THE Waterfall!

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

April 2018-Carol

Niagara Falls, ON, Canada

I have heard of Niagara Falls since I was a child, but never seen it, except in pictures.  Those all led me to believe it was one, horseshoe shaped falls of extraordinary power, set in a beautiful, natural setting. Then I had heard that hotels ran shuttles to the falls, further feeding my expectations that it would be located some distance from the “quaint little town” of Niagara Falls.

Those who have been here will be laughing now at my expectations born of photos, movies and faulty assumptions.  Our arrival here was marked by stress – arriving late in the day (our modus operandi, unfortunately – we start the days slowly, even when we rise early), searching for water for the camper (we had been forced to empty it to avoid freezing the pipes – yes!  It’s THAT cold), stressing (me, not Allan) over the fact that all the signs to the Falls also included signs to the U.S. border, over which we did NOT want to cross, on top of a long day of driving. Speaking of which, the drive was through absolutely gorgeous, pristine farmlands, just waking up after a deep winter’s sleep, through light snow flurries alternating with pelting, tiny ice balls making a tick, tick ticking sound on our windshield, and past rivers and streams – no complaints about this drive, which was just beautiful!  But back to Niagara Falls – I keep expecting to pass through town and back out into the countryside, but the signs lead me, through road construction and past a million hotels, to a street rivaling Las Vegas for lights, Fisherman’s Wharf SF for wax museums and nowhere else I’ve ever been for haunted EVERYTHING.  In addition, it surpasses North Beach’s girly club section for hawkers – but these are electronic, LOUD and insistent, and are hawking you into haunted houses, not girly clubs, a cacophony of competing pollution for the ears as we parked our truck on the street.  I literally could not believe that any place so touristy, brash and ugly could host a natural wonder of the world.

But if nothing else, traveling teaches one to expect contrasts, and this is no exception.  I wanted to leave without bothering to see the falls.  But . . . . Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch . . . . . a block downhill, away from the noise, thank goodness, another sound began to make itself known. A kind of faint rumbling.  Cross the street and the American side of the falls comes into view.  Incredibly powerful, incredibly beautiful, across the half-frozen (did I mention it’s cold here?) river, mist falling as snow below the falls, a wall of water, green, clean, falling toward jagged snow-covered rocks.  Allan will attach some photos which will not do it justice. But where was the horseshoe falls I expected?

Far off in the distance, we see the characteristic horseshoe shaped Canada-side Niagara Falls, more mist, less visible from where we stand, a stone-walled walkway beckoning to us to draw nearer.  Mercifully, this walkway draws us away.  Away from the noise, away from the gaudy, gritty, contrived tourist fare and towards the most amazing, powerful, loud, beautiful river and falls.  As it turns out, I expected both too much and too little. This is beyond all my expectations and more than I could ever imagine or describe.  Impressions stay with me in flashes:  the beauty from a distance, from closer, the sense that I could slip behind the curtain of water literally jumping away from the river above, the raw power as I stand right next to the point where the water tumbles over, SO much water (where does it all come from?), smoothly, almost gently, casually, slipping over the edge – “what’s the big deal, I do this all day long . . . .”


Canadian Side of Niagara


Mist from Power of Fall


Yes, We Were There!


But Prettier Without Us


Ready to Jump Over?


American Side of Falls


American Side Different Angle


Closer Up


Parts of Falls Collapse–Ice Encased

MEMPHIS AND NASHVILLE Grace, Civil Rights and Music!

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

March, 2018

OK, I admit it, I (Carol) always wanted to go to Graceland.  I also admit that this was especially true after hearing Paul Simon’s “Graceland”.  Sure, I’m an Elvis fan, but not THAT kind of fan.  I was born slightly too late for that and I more appreciate what he made possible, musically, what came after.  I don’t drool and fall all over myself, or scream, truly.  But it just always seemed like a thing to do, a thing someone (of my generation, at least) should do.  And frankly, though I’m glad I went, the whole experience left me with more questions than answers.  Despite turning the whole thing into a kind of Disneyland, it seems those who knew Elvis personally want the world to know (and the world wants to believe) that he was a “regular guy”, someone who came from common stock and identified with the common man, who was approachable and fun.  Yet it’s hard to jibe that with the massive car collection and, not so much the fact that he lived in a mansion, but that he constantly remodeled and refurnished it, that he NEVER came downstairs until he was completely “media-ready”, nor allowed anyone else upstairs, and that he never even wanted to see Priscilla without make-up or getting dressed: “He wanted to see the result of me getting dressed”.  Still, it was interesting just being there, walking through the halls, seeing the iconic 70’s kitchen, now outdated and frozen in time without further remodeling. It was fun wondering what it would be like to have come from poverty into fame and wealth, what special pressures and challenges that carries.  And were his parents kind of running the show all along, did they pressure him to be who/how he was in the world?  Or were they just his greatest supporters?  As a parent, I know it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.  I did really enjoy the “tribute museum” at the Disneyland-like extension across the street, where other musicians talked about the influence Elvis had on their music.  That was very interesting and inspiring – and sometimes quite surprising.  Oh, and I loved the Peanut Butter and banana sandwich fried in bacon grease – yum!

