When you travel around the world, you’re bound to find a good meal or two. Here are some of the best meals that travelers found in North and South America. Here are some fun recommendations from some travelers we’ve come to love.
Lorenzo Gonzalez Street food in Mexico always drives me crazy.. It is definitely my foodie paradise. Cliche or not, my favorite is tacos al pastor.
Jim O’Donnell of Around the World in 80 Years takes a fascinating and delicious look at Haitian Food Culture. “The kitchen that served the small group of volunteers sat under a blue earthquake tarp someone had brought from Port-au-Prince. It was marked “People’s Republic of China” in yellow letters. Earthquake buckets from USAID held the water. The women worked from two tables. They had a little propane stove, several small pots, one skillet and a confusion of shiny utensils. “
“The Heirloom gazpacho was bar far the best I’ve ever had, and I’m frequent gazpacho orderer. I regret not having more food porn from this delightful meal to share with you, but I was so focused on eating that not many got taken.”
“There is a famous eatery right in the heart of the French Quarter called Cafe du Monde which seems to only sell two items, coffee and French-style donuts with powdered sugar called Beignets. What it lacks in selection it makes up in quality because these donuts are absolute melt-in-your-mouth sweet heavenly perfection. They are served warm and the powdered sugar gets absolutely everywhere as you try to get them in your mouth and they are totally worth standing in line (and there is almost always a line!).”
Heading south of the border, Carole Terwilliger Myers found some amazingly good eats at La Cueva del Chango Playa on the Mexican Riviera.
“Featuring a jungle garden atmosphere, this popular spot is primo for breakfast. The menu then includes fragrant fresh papaya, fresh-squeezed juices, huevos a la Méxicana (scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, and chiles), a selection of chilaquiles (I especially like the one with pasilla salsa), molletes (like melted cheese sandwiches), and warm tortillas as well as empanadas and cappucinos. “
Melissa Ruttanai tells us “The first time I had real ceviche was in the Galapagos Islands. It was super fresh and served Ecuadorian-style with popcorn and beer. Great… now I’m hungry.”
Another of our friends, Manu-san Van Grieco says that if you are heading to Argentina than you have to go to The Cordero Patagonico, in Ushuaia! Pure bliss!
And of course, what would a good travel meal be without some Guinea Pig! Our friends at Raising Miro tell us more about this pet turned delicacy.
“In the United States, this is a pet. However it is prized meat in the sacred valley. Guinea Pig is cooked over stones in special mountain herbs.”
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia .
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Where are we at? Where are we going? Soon we will all be dead, returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The vastness of Arizona stretches out all around me, home to the nameless dead. For me the sad part isn’t dying. It’s fading away and being forgotten. There’s something to be said about blowing your brains out in your prime and living forever, instead of rotting away in eternal obscurity. There’s something to be said about leaving your mark.
I contemplate the markings at Newspaper Rock at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Birds. Deer. Wheels. Serpents. We do not know who made the stone markings, but at least their work lives on.
In the ancient myth of Enoch, the antediluvian holy man, was instructed to write the sacred secrets of heavens and earth on both stone and clay. If the world ended with fire, the baked clay would survive. If the world ended by water, the stone would live on to tell his story. Written into the myth is this deep throbbing need to continue to tell our story despite all costs.
This is why I write. This is my story.
Petrified Forest National Park is a nuclear explosion. Rock solid bits of wood litter the land landscape. Fell trees snapped like broken bone. It’s a pretty war zone. Souvenir collecting is tempting, but condemned by more than just the weight of the national park service. There is a higher power at work. Stealing bits of petrified wood carries threats of lingering curses. The information center displays letters of people who stole and lived (just barely) to tell the tale.
Lesson learned: buy your petrified wood from any number of the souvenir shops dotting the nearby backroads. Five-dollars is a small price to pay to avoid a curse so bad that a gypsy would be fearful.
We eschew collecting and enjoy the curse-free vistas, bordering up against portions of the beautiful painted desert. Here the gentle rock formations are banded with brilliant reds, purples, yellow, blues, and whites. It’s hot, vacant, beautiful. Our drive continues as we press back toward home, cutting through northern Texas. Just over the border in Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation. Here mid-century Cadillacs are buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle mirroring the Great Pyramid of Giza. The sculpture is a constant work in progress. The viewing public is encouraged to add their touch, by adorning the cars with spray-can art. The cars are a constant evolution of graffiti tags in a crayon box of colors.
My addition is an ancient pictograph adorning rocks and cave walls all across the globe. This same image inexplicably appears across the American southwest, Armenia, Italy, Spain, the Alps, the Middle-East. It appears on Newspaper Rock. A squatting stick man, waste adorned by twin dots. One of the humanity’s first memes. It’s meaning lost to the ages. What was it to cause disparate cultures separate by oceans to decide to uniformly draw the same image? What was the story they wanted us to know?
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa The Grand Canyon is not so grand. We’re here because it is another lifetime must-see. Sure it’s massive; but perhaps too big for comfort. The natural wonder is not very approachable. Like a large mural painting, I have to step back to take in the view. Even then I’m only getting half the picture. Can something be so overwhelming that it is underwhelming? We stay long enough to take a few photographs to mark the visit and move on.
Williams, Arizona is our stopover. There we find accommodations at the Canyon Motel and RV park. It’s inexpensive, but a bit on the shabby side — hobo shabby, not shabby chic. Worse, the cable is out and the Wi-Fi signal is inaccessible. We see what the town has to offer by way of entertainment. Due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon, Williams is a thriving cluster of motels and tourist dives. Upon our visit, the main thoroughfare is blocked off to allow for an exuberant western show to be reenacted in the middle of the street.
We bypass the enthralled crowd and duck into Twisters, a kitschy diner with wall-to-wall Coca-Cola memorabilia. The food selection is limited mainly to burgers and fries, but the old-fashioned soda counter offers a bevvy of carbonated concoctions. The Cherry Phosphate is a delicious blend of bubbly soda water, thick cherry syrup, and maraschino cherries. The teenage guys working the diner, offer some impromptu entertainment as I eavesdrop on their conversation. One claims with conviction that blacks are better at sports because they have extra bone in their legs. His coworkers nod with belief. The conversation turns to playing the video game, Grand Theft Auto and I turn to my lunch.
The next morning we continue our trek home across the American southwest. We leave hot and dusty Arizona behind for hot and dusty New Mexico.
The Monterey Non-Smokers Motel in Albuquerque offers us comfortable accommodations for the night. The grounds of the motel are well kept with a keen attention to detail. Attractive flower beds of colorful geraniums border the walks and the quaint sparkling blue patio pool.
The motel is located near historic old town, allowing for a nice breakfast at the Church Street Cafe before our Rio Grande experience. This area is interesting with rustic New Mexican adobe architecture. We enjoy spicy adovada y huevos and coffee in a charming outside patio. It would be a great place to linger for a relaxed morning, but we must quickly dash to nearby Bernalillo for our appointment with Quiet Waters Paddling Adventures.
