Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

IMG_1660  All the islands of Hawaii hold places of deep spirit and meaning. Today I’m paying my respects to three  on the Big Island, each with its own strong sense of mana, spiritual energy. First, the Place of Refuge,   Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a 180-acre National Historical Park on the southern Kona coast. For   centuries this complex of stone walls, thatch-roofed shelters, and ponds at the edge of the ocean was a   sacred heiau/temple, home of royalty, and a place of safety—at least, for those who could get here.

Standing next to a fearsomely carved figure, gazing at the surf, I’m imagining the relief I’d feel if I had managed to elude capture, get to this shore, and crawl up the rocks to sanctuary. If I’d broken a sacred law, a kapu —and there were a lot of them, from standing on a chief’s shadow to fishing at the wrong time—I would likely be killed, unless I got to this refuge. Then I could be absolved by the priests and return home safely. Different times, different customs. Today the only ones seeking refuge are tourists looking for shade under the palm trees.

As I touch the massive stone wall, feel the gaze of the grim-faced wooden guardians, and Charlie Grace, with pig bone fish hookplace a hand in a carved stone bowl, I can sense those spirits of the past. Local craftsmen bring part of that past into the present day with cultural demonstrations—like Charlie Grace, a skilled carver of canoes and implements, who’s showing us how a fish hook was made from pig bone, and the way a stone-and-shell drill was used. He “talks story,” too, in traditional Hawaiian style, telling of the ancestors, reverence for the land, and the great canoe that is our planet.

Another sacred place with a different tradition, up the DSC07487 Mauna Loa mountain slope on Painted Church Road, is a small, white, steepled church.  St. Benedict’s Painted Church, built in 1899, is an active local parish, but the main reason tourists stop by is to see the unusual interior,St Benedict's Painted Church every inch of it covered with colorful designs. Father John Velghe, who came from Belgium, had no artistic training, but he used art to teach his faith to people who couldn’t read. Using house paint, he painted illustrations DSC07481directly on the church’s wooden walls and ceiling. Some have faded over time, but the Biblical scenes, palm trees, moral lessons, and decorative stripes are all here, the results of one man’s vision.

Further along Painted Church Road, I find and enter the third and most recent sacred site,  Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary. It’s  hard to describe just how special this serene, meditative, 7-acre garden really is.IMG_1686 It started 44 years ago, with Barbara DeFranco’s goal of Jade vinecreating a spiritual center featuring world faiths and plants. With a lot of hard work and help from people who shared her appreciation of diversity, she reached that goal, although, she says, it’s always a work in progress.  Wandering around the mountainside garden, admiring the views, I come to one shrine after another on the grassy slopes and set amongst trees and flowers of Hawaii and other parts of the world. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American and Native Hawaiian are here, along with Tibetan sand mandalas, a labyrinth, and even a 100-foot-diameter Galaxy Garden that shows the Milky Way in flowers. And those are only a few of the marvels of Paleaku.  The sanctuary is not generally well-known to tourists and not to be missed. It’s open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-4 pm.Buddhist stupa



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IMG_1559 On a long, wide, sandy beach north of Todos Santos, on the west coast of  Baja, Mexico, sea turtles are hatching by the hundreds. Almost every  evening in the winter months, another bunch crawls over the sand  toward the vast Pacific, as turtles have done for more centuries than you  can imagine. These days it’s a little different. They need human help, and  they’re getting it from a unique conservation organization. Just past  sunset, here at Turtle Camp on Las Playitas, we get to watch it happen.

For 55 days the turtles have been in an incubation greenhouse, Turtle Camp, Bajacurled in  eggs in warm sand. Those that hatched today are now swarming and wiggling in blue plastic bins, some on IMG_1618their backs waving tiny flippers, others climbing over each other. Where are we? What happened to that cozy, quiet, soft place? What is this booming sound, calling me into thunder and foam and danger? It’s irresistible! Let’s go! Or so I imagine their reactions to be.

IMG_1621 Volunteers who’ve been watching over the eggs kneel by the bins and explain  to visitors that this is the only place in the world where turtle eggs are  collected from their nests and kept safe in a greenhouse until they hatch.  When they stagger out, they’re held in the bins until sunset and then released  onto the beach to find their way into the waves. These little guys and gals are  incredibly vulnerable, and darkness shields them from eager predators like  the gulls now circling above us. Even so, most will become snacks for birds  and sharks or be trapped in nets and drown.

