Traveling now over to my new blog Onesmallwalk.com to experience the wonder of Moldova.
There are so many ways to think about that question, but this time I am asking it literally to myself. I have been Marsha at the bungalow for quite a few years, but Marsha is not real. She has been a writing alter-ego that I cherish and enjoy. When I started adding my real name, Susan, to my comments in other blogs, it had a nice ring of truth.
As Susan – who else? – I am beginning a blog devoted to walks at home and around the world. I hope you all will join me at Onesmallwalk.com.
It’s simple – click here, then look at the top right of the webpage and click on ‘follow’ (I think a ‘follow’ button also hovers on the bottom of the page.) Of course, you can also click the link above.
For the first several walks, I will link the two blogs, and you can – almost – always find me at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.
So if you see comments in your blogs from a Susan who sounds familiar, it might be because Marsha has become a real girl – Susan@onesmallwalk. See you around!
You practice-packed and repacked last week. You printed out and saved to your phone or e-pad all your travel information. Your passports and health screening is up-to-date.
You made sure your neighbors knew you’d be gone. You made arrangements for pets, gave loved ones your itinerary.
The refrigerator has been culled, the bread box is empty. The patio plants will survive on their own, you hope.
The time is here. Lift-off. Sail-away. Engine warmed-up. Doors closed. All those elements of a vacation’s beginning announce new steps in your journey. It’s a delicious feast of anticipation. What will the next adventure hold? Perhaps Norway, Sweden and Finland, and maybe some more.
Just don’t forget to stash away -somewhere safe in the travel gear – the most important stuff.
She rises 663 feet from the sea-level town of Morro Bay and is the second to the last of the Nine Sisters, a series of volcanic plugs in the Santa Lucia Range of Central California. The last of the Nine Sisters is Morro Rock, which is a scenic photo shoot from the crest of Black Hill. The rock on this easy climb is 20 million years old, making the hike for this 62 year old a seemingly very small matter.
She is an unimposing piece of rock, compared to others that are within eyesight. Morro Rock, the iconic photo op for residents and tourists, and Hollister Peak, the gorgeous ragged outcropping just south of us, are both much more eye-catching. But you can walk up neither of those landmarks. Morro Rock is off-limits to all, Hollister Peak is a hike, not a walk. Black Hill invites everyone to scale its easier heights.
We start from a small parking lot about half-way up the hill. You can walk from the nearby campground or the golf course at the bottom of the hill, but there are controlled burns today, and so we end up at the parking stop. It’s the official trail-head, so why not?
This urban, small town climb is not a crowded trail, but we pass several groups and three or four single walkers on our way up and down the hill. It is a really unimpressive beginning, starting at the end of a golf course and looking like a child’s climb up a tiny hillside. It is an easy climb on a well-tended trail, but the scenes along the way
are only the first course to the main dish: the peak, and a peek into the area around. On clear days, people climb Black Hill to spot whales in the distance, but today we have a lovely cloud layer, so we get cool weather but short views.
West, we see the Pacific Ocean and south, the near-by town of Los Osos. We also see the cage of the oyster company in the bay – looking like they are on their lunch break – , and the road to San Luis Obispo winding through the salt marsh.
North, we see the town of Morro Bay, Morro Rock, farmlands and Highway 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway.
It takes us less than an hour for the entire trip, even with the leisurely pace. Thank goodness for urban parks that seem rustic and bring the natural world up close. One last view to that 20 million year-old hill side that makes me contemplate how young I should feel.
I was so excited about our last-minute reservation at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley that I nearly emailed the hotel a thank you when I received our reservation confirmation. How did I get a room five days in advance when it appeared that everything had been taken for months? I have no idea, but I’ll not second-guess a chance to see the super bloom that appears in the desert once a decade.
