My First Trip
Heck, I was just a kid at the time; so I didn’t know any better. All the other family trips were decided on by my parents—and we didn’t travel much even then. Up until the mid 1960s, the farthest I ever went with them was Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan, to the west and Niagara Falls to the east. Then, one day they listened to me. I suggested that we visit Schoenbrunn Village near New Philadelphia, Ohio. We had just learned in school that it was the first white settlement in Ohio, founded in 1772 by Moravian missionaries intending to convert the Delaware Indians.
What we found was a Disneyfied patch of log cabins that looked so badly chinked that they probably had to plug the leaks every year. There was the obligatory souvenir stand on the premises and (although I do not specifically remember it) a snack bar. Of the souvenir stand I am sure, because my folks bought a rubber-tipped spear for my little brother. The return trip was hard on him so he detonated by the time we neared Akron.
It was not particularly a fun trip. Once the fact settled in that it was the first settlement in Ohio, the rest was primarily just visiting all the cabins and nodding sagely. Interestingly, Los Angeles was first settled nine years later than Schoenbrunn Village, and some of the original buildings are still around, such as the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street and scattered Spanish missions and adobes scattered around town. I guess log cabins of that design don’t last long.
Fortunately, all my subsequent trips were much better than that ill-fated day trip some 60 plus years ago.
Aboard the MV Lady Rose in 2004
I have always liked Canada. While we were losing our minds and preparing for a second Civil War, Canada remained itself—calm, reasonable, sane. One of the highlights of my 20014 trip to British Columbia was an all-day cruise from Port Alberni to Bamfield and back. The Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound extends for many miles of isolated houses and logging camps, many of which were supplied by the packet freighter MV Lady Rose. I understand the ship is no longer being used for that purpose. On the plus side, she is at Tofino awaiting restoration at Jamie’s Whaling Station.
There is something about small ships that intrigues me. In Argentina, I took the Modesta Victoria on Lago Nahuel Huapi to Los Arrayanes National Park. The Modesta Victoria was built around the same time as the MV Lady Rose, though in the Netherlands rather than Glasgow. The Modesta victoria has recently celebrated 75 years of navigation on Lago Nahuel Huapi, which sits in the foothills of the Andes in Argentinian Patagonia.
The Modesta Victoria at Anchor
My day cruises aboard both ships were among the highlights of both vacations. The Alberni Inlet was lovely, abounding in bears and other wildlife. And the Modesta Victoria’s cruise to Los Arrayanes was spectacular. It is said (though probably this is a myth) that the orange trunks of the Arrayanes trees were the inspiration for the forest in Walt Disney’s Bambi.
A Tree in the Center of the Road? Yes, This Is Paraguay!
My mind keeps returning to Paraguay, and this without having done my Guatemala trip yet. There is something attractive to me about a country with such a screwed-up history. And yet, at the same time, the country fascinated Graham Greene and kept appearing, albeit peripherally, in his books, such as Travels with My Aunt (1969), A Sort of Life (1971), and The Honorary Consul (1973). It is also the country which gave birth to one of South America’s greatest (and most unsung) authors, Augusto Roa Bastos, who wrote The Son of Man (1960).
I want to go to Asunción, learn how to speak Guaraní, and drink endless glasses of iced tereré infused with herbs. I will read more about the sad history of the place and enjoy myself thoroughly. It will give me great pleasure to hear people ask me, “Why Paraguay?” I will, of course, answer them by saying, “Because it’s there!”
Palo Borracho Trees by Filadelfia in the Gran Chaco
Or, if I were someone other than who I am, I could take a gigantic passenger ship to some Caribbean isles where the sun will scorch the skin off my back and my fellow passengers will bore me into catatonic rage.
Fumaroles on the Road to Þingvellir
It isn’t long after you leave the airport at Keflavík that you see with your own eyes that Iceland is like nowhere else on earth. You are now in Volcanoland, on an island where there is an almost total lack of trees. There is an old joke: What do you do when you’re lost in an Icelandic forest? The answer: Stand up. Nowhere in Iceland are there trees in any number that tower above the human form. There are black sand beaches, steam venting from fumaroles visible between Keflavík and Reykjavík, hotel showers that smell of sulphur, strange ice floes tinged with a light blue shade, seemingly hundreds of waterfalls, numerous active volcanoes—and that is only the beginning.
I have been to Iceland twice, in 2001 and 2013. And I want to go again. It’s not exactly a budget destination. Yet the country is teeming with European tourists, mostly of the backpacker persuasion.
Duck-Shaped Ice Floe in the Lagoon at Jökulsárlón
On both of my trips, I visited Jökulsárlón, the lagoon full of blue-tinged ice floes from the giant Vatnajökull Glacier that is the largest in Europe. I took an amphibious boat tour of the lagoon and even tasted the ancient ice from the glacier. The lagoon is so striking that all scheduled buses passing it stop over for around an hour so that the tourists can get their fill of the sights.
Strange Rock Formations at Dimmuborgir by Lake Mývatn
The strange rock formations at Dimmuborgir by the southeast shore of Lake Mývatn are said to be the homes of elves who suddenly pop up through a hidden door and drag unsuspecting Icelanders to their subterranean halls.
Even in Reykjavík, there are strange unexplained things. To avoid jet lag, I took a ghost walk from the old harbor to the cemetery of Hólavallagarður. Although I slept well that night, I had the strangest dreams.
Temple 1 at Tikal in the Petén Region of Guatemala
I had always wanted to visit Tikal. In the 1980s, when I visited Yucatán several times, I wanted to swing south through Belize to the ruinsat Tikal. Unfortunately, a murderous religious madman named Efraín Ríos Montt was in charge at the time; and the State Department was recommending that American tourists stay well away from the massacres and disappearances that were plaguing Guatemala at the time.
Tikal is huge, 575 square kilometers (222 square miles) in area. It almost defined the Classic Period of Mayan archeology, from approximately 200 AD to 800 AD at its height. The area in which it is located is a monkey jungle, pure and simple. With my hared of mosquitoes, I am thinking of spending three nights in nearby El Remate, where the hotels have electricity 24 hours a day, and not just sometimes. If there is air conditioning, or at the very least a functioning ceiling fan, one can escape being bitten to death and coming home with Zika or Malaria or Dengue, to name just a few baddies.
The Shores of Lago de Petén at El Remate
Although Guatemala is not a large country by North American standards, the road from Guatemala City to El Remate takes twelve hours or more on good roads. One has to go all the way to the Atlantic Coast before cutting north. There is a little matter of some high mountains preventing a direct route. If I took the mountain route, it would take at least twenty hours and several buses. I am actually thinking of flying from Guatemala City to Flores, which is within a few miles of El Remate. (I could stay in Flores, for that matter, but if I wanted to spend two days at the ruins, I want to be a bit closer to Tikal.)
There are sunrise and sunset tours at Tikal, but I don’t want to lose sleep just so I can gamble on a perfect sunrise or sunset. I’m willing to take pot luck.
The Crowning With Thorns at Buenos Aires’s Tierra Santa
This country is so Protestant, so Evangelical, that it is positively refreshing to visit a Biblical theme park that is oriented toward Catholicism. The Tierra Santa Theme Park in Buenos Aires does not get many American or European tourists. Its website is in Spanish only.
The park is set along the south bank of the River Plate, just west of the Aeroparque Jorge Newberry. You can see animatronic figures of the Creation, of the Last Supper, and other events from the life of Christ. There are a few references to the Old Testament, but not many. If you get hungry, you can dine on pita bread with hummus and other foods that are reminiscent of the time and place.
The Wedding at Cana: “There is no more wine.”
It’s probably better to go there via taxi, but both times I went, I took the Belgrano Train Line to the Estación Scalabrini Ortiz, only a few minutes from the Retiro railroad terminal. It involves taking a nice walk along the River Plate and looking across the muddy waters at Uruguay. There is generally a cool breeze along the river, which makes the 20-minute walk from the station bearable.
Frankly, one of the things I like about South America is that it is unabashedly Catholic. To be sure, the Evangelicals are making inroads; but I can more easily ignore them than I can in the United States. My pictures of Latin America include a lot of churches, because I visit a lot of churches. They look like churches. In Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels looks more like a warehouse than a church. It was built by former Cardinal Roger Mahony: Therefore, it is often referred to as the Taj Mahony.
Homeless Cat at Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires
One of the biggest tourist draws in Buenos Aires is Recoleta Cemetery, surrounded on all sides by a high-toned urban neighborhood. Tourists go mainly to see where Evita Perón is buried (she’s buried there under her maiden name, Eva Duarte, in the Duarte family crypt. In addition to Evita, virtually everyone who was anyone was at Recoleta, including a number of former presidents, as well as numerous generals and admirals. Not buried at Recoleta is Juan Perón, who was refused admission there, buried at Chacarita Cemetery off to the south, and then, after the body was vandalized, moved to a special crypt at the Museo Histórico Quinta 17 de Octubre in the suburb of San Vicente.
Not quite so well known is that Recoleta Cemetery is full of cats. It is one of several public places in B.A. that is infested with felines, including a botanical garden in nearby Palermo. The kind-hearted Argentinians typically feed these cats, so they are not quite 100% feral. They are a bit wild, however, though they recognize their benefactors. I thought the cats wandering the concrete walkways of the Recoleta were a nice touch.