Wild and Wet Waikiki

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!

Kissed by a Starfish

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.

Kirk, Gail, Kathy and Lynn

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.

Everyone is welcome in Naviti Island village church, photo credit: Gail

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.

Bula! Photo credit: Cherry

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.

Cool Gear I Like to Travel With

What seems like a millennium ago, a young backpacker from Ramona found herself hitchhiking the wilds of Southern Africa. Her backpack carried few items, yet each was integral and multipurpose or it simply didn’t get to join the party. Flash forward to modern gear, and oh how things have lightened up! This same wandering gal tends to have wheels on her luggage now and immensely appreciates clever, lightweight designs and multitasking items. I love to share fun finds, carry on!

A well traveled pair of port and starboard Osprey bags, known to have been stuffed to maximum capacity and still squeezed into overhead bins, as carry on is the way to go whenever possible. My constant companion, the green Osprey Ozone High Road LT wheeled carry on, never weighs me down and her not so little sister, the maroon daypack is an Osprey Ozone 35 with lots of top-secret hidden zippers and compartments to keep goods super organized.

Sea to Summit, an Australian company, makes a lot of very cool and savvy travel gear. I’m rarely without this extremely convenient daypack, it squishes into its own little bag for easy stowing in a pocket or larger bag, however I seem to constantly use it unsquished on the road, boat or to the local market.

This trusty Hydro Flask has been filled with delightful brews from the equatorial region to near the arctic circle, keeping java toasty warm or cervesa muy frio for hours with its incredible insulating abilities, and earth loving consumer’s don’t waste single use cups. This model is 16 oz but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Just be aware of the o-rings, they are known to escape captivity during washing.

Those clever Sea to Summit Aussies have made collapsible bowls which are great for restaurant take aways. At 22 and 38 oz they prove easy to pack. The word spork just makes me smile. This stout little gem is made in Sweden and it’s called Light My Fire. There’s even a little serrated edge on the fork for knife mode.

The tenacious Nalgene water bottle holds 500 ml and has prevented engorging the landfill many times over.

This diminutive Chico Bag has unstuffed itself into a workhorse at carrying groceries and everything else imaginable.

REI makes this Travel Duffel that stuffs itself into a little zipper compartment and even has backpack straps and is a proven sturdy extra bag.

Outdoor shower. Just those two words conjure up a scene of emerging from a tropical sea after a good long snorkel, and the luxury of a fresh, warm water rinse can be had just about anywhere there’s a tree branch. Sea to Summit’s 10 liter pocket shower can resourcefully multitask as a waterproof dry bag.

Not desiring to linger so much in public ablution rooms, this Sea to Summit multi-compartment toiletries bag is an organized person’s gift! Having learned long ago to make sure the handy hook finds a home nowhere near the toilet, one can safely remove their toothbrush without the dreaded plop sound.

Flip flops or Slippahs as they are affectionately referred to in many island nations are near and dear to my feet. My favorites are by Teva and called Mush, super lightweight, I can stealthily slip past a sleeping dog or sprint to the nearest barstool when the happy hour conch shell blows.

Last but far from least, Sea to Summit knocks it out of the park with packable hammocks and a multitude of accessories. Mine is a 10 x 6.2 foot double Pro Hammock, although I can’t claim “Pro” status as I’ve ungracefully launched myself out a few times, fortunately on soft beach sand, much to the amusement of giggling onlookers. Glad to be of service in the joviality department, as laughing at myself is a fine sport indeed.

Español en Ecuador

The full moon shimmered through my balcony, gently waking me as she beckoned me. I stepped outside to greet the Southern Cross and Venus, my dear companions. This month’s full moon coincided with the vernal equinox, only too happy to celebrate spring, even in the equatorial region where it’s pleasant year round.

The moon shifted colors from tangerine to coral as she lured me to the sea. Only dogs and drunks are on the beach at this hour. I watched her slowly plunge into the sea and bid her adios.