At the Quiet Waters shop we sign multiple waivers in the event that we drown, watch a safety video of people drowning, and get outfitted with life jackets so we don’t drown. I begin to fear for the worst until I actually lay eyes on the river.
The Rio Grande is not so grand. It’s a small stream compared to the rushing, muddy Mississippi back home. On the plus side, it allows for canoeing and kayaking, something that we’d be fools to try on the mighty Mississippi!
We carefully climb into a wobbly canoe and push off down stream. Despite being near an urban area, I feel isolated on the river. For long stretches the only other occupants to be seen are waterfowl, lighting on and off the gently rippling water. Along the way, a small team of firefighters wave from the shore where they are keeping vigilant watch on the surrounding cottonwoods threatened by recent fires.
The change of pace serves us well as we drift slowly by a picturesque backdrop of the surrounding bosque and distant mountain range. In our mad attempt to get back home the the leisurely trip down the Rio Grande is a much needed intermission. It’s a grand time.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Mecca. Nirvana. The Holy Land. It goes by many different names to the faithful, but for the uninitiated it is known as Disneyland. I prostrate myself at its hallowed turnstiles and I am filled with a shuddering ecstasy: one of those big bastard Pentecostal grand mals.
After numerous trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, I finally get to touch the sacred soil of the California mother park. What’s the first stop? Space Mountain? It’s a Small World? The Matterhorn? All in due time. First I pull up a stool at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. The bar, named after the infamous Jungle Cruise headhunter, is a piece of kitschy South Pacific heaven.
The interior is a cramped space festooned with exotic Polynesian decorations. Outside, luau musicians serenade people lounging around an impressive stone fireplace. The Tiki Bar is everything I love about Disney on amphetamines, it’s not a bar, it’s an experience. I’m served up a tropical drink called the Uh-Oa in what can only be described as a large tiki cereal bowl. As the skipper sets it down before me the whole bar erupts in a chant over throbbing drums: “uh-oa, uh-oa, uh-oa.” Pinches of cinnamon spark as they are flicked on a flaming sugar cube floating atop a pool of rum and fruit juices. Around me, lightning flashes, water sprays, and a volcano goes off. I take a drink and my head spins. It’s that classic wholesome Disney debauchery. If I’m lucky I’ll wake up in the middle of a magical princess orgy. If I’m unlucky I’ll end up floating in the castle moat.
Most likely it’ll just end with me sinking into my posh bed near the top of the Fantasy tower at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s decked with fluffy white comforters and navy blue throw pillows reading “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” The dark wood headboard lights up with a twinkling display and plays a soothing When You Wish Upon a Star. Elegance like this comes at a hefty price. In order to pay for the room we nearly had to sell our daughter as an indentured servant in the Disney college program when she turns eighteen.
It’s worth it for the pure nostalgiagasm of the place. The hotel was opened in 1955, soon after the park opened, and today history oozes out of every crevice. Just off the main lobby is a collection of frame photographs of visiting celebrities and dignitaries over the years, including that lying crook Nixon. Our room has a framed, black and white portrait of the master of the mouse, Walt Disney, standing under the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Outside the elaborate pool includes water slides made out of old monorails winding down underneath a vintage Disneyland sign. It’s a Disney time warp.
At Trader Sam’s I run up a serious bar tab and chat with another couple. I spotted them out of the crowd and could tell that they worshiped at the altar of Disney. We bond over the fruity drinks and our mutual love of the mouse. They are California natives so we trade stories about the differences between the two parks. This particular family one ups me by sharing that they had the opportunity to go to Disney’s new Aulani resort in Hawaii. How was it? “Expensive, but so worth it,” they replied with familiar ecstatic eyes.
As a Disney World veteran, it is great to check out the source material. When I clear the Disneyland railroad berm I’m no longer in the middle of busy downtown Anaheim; rather, I’m transported into that happy place. I skip through the hallowed castle. I bask in the beauty of Mary Blair’s whimsical Small World facade. I join Mr. Toad on his wild ride straight to hell. I loudly catcall to the “red head” as roguish pirates raid the Caribbean town. I never, ever stop smiling.
The Disneyland park is a historical testament to the dedication of one visionary who had invested himself in making so many people happy. It’s an amazing legacy I’m happy to pay homage to. Just across the entrance plaza is the much-maligned California Adventure park. After an extensive billion dollar remodel, the park seems poised to reestablish itself. Through the gates I stroll past the art deco style buildings of Buena Vista Street, a tribute to Las Angeles circa 1923. We enjoy a fantastic meal at the new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant. The interior of the restaurant evokes strong images of olden Hollywoodland high class. The first floor bar is a particular treasure. Their specialty is classic cocktails served up proper. I enjoy a gin martini, chilled to perfection with an ice sphere and garnished with an olive.
Beyond is the new Carsland, which note for note recreates Radiator Springs from the animated Pixar movie Cars. When the sun goes down the area sparks to life with brilliant neon. Life Could Be A Dream drifts romantically out of the loudspeakers. However, for all of the fun of the cartoon version, the real Route 66 awaits us, as we must soon say goodbye to the west coast and head home.
Our days at Disney end with a viewing of The Wonderful World of Color water show. Acrobatic fountains of water dance to sweeping music in a wild array of pulsating color. Dr. Leary would be impressed. We ignore the “you may get wet” warnings and take up a position right up front near the cascading jets. To quote the Flight of the Conchords, “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face.” This is heaven.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Hollywood California: swimming pools, movies stars, and a man passed out on the sidewalk with his pants down. This is what we are treated to as we take a morning drive to see LA’s famous sites. The only thing distinguishing this particular scene from New York City is that his bare ass has a nice California tan. Instinctively, we hit the door locks.
It’s a good thing as a machete wielding maniac in a hockey mask approaches our car at the next intersection. It’s startling until we realize that he is just one of many costumed tourist-trappers bilking bucks on the crowds flocking to see Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The tourists size up there hands with those of the stars impressed on the concrete, while being prayed upon by Marilyn Monroe, the Incredible Hulk, and a shitty Spiderman selling photographs. We nope it out of there and careen through the Hollywood hills for a vantage of the famous Hollywood sign. I have an interest in none of this, but today is the kid’s day and she is calling the travel stops.
There is but one exception; I can’t visit Los Angeles without visiting the historic church at Alvarado and Hoover. In the 1970’s, this tan brick building served as Jim Jones’s People’s Temple. It’s most impressive feature is the semi circular front porch with rounded arches and fluted columns. A stately brick tower rises up over a red tiled roof. Inside, not much has changed since the Reverend Jim Jones preached here. The building still has the same burgundy church pews were the members of Jones’s cult ecstatically listened to their smooth tongued master and hoped for a better life.
After paying my respects, we leave the former cult building to go see the Cults. Coincidentally the NYC indie pop band is playing the Make Music Pasadena festival. The annual music festival takes over multiple city blocks in Pasadena. Its a great lineup on four stages and, since it is absolutely free, the cost of admission can’t be beat. In addition to fantastic music there are plenty of activities, lots of great food, and some brilliant chalk sidewalk art.
