Monday Memories: Morocco

In my last “Monday Memories” post I mentioned Morocco, so I caught myself thinking about my 2019 trip. I am so glad I did not put that trip off to now, 2020. I would not have been able to travel to Morocco at the rate this pandemic is affecting our planet.

After three weeks of travel in the Kingdom of Morocco, I realized what a learning experience it was for me. In Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque, second largest mosque in Africa, was simply incredible to see. I could not imagine 25,000 people inside it and 80,000 on its outdoor grounds. The mosque is huge, beautifully situated by the oceanside, ornate, and with a 210 meter minaret. Specific rules were followed to allow non-Muslim visitors inside the mosque.

I loved Moroccan food. Each day I had freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread and olives of all kinds, and hot, sweet, mint tea. Meats, vegetables and couscous were cooked in tajines and a Berber omelet were my most delicious meals.

We visited many cities around the country. The tannery in Fez was fascinating as we saw early stages of the product that would become a leather jacket. Every visitor to Morocco speaks of the blue city, Chefchaouen, so we visited there too. Four years earlier I visited Tangier’s old medina and thought the winding pathways and various markets chaotic. Its new town did not seem to be so crazy, but I am sure you can still buy just about everything there. Whenever we were in the countryside or the mountain villages, it was more relaxing and enjoyable to me. 

Most relaxing was our time in the Sahara Desert. To be honest, it was not very relaxing riding the camel to our campsite. But once there, climbing and then sitting on the ridge of a sand dune with a glass of wine, it was relaxing! Even better, the night came with shining stars and silence. I loved it!

I will remember many things about Morocco: our fantastic guide, people who allowed me to photograph them as I asked permission to do so, the women cooperatives we visited, the cats seen everywhere in so many cities and the goats in the trees!

When I return to Morocco some day, I wish to spend more time in the desert and to photograph it day and night. That would be an amazing accomplishment for me to be able to do such photography, and to enjoy the desert! 

Wander Down the AZ Road

It was time to wander south of Tucson, Arizona and discover new places. My opportunity to escape the Bighorn wildfire’s smoke, listen to classical music and Broadway tunes on my car radio, see big sky country, and whatever came my way.

An hour’s drive south, I took a lefthand turn to visit Las Cienegas National Conservation Area where 45,000 acres of protected grasslands and woodlands are available for wildlife viewing, bird watching, primitive camping, mountain biking and many more activities. Classic films had been filmed on or near the Empire Ranch, which is still a working cattle ranch. I’ll need to spend a day here another time.

Photography is my never-ending challenge so I decided to have some fun with shutter speed and a windmill. I set my camera’s shutter speed, took a photo and then changed it to be a slower shutter speed and took another photo. I remind myself, practice is important!

Although I saw signs for “entering wine country”, I think this photo indicates more of my travel today.

Cool sign!

When I travel, I like to read roadside historical markers. I read this marker and researched the topic further when home, to discover the middle initial of the man’s name is incorrect on the marker. Fort/camp Crittendon, the US Army post, was established in August 1867. It was in honor of Thomas S. (or should be “L”) Crittendon. The fort saw action during the Apache Wars in 1870 and 1871. The camp closed in June 1873, and supposedly with only crumbling barrack walls remaining on what is now private land. AZ Highway Department in 1968 made the error. I will check and see how it can be remedied.

Finally arrived at Patagonia Lake State Park where face masks were required and people had camping with space to provide social distancing in this 2020 covid-19 pandemic. The 265-acre man-made lake was enjoyed by swimmers and anglers can catch bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie. Cabins are available to sleep up to 6 people with restrooms and showers within walking distance. Will need to check this again as the park is also a good place for birdwatching.

Beautiful scenery all day and more places for me to visit. I will love to visit some small towns in the future, but for right now the great outdoors is perfect!

Monday Memories: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand

January 2019, international travel started for me and a friend with a supported bicycling tour in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was my first time to this region of the world and an area I will definitely return, one country at a time. The weather was good for cycling, visiting places, and the people especially in Vietnam were friendly.