The hauntingly beautiful sound of a Latina singer echoed through the streets, filling the dawn air. I was drawn to the voice and witnessed the tail end of an all night quinceñera fiesta. Folks slowly dance as the sky turns light. The fifteen year old young lady of honor is nowhere to be seen, however her parents, aunts, uncles and amigos are still going strong.

Their choice of beautiful Latin music restores my faith in Montañita’s musical tastes. This pueblo loves to party, as I discovered during fin de semana (the weekend). The most popular Ecuadorian discoteca is just a few streets down from my habitación (hotel room). I’ve nicknamed it Disco del Diablo, as on weekends, the unimaginative, repetitive, mind numbing beat reverberates through the village until “quiet hour” at four in the morning! However that doesn’t stop any local fiestas from going all night, they just play more enchanting musica. Fortunately my hotel is far enough up the hill to filter most of el ruido (noise).

Having long had the desire to plop myself in a village that speaks only Spanish, I researched language schools to help enhance my skills and advance from my mediocre “taxicab Spanish”.

I chose Ohana Language School and knew it was a good choice upon greeting my maestro (teacher) Miguel. His sonréir (smile) is as big as his corazon (heart) and remarkably, I understood most of his Spanish right away. He’s been a professional Spanish instructor for nearly a dozen years and his enthusiasm and energy are compelling. There were no other students during my time there, so I had the good fortune to have private lessons.

Miguel has grown up in Montañita, this former quiet fishing village turned surfer/backpacker town. Not only is he an excellent teacher, he also has the best restaurant recommendations for the types of food I prefer. He is the youngest of six sisters and one brother and it seems the whole village greets him with abrazos (hugs) and besos (kisses) as we meander the streets, all the while speaking nothing but Spanish. Miguel becomes like a hermano menor (younger brother) to me, adding to his pod of big sisters.

I look forward to school each morning as Miguel makes learning fun and varied, we start off with casual conversation, then work on verb conjugations. Just that word sounds complicated, but Miguel has a knack for keeping things challenging yet entertaining. If he senses my brain is on overdrive, he’ll grab his phone and play a fun and upbeat Latin song. This talented young man also teaches salsa dancing on the weekends. The actual classroom is outdoors, a huge selling point for me. A wooden table, some chairs and a dry erase board, all under a shady tree with a view of the ocean.

Often after class, we wander down to the village for almuerza (lunch), speaking solamente Español of course. Dining in a Peruvian restaurant run by a Venezuelan family in Ecuador where no one speaks English seems perfectly normal to me, as I adapt quickly. After class I get to do homework and love it. If only school from my youth had been this creative and such an enjoyable learning experience.

One day Miguel had a lot of online classes in the morning so he suggested to start class in the afternoon. Por supuesto! (of course). I enjoyed an early morning beach walk and as I wandered the quiet streets, the aromas wafting from La Panadería were beyond tempting. They were not quite open, so I politely waited outside the open door, a man greeted me with a warm welcome and an even warmer pan chocolat. We chatted as I dripped gooey chocolate deliciousness on my chin like a niña as we both laughed. I asked his name, he replied, “Cristiano, y como se llama señorita?” I’ve learned in Latin countries that Lynn doesn’t really translate, so I use my español name, “Me llamo Linda”. “Ah, muy Bonita” he exclaims. As nice as it is to be referred to as young and pretty at 6:00 am by a man who can bake, I believe he was just explaining that Linda means pretty.

Afternoon classes were productive until we both decided we couldn’t miss puesta del sol (sunset). We moved class to a beachfront restaurant, over a glass of vino during happy hour, I am really liking this school!

On weekends I loved exploring. I took a bus to the nearby town of Ayampe. Traveling sola chica, I tend to put on my self assured, bad ass persona. My body language says, “Don’t mess with me.” The down side of this portrayal is I don’t make any friends because I appear so unapproachable!

