Blue Hawai’i

Waimanalo Beach on the Windward Side of O’ahu

Martine and I are planning a trip to Hawaii this September, after all the kids are back in school. We plan to visit only the island of O’ahu, as that’s where all the museums and special attractions that Martine wants to see are located. This won’t be our first trip: We were there in 1996, staying at what then was called the Pacific Beach Hotel.

We plan to revisit some of the sights we saw then, including:

Some sights I would like to add to what we’ve already seen: Waimanalo Beach, Honolulu’s Chinatown, and the Ala Moana Shopping Center.

Some things have changed for the worse since our last visit. Not only are automobile rentals more expensive than ever, but some hotels charge as much as $50 a night just for parking. Then, too, many hotels now charge up to $50 a day for “resort fees,” whether or not you use their resort services. Since I am now on a fixed income, I will be particularly interested in saving money.

Before September, I would like to read some of O. A. Bushnell’s novels about Hawaiian history and see some movies set in Hawaii, such as Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii and several movies featuring the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Tora Tora Tora and From Here to Eternity).

Politics in Tabriz, 1953

Image of Old Tabriz, Persia, by Eugène Flandin

I am reading a great travel classic written in the 1950s about two Swiss who drove a ratty old Fiat from Yugoslavia to the Khyber Pass on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Nicolas Bouvier’s The Way of the World describes Persian politics in Tabriz in 1953, when Muhammad Musaddeq’s government was overthrown by a Royalist coup. Wonderful stuff! BTW, is this where we’re headed?

The Musaddeq trial, which had just opened in Tehran, led to fears of skirmishes in Tabriz. They didn’t take place because that very morning the Governor demonstrated to the town that he was in full control: five armoured cars, several mortars and twenty trucks, carrying troops whose numbers had been increased for the occasion.

The Governor was a wily old man, a cruel jester, oddly esteemed even by opponents of the government he represented. He was forgiven much because everyone knew he had no political convictions and had entirely devoted his rule to building up his personal fortune, with a skill that had won him many admirers. Tabriz had always been a recalcitrant town, but it recognized ‘fair play’, and well-aimed shots. That unexpected parade, for example, which had the town by the scruff of the neck when it woke up, was absolutely in the style of the man to whom the town referred familiarly by his first name. A despot, of course, whose disappearance would have been welcomed with relief, and who was intently watched in case he should slip up. Meanwhile, informed, bland, pitiless and efficient, he was impressive. The town, familiar with despotism, granted his talent.

How Did They Know That?

The Inca Ruins at Something Something Picchu

I was surprised to find out that, according to a professor of anthropology, Machu Picchu should be called Huayna Picchu instead. The reason I was surprised is that the Incas never had a written language like the Maya and the Aztecs. They were great engineers and stonemasons, but left no writings or even hieroglyphs. The only “communication” of any sorts we have from the Incas are in the form of quipu, knotted cords that were used to quantify taxes or inventories.

Quipu at the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru

You can read the story here at CNN Travel. It doesn’t much matter what the “official” name of the Inca ruins was. After all, most Meso-American ruins are probably misnamed. Either the Conquistadores or the archeologists just assigned a name for convenience. And, for good or ill, it stuck.

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig

Definitely on my travel bucket list is one of South America’s two landlocked countries (the other one is Bolivia, which had a seaport on the Pacific until they lost it in an 1870s war with Chile). I am speaking, of course, of Paraguay, which is surrounded by Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. I personally know no one who has been to Paraguay, yet I am yearning to visit it.

What piqued my interest was John Gimlette’s At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, which captures the insane history of this little known country, which is known for:

  • The Paraguayan War (1864-1870) against, simultaneously, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, in which 50% of the population lost their lives.
  • The Chaco War (1930s) against Bolivia, in which two armies confronted each other in a waterless desert and which, surprisingly, Paraguay won despite horrendous casualty rates.
  • The dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) in which the country welcomes fleeing Nazis.

While it is theoretically possible to fly into the capital, Asunción, I would rather enter by bus from Argentina. When I visited Iguazu Falls in 2015, I was only a few miles from Ciudad del Este, which is a known hangout of smugglers and Hezbollah terrorists—but I chose not to visit it at that time. (Actually, probably never would suit me.)

If I went to Paraguay, I would be interested in visiting the old Jesuit missions that were destroyed by the Brazilians. At one time, in the 18th century, Paraguay was controlled by the Jesuits and was considered a paradise on earth. To corroborate, read Voltaire’s Candide and see Roland Joffe’s 1986 film The Mission with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. But after the missions were destroyed, things went bad.

And I would like to stay in Asunción sipping Tereré, a cold preparation made with Yerba Mate. If I had time, I would like to see a little bit (a very little bit) of the Chaco region in the northwest.

Crossroads

The one part of Asia that I would like to visit is the island nation of Singapore. To me, it is like China and India rolled into one convenient package, yet not too far from its British colonial heritage to force me to learn a difficult new language.

What particularly earns it a spot on my travel bucket list is the cuisine. I love both Chinese and Indian food, and Singapore is known for both, as well as several adjoining cuisines such as Thai and Malayan.

In fact, I cannot imagine myself losing weight during a Singapore visit. And that’s when I’m not drinking cold beers at the Writers’ Bar at the Raffles Hotel—the height of colonial decadence,

Of course I would fly there on Singapore Airlines and hang out a while at Changi Airport, reputed to be the most interesting airport in the world.

