PRIOR TRAVELS

Introduction:

The official entries on my blog began a couple years ago at the urging of my two children. I had caught the travel bug much earlier. In fact, I have always been afflicted. I remember watching TV episodes of the Lone Ranger as a youngster. I never much liked the episodes, but at the end, the Lone Ranger would rise up on Silver and gallop off down this dusty road with Tonto and disappear around a corner. I always wondered where  that road went. I’ve never met an unknown country road that I didn’t want to travel. In college, I’d cash in the airplane tickets my parents sent, and find a classmate to share driving. Instead of flying from Boston, I’d drive to Chicago, or New Orleans, or Cleveland, and fly to SFO from there.

So when Lela and I had more time and money, we began to pursue travel destinations further from home. I would write emails to our families about that day’s destination and adventure and send them off. This led to my kids saying, “Dad, why don’t you put your notes in a blog ???” Ok, but what is a blog ??? So Malia, my elder, educated me and set it up. Don’t you just hate it and love it when your kids are smarter than you ??? Of course, I take all the credit for their successes !!

Which leads me back to this entry…I have been thinking that I would go back to earlier travels and photos, and write brief notes about these destinations. They are presented in a total absence of chronological or preferential order.

ISRAEL:

The first entry is from our trip to Israel in May 2013. While not seriously religious, I do consider myself to highly spiritual. And I married into a Jewish family. So travelling to the Holy Lands was always high on my priorities. The first thing I recommend is not to get hung up on all the danger…If you try to plan a trip to Israel when the coast seems clearer, you may never get there.

On the way there, we flew into Frankfurt, Germany, and changed planes. We had a bit of time, so I thought we could hit the United Lounge and become pampered…But the gate for our flight went off in a different direction from the others, and we had to go through our own, second set of travel screenings to fly into Israel. This added security is normal…We got used to people coming on our buses with AK-47s and looking at the undercarriage with mirrors on ventures in and out of Jewish and Palestinian districts. But all-in-all, the people were very cordial, especially if you were respectful to them. I had fun talking to young Israeli immigrants at the laundry in Jerusalem, and buying peaches from the streetside Arab vendors in Jericho.

I made a comment when writing about India that the Taj Mahal is the world’s center for love. Jerusalem is the world’s center for spirituality. Three of our great religions collide in Jerusalem…Throw in the history of both Greek and Roman occupation, the Crusades, and the conquests and occupations of ten or more ancient civilizations, and you have the pleasure of enmeshing yourself in this global melting pot…And there is not enough time. We spent three hours in Acre, Masada, and Ceasarea…It needed to be three days…And that doesn’t even touch the time needed in Jerusalem. I would love to go back, rent a little apartment, and spend six months soaking in the history and culture of this holiest of places.

The photos below, in order, are the following:  I was asked by a fellow traveler to model a prayer shawl…Mrs Bear is posing at The stone fortress of Masada… I took the next photo of the pilgrims entering the grave site of Jesus after the crusifiction…The Dome on the Rock is the third most holy site in the Islamic faith. It sits on top of the Western Walk, the holiest site in Judaism…Last is the Franciscan Church built on the spot of miracle of the loaves and fishes. The Franciscans seemed to have built a Church at every holy Christian sight in the country…

The Old CityIsrael and Jordan, May 2013 008.JPG

ALASKA

Since early childhood, I had the dream of visiting Alaska. Growing up in the redwood forests of Northern California, Alaska seemed to be an extension of the natural beauty of geology and nature. I remember feeling in total agreement with the Steve McQueen quote that he would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in the middle of any city on Earth…And Alaska seemed to this impressionable lad as the quintessential of waking up in the middle of nowhere. So in June 2011, we fulfilled my lifelong quest to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun…And in June, there WAS actually 21 hours of sunlight.

There are a couple primary ways to see Alaska. Most visit by taking a cruise, which usually sails through the inland passage and stops at various ports along the southern tip of the state. There is usually a day of cruising glacier fields, and if your ship is lucky enough to be one of the designated, this would include Glacier Bay National Park. The other primary method of seeing Alaska is to fly into Anchorage, its main city, and set up land excursions. Anchorage is the only town in the USA that rents RVs at the airport and also has more seaplane activity than airplane activity. They say that one in every five Alaskans is a licensed pilot, and much of the country is only accessible by planes that can land on their multitude of interior lakes. We chose this second tourism path, but as you see from the photos above, we spent an entire day on a local cruise of the glaciers near Seward…We happened to see three species of whales as well, with a pod of Orcas coming within 30 feet of our craft. The other highlight for us were staying for a couple nights at a remote lodge far inside Denali National Park…The other two photos above were taken from hikes in Denali. Most people get on one of the tour buses which will go into the Park somewhere between 30 and 70 miles…The lodges allow you to linger longer and venture out of the vehicles.

060Our other primary mode of transportation was to take the Alaska Railroad. We splurged and sat in a dome car, which gave us a better view, allowed movement outside to a stand-up area to take photos, and provided Mrs. Bear with a never ending supply of Diet Coke. Sure, we rented a car for a couple days, and took a couple buses, but the Railroad was special.

Alaska was everything I thought it would be…If you are planning a trip of your own, a local guide told me the best time to come is mid August…This is Autumn in Alaska and the colors change with the seasons. It is also a time when the mosquitos begin to be less of a nuisance…A few nights below freezing moves them into a progressive part of their reproductive cycle when there is less swarming.

