Reluctant Traveler Guest Post: Life’s a Beach

By Rebecca Borman
For many months, my son’s family and I had been looking forward to our annual (and sometimes semi-annual) trip to The Resort on Cocoa Beach.  As I’ve written before, it’s one of our happy places.  But, just a few days before the start of our week at the beach, I got a shocking phone call.  The voice on the other end told me that our week at The Resort was cancelled.  What?  Well, there was this hurricane on the way, and Cocoa Beach was being evacuated.  The Resort would be closed for a week so they could assess and then repair the damages.

I immediately called my son, Erik.  He, not I, was going to have to break the news to his wife Josey and my grandchildren, Mackenzie and Carter.  There would be tears.  We needed to come up with some suggestions for a Plan B.  Given that we had spent about $3000 on airfare to Orlando, Plan B needed to be within driving distance of that city.

Good fortune prevailed in many ways.  Most importantly, Cocoa Beach weathered the storm very well.  The storm didn’t do as much harm as was feared, and while docks and probably a few buildings were damaged, in general our beloved beach town is fine.  And, we came up with Plan B.  Friends of my son’s family own a condo on Indian Rocks Beach and generously offered us the use of their home for our vacation week.  We appreciated the offer and immediately agreed.  So, we were off to the beach, this time on the Gulf side of Florida.

Admittedly, there was some trepidation at the thought of a beach vacation on the Gulf instead of the Atlantic, and in an unfamiliar place.  Would there be waves for boogie-boarding?  Would we like the beach?  Would we miss our big balcony overlooking the ocean and the beautiful swimming pool at the resort?  Would we find places to eat that would satisfy our cravings for seafood?  The short answer is that we had a great week!

image1Truth be told, we did miss the big waves that provide so much boogie-boarding fun.  We also weren’t big fans of the need to do the “sting-ray shuffle.”  But, we loved the easy access to the beach from the condo, and the sea shells were absolutely amazing.  We spent lots of time in the water, but also lots of time walking along the shore.  We became experts at finding unbroken shells and had fun identifying them.  We even found several that are consider “rare finds.”  Very fun!

In fact, here is a short list of some things we did that we wouldn’t have been able to do had we stayed in Cocoa Beach:  for a few moments, Mackenzie held a live seahorse she saw in the water; one morning, a manatee swam so close to shore that he/she was only a few feet away from us; another morning a blue heron followed a woman fishing on the shore, hoping for and getting a few fishy treats; Erik and the kids discovered a live sand dollar when they dug their toes into the sand bar; I found a perfect and rare “Scotch bonnet” seashell; we ate lots of fresh-caught grouper.  And one of our best dinners was one we couldn’t have had in Cocoa Beach.  We had pizzas delivered and took them down to the beach.  We enjoyed good pizza, great conversations, and a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a wonderful way to end a long, lazy day of relaxing on the beach and in the water.


So, what threatened to be a disaster turned out to be a great week and a good lesson.  When your biggest problem is having to switch your vacation plans from one fabulous beach to another, you are blessed to be living a very good life.  Oh, and PS…we are already booked for a spring break week at The Resort on Cocoa Beach.

Reluctant Traveler: Guest Blog: The Long Way Home

By Rebecca Borman

bec-closeup-twoWhen I was planning my annual Colorado summer trip, I decided that I would like to include a couple of National Parks I had never visited.  To that end, I made hotel reservations for Alamosa, near the Great Sand Dunes NP, and Far View Lodge, in Mesa Verde NP.  So, on a Wednesday morning, I left Kris and Bill’s Denver home for the Great Sand Dunes, and the adventure began.

sandhills 1

I chose not to take the fastest route from Denver to the Park; if the purpose of the trip was to see interesting geography, I-25 was not my first choice.  So, my route wound me through the Rockies, including a drive over Poncha Pass.  Beautiful!   Once I got into the San Luis Valley, I saw some interesting, and unexpected, sights.  At one point I saw a sign for Colorado Gator Park.  I did not stop, as I’ve seen gators before, but I will admit that it was a surprise to learn that Colorado had such a park.  It just seems random to me.  Not as surprising, but very cool, was passing by three cowboys who were clearly driving a herd of cattle somewhere.

Before long, I found myself on the road to Great Sand Dunes NP and eventually had to stop and take a picture.  There’s something odd about seeing enormous sand dunes against the Rocky Mountains.  I stopped in the Visitor Center to learn a little about how this phenomenon of nature happened.  The combination of very dry climate, strong winds, and the mountains as a backstop created this amazing place.  One can spend a day there, but I only had a few hours.  So, I eschewed renting a sled to coast down the dunes, mostly because you can’t sled down until you climb up, and I literally wasn’t going there.  But, I did walk up the nearest and smallest dune, just to get a feel for what it’s like to walk uphill on sand.  It’s hard work!  I people-watched for a bit, especially the kids, who were having all kinds of fun in the sand.  Then, I emptied the sand from my shoes, got back into my car, and headed toward my hotel in Alamosa.

sandhills 2

By the time I checked in, it was time for dinner.  Thanks to TripAdvisor, I discovered Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant, featuring their famous buffet.  Calvillo’s is low-key and very casual.  The food was good, although I admit that I wasn’t always sure what I was eating.  But, it was a bargain and a fun experience.  I try always to eat in local restaurants when I’m traveling and Calvillo’s is an Alamosa institution.

The next morning I drove to Mesa Verde NP, a drive of about four hours.  Lots of road work slowed me down a bit, but I made it to the Park in the early afternoon and started at the Visitor Center there.  I got some advice about what to see, and I purchased tickets to three ranger-guided tours on the following day.  I wasn’t sure I’d take all three, which would have been a lot for just one day.  But, at just $4 a pop, it seemed a good idea to keep all my options open.

The drive into the Park was stunning, and I drove directly to one of the places I wanted to visit, Spruce Tree House and the museum.  While you can’t walk around Spruce Tree House right now, it is close enough to see very well, especially with binoculars.  What an amazing sight!  Mesa Verde is a World Heritage Site, and no wonder.  Spruce Tree House was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278 by the ancestors of the Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, and it gets visitors from around the world.  I spent several hours there and in the museum, and then it was time to drive to my home for the next two nights, Far View Lodge, the only accommodations in the Park.

mesa verde

After I checked in and unloaded a few things from my car, I went to the Far View Lounge for a drink on the patio.  I enjoyed the view and eavesdropped on conversations about my fellow visitors’ experiences of the day.  A few stories were a little scary…climbing steep ladders on the side of a cliff, narrow tunnels to get into one of the rooms, strenuous walks along narrow ledges.  But, everyone seemed to be enjoying their adventures.  After a nice dinner, I returned to my room and had an early night, because I had many plans for the next day.

Unfortunately, none of those plans came to fruition, because I had serious car trouble, not a good thing anywhere, but especially not in such a remote place.  I spent the next three days just getting home.  So, another visit to Mesa Verde is a must, and since it’s only a day’s drive from my home, it’s doable.

Despite the way this side-trip ended, I’m happy I made the choice to spend some time in southwest Colorado.  And, I can’t say enough about the beauty of our national parks.  Aren’t we lucky to have these very special places protected?  Happy 100th anniversary to our National Park Service!

And, Mesa Verde, I will return.

Guest Post: Reluctant Travel: New York Adventure Day One

By Rebecca Borman

bec-closeup-twoI love my state of Arizona and the wide open spaces of the west in general.  But, sometimes I long for two East Coast cities, New York and Washington, D.C.  When I learned that I was invited to the wedding of a friend’s son in one of the DC suburbs, it seemed the perfect opportunity to spend a week or so visiting some old haunts.  So I booked airline and train tickets, reserved hotel rooms and, in early July, set off for what I thought of as my East Coast Swing.

I arrived in New York on a Saturday evening, so the taxi ride into the city was fairly quick.  I checked into what looked to be a fabulous hotel, unpacked a couple of things, and set off from the Renaissance Midtown Hotel on 35th St. to Times Square.  Traditionally, my first evening in the Big Apple includes a martini in the awesome 8th floor bar in the Renaissance Marquis, which overlooks the madness of Times Square.  I love sipping a martini, munching on an app, and watching the crowds of people down below.  I took my time on the way back to my hotel, even stopping to do a little shopping for something I’d forgotten.  For some reason, it feels decadent to be able to shop at 10:00 at night!  After all, it’s the city that never sleeps.

View from Bec NYC windowThe next morning, I took time to enjoy the view from my 29th floor room…truly amazing.  I didn’t linger long, however, because I had plans for the day.  I ran (well, walked) a quick errand, then set off to walk to a church I love, St. Francis Xavier, near Union Square.  The church itself is beautiful, like something you’d see in Europe.  And, the Mass there, as always, was uplifting.  After Mass, I stopped in a bakery I’d discovered a couple of years ago.  I didn’t want to carry around their specialty, a chocolate/Nutella babka all day, so I settled for a tasty rugelach to eat on my way to lunch.  (Yes, dessert before lunch.  Don’t judge!)

And where to have lunch was a no-brainer.  I was less than a mile from NY’s NYC fruit stand becEataly, one of my favorite places in Manhattan.  Just walking in the door makes me smile, as you are immediately hit with the sight of beautiful produce and the smell of every kind of good food.  I chose to have a charcuterie and cheese plate and, of course, a glass of wine.  After checking out the display cases of fresh pasta, meats, and seafood, I stopped for a shot of espresso on my way out the door.

Lunch Eatily NYC

I walked a few blocks to catch a subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge, which was my next destination.  One of the few things I try to do every time I’m in NYC is a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s such a beautiful and awesome structure!  The walkway was crowded and I took my time, simply enjoying the activity and the views.  Once on the other side, I walked just a few blocks north to the Manhattan Bridge.  Now, the Manhattan Bridge is not particularly beautiful, and it’s very noisy because of the vehicle and train traffic, which is on the same level as the walkway.  But, it has a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge.  And, as you get to the Manhattan side, you are looking across and down into some interesting neighborhoods, and, eventually, into China Town.  Once off the bridge, I walked through China Town to get to another favorite place in NY, Little Italy.

Little Italy is…well little.  But, the Italian spirit is definitely there.  I walked in and out of a few shops, bought some souvenirs for my grandkids, and checked out some menus.  I found a restaurant that looked good and stepped up to ask for a table outside.  The host, an elderly gentleman, spoke to me in Italian until my blank face no doubt made it clear that I didn’t understand a thing he was saying!  He gave me a primo table right by the street, and I could tell he was instructing the server to take care of me.  I lingered over a glass of wine and a salad before ordering a bowl of pasta that was, of course, fabulous.  I bought a small gelato for dessert and enjoyed it as I walked out of Little Italy and toward the subway station, just a few blocks away.

By the time I got back to my room, I was bushed!  So, I relaxed on the sofa by my window, read, and enjoyed watching the lights come on in the buildings around me.  Day One in the Big Apple was a success.

Reluctant Traveler Guest Post: 3:10 to Yuma

By Rebecca Borman

yuma 1Every time I told someone I was going with a group to spend a few days in Yuma, I got a negative response:  an eye roll, a laugh, or “Why?”  Conventional wisdom is that there’s not much to see or do in this small city on the Mexican border, despite the fact that it claims to be “The RV Capital of the World.”  I had been assured by the group’s organizer, however, that such was not the case.

Let me say first that there is—truly—nothing but desert between Chandler, where I live, and Yuma.  Fill up your car with gas, because there aren’t many opportunities to stop along the way. But, once in Yuma, there were a surprising number of interesting places to visit…and we did.

Our first stop was at the Garden Café, in the small downtown section of the city.  After lunch, we only needed to walk next door to our first attraction, the Sanguinetti House and Gardens.  It’s a museum and event venue today, but it was originally the home of E.F. Sanguinetti, who came to Yuma at the age of 15 and is now considered one of the founders of the community as it is today.  His story was interesting, and the house and especially the gardens were lovely to see.

For dinner we were on our own, so a couple of us decided we wanted to go to Lutes Casino.  It’s a restaurant, not a casino, and we never did find out why it has that name.  But, we did find out it is an interesting place to see and to have a meal.  One of their specialties is a potato taco, which is a potato-filled corn tortilla, rolled and deep fried with shredded cabbage, tomato, mayo and Cotija cheese. I wouldn’t want it as a steady diet, but I’m glad I tried it.  Besides, I was so distracted by the ambiance of Lutes that I hardly knew what I was eating!

yuma 4The next day was our only full day in Yuma, so it was filled with activities.  Our first stop was the Yuma Territorial Prison.  I think most people have heard about the prison, which was an important place in the late 19th Century, when it was built.  A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within its walls during the prison’s thirty-three years of operation. Their crimes ranged from murder to polygamy.  Our docent was excellent and gave us a real feel for the history of the place.  He emphasized that the prison was a model institution and was administered very humanely.  I wonder if the prisoners felt the same way!  His enthusiastic interpretation of the prison’s story captured us, and we all enjoyed our time there.

Our next stop was the Cocopah Tribal Museum.  I will admit there was some grumbling as we caravanned our way out there; it was a long way over a very dusty road.  We had been assured that, in addition to a tour of the museum, we were also going to be treated to some fry bread.  (In case you haven’t noticed, eating is an important activity with this group.)  The museum was wonderful, quite small but well curated, and we all learned a lot from the exhibits and our informative guide.

Once our indoor tour was over, we were escorted to an area outside, where a small yuma 2fire was burning and tables were set up for us.  Ahhhh, time for fry bread.  But, we were surprised to learn that we would be making our own treat!  What?  I don’t know how to make fry bread!  I don’t really know what fry bread is!  No worries, they had done this before.  Each of us was given our own small bowl, and our hosts brought around flour, shortening, sugar, salt to put in our bowls.   We mixed with our fingers, kneaded it a bit, stretched it into awkward shapes, and then into the hot oil it went.  What emerged didn’t look great but it tasted so good.  We were proud and happy as we sprinkled our bread with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  It was definitely one of the best parts of the trip.

yuma 3

Our last activity of the day was a stop at the Quartermaster Depot.  Again, there’s lots of interesting Arizona history involved with this army post that, as the name suggests, was the storage facility for everything that came into the territory for all the military installations in the vast area of Arizona.  By the end of our tour there, we were all hot and worn out.  It was time to go back to the hotel.

That evening we were taken on a culinary tour of Yuma.  We stopped at three different restaurants as a sort of progressive dinner.  The last course was at a beautiful country club, where we ate outdoors and watched a gorgeous full moon rise.  Yuma is trying to make a name for itself as a culinary destination and we were happy to experience what it has to offer in that regard.

Our last activity was the following morning, before we all headed back home.  A group of us went on a bird walk at the Eastern Wetlands.  A local member of the Audubon society was our guide, and we saw some lovely scenery and interesting birds.  It was a nice end to a lovely trip.  Meanwhile, one member of our group did what many, many folks do when they visit Yuma.  She took a trip across the border to take advantage of the much discounted prescription drugs.  She reported that the prices were good, and the pharmacy was modern and impeccably clean.  She took a peek into a couple of dental and vision facilities, too, and said they were equally welcoming.  I guess that’s one reason so many seniors spend their winters in RVs in Yuma.

So, while I don’t need to go to Yuma every year, I enjoyed the trip and highly recommend a visit.  It’s another piece of Arizona history that’s worth studying.

Proud to be an American

My sister Jen requested that for Memorial Day, and in honor of the men and women who have given their life for our freedom, I rerun the blog post I wrote back in 2008 when Bill and I visited Normandy, France, during our European Adventure. That visit will always be one of the most profound experiences in my life, and something I will never forget.

She also asked me why in the world is the beach that was stormed on that rainy June day back in 1944 called Omaha Beach. I, of course, being the astute history scholar that I am, had no idea. So I Googled it. From what I can tell after quick research, no one knows quite for certain how the names Omaha Beach and Utah Beach were chosen. They were code words for the battles. It seems likely that they were chosen because they were easily understood over radio airwaves and easily communicated through Morse Code. Some say that the US Military had noticed that the Germans chose code words that were quite easy to figure out — Operation Sealion for an amphibious assault, for example. Both Omaha and Utah are landlocked, thereby giving no clue to a water ambush. One theory is that they were named after two carpenters — one from Omaha and one from Provo, Utah — who helped build the headquarters for the invasion planners. That seems unlikely to me, but then again, Ike didn’t really keep me posted on his thoughts. There were, in fact, five beaches involved in the June attack — Utah and Omaha (U.S), Gold and Sword (Great Britain), and Juno (Canada). Each country selected the code names for their attack.

The reality that these literally thousands of men who jumped from their boats onto the beach knowing full well that there was a likelihood that they would be killed simply takes my breath away. I am filled with love, honor, respect and gratitude for these men, and for all of the men and women who have served since, and who continue to serve today.

Happy Memorial Day. God bless America.

Here is my 2008 post from Reluctant Traveler…..


Sunday, August 3, 2008

After spending the entire day yesterday looking at the various sites of the battles that were fought to liberate France, and eventually to win World War II, as we drove home I asked Bill how he felt. “Pretty proud to be American,” he answered. I knew exactly what he meant.

The day was kind of dreary, one of the few overcast days we’ve had during our entire adventure. It couldn’t quite make up its mind – it would drizzle, then the sun would peak out of clouds. It never quite rained. The weather suited the day, we felt. The weather was overcast too on June 6, 1944.

Traffic was awful. Everyone was on the autostrada getting away for holiday. What should have been an hour-and-a-half drive took us twice that long.

Since we only had a day, we decided to focus on the areas in which America had the impact. As such, we only saw the Canadian cemetery in the distance as we drove by, and the same was true for Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches, where Great Britain and Canada soldiers came on shore.

Our first stop was just above the little French town of Arromanches, high on the cliffs above the Normandy beaches, where there was a 360 degree theater. The film shown on this circular screen was powerful. The film director intermixed current scenes from the little towns that line the Normandy coast with film taken on June 6, 1944, as our soldiers stormed the beach. There was no dialogue, and the only sounds you heard were the sounds heard by the soldiers as guns fired and planes flew overhead, or the sounds of a peaceful rural French life. The 1944 scenes were graphic, violent, poignant, and awe-inspiring while the current scenes were pretty and colorful and filled with joy. The contrast made a very strong point – the towns around the Normandy beaches owe their freedom from the Nazis to the United States of America and the other allies.

After viewing the film, we got back in our car to drive to the little French town of Longues-sur-Mer. Here we stopped in a small boulangerie and picked up two ham, Gruyere cheese, and tomato sandwiches smeared with good French butter, and two wonderful pastries for dessert. We then drove a few blocks towards the sea, to an area where there were four German bunkers with their guns still intact. These guns had the ability to shoot up to 13 miles. The clear shot the Germans had of the beach was absolutely bone-chilling.

We ate our lunch at one of the little picnic tables they had set up for that purpose. As we ate, we tried to figure out how the French bakers can get the baguette so perfectly crusty on the outside and so chewy and delicious on the inside. It’s a reality I will continue to ponder.

Our next stop was Omaha Beach, and the American cemetery. We walked through the museum, which gave a lot of information about the events leading up to the war, and even more interesting (at least to me), the events and discussions that went on during the days just prior to D-Day. While I could always imagine how much thought went into planning a battle such as that fought on June 6, I had never really realized that the Americans had tricked the Germans into thinking a bigger battle was going to be fought elsewhere. The Americans used false communications, fake airplanes, and other kinds of trickery that helped catch the Germans off guard and lulled them into thinking that, even as our soldiers were storming the beaches, this battle was not to be taken that seriously.

After visiting the museum, we walked down to the beach. I think of my entire day, this was what moved me the most. The beach area from where the water meets the shore to where the soldiers would have some trees or shrubs for protection was easily the length of two football fields. (And speaking of football, the next time I hear a sports announcer refer to a football player as a hero, I think I will put a rock through my television screen. Football players are not heroes. Twenty-year-old boys climbing off boats carrying hundreds of pounds on their backs, running to the shore, and then crawling on their bellies for 200 yards or more while getting shot at are heroes.)

After looking at the beach, we walked back up to the cemetery. Of course, the sight of all of these white marble crosses and stars of David is poignant beyond belief. Each marker has the name and rank of the soldier and the day he died. I always forget that the battles of Normandy went on not just for this one day, but for months. There are a number of markers that bear no name, but say only God knows who he is. Very sad.


We left the cemetery and drove a bit further up the coast to Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument. We decided to stop here at the last moment, and I’m glad we did. Pointe du Hoc was an area where, early on June 6, 300 US Army Rangers climbed the cliffs of this heavily German-fortified position to secure it for the allies. They were successful, but only after losing over two-thirds of the soldiers. Out of the 300 Rangers, 95 survived. The area was heavily bombed and the huge holes where the bombs had dropped are amazing and a somber reminder of the power of those bombs.


Our last stop of the day was in Ste Mere Eglise, the first town to be liberated by the American soldiers on June 7, 1944. This pretty little town is in the general area where the 101st and 82nd Airborne soldiers dropped early on June 6 to land behind enemy lines. If you saw the movie The Longest Day, you will recall that one soldier got caught on the church steeple and played dead for a number of hours while German soldiers took shots at him. As he hung helplessly, he watched the ensuing battle below. The people of this town, to this day, have American flags hanging and have a parachute with a dummy hanging on the steeple of the church in commemoration.

It had been a long and somber day, but one that made me very proud.

This post linked to the GRAND Social.

Keep on the Sunny Side

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all our way
If we keep on the sunny side of life. — Ada Blenkhorn

When we were in Salzburg, Austria, in 2008 on our big travel adventure, we were walking to church one Sunday morning. (I kept a blog documenting our adventure and talked about our Sunday in Salzburg here.) It appeared to me that Sundays in Austria were lovely days of family, worship, and food. As we walked to church – the very church in which Mozart was baptized and played the organ – I noticed people eating their breakfasts outdoors in the morning sunshine. I saw sweet rolls, and crusty hard rolls and cups of coffee. At one point, I noticed a woman eating a plate featuring a soft boiled egg sitting in a white egg cup.

I can only imagine the deer-in-the-headlights look a server at Village Inn would get if I answered the question how would you like your eggs cooked?  by saying soft boiled.

I, of course, am very familiar with soft-boiled eggs because that was the only way my Swiss grandmother ever prepared eggs for me. Being a child, I didn’t watch how she prepared them. I only know they showed up on my plate almost too hot to touch. I learned at a very young age how to use the knife to cut off the tip of the egg so that I could reach the gooey yoke inside. I would cut my buttery toast into strips and begin dipping them into the yolks.

To this day, I love soft boiled eggs. It’s beyond Bill’s comprehension. He prefers his eggs scrambled. When I fry eggs for the two of us, he requests that his yolks be broken so they don’t run. He’s simply not a fan of runny yolk. I, on the other hand, love them. When we used to be worried that we were going to die from eating undercooked eggs, I dutifully ordered my eggs over medium. Now that we seemed to have calmed down and don’t worry about that quite as much, I prefer them poached or sunny side up. I love to have my yolk run into my potatoes. Especially when eating Huevos Rancheros. Yum.

I don’t soft-boil eggs very often, and I’m not sure why that is true. They are very easy to do, and I prefer them to scrambled eggs. But since eggs are low in fiber and high in protein, they are a great meal for me. I have to admit that an egg with a piece of white toast spread with real butter makes me feel less deprived.

soft boiled egg

Here’s how to make a perfect soft-boiled egg….

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, and then lower the heat so that the water is just simmering. It should look sort of like club soda. Once the water is simmering, carefully drop one or two eggs into the water. Set the timer for 5 minutes. (Add a minute if you are cooking more than two eggs.) Don’t set the timer until you have put the eggs in the simmering water. When the timer goes off, remove the eggs and drop them into a cold water bath (a bowl of cold water with ice). Let them sit for a few minutes. That will make them easier to handle and make it easier to open the egg.

My grandmother had egg cups. I have them in Denver, but haven’t bought them yet here in Arizona. So I improvised using a shot glass. I also saw a photo of someone setting a soft boiled egg in a cup with uncooked rice to keep it upright. Take a sharp knife (I use a steak knife) and carefully cut off the tip of the egg. Watch for egg shells. Dip pieces of buttered toast into your egg, or use a small spoon to eat the egg. You can buy fancy spoons, but quite frankly, I use the baby spoons that my grandkids used when they were small.

How do you like your eggs?

Reluctant Traveler: Happy Turquoise Trails to You

Bill and I have made the drive between Phoenix and Denver approximately a million times. Well, I’m exaggerating, but it has been very, very many times. For the most part we have not deviated from the quickest route. Oh, it’s true once in a while we have taken I-40 all the way to Flagstaff and come in from the west if the weather is iffy. But most of the time we take I-25 south to I-40, get off I-40 in Holbrook, AZ, and take a couple of state highways that bring us right down into Mesa almost directly to our house.  It’s a pretty drive and we know it like the back of our hands.

But a couple of months ago I read a light-weight mystery called Sister Eve: Private Eye, by Lynne Hinton. I didn’t review the book because frankly I didn’t like it much. It had so much potential – a Catholic nun investigating murders; seemed like it could write itself. But it simply didn’t read well, or at least not to me. Since it’s a series, I might try the next one to see if the author got any better.

Anyhoo, one thing I did like about the Sister Eve book is that it took place in an area of New Mexico about which I was unfamiliar. The good sister lived in Madrid, New Mexico, a town on New Mexico State Highway 14, which runs basically between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. This highway is referred to as the Turquoise Trail because from as early as 900 A.D., the Pueblo people mined turquoise, that beautiful blue-green stone which screams SOUTHWEST. (See how I indicated screaming by capitalizing the letters? Sometimes my cleverness astounds even me.) There are several little tiny communities along that trail, but Bill and I stopped in only one – Madrid. We stopped because it was the community with which I was familiar from the book, but also because it was just so darn cute.

madrid nm

Madrid (which apparently is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable as emphasized over and over by Sister Eve) sits at about the middle of the Turquoise Trail. Though turquoise was probably mined there at one time, the bulk of what was pulled out of the mountains surrounding Madrid was coal, and lots of it. No more, of course. In fact, the town sat nearly vacant after the coal market went away, and the Wall Street Journal advertised the whole town for sale for $250,000 in 1954. Dang, I wish my dad had bought it. I could be mayor.

As I mentioned, there are a number of towns on the Turquoise Trail, but the day that Bill and I traveled that lonesome road (and it was, indeed, lonesome), it was raining and not conducive to exploration on foot. We did park our car and enter one jewelry store where I bought a couple of pairs of turquoise earrings (when in Rome……) for a great price. There were only a few people in the store, and at one point the lone salesman left to go look for a box for another customer, leaving me to peruse the earrings. It made me laugh, however, because the earrings were sitting out in the open, as was much of the jewelry. He was gone for quite some time, so had I been an evil-minded crook, I could now own 20 or 30 sets of turquoise earrings, a handful of rings, and enough necklaces to look like an African princess. You’ve gotta love the trusting souls of Small Town America.

jewelry counter madrid nm (2)

As we left the little store (which does a much better job with its jewelry than it does its coffee – just sayin’), Bill made friends with the store’s greeter, a friendly metal one-piece mariachi band.

metal statue madrid nm

Since the scenic Turquoise Trail bypass took only a little bit longer than the normal drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, I recommend a detour if you’re ever in the area. I definitely want to go back some day when the skies are as blue as the turquoise jewelry!

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Reluctant Traveler: What I Learned in Africa

My sister Bec concludes her wonderful tales of her time in Africa.

bec-closeup-twoBy Rebecca Borman

Without doubt, going to Africa was one of the most educational experiences of my life.  Here are some things that I learned….

* A little Swahili:
Jambo=hello; jambo-jambo=enthusiastic response to hello
Hakuna matada=no worries
Pole-pole=slow, but is often used to say “slow down” or “take it easy” (I heard that a lot.)
Asante=thank you; asante sana=thank you very much (I said both a lot.)
Karibu=welcome or you’re welcome
Sawa-sawa=okay, as in Sawa-sawa?  (Is it okay for me to do this?) Sawa-sawa (Yes, it is.)

* That they really do say “hakuna matada”—often.

* There are still those who live the traditional Masai lifestyle.  This Masai housemeans they live in small villages many miles away from any medical facilities or shopping.  They have no mode of transportation other than walking.  One can see 2-3 men or women in the distance, walking and talking.  We often wondered where they were walking to or from.  Their homes are tinier than I could ever imagine, dark and hot.  They earn money in several ways:  they might sell some of their cattle or goats in a market, to which they would drive them on foot; and the women make crafts that they sell at these markets and to visitors in their Masai villagevillages.  They use the money to buy clean water from the government.

* There are few highways.  And the ones there are do not accommodate driving very fast because they are two lanes, used by a variety of vehicles from large and small trucks to motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles.  Passing often requires an on-coming vehicle to slow down or move over, and no one seems to mind.

* Instead of highways, there are dirt roads, sometimes tracks barely visible in the high grass.  They are rutted and sometimes muddy.  They give passengers what they call an “African massage.”  They also take passengers to see incredible wildlife.

* Our driver, Mike, was amazing…wise, experienced, and generous.  He was probably the most important factor in our positive experience in Tanzania.

mike and truck

* Tanzania has an amazing variety of landscapes.  In one 4-5 hour drive, we passed through savannahs, plains, mountains, and a rainforest .  One place we stayed had flowers that reminded us of Hawaii.  It was all stunningly beautiful.

* The skies are beautiful, especially at sunset.

Sunset behind acacia

* Climate change is affecting eastern Africa in a big way.  In the past, the great migration took place in June and July.  But, it’s getting later, because the rains, when they come, are later.  Now, the best time to see wildlife is August.  Given how much the economy depends on tourism, this is an important point of information.

* We were often only one night at a hotel, so we didn’t often have the chance to get to know the staff.  But when we did, they were intelligent and interested in learning about us and in sharing their stories.

* People in Africa work very, very hard, in a way Americans cannot imagine.  They walk miles carrying potatoes or firewood on their heads.  Or they push heavy loads of food or fuel in hand carts.  Almost no one owns or has access to a car.

* Water is a constant source of concern; many people do not have access to clean water and most are constantly worried about whether there will be enough rainfall to sustain them in the long term.

* Eastern Africa is a place worth visiting.  Seeing literally endless vistas filled my heart with peace and contentment.  Watching wild animals in their natural habitat amazed me.  Having a sundowner drink on a patio overlooking the Serengeti was priceless.  Don’t let the challenges of the trip scare you out of going.

Reluctant Traveler: African Luxury



In Part 3 of my sister’s series on her African safari, she tells us about their overnight experiences.

By Rebecca Borman

A big part of planning for our Africa trip was deciding on hotels.  Our travel agent mapped out a general travel plan and then we needed to decide where to stay on the journey.  I learned that there are different levels of hotel, and that they vary widely in cost.  They also vary widely in terms of amenities.  The first itinerary our agent sent included all top-flight luxury hotels.  The cost was daunting.  The second one she sent was substantially less expensive, but a quick search on TripAdvisor told me they were all much less highly rated.  “Isn’t there an in-between level?” I asked her.  There was, and when she sent the next itinerary, I was satisfied.  We also had the opportunity to upgrade a few for a reasonable price, and we took advantage of that.  But, despite the fact that I was comfortable with our choices and had looked at all of the properties on-line, I still wasn’t sure what they would be like, exactly.  And, in reality, all of them, while very nice, were quite different.

kirawira in situOne of the most interesting places was in Tarangire National Park.  This was our one and only treetop hotel, and we were eager to see what that was like.  The reception area was beautiful, and when we checked in we were told that every time we walked to or from our room we would need to be escorted.  When we got to our accommodation we noticed that we would have to climb stairs to reach the door.  Well, of course; it was in a treetop.  And it truly was, with a large branch growing through the room, in fact.  We had an amazing view of the savannah from our patio.  The room was large and tented, but with a door that locked rather than zipped.  When we wanted to leave the room, we used a walkie-talkie to call reception, who then sent someone to escort us.  We arrived late in the day and left early the next morning, so we didn’t have too much time to enjoy the view or the public area, but we were glad to have experienced treetop living even for a short time.

tentOur longest stay was in the Serengeti, at a hotel called Kirawira Camp.  We were there for three nights, two full days, and after moving from hotel to hotel for our first three days, we were ready to be settled for a while.  Kirawira was a great place for that.  It’s called a camp, and there was a bit of a camp feel to it.  Our room really was a tent, not in a treetop but raised above the ground.  Instead of a image (15)door and windows, we had zippers.  And yet, the bathroom had walls and modern fixtures.  The patio looked out onto the Serengeti…so awesome.  Kirawira also had a beautiful public area, open air, as all of them were.

Our last two nights in Tanzania were spent at Gibb’s Farm, about an Gibb Farmhour away from the Ngorongoro Crater.  Gibb’s Farm, which is a coffee plantation, was very different from all our other accommodations.  Each room was a cottage, and very spacious.  We had a sitting area that looked out onto a patio, two double beds, and a fireplace open to both the bedroom and the shower.  Each evening at dinner, our server asked if we would like a fire built in our room.  We said yes, and by the time we got back to the room, someone was there lighting it.  There was enough wood (from coffee plants) for us to keep it going until we went to bed.  How cozy was that?  Because we were on a coffee plantation, the views from the public area were spectacular, overlooking the coffee fields and the valley below.  We were surprised to see what looked to us like tropical flowers all around the grounds.  We felt like we were in Hawaii.

In some general ways, however, the hotels were similar.  For instance, Bec Kate eatingall of them had dining rooms that served three meals a day, because everyone who visits is on a meal plan.  There are no other food options, because these hotels are great distances from each other and from anything else.  It’s hard to describe how isolated they are and, in fact, hard to determine how distant they really are from each other, because there aren’t exactly super-highways connecting them.  But, for sure they are not near any towns or even villages; electricity is produced by generators and water is brought in.  They all offered wifi, most often only in the public areas.  And, the wifi was iffy at best.  At one place, we didn’t really have wifi the entire time, because the satellite it depended on was not working.

The hotels were definitely part of the Africa experience, and I’m glad we spent some time choosing them carefully.  And while moving around so much was tiring, I’m also happy that we were able to experience so many interesting variations in our accommodations.  I think I can say with certainty that I’ll never have anything like those views or those rooms again.

Reluctant Traveler: Wildlife Adventures

Enjoy the second in the series by my sister in which she tells us tales of her trip to Africa. Photography is courtesy of her daughter, who accompanied her. And spectacular photography it is!

By Rebecca Borman
bec-closeup-twoIt’s safe to say that most people who visit eastern Africa do so primarily to view wildlife.  Africans know this, of course, so they have perfected the art of showing visitors the best their continent has to offer in this regard.  But, in the end, there are no guarantees.  The rainy season, and thus the great migration, don’t always happen as predicted.  But one always travels there with the hope and perhaps expectation of seeing “the big 5”—lions, elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalos, and leopards.  Not to keep you in suspense…we saw all five!

It’s impossible to describe what it’s like to see these truly wild animals in their natural habitat.  We are all getting spoiled by our great zoos, and some of us are lucky enough to have visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  So, is it really all that much better to see the animals in Africa?

Yes. It. Is.

And here’s why.  Because seeing them in their natural habitat means seeing them act like the wild animals that they are.

elephant and babyFor instance, on one of our first drives we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of elephants.  The group included a number of young, one of which was quite small (by elephant standards).  Mother elephant was staying very close by her baby and she was keeping a sharp eye on our truck.  We never felt in danger, but eventually our driver suggested we move on, as mama might be a little over our presence.  This was very cool.

Also early in our trip we saw a cheetah.  Cheetahs are elusive and solitary, so they are not easily found.  We were driving off-road in the Serengeti (I can’t believe I just wrote that!) in an area where it is allowed to drive off the dirt tracks for a few months each year.  Anyway, our driver slowed down, then stopped.  We saw a cheetah, quite close to our truck, with its just killed prey.  It had eaten a bit and was resting…and making sure no scavengers got to his prize until he was finished with it.  Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And lions…we saw lots and lots of lions, doing what lions do.  Lions in treeOne day we came across trees filled with female lions and a couple of cubs.  One tree had more than a dozen lions draped across its limbs.  Another time we saw a male and female, who had distanced themselves from the pride for mating season.  We watched them walk from place to place, always the female in yawning lion and babyfront and the male watching her back.  Best of all, we saw a lion with her two very small cubs.  They nuzzled mom, wrestled a bit, and scrambled after her as she climbed down from the rock they were sitting on.  They walked right in front of our truck to cross the road into the high grasses on the other side.  And, there was the time we watched a group of hyenas circling lions and their prey, trying to get up the nerve to challenge the lions.  We finally had to leave, so we didn’t find out who won that stand-off.

I won’t catalogue every animal we saw, but suffice it to say that wildebeests, Cape buffalos, and zebras are clearly not on the endangered species list.  We saw huge herds of all three.  And, that’s another thing you can’t see in even the best zoo.  There is something special about looking out over a plain with animals as far as the eye can see.  We missed the great migration, but this seemed pretty great to me!

Finally, I must talk a little about the giraffes.  In general, the animals didn’t pay much attention to us humans.  The zebras in giraffeparticular would stroll right in front of our truck, which would of course slow down.  Then they (the zebras) would notice us and, with great drama, bolt one way or the other.  But, the giraffes were different.  The truck would stop and we would stand up with our binoculars and cameras, staring at the animals.  And they, with those big beautiful eyes, would stare right back at us.  Occasionally they would walk along-side the truck.  They seemed to find us as interesting as we found them.

If you love animals as I do, Tanzania is the place to be.  There’s no better place in the world to experience the beauty and power of these beasts.