When I am in Yosemite, I feel the presence of my parents, as if they are surrounding me with an enormous embrace. I am forever grateful to them for introducing me to nature at a very young age. The memories of our annual summer family trips to this iconic location are imbedded deep within me.
Yosemite smells like no place on earth. I stick my head out the window, from the passenger side of course, while my partner is at the helm, grinning at my enthusiasm.
My vivid memory of bonding with nature’s beautiful creatures, involves my seven year old self in the very meadow we are currently driving past. I was surrounded by a herd of friendly, curious deer. My parents had given me a small camera for my birthday with a roll of film capable of taking 24 photographs. My new deer friends were all mine and I wanted to remember them forever. I took nearly the whole roll of film as they practically posed for each shot. Mom and dad gently suggested I savor each photo, and perhaps save some film for the rest of our stay.
As we arrive in the valley floor and check in to the Yosemite Valley Lodge, fortunate to have secured accommodations on the first day of summer on our spontaneous jaunt, I recognize the handmade wooden furniture inside and the metal chairs and table outside on our balcony, they have been here since, well, my first visit! Somehow that is very comforting.
Arriving on the summer solstice and also my partner’s birthday, gave us plenty of daylight and reasons to celebrate walking amongst the majestic, rugged beauty in this glacial carved valley.
I breathe as deep as my lungs will allow, penetrating my soul with the fresh, foresty air, so I can carry it with me. Sitting upstream by the softly flowing Merced river, there are no other humans in sight, only my partner in all things wild and wonderful.
A family of deers appear, perhaps the descendants of “my” deer, from way back when. They look at us and I have them in the sight of my digital camera/phone that has the ability to take thousands of photos if I choose, however, my lesson was learned long ago and I savor each photo and each moment and quietly whisper my gratitude to my parents for raising a free-spirited, nature loving wild child.
Accompanying my travel partner on a work sojourn to Miami was an excellent cure for being homebound for too long!
As I was packing my trusted Osprey rolly bag, I realized how much I have missed my little two-wheeled companion. I tend to pack meticulously and could happily spend time squeezing just the right amount of shampoo in the correct size container, depending on the length of the journey, yet always adding a squoosh more, in case plans allow me to stay longer. I roll up my clothing and as I fill every square cubic inch, I am smiling the whole time.
Why am I a traveler? Why do I cherish my good fortune to have been blessed with a wandering soul? I am not going to speculate at this point, I have a plane to catch!
There are a multitude of activities and sights in the greater Miami area, but one catches my attention: Little Havana. The very top of my travel wish list has been Cuba, for now, this seems the next best thing.
The vibrant and colorful main route through Little Havana is an easy to meander street called Calle Ocho. Art and murals are splashed everywhere and wafting smells from bakeries and coffee shops entice us to visit each one.
However, thirst calls and as we pull in to El Cristo restaurant, we are warmly greeted by Juan Carlos, better known as Kachi. With a sly grin, he asks our beverage preferences. We order “Dos mojitos, por favor”. Kachi replies, “OK, a pitcher of mojitos!” Uh, wait what? He disappears and it’s our turn to grin and go along with the ride.
Kachi returns and plops down the Mojito pitcher and takes our food order. He spends time chatting with us about the area. He is originally from Cali, Colombia. Then a silent sadness crosses his face for a moment, as he pulls out his phone and shows us photos of his younger brother in a wheelchair. He was in an accident here in Miami, and Kachi immediately left Colombia to help take care of him, and has been here for many years now. Nothing could keep him from his brother, not even his wife, who ended up divorcing him when Kachi chose to stay in Florida. We toast our newfound amigo and sip the specialty of the house as we savor many plates of divine cuisine.
We talk with Kachi about food and culture. I have had cravings for a Cubano sandwich, especially after recently watching the movie “Chef.”
The next day we are on a serious search for a vegetarian version of a Cubano. My body is happiest being fueled by plants. I choose to leave animals and fish off my plate, is it possible in this town to replicate the meat-oriented dish?
At a beachfront café, from a lovely, uncrowded outdoor table, I asked our waitress if the chef would make a meat-free Cubano, perhaps substituting avocado? While she professionally stopped herself from rolling her eyes, she kindly explained that a Cubano IS meat, and without even asking, she said NO, the chef would not omit the meat. Fair enough, I would have been happy to have just grilled cheese on fresh Cuban bread, but I was enticed to re-create this gem of a sandwich when I could find gourmet vegetarian products.
We did manage to find Vegan Cuban Cuisine, the only place in all of Miami that offered an alternative to meat, and they pulled it off with jackfruit sitting in for the traditional two different types of pork.
Back home, I got to work in the galley, craving that delectable, delightful sandwich that has so few ingredients, yet packs a veritable punch to the taste buds and brings a smile to everyone I’ve served it to.
The origin of the Cubano is as hazy as a cigar bar, however the sandwich was popular among Cuban workers who frequently sailed back and forth from Cuba to Florida in the early 1900’s to work in cigar factories.
Traveling workers from Italy, Germany and Spain added Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles to the melting pot of ingredients in the Cubano.
Happy to bring a slice of Cuba to my kitchen, while savoring the memories and tastes of Little Havana, the challenge is to create an appealing meal for carnivores and veggie lovers alike.
Here is my recipe for a scrumptious Cubano sandwich:
Dill Pickle slices, long cut
Vegan meat slices
Vegan cheese slices
Take two thick slices of sourdough and spread mustard on the inside of both slices.
On one bread slice, layer vegan meat slices, cheese slices and pickles.
Place second bread slice of top of all ingredients.
Spread butter on outside of both slices.
Heat frying pan on medium and cook sandwich until crispy and golden brown, then flip over and press down with spatula, until crispy. This can also be done in a Panini maker.
Place sandwich on a cutting board and slice lengthwise diagonally.
After two weeks of sailing on a boat with no hot water and a sketchy sun shower shared by 10 people, the luxuries of a beachfront resort in Cabo was indeed a treat, yet after a couple days the back roads beckon.
The 27th edition of the Baja Ha Ha, and my 13th year of crewing aboard Profligate lived up to all my expectations of sweet sailing, belly laughs with my long time crew mates and bonding with locals at our beach stops at Bahia de Tortugas and Bahia Santa Maria.
However this story is about land explorations. To learn more about the Baja Ha Ha sailing rally, visit my previous story: Baja Ha Ha – A Floating Fiesta.
We hopped into our friend Pete’s pickup and headed north from Cabo, happy to escape to lesser populated spots. As we headed north to Todos Santos, we left the cruise ship throngs and party animals in our rear view.
Pete loved playing tour guide and he had scoured restaurants to match our culinary preferences, Hierbabuena fit the bill perfectly being a true farm to table, with plant based inventiveness, located on the outskirts of Todos Santos. In the shadow of the Sierra Laguna mountains, an agriculturally rich riparian habitat floats through Todos Santos, attracting flora and fauna diverse enough to be declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.
Pete is married to a lovely local lass who he met after one of his Baja 1000 motorcycle expeditions. He swept her off her feet and into a world of adventures. They travel to Todos Santos yearly for visits with familia.
Pete shows us covert points of interest such as the local cartel leader’s house, the sad failed plan for a tequila factory and a dirt track with no signs that leads us to a pristine, undeveloped beach.
We spent the afternoon exploring the streets of this funky, charming village. It’s been some 25 years since my last visit here and the only familiar site is Hotel California.
One of the most amusing aspects of the hotel, is their adamant denial of any claim to fame in association with the Eagles’ classic song of the same name. Every reference online describing Hotel California states in some form of “The Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’ was not inspired by this hotel.”Therefore it has become famous for NOT being famous.
Nevertheless, Hotel California is one of the most well kept buildings in this deserty little outpost. Perhaps the historic Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar (“I heard the mission bell”) nearby is also maintained beautifully, but my preference was to wander through the hotel’s welcoming doors, risking the chance of “You can check out but you can never leave”.
An oasis greets us, the open air patio with soft colors, softer music (español in nature, rather than a 70’s rock band) and cushiony chairs in which to sip cool drinks makes one wonder if they do in fact want to leave.
Still, the lyrics from Hotel California dance in my head. Cleverly written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, this timeless Eagles classic hit takes me back to another era. I am not alone in feeling the great vibes of this village, as in 2006 the Federal Secretary of Tourism in Baja California Sur declared Todos Santos a Magic town.
From the hotel’s website hotelcaliforniabaja.com, there is a colorful history: Founded in 1948 by a Chinese immigrant named Mr. Wong, after three years of construction, the 16 room hotel opened in 1950, where he, his wife and seven daughters lived as they built their business. Wanting the locals to believe he was Mexican, he changed his name to Don Antonio Tabasco which didn’t work as well as he planned since he soon became known as “El Chino”, meaning “The Chinese Man”. Mr. Wong brought ice from La Paz to Todos Santos for the first time, serving the only cold beer in town, which of course made him quite popular and ironically he opened a general store named “La Popular”. Reason enough to raise a chilled toast to the visionary Mr. Wong and to embracing your identity!