Here are a few photos as I remember this trip. Many people were also on bicycles, cycling on walkways between rice paddies, small trails, or roads which were crazy with hectic interchanges. It seemed however there were more riders on scooters and motorcycles. Unfortunately the last day of our cycling, a motorcyclist was killed in Thailand. When I first heard a thud, I worried it was a fellow bicyclist. Once I rounded the corner I saw the man on the road … instantly killed. As sorry as I was about the accident, I was also relieved to be going home in a few days and not be on a bicycle as I grieved his death.

Our guide made arrangements for us to visit many temples and historic places. Prior to meeting our guide, we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, where we saw a very small section of the 70 mile wartime tunnels used by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. Near Siem Reap, Cambodia, we visited Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Little time was spent in Thailand, thus my need to return there someday, along with more time in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I like Vietnamese food and love Thai food, but the best food during our travels was the fresh seafood. We saw many markets and local people shopping for all kinds of items. I was introduced to dragon fruit which grows on cacti-like trees. When the reddish, scaly exterior is cut open, one sees the white flesh and black, crunchy seeds within the fruit.

Travel is also done by boat and many people live on the river. One day we spent 6 hours on a boat to travel to another location and continue our bicycle ride. It was fascinating to see fishing rigs, school children being brought to school by boat, local people doing their work, but depressing to see garbage dumped into the river.

We had opportunities to cook some food and make rice wrappers, all of which I did not meet with success. People work hard and I was really impressed with an older woman who collected dead wood, balanced them on the rear of her bicycle and brought the load to her family as they cooked at their oven. She never stopped smiling so I had to capture a photo of her. The other woman was working hard at the river’s edge from her boat.

What I love most about travel is seeing people in action and interacting with them when possible. One young lady was waiting for a ferry ride across the river and a child’s attention was absorbed while playing with straws. We met many wonderful people and had a safe tour. Someday I will return to this region of the world; so much more to see!

Travel Need Not be Expensive, If You Wish

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the thought of local or international travel is maddening because I cannot get a handle on when the world will be safe to travel within six feet of another person and without a facial mask. I have to hope a vaccine is available in early 2021 so my travel plans for that year are also not on the cancellation list as this year’s trips. However, this is a good time to remind ourselves travel need not be expensive. And when we get back to travel, we have some adventures to plan and get going on!

When I think about any travel anywhere, I want to explore a place, be outdoors where possible, learn about the culture, interact with local people, and feel as though if I do not return I have a good feel for the place; these are my priorities. I know if my list included all-inclusive resort, first class air tickets and other high priced desires during my travel then the trip price would surely soar. Fortunately, they are not my priorities.

So what do I do? Here are some approaches for me to keep my travel price tag to what I can afford and still enjoy my adventure:

  • Ahead of the trip decision to go or not, I research the area I plan to travel so I know what I should not miss while there. If I am interested in the sometimes “tourist trap”, I add it on my travel plan list of options. I also love maps so I will circle areas to spend more time.
  • I take a look at what local companies in the place are visiting and may add some of their interesting places to visit. I also know many cities have free walking tours so I scout them out when eventually in the city. (“Free” means you donate what you wish to the local tour leader.)
  • I love knowing what food is cooked and enjoyed by the locals. Most often I shop in local markets or food stores for my essential snacks. When buying a meal, I usually have a delicious lunch to serve as my big meal of the day. (This is an advantage of solo travel since many enjoy their big meal later. But later for me means cheese and wine and time to relax, journal and watch a sunset.)
Olives piled high in a conical shape at a market with so many varieties of olives.
Love the choices here!
  • International travel allows me more options to consider hostels for my lodging. I am not a fan of paying a high price to sleep. If reviews indicate the hostel is in a good location for foot travel to public transportation, safe and clean, that works for me. I will admit no breakfast is great at a hostel and sometime even with only 4 other people in the hostel room I do not get the ideal sleep, so I will slip in some bed and breakfast or inexpensive hotel room stays during a trip. (Hostels do have single rooms so look for that option too. Others love VRBO, Air BNB, couch surfing … choose what works for you.)
  • Book air flights and transportation yourself. Most often I do not book through third party sites due to the frustration I have with them in needing any changes. However, I do watch for lower prices for travel on “off days”, other discount options, senior specials and would rather have flights with appropriate layover time and the seat I want than simply a cheap air fare price. Transportation within a country is usually on local trains, buses and taxis or I have walked or bicycled various cities to get around. (I carry one backpack to easily maneuver steps to and from places. Rolling bags and more luggage have their disadvantages at times. Keep it simple.)
  • Learning some basic phrases to communicate beyond a smile and hand gestures does help, even from someone like me who finds foreign languages difficult. When in local markets or stores is the best time to discover any special events that are happening. Often evening performances are held at parks or cathedrals and I learn about it from locals.
  • Travelers may cut this cost; however, I buy travel insurance to protect against cancellations, theft, etc and travel health insurance that insures for emergency evacuation for medical and disaster assistance. (Fortunately I was not traveling when the pandemic began, but I was glad to know if I was I had an option for assistance.)
  • There are so many tour companies around the world offering wonderful experiences at various prices. I have been on some tours that will remain memorable and it is possible to include some of your own plans before and/or after those tours. Before the tour it allows you also to recover from jet lag and get a sense of the new area. After the tour, you have gained a comfort with the local customs, food, or know of some places you wish to spend more time wandering about. Do it!
Man wood carving and using his feet to do so.
Revisit him and watch him create!