And Memphis is so wonderful for things other than Graceland.  I heard another tourist say that once you go to Graceland, there is nothing else to see in Memphis, that it’s not a “beautiful city” like Nashville. But if Graceland had been the only place we saw in Memphis, we would have missed a lot.  Three other highlights:  Beale Street!  I just don’t think there is anything like this in Oakland or San Francisco, and if there is, someone should have turned me on to it long ago.  Music is such an inherent part of Memphis culture and nowhere is this more on display than on Beale Street.  In a short 2 block area, there must have been more than 20 great live bands playing – outside, in clubs, in little bars, in restaurants, playing for tips.  We walked around, unabashedly tourists but with hearts wide open, taking pictures and listening to great music.  I didn’t feel that kind of open-heartedness at Graceland.

The National Civil Rights Museum!  Located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, it is a rich tribute to the history of African American people and the civil rights movement in this country.  Beginning with a heart-wrenching history of the slave trade and culminating with a view of the room where MLK stayed on the day of his death (and many times before – the Lorraine was the only motel in Memphis that would accept African American guests), the museum captures the shame of how we in this country treat people of color, particularly Black people.  And it also captures the power of what it means to stand together and stand up to power, both the devastation and the triumph.  It was very, very moving, particularly in light of recent events. I know this “era” feels like nothing new for African Americans, but to reverse what little progress has been made through folks laying their lives down just makes me ill.

The Stax Museum of the Blues!  We are so glad we caught this gem on our way out of town.  Located in an old movie theater in a working-class neighborhood, this museum stands on the site of the Stax recording studio.  It chronicles the history of Black and White owners, managers, and musicians who shared this creative space, played music together, recorded together and got discovered together and is a very inspiring window into a special time and place.  Ironically, it was the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. that heralded its demise, as the experience of that tragedy and their reaction to it were so monumentally different for White people than for Black people.

Like any place, Memphis is so much more than what people see if they don’t look deeply enough.  Having just scratched the surface, having just touched down briefly as tourists, we came away with a deep appreciation of the history and people that make this place so very special!  (oh, and did I mention the barbecue?!!!!  Yummmmmm!!! Another benefit of a willingness to drop in where tourists “don’t go” (some others did come in and turned right around while we were there))

Nashville is a beautiful city (as the other tourist promised while dissing Memphis), also with a rich history and with a deep affinity for music (not just country music, either!). There are SO many recording studios on Music Row, and they all have congratulatory banners in front for artists who have recorded hit singles and albums or achieved awards.  But the really fun part of town is Broadway, a longer, even more lively, version of Memphis’ Beale street, where it seems that every storefront either has live music or sells boots.  We should note that we didn’t see Nashvilleians wearing boots and cowboy hats (not to say they don’t, we just didn’t see it), but they sure must sell a lot of them to the tourists!  While everything else closes at 6, the bars and boot shops stay open late into the night! We heard wonderful music night after night (well we were only there two nights, but we took advantage of as much live music as we could take in all the same).  SUPER FUN!  We also saw the outside of the Grand Ole Opry, took a LONG and misguided city bus ride out to the University and back (just because a shuttle is free, doesn’t mean it is going where you want to go), and visited a beautiful park with a wall that stretched at least ¾ of a mile and carried all of Nashville history from prehistoric times to the present.  The part of the wall depicting the Civil War was disjointed and broken, an interesting presentation.  Nearby is a market hall where we got Bi Bim Bop (delicious and a welcome infusion of vegetables after too much Southern Comfort Food), and a nice wooden teething ring for Maya, which has apparently become a favorite, and delicious ice cream.


Home of the Blues


Beale Street Rocks!


And Never Sleeps


Tourists/Locals Mix


Father of Blues-W.C. Handy


Best BBQ Anywhere!


Guitars Bigger Than Me


Love B.B.


Sittin’ With B.B.


His Club was Packed


Having in a Bar


Goin’ to Graceland!


Living Room


His Pics Everywhere


Formal Dining Room


Game Room


All 50’s Style


Large Graceland Grounds


He Loved to Shoot


With Mom and Dad


His Pool Area


Family Graves


Stax–Amazing Museum


Gold Caddy at Stax


On Music Row


Such Statues Abound


Loved the History


Wonderful Image


Old Train Station


Now a Hotel


Largest Lobby Ever


Very Well Preserved


Outside of Hotel


Large Row of Bars n Boots


View Down the Street


Cozyin’ Up To Johnny


Music Row


Blooms Everywhere!

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain


April, 2018–Carol

Large portions of I-40, across the southern U.S., run alongside and are crisscrossed by old Route (pronounced ROOT not rout, as my mother emphatically reminded me before I left) 66 of “I got my kicks on Route 66” fame.  While following Route 66 all the way across would have taken too long for our timeline, and have been somewhat depressing, it is possible to dip off I-40 at intervals onto Route 66 and get a taste of what it might have been like traveling along that now historic highway.