Some evenings as many as 100 turtles are released. Tonight there are about 25, all of them Olive Ridleys. IMG_1619Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, hatch here too. They’re found in every ocean and are the most endangered, 90% gone. Amazing fact: when these Olive Ridleys, those who survive, reach sexual maturity ten years after wandering the world, the females with eggs will return to this exact beach to nest. Even more amazing: Leatherbacks come back sixteen years later. I’m hoping enough of them live that long.

The mothers drop the eggs, cover them up, and waddle back into the ocean, and the eggs wait, prey to the dangers of ATVs, construction, and any creature interested in dining on turtle eggs—lizards, dogs, birds, humans. The temperature has to be just right, too. So the volunteers and biologists at Todos Tortugueros give them a hand, collecting the eggs and sheltering them.

Now it’s past sunset and the gulls have wheeled away, thwarted this time. Those of us who’ve come to watch stand  behind the sharp slope that falls to the surf, where waves rise high, roll, and crash. Once the 3-inch-long turtles are on the slope, they scramble down, pulling themselves forward until they reach the water and are pulled out by the next wave. All except one, who seems confused. He, or maybe she, keeps going the wrong way, or stops as if to get his bearings. He’ll get there, the biologist says. But he doesn’t, and who could resist giving him a boost? Someone finally lifts him and puts him close enough to catch the wave. And off he goes, into a wild new world that is home.  IMG_1589

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IMG_7475  She doesn’t look   all that scary, does she, with that calm, resigned face? But she’s a grizzly bear, and I’m standing only three feet away.  It doesn’t seem right to be this close to a big, furry creature with sharp claws and teeth. Unnatural. Primal instinct screams run.  I linger, though, safe on my side of the fence, and tell her I’m sorry she can’t live in the wild where she belongs. Like many of the other animals and birds at Wildlife Images in southern Oregon, she’s not equipped to survive on her own.  This is a place for injured or orphaned creatures to be cared for by experts until they can be released or, if that’s not possible, kept in surroundings that mimic their natural homes.

Wildlife Images, which opened in the 1970s and became a non-profit in 1981, has a mission: Educate, Involve, and Inspire.  The director, staff and more than 80 well-trained volunteers run education programs as well as care for injured or disabled animals and birds–about 1000 a year. Some were orphaned or caught in traps. The mountain lion was a “pet” whose tendons were cut so he couldn’t extend his claws, which means he’s not able to capture food or defend himself. If they’re too disabled to be released after rehabilitation, they stay on as permanent residents. That’s why visitors like me get to see them up close. Wildlife Images is open to visitors 362 days a year for guided tours (you can’t wander around on your own).

Everybody has a name. Niles and Daphne are sandhill cranes, Miss Jefferson is a 9-pound bald eagle, Cocoro is a Eurasian eagle owl, Jack and Jill are falcons. Carson is a beautiful gray fox and IMG_7459Defiance a proud American bald eagle. There are wolves, bobcats and several bears. At each stop along the path, I learn something new.  Who’s the fastest creature in the world? The peregrine falcon—it can dive at 242 miles per hour. How strong is the golden eagle? Its talons have 750 pounds of pressure and can kill a wolf. What’s the only canine that climbs trees? The gray fox. What does it cost to keep a bald eagle? $200 a month: 4,000 pounds of dog food, fresh rats, vaccinations, permits and more. 

IMG_7485 The 24-acre rehab center/sanctuary by the Rogue River, 12 miles west of Grants Pass, was founded by David Siddon in the 1970s and opened as a nonprofit in 1981.  It’s now run by the founder’s son Dave, who says he’s committed to continuing his dad’s dream of rescuing wildlife and educating people IMG_7452about it.  Wildlife Images is supported by admission fees, grants, fundraisers and donations. It has an interpretive center, a pavilion for public events, a Birds of Prey building, and a gift shop.

I’m interested in all of it, but the grizzly bear has me enthralled. Her name is Yak and she came from Alaska. As we watch each other I think of  bear power in story and symbol, from Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, to cave bears and shamans. After a few silent minutes she hauls herself up and shambles off, and I can see that Yak, even now, carries the memory of that power. 


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IMG_7721 I generally don’t care to eat mold, but Rogue River Blue has changed my attitude. The delicate veins of blue molds running through this blue cheese add a tang to the firm, buttery, incredibly flavorful cheese, a perfect contrast, and I’m happy to taste it any time I get the chance. Today it’s in the maker’s facility, Rogue Creamery, in Central Point. IMG_7722This small southern Oregon town, just west of the I-5 freeway–four miles from Medford, 218 miles south of Portland–has attracted artisans who craft top-quality, handmade products. Cheese is one of them, and I’m watching the experts at work through large windows at Rogue Creamery. Turning rich, local milk into award-winning, internationally acclaimed cheese takes care and time, up to five years, manager Craig Nelson says. Here’s how the website describes part of the process: “After draining in their hoops, wheels are dry salted, pierced, and dipped in wax before the bulk of their aging to prevent mold growth on rind. At the end of their maturation, wax is removed and the wheels are wrapped in foil.” The blue cheese is aged for at least 90 days.