The next day, we all pile into the truck and drive “on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair”, actually, it’s a bright, warm desert road and it leads us to La Ventana, a mecca for kite boarders, retirees and explorers in pickup trucks looking for a cold beer.
At first glance, this thriving bay looks worth another visit, with accommodations ranging from tents to a myriad of resorts on an inviting sea.
Our travels continued to La Paz where we found a lunch spot overlooking Marina Cortez, as we gazed upon watercraft of all sorts. We enjoyed a side trip to the ferry terminal at Pichilinque, the lovely rolling terrain looking as if we are in Arizona. The ferry to mainland Mexico draws quite a few intrepid bicyclists carrying their gear in panniers.
Down on the southeastern tip of the cape lies Bahia de Los Muertos. Having anchored here in the early nineties, it’s appeal was not just a protected bay, but the remoteness was its treasure. The small fishing village is still here, and a scattering of villas and retreats have landed on the west side of the bay which has been re-named Bahia de Los Sueños, Bay of Dreams, as perhaps they thought marketing would work better than Bay of the Dead.
We enjoy seeing Ospreys circle and breathe in the salt air and take a moment to appreciate how little it has changed.
“Bad roads bring good people.”An appropriate quote in the desert. El Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo lies at the end of one such bumpy, gritty track. This treasure of a marine park stretches for five miles along the remote southern coast. The reserve is 60 miles, yet a world away from the masses of unbridled tourist throngs in Cabo San Lucas.
In a beautiful progression of preserving the ocean, the entrepreneurial panga captains switched gears from killing fish to showing off the precious sea life under the surface in this Natural World Heritage Site. Fishing rods have been replaced with scuba and snorkel gear as they provide educational and environmental journeys they can be proud of in their waters that hold one of only three living reefs in North America.
As we quenched our parched throats at the local beach palapa, we watched the pangas return from dive trips in a flurry of activity. Good on you Cabo Pulmo!
Visit: cabopulmopark.com to learn about the NGO’s and local businesses working together to empower young leaders to find creative ways to protect our oceans.
“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door, I had to find the passage back to the place I was before”. We do have free will to leave, whether we want to or not. The night before our flight north, we stayed the night in a local hotel in San Jose del Cabo, a family friendly and quieter sister town to Cabo. The stars shine on the sea and the warmth of the land and her people remain in mi corazon.
With thanks and credits to: visitmexico.com, Wikipedia.com, hotelcaliforniabaja.com, blog.sandos.com, todossantos.com, rollingstone.com
I will leave you with more of the Eagle’s lyrics to dance in your head: “So I called up the Captain, ‘Please bring me my wine’, He said ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine’. And still those voices are calling from far away, wake you up in the middle of the night just to hear them say “Welcome to the Hotel California” such a lovely place, such a lovely face.”
Dear Mother Ocean
The UN has dedicated June 8 as World Oceans Day, yet I celebrate and cherish your beauty every day.
I have loved you since I was a toddler with sand in my butt crack, squealing with delight while frolicking in the surf of San Diego’s beaches.
My attraction and fascination with you grew immensely while sailing across the Atlantic on my first long ocean voyage.
You have provided me the opportunity work on sailboats and introduce land folks to the wonders of coral reefs and turquoise bays.
When sailing far from land, my dear mother ocean, you have protected me and kept my spirit calm.
The wildlife in your waters are my favorite creatures.
My wish is to continue to protect you, advocate for you, clean your beaches, help turtle hatchlings safely make it to sea, bond with sharks as we swim next to each other with pure adoration, be in awe when a whale surfaces near me, snorkel through your coral gardens, jump for joy on the deck of a sailboat as a pod of dolphins rides the bow wake, learn from you and teach others about you.
Because of you I have met some remarkable fellow ocean lovers and sailors who share passion for the sea.
Thank you for my mermaid genes, as you have never made me ill. You have entertained me, spoken to me, you get my full attention when you are in a tempestuous mood and you are there for me when I need you the most, as you help to heal my heart.
I have placed Captain John’s ashes in your care, in the warm, soft tropical seas of the world, as I know you will embrace him forever.
There is a reason you are referred to as “Mother Ocean”. You nurture us, sustain our lives, you make the world beautiful and you bring joy to those who love you.
I will continue to fight against the greed and ignorance of humans who harm you and your creatures. For instance, when a shark’s fin is cut off and the body is thoughtlessly tossed back, it slowly sinks as it dies an excruciating death, just so some tosspot can eat a soup with slaughtered shark parts, which is proven to have zero health or potency benefits.
The only magical powers shark’s fins have is when they are still attached to the living shark!
Imagine if some cruel person chopped the legs off your family’s dog and left it in a field to slowly bleed out, you’d be outraged right?
No one sees the beautiful shark sink to the depths.
I am outraged at the atrocities bestowed upon wildlife at sea and on land, and I know I am not alone.
Cheers to my fellow ocean lovers, my tribe who donate funds, volunteer time and love our mother.
I’ve been referred to as an “environmentalist” in a sarcastic way, as if it’s a bad thing! I laugh it off, wear the name with pride, and along with my tribe, we continue to respect our land and sea for the grandchildren of those people who scoff at us and those who don’t.
Having hosted families on charter boats, the best memories come from introducing little sailors to snorkeling. Seeing their eyes pop open when they point to a fish or sea creature brings back that sense of wonder I had as a kid at tide pools.
Jacques Cousteau said it best: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Who’s in? Who wants to go on an adventure at sea and help our Mother Ocean while having a great time doing it?
Here are some suggestions of ocean environmental organizations to donate funds or get involved with:
seashepherd.org, oceanconservancy.org, oceana.org, oceanvoyagesinstitute.org and missionblue.org
“Attention crew, attention crew, this is your Captain. Who wants to go to Machu Picchu?” Exuberant cheering is heard throughout the vessel.
We were docked outside of Lima, Peru on the Sea Shepherd vessel M/V John Paul DeJoria in the only space they had for a 110’ former Coast Guard cutter, at the seedy and pungent fishing harbor. This sturdy vessel and her volunteer crew proudly serve the ocean with the mission to expose, intercept and oppose illegal operations that damage and destroy marine wildlife and habitats. We were warmly welcomed by the fleet of local fishermen and women who supported our efforts in trying to prevent large, foreign vessels from illegally scouring the sea off Peru’s coast, deeply altering their sustainable practices.
Long hours, cramped quarters, no pay; the best job I’ve ever had! Sharing work with like-minded ocean advocates is incredibly rewarding and sometimes exhausting, so the chance at shore leave to visit Peru’s most iconic site was thrilling.
We rotated days off in small groups, mine was one of the first. We hastily assembled a puzzle of logistics and scored the holy grail of limited entry tickets to the site, which was the key to build around.
Day one: I savored my first view of the Andes on the flight to Cusco, which sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 meters), a charming town where we searched for local cuisine and beer!
My culinary preference is plant based, seeing cuy or Peruvian guinea pig on the menu was not in the least bit tempting, yet delightful menu choices were plentiful in this mountain town.
Day two: We met our Uber driver who took us to the bus that took us to the train. From our window seats on the scenic train ride, we saw porters across the Urubamba river, packing gear and leading hikers along the Inca trail. Given advance planning, that would have been my preferred transport – on foot! However, settling on the Inca Rail was a marvelous alternative for the time constrained.
We were served tea and pastries. One had the choice of coca tea, which is recommended to help with altitude adjustment, and perhaps attitude as well, yet nothing was required to enhance my already spectacular state of mind.
The rail tracks end at the funky outpost of Machu Picchu Pueblo, where we checked into Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel.
Delighted by this charming abode, clinging to the hillside, we climbed stone steps, haphazardly winding up to the rooms, each with their own eccentricity and some with a deck overlooking the fairy tale hamlet.
The primary purpose for the Pueblo is hosting travelers and housing locals working in tourism. The town keeps spilling up the hillsides as construction slowly evolves. Industrious locals build by hand, with supplies arriving by train. We were happy to have time to explore, look at local crafts, and acclimate, with the bonus of working up a thirst for a local brew, which was happily quenched at Mapacho Craft Beer Restaurant, perched right on the boisterous Vilcanota River.
Day Three: Our entry tickets were for the afternoon arrival, which allowed us time for a leisurely breakfast, watching the misty morning weather.