Having been trying to wrap my mind around change spanning eons in Death Valley, on Route 66 I was struck quite strongly how quickly we, as humans, build idols, worship at their feet, and discard them for the next greatest thing.  Most of the times we dipped onto Route 66, we either traveled through lovely scenery or along largely abandoned former business districts (the depressing part – it occurs to me now that it might not make sense to feel depressed about this, as it clearly represents human progress on some level, but I tend to over-identify with the stories I hear, or imagine I’m hearing). Motel after motel after gas station after restaurant, closed, boarded up, rusting, or just falling down.  Signs faded by the seasons, dust settling over it all.  These strips are not ghost towns.  The occasional new, well-maintained, and open farm store or building store or Family Dollar store attested to current use of this now country highway by actual people who actually live here, but anything involving travel or tourism has traveled elsewhere.

Desperate to fill up with gas (or was it food?), we took off of I-40, only to accidentally discover the exception (isn’t there always an exception?), the U Drop Inn, described on the postcard I bought there as follows:  “The U Drop Inn, located at the Crossroads of America, U.S. Highway 83 and Historic Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas, is a Route 66 icon.  It has been featured in a major motion picture, and is known the world over.  It was completed in 1936.”  To be fair, I also knew of this “icon”, having found reference to it while exploring an on-line discussion of what to look for along Route 66.  But to actually find anyplace on the historic Route, one must actually travel the Route, or know where to dip onto it, and I’d lost track of all that.  So, this really did feel like a “Eureka!” moment, delightful and delicious.  It became more so as we explored.

Greeting us on the outside were Art Deco architecture, old pumps with the price set at 34.9 (cents) per gallon, an exhibit dedicated to a local DJ, Bill Mack (the Midnight Cowboy), who wound up hanging with country & blues greats and writing songs for them, and (I found this delightful) a bank of Tesla hookups alongside.  Inside, we were greeted enthusiastically, as were each of the few stragglers like ourselves who entered, by Martha, the 60 something docent of this small museum and souvenir shop keeping alive the spirit of Route 66.  Allan explored the attached café, complete with manikin waitress, and saw the booth where Elvis once ate.  I went crazy over the BEST Route 66 souvenirs – they actually had some classy stuff, and Martha was fanatical about wrapping them for our trip so they wouldn’t get broken. I learned that “Cars” was the major motion picture in which the U Drop Inn was featured (or, to be more specific, a graphic rendering of it) and saw the old Post Office from town, the whole of which was inside this small gas station museum.  The Post Office consisted of a bank of maybe 50 post boxes, with a window attached to one side and a kind of bulletin board (gotta have somewhere to post those wanted posters) wrapping around the other side. The whole affair is as deep as a post office box.  As Martha explained, when one person would get tired of being Post Master of the town, the whole façade would be wrapped around someone else’s front porch, aligned with their front window, and they would take over for a spell!  If you’re ever in Shamrock, Texas, please “drop Inn” and say hi to Martha for me.  It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in several trips to Texas.

A note about another fun “Route 66” experience:  this occurred on I-40 in McLean, Texas where we stopped in desperation at a rest stop to use the bathroom.  Granted, this rest stop was also designated a tornado shelter, so I can see why it might have been fortified, but it was the biggest, cleanest, fanciest roadside bathroom I have ever used.  It also contained its own Route 66 museum and the wall of the women’s bathroom was decked out with a great tile mosaic mural honoring Route 66 (Allan didn’t notice if there was a similar mural in the Gents).  My only complaint, after talking with Martha at the U Drop Inn, is that the “66” in the mural is not in the original format, in which the top branches of the 66 do not “wrap around,” but take a less curved trajectory.  I will have Allan post pictures of the two, so you too will be “in the know”.


Road Sign–Gettin Our Kicks


Mural Not Time Travel


Hope U Drop In Sometime


Tower Building


Description of Tower Building


One of Many Examples of Old Gas Stations


Not 35 Cents a Gallon Now, Eh?


Post “Office” Described Above


Here’s the Diner


Elvis Sat Here!


Allan Loves Hats!


Old Firetruck in Great Shape!


Tesla Towers Next to Do Drop In


Moved on Like the Wind–Very Glad Texans are Capturing It!


“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson



Southwest–What We Missed!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Some have asked where the pictures are of our other SW travels, as we’d hoped to go to the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Canyonlands.  With an extra week in Death Valley and visiting loved ones, we didn’t make it.   However, here are sample pictures of my trip to Bryce, Grand Canyon and Arches a couple years ago.  In case you were wondering, no color enhancement here–just as it is!  Enjoy!