Lanesmanship

I came late to driving. In fact, I did not get my license until I was forty. Starting late as I did, I did not have many youthful bad habits exercising a baneful effect on my driving.

Other than adhering religiously to speed limits, what probably characterizes my driving more than anything else is, whenever possible, knowing what lane I want to be in and sticking to it, unless I feel I absolutely must pass some slow-moving vehicle.

Returning home from the desert, for example, I prefer to take the Pomona Freeway (California 60). I start out in lane 2 and change to lane 1 as I approach Interstate 5. That lane in turn becomes lane 3, giving me several miles to change to lane 2. If I stay on lane 2 as the highway becomes the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10), I can ride it all the way to my exit ramp at Centinela Avenue fifteen miles farther on.

Why change lanes unless you have to? One of my beefs with performance cars is they feel as if they fail to change lanes every hundred feet, Elon Musk or Ferdinand Porsche will come and painfully twist their privates and take away their car keys. I estimate that, on the same trip, frequent lane changers drive 10-15% more miles as a result of traveling sideways.

The Tao of Travel

Quito, Ecuador

One of my favorite travel books is Paul Theroux’s The Tao of Travel. When my favorite travel writer writes on the subject of travel literature, the result is nothing less than armchair satori. Take the following quote from his The Old Patagonia Express (1979), my first introduction to South America:

Travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered. Other people can mislead you: they crowd your meandering impressions with their own; if they are companionable they obstruct your view, and if they are boring they corrupt the silence with non sequiturs, shattering your concentration with, “Oh, look, it’s raining” and “You see a lot of trees here.

It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in your private mood to be special and worthy of interest.

Theroux’s book is full of such gems, such as this one from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869):

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on those accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Here is a poetic contribution from Rudyard Kipling (“The Winners”:

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.


In Virginibus Puerisque, Robert Louis Stevenson imparts this wisdom:

Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.

As I return to this book, which I do often, I just want to set out for somewhere, anywhere. Well, maybe not Cleveland. Been there, done that!

Hit the Road, Jack!

After our recent trip to Vegas, I am thinking of provoking the Covid-19 demons with another road trip. It’s fun to travel, and my predilection for wanderlust has been seriously subdued by the pandemic.

I don’t think I can get Martine interested in another desert destination—even though she liked the Vegas trip—but there are other less arid possibilities like Catalina, San Diego, Santa Barbara, or the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang. I’ll just have to put my thinking cap on.

Actually, there is one desert trip that Martine likes, which we have taken twice: Up U.S. 395 along the Eastern Sierras and the Owens Valley. To see what a rich target this is, check out this California Through My Lens website.

Rio Bec

The Ruins of Calakmul in the Rio Bec Region

What with all my visits to the Maya ruins in Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, and Honduras, you would think I would be getting tired of the endless ruins. Well, not yet! One incredibly dense region of Maya ruins is in the southeast corner of the state of Campeche, known as the Rio Bec region. Included are such archeological sites as:

  • Calakmul, with Tikal in the Petén region of Guatemala, perhaps one of the largest Maya cities at its height 1,500 years ago
  • Xpuhil (pronounced shpoo-HEEL)
  • Balamku
  • Chicanna
  • El Hormiguero (“The Anthill”)
  • Rio Bec
  • Becán

And these are only the better known ones, and even some of these are difficult to get to because they are at the end of dirt tracks in the jungles of the region.

Maya Ruins at Chicanna

Unlike many of the better known ruins in the state of Yucatán, those of the Rio Bec region are in steaming monkey jungles. The only town of any size is Xpujil near the eponymous ruins, and it’s only a blip on the long road between Francisco Escarcéga and Chetumal. To visit any of these ruins requires reserving a chunk of time, from three days to a week. Public transportation is virtually nonexistent, and the only places to stay (and not a large selection at that) are clustered around Xpujil.

To do the Rio Bec area any justice, I would have to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Still, I would love to go. I would have to pack a lot of insect repellent (like 100% DEET) and be prepared for some really dicey shit. Hey, if it’s on my travel bucket list, you can bet it’s no cakewalk.

The Bungle Bungles

Purnululu National Park. Photo by Sean Scott Photography.

This is one of a series of posts about places I would love to visit, but probably never will for lack of time and money. I first heard about the Bungle Bungles from Bill Bryson’s excellent travel book In a Sunburned Country:

The Bungle Bungles are an isolated sandstone massif where eons of harsh, dry winds have carved the landscape into weird shapes—spindly pinnacles, acres of plump domes, wave walls. The whole extends to about a thousand square miles, yet, according to [his source] “were not generally known until the 1980s.”

The area is now within the boundaries of Purnululu National Park in a remote part of Western Australia midway between Broome and Darwin. Bryson wanted to see it, but didn’t have the time, as it would have involved several thousand miles of hard driving on a desert two-lane highway.

Location of the Bungle Bungles

Expedia is currently running a series of TV ads about how we never regret the things we didn’t buy nearly so much as the places we never got to visit. I tend to agree. That’s why I plan to use some of my posts to dream about places that look fascinating. What with Covid-19, advancing age, and the high cost of travel, I will dream in print about visiting certain destinations. You might say it’s my travel bucket list.