Forbidden

Sign on the Grounds of Iolani Palace

In the southeast corner of the grounds at Iolani Palace is a low mound that bears the Hawaiian language warning “Kapu.” Because the Hawaiian language doesn’t have the sounds of the consonants “t” and “b,” it would not make any sense if the sign red “Tabu.” Yet that is what it means.

Similarly, foods made from the pounded taro root are everywhere. Yet in Hawaiian, the word is written “kalo.” (There is no “r” in the language.)

The forbidden mound contains the remains of many old Hawaiian chieftains, or ali’i. Before the Iolani Palace was built in the late 19th century, there was an earlier, less European-looking palace that housed the great of O’ahu and the outlying islands. The earlier kings of the Kamehameha dynasty were buried there before a mausoleum was built to house their remains a mile or so to the west.

After the bones of the kings were removed, the Hawaiians had trouble identifying the other remains; so they fenced in the mound and made access to it Tabu.

El Dorado

John Wayne and James Caan in Howard Hawks’s El Dorado

Today’s poem was actually a part of one of my favorite Westerns: Howard Hawks’s El Dorado (1966), which is a remake of the same director’s Rio Bravo (1959) starring the same actor, John Wayne. The lines are spoken by James Caan, in his first major role. Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote it, spelled it as one word: Eldorado—and that’s the name he gave to the poem.

Unlike Poe’s knight, I have found El Dorado to be in many places: Iceland, Scotland, Mexico, the Andes in South America, and even—appropriately—parts of the American Southwest.

Eldorado

Gaily bedight, 
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long, 
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado. 

But he grew old – 
This knight so bold – 
And o’er his heart a shadow 
Fell, as he found 
No spot of ground 
That looked like Eldorado. 

And, as his strength 
Failed him at length, 
He met a pilgrim shadow – 
‘Shadow,’ said he, 
‘Where can it be – 
This land of Eldorado?‘

‘Over the Mountains 
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow, 
Ride, boldly ride,‘
The shade replied, 
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

Ushuaia

Looking Up Rivadavia

Ushuaia, Argentina is the southernmost city on Earth. There is one town which is further south by a few miles: Puerto Williams, Chile, which is mostly a Chilean naval base. I have never been to Puerto Williams, but I did pass by it on a boat ride on the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton. Below is as close as I could get to Puerto Williams without going through Chilean customs:

Puerto Williams from the Beagle Channel

The whole Tierra Del Fuego area, both in Argentina and Chile, is endlessly fascinating. That’s where the Andes comes to an end, sputtering out by Ushuaia and the Dientes de Navarino in Chile. In the above picture, thee are high mountains behind Puerto Williams that are mostly hidden in cloud, though you could make out the rough outline of their summits.

Mark Twain once wrote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes.” That is even more true of Tierra Del Fuego. After all, my last day in Ushuaia in 2006 (it was November 15 to be exact), dawned fair and turned into a blizzard. You may say, “Well, it was November, after all!” We were, however, in the Southern Hemisphere, so it was supposed to be like May in the Northern Hemisphere. The truth is, it can snow on any day of the year in Ushuaia.

There are compensations. The cuisine includes king crab (centolla), which is widely available at reasonable prices. The city is chock full of museums, most prominently the so-called Maritime Museum, which was built as a prison to house Argentina’s most dangerous criminals, including Simon Radowitzky, the anarchist responsible for killing a ranking police officer. Ushuaia was for many years Argentina’s Alcatraz.

Ushuaia was where I broke my shoulder in a blizzard. (That’s why I remember November 15, 2006.) The location was the corner of Magallanes and Rivadavia, where I slipped on ice and fell hard with my shoulder on a high curb. They have since put up a traffic signal there, so it is easier to cross the road.

Impressions of Reykjavík

Street Adjacent to Reykjavík Harbor

It’s not the largest European capital, but Reykjavík is to my mind one of the most interesting. Within hailing distance of the Arctic Circle, it can have some of the worst weather imaginable. Yet it is relatively small (about 131,000 souls) and is walkable—if it’s not too windy and wet. You can feed the sea birds by the Tjörn, the municipal pond, but they could just as easily attack you for the goodies you are doling out. The people are friendly, but it seems everyone in town gets shitfaced drunk on the weekend.

There is an air of mystery about the city, which is one reason why the mysteries of Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, among others, are so popular.

I have been to Iceland twice, once in 2001 and once in 2013. Both times I fell in love with the city and wished I could stay longer. My first day in 2013 was my favorite. It was near the summer solstice, when it does not get dark until the middle of the night, and then only for a short while. Even after my long flight, I fought jet lag by forcing me to stay up until 7:00 AM Los Angeles time. I even took an evening ghost tour through the local cemetery with the sun still up past 10:00 PM Iceland time.

As I walked the streets of the city, I noticed that many of the buildings had walls of thick corrugated steel, frequently brightly colored. The stucco and chicken wire constructions that protect L.A. from earthquake damage would be blown to bits by the Arctic storms. I ran into one in Myvátn where the rain was blown horizontally through every micro-opening in my parka. And all I was trying to do was to get to the grocery store across the street.

I don’t know if I will ever get to Reykjavík again in this life, but in a way it has never left my dreams. As Edward Gorey once said: “I have fantasies of going to Iceland, never to return.”

