Monday Memories: Poland

As I look back on 2019, I am thrilled I did not put off international travel to save money for future trips: New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and Antartica. On this trip to Poland I had an opportunity to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity (H4H) in Gliwice, Poland. Once realizing I was flying from western USA to Poland, I decided to travel on my own prior to my H4H responsibility.

I arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spent a few days joining walking tours to learn about and understand Poland’s history. I walked around the city which has so many museums and places to visit, such as the POLIN Museum about the history of the Polish Jewish community and the Warsaw Rising Museum, just to mention a couple of museums. I was glad to return to this city for a couple of days before flying home at the end of this trip, especially to decompress while walking through the Royal Łazienki Park.

Walk the city of Warsaw and see where the ghetto wall held in the Jewish people.

My travel around the country was by train so I could talk with people and see the countryside while traveling. Polish people were very friendly and there were interesting small towns and beautiful fields along the way to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. Buildings here were more colorful than Warsaw and the Museum of the Second World War was definitely worth visiting. I took the train to Sopot and Gdynia for a day trip. Sopot was unbelievably crowded and Gydnia’s Emigration Museum telling the history of migrating Poles was worth visiting.

My two favorite meals while in Poland were pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese, cooked in boiling water and not pan-fried, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. I was becoming a critic of the best of each during my 3 weeks in Poland and loved eating it all!

There were so many cities to visit in Poland, yet I hop off the train in Wrocław. As you stand in the main square of this city, you’ll see the Gothic Old Town Hall with its astronomical clock and have plenty of time to people watch. I loved looking for the gnomes around the city … visit to find out the history and importance of these characters.

After a few days I visited Kraków. As you stand in its main square you see the Cloth Hall and the 14th century Gothic church: St. Mary’s Basilica, where I also attended an evening organ concert. The Rynek Underground Museum was interesting and the walking tours about Jewish history were informative. There is plenty to do in Kraków and it is an easy city to walk.

I joined a day tour to learn more about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against Poles at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau sites. While some buildings are not open to the public, one clearly feels the horror that occurred at these places. The shoes, luggage and hair collected, the sleeping areas, electric fences, cattle cars which brought people in to these concentration camps, and the crematoriums were just horrifying to see knowing now the history. Another day I toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine where all statues, etc are carved into the salt. It was a good way to decompress after being at the camps the day before.

I met the team of Global Village/Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Krakow and we traveled to Gliwice, northwest of Kraków. For the next 5 days we helped renovate some old buildings to eventually house teenagers with addiction issues. We met and had dinner with some of the young people at their current site. Our work during the day was plastering walls or pulling up old flooring. Our hard-working crews accomplished so much in the short time; however, it may be a year before all work is complete … and that was the prediction before Covid-19 became real.

I returned to Warsaw. I flew home thankful for the opportunity to volunteer my time and energy to a worthy project and also visit a country I had wished to visit someday. Now in 2020 I wonder when my international travel will resume. Only time will tell as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay-at-Home Scat Lesson

Something has spent more time at our front door area than us, so it was only recently when I discovered fecal droppings, called scat, there. I wondered what animal left it since defecation at ones front door is not a good sign.

One person identified the pellet-like droppings as lizard scat. Another person provided me with a biology lesson about the similarities between reptiles and birds excretory functions and how theirs differs from mammals. Needless to say, there was research to be done by me to understand whose those droppings they were.

I discover reptiles, such as lizards and snakes, have something similar to birds in their unique fecal droppings. These animals all have only one bodily excretory function and expelling orifice, the cloaca, where urine and poop are within one dropping. (Mammals, such as us humans, urinate and defecate from two different orifices.)

Now knowing the scat is a combination of urine and poop, it helps identify this small, black, pellet-like, tapered dropping between that of a mouse or lizard. (The other reptiles are not being considered due to the small size of this scat.) Research says a white nitrogenous material of crystallized uric acid creates a white portion on each lizard dropping. Whereas a mouse dropping will not have the little white blob since their urea trails away from each pellet not crystallizing on it. Okay, so have I finalized my answer that these pellets are from a lizard? No. Why not?

While I see no small tracks, tail trails or gnawed outdoor stucco to think they may be mouse droppings, I want to look closely at the scat the next time around to know for sure if it lizard. (It’s the scientist part in me to observe and question, especially when I have hours to do so.) Although it is Arizona, we did have a recent rain that may have washed some of the vital evidence away only leaving the solid poop. So, I will observe my front door area on a more regular basis to get another scat sample. I am hoping to see a white blob at the end of each pellet because lizards are more valuable than mice for us. Lizards eat mosquitoes and another insects, yet I learned their feces can be dangerous as it can contain salmonella. Geez, that’s not good!

Today’s lesson: Reptiles and birds have similar excretory systems. Another day, maybe I will research more about the birds. Today’s clean-up task: Clean the front door area of the scat. Thank you Simple Green product. Future work: observe front door area for next fecal deposit and identify the culprit/animal.

My work for today is done! Who knew so much time can be spent on little things, such as scat!

Juan Bautista de Anza Trail

In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza was helped by American Indian guides to discover a land route from Mexico to California. Various times in my travel I noticed Juan Bautista trail signs, and now I know it is an auto tour marking the more than 1200 mile historic trail from Nogales, AZ to Monterey, CA which includes many historic sites. In 1775, Juan brought about 240 people across the new frontier of New Spain from Mexico to California. With military escort and 1000 head of livestock, the journey took 5.5 months for the settlers to complete.

