Category Archives: Travel

Big Butt Saddles

When I came across yet another "America's so fat" news stories, this one about dude ranches having to use draft horses and large saddles to accomodate their extra-large clients, it reminded me of a vacation experience from about 10 years ago.  My family and I were lucky enough to spend a week at a dude ranch in Wyoming and when we showed up at the corral the folks working there took one look at me (6'2", 210 lbs) and assigned me to Big John, a rather imposing draft horse that seemed to be almost twice as big as the other horses.  When the wrangler brought him out she mentioned that Big John was used for their bigger clients and then blurted out, "I'm not saying you're fat or anything, but you're just too big for the other horses." I wasn't offended but it had me wondering if I might want to cut back on dessert. That was 20 pounds ago so I'm not sure what they'd put me on these days.

For the record Big John and I got along great, although the fall we took on the last day of riding was a strong reminder of just how tough horseback riding can be.  I was sore for a week and felt lucky to not have shattered any bones.  Maybe my extra padding saved me.

What I Want to Do When I Grow Up

An update from my Mom, who's on a trip that's given me a glimpse into what I'd like to do when I grow up and retire:

A bit of drama on the high seas for this report.  We are now only a few hours from Ascension Island, finishing the third of our days at sea since St. Helena.  This afternoon the captain saw a fishing vessel without appropriate identification within the restricted waters that surround Ascension, so we varied from our course to catch up with it and get the numbers and name painted on the side.  It seems to be either Chinese, Japanese or Korean, and is very similar to one the Endeavor – the Lindblad sister ship – identified on this same voyage in 2008. All of the information has now been forwarded to Ascension, just as it was then, but since Ascension is without any real fishing patrol boat, apparently little can be done.

While all that was going on, the ship doctors were arranging a med-evac for one of the women on board, who has been ill for two days now, with symptoms that the limited diagnostic equipment on board fails to identify.  She is the wife of one of the National Geographic photographers, so she is going into the hospital on Ascension.

Then, the decision was made to send the ROV (Remote Observation Vehicle) to investigate a sea mount, which is an underwater volcano that has been eroded by seawater so that the top is essentially flattened.  This particular one is three miles in diameter and 50 feet deep. The diver/naturalist on board reported that he now has the first photographs taken of this area.  He most probably will organize the images for a report within the next couple of days.  Bert was on the bridge to watch all this, and is bringing home the fathometer profile.

And, finally, the crew went fishing for our dinner and brought in a very large yellow-tail tuna and a wahoo, both more than enough for one of the dinner options.  They also struggled for 45 minutes with an even larger fish, this time close to the ship, so there was an opportunity to watch.  Eventually, the line broke, but there was plenty of entertainment. Plus, when they were exiting the side gate to get into the zodiac to go fishing, a very small Portuguese man of war washed in, so we were treated with an up front and personal look at a cereal bowl full of potential menace!

Up early tomorrow morning for a zodiac tour around Boatswain Bird Island, home to thousands of birds, and a full day tour of Ascension, closing with a late night visit to the beaches where the turtles are laying their eggs.  What's fascinating is that the males never come on shore, but the females may come on shore more than once, each time leaving behind as many as 100 fertilized eggs.  Because they are vegetarians, though, they breed here, but don't feed here.  Instead they swim all the way to the coast of South America to feed.  Obviously, they can go months without eating.  If they swim west, finding that coast isn't difficult.  What IS difficult to imagine is their finding this island when they come back, and even more so the little guys who are born here, and also make that journey.  Whew!