Its shoulder to shoulder as we pack in before the crowded main stage where the Cults are set to play. The crowd is diverse, but as a whole pretty laid back. A group of hispanic men with long black heavy metal hair openly smoke medical ganja and more surreptitiously pass around a gigantic bottle of Jack Daniels. Many of the young ladies around sport the nerd look with huge black glasses covering their faces. Hipsters abound, dressed in sock garters, cut off jean shorts, bandoliers, fringed vests, and rain boots. One holds a small tartan umbrella to block the blinding hot sun.
“Holy shit look at this crowd,” says Cult’s guitarist Brian Oblivion, shielding his sunglass covered eyes, as he peers outward across the sweating mass of flesh. The band launches into a soiree of synth infused retro-pop. Singer Madeline Follin croons into the microphone, “I knew right then that I’d been abducted.” Guitarist Oblivion comes in with a wash of distorted electric guitar. She sways in a baby doll dress. He’s a windmill of long black hair.
The crowd erupts at the opening glockenspiel notes of “Go Outside”. It’s accompanied by a sample of Jim Jones. “To me, death is not a fearful thing. It’s living that’s treacherous,” his ghostly voice intones. Follin earnestly sings, “I really want to go out. I really want to go outside and see your day.” The packed crowd sings along, everyone swaying together like a salty ocean. It’s religious.
A few blocks down SoKo is playing. She’s one of my daughter’s favorites who she got to meet outside of the vegan restaurant in LA. Born as Stéphanie Sokolinski, she’s a french singer with a fragile voice. The crowd is smaller at the Playhouse District Eclectic Stage, but no less enthusiastic. A guy in the audience yells something out in bad french, causing SoKo to laugh. “I love that’s the only french you know,” she said, then explained to the audience he asked her to take off her clothes.
I’m not so far removed from my childhood to remember the joy of seeing a favorite band perform. Even more, the excitement of getting to meet them. My daughter enjoys watching the show up front, as the musician works through an assortment of songs, from gentle guitars ballads to a raging punk missive while playing drums. During I Thought I Was An Alien she cackles into the microphone in high-pitched alien tongues. It’s definitely a highpoint of the trip for my kid.
We end the long, sunny day with a drive to Laguna Beach to look at the ocean. It seems that LA traffic alternates between crawling at a jammed snail’s pace to race car fast. We cruise along twenty miles over the limit, trying to keep pace only to come to a dead stop. In this herky jerky fashion we make it to Laguna Beach. The area is appealing, with interesting shops, nice restaurants and quirky houses. If there are half-naked bums, they keep them well out of site.
We manage to score a parking space in a busy area near a beach side park. It’s a pretty relaxed scene. Well dressed elderly men are playing a game of bocce. A family grills out, filling the air with the savory aroma of sizzling flank steak. The beach front is pretty small, but it affords the opportunity to sit on a rock and watch the tide come in and the sun set. It’s a calm end to an energetic day.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
“I’m hungry,” my daughter whines from the backseat. I can think of few things worse than traveling with a newly minted teenager, especially one that happens to be vegan.
“Food This Exit” declares another Interstate sign. However for her the options at this exit are no better than those at the last.
“You want some fries?” my wife offers.
“I’m sick of french fries,” my daughter moans.
“How about a mandarin orange?” We have a bag of Clementines in the trunk.
“I’m sick of oranges.” Her voice is fingers on chalkboard.
I must have done something really awful in a past life. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the meatless horizon: the culinarily diverse cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles are coming up.
As we head west we make a brief side visit to the City of Sin to take my daughter to Veggee Delight. I’m a little worried as the GPS leads us through the Vegas Strip deep into the heart of Chinatown. However, the Vietnamese cafe owners are welcoming to this mid-westerner. It also seems to be popular with non-Asian locals; a few trickle in and take up seats in the tiny dining room.
I scan the menu offering a variety of Asian dishes with fake meat: chicken, beef, pork, tuna. TUNA? I double-check that I read that right. Yes, they have a meatless tuna. I shun the “tuna”, which is barely passable in its legitimate version. My daughter orders some kind of “beef” bowl. I’m not big on fake meat, so I choose something called “wet fried vegetables with noodles”.
I take a moment to ponder the ancient, oriental mystery of how a vegetable can be both wet and fried. Service is quick and soon I am tearing into my dish as fast as my preschool chopstick skills will allow. As it turns out the “wet” is a thin sauce over some fried vegetables (carrots, snap peas, shoots) and some crispy noodles. The food is surprisingly satisfying and soon we are back on our way.
We are only miles down the road before I hear again, “I’m hungry.”
“You want an orange?”
“I’m sick of oranges.” So it goes with vegan teenagers.
Continuing southwest into California, we watch the temperature escalate: 100, 101, 102, 103 … Through the vast Mojave Desert, Joshua trees dot the crispy landscape stretching out into a shimmering, hazy horizon. It looks wet and fried.
Our travel is interrupted as we are commanded off the road to a mandatory car search. State agents wave our Nissan up to a checkpoint. What are they looking for? Drugs? Booze? Illegal immigrants? “Ma’am do you have any citrus in the car?” a no-nonsense woman leans forward to ask. My wife nervously looks at me, her eyes as wide as saucers. Should we run for it Dukes of Hazard style?
Minutes later we are on our way again, but without our contraband in tow. California takes their citrus seriously and our illegal Clementines are not welcome in the Golden State.
“I wish I had an orange,” laments my daughter.
In L.A. we treat my daughter to another vegan meal. We arrive at Flore Vegan Cuisine on a Saturday morning while they are serving their weekend brunch. The diminutive seating area is packed with Californians enjoying a leisurely mid-morning meal and the daily newspaper. For the diners, there is no haste to finish so we join a small line forming outside. I impatiently wonder if vegan food is worth the wait. It is. When our name is finally called we are treated to an outstanding meal, rivaling some of the best I have ever head. I order some beautiful buckwheat blueberry waffles topped with bananas. My wife enjoys a southwest scramble, a tasty tofu version of huevos rancheros.
My daughter enjoys something even better than her vegan breakfast. She delights to spot SoKo, one of her favorite musicians, out for a walk. The French actress/singer is gracious enough to pause for a cell phone picture. She informs us that she is performing at the Make Music Pasadena festival later.
“Can we go?” my daughter begs.
When she hears my answer she responds with the usual.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
No offense, but Idaho is a shithole. This is no mere opinion based on my brief run-in with the gem state, but it has been thoroughly fact-checked and confirmed on Urban Dictionary. We may just be spoiled from the beautiful vistas we have seen over the last few days: the rugged canyons of the Badlands, the rolling grasslands of South Dakota, the tree covered mountains of Wyoming, the colorful thermals of Yellowstone. There may be beautiful places in Idaho, but we see none of them as we drive south down the I-15. It is all farms and factories belching smoke.
The only things worth looking at are the Teton Mountains in the east beyond the vast plains of dirty nothing.
Our next destination is Bryce Canyon in Utah, but first we must slog through Idaho. When headlights flip on and yawns start chaining around the car, an unsettling truth weighs in: we may have to stay the night in this forsaken land. We go as far as Idaho Falls before admitting defeat and pulling off the Interstate. We should be looking for a place to stay, but with the cooler running low, we take the opportunity to restock at a Super Walmart just off the exit.
