationships on the road. Tell us about a “special someone” you met while traveling. 

A kiss 'n' tell? No way! 

Of course one would have to kiss in order to tell, and it's been a while since I've traveled anywhere where someone was interested, or in whom I was interested.......Does that say something about the life of an 'older' person? I'm not even 60 yet!

So  here's an almost kiss 'n' tell story. 

When I was in San Miguel de Allende in February of 2010, I met a fellow through mutual friends named Francisco. He was once an architect, built a lot of schools. Then he went to the US, illegally, lived in Houston for about 10 years where he ran a landscaping business. When things got sticky, he tried to get a green card, but was told to go home before the government came and confiscated everything and deported him. He sold off his equipment, and came back to Leon where his family lived. His son chose to stay in Houston and live with an American family to finish high school. Nobody was threatening to kick him out, so now he speaks perfect English and is a rock musician. Francisco wishes he would go to college, but for now he's living out his own dream. 

Francisco was charming and smart, nice looking, and very attentive. He found me attractive and made no bones about it. He brought me roses for Valentines day. He held my hand as we walked around the plaza and took me out for a meal a couple of times.

Francisco had a van and several of my women friends hired him to take us on a tour of Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo. It was a great trip. He also took a couple of us to a hot springs where we swam around in a cave. Francisco had ambitions to be a writer and worked often on his book. We had several things in common and though his English was a little better than my Spanish, we mostly conversed in Spanish. It's much more romantic.

Francisco at the silver
mine above Guanajuato.
He'd done such a good job driving that I recommended him to my landlady when she was desperate. Her friend ran the San Miguel Writer's Conference, and the arranged driver for the keynote speaker, Barbara Kingsolver, had wrecked his car. Francisco got the job of driving the famous author and her family. After the conference, she hired him to take them on a long trip through central Mexico and then to the airport in Mexico City. So, as my trip was drawing to a close, he was off having a wonderful time being a tour guide. He arrived back in San Miguel just in time to take me to the airport. We hugged goodby and I flew away. 

Soon all the ex-pat women in San Miguel wanted to be driven around by the same Francisco who had driven Barbara Kingsolver. In short order Francisco had enough work to support himself with no other jobs and he could work on his book. 

I saw him briefly again when I was in San Miguel in September 2010. He'd sold the van so he could open a shoe store, and he spent his days, between customers, writing. Now his book is done, he's gotten it published, and he's busy promoting it. I hear from him once in a while, but I don't expect anything in the future. I'll try to keep my jealousy in check, that he's finished his book, and I've not finished mine!! He will always be a good contact and ready ally. He's a genuinely good man. 

Indie Travel - Technology

Where would today’s travelers be without smartphones, GPS, iPods, iPads, or even the internet? Share one item of tech you can’t live without or tell us how technology has changed the way you travel.

Those following this blog will know I finally broke down and bought a GPS. I'm fine with finding my way around if I have a map, but I don't have a printer with me in the van, so I can't print out detailed maps of cities from MapQuest. Constantly consulting my laptop while driving is not a very safe driving habit. Maps from the Visitor Centers are for whole states, and while fairly detailed, do not give the depth of detail you need driving around in a town. I could buy an iPhone and have instant access to maps, the internet, people, etc, but I'm not quite there yet. Traveling for me is about the process of getting somewhere, rising to the challenge, not having all challenge wiped away by technology. 

However, the GPS has been both a boon and a bog to my sanity. Unless I have an exact address, I'm not likely to get someplace depending on the GPS. In fact, even with an exact address there have been several times the GPS could not find the location. Target in the northern part of Washington DC comes quickly to mind. The GPS could not find either of the cross streets, the transit station which was right next door, or the Target itself even though I'd called and gotten a physical address. What's up with that? Now I know why Brenda calls her GPS "Pita", for pain in the A***. 

As a westerner, I'm accustomed to having a large view of the world, big sky, generally some tallish landmark that can be seen from all over, like a mountain. But here in the east, everything is hidden by trees, and often the sky itself is covered with clouds, dim and difficult to tell south from north. And to make matters even worse, many towns were originally laid out starting with game trails that were easy to follow in the 1700s, the towns grew up on both sides of a trail. 

Towns like Siler City, NC, for instance appear to be laid out on a grid, but the grid is cock-eyed and is at a 45 degree angle to the main highway on the north side of town. To be even more difficult, it's a small town, no one has seen much of a need to put up street signs. Everybody knows where everything is, so why bother? GPS is the one thing I'm finding it hard to live without at this moment. I just wish it were a bit smarter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Indie Travel - In Transit

The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination.

I am on a journey now, a tour of the east coast in the fall. That was the primary objective, to experience a hardwood forest in all it's autumn glory and take lots of pretty pictures. 

It's been a great experience: to wander down the Blue Ridge Parkway, watch snow fall on golden and red trees in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, dig up potatoes while trees shed leaves by the millions so it sounded like a light rain falling. 

The photos have been fun to compose and a few have turned out exquisitely. 

Appomattox looming out of the fog.
The non-objective was to enjoy the trip and for the first time in my life just wander more or less aimlessly and see what I want to see, stay as long as I like. 