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon--So. Rim

Grand Canyon–So. Rim

Grand Canyon National Park--So. Rim

Grand Canyon National Park–So. Room

Grand Canyon National Park--So Rim

Grand Canyon National Park–So Rim

Grand Canyon--So. RimIMG_5253

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon



If you haven’t been to or seen pictures of Arches, here are a few (27) from my 2016 trip (just click on one and you can scroll them all):





Check out a few of our pictures of amazing Death Valley: Death Valley



Allan–March 8, 2018

My Yelp write-up about James will read “A very competent, extremely helpful, reasonably priced, fast-working tire repair guy.   His shop is like a wonderful blue lake mirage in the middle of the desert, and truly a godsend to those caught “Dead Flat in Death Valley.”  James has an amazing array of used tires and is very friendly on top of it!  I’d give him 5 stars, except he’s clearly an unapologetic racist, anti-Semitic, gun in your face, type guy who equates the sins of “Hanoi Jane” (Fonda) with Hitler’s alleged misdeeds…and has signs and bumper stickers to rub all that in. Humans are such a multi-faceted, complex species.  Even if you don’t need help, be sure to stop by for a fascinating cultural and political lesson about “What’s up with America” in this shop aptly named “Reverts”!

I needed James’ help, was grateful to him, and we became quick buddies.  As I tried to understand this complex character, he talked about his dilemma of having no good health insurance options for him and his family. “I tried Obama-care and that didn’t work, I sure as hell won’t take Medicaid and play their game, and now I’m stuck with shitty, expensive insurance with a $7000 deductible.”  I commiserated about how the government now is trying to fuck with my Medicare and my little bit of Social Security is likely to be under attack soon.

When I joked about whether he cooks breakfast for his customers as well, he smiled and pointed to the little, old “Mel’s Diner” next door and said, “There’s ur spot!”  We parted with a fist bump, a balanced and installed used tire ($35 total), and his advice that I trash the newish, shitty four-ply tires.  I had a fleeting thought of staying in the town of Beatty a while to find out more about what makes the James’ of the world tick in this way.  But this is only the start of our trip through the South.  I went back after he closed for lunch to take this photo of some of his signs and bumper stickers.

The Toilet Paper Chase

One of the major hurdles for Carol is getting used to boondocking in areas few tread upon. Such travel is my passion, and now we’re equipped to do it in Paz (“paws”/“peace”), our camper/truck, whom you’ll meet through some of our pics.  One of the aspects of going to challenging locales is the lack of any toileting standards near Carol’s scale of decent…or any toilets at all.  My favorite story for this day is Carol going to pee in the hole she dug in the wilderness …and me hearing a distant scream. Since it was only one scream and no follow-up cry of “help”, I smiled while working inside the camper and wondered if she got blown over, fell in the hole, or had a close brush with a coyote. When she finally returned, she reported petulantly that a piece of toilet paper had blown away in the wind before she could cover it.  This caused my wilderness respecting, law abiding companion to chase the piece of paper through the desert at top speed (not really that fast if you’ve watched Carol run) with her pants down around her ankles.  Upon her return, she asked:

“Didn’t you hear me scream?”


“Well what if I was attacked by a coyote?!”

“You’d have screamed ‘help’!!!”

“But what if he’d killed me already?!”

“No use going out into the cold wind then, right?”

[Sorry, no pics of Carol with pants at her knees running after the used toilet paper]

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou



Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Glass of wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride! A good friend will come and bail you out of jail…but, a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, Damn…that was fun. (thanks 3). And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs


Allan (From 1975)

No, I’m not going to tell you about losing our heat and cooking ability in our first night of freezing desert temperatures  (allowing inexperienced attendants to overfilling your propane tank is a “no no”), nor being “Dead Flat Deep in Death Valley” with a blown tire from too much off-roading in the amazing valley canyons (leave your City tires home and use 6, 8 or 10 ply).  This is about my travels through the Sahara Desert as a young, foolish man, apparently testing out his mortality in the 5thyear of a deadly drought (1975).

The immense size of this Death Valley desert area—the largest national park in the U.S., driest (an inch or 2/yr.), lowest in the world (282 feet below sea level), and hottest in the world (134 degrees in 1923) reminds me of that fateful trip that I’d hoped would take me from the very north to the furthest South of the largest continent on the planet.  I was in a small town in northern Algeria contemplating how I was going to traverse the Sahara when two Brits came in to the restaurant that served as my temporary home.

“Ya speak French?!! Why don’t you come along with us and be our guide!”

“Nah. Thanks though…I only speak a very small amount of French and know absolutely nothing about the desert.”

Their rig looked well outfitted to me, with 7 Jerry Cans of Gas on top the newish Jeep, and the prospect of a ride not only through the desert but all the way to S. Africa was too appealing to overcome their insistence that I join them.  They hoisted my backpack aboard and off we stupidly went.

The Sahara, like Death Valley, is a combination of mostly wind-scrubbed rock “pavement” and  sand traps in various places that gather in dunes or in secret, unexpected flat spots.  To safely traverse, your vehicle must have the capability and clearance to move through both terrains easily.  My seemingly “happy-go-lucky” brothers had that capability, but the Peugeot-driving idiot they teamed up with along the way did not.  And instead of driving only at night (or early morning/late afternoon) and trying to shelter during the regular 115-degree heat of the day, they did the opposite so they could “see their way”.  Wise locals hitch with the date truck drivers who know the terrain, hide from the sun under their trucks, and know where they are going. Numbskulls pick up ignorant hitchhikers like me, team up with a man trying to make a few bucks in Niger from selling his Peugeot, decide to live by the “moral code” of the desert, and thereby risk all of our lives.