A native Californian, I’d never been to Death Valley, a confession I make with shame. How can I visit remote and beautiful places around the world when I haven’t been to my own? The desert’s winter bloom is something I have wanted to see for such a long time, it had started to be one of those phrases I swore I would never say – “Someday, I’d like to see Death Valley in the winter” – I either do things or I don’t, but I generally do not make wish lists.
I have been close to the lowest place on the North American Continent. At 282 feet below sea level at the lowest spot, it is a place to avoid in the heat of the summer. Right now, Mid-March, the forecast is 85 degrees F (30 degrees C.) Summer temperatures are often well over 100 F (38 C.) With only two inches of rain most years, it is also quite dry.
I had visited the eastern side of the Sierra Range several times, skirting around the road to Death Valley and speeding past the turn-offs that would have taken me to the place that is the single-greatest inspiration for horror films according to Stanley, who keeps track of such things. But this year’s blooms are said to be remarkable, and once in ten years is something I shouldn’t put off. I decide the 6-hour drive to Death Valley, and the 6-hour drive home is worth the one-night visit, and worth the threat of horror-movie scripts brought to life. As a last-minute traveler, I don’t get much choice.
Stanley is coming along. He has watched all the pertinent horror films, so for motivation I promised him some restaurant visits, and tried to lie about the hours in the car. But he is quite familiar with the territory, having supervised parolees in the area once upon a time. I dazzle him with promises of breakfast buffets, and hope his memory won’t kick in until it’s too late. Food, after all, is a better motivator than memory.
It takes us longer than six hours to get to the valley floor. The ride has been interesting, but we are eager to get out and walk. We explore Mosaic Canyon, a marble-sided canyon so narrow at one point I can touch both sides. Stanley tries to convince me to climb up a slick shoot to the next level in the walk, then slips down (safely) himself. We decide I better scoot up seated, pushing with my legs. I make it, but barely. I feel a couple rain drops, look at the sky that suddenly fills with massive dark clouds, thunder heads and wind. Up a narrow canyon in the desert during a rain storm seems to be one of those things people shouldn’t do. I convince Stanley that we’ve gone far enough, and as the darkening clouds gather, we head back, using the slick marble as slides. I think about the name of this place: Death Valley. We hike up the nearby Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the midst of a windstorm.
Having been greeted by canyons, sand dunes, a surprise rain shower, then a rainbow, then an enormous dark-clouded storm, I’m already wondering what on earth the wildflowers will be like tomorrow. I know the delicate beauty of the desert, having lived in El Paso before. I understand the enormous effort of the desert to sprout anything at all from seed, so I moderate my expectations. I know it won’t be lush rolling hills, like at home, but I wonder what I will see on my first visit to Death Valley’s winter bloom. I haven’t yet seen any wild flowers – just a spectacular greeting of unexpected events and scenes. Because of the rain and lingering cloudy skies, there won’t be stars out tonight, so I will have to wait for tomorrow for more of what Death Valley offers.
I needn’t have lowered my expectations. We wake up early and drive to Mud Canyon, get out and walk around a pristine array of wild flowers just waking up to the sun. We continue on to Furnace Creek and along the way, see the fields of flowers that are so rare in the desert. They lift up out of sand, gravel and volcanic rock, all unfriendly hosts to flowers.
Our visit is so short, but we fit in everything I had hoped we’d do. On the way out, early on a Saturday afternoon, we pass hundreds of cars coming into the valley to have their turn at this remarkable gift of the desert.
So the story about how this place is named isn’t, as Stanley would have you believe, because of the many horror films filmed here or even the ones based on stories that occurred here. It comes from the relief of several travelers in the 1800’s who got a bit lost in the cleft between two very high mountain ranges. When finally they found an escape through one mountain pass, they turned back for a last look on the valley that had kept them prisoner in the heat of the summer. One said ‘Finally, we are out of that valley of death.” But none in their party had died.
We drive to this place in comfort, stay in a pleasant hotel, and can only imagine the terror of being stuck in a place that reaches 132 degrees F in the summer. For us, no horror stories and no death march. Just some fun surprises and fragile desert bloom.