Here, the universal truth is confirmed: no matter where you travel, the people of Walmart stay the same. A case in point is a lady with an undersized silver t-shirt that makes her look like a pink pork roast wrapped in tin foil. “Sweet Thang,” proclaims the ass of her sweatpants, wide like a billboard. When you shop at Walmart, you take care to dress your very best, and I fit right in with my matted hair, scraggly travel beard, and rumpled “Pawn Star” t-shirt.
Nevertheless, there is something comforting about this little slice of American redneck heaven. As we purchase sandwich goods and beer, I can close my eyes like Dorothy Gail (also from a shitty state) and intone, “There’s no place like home.”
Our shopping complete, we look for a place to sleep. When you stay at a new hotel every night, you are gambling on things like comfort and safety. So far our choices have proved positive, but Idaho Falls is home to the Guesthouse Inn and Suites. It starts out well, with the friendly hotel clerk informing us that they have one nonsmoking room left. We eagerly snatch up the moderately priced room, believing that the hotel roulette wheel is once again being kind to us. Little do we know.
Taking our keycard, we drive around to the back of the building, where it appears that the black asphalt parking lot serves as an unofficial hotel lounge of sorts. Small groups of rough-looking men are milling about, flicking cigarettes and draining bottles of cheap beer. As I park, I look up to a second floor window, where a man in a stained wifebeater is gazing down at us with a piercing stare straight out of a slasher flick. We should turn around, but it is late and it is only one night. That’s what door locks are for, I think as we haul our luggage to the back entrance, only to find that the security lock is broken.
At the door, a bald, heavily tattooed man pushes by us en route to one of the little parking lot parties. We drag our luggage up some stairs to a dimly lit hallway, which is flanked by a couple of worn cowboys.
“I fucked up that sonofabitch real good,” drawls one of the dusty men, sporting a mighty handlebar mustache.
As we squeeze past, he cracks his tattooed knuckles. Hard eyes follow the caravan as we move deeper toward our room number. Once there, it takes a few panicked swipes of my keycard before the door lock clicks open, allowing us entry. The second we open the door, we are smacked with a cloud of cigarette odor wafting out of our “nonsmoking” room. Perhaps there has been a mistake.
But like firefighters, we brave the smoke and push into the room, throwing the lock behind us. While my wife tucks her face into her shirt, I pick up the phone to call the front desk.
“Hello,” a pleasant voice on the other end of the line greets me.
“Hello, we just checked in and we are supposed to have a nonsmoking room, but this room reeks of cigarette smoke.”
“That’s a nonsmoking room; perhaps the smell is from a room down the hall.”
“I don’t see how. The hallway didn’t stink.” Perhaps this smoke passes through walls, Casper style? “There’s something else. The television is missing.” I gaze down at the unhooked coax cable limply hanging across the dresser.
Momentary silence at the other end of the line. “The room was just deep cleaned,” the clerk offers, not really explaining why the television is missing. “Would you like us to send up some air fresheners?”
My daughter starts coughing like a sixty-year-old with a two-pack a day habit.
“I think maybe we’ll just try some place else,” I say.
Moments later, we again move back to our car, past the hard eyes of cowboys, truckers, and potential serial killers. “What a shithole,” I say, as we cruise further down the Interstate.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
I’m simultaneously trying to keep a blanket wrapped around me and keep an insipid can of Bud Light wedged between my chattering knees, as heavy gusts of wind whip across the South Dakota Badlands.
Despite this being an otherwise scorcher of a summer, the weather at night in the national park is positively arctic. The cutting chill is a small price to pay for the nighttime spectacle—the overhead dome of black sky is lit up like the best Christmas ever.
My God, where did all those stars come from? Back home, the air is choked with acrid refinery smoke and the stars are blotted out by the spillage of city glow. When you have a chance to really see the stars in the most pristine air in America, you don’t ask why the ancients were always looking up. You totally get it. I get it, even though by anyone’s measure, I’m not the outdoors type.
South Dakota is our first stop on what will be a two-week long family road trip. Truth be told, I was dreading this trip. Thousands of miles crammed in a car to see trees and grass and endless stretches of nothing, except for the occasional smeared road-kill—I didn’t think it would be my thing.
I’m not into climbing or kayaking or tree-hugging or whatever else draws people out of hard-won modern comfort to fight the so-called great outdoors. I counted it as an achievement that I made it to my mid-thirties without setting foot in a national park.
When my wife and I first got married, our travel coalesced with the touring schedule of our favorite rock band, Throwing Muses, and the solo performances of front woman Kristin Hersh. Our fandom carried us to cities like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and New York. I love cities—the culture, the entertainment, and especially the restaurants. Fifteen years after the fact, I’m still waxing poetically about a revelatory meal at Nobu, New York, like it was the birth of my child.
When my daughter came along, we traded big city rock clubs for sunny, saccharine jaunts to Walt Disney World in Florida. This was our travel for ten years, until we blinked to find that our pixie-dusted princess was a withdrawn teenager with a faux-hawk.
I think that is part of what lured me out to the road. Somehow an old-fashioned great American family road trip seemed like a last ditch effort to capture a moment before it slipped away forever. It seemed a reasonable effort to reconnect as a family, forced into a Nissan Altima with no place to retreat.
So in the summer of 2012, we decided to tackle this majestic nation, starting from Alton, Illinois, going west and back, hitting as many scenic must-dos as we possibly could. We considered it a tasting sample of the best America has to offer. We had no planning except for our midpoint of southern California and a list of national parks that were positioned between here and there and back again.
We headed out on a Saturday morning, after a Tetris grand master effort of packing our car for our two-week excursion. My mind was stuck on my day job. Would they be able to get along without me? It was tough to get away from my long-term place of employment, because unlike most first world countries, America has a deep-seated grudge toward vacation time. It made me feel strangely ashamed to opt out of productivity like a shiftless vagabond.
It was only for two weeks, but it felt like a guilty luxury, despite other places in the world where three weeks or more was standard—a fact that I was reminded of by the glut of Europeans at most of our stops. I did my best to push the guilt out of mind as I shifted the car into drive and left home.
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “
Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.
I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.
Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.
I’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.
“The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss. The driver:
Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.
Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:
Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy . out national parks.
For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.
Finally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.
I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.
The same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.
But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.
The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.
The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.
And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.
But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?
Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.
A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.
This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.
With a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.
The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.
Yup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.
Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.” The opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.
Sleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.
If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood
Story and Photos by Anthony Mathenia – Every Tuesday!
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Utah is Mormon country; that much is true. At each stop, we find racks of promotional cards for the Church of Latter Day Saints bearing compassionate paintings of Jesus Christ and photographs of happy, smiling Mormon families. Store counters hold stacks of complimentary copies of the Book of Mormon in a myriad of language. I’m also unable to find a decent drink. Fortunately, Utah has natural beauty in abundance. It’s not a gin and tonic, but it is soothing in its own way.
