Friday, October 24, 2014


Sometimes the best journeys are very close by.  Last week, I went "home" to my parents' home in Pacific Grove.  This house was never my full-time home.  My parents didn't move into it until about eight years ago.  But it has been my "second home" ever since my grandfather bought it as a little weekend beach house when I was about 14 years old.  Pacific Grove is the place I am happiest and most content.

I don't have a "home town."  I was born in Van Nuys, California (a fifth generation Californian), but lived there for less than a year when my parents took me on the first of many moves throughout my childhood.  My dad put a list of all of the addresses we lived in throughout my childhood in the front of my baby book (hidden in a box of memorabilia at the moment), but I can summon up many of the locations.  Van Nuys was followed by student housing at UCLA as my dad finished his M.A. in geology.

Dad's career as a petroleum geologist led us around the western United States.  By the time I started kindergarten, I had already lived in Vernal, Utah and Casper, Wyoming.  Kindergarten and first grade were in Ojai, California.  Second grade through the first half of fifth grade were in Lakewood, CA, while the second half of fifth grade and the first half of sixth grade were in Farmington, New Mexico.  (Shell Oil Company did not plan their employees' transfers to coincide with the school year.)   The second half of sixth grade and the first half of seventh grade were spent back in California - this time in Long Beach.  And the second half of seventh grade found me standing self-consciously in the quad of Jane Long Junior High School in Houston, Texas.  I finished junior high in Houston, then we returned to California one more time where I actually got to attend the remainder of high school right here at Foothill High School in Bakersfield.

All of our moves really didn't bother me.  In fact, when I got to Foothill High, I met girls who had known each other since kindergarten, and I was genuinely shocked.  I didn't realize until that moment that people actually grew up in one town.  Most of my parents' friends were also oil company folks, and we all moved frequently.  As far as I was concerned, home was wherever my family was.  Mom and Dad and my sister, Barbara, and brother, Rob, were the constants in my life.  In fact, all that moving around gave me a wanderlust, and, I hope, the ability to make friends quickly and to adapt to new situations pretty easily.

Life was always an adventure.  My parents didn't have the money to take us on exotic trips overseas, but we explored every new landscape with eager eyes.  We called these little adventures "Family Outings."  On our nature walks, Dad introduced us to the basics of geology as we explored the canyons and cliff dwellings of the American southwest.  We squealed at the sight of dozens of crabs trying to escape from a big tub in the back of our old station wagon after a day of crabbing in Galveston, Texas.  Our explorations of the tidepools on the rocky cliffs of the Monterey coast instilled a love of the seaside and marine biology that is still with me today.

And that love of the sea leads me back to Pacific Grove.  My dear Grandpa bought the little cottage almost on a whim.  We had family roots in Pacific Grove back to the late 1800's when it was a Methodist church summer camp, so my grandparents frequently visited relatives and friends there.  One fateful day, my grandmother, Nanda, was enjoying a card game with her best friend and was not finished when Grandpa came to pick her up for their trip back to their home in San Jose.  He went out for a walk and found a little home for sale right across the street from Lovers Point beach.  By the time they left for San Jose, he had bought the house - and often said that it was the best decision he ever made.  My family used the cottage as a vacation home through my high school years.  It was a weekend retreat for me and my friends during college years, I took my own children there for many vacations.  When my grandparents passed away, my mom and dad added a second story and made this house their permanent home, which makes it even more special to me.  It is the home of my heart and, as much as I love traveling the world, I am always happiest when making the drive to Pacific Grove.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Every aspiring travel writer's packing list must include a journal.  Whether you choose a notepad, a tablet, or a fancy bound book with a lovely cover doesn't matter as much as having a means to record your notes and impressions about your trip.  Even more than the photos, your journal brings back each day of the trip in vivid detail.  Photos capture a bit of what you see, but the journal can include all of your senses, as well as your thoughts and emotions during the trip.