We pass abandoned vehicles as we head blindly through the scrubbed gravel, endless unmarked “highway” in a generally southerly direction.   However, every 50 or 100 miles the Peugeot gets stuck in a sand trap, and we all get out and dig, push a few feet, dig, build traction bridges, eat more sand and quickly melt in the mid-day heat.  Then my “brothers” announce that it’s clear we’ll all die at this rate, yet they can’t leave the man alone (according to the “code”).  Therefore the only solution is for me to stay behind and wait for “help” the next time Mr. Peugeot gets stuck.  Meaning my fate would likely be to get picked clean by hungry vultures, and the car to be taken apart by enterprising nomads some months/years later when discovered, and sold in the Tuareg equivalent of “roadside stands”.

There was no convincing the Brits that there must be some moral code that included not tossing me out in the middle of the Sahara!  I rapidly summoned all my will and poorly developed spiritual connections to give extra speed to the Peugeot to literally fly over the sand traps.

That evening at dusk we watched the headlights of the flying Peugeot in the far distance jump over an apparent cliff and disappear.  As we speed ahead to see what happened to him, we of course plunge over the same “cliff”…and smash into a cliff wall about 20 feet across what appeared to be narrow gulch. After recovering from the shock of our “death plunge”, we realized that the flying vehicles dropped into a modern, recently paved street that I thought must be a hallucination.  No, the pavement is real, and I must have died and been reincarnated in another part of the world.  This must be the Lord’s answer to my fervent pleadings for redemption for all the sins that I and the capitalists have ever committed.

As I check out my body for injuries, see that my companions seem alive, and try to make sense of what just happened, up drives several casually dressed, clean jaunty and friendly French guys in a nice, polished, newish sedan…truly an alternative universe I concluded.

But the truth of the matter turns out that we had accidentally, in a quite timely manner for me, discovered a very well developed French-controlled uranium mining operation in the southern part of the Sahara.  The French guys helped us check out the damage to our Jeep.  The hopelessly bent front axle of the Jeep, smashed up Peugeot, and other human beings amounted to a wonderful boon to my chances of survival.  Amazingly, our saviors quickly removed the bent front axle, took it to their fully equipped machine shop, pressed it back to normal, and replaced it.

I bid the Brits a not-so-fond farewell and waited for a more reliable form of transportation South to Niger to continue my year-long adventure.  And I made myself yet another fervent promise not to take on such risky travel in the future.

“There comes a time when one must risk everything or sit forever with ones dreams.”  Anonymous




“You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you with yourself.” – Ella Maillart


MARCH 1, 2018

I have pictures (and some writing) saved up from trips to Africa (3 months)/Cuba (2 months)/Other Trips/Travel Stories that I’ve not posted but hope to share in the future.

Now Carol and I are on the road for a few months in our camper/truck, which we named Paz.  Carol and I have another traveling companion…an old buddy of mine named John…Steinbeck that is. Like some friends, you don’t know how much they mean to you until you’ve missed them for a long time…or have lost them forever. This has happened with many people I’ve grown close to quickly, especially while traveling; and with others I’ve known for years but now communicate with seldom. Steinbeck is one of those friends with whom I’ve lost contact in the last couple decades.

Carol and I have developed a habit of reading to each other at night before we sleep, and our first reading adventure on this trip is with Steinbeck and Charley (Travels With Charley) across the U.S. in his truck with a cabin on the back.

Desert Adventures / Desert Beauty

March 3, 2018 Some people don’t “get” the desert – flat, barren, dry, monotonous.  The desert takes time to warm up to, for the colors (many, many colors) to sort themselves out, to separate and step forward as the eyes adjust.  Yesterday was our first full day on the road and it didn’t turn out as planned.  But then, we didn’t really have a plan.

We left on Thursday, March 1, about six hours beyond our “early morning departure”, only to run errands in Oakland for about an hour before circling back home for something we had forgotten, just as our tenants were moving in.  By then it was after 4 pm and we drove until we were tired, staying the night in a rest stop, not really that far out of the Bay Area.

Yesterday we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best route to Death Valley, considering snow in the Sierras and our eventual plan to go South to Joshua Tree.  We ended up going South anyway, to avoid closed roads, almost to Bakersfield before cutting East and North towards Death Valley.  And there our desert adventure really began – Just past Ridgecrest, we turned down a graded dirt road to enter Trona Pinnacles, a hauntingly beautiful, stark wonderland surrounded by distant mountains, and cobalt blue cloud-filled skies.  Here, we were warned not to approach a desert tortoise, who may be able to drink water only once in 15 years (and lives to 80, undisturbed).  If he is frightened into releasing his bladder, he will die, as that is where he stores the little bits of water he gets from dry desert plants.  And here also, in the middle of bare, dry desert, we found someone had built us a labyrinth for our morning meditation.  Turns out this is the place they filmed parts of “Holes”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Star Wars” and others.  Part of our “adventure” was not so spectacular – our propane wouldn’t work, so no heat in the windy cold and no cooking the hot soup we had planned, but just take a look at the attached pictures and you will know the day was just perfect.

