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You don’t have to be a hiking enthusiast or a professional photographer to enjoy Sedona, Arizona’s red rocks, the Grand Canyon’s rich hues, Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos, Zion Canyon’s erosion-sculptured sandstone or Hoover Dam’s curved wall of concrete. Simply slip into your favorite walking shoes, grab a bottle of water and you’re ready to move from one mesmerizing view to the next. After my husband and I landed in Las Vegas to begin our 10 day southwest road trip, we rented a car and headed south for the Hoover Dam. Concrete Rules at the Hoover Dam – Day 1 To say that large amounts of concrete were poured during the construction of the Hoover Dam is an understatement. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, which has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including the Hoover Dam, there is enough concrete in the Hoover Dam (4 ½ million cubic yards)…
Sunday, 01 January 2017

Gir Lions, India

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By age ten, my paleontology phase mothballed by fears that all the Jurassic skeletons would be exhumed with no bones left for the adult me, zoology became the new discipline and lions were my thing. As I scoured the nature and science books studying lifespan and habitat and how the great felines did better in zoos – an acceptable line to take back then – it was a given that King Lion lorded over an African realm. But there was always that curious addendum: There are a few hundred surviving Asian lions, in the Gir Forest of India. This seemed bizarre to me. I came to regard these freak lions as a lesser, more milquetoast creature, like those stunted Indian elephants whose shell-like ears were no match for the great fans of their African cousins. There was also that strange habitat. What self-respecting lion, apart from Bert Lahr, lived in…
Egle, our tour leader, met us in the hotel lobby the night before our tour began. She memorized our names and outlined our agenda, emphasizing that we would be on a tight schedule. We will cover three countries in seven days, she told us, and she wanted to show us the sights and teach us about this part of the world. Then she encouraged us to attend a music festival in the main square and she went home to prepare for the tour. We were in Vilnius, Lithuania, to begin a cycling tour of the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). The tour had been organized by Explore (www.exploreworldwide.com), a U.K. travel company, which arranged the tour leader, bus, driver, and bicycles. There were 11 of us -- eight Brits and three Americans – representing a variety of ages and backgrounds. It was a cordial group, easy to fit in…
Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Discovering the Remote Islands of Indonesia

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The more remote islands of Indonesia had always been on my travel bucket list but eluded me for many years because there were no cruise ships plying the vast expanse of these islands. In recent years there was a legitimate concern of piracy on the waters surrounding certain areas of Indonesia, and these personal safety concerns likely explains the scarcity of cruise ships in the region. Then, one day before we were about to book a privately guided trip to Mongolia, I stumbled upon a National Geographic/Lindblad expedition cruise titled “Indonesia Odyssey: Bali to the Great Barrier Reef”. While I expect my travel to esoteric destinations to continue for many years to come, I told my wife that if we had only one trip to choose from for the remainder of our lives, this was it. After reading the day to day itinerary, we immediately signed on for the trip—and…
As our airplane approached the Havana Airport a flight attendant announced that he wished to be the first to welcome us to Cuba. The passengers burst into cheering and applause, which was repeated when the wheels touched down a few minutes later. We weren’t used to such enthusiasm, and we asked the flight attendants about it. It happens all the time, they told us, Cubans are very proud of their country. That became clear as we explored Cuba – a complex country filled with gracious people. That, and many other things, hasn’t changed much for more than a half century. We were in Cuba to research, photograph, and describe the reception and conditions Americans receive. Ours was not a particularly easy trip, but it left us with mostly favorable impressions and fond memories. We met wonderful people, enjoyed the 1950’s cars and ever-present salsa music, and appreciated the genuineness of…
Sunday, 01 May 2016

Paris After the Attacks

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When we told friends and family of our plans to visit Paris, 2 ½ months after November's terrorist attacks, we received some strange looks and concerned questions – like “Why go now?” and “Is it safe?” So I thought I'd remind people of the amazing allures of the City of Light and reflect on the things I saw. When we arrived, local and military police were everywhere! The first time I went to Paris was a few days after the US bombing of Libya in 1986 and now – with the travel warnings and the ubiquitous presence of soldiers – it was 1986 all over again. But now there were security checks going into just about every building as well: churches, museums, concert halls. Thankfully not restaurants or shops, but those were on alert in a different way. One night in the Bastille we were sitting in a small restaurant…
There is a certain time of day, in Greece, between the afternoon and darkness, when the sun is beginning to set and the light is soft and gentle, that you begin to reflect on and appreciate the day. We are cycling on Poros, in the Peloponnes Islands south of Athens, enjoying mild temperatures, clouds, a few drops of rain, and the scent of a pine forest. Near the end of our ride we stop near some ruins, sip fruit drinks, and listen to stories about this island; myths about people who lived here more than a thousand years ago. Back on our bicycles, we coast downhill as the sun is beginning to set. A slight haze rises from the water and the light begins to soften. Clouds break the remaining sunlight into bands of yellow and gray, and shadows make images on the water. Twilight turns the white houses of…
For thousands of years the Himalayas have held a profound significance for the people of South Asia. Their literature, religions and mythologies reflect the overall lure of the world’s largest mountain range. It stretches 1500 miles from east to west, and passes through five nations: Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet (Tibet has been under Chinese sovereignty, since the Chinese invaded the country in 1950). The world Himalaya is Sanskrit for “abode of snow’, quite fitting for an expanse of land that houses more non-polar ice masses than anywhere else on the planet. Referred to as the roof of the world, the Himalayas have long been shrouded with lore, legends and myths - well before Sir Edmund Hillary first climbed Mount Everest in 1953. It was early 2013 and my cousin Fabienne, who lives in France, invited me to join her on a trekking trip in Nepal at the beginning…
Sunday, 01 November 2015

Impressions of Indochina

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East of India and south of China, lies Indochina. This is the exotic tropics of Frangipani lined streets where people cool themselves with pankhas in the jasmine infused air and where the colors of life are reflected in the mouth-watering food. Romantic images indeed. I have had the pleasure of visiting Thailand and Laos and have walked into Burma or Myanmar as it is now known, with the Indian Army from north-east India. When the allure of the Orient beckoned again, it was time to travel to Cambodia and Vietnam. In the not too distant past, Cambodia and Vietnam found themselves to be the arena where proxy wars fueled by the insecurities of the 20th century and the quest for new ideologies was played out. Apocalypse Now, Platoon and the horrifying Killing Fields are some of the references from popular culture relating to Cambodia and Vietnam that may be familiar…
Monday, 31 August 2015

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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“You want to see long necks?” I stared at Makai blankly. “What?” “Long necks. You want to see? “Yeah. Okay. I guess.” Kupa revved the motor and steered our long boat into one of the other canals. So far we’d seen the Floating Gardens, the Phaung Daw Oo Paya and the Pa Don Mar Silk, Lotus and Cotton Weaving shop. I’d passed on the cigar rolling demonstration. ‘Long necks’ meant nothing to me. As of yesterday, Inle Lake meant nothing to me. It was an add-on. I’d been given an extra week in Myanmar and tacked a lake visit to the intinerary. I was coming to Inle Lake fresh but arrived stale. Lakes were fine for cottage idylls and languid summer days but unless they sourced the Nile, were packed dense with salt, or sat high in the Andes with cheeky names, they evoked a feeling of ‘meh’. They’re not…

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