I started this blog to share some of the thoughts I have along the journey of life. I love to travel and spend time with my family and friends. A good meal, breaking bread with those I love, gives my life meaning. So does travel. I adore dreaming of sites to visit, not just to check them off on a list. Rather, I consider myself a student of life, traveling as an explorer, to open my mind to all the possibilities the world holds in store for me and for others. I love to travel to discover how different the world is in terms of climate, cultures, politics, terrain, economy, etc. but also to discover how SIMILAR the people are. Despite language barriers, much can be communicated with a smile or gestures. Language is simply a means to communicate, yet there are so very many other ways to communicate. Once when I was in French-speaking Canada, I realized that my 7th grade French class didn’t teach me the word for “straw”. However, when I thought about it, I was able to communicate to the very French-speaking waiter in a very French-speaking restaurant about my need for a “cylinder through which to drink” in my limited French vocabulary. Travel challenges the mind and soul, stretching us to problem solve and form conclusions about all that we experience. THAT is the type of travel I enjoy best. “All’s well that ends well”, as they say………….”Life is Good” as well.
A few years back I remembered reading about a place where one can actually go “sledding” down a hill of white sand. Longing to teach my Florida child, “Teen Traveler” a bit about another kind of sledding, I couldn’t wait to go there. We planned a trip to New Mexico to see this incredible place of large dunes. I learned this white sand isn’t really sand at all but really is gypsum, a mineral that covers about two hundred and seventy-five square miles of desert in New Mexico. Gypsum is used for many things, I learned. It can be used as plaster in surgical casts, as an additive in many foods (ice cream and tofu among others), for brewing beer and mead, for creating drywall, wallboard, plasterboard, for binding tennis court clay, as molds for dental impression plasters, as a hardening agent in Portland cement, in chalk, in hair products and even in some toothpastes.
White Sands National Park, known as the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, is located approximately fifteen miles southwest of Alamagordo. Some time during World War II, the military started using this place for scientific research and missile testing in the area. Missile tests are still conducted near here from time to time. The dunes are sixty feet high in some spots and are breathtaking to see. The bright blue sky against the whitish dunes is remarkable, almost other worldly.
There are picnic areas and limited back country camping allowed in some spots here. At the visitor center, you can purchase a round saucer-type plastic sled along with some wax to coat the bottom of the sled to make it easier to slide down the dunes. You may also bring your own plastic sled from home, as this is allowed. Round saucer-type sleds seem to work best, though. Sledding is lots of fun here, and so is climbing back up to the top of the dunes afterwards. Although currently closed because of the covid pandemic, normally the visitor center is open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas). The visitor contains a gift shop with snacks and drinks, too, along with rest rooms. There is no water available on the dune fields, so plan ahead. It can get very hot out there.
Life is good. Go out and have some fun all over again. Sledding for both children and adults is a blast.
Wanderlust? Stuck inside? Same here. I turn to memories of travels in times past to keep myself sane.
While visiting French Polynesia, I flew to Tahiti for a day, longing to find a beach with black sand. I flew into Fa’a’ā International Airport in Tahiti, armed with a little bit of the French language under my belt and a lot of adventure in my soul.
As soon as I got off the plane, I knew I needed to rent a car to go on my scavenger hunt (if only in my mind) to find a black sand beach. I stopped at one car company and was aghast at the rate they would charge me for less than a full day rental. The attendant was surprised that I could speak French, as I am sure he wanted to take advantage of this five foot American woman traveling alone, so I said thanks and moved on to the next car rental agency. At the next car rental agency, it was the same story with a slightly better rate, so again I moved on. They say “three is a charm” so I settled on a car rental from the third agency, whose rate was still high but a bit more realistic. The rate for less than twenty-four hours was equivalent to what we might pay for a three day rate here in the States.
With a rudimentary map I picked up at a tourist kiosk at the airport, which listed only the highlights of the island, I set off for my adventure. I decided to pull over at a local business (Intersport) to seek clarification of the map. I walked into the shop and was greeted with a smile by a kind man. In French, I told him I was looking to find a beach with black sand, as I wanted to take some home to my daughter, and showed him my crude map of the island. Again, he laughed and gave me instructions (in French) to the black sand beach. As best as I remember, his instructions were something like go to the third red light, take a left, then take a right, etc….I thanked him and then set off on my adventure. I was delighted that one can travel half way around the world to still find a kindred spirit and kindness. The man laughed with me, not at me, and called me a “Cowboy”. Evidently he understood the wanderlust deep in this American soul. The language may be different than that which we are accustomed, but there is so much similarity between people from all parts of the world. Kindness, humor, gratitude, confusion, amusement, and respect are all part of the universal language we share with people all over the world.
It had been a while, several decades maybe, since I drove a “stick shift”, or car with a manual transmission. The road was very steep in some parts, but I was committed to finding that black sand. I was also VERY committed to finding an adventure.