So today was a repair day – Allan, my hero, worked all day getting the propane fixed back in Ridgecrest, while I sat in MacDonald’s (out of the cold wind – did I mention wind?  It’s blowing like crazy as I write this), but then we did drive a few miles to the Panamint Valley, surrounded by “purple mountains majesty” and other colors as well.  Down another dirt road to spend the night, this time complete with hot soup and a heater to crawl into pajamas by.  Good night!








The Missionary Couple.

Prior to entering Death Valley, Carol settled into her temporary office at McDonald’s (WiFi and no hassles—what else can you ask for?) for a few hours while I struggled to repair our propane system (runs heat, refer, etc.). She was befuddled when the cleaning lady struck up a conversation with her in Spanish, and asked if we were missionaries. An interesting question, considering I once toyed with the idea of becoming a Rabbi, after my Rabbi strongly insisted I do after my Bar Mitzvah. (I told him perhaps I should…but was destined to replace Maury Wills on the Dodgers, instead–seems I‘ve always had big dreams, eh?).

Turns out, we surmise, the cleaning lady came by her impression logically. When she was cleaning the Men’s room, I approached with a likely look of great disappointment. She asked if I’d like to use it and I responded, “Only if it’s not a bother, Sister.” I’ve taken to addressing most folks as “Brother” or “Sister” since it captures my attitude towards most others best, especially when in my “travel mode”.   When I saw her waiting patiently to complete her cleaning routine, I walked up, smiled and said “Thank you my Sister!” Later when she saw me searching for the salt, she came across the entire restaurant to ask if she could help, and got me some from behind the counter. Most service people are used to being treated poorly or ignored (and being expected to speak English!), so we guess it made an impression. I like “Sister” and “Brother” increasingly, as I feel the spirit more, and remember names less!

Additional info about Ridgecrest from Carol:  as we passed through Ridgecrest, we noted, and dismissed as kind of weird, a sign to the “Wild Donkey Retirement Ranch” (or something like that).  Not having time to check it out, we moved on.  Later in Death Valley, we learned that there is indeed a home for old wild donkeys in Ridgecrest:  prospectors and others brought donkeys into Death Valley as pack animals, but apparently the donkeys had other ideas and started to build families and settle down, becoming wild.  In fact they began to take over the valley and eat up all the food needed by native species, causing serious ecosystem decay.  So, they were “retired” to Ridgecrest.

“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” – Eudora Welty


Ecuador–Quito and Otavalo

“For me the essence of travel is seeing how other people live around the world; to gain understanding and dispel fear of otherness.” Natasha von Geldern

Ecuador–Quito and Otavalo

Before I tell you about my last few days on the S. America trip, I want to speak  again of the volatile political situation in Ecuador.  I mentioned in the Cuenca post that the upper classes are furious about some of the more socialist policies of the Correa government.  In addition to the inheritance tax proposals, the institution of an income tax has generated the ire of some middle and even working class folks.  The opposition is using the same street tactics used by the working class to topple 7 presidents in the 10 years prior to Correa’s election.  The government says that the ruling class and some in the military are colluding with the U.S. to stage a coup in Ecuador.  After having lived through U.S. coups and attempted coups in so many So. American, Central American, African, Middle Eastern, Carribean (etc.) countries, I don’t doubt the claims.

Demonstration by those in opposition to the Correa government changes.

Demonstration by those in opposition to the Correa government changes in Cuenca (bigger ones in Quito and Guayaquil prior to the Pope’s arrival).

Police protecting federal building in Cuenca during demo of business leaders, doctors. and others.

Police protecting federal building in Cuenca during demo by upper classes,  business leaders, doctors. some unions, and others.

Correa remains highly popular among the poor, and easily won an unprecedented 3rd term, though his support is centered in the rural areas rather than cities.  I am very impressed that Correa has been bold enough to take on the entrenched forces of historically powerful and corrupt families, wealthy landowners, military leaders, and corporations.

Here’s a good summary of the positive changes made under Correa:

Positive Correa Changes

However, there is spreading dissatisfaction.  I myself would be protesting Correa (and leftist Morales in Bolivia) for his rampant oil extraction policies in the Amazon, despite my support his other policies.  It seems these leaders have forgotten Pacha Mama in the rush to improve living standards.

Government Spies on those Resisting Oil Extraction

Some Indigenous groups oppose Core

Cops all over Quito in force for both anti- and pro-government demonstrations.

Cops all over Quito in force for both anti- and pro-government demonstrations.

Cops gather in main plaza

Cops gather in main plaza

At pro-government rally where folks took over streets.

At pro-government rally where folks took over streets.

Our Tactic...take street and sing/dance against right wing Mayor during red lights but let cars go on green.