There you have it or at least how I approach my travel planning. The bottomline is make your plan work for you. Combine your plan with others or an organized tour, if that is what you want. Splurge where you want! It’s your trip to enjoy and at a price tag you are comfortable with so you can travel some more. Your next trip you may want to include that camel ride!

Shadow of people riding camels.
Travel on!

Monday Memories: Solo Bicycling Trip

I decided I was not getting any younger, and I was reading about people in their 60’s bicycling across the USA! Could I do the same? I did not know, but I decide to attempt some distance.

Yes, in June 2018, I did bicycle 600 miles from Prescott, Wisconsin to Rensselaer, Indiana by way of many small towns following most of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route. After a heat spell, I continued on on New York State’s Erie Canal trail for 100 miles before meeting friends in central NY.

People asked why I chose that area of the USA to bicycle ride. Since I typically fly over it, I thought it a good idea to actually see it. I saw many windmills, fields of corn, artwork and rolling hills.

There were sights to see. An Eagle Center, National Farm Toy Museum and the famous Field of Dreams to mention a few. I also stopped at activities roadside, such as this dog competition where they collect the bird that was shot. When I heard about saloon bars similar to an AZ bar, I checked it out as I did often stop in churches for a reflective moment.

Most nights I stayed at bed and breakfast, or motels, and did camp. My goal was to survive so I wanted comfort at the end of the day, especially since you never knew if the next 40-60 miles per day was going to be in the heat or a drenching rain. There is nothing worse than bicycling in the rain; stopping to check the weather radar to discover how many hours you may be sitting and waiting out the weather. Some places were entirely for myself and I would wander into the town to find dinner, and other places I spent hours talking and eating with the owner of the place. I always love connecting with people when I travel. All of my accommodations were wonderful from Motel 6 to some really nice bed and breakfast places!

One of my most fun places was at an old jailhouse. The woman helped me hoist my loaded bicycle up the five steps into the place, invited friends over to have a beer with us, and cooked delicious dinner and breakfast for me. She offered me an additional night, yet I decided to keep on my plan since the weather was good.

Enthusiasm for bicycling is beginning to take off in the USA as we develop the US Bicycling Route System to be added to many Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Routes and Adventure Cycling’s Routes. I did see a bicycle campground and I rode a bicycle path where each rider pays a fee. Men drove on the bike path to collect the fee from me and were pleasantly surprised when I could show them I had my receipt of payment.

I ate plenty of snacks, which I carried in my bag, and always a lunch. I loved Casey’s General Store located in many small towns. I was hooked on white cheddar cheese popcorn, until I broke a front tooth – later repaired in Buffalo, NY. I also bought Arizona green tea and Gatorade to supplement my water bottles. I love chocolate and that meant a Snicker’s bar too.

I discovered I was close to Route 66 so I decided to ride a portion of it, especially since I did not know if I would ever ride its entire distance from CA to IL. Lots of history along that route! The road was so busy at one point there was a passageway for people to walk under the road! Of course, there are still some old gas stations in the area, and portions of the road are grown over with grass in its cracks.