Our next stop as we work our way west to California, is Zion National Park, in southwest Utah. Like much of Utah, the park is religiously themed. The name “Zion”, meaning place of refuge, was bestowed upon the canyon by Mormon pioneers. Other park features like Mount Moroni, evoke the land’s Mormon heritage.
As we approach, the black asphalt winds around grey formations that are laced with fine lines that ebb and flow with ancient wind. They give the impression of great hornets nests rising up over patches of Utah juniper and pinyon pine trees. To get to the national park we pass through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel. At just over one mile in length it was once the longest tunnel in the United States. Windows cut into the tunnel give glimpses of sheer rock cliffs rising up over patches of trees.
At the park welcome center we luck out to find a parking space in the densely crowded lot. During peak visiting times, vehicle traffic within the park is prohibited. Instead visitors board shuttles that make regular stops throughout the park. Each stop offers visitors several hikes through the splendors of the national park. Zion is a thrill park for danger seekers. The Angels Landing trail takes hikers along a narrow rock fin over 5,700 feet in the air. For those who are not deterred by the dizzying drop offs on either side, Angels Landing offers splendid panoramic views of the rich landscape. Closer to the ground, the Zion Narrows trail plunges hikers into the Virgin River, weaving through a deep canyon gorge. Rushing water and slippery rock make this a chilly challenge to all but the fleet footed. Still recovering from our spirit breaking hike from bottom to top of Bryce Canyon, we opt for some of the lesser, handicapped accessible, trails at Zion. We follow the Narrows trail as far as the gently sloping paved path ends and the river disappears behind perpendicular canyon walls. There a frantic hiker returns to report to a park ranger, that one of his group has a twisted ankle miles up river in the back country. With evening approaching, it is doubtful a rescue can be mounted until morning. It will be a long painful night for the unfortunate hiker.
The Emerald Pools Trails offer a relatively easy going walk shaded by cottonwoods and boxelders leading to a tall alcove. Overhead waterfalls cascade into the namesake green pool below. The Weeping Rock trail is a bit steep, but short, at only a mile round trip. There, water drains through an overhead arch of Navajo sandstone sprinkling out in a gentle rain. For such a short walk, the view is spectacular. Through the weeping mist we look above a canopy of green at the Great White Throne and parts of Zion Canyon.
Zion has so much more to offer, but limited time urges us onward toward California. There my personal holy mecca awaits: Disneyland USA. I intend to return to Zion someday, but only after I’m physically fit enough for a vertigo inducing trek across Angels Landing or to ford the Virgin river in a descent into the Zion Narrows.
We make one last stop in Utah, an overnight at the Chalet Motel in St. George, just miles from the Nevada border. At only $45 a night it represents the best value we have enjoyed on our trip. The room is well furnished and immaculately maintained. While we relax, my daughter busies herself by reading the Book of Mormon that is placed in the drawer next to the standard Gideon King James. “Please do not remove, ask for your complimentary copy at the front desk,” encourages a sign placed in the drawer. “Can I get a copy?” asks my daughter.
The next morning I go to the front desk to ask. The elderly motel owner’s face lights up with joy at my request. She disappears into the back, while I busy myself looking at a large painting of Jesus and promotional pamphlets for area attractions. Shortly, she returns with a new copy in hand. “I just know this is the truth,” she says as she presents the book to us. She feeds on our assumed interest to point out various activities in town. There is a historical reenactment of Brigham Young, one of the founders of the Church of Latter Day Saints. “The actor really captures him”, she informs me with a smile. Or perhaps we would enjoy taking the tour of the local temple? She nicely explains that we won’t be able to get into the temple proper being heathens, but the grounds are beautifully attended to.
I thank her and bid her farewell. I have no interest in converting. I really don’t mind crazy conspiracies and weird theologies; but, I’ve got no love for any religion that practices shunning and breaks up families. That, and it would really be a sin to forgo the pleasures of a nice gin and tonic.
You won’t often find me and my $250 shoes in the midst of alligators, marsh and power walkers. Nor are you likely to find me in an open golf cart with the wind and elements blowing through my carefully coiffed hair. However, the world of nature is truly fascinating and if it is to remain wild and untouched, everyone – including you and me – must experience, embrace, and support the beauty that is being preserved for us by local communities and government agencies. Such is the wild and wondrous world of the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in in Orange Beach, Alabama. It’s the perfect pairing of beauty, brawn and protection.
The Backcountry Trail project is a collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach (Alabama), Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment. Historically, many parts of the trail were utilized by the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region.
The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man/part wildcat –The “Catman” — has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.
Just minutes from the high rise condos on Orange Beach, this is the place for you to buckle up in an electric cart with two or more friends for a 2 to 3 -hour guided eco-tour. Winding through the gorgeous Alabama back-country on tiny paths, you’ll see flora and fauna side by side with joggers, cyclists and power walkers as you listen to your guide explain in detail the past, present and future of this special place. You’ll exprience firsthand the pristine trail with four distinct ecosystems covering 10 miles. Untamed and vibrant, expect to see alligators, snakes, marshland, wildflowers and towering trees.
Six trails among six distinct ecosystems make up more than 11 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex through Orange Beach, Alabama and the Gulf State Park. This is not a Disney type experience. It’s relaxed and relaxing. It’s inspiring and engaging. There is only one tour at a time going on. Generally no more than two tours a day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time with Mother Nature. She has a surprise or two in store for you.
On your guided tour expect to experience:
HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL Hurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.
MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. Look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.
BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since Your guide will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.
ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges
BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL Bobcat Branch Trail connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. Look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a continuous supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.
This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you get out of the cart and walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.
MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL Completed in March 2000 by a group of winter campers, Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.
Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.
Your guide will stop the cart to give you time to explore the eternal beauty of the Butterfly Garden. Created and maintained by a local women’s club it is a special oasis for festively marked and colored winged beauties. This also makes a great place for a picnic as there is a small enclosed pavilion with picnic benches.
An insider’s deal at $60.00 per cart or $15 per person for a two-hour ride. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. Perfect for couples, singles, families. Bring a camera. There are restroom stops along the tour as well as water fountains. You can bring your own snacks; beverages if you like…and oh yea…don’t forget the insect spray in high summer.
It was my third trip to Ojai in five years, and delightfully, not much has changed. This adorable town of about 8,000, nestled in the Ojai valley, seems to have escaped the shuttering of independent shops and eateries that has plagued LA. Surely the recession has hit Ojai, but perhaps because of its small-town attitude, where folks take care of one another and life is simpler, they have managed to maintain their charm and economic vitality without giving in to Pottery Barn and Taco Bell.
The Inn Place
The accommodations in Ojai reflect the way of life of its residents. Mostly visitors will find small inns, with all the creature comforts of high-end hotels, but with a low key and casual atmosphere. My family lodged at The Blue Iguana, a Santa Barbara style bed and breakfast with modern amenities such as HD flat screen TVs in every room, but also with its own full kitchen, so we could prepare meals at “home.” Our bungalow also featured its own private fenced-in outdoor dining area and patio and French doors in every room opening to the outdoors.
Each morning at the Blue Iguana we enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast of bagels, pastries, cereals, juice and coffee, and my son’s favorite, hardboiled eggs. Guests could take breakfast to their own private patios or bungalows or sit with other guests in the breakfast nook or on the communal patio outside.