The rain continued on our bus ride, chugging up soggy switchbacks. The view of rising through the lush valley was distraction enough from any concern of the skill of the bus drivers who rounded the corners with a glee of entertainment for themselves and their human cargo
At the entrance gate, the elevation is about 7,700 feet (2,346 meters). My first view was breathtaking in more ways than just altitude. The moment we arrived, the sun broke through the shiny clouds and lit up the site like a cinematic scene.
A quite pleasant surprise was seeing more llamas than humans! The rain had caused many tourists to hastily retreat.
We chose to not hire a guide at the entrance, as I wanted to linger and be immersed in the spirituality of this sacred area.
Sometimes visiting renowned sites with little prior knowledge is exhilarating in its newness. From photos I had seen before, I was under the impression that the prominent peak, Huayna Mountain, 8,858 feet (2,700 meters), which towers above the site, was the tallest mountain around, however, I was awestruck upon observing how it is dwarfed by Machu Picchu Mountain, 10,007 feet (3,050 meters), and the surrounding Cordillera de Los Andes, with an average height of about 13,123 feet (4,000 meters). The dramatic location of the site in this tropical mountain forest looks like a precious gem, cradled in the palm of the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon basin.
Upon close inspection, the stonework and engineering was impeccable. The site is built on two fault lines. During an earthquake, the stones are said to dance around a bit and fall right back into place. The masonry technique is called ashlar, the stones are cut to fit together without mortar, so precisely that not even a knife blade can fit between the stones.
The placement of a ceremonial stone reflecting the two equinoxes, March 21 and September 21, displays the astronomical knowledge of the Incas.
I loved soaking in the atmosphere, breathing in the history and imagining life during the height of the Inca Empire, during the 15th and 16th centuries.
In 1981 Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Site, and in 1983 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A no-fly zone exists above the area.
Hiram Bingham III was born in Honolulu in 1875, which was then in the Kingdom of Hawaii. He became an academic and historian of Latin American studies and while exploring in Peru, he was led by locals to the site of Machu Picchu in 1911. His writings brought the site to the world’s attention.
Speculations flourish as to what the site was used for: a royal estate, women’s retreat, sacred religious citadel, etc., and the mystery still has not been completely solved as to why this stunning location was abandoned by the Incas.
As I wandered, I was captivated by the current residents; the animals! This protected sanctuary, with its rich biodiversity in an array of microclimates and elevations, hosts an abundance of wildlife.
Llamas portray a cheeky and curious personality, which I adore! What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca you ask?
Llamas are tall, with a long neck, elongated face, small pointy ears and they have a thick coat of hair. Alpacas are smaller in stature, with a small face and large ears. Alpacas have soft hair in a range of colors that is commonly used for clothing. Llamas were very prevalent the day I visited, and due to the lack of people, they roamed freely. I was delighted to turn a corner and watch a peacefully grazing camelid.
Over 400 species of birds make the highlands their home, many of them aren’t found anywhere else. One avian beauty is nicknamed “Cock of the Rocks” for its bright magenta color and rooster like crown, and holds the majestic title of Peru’s national bird. The Andean condor is the largest vulture in the world with a wingspan over 10 feet (3 meters) wide. Of the many species of hummingbirds here, one, weighing in at a whopping 7/10ths of an ounce (20 grams), is the largest hummingbird in the world! With luck, one might spot an Andean bear, dwarf deer, Andean fox, toucan or a rarely seen capuchin monkey.
The aforementioned adorable, fluffy Peruvian guinea pigs are not known to scurry around the site, however they are raised commercially…for the dinner plate. I will choose to enjoy all animals in the wild, they are too precious for my plate.
Closing time was called, dusk was soon to settle in, yet there were still a few more buses to choose from, what was one to do? We discovered a posh hotel near the entrance, I hadn’t seen this in my hotel searches, likely due to it’s lofty price, but hey, they had a bar. We were cordially welcomed, as the amicable bartender recommended pisco sours, the national drink of Peru.
Such a surreal setting and unusual juxtaposition of an Ahwahnee type lodge in a Peruvian cloud forest. We were educated as to the hot-blooded debate between Peru and Chile over the origin of pisco sours, as we toasted a “Salud” and quaffed these citrusy, nectarous beverages, the perfect cap to a mystical and invigorating day.
We boarded the final employee shuttle, the only tourists on the bus, having stretched out the experience as much as possible. We trundled down the hill, reflecting on this spectacularly spontaneous trip.
All photos: Lynn Swycaffer Ringseis
Credits: Wikipedia.org, britannica.com, history.com, machupicchu.org, lonelyplanet.com, nationalgeographic.com, per-machu-picchu.com, alpacaexpeditions.com, tierrasvivas.com, peruhop.com, worldwildlife.org, factretriever.com, ourwholevillage.com, ramblearoundtheworld.com, incatrailmachu,com, livinginperu.com, earths-edge.com, machupicchutrek.net, seashepherd.org
Fernweh. I discovered a word that aptly describes my state of mind. Roughly translated, this German word means “far-sickness”. As opposed to homesickness, fernweh is an aching for far-flung places and a perpetually, insatiable desire to travel and explore. While the world is on hold, I reflect on the amazing opportunities I’ve had to fulfill my lifelong wanderlust. I delight in sharing stories and photos, as it allows me to re-live those travels.
My first overseas journey was spent in an extraordinary year in Africa in 1983 and 1984, working and traveling in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. An African proverb goes something like this: “One who drinks from African waters will return”, and that I did in 2011, armed with an arsenal of digital camera gear. An absence of nearly 30 years, yet Africa never really left me.
Take a break from some of the shenanigans of humans and meet a few of my favorite animals. Enjoy the ride and some scoop on each one. The following photos I took from Hluhlue Umfolozi Game Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park and several smaller game reserves in South Africa.
Let’s start at the top! I enjoy the quirky terms assigned to groups of animals. A tower of giraffes is quite appropriate as it describes the group while stationary, and when they move, they become a journey of giraffes.
On my first trip in 1983, I hitchhiked with Tom through Southern Africa. In Chobe National Park in Botswana, after three sweltering days sitting under a tree, a Land Cruiser pickup rolled to a stop and the affable driver said, “Hop in the back!” We eagerly chucked our backpacks in and held on to the grab rail. We picked up a few other young “strays” along the way from Australia, New Zealand and Sweden.
We lumbered along rutted dirt roads, cheering with delight as we watched journeys of giraffes jauntily loping along, obliviously leaving us in the dust.
• Giraffe moms give birth standing up, quite a feat for our planet’s tallest terrestrial animal
• Their babies can walk within 30 minutes with their new gangly legs
• In Mozambique, overhead power lines have to be at least 39 feet (12 meters) high to permit safe passage of giraffes
• A giraffe’s neck can measure up to 6 feet (2 meters) long, so can their legs
• Their necks contain the same amount of vertebrae as humans (7), however their bones are extremely elongated
• Before mating, the male tastes the urine of the female as he tests her reproductive condition
Our Land Cruiser driver was from Botswana and had recently completed his studies on wildlife and tourism and he was training to be a safari guide. We were quite pleased to be his first “practice” guests. He happily stopped to point out wildlife that we never would have seen, as he eloquently described their behavior and habitat.
• Zebras can recognize each other by their unique striping patterns
• The plains zebra, the most common and widespread of it’s species, appears on the coat of arms of Botswana
• Their coat will dissipate 70% of heat
• Zebras will migrate up to 1800 miles (2900 kilometers) for food
• If a zebra is attacked, it’s family will come to it’s defense circling the wounded zebra and attempt to drive off predators
• It is thought zebras use their stripes as camouflage when they are together in a big group to confuse predators, perhaps like an optical illusion
• Zebras live in small, stable family units, consisting of one stallion, several mares and their offspring
• The zebra is not a picky herbivore, munching on a variety of grasses, leaves and young trees. As a result they can range more widely than many other species
Since hyenas are nocturnal, we were quite lucky to see this beauty in daylight in Hluhlue Umfolozi, where we spent the nights in huts. In Chobe, we slept on the ground with only a thin layer of nylon tent between us and very vocal hyenas, keeping us quite alert!
• Even though hyenas appear to resemble dogs, they have no relation, in fact, they are more genetically related to meerkats and mongoose
• Hyenas have complex communication skills, wailing, howling and the most known – laughter, which can indicate their age and status by the pitch and tone
• Hyenas are extremely intelligent and socially sophisticated
• Female hyenas produce three times more testosterone than males, therefore I females are more muscular, larger and more aggressive than male hyenas
• Hyena societies are matriarchal, even young female cubs rule over the young males
Our guide in training in Chobe, Botswana would drop us at a bush camp each night. Extremely basic, with a place to pitch our tents and a central ablution block with running water and toilets, yet to us, a five star resort couldn’t compare to our experience. One night I woke to a slight noise, looked out the mesh tent screen and made out a large gray shape. Suddenly realizing it was an elephant, I tried to whisper to our friend who was sleeping on the ground next to our tent. Turns out he slept right through the excitement of having that giant foot gingerly step precariously close to his face! I was surprised how stealthy their foot steps can be when they want to.