In fact, when Rob and I travel, our senses are so overwhelmed by all of the new sights and experiences that we often have trouble remembering what we did two days ago, much less remembering the entire trip!  We keep a record of our trips on a blog, Travels With Robby.  But that website is just a personal journal.  Each post is a record of one trip...a diary of our own experiences, so it is probably only of interest to Rob, myself, and family members and friends who want to share the experience with us.

It's a great beginning, but as the aforementioned aspiring travel writer, I wanted to learn how to mine these personal stories for the little gems that could be cut into polished travel tales.  For help with this, I turned to an  award winning travel writer, master travel blogger, and great writing teacher, Dave Fox of Globejotting: A Home for Global Storytelling.

I "discovered" Dave while searching the web for help with travel journaling.  He had an older website with pages of good advice, including strategies to help with the biggest problem we travel journalers face - how to find time to journal when we are busy enjoying a trip.

Over the years, Dave expanded his services.  He turned his good website advice into a thoroughly enjoyable book, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!)  Dave is also a humor writer, winner of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop Book Proposal Contest for his book, Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad, and he put his humor to good use in his Globejotting book.

Dave also offers online travel and humor writing classes and these classes resulted in some of the best writing I have ever done.  Dave provides thorough and thoughtful feedback to his students in a tactful, friendly, but honest way.  He also hosts a forum for his writing students where they can share and critique their stories.  I am currently taking his new class, offered through Udemy, on creating publishable travel tales, "Travel Writing and Publishing: Globejotting 2.0."

For those of you wondering about his own travel "credentials," Dave is a world traveler with years of experience.  He lived in Norway as a high school exchange student and used his Norwegian and journaling skills to become a guide on the Scandinavian tours with Rick Steves.  He has led travel writing trips to Vietnam and Botswana, and he currently lives in Singapore with his wife Kattina, a science teacher at an international school there.

I encourage those of you with travel writing aspirations to check out his website and other services.  With Dave's help (and good advice from my Writers of Kern critique partners), I hope to turn some of my own travel journals into true travel tales that will bring the joy of traveling to a wider audience.

(If you are interested, you can also check out my two stories that have been published on Globejotting!  My Husband's Other Wife and Quetzal Quest.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva
April 14, 2006

If you ask me to pick my favorite trip, I just can't.  Every destination has its own unique charm.  But I have found certain locations that will always hold a special place in my heart.  One of these is Fatu Hiva, the southernmost - and most gorgeous - of the Marquesas Islands.  We were traveling on the beautiful, small cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin.  On the morning of our arrival to Fatu Hiva,  I woke at dawn, threw on my pareu and went up on deck to see the small island come into view. It was quite spectacular and reminded me strongly of the Na Pali coast of Kauai, with the sides of its tall volcanic peaks eroded into sharp ridges and deep valleys. We anchored in the bay near the tiny town of Omoa, one of only two towns on this remote island which has a total population of only about 500.

It was quite exciting to be one of the few to visit a spot that is still relatively “undiscovered” by most of the world. Visitors are still rare here…although there are regular visits by the supply ship from Papeete.

There was no dock big enough for the tenders, so we took little zodiac rafts from the ship to the tiny dock. It was a challenge to step off the zodiac onto the land, as the waves bounced us up and down, but there were helping hands extended to help those of us who were athletically challenged. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with beautiful leis, warm smiles, and singing voices.

Due to the infrequency of visitors, our arrival was a big day for the village. The entire population seemed to be gathered for the event. We headed first for the craft building where the Marquesans had set out their handmade crafts…lovely wall hangings of tapa painted with intricate traditional designs…tikis made of rosewood, sandalwood, stone, and coral…various other wooden carvings, spears, and knives…and umuhei, aromatic bouquets of sandalwood and flowers. Rob and I bought a two tikis - one wood and one stone - to join the one of coral which we had purchased on Mo’orea on a previous cruise, then we joined our new friends, Bryce and Karen, and took a walk through the village and up the one road into the valley.