The settlers camped at some historic places I have visited, such as Historic Canoa Ranch – campsite #15, Mission San Xavier del Bac – campsite #17, and Picacho Peak State Park – campsite #21. Someday I will visit other historic sites on this national historic trail. I walked a couple of miles of the trail in the Rio Rico area beginning at the Guy Tobin Trailhead.

A short distance from the trailhead there is a chained gate. It was a local man, Guy Tobin, who had the foresight and public support to contribute land and establish a 13 mile segment of trail from Rio Rico to Tubac. He worked with the Anza Trail Coalition and National Park Service. Guy Tobin died in 2008 and a few months later the trailhead was dedicated to him. In 2011, Friends of the Santa Cruz River and Tucson’s Watershed Management started a year-long project constructing rainwater harvesting features at the trailhead.

Once upon a time, there were Mexican wolves and jaguars here, but now one may see bobcat, coyote, javelina and mule deer. I was happy to photograph this mule deer!

It is a very sandy trail with plenty of birds singing in the trees. The only flower I saw was the southwestern prickly poppy.

It was a wonderful place to escape everyone and have a trail almost to myself. I saw 2 people the entire time!

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!

Science Can Help Us …

Once upon a time I was a grades 7 – 9 science educator. I loved teaching science and would tell my students the world revolves around learning science! You learn math, English, history and science all at once, plus some basic info to care for yourself.

Wherever I travel in the world, I visit a local school. Some I have donated materials because I know the value of quality education for our young people and other educators appreciate books and supplies while working with their students.

Recently I was looking at my photos from a school visit in India. I decided this scientific message needed to be shared… really nothing new, but why can people not follow this science?

True in 2017, true in 2020 … let’s follow the science!

Monday Memories: Death Valley National Park

I have visited Death Valley National Park in California a couple of times. Hiked the various trails and Badwater Basin salt flat, and another trip bicycled on the few roads within the park boundary. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes along with other points of interest in the park were worth seeing in this unique ecosystem. There are climate and geography extremes so plan your visit carefully.

There were flowers during my past visits, but my wish is to visit again and see a “super bloom”. I heard about the one in 2016 and saw many colorful wildflower photographs. Now in 2020, along with our pandemic time and no travel, there also was no super bloom. Maybe I can get there next year and witness a “super bloom” too!

It would be fun to see the Artist’s Palette again. With my new photography skills I know the importance of being there as the sun shines on the colors.

Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America, and photographing the salt flat and salt crystals would be fun too. If the heat is to much I know I can go to the surrounding mountains.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes had a dust devil moving across it while I was there. After my Sahara Desert visit in Morocco last year, I wish to spend some time back on this park’s dunes.

My future goal: visit Death Valley National Park again, and if there is a “super bloom” that will be wonderful!

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!

Where Are You Going?

It scurried across the soil under the mesquite trees so quickly, all I could do was wonder why it was moving so fast? So I waited and watched.

A round-tailed ground squirrel, often observed here in southwestern USA and northwestern Mexico, was on the run! Other posts I have mentioned how one never knows what you’ll see when outdoors. And here off in a dash, this ground squirrel was returning to its burrow made another time in the loose soil. I have seen plenty of these burrows here in Arizona, but this one had a chewed piece of cardboard there too!?! No doubt part of the ground squirrel’s architectural plan as it chewed and brought pieces of cardboard underground. I wish I could see the inside of this burrow; I can only imagine.

Yup, like I have said other times, one never knows what you’ll see next! Keep your eyes open! Wildlife is in action in your area also!

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!

Urban Wildlife Habitat

Sweetwater Wetlands is a water treatment facility originally constructed in 1996. The wetlands now use reclaimed water and has become a wildlife viewing area in Tucson, AZ. There is about 2.5 miles of pathway for visitors to walk and it does connect with the “Loop”, yet no bicycles are allowed on the property. You can lock you bike at the fence and take a walk on a pathway from there.

On any given day, I never know if water birds will on the settling ponds, other birds in various trees, insects on the marsh grasses or hawks overhead. There have been days I viewed javelina and bobcats! Many people visit this urban wildlife habitat.

Here are some photos from my recent visit:

The red-winged blackbirds were definitely the noisiest of all the bunch, the duck was nonchalantly walking down a path … no doubt due to few people out in the late morning hot hours … and the turtles, well they may be finishing their mating act. Other visitors to the wetland may be more interested and focused on capturing insects as I guessed this man was with the specific net he was using. I could not capture any moth or butterfly in a photo, but he may have been also interested in damselflies.

For early morning time in nature, this urban wildlife habitat is an easy place to get to and visit, relax and observe nature. As the heat of the day rises, most wildlife settle in away from the hot air. This adds to my challenge, but I also like being out with fewer people on the trail and to see what else may be nonchalantly walking down the trail! (Reminds me too of the coyote I saw lying on a person’s driveway while I rode past on my bicycle.)

Always keep your eyes open; one can never predict what you’ll see in nature. That’s what makes being outdoors so exciting! Where and when are you headed outdoors? Enjoy.