I had been to a black sand beach in Hawaii before, but it had been many years. There is something other-wordly about seeing black sand radiating beneath my feet. I knew from my college days of Geology 101 that Tahiti was formed by two volcanoes, so the black sand is actually pieces volcanic rock. Continuous weathering of the rock replenishes the sand through the years as well.
After getting my sand in my little bottle I purchased at some little gift shop along the way, there was a smile in my soul when I finished my scavenger hunt and was ready to enjoy all else the island offered.
I stopped in the Marché de Pape’ete (Pape’ete Market) which is famous for its sights, sounds, and smells of authentic Polynesian life.
I encountered a blackboard at the market with a sort of “bucket list” written by visitors, which made my heart smile. Others everywhere had “bucket lists” and were checking off items one by one I’m sure.
One visitor wanted to travel the world. Another wanted to live in Tahiti with a spouse. Another wanted to find his love. Another wanted to return to Polynesia. Yet another wanted to build a big house for her children. I didn’t write on the board; I kept my “bucket list” in my soul.
After my journey, I was able to get back to the resort to relax a bit to sit in a comfortable egg chair with a good book in my hand and the scent of frangipani wafting through the air.
Life is good. See the sights. Smell the scents. Taste the flavors. Carpe diem friends………….
“I’ve seen a black sand beach stranger than any foreign world where King Poseidon draped in seaweed once walked upon the Earth–”
Temporary Tatoos in Tahaa? Time for armchair travel to a warm, sunny place….. French Polynesia. Armchair travel in my mind keeps me sane amidst the Corona pandemic.
While visiting French Polynesia, a country comprised of more than one hundred islands located in the South Pacific, I took a tour of one of the islands there, Tahaa. Tahaa is ninety square kilometers (about thirty five square miles) and simply breathtaking. While driving along this island, located on the leeward (western) side of French Polynesia, our guide pulled over to the side of the road to pick a wild fern.
The fern has silvery white powdery spores on its backside.
When you place the backside of the fern against your skin and press for a few seconds, the spores leave an imprint on your skin which resembles a white tattoo. This spore powder doesn’t easily rub off and remained on the my skin for the duration of the day, coming off only when I washed it with soap and water later at my resort.
The thought of a tattoo on my arm did not especially appeal to me, but the thought of a “temporary tattoo” imprint from the spores of this natural plant intrigued me.
For the next stop on our tour, we visited a vanilla plantation. Tahaa is known as “l’île de la vanille” in French, ( “Vanilla Island”), as this island produces about eighty percent of Tahitian vanilla.
The vanilla plant is part of the orchid family, and the wet climate and altitude of this part of the world is great for growing this vanilla. La Vallée De La Vanille, an organic vanilla plantation, was an amazing place to visit.
During my visit, I learned that vanilla beans are harvested after each flower is hand pollinated, after about six to nine months. While it is possible to hand grow Vanilla planifolia (vanilla) in other parts of the world, Tahitian vanilla is actually a hybrid of two species (vanilla planifolia and vanilla pompona), which were bred together to create Vanilla tahitensis or Tahitian vanilla. The bees that normally pollinate vanilla were not brought to French Polynesia by the Europeans from Central America, are not on the island, and are nearly extinct. The plants, which contain both male and female parts, are hand pollinated accordingly. The plant is propagated mainly from stem cuttings instead of seeds because they require a certain type of fungus to even germinate.
Vanilla pods are harvested when they are mature, as harvesting them too early before they turn the right color yields a vanilla bean that is not as aromatic or flavorful. Post-harvest, the beans are washed and dried in a series of steps for approximately nine months before going to market.
Tahitian vanilla tastes very different than the usual vanilla we eat here in the Americas, which is usually a Bourbon vanilla or Madagascar vanilla. While Madagascar vanilla taste can be described as “rich and creamy”, Tahitian vanilla can be best described as sweet and floral with a hit of cherry somehow. Many people simply LOVE the flavor of Tahitian vanilla (especially my friend in Belgium), but I find it tastes almost like eating soap some how.
So when the travel bans are lifted, think about visiting French Polynesia. Try something different. Enjoy the local color wherever you end up and keep dreaming. Carpe diem, friends……….
Cabin Fever. Wanderlust. Tough to be inside. Spring Break today, ” Teen Traveler” and I decided to venture out of the house to where we could maintain an appropriate “social distance” from others to protect ourselves from Covid-19. Living in Florida, we decided we would find a remote beach area where there were few people present. We searched for the perfect “Cast Aside Covid Cove” with a song in our hearts and our usual spirit of adventure.
We traveled to Vero Beach, FL, where we found WAY too many people in the parking lots and on the beach for us to maintain our “social distance”, but we enjoyed our day trip to this magical place that is dotted with sea turtle sculptures in so many places. Vero Beach wasn’t as isolated a spot as we wanted, so we decided to drive further south until we found some hidden beach access somewhere else.