• Elephant herds are matriarchal, led by an older, experienced female. They have one of the world’s most elaborate and advanced social structures
• Elephants can hear one another’s trumpeting calls up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away
• Elephants are scared of bees
• African elephants have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom, they can smell water from 2 miles (3.2 kilometers)
• The African elephant is the largest land animal, the largest on record weighed about 24,000 lbs (10,866 kg) with a height of 13 feet (3.96 meters)
• An adult African elephant requires up to 660 lbs (300 kg) of food and 42 gallons of water (160 liters) a day
•An elephant’s pair of tusks may exceed 440 lbs (200 kg) and they never stop growing
• Elephant brains can weigh as much as 11 lbs (5 kg), more than the brain of any other land animal
• The gestation time of an elephant is 2 years
• An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles. In comparison, a human only has 639 muscles total
• An elephant’s skin can be up to 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) thick, but is so sensitive, it can feel the smallest insects land. Their skin’s massive wrinkles and cracks store moisture from water and mud baths, to help them stay cool
• African elephants can deposit upwards of 330 lbs (150 kg) of dung and can disperse over 2000 seeds of diverse plants per square 0.6 mile (1 kilometer)
• African people regard the elephant with deep reverence, the Zulu, Tswana and Tsonga names for elephants translate to “the forceful one” or “the unstoppable one”, Indlovu in Zulu
• Female elephants have the longest reproductive anatomy of any land mammal, her vagina is located 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) into her body
• An elephant calf can weigh up to 200 lbs (91 kg) at birth
• Mouse sperm is larger than elephant sperm
• The greater kudu (pictured) and lesser kudu are in the antelope family and have stripes and spots. Male greater kudus have long spiral horns, which can grow as long as 6 feet (1.8 meters) with 2 1/2 graceful twists
• Males occasionally form small bachelor forkls, but usually they are solitary and widely dispersed
• Kudus are highly alert and difficult to approach. When bulls run, they lay their horns back near their shoulders to avoid overhanging branches
• The name kudu is derived from the indigenous Khoikhoi language
• Kudu’s coloration blends with their environment, to help protect them from predators. They are surprisingly quiet as they move through dense bush
• Kudu are known for their jumping skills and can easily clear a tall fence
• Mating season is usually between May and August. Kudus mate only once for 5 to 10 seconds
• Warthogs are member of the swine family, their relations being pigs, boars and hogs
• The “wart” in their name refers to protrusions on the sides of their face, which are a combination of bone and cartilage, which helps protect them when males tend to fight during mating season
• Warthogs often avail themselves of empty dens excavated by aardvarks. Sows let their piglets into the burrows first, they then back in, using their tusks to guard for any intruders
• Warthogs have been observed allowing banded mongoose and vervet monkeys to groom them, removing insects from their hairless hide. Oxpeckers and other bird species will ride along their backs, feeding on tiny creatures
• They have padding on their knees, allowing them comfort in a kneeling position to graze lower grasses
• Warthogs are very strong and smart. They are a rarity in not being endangered because they are skilled at adaptation. They look for food in the morning and early evening, but if they are being hunted by humans, they switch to foraging at night
• Warthogs have tusks on their upper and lower jaws used to defend and fight against predators
• They can go long periods without water, as much as several months during the dry season
• When a boar wants to attract a sow, he does a rhythmic “chant” of grunting sounds
• The flightless ostrich is the world’s largest bird
• Ostriches have no teeth, they swallow pebbles to grind their food, they may have 2 lbs (1 kg) of stones in their belly at any one time
• Their eggs are the largest of any bird, however they are the smallest eggs relative to the size of the bird
• The female incubates the eggs by day, as her light color blends with the sand around the nest, the male takes over at night as his black feathers are hidden in the dark from predators
• The ostrich has the largest eye of any land animal
• A kick from an ostrich’s long, powerful legs can be lethal to a potential predator such as a lion
• Unlike all other living birds, the ostrich secretes urine separately from feces
• Also unique in the bird family, the males have a copulatory organ, which is retractable
• A male ostrich (cock) attracts a female (hen) with his array of alternating wing beats. They perform a mating ritual and the cock excitedly flaps his wings again and start poking the ground with his bill. He clears a nest on the ground with his wing flaps, and the hen runs circles around him with lowered wings, he then winds his head down in a spiral motion. The hen drops to the ground and he will mount her for copulation
• Black and white rhinoceroses are both, in fact, gray
• Their horns are made of keratin – the same protein that forms the the basis of a human’s hair and fingernails
• Rhinoceroses eyesight is poor, however their hearing is acute and they have a keen sense of smell
• Rhinoceroses can often be seen having a mud bath, protecting their skin to keep cool and rid themselves of parasites
• Rhinoceroses produce many different sounds indicating anger, alarm and even when they are content
• Rhinoceroses lack teeth at the front of their mouth, they use their lips to pluck grasses
• They can communicate with other rhinoceroses through their poo; when they smell feces and urine, they can know who is in the area
• When a female rhinoceros comes into heat, the smell of her urine changes
• When a bull rhinoceros approaches the cow in heat, he has a stiff legged gait, dragging his back legs behind him
• The female may chase him off or they may gently spar with their horns. The bull prods her abdomen with his horn. The bull repeatedly mounts her for several hours
Perhaps dung beetles are not the most photographically sought after on safari, however, the more I learned about these little beauties, the more appreciative I am of their recycling abilities.
• Dung beetles are robust little recyclers. These impressive, powerful, hard working insects demonstrate remarkable behaviors as they bring ecological balance to the land by loosening and nourishing the soil, as well as helping to control fly populations
• Tumblebug is one of their nicknames
• Most dung beetles use the excrement of herbivores, which contain partially digested grasses and liquid. They extract the nutritious liquid which is full of microorganisms
• Most dung beetles are strong aviators, with long flight wings folded under hard outer wings. They can travel several miles in search of the perfect poo pile. Their specialized antennae can smell out a whiff of odiferous dung from the air
• Dung beetles can move balls weighing 50 times their own humble weight
• By day, the rollers set off in a straight line, using the sun’s light to stay on a direct heading. By night, they navigate by moonlight or bright stars with their ultra sensitive eyes. They are the only known insect to orient themselves by the glow of the Milky Way, like little nautical land sailors!
• The rollers make dung into round balls, some the size of an orange, used for food storage and breeding. During courtship, the male may offer his girl a large brood ball, if she accepts it, they roll it away together, sometimes she will ride on top. They must hurry before other beetles try to lift it from them. They find soft soil to bury their prize and they mate. The male then leaves to make balls for other females. She stays home and makes a few more brood balls and lays a single egg in each. She then coats and seals the ball with dung, saliva and her own feces and stows them underground. Some mothers stay with the ball, tending to her hatchling grubs and removing their feces, which leads one to wonder: who eats the dung beetle’s dung?
• The tunnelers dig down into a pile and set up their nest. Storing it underground keeps it fresh and away from the competition. One or both parents stay with the larvae until they mature, which could be up to 4 months
• The dwellers make their home on top of the dung. Their larvae slowly grow in dung that is drying out, while the parents harvest the fresh, moist goodies and they raise their hatching grubs in the pile of excrement
• Wildebeest, also knows as gnu, is in the antelope family
• African people hold the wildebeest in high esteem, the Zulu name is nkonkoni, meaning champion or leader
• Annual wildebeest migration is determined by weather conditions. They travel 500 to 1000 miles. Migratory groups consists of 1.5 million wildebeest, accompanied by many thousands of zebras, Thompson’s gazelles and other grazers
• The beginning of mating season, called the rut, is determined by the full moon. Territorial males, however, are constantly prepared to mate. If the cow is harmonious, the bull will repeatedly mate with her about two times per minute
• Females give birth to their calf in the middle of the herd. In a remarkable sisterhood, about 80% of females in the herd give birth within the same two or three weeks
Flashing back to the 80’s, riding along in a mokoro; a dugout wooden canoe, at dawn, being propelled with a long stick, by a young local man, we enjoy the serenity of floating on the Okavango delta waters, in Botswana. The silence was suddenly interrupted by a large splash in front of our canoe. As we rounded the next bend, on the banks of the river, a massive crocodile launched himself into the water. As my heart resumed beating, I fully expected to find myself in the jaws of this great beast. Our guide mentioned that the crocodile was more startled by us, but I silently begged to differ.
• Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptile and closely related to dinosaurs and birds
• These amphibious reptiles have a complex heart and can change the destination of blood flow, enabling them to stay underwater for long periods
• Crocodiles have a powerful jaw and one of the strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom, yet they cannot chew their food as their jaw doesn’t move sideways. They swallow stones to help crush and digest their food
• Air temperature determines the sex of baby crocodiles. When the female lays her eggs in a nest (as many as 60), if the temperature is cool, most of the newborns will be female, warmer nests will produce mostly males
• Moms can hear their babies inside the eggs before they hatch, she then digs them from the sand and scoops her hatchlings in her large mouth to gingerly transport them to the water
• Crocodiles have 60 to 110 teeth. They can replace each tooth up to 50 times, up to 4,000 teeth in their life
• Crocodiles don’t have sweat glands, to cool off, they keep their mouths wide open, even during sleep when they need to release heat
• Along with some birds and dolphins, crocodiles can sleep with one eye wide open
• When the female accepts the male’s advances, they go through a mating ritual, sometimes for hours, often rubbing each other’s snouts and backs, twisting around, aligning their reproductive parts. Pairs sometimes mate several times over a few days, yet they are not exclusive. A single clutch of eggs often contain genes from several different males
• A lion’s iconic roar can be heard as far away as 5 miles (8 kilometers)
• Female lions do most of the hunting, while the male defends the pride’s territory. Traditionally, he gets to feed first on the fresh kill
• A lion’s pupil is three times as big as a human’s, but they can’t move their eyes side to side very well, so it moves its entire head when it needs to look in a different direction
• Lions have exemplary night vision, at least six times better in the dark than humans. A reflective coating on the back of their eyes helps capture moonlight
• The lion’s tongue is coarse and rough enough to help peel the skin of their prey away from the flesh
• Lion prides are matriarchal, exhibiting communal care for the cubs. Most lionesses in a pride are related and remain in the same pride for life
• A lion may sleep up to 20 hours a day
• Female lions prefer to mate with males that have the longest and darkest mane
• Male lions may mate up to 100 times in two days to ensure that the females of the pride become pregnant. Each mating lasts only a few seconds
At our bush camp in Chobe, we would meet for breakfast and share coffee and stories around our camp stoves. Two aussies hilariously recounted spending a good part of the night being held hostage in the ablution block by a Cape buffalo or it could have been a hippopotamus. Being a very dark night they didn’t feel the need to properly identify their large captor. The animal wouldn’t budge from the doorway and they weren’t about to try to escape until about 0300 when their new friend finally ambled away.
• African buffalo, also known as Cape buffalo is a large bovine found in sub-Saharan Africa. The horns are their distinguishing feature; a continuous bone shield across their head called a “boss”
• African buffalos are well known as one of Africa’s most dangerous animal, especially to humans. When hunted, buffalo have been reported to circle back on their attackers and ambush them
• Herds of thousands have been known to congregate in the Serengeti during rainy season. They are herbivores and spends much of their day grazing
• Bulls detect when a cow is in heat by smelling her genitals and urine
• A female African buffalo in heat gets the attention of bulls that are attempting to mate her by laying their chins on her rump
• Older dominant males in the hierarchy beat off younger bulls with their greater size and experience
• Impalas require water daily, often they visit watering holes during the heat of day, when it’s likely their predators such as lions will be resting
• When a herd of impalas feel threatened, they leap and scatter in different directions to confound the predator
• Impalas are rarely seen solo, female and their young (called creches) form herds up to 100, while males congregate in herds of about 60
• Similar to other antelopes, impalas have acute senses of hearing, sight and smell. They have glands on their heels that contain scents, when released by a high kick of their hind legs, the herd can communicate to stay together
• Impalas are terrific jumpers, when running from predators they jump over obstacles and can leap more than three times their height
• The sex ratio among impala is weighed in favor of females, with twice as many females calves born each year
This gorgeous cat was in a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, soon to be released back to its wild environment. I was fortunate to be able to be so close, yet pretty happy there was a fence. I’ve had the good fortune to witness cheetahs and leopards on exhilarating night drives in game parks.
• Much like a boat rudder, cheetahs use their muscular tails to steer and balance the trajectory of their run, which helps them maneuver swiftly as they run at high speeds chasing prey
• Holding the distinction of being the fastest land animal on earth, their impressive top speed can reach 70 mph ( 113 kph) in just a few seconds
• Cheetahs have between 2,000 and 3,000 spots in their short, coarse fur, providing camouflage when stalking prey
• During a chase for prey, a cheetah can take 150 breaths per minute
• Cheetahs are not designed to be fighters, they eat quickly before they give up their catch if approached by more aggressive animals, such as lions, leopards and hyenas
• Males are often rebuffed on their first attempts at mating. After time, when the female becomes receptive, she invites copulation by crouching in front of a male, he mounts her from behind as he bites her neck. Mating is not as frequent as in other cats
Back aboard that mokoro canoe on the Okavango Delta, after we escaped the teeth of the crocodile, we continued to meander the waterways. Perhaps we veered a bit too close to the shoreside tules, and unbeknownst to us, the territory of a very large, and un-neighborly hippopotamus. The tules suddenly parted, and I found myself staring down the throat of his unbelievably large mouth. My breath went away as I tried to remain calm. I glanced back at our stalwart young boat guide as he propelled us at record speed. Whatever the reason that hippo had for not chomping the canoe in half, I am grateful. Hippopotamuses still remain at the top of my favorites, just don’t mess with their land!
• The closest relative of the hippopotamus are cetaceans such as whales and dolphins!
• The Tswana name for hippopotamus is kubu, meaning “rebelliousness”, they are regarded as a symbol of uncontrollability and unruliness
• Hippopotamuses have a built in set of “goggles”, a clear membrane that helps protect their eyes
• If threatened, the hippopotamus can be extremely aggressive. They are known to be one of the most dangerous African animals to humans
• Hippopotamuses can eat more than 80 lbs (40 kg) of vegetation in one night
• They live in bloats of around 10 to 20 females and one male, each bloat being territorial
• The herd bull hippopotamus marks his territory by splattering dung onto rocks and bushes
• Hippopotamuses maneuver quite gracefully underwater
• The dominant male mates with the female hippopotamus totally submerged.
• Hippopotamuses are the only African land mammal that mate in the water
• Hippopotamus calves are frisky, indulging in play fights and pushing contests
• If the water is too deep a baby hippopotamus can use it’s mom as a raft
Last but certainly not least, who doesn’t love a barrel of monkeys! Flashing back to Chobe National Park, Botswana, under that tree, waiting for a ride, one day we made peanut butter sandwiches. We learned very quickly as we watched our loaf of bread disappear in a flash of fur and cackling, and as we watched the vervet monkey climb high in the tree, his little accomplice bandit squealed with delight at lifting our peanut butter from under our not so watchful eyes. Despite our hunger we couldn’t help but crack up at our foolishness and wished our clever new friends a bon apetit!
• Pictured is the vervet monkey, common to East Africa. Males are slightly larger than females and easily recognized by a turquoise scrotum and red penis
• Grooming is an important part of their day; removing parasites, dirt and other materials from each other
• Vervets spend most of their time in trees, they are highly adaptable and do well in various terrains
• Vervets use a variety of calls and they teach the “language” to their young from an early age
• Vervet monkeys have a social hierarchy system which determines feeding, mating, fighting and friendships
• Baby vervet monkeys are cherished in their society. Infants are of great interest to other young monkeys in the troop. Young females are delighted to groom or hold a new baby
• Being omnivores, vervet monkeys enjoy fruits, leaves and flowers, as well as bird eggs and they snack on insects and bugs. They have been proven to not turn down a freshly made peanut butter sandwich
I hope you have enjoyed the ride, fellow animal lovers. Nearly all the gorgeous animals pictured are under threat daily from loss of habitat, climate crisis and horrendous poachers that mutilate and destroy these magnificent creatures.
Africa changed my perception of the world to a degree that would change me forever. The more I continuously learn, I am always drawn closer to nature and wildlife on land and sea, and strive to find ways to help protect wildlife and their natural environment.
Many wonderful organizations help protect and conserve wildlife, the following links are some that I proudly donate to: African Wildlife Foundation (awf.org), World Wildlife Fund (wwf.org), Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (seashepherd.org) Simply buying and wearing t-shirts and hats from these organizations helps spread the word, a small way to collectively make a big difference.
Special thanks go to Steve and Valda Bromfield and their young daughters, Taryn and Lindsey who showed us the animals they grew up with in Hluhlue Umfolozi and Stephanie and Terry Gersbank for sharing their special slice of Africa with John and me in 2011.