Ayampe is the perfect antidote for boisterous, energetic Montañita. A laid back vibe envelopes this little outpost. A serene beach walk ends at La Tortuga for lunch. It seems each beach village offers Spanish classes, surf school and yoga lessons. I sit upstairs overlooking the calm sea and enjoy doing my homework, taking breaks to chat with friendly locals. Muy tranquilo.

Armed with a day full of serenity, I’m ready to join in the amped up fun of Montañita. I discover a small retreat down the beach called La Gondola, offering healthy fruit smoothies and açaí bowls, a perfect spot to enjoy sunset.

On the final day of escuela, Miguel takes me on a field trip to Parque Nacional Machalilla. A guide shows us the beauty of the protected habitat on forest trails. We arrive in the small village of Agua Blanca, passing by a sulfur lagoon where folks are slathering black mud head to toe, as the slimy contents are said to be therapeutic.

Agua Blanca lays host to one of the oldest archeological sites in South America, with preserved remains of the ancient civilizations, the Monteño.

Meanwhile, a couple of hammocks called our names. A perfectly relaxing place for verb practice. Some young local girls were curious about our hammock school. While Miguel was taking a siesta, one of the girls picked up his index cards. She spoke no English but was delighted to quiz me on the Spanish words and I prompted her to repeat the English translations, which she excelled at, with lots of giggles in between. Perhaps a future teacher in the making!

I left Ecuador with a greater appreciation of Español and graduated up to “limo Spanish”, thanks in large part to Miguel, who I can recommend to anyone wanting to learn in person or online: miguelitoyagual@gmail.com

Just mention his new hermana sent you.

Viajar es vivir (to travel is to live)

Iceland: I Do NOT Want to Eat a Whale Taco, Thank You

I’m drawn to Iceland’s extreme raw nature and the unpredictability of not only the ever changing weather but the knowledge that a volcanic eruption could occur at any given moment.

Crawling through an ice cave inside a glacier on an active volcano feels slightly less risky than being hurtled down a dark, unplowed, curvy motorway, passing large trucks during a sideways snowstorm! Our intrepid and humorous guide seems perfectly comfortable maneuvering the Land Rover with one hand on the wheel, one on his coffee cup and his head turned to my traveling companion in the back seat who kept asking questions, amused at my uneasiness, yet somehow I knew the trip would soon get remarkably better, once the effects of the delicious craft brewed Icelandic beers I couldn’t resist sampling the night before wore off.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Raki, a mountain search and rescue guide, was at the helm of this beefed up Land Rover Defender with massive tires. After visiting two spectacular waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, we got to put this rig to its full potential. We stopped in the charming town of Vik for refreshments. Many travelers arrive in Vik by motorcoach and then transfer to large vans with about 20 passengers each to start their off-road expeditions. We chose superjeep.is from Reykjavík, and enjoyed our intimate group of six.

The town of Vik

One of Raki’s pals, a van driver, jokes that Raki is going to get stuck in his “little” vehicle. Raki knows to smile silently, sure enough, after expertly maneuvering through rough terrain and freshly fallen snow, we see his pal’s van at an awkward angle, being pulled out! We scoot past with nary a smirk, heading towards the otherworldly Myrdalsjokull glacier, and arrive at our destination; the glacier cave inside Katla volcano that is itching to erupt, hopefully not today.

Oops!

We’re handed helmets and crampons as we trudge through crunchy snow. Raki enters the cave first to check the conditions. Given the all clear, we make our way up steep, snowy carved out steps.

Entering the frozen cavern, we silently observe the natural surroundings in awe. Brilliant blue colors shine through 800 years of compressed ice.

Flecks of black ask have been trapped in layers of ice, a good reminder that Iceland is one of the most volcanically active spots on earth, as she straddles two tectonic plates over a belly of fire.

We have plenty of time to explore, take photos or just marvel at nature’s powers at work. Future visitors will see a different view, as glacier caves melt, freeze, crack, disappear and reform. I treasure this unique setting.