The Oil Spill You Probably Haven’t Heard About

Let's file this in the "it's a huge small world category."  I have family member that's on a National Geographic cruise that departed from South America and is making stops at a variety of remote locations including the Tristan Da Cunha island group.  Yesterday I receieved an email from her with an update on the trip, and in it she mentioned an oil spill on Nightingale Island that they were seeing first hand and that I'd not heard about at all. Here's part of her update and a picture she sent with it:

Not sure how much news has been generated in the US, but the wreck of the cargo ship that dumped diesel fuel (not crude, as reported by the NY Times) and a shipful of soybeans into the ocean was at Nightingale Island, which is where we spent the day.  It is more than a little unsettling to see penguins and baby seals black and shiny with oil.  The penguins are rock hoppers, which are the ones who look under normal circumstances as if they have a perpetual bad hair day, with bright orange topknots and slanty eyes.  There is a photo of some of them trying to get rid of the oil attached.  Nightingale is uninhabited, but full of birds – buntings, albatross, petrels, etc.  We had a zodiac tour around the base, and then headed toward Inaccessible Island, where the seas were simply too rough even for that.  We then headed back to Tristan de Cunha, the island we visited yesterday, to drop off some of the conservation staff we’d picked up and to refuel.  As I write this, the refueling is going on.  It was delayed because the ship from which the fuel is coming had been pressed into service to bring 750 penguins here so that the Tristaners can go about cleaning them up.  The little orange boat you see in one of the photos is the fishing boat from Tristan that brought these people out, so that they could round up the penguins.

Today I came across this post at the National Geographic Travel & Cultures site.  Kind of wild that I have family traveling with the author of the post, but also kind of scary what a "minor" oil spill can do:

A week ago today, (March 16), the MV Oliva (Valetta) crashed on the rocks of Nightingale Island, spilling its cargo of soybeans and some 800 tons of fuel oil onto the coast. The ship was crossing the Atlantic from Brazil to Singapore when for reasons still unknown, it hit the island’s coast at a speed of 14 knots.

The captain and all crew escaped the vessel, but by last Saturday the ship had begun to break up in the heavy surf. The oil slick had spread around the island and then out to sea in the direction of Inaccessible Island.

Our ship, the MV National Geographic Explorer arrived at Tristan Da Cunha yesterday and sailed to Nightingale Island this morning, as intended on our original itinerary with Lindblad Expeditions. Instead of mere bird watching, we were met with the disturbing sight of penguins and seals coated in sticky black oil.

Nightingale Island is home to some 20,000 of the endangered sub-species of Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Sadly, these are the birds that were hit the hardest—thousands are expected to die from the effects of the oil spill. While this spill is relatively minor in comparison to so many in the world today, it represents a major calamity for the fragile birdlife on pristine Nightingale Island and a heavy blow to the small group of islanders of nearby Tristan da Cunha…

A crisis response team had arrived by tugboat from South Africa—a four-day journey by sea. Commercial divers were on the scene to help dismantle the shipwreck and attempt to prevent further fuel from spilling out into the sea.

Another fear is the introduction of rats from the ship to the island, which could decimate the local bird population, including several endemics to the Tristan Island group. Three different types of rat traps had been laid on the island, and according to Tristan’s conservation officer Trevor Glass, no rats have been seen or trapped so far.



Life Without Baggage

Yesterday I finished my most recent junk-food-for-the-brain courtesy of the Forsyth County Public Library (Lewisville Branch) and once again fantasized about leading a life of no possessions. The eponymous hero of the Jack Reacher series lives a life traveling around the world free of possessions besides his ID, a debit card and the clothes on his back and I often envy him his spartan lifestyle. (He also ends up killing lots of people, but that's really a superfluous part of the plot as far as I'm concerned). Don't get me wrong, I love my family and I love our household, but yesterday also featured the latest in a long series of trips to the local dump to drop off yet another load of stuff we no longer need, so I was in that mode of Spartan-envy familiar to at least a few suburbanites. I'm also a gainfully employed, married, middle-aged father of three teenagers who's freedom of movement is roughly equivalent to that of someone doing time at a halfway house.

So yes, I have a kind of "grass-is-greener" envy whenever I read anything about people galavanting around the globe with nary a bag to check, and there are people doing just that:

I've done it. Traveling with no bags is gloriously liberating. You move fast, close to the ground, spontenously.  You feel unleashed, undefined by your possessions. It is just you and the world. I am convinced that with less stuff to manage you think different. You learn lots, fast.