Thank you to the interweb! Informational credits: awf.org, wwf.org, ourplnt.com, africantravelcanvas.com, softschools.com, google.com, wikipedia.com, facts.net, onekindplanet.org, factslides.com, lionworldtravel.com, funfacts.com, factretriever.com, jabulanisafari.com, andbeyond.com, nathab.com, rhulani.com, monkeyworlds.com, africafreak.com, 4elephants.org, kids.sandiegozoo.com, livescience.com, nationalgeographic.com, africa-wildlife-detective.com, brittanica.com, fascinatingafrica,com, smithsonianmag.com, facts.net, mentalfloss.com, factanimal.com, oceana.org
All photos by the author: Lynn Swycaffer Ringseis
It’s not officially called Whale Vomit Island, yet it is the literal translation of Ambergris Caye, which has long intrigued me, not only because of its unusual name, but it’s proximity to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system on our watery planet. I’m amused to find the meaning of ambergris is a solid, waxy mass of an unpleasant smelling substance emanating from the occasional sperm whale with intestinal issues, and depending on which scientific account you read, ambergris is either disgorged from the whale’s mouth or out the other end. So this piece of land could very well be “Whale Poop Island”. Either way, the Belize Board of Tourism probably hadn’t set up shop during the naming process.
Even weirder, when one stumbles upon a chunk of said whale barf, a rarity indeed, it fetches huge sums by perfume makers. Ambergris is highly sought after as a fixative to help perfumy scents last longer. Hmmmm, “Darling, what are you wearing, it smells divine?” “Oh, a little Chanel with a splash of cetacean upchuck.”
I do love a place where the premier mode of transportation is water taxi or golf cart. Being a boater, I far prefer buzzing over the water while watching frisky dolphins and rays, yet the laidback charm of land is the lack of actual vehicles, only a handful of cars and trucks are interspersed with a plethora of gas powered carts. The pace of traffic is governed by the speed of oh, about 15 miles per hour.
Exploring north of bustling little San Pedro, the only town on Ambergris Caye, the intrepid traveler can scoot along on hardpacked sand roads with plenty of bumps, ravines and holes to make you hold on to your rum drinks. One afternoon as I happily bounced along in my rental cart, I slowed down to avoid what I though was a large piece of black PVC pipe, until it started slithering! Research tells me this was a large tree boa, and yes there are constrictors too.
Tranquility Bay lies twelve miles north of town and indeed tranquil. The ribbons of turquoise waters dance enticingly as the reef lies close to land up here, enticing snorkelers and divers. In 1996 the reef was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Belizeans work hard to protect their eco-system from illegal fishers and other damage. Scuba divers and snorkelers are required to go with professional guides and learn about protocol of touching nothing and leaving behind only bubbles.
Where else would a boatload of seemingly sane snorkelers eagerly don masks and slide from a boat into the water after the Captain shouts “Sharks!” Fanatically enamored with sharks, I plop in to find myself eye to eye with several nurse sharks who couldn’t be less interested in me as they scramble to feed on fish that one of the dive operators is chumming. We are on Hol Chan Marine Reserve, off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye. Not quite sure how I feel about the shark’s policy of “Will work for fish”, they have been programmed for years prior, as local fishermen would stop here to clean their catch and discard what they didn’t want. At least there are no more fishermen, and I am happy to pay a Marine Reserve fee to the folks on a floating marine station who monitor 24/7 for illegal activities.
Members of the Belize chapter of Oceana (oceana.org), WWF (worldwildlife.org) and concerned Belizeans fought hard to convince government leaders to prevent impending oil exploration near the treasured reef. In 2017 Belize became the first country in the world to implement an indefinite moratorium on all oil exploration activities in their territorial waters. Good on you Belize!
The creatures of the sea would applaud you if they could, as they number approximately 1,400 different species thriving in the reef system. Belize is a small country with a big heart. There is so much nature to explore here, along with ancient Mayan civilizations, jungle jaguar reserves, cave explorations and the multitude of offshore islands, some untouched by humans and wonderfully remote.
If the thought of swimming next to a shark scares you, it’s a far scarier scenario to imagine sharks, whales and dolphins becoming deaf and stunned from seismic blasting from ships searching for oil. Just imagine the amount of ambergris a terrified sperm whale would hurl after being blasted in his pristine environment. Thank you Belize for caring, for fighting for the sea. I will happily return and recommend your natural treasures.
I have lived with sadness for far too long. I refuse to let sadness be my constant companion, yet sadness sneaks in when I least expect it. I want to break up with sad. I want to kick sad to the curb, stomp on sad and throw sad over a cliff.
Only I can make that decision. My choice. Sola.
I started this blog on August 12, 2018, as I wanted an outlet to share stories and inspiration. August 12 holds significance. The day 28 years ago my love Tom died from a cruel act of violence that was so devastating, I never knew how to recover from such a sudden and catastrophic loss. Then Tom’s older brother John and I started to create a life together. We made the decision to live an extraordinary, adventurous, nautical, seafaring life together in honor of one man who was so full of adventures and left us way too soon.
This story is about the love of and for two brothers, if you care to join me, grab a chilly rum drink, dig your toes in the sand and ride along.
In the early 1980’s I left my little hometown of Ramona, California and flew to Africa, having previously flown only once before, from San Diego to LAX. Let the adventures begin! I lived on a farm in Zimbabwe with an amazing family, then procured work in Durban, South Africa where I met Tom, his eyes bluer than any ocean and his stories of hitchhiking from Europe down the east coast of Africa captivated me. We would share the wildest of times; sleeping under the stars in a remote game park listening to hyenas celebrate a fresh kill, dodging a territorial hippopotamus from a dugout canoe in Botswana, riding in the back of a Land Cruiser pickup with other backpackers on dirt roads trying to keep up with loping giraffes.
A fellow hitchhiker invited Tom and me to crew on a 31 foot Gibsea sailboat from his home in Marseille and cross the Atlantic to Martinique. This had to be the best hitchhiking opportunity of all time!
Months later after a stint working in Munich, we took him up on it, with barely any knowledge of sailing and with non-English speaking French crew mates, we learned to navigate by the stars and became at one with the sea.
The outback of Thailand
Our world wanderings continued; camping on the beach under palm trees in the French West Indies, living in a thatch hut on a Thailand beach for the equivalent of 50 cents a night, exploring jungles in Malaysia, searching out remote villages in Mexico…
Then the unimaginable; Tom went on his journey in 1990. Hello sadness.
John lost his younger brother/best friend and I lost my young love and all the stories of shared adventures went with him. That is when John and I decided to rise above sadness as we started our nautical path on John’s Catalina 30′ sailboat in Cabo San Lucas.
Mexico does interesting things to folks who listen to their hearts. We started as the best of friends, but then a little tequila, soft starry nights at anchor, warm tropical waters to float in…well, there you have it, why not, let’s go live this life to the fullest!
After several seasons exploring the Mexican coastlines, from our mutual love of the sea and sailing, we got hired as Captain and 1st Mate/Chef in the Caribbean crewed charter yacht industry. Hard to believe we actually got paid to do what we loved! Making friends with an international array of fun loving charter crews and some very special guests, it was an incredible time in our lives.
Captain John and 1st Mate/Chef Lynn
Teaching guests to sail, showing off the underwater world of coral reefs and precious marine life, leading guests on panoramic hiking trails, quenching thirst at beachfront watering holes, dancing to Calypso music barefoot in the sand, cooking scrumptious meals and lying on the trampolines under a blanket of stars sharing salty sea stories and laughter. Yes, an idyllic life indeed. We worked for the Moorings for several years, then bought our own sweet catamaran, a Lagoon 41′ in France, christened her “Moonshine” then sailed her to the Caribbean. My second Atlantic crossing, this time on our own boat.
Sadness was tucked away. I allowed sadness to rear itself once a year, on August 12. My day to mourn, yet amazing and joyful memories of Tom would prevail, as always.
Captain John acquired dementia around 2013. We lived and worked together gracefully, joyfully, every day, all day. I first noticed the changes on our second “Moonshine”, a Leopard 43′ catamaran. This was to be our long term live-aboard vessel, as we wound down our charter business. Little by little he stopped or was unable to complete the routine and normal tasks of boat operations and maintenance. A huge mystery to me, something had gone terribly wrong! Our idyllic lifestyle was under attack, his beautifully intelligent and skillful mind was being compromised.
One of the cruelest diseases I could have never imagined, a brilliant mind slowly gets destroyed, the loved one forced to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated one. I couldn’t ask him what I should do, I was so alone.
I was forced to sell our boat, our pride and joy, our life together. I was too stubborn to ask for help. No, I chose to sail this voyage singlehanded, and it nearly cost me my very soul. As only one who has traveled the path of caring for a spouse or partner with dementia can know, the disease takes prisoners besides the one who has fallen prey to it. Like second hand smoke or shrapnel, dementia ricocheted to my brain. On one hand, I was forced to become twice as smart, thinking for two and taking over all the responsibilities and tasks once shared by two. There are always bright notes, I enjoyed learning more about the mechanical and engineering projects on our boat. The down side was pure depression. Sinking to the depths of the deepest sea, my heart was so sad, I was so utterly helpless. I couldn’t stop his brain from disappearing, all I could do was provide a warm and loving environment.