We exited the cave to fresh scenery. The snow stopped and the mist lifted to reveal stunning views of stark contrast, with the wild North Atlantic Ocean, a dark strip of clouds, pure, white snow and blue glaciers.

Back at Vik, it’s a lovely day at the beach. Reynisfjara beach is black lava and we gaze at the basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar, as impressive as their name. I later discover that this beach is on some of the top ten beaches of the world lists.

On the drive home we could see Eyjafjallajökull, notoriously famous for its volcanic eruption in 2010, causing airliners from Europe to be grounded for days, as jet engines are not fond of abrasive, fine, glass-rich ash. The explosive power of vaporized, melted glacial water, created spumes of ash into the jet stream 22,000 feet high.

Raki’s sense of humor was appreciated as we passed a particularly intense geothermal area, the sulphur smell crept into the closed windows, he said if anyone needed to pass gas, no one would notice.

Resourceful Icelanders have long been harnessing the gifts of their land, using renewable and sustainable geothermal energy to heat their water and houses, provide energy, grow vegetables in hot houses and thoroughly enjoy a multitude of natural hot springs. Iceland’s tap water is some of the purest in the world, coming from springs naturally filtered through lava. Which also makes for some awesome beers!

Earning beer calories is always a goal, just walking the streets of Reykjavík can be a challenge. Performing “ice-ometrics” while trying to remain upright on icy sidewalks is a humorous endeavor. In between skidding along like a three year old beginning ice skater, I stop and laugh out loud at what appears on the sidewalk: what is more slippery than a banana peel? A frozen banana peel!

Watching people’s reactions as they gaze into the display window of this small, quirky museum is almost as entertaining as the contents inside. Some rush past red-faced, young boys snicker, but many walk in bursting with curiosity, myself being in the latter group, always curious. Quite a good location, given the long winter nights to study such things. No, not the Aurora Borealis, it’s the Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka the Penis Museum. Reykjavík lays claim to the only one of its kind in the world.

The founder was a history teacher and his son has taken over as curator, displaying over 200 penises and penile parts of nearly all the sea and land mammals that can be found in Iceland. Quite surprisingly, there is a display of a human’s penis from a 92 year old who was happy to have his privates in public after his passing.

After exiting the Penis Museum, we turn up a street to see the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church rising up in all its glory. I can’t help but associate it’s shape with that of an aroused sperm whale!

Time for some serious research, finding a brew pub. Always drawn to water, Reykjavík’s charming Old Harbour beckons. Bryggian Brugghús Bistro and Brewery catches our eyes, the atmosphere is instantly warm and welcoming. Fridrik, the affable bartender, served us information as well as delicious house made craft beer. Fridrik placed a small mason jar in front of us, explaining that in the past, fish was preserved by fermentation, sometimes using human urine. He invited us to try a sample of fermented shark cubes. Politely declining and explaining a preference for plant based meals, Fridrik laughed and said hardly anyone eats like that anymore, especially the younger generation.

When your Icelandic bartender offers shots of “Black Death”, I wisely stick to craft beer

Which brings up the astonishing subject of whale meat being offered on menus of some restaurants, as well as puffin meat, when rarely do locals consume it. During the hugely popular whale watching season, misguided tourists get off the boats after photographing and being awed by viewing these magnificent creatures, only to order a whale steak for lunch, mistakenly thinking this is a traditional Icelandic dish. Sometimes whale is not labeled and unsuspecting diners think they are eating fish and chips when in fact it is whale meat.

Love this hearty sailor, voyaging in February

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) placed a moratorium on killing whales, to worldwide approval, so whale populations could recover. That moratorium is still in effect today, yet three countries blatantly defy that ruling; Japan, Norway and Iceland. Iceland’s Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture placed self imposed quotas “allowing” the illegal slaughter of fin and minke whales. Sea Shepherd, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), international Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Icelandic Association of Whalewatchers, along with other conservationists and the majority of Icelanders and passionate marine mammal lovers worldwide, vehemently oppose this barbaric practice.

