In June 2008, Mary and I traveled across the USA in our RV, loaded with technology (cell phones, wireless internet, CBs and walkie talkies), returning to Florida in mid October. Here is a very brief chronology.
After weeks of preparation we left Melbourne Village about 9PM in early June-we could not stand the thought of staying even one more night at home. But we made only 60 miles on this first day, stopping for an overnight stay at one of the Florida Turnpike rest stops just north of Orlando.
A few days later, heading towards Louisiana on I-10, I made a wrong turn and drove into downtown New Orleans (driving a 36 foot RV, towing a car!). What a mess, construction everywhere---Hurricane Katrina repairs. Mary quickly found a route that took us out of downtown and to road that crossed a spit of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepass. Midway across the lake we stopped at the tiny hamlet Pass Manchac, discovering that it was a fishing village and a good place to unwind after the New Orleans wild-goose chase. We walked the town, met some local fisherman, and had a great "gumbo" lunch (see image plate of gumbo almost all gone!). We agreed that "my goof" that took us to New Orleans was well worth it.
When we got to Beaumont, Texas, the RV park manager invited us for a full breakfast--it was part of the RV fee, which was only $15-so we decided to leverage the situation by staying an extra three day. By now gas was more than $3/gal. Beaumont had a very interesting oil museum and a good place to eat called New York Pizza. While in Beaumont, we decided to drive to Galveston Island where we had a nice dinner and walked the beaches (see image, bottom, center). A few weeks later, Galveston Island was destroyed by a hurricane.
Further west and into Texas we visited a high school friend in Kerrville-I had not seen him in 50 years; it was a wonderful reunion. Kerrville is Texas hill country, up and down and up and down-a bit challenging when driving an RV with car in tow.
After Texas we headed to New Mexico to have another look at Carlsbad Cavern. We were there in 1998 and we always wanted to return to see the bats fly out of the cave, an event we missed; this time we saw the bats-lots of bats! The park ranger said that ~ million bats leave the Carlsbad cave every evening just before dark to feast on a host of flying bugs 50-100 miles away. The bats return early the next morning, deposit some guano, and then go to sleep. This Carlsbad bat thing has been going on for thousands of years. Amazing!
After Carlsbad, we headed down the road about 50 miles to Guadalupe National Park-we had the park all to ourselves-see image RV in the parking lot. The entire area (including Carlsbad) is an ancient reef-inland ocean system.
After leaving Carlsbad/Guadalupe we traveled to Deming, New Mexico, where we stayed in the backyard of Richard and Peggy Michado, transplants who fled from Florida after the 2004 hurricanes wiped them out. Peggy worked at FIT for several years. Richard, originally an ocean technician from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, would visit John Williams and me in Link Building. Peggy and Richard (see them in the image below) say "hello" to all their FIT friends.
In California, we stayed first in Laguna Beach, then moved to central California where we stayed with my brother for about 3 weeks. My brother sells those prized collectable black and yellow old California license plates at car swap meets. At the Pomona swap meet we met car rebuilder Chip Foose (on TV, "Rebuildin") who bought several hundred dollars in plates from my brother (see image lower left, Chip Foose and me).
In San Francisco, we visited a friend that I grew I grew up with in Albany, Oregon ,who was an artist for Rolling Stone and Playboy magazines for many years after leaving academia (see picture upper left of us about 10-12 years old in Neskowin Beach). We parked the RV in Tuolumne, an old California mining/timber town in front of Mary's cousin place and crossed the Sierras. That was a wonderful experience---in a few spots the grade was 26%, no trucks and RVs allowed. After crossing the summit we were soon in the tiny town of Bridgeport, California, an old western town with snow-capped Sierras in the background. Beautiful! It was Bridgeport where we found the most expensive gas: $5.29/gallon, but we had enough in the tank of the Saturn to get us back over the Sierras where gas was only about $4.25/gallon.
After leaving Bridgeport we headed to Mono Lake, California, about 70 miles south of Bridgeport. It is famous for at least three reasons: 1) salinity is about 4x seawater; 2) the lake is very old-about 700,000 years; and 3) Los Angeles County took water from the tributaries to Mono Lake for over 70 years, thus steadily decreasing the lake depth which increased the salinity, upsetting the natural history of the area. Fortunately, the taking of the water by Los Angeles was stopped several years ago, saving the lake from death. But the following chance-of-a-lifetime happened while we were on the Mono Lake boardwalk viewing birds (see image, middle) along with a group of about fifteen people. I struck up a conversation, telling the group that I would report on this lake to my BCC online student (I am teaching online courses, including environmental science, for BCC during the 4 month trip). Then the leader of the group politely asked me if I had ever heard of John Muir. It was like asking me if I had ever heard of Abraham Lincoln. That person said he is the great-grandson of John Muir, the naturalist credited for preserving Yosemite National Park. We had a great talk that afternoon, and later that day I sent a message to my students along with a picture of me with John Muir's great-great grandson.
On our trip to Oregon from California, we took the coastal route, staying in Fortuna, California, for about 5 days with my brother (at a car swap meet) and also visiting with Mary's cousin/husband who lives in Fortuna. We liked Fortuna a lot, cool climate, a small town atmosphere and with museums and art galleries. Nearby Fortuna is Ferndale, California, another neat little town and famous for its hometown cheese factory. We learned later from Dave Clapp that he and his wife also visit Ferndal --- small world.
In Oregon, where I was born and grew up, and most of my cousins live, we spent time in Grants Pass, Brownsville, Albany, Sisters, Burns, Tangent, Hood River, Ontario, and several Oregon beach towns (see image top left, Neskowin Beach again after 60 years). I found it very interesting and prudent that all Oregon coastal towns have well-marked tsunamis evacuation route signs. Overall we spent about 2 months in Oregon, staying mainly at the Corvallis KOA, about 5 miles from Oregon State University where I was both an undergraduate and graduate student. Mary and I would spend many a day in Corvallis, seeing the campus, and having lunch at the local Dairy Queen where we use to have lunch or dinner in the mid-60s. While in Oregon we took a one-week trip to Orcas Island, Washington, to visit my sister and her family. Orcas Island is part of the San Juan Islands (northwest corner of Washington state) accessible by ferry. We were quite surprised to find very little development has occurred on these islands. On our return home from Orcas Island we met up with Mike Witiw who lives in a Seattle suburb with wife Beth. Some of you will remember Mike who worked in the School of Aeronautics; Mike was anxious for FIT campus news, and he sends his regards. Mike is a professor at a Seattle university and is also busy on a several research projects.
By late August we regrettably decided to leave Oregon, heading back to Florida via Colorado and Illinois to visit relatives. On our trip to Colorado we stopped at the Three Island State Park in Idaho. This is the area where Oregon pioneers crossed the Snake River on their trip to Oregon. My great great grandfather was William Tyler Vaughan, wagon master on the Oregon Trail; I need to find out if he crossed the Snake River at Three Islands.
We only spent two days in Wyoming, but we did see a lot of energy exploration (gas and oil) activities. We stopped overnight at Evanston. Fifteen years ago when we visited Evanston, it was very small then; now it is a big town with big shopping centers. According to the RV park manager, all the growth in Evanston is attributed to energy exploration.
After leaving Colorado we took several days to cross Kansas, Great Plains country. While traveling we kept trying to imagine the arduous experiences people had 100-150 years ago crossing by wagon train. The wind was constantly blowing in Kansas, and we saw several huge wind farms. One afternoon the wind was so strong that we had to get off the road early to find an RV park for fear that the wind would blow us off the road.
It was mid September when we passed through Missouri in less than one day as we wanted to get to Carthage, Illinois to spend a lot of time with Mary's distant cousins who are primarily farmers. Carthage is an interesting little farm town, famous as the town where the Mormon leader Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844. The local town golf course also included RV spaces which was a great convenience and very inexpensive. We recently heard that the one and only town restaurant closed down.
In early October we returned to Florida, where we found everything in good shape. Of course all our friends in the Melbourne Village neighborhood could not wait to tell us what we missed: Tropical Storm Fay.
When I retired in 2001, everybody who knew me was concerned that I would become bored with life because I am an energetic person who needs constant stimulation to be happy. But what they didn’t know was that my husband, Tom, and I had a long-range plan that filled our lives with activity for at least the next twenty years. We didn’t waste a minute launching that plan. Two days after my retirement party we left on our 36 foot Heritage East, Green Acres, for the first of six cruises up and down the inland waterway. Our plan was to go cruising for five years, then sell the boat and start traveling around the world. It took us a little longer than hoped, but after selling our boat this past January, we planned our first overseas jaunt since we lived in Greece on sabbatical in 1994-95. We booked passage on the Disney repositioning cruise from Port Canaveral to Barcelona, Spain, arranged the use of a 300 year old farmhouse in the French alps north of St. Raphael for two months, leased a brand new Peugeot 607 for three months in Europe and a Passat with a steering wheel on the right for a month in Great Britain, bought a five country/two month Eurail Supersaver pass, and booked hotel rooms for sixty nights in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Wales. We left Port Canaveral on the Disney Magic, May 12th and returned to Orlando from London via British Airways on September 13th. This article is the first of several describing “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”
Our cruise started peacefully enough. Our neighbor dropped us off with our four months worth of luggage at the Port on May 13th. That evening we met our dinner mates for the next 14 nights --- Roland and Ulrici from Frankfort, Germany, and Janice and Dennis from Cincinnati, Ohio. They couldn’t have been more different in personalities. Roland and Ulrici were both surgeons, well-educated, very reserved Disney Vacation Club members who had taken 14 Disney cruises over the years and spent a week every year at the Disney resort in Vero Beach. Janice and Dennis from Ohio, a former Disney store saleswoman and a truck mechanic, were Disney cruise addicts, (Janice having taken 25 cruises over the years). They were very outgoing and knew all the waiters personally, including how many children they had, when they planned to get married and what their next career move might be. What a contrast and what a blast. We were obviously the new kids on the block, since this was only our second Disney cruise. Our trip to Castaway Cay was uneventful and familiar. We hung out on the beach for a while, but it’s so much like home we did not appreciate it like our dinner mates did.
We left Castaway Cay at 5:00 (1700) for six days at sea with a little thrill of anticipation, neither of us ever having been that far from land before. The e-mail I sent to test our e-mail capabilities that evening read, “We are at 27.36'N 69.33'W, 681 NM from Port Canaveral in the Atlantic. Checking to see if our wireless webmail is working. Tom says our course in 075, and speed is 22 kn. We're having fun so far. Decent weather as of Monday afternoon.” Well, that was the last of that!
For the entire trip across the Atlantic we were plagued by a cold front that basically traveled at the same speed as the ship from the Bahamas to the Canary Islands. We had six days and nights of gale force 7 winds and twenty foot seas, which the captain was so kind as to label “very rough” in his televised captain’s report, except for the few occasions when it was reduced to “rough.” Janice was disappointed that the swimming pools were constantly filled with tsunamis due to the motion of the boat and the sun was not warm enough to get a suntan the whole trip over. Ulrici got so sick one night she couldn’t eat dinner. Tom and I did not get sick, but I was unable to sleep well. Tom had deliberately selected our cabin midship and down low (on Deck Two), so we wouldn’t feel the rocking of the ship. That worked quite well. The only problem was that I could hear every wave crashing against the side of the ship and sliding under the bottom, which kept me awake all night. And once or twice waves crashed against our porthole even though Deck 2 is thirty or forty feet above the water. But it wasn’t all bad. Unless you have been out to sea, you would not believe how blue, absolutely cobalt blue, the ocean is once you get out of sight of land. And how empty! In six days we only saw one freighter, which we understood later, had actually changed course to come over near us so the crew could take pictures of the Magic. That was partly because our route took us from the Bahamas across the southern part of the North Atlantic to the Canary Islands and most of the shipping routes are in the north. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the size of the ocean. There is no way I’d want to be out there in a small boat.
Every night before dinner we frequented a forward bar called Sessions where a pianist entertained us with soft music, that is, until the night we were thrown out for being too loud. You see, we had repeatedly encountered a middle-aged couple playing gin, a game we had forgotten how to play, but wanted to relearn, so my husband went over, introduced himself, and asked them if they would give us a lesson. We agreed to meet the next night for our lesson, but afterward we started conversing and we really connected. The problem was that nobody else could hear the entertainer because we were having too much fun. So we were asked to leave. What made that so funny is that Carol is an executive with Disney, the VP of human relations, who had worked for them for decades and knew Roy Disney personally. Her husband, Eric, was a former security executive for Disney, who had recently launched his own security consulting business. They are LA residents (we forgave them for that) and planned to spend a few extra days in Barcelona at the end of the cruise, just like we did. We discovered that we all were taking the same shore excursion on Tenerife and the trauma of that experience bonded the four of us. (More about that in a moment.) Anyway we did learn to play gin, although I do not win every hand like Carol did.
Our first port of call after six days at sea was the Canary Islands. The sight of land was very exciting after so much time at sea. We were met by a fireboat spraying water into the air as a way to honor our arrival. From the sea, Tenerife appeared to be a bulge of rugged, barren mountains covered with concrete apartment buildings, not exactly appealing, but nevertheless a welcome site. As was the refueling ship which sidled up beside us and spent the morning replenishing our fuel supply. Lord knows how much that tankful cost! When I mentioned to an officer that I was glad I wasn’t paying that bill, he said with a sly smile, “Oh, but you are.” In the afternoon, Tom and I and Carol and Eric took a jeep ride up to the top of Mt. Tiede where the world’s second largest volcanic crater resides. It was a magnificent sight, miles and miles of scenery that looks to be from outer space --- strange rock formations, dusty and dry, like you’d expect to find on the moon or Mars! It turns out that this is where they filmed Star Wars, The Ten Commandments, and Planet of the Apes. Tom insisted on a picture with him descending the mount as if he were Charleton Heston, or maybe even Moses, carrying the ten commandments. It was a very impressive place, though perhaps not as impressive as the speedy descent in the pouring rain back down the mountain road with no guardrails and steep drops to the sea in our jeep whose canvas top was sagging with water and whose doors and windows rattled with every one of the persistent potholes. Carol prayed the whole way down; Eric held her hand and comforted her; I closed my eyes and tried to sleep; Tom distracted the driver with comments about the pretty women we passed along the way. Says something about our personalities, doesn’t it?
The departure from Tenerife was beautiful, full of photo ops with the sun setting behind the jagged cliffs, and we watched it from Sessions while playing gin next to Carol and Eric who were doing the same. Unfortunately, traveling north off the coast of Morocco, we were heading directly into a cold front coming down from England and once again we were in 20 foot seas, this time climbing the waves and riding them back down in a rhythmic motion. For some reason this motion seemed to make more people sick, including the head chef at Palo’s (the Deck 10 adults only restaurant) and our waiter at Sessions, who chided Tom for consistently pointing out when the next wave was coming. My husband has a demented sense of humor.
We docked in Cadiz very early in the morning and by 8:00 we were aboard a bus to Seville. The countryside between Seville and Cadiz, the Andalucia region of Spain, is very fertile and beautiful. We saw the Alcazar and Christopher Columbus’ crypt in a cathedral that dates back to Moorish occupation in some parts. Our guide pointed out that Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived in the Seville area for many centuries without strife and conflict, hinting that if they could do it, why couldn’t the whole world?
The next day we visited Gibraltar, where we took a tour to the top of the Rock. It was absolutely breathtaking. It is possible to see Africa (Morocco) from there as well as the southern tip of Spain, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. The seagulls fly below you catching the updraft from the sheer cliffs. The harbor was filled with twenty or more freighters from everywhere in the world at anchor so close together you’d think they were cars in a parking lot. The top of the Rock is covered with Barbary apes which run wild. Each ape has a name and is registered with the British government. They steal from the tourists, especially food, and jump on their shoulders, rifle in their backpacks and make themselves a nuisance in general. I was not pleased, but Tom loved them. It was here on top of the Rock that we met Ducky Williams, the artist who created Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White among literally thousands of other Disney characters. Tom took a picture of Ducky holding the Magic in his hand and later presented him with a copy which he entitled, “The Wonder of Magic in the Artist’s Hand.” Tom has a bit of artistry in him as well.
From the Rock, we cruised a contrastingly calm Mediterranean Sea to Barcelona where the city and Disney put on a huge fireworks display to celebrate our arrival. The following day we took a day tour of Barcelona, including the famous Temple Familia designed by Gaudi (from which we rightfully get the word gaudy) and Montserrat, a monastery on top of a high mountain cliff with stunning views, after which the Caribbean Island is named. Then our two week cruise came to an end and the real adventure began. We no longer had big brother Walt protecting us in the wide, wide world of Europe. We were on our own!
Do we know what is really going on inside Cuba? Fidel Castro is made out to be our enemy and a threat to our democracy...how true is that? Is our current policy of isolation and embargo helping to remove this dictator? Hardly, as he must be the longest remaining leader in the world. How does he treat his people? Why are they coming by rafts to the shores of Florida? What do humans risk their lives for?
It is important for Americans to travel abroad and get their own view of the world. Since Cuba has few American tourists, all Americans act as ambassadors wherever they go. In March, 2007 we jumped at the opportunity to go to Cuba flying from Miami legally as representatives under the humanitarian license of the Key West Tropical Gardens whose tropical rain forest, the only one in the US, has similar ecological issues to the tropical gardens in Cuba and has birds blown from Cuba visiting. Birding and visiting a variety of habitats in the Eastern half of Cuba was our goal. There are about 26 endemic species and we saw a good number of them...the rarest, the Zapata swamp sparrow; the smallest frog, Eleutherodactylus iberia; the tiniest bird in the world, the bumblebee hummingbird; the most interesting tail, the Cuban Trogan. What did amaze us about Cuba was its grandeur with the classical Spanish influence, art and architecture, and the highly developed modern Cuban art. With little visible military and colorful, happy people, it is unlike any other communist country we've visited, yet similar in austerity.