It was a couple of minutes by car from the inn on the town’s main street, Ojai Avenue, into the center of town, heralded by what used to be the only stop light in town, at Signal Street. Shopping in town offered many charming small boutiques that thankfully resembled nothing of the GAP. My favorite clothing shop was The Kindred Spirit, featuring comfortable and stylish modern hippie fashions and shoes, like the Spring Step European wedge loafers I picked up there. Another fun to browse was Kingston’s Candy shop, which is like a trip into a Little Rascal’s episode with its bins of vintage-style candy, sodas and other novelties, like Big Buddy chewing gum.
I had thought I had tried all the best restaurants in town during my previous visits, but I was thrilled to find a plethora of undiscovered outstanding options for gourmet tastes, including the enchanting Azu. The restaurant had an earthy, artsy feel, with a cozy fireplace, wood benches — for which I asked for and was given a cushion for my poor bad back – and a front-room bar with well-dressed locals gathered for conversation and laughter. The service was friendly and casual, and Chef Laurel Moore’s Spanish and Mediterranean comfort cuisine menu was creative and reflective of the local bounty, such as blood orange and spinach salad, Cabra salad of Ojai organic greens and honey baked brie, drizzled with Ojai organic sage honey.
The next day we lunched at Feast Bistro, a quaint eatery along the town’s famed Arcade, a long pavilion of shops, that backs up to a grassy landscaped area where purveyors sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, jams, honey, bees wax candles, olive oil, free range eggs and chicken and a variety of crafts at a year-round weekly farmer’s market, every Sunday, rain or shine.
The knoll behind Feast Bistro restaurant was a great place for my son to play while we waited for our food. Since we all had walked up an appetite, and everything on the menu looked so yummy, we ordered entrees to share. We started with the locally sourced Eel River organic beef burger with cheese, a perfect complement to the Buffalo Blue spicy chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens and veggies, topped with Bleu cheese crumbles. My son enjoyed a huge platter of pomme frites, served as he ordered, half garlic, half parmesan. We finished off our hearty meal with a plate of still-warm Cookies of the Day.
We wanted to see more of Ojai outside of downtown, so we hopped aboard the Ojai Trolley, which for a fare of fifty cents is a great way to get around the town. Though the wooden bench seats didn’t make for a very comfy ride, and the trolley meanders through some of the less glamorous sections of town, it was still a fun ride. The trolley also offered the chance for us to see some of the good-neighbor attitude of Ojai in action, as the locals aboard the trolley greeted each other as they boarded and were quick to help a man in a wheelchair get aboard.
The Ojai Way
We were happy even as tourists to experience the small town feel of Ojai, which by the way is Ventura County’s smallest city. At the local park across from the Arcade I met a mom who lives in town. We pushed our kids on the swings side by side as she gave me the local scoop on the schools and community, which was all good. Then my son joined in with a group of kids on a spinning merry-go-round, and I chatted with their parents, more friendly locals. We strolled deeper into the park to find an outdoor concert theatre with a magical gate made of handing pipes that actually played music when you walked under them.
The Road to Ojai
Though this oasis sits in Ventura County, just 12 miles inland from Ventura, the great thing for Angelenos is that it is just about a 90-minute car ride from our bustling city. We made the trip in a luxurious seven-passenger Mazda CX-9, which featured super comfy reclining leather seats and was more than roomy for our family of four, with space to spare for all of our luggage and even my son’s 20” bike that we brought along. It also featured the best navigation system that I had ever used, which not only led us directly to our final destination and a few side trips, but it warned us of traffic ahead and offered alternative routes and advised me when I had drifted over the speed limit, which can be easy to do when the ride is so smooth. The rear-seat entertainment center with a DVD player also came in handy for my son.
Our trip goes to show that three times is a charm, as were my first and second visits to Ojai. And already I am planning a fourth.
If you search the Web, you can find many stories from a technical or nautical viewpoint on cruising the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington State and its twin sister the Gulf Islands in Canada. This is NOT one of those articles. This is my personal take on a couples fall-time cruise through the two island groups. Yup, just me and my husband kicking back for a week long escapade amongst soft breezes, brilliant sunshine, intimate moorings, and gurgling blue waters.
There is definitely something to be said for how a couple of empty-nesters with hectic jobs, major responsibilities and plugged- in -lives stopped their whirlwind schedules to stand down, relax, and reconnect. Just getting a date we both could agree on was a huge issue. I sense some eye rolling and head nodding out there in reader land, so I know you’re feeling my pain. Agreeing on what type of boat to rent was another whole challenge. I was looking for “Mr. Big” with all the amenities. My husband the sailor was looking for compact, maneuverability, and minimum maintenance.
On all issues we ended somewhere in the middle. Giving up my hair dryer, Wolf Stove, wine refrigerator and Riedel glassware sucked. Arguing over terms like aft, stern, lines and so forth is never a pleasure. I want to converse in everyday words; my husband is a stickler for sailing terms. But then again toasting stunning sunsets from the stern (back of the boat) , drinks on the patios of some amazing island wine bars, the quiet lap, lap, lap of the sparkling blue water, and relatively good Internet connection everywhere certainly has its benefits.
Our vacation started with an early one day fly-in to Bellingham Airport. This would give us time to inspect the boat, have my husband take his “boat driving test” and stock the boat up with supplies. We rented a car and were on our way 15 short minutes to the Bellingham Marina where our boat was waiting for us at Bellingham Yachts. We chartered a 33’ Back Cove power boat with many of the comforts of home. Limited seating and cooking facilities
met this would be a simpler experience than when we charter a 42’ boat two years ago. No fancy dinners, lots of overnight guests or dancing till midnight, but its small compact demeanor had its own charms. As expected, the Bellingham charter staff was kind, knowledgeable and eager to please. The boat was clean, fueled and ready for us to board.
As peaceful cruising and a good glass of wine at sunset is a part of reaching vacation nirvana, we set out around 11 a.m. the next day chugging along at six knots to our first stop Lyall Harbor. I think we were supposed to start out earlier, but I took the time to use the curling iron one more time and chat up all the yacht dogs and their owners before we set out. At some point someone mentioned that
my husband was doing some sort of energetic jumping jacks to get my attention, so I rightly guessed I missed the official sail-off time.
Lyall harbor in Canada was out first stop. It is located in the southwest portion of Plumper Sound, attached to Saturna Island. Lyall Harbor wharf is adjacent to the BC Ferries dock. If you’re not use to cruising around the big ferries, it can be quite a shock to see these big boys barreling towards you. Luckily my husband knows the rules of the road (sea) so there were no near misses, but just saying, get a rule book if you haven’t done this before.
We had a choice to make, as we would each night. Should we dock at a private or public
marina or gunkhole it? No eye rolling please, this is a real word. Gunkholing by definition is a quiet anchorage where small yachts anchor into soft mud or “gunk” — so gunkholing applies to those who engage in this low key relaxed style of cruising. We opted for anchoring in the quiet bay, a light dinner, a rich glass of Pinot Noir and a long lazy look at the seductive sunset.