I've done a few very short trips this way, and once I took a month-long journey in Sri Lanka without baggage. I would not want to travel this way all the time, but once you go with none, it is much easier to go with very little. It's one of the oldest truism in the world: the less you travel with, the more you take back.

There are four modes of no-baggage travel these days:

1) Total Nada

2) Just Pockets

3) Day Baggers

4) Minimalist Borrowers

Personally I dislike body odor enough that I seriously doubt I'd succeed at totally bagless travel, but it's fun to think about it. 


I-95 Toll Roads: A Not So Welcome Blast from the Past

Virginia has submitted an application to the Federal Highway Administration seeking permission to put tolls on I-95.  Oh, how fondly I remember the routine half-hour delays in Richmond when they had tolls there on I-95.  Not.

Yes, yes, yes I know that there are currently toll roads on I-95 at points north of Washington, DC, but at least the folks in Maryland and Delaware constructed massive toll plazas to expedite the traffic through the tolls.  I have NO confidence in Virginia constructing anything more elaborate than a couple of phone booths with peach baskets attached to the side, which means the bottle necks will be horrendous.

Travel Tip for I-85 in Virginia

I've traveled the highways between Winston-Salem and Washington, DC countless times but this trip was the first time I'd stopped at Exit 39 on I-85 in Virginia.  I gassed up the car at the Davis Travel Center/Exxon which also features a Subway, a spacious and well stocked convenience store with fresh (and good) coffee, and the cleanest restrooms I've ever encountered in a gas station or truck stop.  They're also celebrating their anniversary by providing complimentary coffee and it doesn't matter what size cup you get.  I don't know if that was just for today or if it's a week-long thing, but it was definitely a nice touch.

So if you find yourself on I-85 in Virginia during your travels I highly recommend you stop in at Davis.

In Search of Bible Toting Amway Reps

MyFox WGHP has a piece on the decline in the hospitality business that Winston-Salem is experiencing this holiday season.  There really aren't any surprises in the report given the economic climate we're in, but this statement from Visit Winston-Salem caught my eye:

For the new year, Visit Winston-Salem officials said they will focus on
attracting religious conventions and multilevel marketing
organizations, groups they say tend to be recession proof.

Ought to be fun.

Williamsburg Weekend

Celeste and I spent the weekend in Williamsburg, VA with our very good friends the Figuracions.  It was their 14th wedding anniversary and they asked us to spend it with them, which we were honored to do.  We had lots of fun and it really came at a good time since we really seemed to need the break from our routine.  On the left, the four of us in the condo we stayed in over the weekend. Bobby and I were roommates in college and the fact that he would remain my friend after that says all you need to know about the man.

We spent a lot of time this weekend talking about our kids, or should I say commiserating with each other about living with kids, and it occurred to me at some point that we are very lucky to have friends who have literally been there through everything: wedding, kids, moves, job changes, etc.  Hard to believe they've already been married 14 years or that it's been over 20 years since Bobby and I roomed together at George Mason U.

We spent the majority of the weekend puttering around the Pottery Factory, browsing the aisles of the Christmas Mouse and picking through the selections at the General Store.  To the left is a pic from the Pottery Factory; only there would you find a 'Hardware, Wine & Cheese' store.

Much thanks to our friends the Campbells for letting the kids stay with them for the weekend and shuttling them back and forth to take care of the pets.  That's some serious duty that we really appreciate.  Then they topped it off by feeding us dinner last night when we came over to pick up the kids.  We had a couple of hours to sit around and catch up and honestly that's about as good as it gets. A great weekend all the way around.

Room With a View

Here are some pics taken from my room at the Parc 55 in San Francisco.  I might have crappy internet access but the view’s pretty sweet.  I’ve also included a pic of a funny car I saw on the way to dinner last night.

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