Fatu Hiva would certainly match most people's vision of a perfect tropical isle. There were coconut palms, papaya trees, (Rob's favorite), drooping with fruit, huge breadfruit trees, bananas, noni plants (which are a big cash crop for the islanders because of the supposed health benefits in noni juice)…even a pineapple growing by the side of the road! You could actually live off the land here. Add a few fish and it’s a feast! It would have been wonderful to spend a bit more time here. The road winds over the mountain about 10 miles to the one other town of the island, Hanaveve, but we were given only the morning in Omoa.

At noon, we returned to the town square for a dance performed by the children and teens of the village. It was not a polished, professional performance like those on board the ship or in Papeete, but in some ways even more charming, as it was so authentic. 

We stopped in at the little village church with its beautiful wooden carvings, then returned to the Paul Gauguin and began a leisurely cruise along the west side of the island.

As always, there were several activities going on around the ship. Some of the local vendors had joined the ship to sell more handicrafts, the Gauguines were showing off the beautiful (and expensive) Polynesian quilts called Tifaifai, and there was more basket weaving, but it was so gorgeous outside that I just had to stay on deck where I had a nice chat with Mark Eddowes, the ship's anthro-pologist. 

Soon we turned into the most gorgeous spot of the entire trip…the Baie des Vierges. (There is an interesting story about this name. The sailors who first visited here noted the rather phallic pillars of basalt standing guard over the bay and dubbed it the Baie de Verges, or Bay of Penises. As you might well guess, this did not sit well with the Catholic missionaries who followed, and the addition of one little vowel turned the name into the more wholesome Bay of Virgins.) I will rely on the photos to describe this scene, but they don’t do justice to the breathtaking beauty of the place. Sometimes wishes do come true because I was snapping pictures like crazy, wishing we could actually spend some time and explore when the announcement came from the Captain that, because of the perfect conditions, we would be given the opportunity to go ashore. Naturally, Rob and I hurried right down to take advantage of the offer!

Our arrival was greeted with great excitement from the children of Vavapepe. As we had not been expected to land, the village had not prepared for our arrival, so they were just going about their normal lives. It was Good Friday, and most of the village was just getting out of church. The children spotted us heading for the dock and came running down to the dock en masse to gape at us. We wished we had brought little gifts for them…pencils were an especially popular item…but alas, we had nothing to offer.

The women of the village also went running…but away from the dock to lay out their wares on blankets in front of their homes. Rob and I took another beautiful walk along the road that led back to Omoa. All too soon, it was time to depart this beautiful island, but we were not too hurried to enjoy an impromptu soccer match with a little boy from the village.

While waiting for the tender to pick us up, we enjoyed visiting with the funny, fat tiki god who stands guard over their harbor like a Polynesian Buddha.

Even our return to the ship was magical. We floated back at just the right moment to catch the sunset behind the Paul Gauguin. 

The "lesson" for the day?   There are rich rewards in seeking out the more remote spots in that are still relatively untouched by the modern world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


From the late entry of this post for the letter E, you might reasonably assume that I am a bit of a procrastinator.  You would be right.  I returned a week ago Sunday from a board meeting of the educational organization I serve on with good intentions to immediately open up my meeting notes and begin compiling and working my way through the to-do list.  I actually accomplished that goal yesterday...eight days after returning home.

But, oh, did I get a lot of housework done in the meantime!

Of course, if it actually is housework on the agenda, then I am likely to find myself in the garden pulling weeds instead.  I don't quite understand this tendency to do alternative activities rather than the ones I should be doing, though I do manage to get a lot of unplanned work done that way!

When it comes to travel planning, however, Rob and I could be in the running for the "Early Bird Hall of Fame."  This week, when I should have been doing my association's tasks, we spent hours researching and booking a tour that won't even take place until November, 2015.  As often happens, we are actually too early to book our airline flight or our hotels.   Many airlines will not take reservations prior to eleven months before your trip, and hotels often adjust their rates each year and are not willing to make a reservation until they are able to provide their customer with accurate information.  No matter!  The hotel was happy to put us on a waiting list and promised to notify us when reservations for our requested dates become available.  (And I added a note to my calendar to check again after the first of the year to follow up in case their waiting list goes astray.)