The biggest offender, Icelandic whaling company Hvalur hf, not only slaughtered endangered and pregnant fin and minke whales, they killed an extremely rare blue whale hybrid last season, causing condemnation over this illegal and inhumane practice of harpooning the animals as they die a slow and painful death. The whale meat is shipped to Japan and to local Icelandic restaurants for tourist’s consumption.

What can we do? Go on whale watching excursions, photograph and enjoy nature and wildlife. If you don’t care to put a whale in your mouth, research whale friendly restaurants and support Icelanders who oppose slaughtering whales.

With enough opposition and informed choices, perhaps whaling will end for good!

For more information: seashepherd.org, us.whales.org, iwc.int, ifaw.is, icewhale.is

Scottsdale, a Cowgirl Feels at Home


The daughter of a rancher has never owned a pair of cowgirl boots. Well, things are about to change. What better place for a western wear shopping expedition than the bustling pueblo of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Sauntering into Saba’s, family owned since 1927, I’m cheerily greeted by Candy, who is helping a gentleman from New York who has just arrived, he’s been informed by his friends that they are taking him to a cowboy party and boots are mandatory.

He looked a bit timid and slightly foolish as a “dimestore cowboy” until effervescent Candy put him at ease. She explained how she retired from a corporate career and recently discovered her true calling; matching boots to personalities, regardless of background, profession and even if you’ve never met a horse!

This country girl preferred her little bicycle to being hoisted atop a smelly beast who had a penchant for flinging little girls off into a field of stickers. But age and time do funny things, and it’s about time I embrace my small town, country roots. By the third pair of boots, Candy nailed it. The minute I pulled on the Caribbean teal blue accentuated beauties, I knew they would transform me to bad-assery. Yep, no one is going to mess with this chica, however the point being; embracing the real you; whether it be sequined stilettos or flip flops, if clothes and shoes can make a girl feel strong, empowered and confident, then grab a pair and rock them! I did manage to depart Saba’s with only one pair, unlike the man from New York who got his inner cowboy on and walked away with two pairs.

Switching to hiking boots, I hit the trails. Starting at McDowell Mountain Regional Park which has 50 miles of trails for feet, mountain bikes and horses, I randomly stumble onto none other than Bootlegger trail! Hardly another human was to be seen on this early morning ramble, just a roadrunner flashing by and a few jackrabbits to keep me company.

Wide expanses of open desert has a similar feeling to being at sea, plenty of breathing room. Working up a thirst is easy in these parts and there is no shortage of watering holes. I’m drawn to the funky vibe of Cave Creek. I spot biker bars, cowboy bars and even one that has live bull riding on weekends, how does one choose? I can’t pass up the Horny Toad.

Cave Creek’s oldest watering hole

I introduce myself to the bartendress Katrina and explain my self-appointed mission: to document character bars worldwide! Katrina pleasantly chatted and told stories, along with a regular patron who enjoyed telling how Dick Van Dyke used to live nearby and the Horny Toad was one of his favorite hangouts.

Katrina the bartendress was a source of amusement, as well as the sign behind her “Alcohol: Because no great story ever started with someone eating a salad”

Established in 1976, the Horny Toad holds the honor of being the oldest drinking establishment in Cave Creek. I enjoyed wandering in this tiny desert outpost that loves unique gathering spots, and many bars still have original hitching posts for patrons arriving on their favorite steed.

A handful of saguaro with five fingers

Locals helped guide me to interesting explorations in and around the Scottsdale area. Cosanti, a gallery and foundry, is known for bronze and ceramic wind bells. Digging a little deeper, one can discover the vision of Cosanti’s creator, the late Paolo Soleri, an Italian born architect and philosopher, who created an urban laboratory in the high desert called Arcosanti, an environmentally accountable prototype of a town in harmony with nature.