Our Tactic…take street and sing/dance against right wing Mayor (most cities have majority votes against Correa) during red lights but let cars go on green.

Quito is yet another architectural wonder with beautiful colonial buildings in the old town.









The central Cathedral is amazing as well:






But as usual, I centered on the people.  The sex workers, for example, are legal, not hassled by cops, and the going rate for tourists is $20.  Their downtown location is adjacent to the Cultural Plaza with theaters, etc.


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They have no union but were interested to know of unionized sex workers in the U.S.   One woman I had a long chat with says it would be great to organize her colleagues to better their conditions.  Then, getting back to business, she asked me how I could resist all these beautiful girls.  As in the market place where merchants commonly direct you to another seller of you don’t want their products, she urged me to check out some of her friends.


In a huge park high above the city, there was a grand showroom with a dog show, and people dancing/exercising together.  Ecuadorans love their humming birds!





I went to the touristy “Middle of the World” (the equator) north of Quito one day, though the actual location of the equator is in a different spot known for thousands of years by indigenous tribes!  I enjoyed the museum, which pictured 50 different models of ecologically sane developments in various parts of the world.


Straddling the

Straddling the “equator”

Otavalo has one of the largest, most popular markets in So. America on Saturdays.  The town and its streets were turned into one giant, colorful, indigenous market.  I had a great time chatting, bargaining, and eating in the central market.  Note the colors of the very real fruit the woman below is selling, along with her matching shoes!  Here are a few of the many pics I took, using my cell phone “stealth” technique:

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Men keep their hair long, for the most part, as is their tradition.

Men keep their hair long, for the most part, as is their tradition.


Even the birds are full of color!

Even the birds are full of color!


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The highlight of Quito, though, was meeting my friend Oscar while listening to some guys playing guitar and singing in the main plaza (Old Town) one afternoon.

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Oscar and I hung out together visiting the city, shopping, eating, listening to music, and making our own.  Oscar spoke good English to me (he’s a very bright guy to pick it up so well without working in the tourist industry or traveling) and I spoke Spanish to him, and we could talk about anything and everything.  He has 2 kids and has been divorced for 7 years.  At one point Oscar said he knows many people in Quito, where he’s lived his whole life.  But he has “only five real friends”, and I was really moved when he said that I was one of them!

We spent a last evening in his buddy’s cafe joking, singing, and drinking a bottle of liquor.

Oscar loved playing and singing ballads from Mexico, So. America and U.S.

Oscar loves playing and singing ballads from Mexico, So. America, Cuba and U.S.

Cafe owner Ivan (top), Antonio (left) who sang Beatles songs perfectly in English, and Jaime

Cafe owner Ivan (top-former engineer), Antonio (left) who sang Beatles songs perfectly in English, and Jaime

Oscar sang me a special, sad ballad with tears in his eyes: “When a Friend Must Go” about the empty space left in one’s heart.  The last day we went to the central museum, and a concert before he took me to the bus heading to the airport.

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It doesn’t seem that Oscar has had intimate relationships since his marriage broke up, or at least he didn’t speak of it.  Before our last bus ride together, I told my lonely, shy friend that I expected that within a year he’d be in a new relationship…and suggested he be bold, confident and keep me informed.  He agreed to do so.  We got on the bus and were standing next to an attractive woman his age, and I started up a discussion.  When 2 seats opened up, he invited her to sit down with him while I stayed with my backpack.  The two had a lively chat for 20 minutes until she had to get off.  When I asked if he got her number, Oscar smiled and nodded.

Check out these wonderful pictures of Quito, it’s surrounding volcanoes, and beautiful people! Quito Photos

Thanks for following me on this trip! Look for stories of past travels due out soon–if you press “follow” on the bar above, you’ll get notification of new posts.

“Travel opens your mind as few other things do. It is its own form of hypnotism, and I am forever under its spell.” ― Libba Bray

Ecuador–Salinas de Guaranda


“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Leaving Cuenca with only a week left before returning to the U.S., I decided I needed a few days in a small village.  I found isolated Salinas de Guaranda (not to be confused with the coastal city of Salinas), in the central highlands between Cuenca and Quito in the north.  I was intrigued because an Italian priest (Father Antonio Polo) and organizer came to the town 40 years ago, and helped the locals build cooperatives to elevate their standard of living though sharing raw materials and production processes.  Father Antonio, who changed the lives of thousands in a profound and permanent way, apparently still lives in Salinas.  These coops are coordinated and work together, and have developed over the decades.  Also, the pueblo has a number of outlying, smaller pueblitos reachable by mountainous hiking within a day that are included in the cooperative model. Salinas is a perfect place to cool your heels in a unique, friendly, eco-conscious (advanced recycling system for example), laid back pueblo at 3550 meters (11,644 feet) in the beautiful Andes.  The working girl below is about 7 years old.