When I finally asked for help, Fiji answered. The whole country is filled with love. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there was no way I could have placed Captain John in a Memory Care Facility, I had to gather up all my resourcefulness and think way outside the box of institutionalization or rather “lock down”. As fate so often determines our lives, I was blessed to find two of the most caring, fun loving, laughter filled ladies who were lifelong friends and they immediately fell in love with Captain John’s spirit and gave him the best care in a house filled with love. Captain John adapted naturally on the beautiful island of Viti Levu, Fiji, where warm, gentle seas lap up onshore near the house we rented. Mela and Maraia created a loving environment with friends and family popping in, bringing joy and comfort to Captain John. He especially connected with the little ones who found a kindred spirit in John’s mischievous eyes and kind heart.
While my broken spirit tried to mend itself, I knew I had done the best I could in the worst of circumstances.
Then that fateful day arrives again, August 12. Exactly one year from the day I started this blog to honor Tom. August 12, 2019, Captain John went on his journey. I do not believe that is a coincidence, I believe or want to believe that Tom called his brother to join him.
An accumulation of intense, gut-wrenching sadness came to the surface again, almost destroying me, almost slipping back under the sea. A metaphorical life preserver was tossed to me by my pod of incredible people who wanted me to survive. For them I am forever grateful. I will continue that extraordinary, adventurous nautical lifestyle in honor of those beloved brothers; Tom and John. In honor of me too, and the people I surround myself with who have shined their positive energy on me like a beacon.
I say adios to sad. I’m breaking up with sad. “Dear sad, it’s not you, it’s me. Actually it is you sad, you suck!” If only it were that easy. Grief comes in waves, sometimes uncontrollable, however, like squalls at sea, it always passes. I will try to turn thoughts of sadness into wild and crazy adventures. I choose to travel, to experience different cultures, to share happiness, to help lift people’s spirits, as that in turn helps me. I want to continue to share stories of travel and encourage others to follow their passions, and grab all the joy you can!
My love is the ocean, come voyage with me and help nourish and protect the sea as she is what keeps us all alive.
In honor of National Dive Bar Day (yes, there is such a thing!) sponsored by Seagrams 7, who proudly support the National Trust for Historic Preservation, valiantly helping to preserve dive bars, we take a pub crawl in Waikiki, on the not quite so beaten paths.
Frivolity; it’s a good word. Perhaps not practiced enough on a daily basis. As you may have read in these pages, I’m a big fan of character bars. What frivolous fun to plop oneself in a funky watering hole that has a story. Some look like an old movie set, some have the requisite peanut shells crunching under your feet, some have a rather distinct aroma of stale beer and spilt whiskey, but the common bond is the characters they attract.
Mahalo (thank you) Waikiki for retaining a handful of these gems. Allow me to take you to a few of my favorites.
Arnold’s: Keep a sharp lookout for the entrance which looks like an alley, but saunter in and settle at a bar stool and within minutes you are a local. As unpretentious as they come, tucked away from the tourist throngs, Arnold’s could be a neighborhood pub in any American town, but the tiki paraphernalia reminds us that we’re just a short walk to a stunning tropical sunset on the Pacific, if we choose to tear ourselves away from the fun ambiance here.
Lava Tube: I happened upon this gem on Kuhio Avenue. I was delighted to see the garish neon sign that lured me to the door. I entered solo and felt instantly welcome. I started chatting with a couple who are stationed here and Lava Tube has become their local place of choice to blow off steam! My new friends said the Mai Tais were the best here, however I stuck with a Kona Brewing lager and enjoyed surveying my new surroundings, complete with tiki carvings. So happy I got sucked into the “tube”‘
Cuckoo Coconuts: Occupying an outdoor space shaded by what appears to be giant, colorful cocktail umbrellas, Coconuts instantly feels fun enough to want to spend an entire afternoon and evening, listening to live music and dancing with strangers. Some patrons look like they may have never left. The bartender looks astonishingly identical to my friend Kirk, which makes me feel even more at home. My friend and I laugh, dance and celebrate the fact we don’t have a car, walking to earn beer calories. Cuckoo Coconuts serves Piña Coladas in pineapples and rum drinks in, well, of course coconuts! This family friendly atmosphere in a completely outdoor environment, with no walls, doors or ceiling has refreshing low food and beverage prices. A huge variety of Aloha wear makes shopping fun while taking a break from yummy cocktails.
Harbor Pub: Down but not dirty. I was greeted at the door by staff and bar patrons with “Come in and hang out!” When traveling solo, I find that dive bars are extremely welcoming. As soon as I choose a barstool, I can have the most interesting conversations. Harbor pub is nestled under the fancy pants Chart House, and looks a bit cast away, yet step aboard and it’s a vessel of enchanting artifacts. As a sailor, I’m content to have a view of all manner of craft just a monkey’s fist toss from the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Most tourists wouldn’t dare enter this seedy waterfront joint, and that’s exactly why I fear not!
La Mariana Sailing Club: Step way back in time, imagine what Hawaii was like before becoming the 50th state. La Mariana began its colorful journey in 1957 and has the feel of a museum dedicated to Hawaiiana. Annette La Mariana Nahinu, the founder, collected memorabilia from many of the famous tiki bars that have since been sadly replaced by unimaginative, modernistic mundaneness. Approaching La Mariana’s entrance makes me smile and appreciate one woman’s vision and steadfast perseverance in keeping old traditions alive. A tsunami, threats of eviction and ever encroaching industrialization have not deterred this resilient establishment from serving up Mai Tais and joy. Smell the salty air and gaze at the sailboats gracing the docks at La Mariana Sailing Club’s marina and enjoy true aloha spirit and charm.
Wherever you roam in the world, you are sure to find a fun dive bar, where even the most hardened of misfits fit in, so gather up your courage, take a deep breath and plunge in to a divey speakeasy, hole in the wall, honky tonk, roadhouse, biker bar, brewpub, watering hole, saloon, tavern, tiki bar or ramshackle waterfront sailor’s pub, and leave seriousness at the door and allow frivolity to reign. Cheers!
Gail let out a little yelp as we stand ankle deep in crystal clear South Pacific water on Drawaqa Island. We look down and a frisky sand colored starfish has scooted over her right foot and tickled her. Kathy and I also get kissed by these fast moving little beauties. We are equally greeted with hugs and kisses by the incredibly friendly Fijian people.
How did I manage to convince my amigos to hop aboard a friendly Fiji Airways airbus 330, where the beautiful flower bedecked flight staff greeted us with “Bula! Welcome home”, as they showed visions of tropical waters on our individual screens?
Our pod was born for tropical adventures! The 10 hours and change from LAX to Nadi (pronounced nandi) flew by like a soft breeze. Arriving at 0500, we proceed to nearby Port Denarau and hop aboard the Yasawa Flyer-boat ride!
A breakfast of Fiji Gold shakes off any semblance of flight grogginess as we proceed on our literal three hour cruise, stopping at one idyllic little isle after another, as travelers hop on or off in this magical chain of the Yasawa Islands.
My hometown and lifelong pals Kathy and Gail have ventured to the British Virgin Islands for many years to sail aboard Moonshine, our sweet charter catamaran, and helped to celebrate the end of each season in May, and what a great final “charter”! Handpicked for their frivolity, go with the flow attitude and blending in with any local environment, these two define the gift of friendship.
This May, Fiji beckoned and we answered her call, along with the welcome addition of Kirk, Kathy’s husband, who previously earned most excellent crew status on a bareboat voyage in Belize.
Our lunchtime arrival to Barefoot Manta proved good timing, as one can only use beer as food for so long. A bevy of the multi-talented staff serenades us upon our beach landing with guitars, ukuleles and a sweet welcome song. We then dive into a buffet of fresh, local deliciousness.
There will be no napping on our watch! Us ocean loving creatures grab our snorkels, slip in from Sunrise Beach and we’re instantly in awe of the pristine reef and all the sea life here. The soft, silky warm sea allows us to stay underwater for as long as we have the energy to do so. This is why I’ve returned for my third time! Snorkeling, zen like, forced to breathe deeply, trying to memorize patterns and colors that defy reality, wanting to shout out about a cool coral or unusual fish, yet satisfied with capturing the moments in a brain photo, and sharing stories of them on land over a beverage.
Barefoot Manta doesn’t just throw out the term eco-Resort loosely, they live and breathe eco! Rob, the resident Marine Biologist is fueled with passion, gives fascinating talks and leads snorkel and dive tours, as well as educating about and preserving the protected marine habitat around these islands.