I had thought we would get off the boat the next morning to do some wine tasting at Saturna Winery. I’ve been to this winery before and enjoyed its ambiance and wines. If you’re near, make sure you take the time to stop in. Unfortunately we found out that we needed to get over to Canadian Customs immediately. So we pulled up anchor and headed to Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island where all passengers must report their presence as tourists. You can do the initial registration process by telephone or avoid it by registering in advance on online. Luckily the process was quick and off we went for a 2—day stay at the popular private Ganges Marina on Salt Spring Island.
There was a bit of head spinning at the price of mooring. But you get what you pay for. In this case it meant clean and gated docks, a friendly hand to help you dock (something I am hopelessly not adept at), nice showers, Internet access, and calm waters. This is one of my favorite stops to make. Just a few steps from the marina gourmet food is available at the local market, and the restaurants are varied in price and cuisine. There are lots of shops to browse and my favorite jewelry shop is located here. It’s a good thing this boat had good storage as my credit card got a nice work out here.
Relaxed, rejuvenated, and stocked up on wine, food, and jewelry we motored back to the US to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Another 2-night private mooring stay meant there was plenty of time to explore this quaint island before we picked up a guest.
Roche harbor has a small but classy shopping center which is just steps from where all the
boats moor. There are several waterside eateries, a marina full of beautiful yachts, and local artisans’ booths in summer—showing off jewelry, wool, paintings, pottery, and more.
Pretty much two restaurants serve the boaters and locals. The Madrona Bar and Grill focuses on coastal casual cuisine and creative cocktails. Its deck overlooks the harbor, offering diners the only island sunset view over water. Fresh salads, creative grill sandwiches and famous BBQ ribs are menu favorites. Open 11am-10pm mid-May to the last day of September, which you should know is known as “the season.” The Lime Kiln Cafe is a classic for hearty harbor side breakfast. Sandwiches and fish & chips round out a lunch menu that makes decisions difficult but delicious. Open 7am-8pm daily during “the season.” When you’re finished noshing and catching up on your email, strike out to see the San Juan Islands Museum of Art Sculpture Park. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Roche Harbor and has more than 100 sculptures placed in an open, 19-acre, natural setting. You can ramble among the sculptures or follow the nearby nature trail that takes you into a native forest and close to Westcott Bay, home of the world-famous oysters. I loved the sculpture park and spent a good 2 hours just wondering from one amazing art piece to another. It’s a photographer’s and art lover’s dream stop.
An old high-school friend of my husband’s met us early the next morning. He had spent his early a.m. hours taking a ferry from Anacortes to Roche Harbor to connect with us. Once aboard, we untied the boat and where off to Deer Harbor on the western side of Orcas Island. This was to be another gunkholing experience. Now, with two co-captains aboard, finding “the spot” to anchor took some time and discussion. Finally we dropped anchor and the “boat people” watching began.
It was a beautiful day for boating, canoeing and other water-tight vessel sailing. And so it
was with a chilled glass of Riesling the 3 of us sat back on the stern and had the time of our lives watching the skilled and the not-so-skilled glide pass us. At this time of the day I am usually pounding out 50 trillion emails, catching up on paperwork and articles, and arguing with various Internet providers about the latest hacker and spam attempts. But today, it was a pleasure to put that all aside and just enjoy the scenery. What a treat to discuss no more than the lively seals, the fearless teenagers in tiny canoes, the hot- rodding young men breaking every no-wake rule in the area, and the odd hippy couple floating by in what could best be described as a version of an oar- powered Nile boat. They all seemed to be doing fine without computers, fancy stoves and screaming Internet connections. There’s a lesson to be learned here. And for some reason, I had no thought of taking our power raft to the tiny store in the even tinier marina. We all did fine on a simple diet of canned clam chowder and beer. Running from the fog -laden morning at Deer Harbor we exited the San Juan Islands at Thatcher Pass and motored past the Anacortes ferry pier. We thought we might be able to drop our guest off next to the ferry terminal, but that was wishful thinking. We had to go to the Anacortes public marina at Cap Sante to fuel up for the final leg of our trip and drop him off. He helped out with the fueling process and with a casual wave of his hand he was off to his home in Seattle (lucky, lucky man).
Returning to Bellingham from Anacortes is another three hour run from Anacortes when operating at chugging speed. The boat was due back in at 10 AM the next day so we had thought we might gunkhole it one more time. On this trip however, the risk of morning fog forced us to run back to the home marina. My husband put the pedal to the metal for about an hour on our way back literally hurling us back to civilization, schedules and bright city lights. I much prefer chugging, but it was a treat to see my husband really having fun powering away (which I am sure is not a technical boating term, bit it paints the right picture).
What we gave up in another night on the water, we made up by having dinner at Anthony’s
in Bellingham Marina which is just a few short steps from where our boat made its final docking. This is a long-time favorite restaurant of ours, so not such a tough trade really. We spent the night on board the boat and the next morning hitched a ride to the airport from the charter manager. While my husband traded sea stories with him, I turned on my iPhone and reconnected with my real life once again.
Considering this trip? Inexperienced skippers need not shy away from this trip, but for safety sake take an experienced person along for a few days to avoid disaster. Bellingham Yachts will charter the boat and provide training or help you to contract a training skipper. The cost to charter one of the boats in their fleet ranges from $2,138 for the smallest of the boats off season to $6,545 in season for the largest of the boats for about a week. Of course prices and types of boats are subject to change. There is a minimum $3,000 (up to $9,000) additional refundable damage deposit required depending on the boat you choose. You must return the boat full of fuel at your own cost. Book your charter by calling 1-877-310-9446.
Amarillo really is best by morning – or so they told me when I got my marching orders. I was to be up early and clothed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, hiking boots and hat — ready to roll.
It was a leisurely drive out into the flat countryside, past gently nodding oil wells and silently turning turbine windmills past miles and miles of mesquite and desert. The vacant landscape gradually changed as we headed toward Elkins Ranch, where I was promised a hearty chuck wagon breakfast in a spectacular setting. The land, suddenly, was no longer absolutely flat. Trees appeared, and the hint of a gorge turned into magnificent canyon vistas.
Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, with a maximum depth of more than 800 feet — all formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. Who knew this stunning site was hidden below ground level in the panhandle of Texas!
I climbed into a jeep for the rough ride down the canyon roads to the “Cow Camp” chuck wagon. Touted as the “second largest” (after the Grand Canyon), it is a dazzling site – miles of striated rock forming the walls of rugged valleys. The summer rains had left the vegetation green and lush, with wildflowers in profusion — but the scent of breakfast interrupted my reveries.
There’s something about food cooked over an open fire. I don’t think I’ve ever had better scrambled eggs, biscuits, sausages or coffee. I’ll bet, however, that the hardscrabble cowboys of the Old West never tasted the watermelon and cantaloupe served that morning.
As I finished my second cup of coffee (and fourth biscuit), local singer and songwriter Ed Montana tuned up his guitar and serenaded the breakfast group, starting with (what else?) “Amarillo By Morning”.