I wanted to share this day with “Teen Traveler” to show her how we prepare for Corona to come knocking on our door. We think. We come up with a plan. We prepare. We have FUN! A day spent all alone with “Teen Traveler” where we went on a road trip, we laughed, we talked, we laughed some more, we listened to music from our respective generations, and we laughed some more was just what we needed.
There were few people on the beach, but there was a red flag waving in the breeze. Native Floridians know this means to stay out of the water for some peril or another. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents or both. So, we decided to go into the water only up to our knees, but the surf was so high the waves hit our waists as they came rolling in toward shore. The water was cool at first (for the Native Floridians in the crowd), but we adjusted okay.
Being with my daughter reminded me of a song by Sia……….
“… I’ve been waiting for a magic moment But maybe there are magic moments Could it be a magic moment now? I’ve been waiting for a magic moment But maybe there are magic moments Baby it’s a magic moment nowBut darling it’s a magical, magical life, life, life Oh honey, it’s a magical, magical life, life, life And baby it’s a magical, magical life, life, life When you can find magic in every day, night, night, night….”
We had a great day and we are already thinking of where we might take a day trip next week. Clear kayak on a Florida spring? Fly a kite at another beach? One thing is for certain. On Earth we have ONLY these five minutes. Time to go out to make a memory, as there is beauty everywhere.
As I transition from “social distancing” to self-isolation in our home, I am reminded of an old song that says, “For every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.” I am reminded of all the good things that are happening in the world right now, despite our current precarious world situation, that are still positive.
The smile of a stranger at the market from an appropriate social distance combined with eyes that meet and show a shared understanding (before I self-isolated), the sense of community in my neighborhood where people are looking out for each other and some folks have offered to get groceries and supplies for the elderly or at-risk neighbors, the gift of extra time together with my family, sharing a laugh as we remember to have fun while we prepare for this coronavirus to come knocking at our door. Having the luxury of extra time with board games while “Teen Traveler” is home from school and watching any pandemic movie we can will be fun memories to reflect upon years from now. Today we will find a remote stretch of beach where there are no visitors so we can feel the sand between our toes and the wind in our hair. This situation is serious, but we still can live while we are living with the situation.
There are many other other things that are that that “flower growing” despite the “rain” in this health crisis. Dolphins have returned to the canals in Venice because the water is cleaner and clearer right now with less traffic. The air is cleaner as emissions have fallen as China’s coal use drops. Many companies are changing policies and procedures to make working from home a possibility, which can help families who are normally juggling the needs of their children while needing to work. Supply chains are working overtime to help meet the needs of the country. We have begun to investigate what self-reliance means personally and as a country, giving some thought to how we can manage on many levels when things go awry. We all have developed an “attitude of gratitude” when we find a supply of toilet paper, any toilet paper, any brand, in the market.
I am reminded of the beauty of Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands while I think “for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.” The garden will not open tomorrow as planned, yet I can’t help think of all the beautiful flowers that continue to grow, despite our global turmoil. I had always wanted to see the tulips growing in fields as a bucket list item, so last year we traveled there. Another bucket list item crossed off my list.
Keukenhof Gardens normally is open in the spring for the about eight weeks from mid-March to mid-May. Originally the gardens were part of Countess Jacoba van Beieren’ s (Jacqueline of Bavaria, 1401-1436) kitchen gardens at Teylingen Castle. In 1949, plans were made by some prominent bulb growers to use that space to grow bulbs, and in 1950 the gardens were opened to the public.
At Keukenhoff, one can take a forty-five minute quiet electric boat ride through the region where you can learn a little bit more of the area. Unfortunately this boat is NOT wheel-chair accessible. Fees range from 4.50- 9. Euros (about $4.82 USD for children -$9.63 USD for adults) at the time of this writing. Children under three are free of charge. The park does, however, offer complimentary electric wheelchairs to guest to enjoy the gardens, though.
Keukenhoff is NORMALLY open from 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM but is temporarily closed now because of Covid-19. There are multiple places to eat within the park, and the park allows dogs on leashes.
Coping with the Corona situation is difficult for everyone, but taking a moment in your heart and mind to visit other places where beauty endures and life goes on might be just what you need. Armchair travel is always good for the soul, as it gives us something for which to look forward some day. The flower bulbs remind us that life goes on, year after year, even after a period in which everything appears to have stopped and is dormant.
“I believe for every drop of rain that falls A flower grows I believe that somewhere in the darkest night A candle glows I believe for everyone who goes astray someone will come To show the way I believe, I believeI believe above a storm the smallest prayer Can still be heard I believe that someone in the great somewhere Hears every wordEvery time I hear a new born baby cry Or touch a leaf or see the sky Then I know why I believeEvery time I hear a new born baby cry Or touch a leaf or see the sky Then I know why I believe”
-Written by Roger Whittaker and sung by Mahalia Jackson
TODAY is a good day to have a good day. Spring has sprung. Go out and live; carpe diem, friends…………..