When we had begun traveling as a couple waaaaay back in our twenties, we were happily living in South America, learning Spanish and planning one day to visit Spain. Stanley’s maternal grandparents grew up there. His mother had cousins there. Spain had always been the one place we wanted to go. But we simply didn’t.
Nearly forty years later, our Spanish is no longer fluent, we’ve lost contact with cousins and wonder how we could have neglected that glorious country for so long. Poor Spain. It kept getting put off as other, more immediate locales replaced it. How did this happen? I hadn’t a clue and needed to make good on this long-lost promise. We had better hurry before our language skills disappeared completely, like our ability to make good decisions.
We needed to get to Spain. But Stanley wanted to visit the Baltics. Costs, preferences, time: travel planning can be a bit like finger-painting – it’s messy and you never know how it’s going to turn out. I have figured a way to do everything we wanted, but it might just be a bit of tangled finger-painting on a broad canvas of travel.
2016 will be the year of dual transatlantic cruises as I finally found a way to avoid the costs of expensive one-way airfare: ignore the one-way ticket, buy the usual round trip and go twice to Europe from the west coast of the USA. Take an extra vacation as a way of avoiding high costs in the first vacation? You may ask if that’s really a good idea. I refer you back to the implication in the paragraph above – perhaps we are not making good decisions at all. We’ll see. Here’s how the planning went:
The one-way transatlantic cruise to the Baltics was reserved for April. I knew I could avoid an expensive one-way return airfare by purchasing round trips. The round trips would take us back to Europe sometime within a six-month period. I found another even cheaper and much shorter transatlantic cruise back to the states in October. Voila! A trip to Spain emerged between the second stage of the round-trip airfare and the second transatlantic cruise.
We will be making good on a promise that we made nearly 40 years ago. We can postpone building our view deck, as we have been for two years already, save wildly between now and then, and all should stay within the new, improved travel budget for 2016. 2017 might suffer a bit (a lot), but there’s no worry in that until next year.
Good decision? We’ll see. Next year, we’ll spend 40 days on cruise ship travel, 40 days on land travel. For someone who swore never to cruise again after the first one, it’s a bold choice. But perhaps a nice way to celebrate a 40th anniversary all year long.
May we all live long enough and be so fortunate to make plans, and perhaps, to follow-through on those designs. In attempting some travel plans for this new year, I had taken to counting out some of our past journeys – usually a Stanley-type thing.
Together, we’d traveled by air back and forth from home in the USA’s west coast to Europe (east and west) four times in the past six years, to and from Asia/Australia twice. Stanley’s list is longer, but he – for once – wasn’t the one counting.
We traveled as frugally as possible, watching prices, flying on off-days and times, comparing near-by airports, and always choosing economy. We tried to reserve aisle seats for a bit more comfort. Frequently, though, flight delays, reschedules, and rerouting knocked us off our reserved spots. On each of my last three trips back from Europe, I swore I would never fly those long-haul flights again. I would find another way that didn’t include knocking knees for 11 hours with perfectly nice people whose charm waned after a second missed night of sleep.
But Stanley is not done with Europe, and I am willing to tag along, just not happy with all that time in the air. Hop-skip-and-jumping our way there proved only to prolong our travel in places we really did not want to see. It also added far too much to our expenses. We had cruised before with some success, and I knew that deals could be found with trans-Atlantic ships. But those one-way return flights are inexplicably pricey. I decided to buy round-trip tickets and use just one portion. Then I undecided. Turns out that the airlines can charge you for those one-way tickets if you try to deceive them. They probably won’t, but I am not a lucky sort.
Add to all this malarkey that next on Stanley’s list is the most expensive area in the world to travel – the Baltic. I ignored my growing dilemma about how to get there, and focused on the prices of being there. Staying in hotels, we could afford a week, maybe two – not enough time for a visit that is so far away from where we live that we probably would never return. Air B&B was more affordable, but mostly when I looked at places located away from the city centers, not where we wanted to be. Long-term apartments might work, but we wouldn’t be staying that long in each place.