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The largest coops are cheese, wool products, and chocolate, but separate cooperatives include dried fruit, soccer balls, hostel, compost, mushrooms, sausages, jams, etc.  It was exciting to speak with workers in the coops and find out about what it feels like to work in their own enterprises, their wages and working conditions, and the structure of the coop administration. Carlos runs the Refugio Hostel, one of a chain of cooperatively owned ones, where I stayed (see example of the mosaics created for each of the coops), and we became friends.  He owns a ranch with cows, sheep, pigs, etc. and accompanied me on the trip to Quito, where he was buying a couple cows at the market.

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I really got into the cheese-making and chocolate process.  Here’s the main location of the chocolate factory, where the workers make $400/mo for a 40 hr week, plus OT.  Some of funds go to education, health clinic, roads, cheap public transportation, etc.  Most workers make the same wage.

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Decades ago, sheep herders simply sold sheared wool for a paltry sum.  Now, wool is processed into yarn, and artisans make beautiful products that are sold for an amount allowing a decent standard of living.

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I went for a beautiful hike one day up a thousand or so Kms through a canyon to a neighboring pueblo, Natahua, where a handful of homes sitting on a hilltop.  The only folks I saw in town were a couple women, a guy, and a couple kids.  They greeted me, and the man turned out to be the local cheese maker who invited me to see what he does.  I spent hours with Cesar as he taught me the process of making various cheeses (including pepper and oregano), and explained how the coop works.

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Carlos and his kids Selida and Sergio.  They have beautiful smiles, but take stoic photos.

Carlos and his kids Selida and Sergio. They have beautiful smiles, but take stoic photos.

After hours of cooking milk delivered daily by farmers, salt and other ingredients begin to solidify it.

After hours of cooking milk delivered daily by farmers, salt and other ingredients begin to solidify it.

As it thickens it is stirred, cut in pieces, and cooked for a couple more hours.

As it thickens it is stirred, cut in pieces, and cooked for a couple more hours.

The curdled wet cheese is sifted and placed in cylinders for pressing into cheese blocks.

The curdled wet cheese is sifted and placed in cylinders for pressing into cheese blocks.

Kids collect buckets of discarded cheese liquid almost as big as themselves to feed pigs at home.

Kids collect buckets of discarded cheese liquid almost as big as themselves to feed pigs at home.

Cheese is cooled and pressed by cylindrical weights.

Cheese is cooled and pressed by cylindrical weights.

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Cesar told me that their two room (warm one to cook cheese and cold room for curing and storage) is out of compliance with health inspectors.  They will need a new facility which I believe he said will cost $120,000, which is beyond their reach.  So if the Natahua cheese processing ceases, farmers will need to transport their milk to another pueblito or to Salinas.

Here are a few more pics of the murals, market day, and other images–check out the girl around 4 years old leading her working llama.  Also, saw many young women in traditional dress here…note the young mom below.

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Believe me, I could go on quite awhile about the Salinas community where I felt right at home, but for those who want to know more detail and see better pics, I suggest you go to:  Another, more detailed blog on Salinas  and More pics and details of Salinas

With only a few more days left before my flight home, I reluctantly left Salinas with Carlos for Guarando and on to Quito. Note that I am back in the U.S. now and will post my experiences in the capitol of Quito soon!

Hoping all is well with you.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it is over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

– Mary Oliver

“Did Your Wife Die?”

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg


I tend to focus on what I’ve been seeing and doing, rather than day-to-day interactions.  But of course, interactions and relationships with others (especially with the locals) are key to travel for me.  One of the interesting phenomena, especially for an outgoing sociologist like myself, is to observe the reactions of women to a man traveling by himself.  I’ve recapped some of the incidents and friendships developed as my travels have progressed.  There are trips when I’ve worn a wedding ring when not married, others when I’ve not worn one when I was…on this trip I decided to sport my gold band despite the warnings against wearing jewelry.  I know that the young guys have a field day in South America, but me?  You’d think that an old guy, wearing a wedding ring, who was never that good-looking, answers questions honestly, and has been monogamous for 34 years (yes, I’m counting — you old friends who said it would never happen), might avoid predicaments.  Despite all this, some interesting questions have surfaced.

Several women have asked if I might be interested in their friend or daughter.  I sometimes joke that I’m sure I would, but polygamy is against the law in my country.  Or joke that I would give my wife a call and ask if that would be ok, if they just hold on a minute.  Today in the market, I pretended to call my wife and ask if I could bring home the three women we were chatting with in the food stall who wanted to travel to the U.S….they listened closely to my “conversation” in Spanish and cracked up when I let them know my wife would be very happy to have them.

A Chilean woman asked, over a period of a couple of days, before retreating:

Did your wife die?

Are you divorced?

Are you happily married?

Do you still live with your wife in the same house?

But the question that takes the gold medal so far was a young European woman I got to know on a multi-day tour, and become friends with…she must have been about my daughter’s age.  We talked about our lives, travel and futures, as well as her relishing the loose party atmosphere among travelers of all types and nationalities.  At one point she looked at me very determinedly and said “I know you’re married and all, but are you monogamous?!”  Well, it took me a while to recover, but I kept my record going by stuttering the following: “Why, yes I am”…and I didn’t even add the phrase “…up until this very moment.”

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta