Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Memorable Moments: Dads and Daughters Day in the Desert, Arizona, 2001

For years my Dad had four-wheel drive vehicles that never, ever were driven beyond a maintained road, so when I was in Arizona with my girlfriend, we arranged for our Dads to join us for a day of off-road driving in the desert.

We started our travels on the Apache Trail. Not exactly off-road, but the flowers were in full bloom, making for a stunningly beautiful drive.  Along the way we stopped at Fish Creek Canyon and Roosevelt Dam before having lunch along Roosevelt Lake. From there we made a detour to the cliff dwellings at Tonto too.

By then it was getting late in the day and we still hadn’t been off-road yet! 

For our off-road adventure, friends had recommended a “road” that ended at an artisan well out in the desert. That seemed like a good destination. We had a wonderful time bouncing over rutted paths through stunning scenery without ever finding the well. We kept going until we came to a stream, but by then it was about to get dark. My Dad said we could get through the stream, but it seemed like a good time to head home.  NEXT TIME we would find the stream.

We didn’t spend a lot of time off-road that day, but it was a truly wonderful day.

Love you, Dad. . . and Dave too. Thanks for all the good times.

More Memorable Travel Moments

Looking Back: My Most Memorable Travel Moments

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Travel Dream List: Socotra (or Soqotra), Yeman – the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean

I’m a big fan of weird geology, tropical beaches, and odd plants. This means there may be no place on earth that intrigues me as much as Socotra, a small island off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.   
Although separated from the mainland some 250 million years ago, Socotra is near enough to the mainland of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa to collect seeds and birds and to the cross currents of three oceans (the Indian, Pacific and Red Sea) to have a wild mix of marine life. When combined with the archipelago ancient species, all this mixing provides an amazing amount of biodiversity for s small place. With hundreds of endemic species, Socotra has some of the rarest and most unusual plants and animals on earth.
It also has some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth, extending from coastal plains and cliffs to dunes and rugged mountains. It is a harsh, landscape, but one that looks fascinating both in its variety and sculpted beauty.

This is not a completely uninhabited wilderness. Despite the wildness of the islands, there are about 44,000 people living here, mostly in the main town of Hadibu. The population is Muslim and speaks an ancient language that is unique to these islands.

I’m a bit unclear as to the current political situation on the island itself. All trip reports indicate that the people of Socotra are welcoming and there have been no security concerns at all. However, other sources have indicated that the population of Socotra is not pleased by the limitations on development that have been put in place to preserve the island. There has also been more general discontent with the actions of the government of Yemen toward the islanders over the years. This discontent is broad-based, including the woeful economic condition on the islands as well as the required use of Arabic (instead of the local language) in the school.

To date, Socotra has been developed as an eco-tourism destination, although it also attracts budget-minded beach tourists from Europe who come strictly for its pristine beaches. Most visitors come to hike, dive, and camp, eager to explore the diversity of the island. There are no luxury resorts here – no resorts at all – just a few primitive eco-lodges and campsites. I’m generally not big on camping, but there are places where camping is the way to go. Socotra seems like one of those places.

It is now possible to travel to Socotra from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. This means is it possible to travel to the island without transferring through mainland Yemen (a fascinating country that has become very dangerous for western tourists).

This is not a sailing destination, as it is well within range of Somali pirates.


The Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project is, in essence, the successor organization of the Socotra Conservation and Development Programme. Most articles on Socotra have (dead) links to the previous program.

Sites with good general travel information (as well as tour company contacts):
Travel stories:
Great photos are available on flickr, especially those of twiga_swala and Anthony Pappone.

Public Radio International has a beautiful video on the island and the threats it faces.

Have you been to Socotra or thought about traveling there? I'd like to hear about your experience!

The Travel Dream List

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Memorable Moments: Camping by the Hippo Pool, Botswana, 2005

Our overland Botswana safari included a number of memorable campsites, but one of the standouts was in the Moremi Game Reserve where we camped next to the hippo pool, blocking the main route to their grazing area.            