Upon entering the Musical Instrument Museum, enchanting piano music draws me in. I look to see who is producing this haunting piece and witness a boy who can’t be more than 8, playing with determination and pure passion! Many talented guests come to play the public piano in this acoustically perfect location. A new exhibit features the birth of electric amplification for guitars. Keith Richard’s quote above one of his guitars on display: “Where would I be without it? Playing awfully quietly for a start.”

An acre’s worth of lovingly restored vintage firefighting apparatus is proudly displayed in the Hall of Flame, America’s largest firefighting museum. Kids get to scramble up on a designated firetruck, and the rest of us learn from many exhibits, including the wildland gallery, near and dear to those living in the western U.S., featuring the history of techniques by ground and aerial firefighters. The National Firefighting Hall of Heroes exhibit is a quiet venue to pay respects to those lost in the line of duty and honor acts of bravery.

Thousands of U.S. and International patches make their way to the Hall of Flame
The nimble Beachcraft Baron Leadplane scouts the drop for the DC-7 tanker (courtesy Hall of Flame wildland firefighting exhibit)

Near the Hall of Flame I came across the Desert Botanical Gardens which bloom with color all seasons and a delightful stroll uncovers raw beauty of desert cacti and wildflowers with emphasis on the Sonoran desert. Serene, contemplative and educational, the Desert Botanical Gardens compels one to walk slowly, stop often and drink in the quiet beauty and wonders of the desert.

An interesting observation by a Pacific Islander woman was to compare this unusual cactus to patterns in a coral reef (the four photos above taken at Desert Botanical Garden)

The search continues for wide open spaces and the natural world that never ceases to capture me, whether on land or sea.

A Victorian Gem in British Columbia

Jennie Butchart had a vision. Faced with a former limestone quarry as her backyard, in 1904 she started a transformation with a few sweet pea seeds and one rose bush.

“This sailor always gravitates to the sea, I discover it’s possible to arrive at Butchart Gardens by boat”

Today, over a million visitors a year enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Jennie’s work. A Canadian National Historic Site, Butchart Gardens is open year round, much to my enjoyment.

“It takes a few layers for an outing in Canada”

The unusually temperate day of my visit was very quiet, only a handful of visitors relished the zen of the sunken gardens, the culture of the Japanese and Italian gardens and the unexpected pleasures around each bend in what seemed like our own secret garden.

As a spontaneous traveler, I revel in unexpected destinations and make the most of any season and climate.

Jennie would have been a great sailor, no fear of riding in her bosun’s chair

This pop up trip finds me in vibrant yet quaint Victoria, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, dressed for the occasion in layers.

The Empress, Victoria’s grande dame, built in 1904-1908, in the elegant chateau style of Canada’s railway hotels

Nothing gets you in the spirit of winter like a big gulp of crisp Pacific Northwest air.

Perfectly placed marina for hearty northwest sailors, but I didn’t expect to see a hearty palm tree!

The benefits of off-season travel also included a quiet day at the Royal BC Museum and an incredible IMAX film “Oceans: Our Blue Planet” narrated by Kate Winslet.

Iconic Totem poles in Royal BC Museum

Traditional high tea at the famed grande dame, the Empress Hotel is a must by many visitors, but this girl opted instead to sample pale and amber ales with the working class at some of the UK style pubs. Sliding up to a barstool next to locals is a great source of knowledge and amusement.

Year round white lights adorn the British Columbia Parliament building, with a splash of seasonal color
Who has the right of way, a flying boat or a floating boat?

Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the 341 foot MV Coho, vehicle and passenger ferry, was a pleasant way to travel with surprisingly calm seas each way, it provided hardly a challenge to keep my Canadian draft ale from spilling while exploring the ship. Boat travel is always my preferable mode of transport, and the return journey on this vintage vessel, which made her first passage in 1959, provided stunning views of Washington State’s snow capped peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range shadowing over Port Angeles.

A Well clad passenger enjoys the Olympic views

Victoria, what a lovely gem, I hope we meet again.