I met many other bicyclists on the road and all going from east to the west coast (I was going west to east). There was only one other solo female bicyclist, yet every single person always stopped at the bottom of a hill to say hello, check-in on how I was doing, and offer ideas of what was coming up in the next town or two. I really appreciated the camaraderie! One guy told me he was sleeping in ditches at night after cycling about 100 miles a day. Another guy told me of a free place to set a tent. A mother and daughter team had stayed at the lodging I was heading to on my 70 mile day. Other people at stores, bars, and their homes were very generous. One family offered their swimming pool to me as I laid on their front lawn, under the only shade tree I think in the county! Another guy brought out bottles of cold water for me as I sat by a church he was renovating for his family home. Another guy stopped in his pick-up truck and asked me if I was okay, and if I knew how hot it was that day. Yes, wherever I could find some shade, I spent time there. I could tell you more, but I think you got the picture!

The heat did me in! To hot to go on, dehydrated and with concerns of heat stroke, I decided to take the heat wave in the US seriously. Unfortunately I have been in hospitals needing fluids pumped into me other times when on hiking and bicycling trips. I knew I did not want that happening here. With the help of great people in Indiana, I rented a car a few days after getting my fluids back to where they needed to be and headed to Buffalo, NY. Along the way and there, I had wonderful friends allow me time to recuperate before jumping back on my bicycle to cycle the Erie Canal trail to central NY where I met other friends. Yes, I shipped my bicycle home and relaxed before planning my next trip. What an adventure this was … and cannot wait to do some bicycle travel again!

Wished for Wisconsin Travel

January 2020, I had a great idea! Could I organize a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin? Once settled at a state campground, here was my plan: photography and bird watch in the morning, photography and bicycle ride on bike paths and rural roads during the day, and enjoy dinner and craft beers in the evening.

February 2020. So I could camp at state parks, I got my Non-resident Annual Admission Sticker to WI State Parks and Forests and to bicycle ride on their trails I got the WI Annual State Trail Pass. I wanted both done to have 2 less things to do when in the state. Campground and hotel reservations were also made from Arizona to Madison and Stevens Point, Wisconsin. My plan was to be traveling for a month but I only booked half the accommodations. I researched Audubon Centers and other places of interest, along with bike paths that criss cross the state of Wisconsin. How could I not get excited about eating cheese in this state? It has the largest number of milk goats and 600 or more cheesemakers. I did not know it is a large cranberry producer and despite being known for its Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I heard a craft brewery scene had been growing. I wanted to check all of this out!

I was ready for Wisconsin camping and bicycling!

March 2020, do I have to cancel my May into June visit to Wisconsin? Covid-19 has run rampant the past few months around the world, including the USA. What shelter-in-place world am I living in now?

April 2020. The numbers of USA Covid-19 cases and deaths related to the virus increase across our nation. I cancel all my accommodations. Thank goodness I only booked a couple of weeks, but I am sad. I love to travel and discover new places and things. Darn, darn, darn!

May 25, 2020, I thought I was going to be on the road this day, Memorial Day. I had booked my WI state park reservation back in the winter since I figured everyone else would be camping this weekend too. Instead I am home in Arizona with limited access to most places and our Covid-19 cases still on the rise. I will take time on this day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military. There usually are parades, but there is a 3pm, your local time, national moment of remembrance on this day too … a time to think and thank those who served, and I want to thank those individuals who still serve!

You and I are alive; let’s have a good Memorial Day wherever we are!

The message on this trail is a good one!

Day 14: Book

There are probably a few books that transformed me during my lifetime; however, one book I most remember is John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. I recall he had a buck-toothed dog, Charley, traveling with him. He washed his dirty clothes in some container in the back of his vehicle that sloshed around as he drove. The book was entertaining for an 11 year old who simply wanted to know about adventure and travel and thought it a brilliant method to do laundry on the road!

In combination with camping and travel my family did the next 6 years, it prompted me to wonder and travel about the USA, then Europe, then the rest of the world. Now in the days of our current pandemic, I still explore places close to home, away from people, and enjoy learning about the local fauna and flora of the area. Steinbeck’s book made me realize early on in my life how enjoyable travel can be. I still love to travel!

Our local area in Arizona.