 

The GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

The following was my last note written to family and friends after our Galapagos trip in November 2015:

I am sitting at 33,000 feet after a fog delay in Quito wondering if we will make our connection in Panama City. So I have some time to sum up my thoughts about this adventure.

There are a lot of places and objects that, if lucky enough to possess the time and resources, we should all visit…More of a persona;l education than a bucket list. And as I become more educated, my list expends. For example, everyone should have the opportunity to see a redwood tree, and contribute to their well being so others will have the same good fortune in the future. The Galapagos Islands are certainly on this list. They combine an education about geology and evolution with the opportunity to visit a place where animals and plants are held in higher esteem than humans. It is a special place where animals hold us on an equal footing, by not showing a natural fear. In the Galapagos, humans are no longer predators. I say “no longer,” because there were a few centuries where this wasn’t true. The Ecuadorians have assumed a commendable role of conservationists. I shudder to think what would have happened if they had given into immediate economic needs and sold the islands to the USA. And they have some important decisions to make, because no matter how much anyone tries to preserve these islands, our presence makes this task impossible. So, do you limit visitation ?? Do you quit trying to remediate mistakes and let nature sort it all out ?? Tough choices…

The locals appear to love the Galapagos. They have put laws in motion to severely limit immigration. They also limit the number of vehicles on the islands. For example, it is impossible just to buy a new car or motorcycle. You must first replace  one by buying the existing license plate. I didn’t see any new cars or BMWs. It is also a major transgression to veer off a path, get within six feet of an animal, startle one by using flash photography, step on a plant, or pick up anything to take with you when leaving the islands. Despite all this, the local population is growing due to a problem with their younger residents not completing their educations and getting pregnant. It will  be interesting to see how the local population manages their professional needs while striving to maintain a steady population.

The locals who made up our crew were very attentive, patient when I tried to fall out of the transfer dinghies, and caring about sharing the gifts of these wonderful islands.

A trip here is NOT for the physically unfit or persons who expect constant catering. The night sailings between islands on small crafts can be uncomfortable. Most of our group took nightly Dramamine and some hugged toilets.

But maybe this, in time, will be considered a part of the Galapagos charm. It shouldn’t be easy to visit here. Perhaps we should earn it a little…To break out of our consumer mentality and consider a trip to the Galapagos as a re-education in the skills of giving back and a learning of the moral responsibility humans have to the animal kingdoms that depend on us for their survival. Perhaps we’ll learn to extend our own survival as well.

Secondary Note: The Selfie at the Blog title is taken from a tortoise observation in the Galapagos.

 

BERMUDA:

Just as Hawaii had special significance for my family, Bermuda was special for Lela’s family. I’m not sure when this started, but Lela’s parents and another couple began renting three beach houses on Grape Bay during the last two weeks of August. After marrying into this wonderful family, Lela and I were invited every year to join the fun. All we had to do was get there and everything else was picked up. In fact, during our “starving graduate student years,” the Warrens paid for our transportation as well. Later, our kids were included in these trips

As years went by and our parents began to pass on, the family lost contact with Bermuda…Too many great memories. But eventually, everyone missed the islands and plans were made for the Warren clan to pass it on to the next generation to rent the houses. Then, Malia and Matthew, my elder daughter (and editor) and her fiancée, agreed to get married there if everyone would come back. And now, Bermuda is an anniversary destination.

Bermuda, in my humble opinion, is the Atlantic Ocean’s answer to Hawaii. The cultures are very different, yet they are both very distinct, quaint, picturesque, and historic. Bermuda is about 500 miles due east of South Carolina, so it’s tourist season is much shorter than the rest of the Caribbean islands. It is very British, and remains a strong member of the Commonwealth. In fact, many days will find sold-out crowds at the local cricket matches. Bermuda shorts and ties are common work attire. The rums are distinctive, and there is much history of shipwrecks, coral reefs, and diving for treasure. The Bermuda Triangle is the lore of many superstitions, and some truths…Hurricanes have played a prominent role in Bermuda’s past and present. The picture above is one of our rented beach houses. I remember hearing that the storm surf from a hurricane led to its refrigerator floating around the kitchen.

Take a close look at the beach house. First, notice the color. All of Bermuda’s residences are painted in pastel colors: pink, yellow, blue…And notice that the roofs are limestone. The only source of fresh water is rain. So all the buildings have tiered roofs that allow the rain to run off into cisterns underneath the foundations. If your reservoir empties, a call is made and the water company sends the tank truck to fill it.

Bermuda is only 14 miles long, with many bridges connecting small islands to create this length. The roads are very narrow, and residents are allowed to only own one car per household. So most, and all tourists, get around on motor scooters. I love strapping my golf clubs on my back and scooting off to the links. If one is skittish of riding a scooter, he/she can ride on the back of a double…Or there is an extensive system of public buses and water ferries. One can load your scooter on a ferry and enjoy a different sensation of breeze on you skin. The scooters, ferries, and reefs, give Bermuda a flavor unmatched by any other island. And we never leave Bermuda without spending a day on a sailboat. The breezes are great for sailing and the reefs provide fantastic snorkeling. My daughter and granddaughter gave us a great photo during our latest day on the water.

The last photo above is taken from the “Birdcage,” which is usually occupied by a traffic policeman during the day. But at night, during festivals, they will let anyone direct traffic with the provision that they have had at least a little bit to drink !!!

 

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