Most of us have experienced a father (or mother) who always had to be somewhere, and the drives to get there were long and arduous. One trip when my sisters were still in grade school was particularly memorable. (My father hated to stop. I think if we'd been boys he'd have asked us to pee out the window rather than make a pitstop.) My sister kept saying she felt sick. He told her to suck it up, hold it in, that she wasn't really sick, etc. Then in a spectacular feat of projectile vomiting, she blasted the back of his head. 

On those long trips I always wanted to explore the old dilapidated houses that appeared along the roadside, see if there was anything like a long-dead girl's dolly, or maybe some rusty old tool that no one even remembers what it was used for. Or stop at the attractions to 
see the live alligators, the pit full of rattlesnakes, or the Pony Express Station. 

Reconstructed Appomattox Courthouse

Now, I'm on my own trip, all by myself, and if I see something of interest, I pull over, take pictures, look around, explore, ask about it. Just this morning I drove by a National Park I didn't even know existed. It's where the Civil War ended. It was out in the middle of nowhere Virginia, down a weaving two lane road I happened to be on. The morning was foggy and wet. The little town of Appomattox Courthouse appeared as a ghost rising from the wet forest. It was closed. I went on to the next town, five miles down the road, had breakfast, came back, and paid my $3 to get in. A lovely place, chock full of history and artifacts, and I had it mostly to myself. 

The McLean home where the terms of surrender
were signed in the living room. 
I remember the author/historian Hampton Sides telling a personal story. His best friend in high school was the son of Shelby Foote, author of The Civil War: A Narrative. The boys were upstairs playing music too loudly and stomping around. Shelby banged on the door and in his meanest voice said "Cut it out boys!! I'm workin on Appomattox!". Hampton said he worked on Appomattox for almost four years.  After seeing the site, wandering the museums, talking to the lonely chilled rangers, I have no doubt that it took four years to write the section on the final days of the war. 

It was never my objective to see several of the plantation homes owned by Presidents, or  where the Civil War ended, it's just been a part of the journey, a few of the things I've run across while in transit.  

Fog, tree, grave.

View from inside the jail.

Union Army's portable printing machine for
printing the pardons for over 22,000 Confederate soldiers.

The Confederacy's final shots were
fired from this front yard. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Indie Travel - Favorite City

What is your favorite (or least favorite) city and what do you love (or hate) about it?

I'm one of those travelers that is in love with the planet I guess. I can't think of a single city I don't like, and can think of many I'd go back to anytime.

For ease of getting around, Denver is probably the least favorite. You must have a car there or you miss most of the interesting things to do. Public transportation in cities in the west is mediocre to non-existent. Denver is getting better as people discover the joy of riding a bus to work but for the unfamiliar traveler, long waits are sometimes in order as buses aren't that frequent.

For driving, Albuquerque is hands down the most dangerous. In California, all the bad drivers are long dead. In Albuquerque, they're still on the road and out to get you. I've driven in Boston, LA, Washington DC, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, you name it. Albuquerque is the worst. People routinely speed and run red lights. Lane integrity is an unknown concept. I lived there for 17 years. Best green chile in the world is available all over the place and in the fall, when the chiles are roasting in rolling cages over open flames and the smell fills your entire body, there's just nothing like it. It's my soul food and soul smell. 

For food, Salt Lake City is the most bland place I've ever eaten. But that said, it has one of the finest sushi restaurants in the country. I Love Sushi, downtown near the Temple. 

For poverty and lepers begging and touching your feet in supplication, almost any city in India will suffice. Yet, great street food, beautiful temples, colorful markets and the friendliness of most of the people are evident everywhere as well. 

Check back in a couple of years, after I'm finished with the round the world trip. I may have a favorite city by then. But I kinda doubt it. 

Indie Travel - Drink

Just as the cuisine of a place reveals clues about its culture and history, so does its signature local drink. What’s the best drink you had on the road, and did the drink have any connection to the place where you drank it or the people you drank with?

Tequila. Mexico.  

Tequila is made from the agave plant, which is an overgrown succulent, much like an aloe vera.  In the very old days, the desert dwellers would cut off one giant arm of a plant and squeeze the juice from it. Agua Miel it was called, honey water. I have no idea if the natives learned to ferment it, or just used it as a water supply when other supplies ran low. It is purported to be full of vitamins and very nutritious. 

In the markets you can occasionally find a dark molasses-like substance that is concentrated agua miel. It's sweet with some bitter undertones and is used in cooking just like molasses. They also make candy from it. 

But tequila is probably the nation's main export. In fact it can be a bit difficult to find the finest tequilas in stores, the best gets sold abroad. 

Agave plant in San Miguel
de Allende, Guanajuato
John, my travel partner, is quite a sophisticated drinker. He knows and loves the various varieties, often buying a fairly large amount of certain brands when he can find them. I like Margaritas on occasion, but when we travel together, one of us needs to be level headed, sane, and sober. 

Guadalajara is the big tequila region. The airport is decorated with murals of fields of blue agave, and I'm sure several of the big companies sponsored the building of the airport as their logos are all over the place. Traveling out from Guad in any direction, fields are everywhere. And the plants grow just about anywhere too, on slanting hillsides, edges of mountains, and rocky volcanos. The blue agave is a smaller plant, about two feet high, and probably has the highest sugar concentration. It's also used to make agave syrup, good for those who want  fewer calories but don't want to use artificial sweeteners. It's tough to find the syrup in Mexico as most of it gets exported too.

Tequila is synonymous with Mexico. I can't think of one, without thinking of the other.