For the flight plans, I know I can count on Rob to be on the phone to the airline the very first date that seats are made available for our preferred flight.  His diligence has a lot of benefits.  By being early, we are assured of the flight we want, but even more importantly, we are also assured of getting the seats we want.  Any of you who have flown recently know that the airlines have been quietly scooting their coach seats closer and closer together.  Our local newspaper just ran a story on airline travel, stating that the minimum amount of space between seats to ensure passenger comfort is 34 inches, but the norm lately is 30 inches...far too small for my tall husband.  Rob has become a master at looking at the airplane charts and selecting the exact seats that will allow him to stretch his long legs.  Yes, we do have to pay a bit more for Economy Plus, but on a long flight, the cost is well worth it.

We are not only early in planning our trips..we are even early when taking the trips.  For international flights, airlines request that you check in two hours prior to the flight, but it is not unusual to find us through the security line and sitting in the terminal three hours ahead.  Some might think that sitting in the airport terminal for three hours is a terrible waste of time, but there are lots of ways to fill the hours.  In the last several years, many airports are recognizing our need to be "plugged in," and provide outlet stations where waiting passengers can plug in their iPads and smart phones to charge them up for the upcoming flight.  We can read, check emails, play Sudoku, browse in the airport shops, and people-watch.

Waiting for our journeys is not my favorite part of travel, but being early eliminates so much of the stress and hassle that it is worth the long wait at the gate.  Now if I could only learn this lesson when it comes to work and chores!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dreams and Destinations

“The world is so full of a number of things,  I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

I've always loved this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson.  And when it comes to picking destinations for our travels, the "number of things" and places is almost overwhelming.  One of the most difficult parts of traveling for me is just finally settling on which of the 1,001 (or more!) places I want to visit this time.  

It all starts with the dreaming.  On the wall of our home is a large world map filled with red pins showing the places we have visited and, more importantly, green pins for the places we want to explore.  As we read, watch travel shows on TV, talk to other travelers, the number of green pins keeps rising.  

I love browsing through travel brochures and tour pamphlets.  Rob and I have taken organized tours, and there are advantages to this method of travel.  (More about that in an upcoming post!)  When possible, though, we prefer to arrange trips ourselves, and I find that the tour brochures are very helpful for finding places I might not have discovered on my own or for seeing the itineraries that others have set up. Tour companies pick their destinations for a reason, so they give me hints about the highlights of a country or region.

As you can see, coming up with ideas for future travels isn't the big issue. Our list of future travel dreams is probably too long to fit into our lifetime and our budget.  The hard part is deciding where to go next!

It helps to consider the time of year you have available to travel.  If you have a nice long winter holiday, isn't it convenient that the southern hemisphere is enjoying the summer?  It's the perfect time to visit South America, New Zealand, or even Antarctica.  Summer in the northern hemisphere is the best time for experiencing the land of the midnight sun, Norway, and her sister Scandinavian lands.  Spring and Fall are the best for the Mediterranean countries, East Africa, or Australia where summer heat may sap your energy and enthusiasm.'ve picked the season.  Now, what kind of experience do you want?  Are you looking for a rich cultural experience in a completely unfamiliar environment?  A world capitol city filled with great architecture, art museums, and fine dining?  A remote location surrounded by natural beauty and miles of hiking trails?  Or just a completely relaxing week on a quiet beach?  

Truth be told, if you are like me, you want all of these experiences.  I don't know of any 'best" way to pick the next trip.  Rob and I just start talking and dreaming, and when we come up with a trip where we both say at the same time, "That's the one!" then we know it's the right one.

So start dreaming!  Make your "Destinations List," close your eyes and stab your pin at the map.  In a world so filled with wonderful places, you can hardly go wrong!