Sometimes the trip planning can wear me down, especially when what I really want to do is just get up and go (it’s not a wise option, just what I would prefer.) That’s when I started looking into food prices. Unbelievable.
Okay, all this travel planning was getting to me. This was Stanley’s list, after all. Where were his travel plans? (This is a strictly rhetorical question, because Marsha knows that Stanley would gladly travel 4th class overnight last-century school bus with no bathroom stops – not an option for Marsha. You can’t do that from west coast USA to Europe, you say? Stanley would find a way, and kill himself getting there. Gleefully.)
Then I eye-balled a month-long trans-Atlantic cruise that stopped in all the cities that were on Stanley’s list. And I would have to unpack once. I checked the price, didn’t quite believe it. Checked my figures for a month of air and land travel with lodging and food estimated. The cruise was less. By a lot.
Now, what can I do about that un-affordable one-way airfare?
For many of us, home is a verb. It’s movable. It changes with all that life brings. Somehow, though, whatever else I have in my life, I always have a home.
But I don’t have a hometown, one place of solidarity with the past that I am confident will last into the future. My brother does, and as proud as he is about his home and hometown, it is one thing that I welcome in his life, but can’t replicate in mine. It’s that old story about accepting our differences, accepting ourselves.
Stanley and I have lived in our chicken coop for 3 1/2 years now. It is home, as it has been since the first time we entered the poor old run-down bungalow, long before we turned it into its current state of comfortable unspectacularness. I recently confessed to some travel friends that 3 1/2 years is about my comfortable pace of travel. This is as fast as I want to see things in this world. A childhoood in California, two years in Colombia, three years in Texas, a couple decades in the central valley of California (aiii!), a year in Ukraine, and now this. Is it time to move on? Have I ‘traveled’ the wondrous central Pacific coast, ready to move on to some other place for 3 1/2 or so years?
Who knows? But it won’t be this year. This year, Stanley is on the count for new countries to visit, filling up his list. And I am tagging along. Lord help us.
We had been fortunate with travel weather. The small amount of rain had cleared the skies and refreshed the flora. Sweaters and light jackets kept us comfortable. But, as you probably already know, I am an unapologetic wuss when it comes to warmth. I live in a climate that ranges from 65 degrees F to 75 degrees F, all year-long. I look upon gloves as someone else’s fashion statement, hats with ear flaps as something no one should ever need.
I come upon this love of warmth through many, many years and much hard work. I had grown up in California, moved to Colombia as a young adult, then on to Texas. All warm weather havens. I should have foreseen a complication, but when I moved to Ukraine several years ago, the cold winter weather slapped me in the face and never let go the chill. People there welcomed me, but the weather stamped ‘return-to-sender’ on my down coat and sent me on my way after a cold, cold winter. I have never recovered.
I didn’t see the wind chill coming as we drove north through the UK. The countryside is charming, the roads wonderful. When we arrived in Edinburgh itself, I saw a gorgeous, almost surreal city. People looked lively, friendly and inviting. Then I stepped out from the car, and felt the ice of the air. I was cold the entire visit.
There are moments when you travel for the joy of seeing new places, but there are other times when you can’t see past your own discomfort. Everyone has their soft spot. I ease my way through long travel days by packing light. I can make up a meal wherever I go. I clean hotel rooms when they need it. I take overnight bus trips. I know how to use squat toilets. I can cleanse my own water.
But cold weather shuts me down. Poor Edinburgh. It didn’t have a chance with me. Others were fine – I didn’t even see many people decked out for the cold. They wore maybe a light jacket, or a scarf. I wound myself in three layers of protective gear and still felt the cold in my toes. Worse: I don’t believe I even got to mispronounce its name out loud. Teeth chattering kept me from saying much. And it wasn’t even winter yet.
Most alarming item of information: people actually golf here. Isn’t that an outdoor sport???