While this seemed ill-advised (and downright dangerous), our guide assured us that it was ok because all of the hippo trails were blocked with a tent or vehicle. If we blocked only a few trails, it would be a problem because the hippos would come into camp, but this was ok. With all the trails blocked, the hippos would go just go around us.
None-the-less, I choose the tent that had a tree – albeit a scrawny one – directly behind. Hopefully that would deter them and they would choose to trample some other tent on the way to dinner!

That evening I awoke to a thumping sound, the sound of very heavy footsteps, the sound of a hippo approaching. The sound stopped and then, after a moment of silence, a hippo let out the sort of bellow that only an unhappy hippo very close at hand could make.  He was definitely near the tent and not happy.

But what happened next was surprising. After a moment or two of silent waiting, the hippo grunted, waited a bit more, and then turned and called out toward the pond. This call wasn’t a belligerent “Get out of my way,” but more of a notice to the community “Sorry, but we have to go the long way to graze tonight.” Immediately hippos began calling back and forth, their voices drifting around and across the pond.

And then I heard the hippo by my tent turn and walk away.

The next day we hauled our lawn chairs to the shore of the hippo pond, as content watching them as they seemed watching us.

Note: Camping on animal trails is highly dangerous. Hippos in particular are large, fast, and deadly - They are not to be messed with.

More Botswana posts

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Worth a Return Trip: Lima, Peru

Lima is one of those cities that tourists are often advised to spend as little time in as possible. If you are given that advice, ignore it. I’ve been to Lima briefly on two occasions and absolutely loved it. Those were brief visits, not nearly enough time to get to know this complex, fragile, cultured, and beautiful city. I think a month would be better.

So, what would I do if I had a month in Lima?

I’d spend a lot of time exploring the historic heart of the city that crawls out from the Plaza Mayor, including meeting some of the people working to save this stunning, fragile area.
 While an architectural treasure, much of the historic core has been abandoned and is at risk of collapse during the next major earthquake, if not before. Despite many efforts to halt disinvestment here, there is still much to be done. For example, although some structures have been stabilized, the upper floors of most are off-limits. All of this presents a Catch-22 for the city – it’s too expensive to stabilize so many underutilized buildings, but the lack of stabilization limits the economic vitality that would support that investment. I want to enter these buildings to explore and document them – the famous (Government House and Aliaga House, as well as the unknown – in part to preserve a memory should disaster strike, but also to understand the needs and find ways to help address them, to do my small part to ensure the city’s historic buildings remain for future generations.

Of course, the problems associated with preserving thousands of historic buildings isn’t limited to the historic core.   
Church in the Barranco

I want to visit churches, monasteries, and convents to record both the history and the current life of these structures. Not just the famous ones like San Francisco Church and Monastery or the cloister at the church of Santo Domingo, but also those less well-known like the Convento de los Descalzos.        
San Francisco Church

I’d visit museums – repeatedly and at my leisure. This is a country with ancient textile and pottery traditions that are among the finest anywhere in the world, a legacy well worth exploring further.

In addition, I’d like time to uncover as much as I can of the lost world of the Inca. The few traces that still exist hint at a beautiful artistic legacy as well as amazing political organization.

I’d eat and eat and then eat some more. Not just the country’s signature ceviche (washed down with a pisco sour), but a wide variety of foods from throughout the country.     
The Incas developed hundreds of varieties of corn and potatoes, making this a place with a long history of eating well.

I’d wander the streets of Barranco, absorbing the complex culture of this re-emerging area of the city. (A few hours was not enough.) 
I’d try to get to know some of the city’s hidden courtyards, like the lovely private courtyard at Casa Garcia Alvarado that we visited as part of our cruise.  
I’d relax and enjoy the greenery and the view of the ocean from the Malecón in lovely Miraflores. Our brief stops on previous trips left me wanting a lot more time for wandering here where this desert city meets the sea in a swath of greenery.   