A PBS special, "Victory is Your Duty," on Cuba and its boxing academy, remarked, "Forty-eight years after its Socialist revolution, Cuba appears to have progressed little." It is important for us here in the US to discuss what is "progress?" Are we only talking about rising individual incomes so we can spend building bigger homes, malls, and filling stores with consumable goods? Since Florida has such a rapid influx of people and paradise is being paved over rapidly here as well as overpopulation is pressuring global warming and earth degradation, the question is particularly relevant. Or are we talking about other values too? Education, health, welfare of all our people, potable, sufficient water, nutritious uncontaminated foods available, safety, reducing child abuse and crime, equal opportunity, happiness? What will enhance our quality of life? Can we personally buy a better quality of life, or does it require community working together to make life better for us all, thereby enhancing our individual quality?
Living under an U.S. embargo for many years, one marvels at how Cubans continue to exist. They do it with ingenuity and inventiveness. They have, out of necessity, the world's best sustainable agriculture system, using very little pesticides and chemical fertilizers, wisely using their water resources, which is rationed over much of Cuba. Since sugar is not in demand or subsidized, the Cubans have diversified their crops to provide their own food for their citizens. Something we are doing less and less. Most of the people are very poor but healthy by our standards, with universal free health care. Life expectancy average is now longer than ours. Children appear nutritionally well fed and cared for, yet no obesity. They even export their doctors to places of need in Africa, Venezuela, and Asia. Remember Castro's offer to send health teams to New Orleans after Katrina?
We saw very few bicycles, trucks, cars on vacant rural, paved roads. All citizens have homes that are electrified, have running water (at least 3 days/week), schools in all areas, are free, even University and medical school. However, students may be sent to residential schools to work part time to contribute to their education. Most Cuban front porches are shiny clean, on streets with no litter. Art as well as music is valued, even protest art against the government. The Cubans are open, curious, wanting to please and hope relations with the US will open. They cannot understand how the US harbors and encourages terrorists (Posada) against Cuba yet have a "war on terror." Strapped for foreign funds, the Cubans promote tourism--we were provided with great accommodations, food, entertainment, birding, scenery transportation, and music. We were amazed that there are no taxes. For the government to have money, they must earn it. We were surprised that even the army competes with another department of the government running a hotel and trying to attract tourists to their hotel instead of going to the other department’s!
Since 1994 when their dependence upon Russia was severed, tourism has been allowed and there are 121 much regulated private businesses that are now permitted such as having a restaurant in your home (but it must be limited to 14 people at any one time), having a bed and breakfast in your home, arts and crafts, playing music, having a taxi, tailors, vegetable sellers if your own home and surrounding land is used. As a result, we were even told about Cuba’s “first millionaire.” So apparently there is an under-the-table economy. Evidently US missionaries do not have problems obtaining US permission to go to Cuba and their religious efforts are not restricted by Cubans.
Cuba is isolated, quite ignorant of basic realities and updated science and technology. Why do people come over in rafts risking their lives? Economic opportunity they say, not democracy, as we were told they do vote for officials (except the major leaders), only 5 known persons are political prisoners, the people we talked to did not know of anyone in jail, and they are free to dissent (we saw a demonstration, yet there are only 3 public TV stations, Radio from US is blocked; one newspaper), They say they do have a large CD smuggling trade and other deals go on “under the table.” Doctors and a few people have access to internet, although the public is restricted. We met a lawyer who was working at the hotel because there was opportunity to earn tourist dollars, which allows them to buy many more goods available in the “Foreign Peso” stores, have a higher standard of living.
Although everyone is literate, it was difficult finding any books printed for children available in the local Cuban peso stores, goods being limited in general. So people leave for the future use of their skills and talents in more profitable ways. People do not seem to be afraid of their government or the police, though a comment was made, “Castro’s brother Raul is the kind one.” Whether that is hope or fact and what the implications are we did not learn. They claim that with CIA encouragement, there have been 385 attempts on Castro’s life (perhaps they could not believe the 683 attempts the Guardian article from UK had counted, but they also included abortive attempts. They seem to have the same meager information about Castro and the future as we do. If the US opened trade freely, information would flow more freely. It would appear that, similar to China, Cuba would also begin to further relax restrictions on private enterprise. When that begins, it is hard to hold back or block information about democracy and freedom. The Cubans are highly educated and would be able to more rationally and likely to think things through. Opening relations with Cuba seems to be a much more likely way to bring about real change with safety and high ideals than our old(?) policy of assassination and current one of military force...and maybe we can learn something from Cubans, if we are open.