Our family bure (bungalow) couldn’t be more perfect for our well acquainted clan. Intimate yet spacious, funky yet functional. A large canvas tent with plenty of beds, an awesome outdoor shower and a coconut’s throw to the beach, we’ve truly arrived in Paradise. Set up hammock-check. Install portable clothesline-check. Send Kirk to procure cold beverages from the bar-check. Toes in the sand, gentle surf lapping the shore, a delightful relaxation enters our souls…we all nod in agreement as we survey our surroundings…why would we ever want to leave!
We float out into the warm sea with beverages in hand to celebrate the sun as she softly sinks into the horizon. We slowly tread water to equalize the intake of calories-beer aerobics! The only thing enticing us to depart such delightful bathtub-like conditions is hunger. We quickly rinse in the outdoor shower, throw on sarongs and stroll to he communal feeding grounds, in good company with travelers from many spots on the globe.
We’ve been assigned the nearest table to the beach bar, hmmmm, we’ve garnered a reputation already and it’s only day one! A spectacular variety of food greats us. We placed our diner order during lunch so the fantastic chefs can cater to most any dietary requirements and preferences. Kudos to this small island kitchen for bringing out lusciously presented works of galley art. Satisfied beyond words, our content quartet ambles home and sleep comes so easily in our new abode that feels so familiar so quickly.
0445 arrives and Gail, Kirk and I slip out the door to join the sunrise hike. Kathy, perhaps the wisest of us all, pretends to sleep, knowing once we leave, she’ll have the place to herself, preferring a solo beach walk to reflect and recharge from a hectic North American paced lifestyle.
Meanwhile our pace is equally hectic, trying to follow the staff member who leads the way with one flashlight. Having done this on a previous trip, I brought my headlamp and try to help shine on slippery rocks as we ascend the trail in pitch darkness. My light catches the bright red oozing on Kirk’s shin, he shrugs off his accidental tripping off our cabin’s deck and says if he’s not bleeding, it’s an unusual day. A few smartphones flicker and two young gals are chattering about the good fortune of finally acquiring enough precious bars of reception. Our smirking guide points out the island’s cell tower under which we are standing. This opens up the floodgate of phone usage, as one makes business calls rather loudly as the rest of us gaze out to Sea appreciating the serene environment as the eastern sky gets a hint of light.
It’s kind of amusing to start a hike with total strangers in darkness and the sunlight starts revealing who our new companions are as their personalities emerge. The girl who can’t keep off her phone turns out to be a very witty and savvy realtor named Cherry who explains that she has a “neurotic client” demanding of her vacation time. Her travel partner is Lisa, a jovial attorney, well versed in DUI cases, hopeful to never need her services, we still exchange contact info as these gals are just plain fun!
Upon arrival, we were briefed as to the drumbeats signaling manta rays in the channel. We sit down to breakfast and after only a few bites of buffet style goodness, there go the drums! We drop our forks and sprint to our bure. Gail and I are into our bathing suits faster than a triathlete, with snorkels in hand we hot foot it to the boat. Thinking Kirk and Kathy are immediately behind us, we jump onboard as the boat fills with manta lovers. Where are they! The boat driver heads to the channel and they crew dive in, searching for the lone manta they spotted earlier. No such luck and we return to meet the other half of our crew waiting on the beach. Our escapades are always filled with humor as Kirk explains how he sprinted halfway across the island to get to the boat, but it was the complete opposite way! We collapse in hysterics and have a morning beer, yes, we are on vacation.
We satisfy our oceanic cravings in a flat calm sea and snorkel around the point from Sunrise beach to Manta beach. Time is on our side as we drift with the gentle current and explore nooks and crannies in the ever fascinating underwater garden that grows the most beautiful bouquets of color.
Having diagnosed myself with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I peruse the Daily activities on the “Bulatin” board. Today’s offerings include a village visit. We respectfully dress for the occasion, covering errant knees and shoulders. A short boat ride to Naviti Island and we offload onto a breathtakingly serene palm lined beach. We alight next to the brightly painted school boat. Kirk re-thinks his day job and sets his sights on becoming school boat Captain.
Our guide points out solar panels and rainwater catchment tanks, however no electricity exists in this most peaceful of settings, which otherwise would be a perfect place to spend a few days or months, if indeed there was a way to keep beer cold.
Fruitful and medicinal plants abound and we learn so much from a life lived from the land and sea. Modern world diseases and stress are unheard of here. Communal living, where taking care of each other is prioritized above all else, sending subliminal message for outsiders to ponder. What is important in our worlds? What do we need vs what do we want?
Had some First Worlders gotten their hands on this phenomenal piece of real estate, we’d be sipping $14 Piña Coladas, barely hearing the waves over amplified music…ah, but I digress, we are not in high-rise resort world, we are thankfully in an under-developed slice of nature, used sparingly, resourcefully and spiritually. On second thought, we’ll happily settle for a thatch hut and sip on an un-chilled Fiji Gold.
The school and church are simply yet substantially built, with a few tourist dollars earned from the sale of locally produced handicrafts and jewelry helping to fund some amenities such as flooring. Friendly greetings abound as kids and dogs chase each other playfully in a scene so enviable in it’s peacefulness.
Back at Barefoot Manta, our bure feels quite luxurious with electricity and hot water. We vow to simplify our lives. But wait, what time is it! No one has a watch, but the inevitable smartphone seems to accompany at least one of us for photo documentation. It’s time for the Sunset Booze Cruise! This event has our names all over it. We wisely let the young backpackers board first so we can strategically sit at the stern, closest to the cooler. Yup, older, wiser and awfully fun! We slowly motor offshore and come across a rust bucket of a mini cruise ship. So tempted to moon then, but we won’t add insult to their sad faces as they look down from their worn railing at our little boat of joy. Dance party, divers overboard, cold drinks a-flowing. We’re so happy we’re us! Until suddenly, our love boat arcs back to the beach and the sun has just barely been swallowed by the sea. Hmmmmm. We later find out one of the backpacker gals was feeling queasy and needed land. It sure wasn’t due to seasickness on the flatter than pancake conditions, oh those youth and their inexperience at perfecting the fine art of responsible adult beverage consumption.
Upon seating at our dinner table, a woman who looks to be of similar age, compliments us on our snorkeling prowess. Wow, we didn’t see that coming. She mentions that she and her husband snorkeled for about 20 minutes and got tired. She was astonished to see us emerge from a whole different beach much later, and the fact we weren’t even wearing fins was of super human qualities in her view. Well, Aquaman we are not, but as lovers of the ocean, it is indeed a monumental task to exit onto dry land.
We had many laughs about our fan club of one, and her adoration was exemplified after we circumnavigated Drawaqa in kayaks and also paddled to our neighbor island, Nanuya Balavu to enjoy beverages at Mantaray Island Resort. At dinner, she refers to us as the Bad Ass Crew and we cheerfully accept the compliment. Strolling back to our quarters we stargaze and are shined upon by the Southern Cross as we softly sing the anthem of long distance sailors.
After a leisurely breakfast (the mantas are shy again) we venture underwater and Gail lets out another yelp. She manages to sputter the word shark through her snorkel tube. I immediately swim towards her, so excited to say hello to one of my shark friends. Ah but the Blacktip Reef Shark was off to bluer pastures already and I mentioned to Gail what a fortunate sighting she had. She wasn’t immediately convinced, but got her heart rate back to normal and continued forth. It didn’t even occur to me to see if Kirk’s bloody shin has dried up. Awhile later from the beach by our bure, Gail spotted a baby Blacktip lazily meandering in the shallows. She is now officially known as “Shark Girl”. As timing would have it, Rob is giving his shark talk which we eagerly attend. The fascination of sharks comes with education; the more we know, the less we fear, and the more we appreciate the importance of everything in the sea. We also swim along for Rob’s underwater lecture as he points out coral planting projects, the protection of giant clams and interesting creatures only visible to a well trained eye, so familiar in his natural habitat.
Rob goes back to work, we continue our watery explorations. A huge school of Golden Trevally encircles us, oblivious to our humanoid gawking. Each of us finds our own aquatic rhythm, whether floating perfectly still while observing the antics of a Leaping Blenny or trying to keep up with a pod of iridescent squid, who always outrun us with their cephalopod jet propulsion, savoring our ocean time immensely. We all pop our heads up upon hearing a sputtering engine start, just in time to wave a farewell to Cherry and Lisa, as they board the float plane, looking none too happy to be departing.
Kirk claims a hammock and us girls habitually return to our sunset “bathtub” to float and tell stories. A few tourists are on the beach taking photos of the sunset, we are quite aways offshore and our mischievous selves can’t help it if our bathing suit tops happen to be liberated, giggling like the schoolgirls we once were together.
Warm islands, warm friendships, it’s all we need for now.