I’d been to Amarillo many times before, but all of my visits were confined to that narrow strip on either side of I-40. If I thought about the city at all, it was as a rest-and-refuel stop on my way driving somewhere else.
How wrong I was, and part of the evidence is visible right from the interstate: the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center Museum, a 36,500-square foot facility showcasing the history and modern activities of the American Quarter Horse.
I had always wondered what happened to the other ¾ of the equine – but the 12-minute introductory video told me the real story behind the name. The horse (the most popular breed in America) was named for the quarter-mile track that it was bred to run back in English Colonial times. The combination of racing and gambling in this country has deep roots.
Quarter Horses moved west with the pioneers, who found them strong, agile and possessing an instinctive understanding of bovine behavior that makes them perfect for cowboys. When you watch rodeos, it’s the horse you see anticipating every move of that calf. There are some 3 million in the United States, according to the American Quarter Horse Association.
Horses need saddles, so I wandered over to the Oliver Saddle Shop where I happened to find a member of the third generation – Richard Oliver – hard at work. He said it takes about a week to make a saddle, and he does 45 or 50 a year (there’s a 10-month waiting list). Fortunately, I wasn’t in any hurry for a saddle (priced from $2400 on up, averaging $6000), but the hand-tooled leather belts are to die for.
If there are cowboys, there must be Indians. I didn’t find the real thing in Amarillo, but I did find a great little museum at Kwahadi with a small collection of art and artifacts.
Although it shares its name with an historical group of Comanches, this isn’t an organization of Native Americans. It’s an innovative program begun almost 70 years ago as a Boy Scout troop and now sponsored by Kwahadi Heritage, Inc. The young dancers (girls also participate now) learn the traditional dances of Plains and Pueblo Indians, and perform them in Amarillo and around the world. The digs for a dance troop includes a terrific collection of art and artifacts.
Another surprise was the Panhandle-Plains Museum. The magnificent Art Deco building (from 1932) houses an outreach effort of the West Texas A&M University that tells the history of the region. I discovered that Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado named the Palo Duro Canyon in the 16th Century. The name means “hard wood” and refers to the ubiquitous juniper.
Great signage gives a short course in the geology of Texas from Precambrian to the present. A replica of Palo Duro Canyon points out 280 million years of history that entered modern times when Charles Goodnight acquired most of it as a cattle ranch in 1876.
There are the usual collections in the museum – period costumes, guns, buggies and wagons – but my favorite gallery told about oil and gas production in the Texas panhandle.
Don’t forget that Amarillo straddles the iconic American highway: Route 66. Signposts point out the route through town for this legendary U.S. highway, and vestiges of its glory days still can be seen.
Story and Photos by Shane Crash (@shanecrash) In San Miguel De Cozumel, off the Yucatan Peninsula, I was caught in a miniature flash flood, in danger of being seriously injured. The downpour began and I gaped ignorantly at the rising water, helplessly flailing on my rent-a-bike. Eventually the water won out, sweeping my bike away and me with it. Fortunately, a friendly local pulled me up onto the elevated entrance of a McDonalds. He told me that the entire island had been hit with one tropical storm after another, and that the periodic downpours would continue.
I’ve traveled twenty-seven hundred miles, only to wash up in a McDonalds. And I often ask myself how I’ve become so cynical.
It rains for nearly half an hour, and the water washes out after another forty-five minutes or so. I retreat back to Casita De Maya where I’m staying alone, spend the remainder of the day drying out, and sulking in a hot tub. In the evening I get rip roaring drunk in the hotel bar where I plan a trip further inland while dragging on the lousiest cigarette of my life.
The next day I catch a ride up to the San Gervaiso ruins, a site dedicated to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. (“She of the Rainbows”) The jungle shrine is fascinating, surrounded by gorgeous foliage and lazy iguanas. In the heat, wandering through the abandoned structures, I have a tendency to feel as though the sun is swallowing me. My guide, Andres, fills me in on the myths and history of the Mayan culture. I’m sure some people won’t find gray stone and worn rock illuminating, but as a student of anthropology and a lover of big ass lizards, it’s well worth the visit.
When I get back to San Miguel, I find a restaurant at the end of Punta Langosta Pier. I establish it as my unofficial headquarters when I find out they serve pizza. They tell me they’ve purified their ice, but I don’t trust them so I drink beer and nibble on pizza as I work on a manuscript that will become my debut novel.
In the evening I aimlessly saunter to the Corpus Christi Cathedral before meandering back to The Plaza, which is essentially the city center of San Miguel. I’m feeling rather lively from all the booze, and pleased to find a large crowd to blend into. The locals are dressed in vibrant costumes and the air is rich with the stench of cigars and the sound of music. The inner Plaza is packed with tourists, hanging out before they have to board the cruise ships later in the evening. One of these tourists sees fit to rub an ice cream cone across my cheek before licking it off and walking away. I’m a reluctant ladies man like that.
Per usual, I find myself feeling lonely in large crowds. Most of the tourists are chatty and polite, albeit drunk. I feel lonely and connected to the mob, a kind of bitter kinship. So I sit and nibble on tacos from Casa Denis. A group of attractive college aged girls approach and chat me up, distracting me from my melancholy.
They drag me over to a courtyard where throngs of people are dancing. I mostly smile and nod and let them dance around me while I stare at the bright pastel walls behind them. I can’t dance and I’m too polite to be rude. I’ve been that way about dancing my entire life, and I think girls have built in radar for it – because they always target me.
I finally slip away when siesta hour commences and make my way back to Casita De Maya where I chow down on yogurt with walnuts, complimentary of my stellar room service.
I spend my final day in Cozumel checking out the Punta Celerain lighthouse, considerably more sober than I have been on the rest of the trip. There’s something like one hundred and thirty steps up to the lookout point, but it’s worth the hike for the gorgeous view, and the Columbia Lagoon is a breathtaking mural of breaking blues. Afterward I relax on a hammock just off the shoreline. The beach is a mess from the last storm that blew through, but it’s worth it to gaze out at white sand and cerulean waves.
It’s nice to know that even the most vicious storms can’t rob the world of its beauty.
Shane Crash is an American author and activist. He’s published several zines centered on alleviating poverty and homelessness. In 2009 he co-authored a collection of satire and poetry in the short zine, Lost Thoughts. And in 2010 he released Travel Logs, a short chronicle of his travels across the globe. He released his debut novel, Forest Life, in September of 2012 through Civitas Press. His upcoming novella, Tabula Rasa, is part of a double novella feature with writer Anthony Mathenia.
At the age of twenty-one, up until he married at twenty-three, Shane traveled the world, voluntarily homeless, traveling from city to city. Shane has partnered with the Catholic Worker House to care for single mothers fleeing abuse. He’s also partnered with the Catholic Workers to tutor immigrants, teaching English, and American history.
Shane often speaks on nonviolence and social responsibility. He runs Pacifist Army, a volunteer group of nonviolent activists who raise awareness on various social issues, including nonviolence and poverty.Shane passionately advocates for education and nonviolent alternatives to war. He’s a fan of marvel comics and pizza.You can find his blog at ShaneCrash.com