A Few Planning Resources:

More posts on Lima 

More places worth a return trip

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Travel Dream List: Holland’s Gardens and Tulip Fields in Spring

Even though tulips (and tulip mania) originated in Turkey, Holland has long taken since over as the place for growing tulips and other flower bulbs.

Each spring the country is ablaze with blossoms. Many of these are along Holland’s Bloemen Route (Flower Route), a 25 mile scenic drive between Haarlem and Leiden. The most famous place to view the flowers is Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, which is open from mid-March until mid-May. There are a number of other gardens in the region (including Hortus Botanicus, one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, located in Leiden) and, during the growing season, many fields are open to tourists. (Most fields are used to grow bulbs, rather than cut flowers, and the flowers are cut-off shortly after peak bloom.) The world’s largest flower auction is also held in Holland, in Aalsmeer, and tourists are welcome to visit here as well.

As in my own garden, different bulbs bloom at different times during the spring. In Holland the show begins by February with the first crocuses and continues through May as the daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, and tulips come into bloom. The tulips are most likely to be at their best in April, although there will be some in bloom from March through May. Of course, many summer flowers are also grown in this area too, making it lovely over a long season.
photo by Alessandro Vecchi from Wikimedia Commons
This region is just an hour from Amsterdam, between that city and The Hague. It features a number of charming historic cities (many with canals) and would be a good vacation destination even without millions of tulips in bloom. There is also a floating flower market in Amsterdam, where one can indulge in a little more tulip mania.

Of course, for those with less interest in the flowers, Keukenhof and the surrounding area would make a nice single day trip from Amsterdam.

While the area can be visited as part of a guided tour or on your own via bus or private vehicle, it seems ideal for biking and bikes are readily available for rent. There are also biking tours through the area, including the enticing Country of Tulips Tour. Along with guided bike tours, there are many providers of build-your-own tours. It is also possible to put together your own tour.

My plan is to someday spend at least a week here during April, staying at local inns or B&Bs and biking through the area. As a photographer, I want be able to take time to really see and capture the beauty of this time of year under different types of light and weather conditions.

Travel planning resources:
•  Holland flower fields page  
•  Flower Route from National Geographic's Drives of a Lifetime Series 
•  Guide to Seeing the Tulips near Amsterdam at   
•  The Flower Fields Along the Boemen Route at Condé Nast Traveler
•  Cycling the Dutch Tulip Fields from TravellingTwo  

I’d love to hear your advice on visiting Holland during tulip season.

More travel dreams

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Louvre’s Modern Architectural Touches, Paris

This trip to the Louvre was motivated by the opening of the new Islamic art pavilion

While we were able to get into the exhibit area without much trouble, finding a spot from which to view this sweeping structure was more challenging. Tucked into the (internal) Visconti Courtyard in the Louvre’s south wing, the best place to view this bit of architectural whimsy is from the corridors and galleries above it. 
However, it took us awhile to reach this spot and, along the way, I had a chance once again to marvel at the museum’s crazy interplay of modern and traditional architecture.   
I’ve become a fan of I.M. Pei's once-controversial crystal pyramids, but now I’m reminded anew of how oddly perfect they are.
Despite having seen the pyramids before, I’d never actually been inside the museum. The last time I was in Paris we spent our “museum time” in other places (there are so many choices in Paris!), so I’m amazed at both the scale of the space that lies below the main pyramid and its bright contemporary feel.
As if this architecture isn’t art enough, there is a whole museum of art awaiting exploration in the rooms beyond this space!

It is easy to lose track of time and get lost in the art on display in this seemingly endless maze of galleries. Thus, it is almost a surprise – and definitely a delight – to resurface as the late afternoon light turns every surface to gold. 

I can’t wait to return.

(Maybe someday I’ll even get around to seeing the Mona Lisa.)

Previous Post: Islamic Art at the Louvre

All Paris Posts

Islamic Art at the Louvre, Paris

The Louvre recently opened a new display are for their Islamic collection.   
And what a beautiful collection it is!  

Next Post: The Louvre’s Modern Architectural Touches
Previous Post: Nearly All Saints Day at Père Lachaise

All Paris Posts