In Patagonia

Guanacos by the Fitzroy Massif

Of all the places I have visited on my travels, I think the most spectacular was Argentinian Patagonia from El Chaltén south to Tierra del Fuego. Twice I have traveled that route, once in 2006 (when I had my trip cut short by a broken shoulder) and once in 2011 with Martine. Although both my finances and remaining years are dwindling, I would like to take another stab at it.

I would like to fly into Ushuaia and take buses north all the way to Buenos Aires. To my right would be the South Atlantic and to my left the windy plains of Patagonia with glimpses of the Andes in the distance.

Argentina is not a destination beloved by North American travelers. The country is full of mostly Spanish-speaking Italians with pockets of Welsh and Croatians. Its main export used to be wool centered in large estancias held by British landowners, but it has become more diversified over time, especially with oil being discovered there.

Near El Calafate there are numerous glaciers originating on the eastern slope of the Andes. Martine and I visited the Perito Moreno, Upsala, and Spegazzini glaciers. As the world warms up, many of these glaciers will not be around for the next generation. But it was nice seeing them while we could.

Annapolis Royal

An Amazing Collection of Botanical Art

A few days ago, I wrote about Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. I have always enjoyed visiting botanical gardens. Two of the best are on opposite sides of Canada. Martine and I also loved visiting the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. What I found interesting is that the Canadian gardens looked equally good rain or shine, while the ones in California looked best in sunny weather.

Also, the Canadians did a much better job in labeling the different plants than the American gardens we’ve visited.

One of the neat features of Annapolis Royal is that is only a few footsteps away from Fort Anne, originally built in 1629 to protect shipping. It saw action in five wars, terminating in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). On the northern part of the island is the extensive Fortress of Louisbourg, built by the French in 1713, which played a major role in the French and Indian War.

In general, Nova Scotia was our favorite part of Eastern Canada, followed by the City of Québec. We loved the lobster dinners and the French Acadian culture of towns like Chéticamp, where moose could be viewed from the window of our B&B.

Travels with Chris and Topher

Chris Raney and Topher of Yellow Productions

In doing research for my upcoming Hawaii trip, I ran into a great information resource: Chris Raney of Yellow Productions and his YouTube videos on travel. A resident of Southern California, Chris does his videos with a small stuffed panda whom he calls Topher. (Hmmm: Chris + Topher = Christopher?) Occasionally, he is accompanied by his cute little daughter whom he carries on his back or pushes in a stroller.

I started by watching his video entitled “Cheap Eats Waikiki.” Although it was done several years ago, it was still fairly up-to-date. He has also done videos about his favorite Japanese convenience store on American soil (Lawson Station at the Sheraton Waikiki), things to know before visiting O’ahu, and several other topics—including, for validation purposes, some of his videos about Los Angeles, about which I know a thing or two. He passes the test: Chris knows what he is talking about.

You can see a list of Chris’s videos here.

Paradise from an Old Quarry

Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia

Eighteen years ago, I took a solo trip to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the highlights of my trip was my first visit to Butchart Gardens, fifty-five acres of botanical paradise a short distance from Victoria. Usually, botanical gardens look their best in bright sunshine. Curiously, Butchart shone as much in the rain as it did, later that afternoon, in bright sunshine.

I spent hours exploring the grounds, rewarding myself with a delicious English tea for lunch.

Back in 1904, the grounds were part of a large limestone quarry that looked dismal, until the wife of the owner Click here to see how Jenny Butchart turned that ruined earth into a small paradise. Today it is a National Historic Site that draws thousands of visitors from around the world.

A few years later, I returned with Martine, who also fell in love with the place.

Come to think of it, Butchart Gardens was one of two botanical gardens we visited in Canada. The other one was in Annapolis Royal, clear on the other side of Canada. I will write about it at some point in the coming week or so.

Cuy

BBQ Guinea Pig (Cuy)

In the Andes, one of the main sources of meat are guinea pigs. They are easy to raise, particularly if you don’t give them names or regard them as pets. The above picture was taken in Otavalo, Ecuador, famous for its Saturday tianguis, or market.

I have eaten many local foods, but never bothered to sample cuy, mostly because it is regarded as being full of tiny bones. According to one website:

All over Peru, towns honor the importance of cuy to their cuisine. Pachamanca, a traditional cooking method involving earthen ovens, often features guinea pig meat. A mural in the main cathedral of Cusco depicts Jesus and his disciples eating guinea pig at the Last Supper. During an annual festival in the town of Churin, residents celebrate cuy by dressing the animals up in colorful costumes. And across the country, townspeople gather and eat guinea pigs in honor of folk saints as part of a celebration known as jaca tsariy.

Guinea Pig Served at the Last Supper

In Chivay, Peru, I ate alpaca, which wasn’t half bad. I had the opportunity to eat edible clay at Sillustani, Peru; but I passed on it. That didn’t protect me from getting a horrible case of travelers’ diarrhea aboard a boat on Lake Titicaca.

In general, I took to the local cuisines of the Andean countries I visited. Perhaps one of the most interesting phenomena was the prevalence of chifas, Chinese restaurants, in all but the smallest towns. Even at Machu Picchu, I had a tasty wonton soup in the cool of the evening before my trip up the mountain.