Rogue Creamery has been in business for 80 years and crafts several other cheeses, the best being cheddar and their signature blue. I’m also trying something different: classic hand-milled cheddar combined with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout. The beer is melded with the curd, then hand-dipped and pressed into blocks for aging. Along with the cheddar, I get hints of chocolate and coffee from the stout, a nice blend. Another produced here is TouVelle, which the makers call a workhorse in the kitchen because it’s semi-hard, mild yet flavorful, and melts evenly. In the gift shop I, along with a lot of other visitors, browse among the locally produced jams, sauces, pastas and breads and pick up a nifty chiller bag that will keep cheese purchases cool.

Ledger David Winery  Next door is Ledger David Winery. In what was once a 1950s garage and is now a small, elegant, light-filled tasting room, I can taste fine wines paired with, what else, Rogue Creamery cheeses. Owners David Traul and Lena Varner produce several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. My favorite is their unique, award-winning red blend labeled Orion’s Nebula. It’s more than 50% Cabernet Franc and has an intriguing mixture of flavors: cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and more. Ledger David wines come from grapes grown in their 15-acre vineyard in nearby Talent.

The next shop in the developing Artisans Corridor is Lillie Belle Farms, and that means Chocolate with a capital C.  Jeff Shepherd began selling IMG_7749truffles at local farmer’s markets ten years ago, naming them after his wife, Belle, and daughter, Lillie. Everything was (and is) handmade with high-quality ingredients, some from his own organic farm. The business grew, word spread, and today Lillie Belle Farms has a staff of twelve and sells more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate products a year, worldwide. In 2009, Jeff was chosen by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the top ten chocolatiers in the U.S.


One of the best things about the place is its festive atmosphere. It’s fun to walk in the door, sniff mouth-watering aromas, and survey the bon-bons, ganaches, caramels, truffles and chocolate bars. Glass cases hold spicy cayenne caramels, blue cheese truffles, chocolate-covered bacon, and chocolate fortune cookies. Anejo candies contain tequila, lime and salt. It’s mighty hard to choose from these offbeat delights. One bar’s name is also a playful warning: “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” and one taste tells you why. The chilies in this one are some of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s hot! “I warned you,” Jeff says with a grin.

Artisans Corridor is a great southern Oregon stop off the freeway now, and with changes and additions underway, it’s only going to get even better.

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IMG_7564  The glassblower faces an open, white-hot furnace, 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the molten lava pouring out of Kilauea volcano at this moment. The heat is intense, from this and the room’s slightly cooler (900 degrees) ovens, as you’d expect in any glass forge. This one is the Glass Forge Gallery and Studio in Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s a warm summer day here in southern Oregon, but a breeze wafts through the large, warehouse-like studio, open to visitors who can watch the entire process. Inside the furnace, a ceramic crucible holds liquid glass–pure silica, I’m told, mined in Texas and mixed with 10% soda ash and lime.

The long hollow pole dips it into the hot pool in the furnace. Turning the pole constantly, the glassmaker pulls it out, spins it in a bowl of multi-colored glass bits, and carries it to a curved stand. He attaches a mouth tube to the pole, and now it’s my turn.IMG_7592 IMG_7566“Blow hard, as if you were blowing up a balloon,” he says. I blow, but nothing much happens. “Harder.” I puff my cheeks and blow, and the glass, which will drip and ooze if it’s not continually turned, begins to fill with air and round into a ball. “Now softer.” I blow more gently, and the ball grows bigger. The expert knows exactly when to nip the ball closed, make a swirl at the top, and set it to cool. I, with considerable help, have just made a beautiful, colorful ornament.  In sixteen hours it will be completely cool and ready to handle. The folks at the Glass Forge will mail it to me.

Hundreds of hand-blown glass items, from simple balls like mine to elaborate lamps, IMG_7571chandeliers, curved vases and art pieces, are created in the forge by a co-op of glass artists.  Most have been here awhile, and everyone bears a few burn scars despite the protective shields. The shop, a showcase of their artworks, is open every day but Sunday. If you want the fun of blowing your own glass art–and I can testify that it is fun–come on a weekday (except for 3 weeks in August, when the place is closed for cleaning). At this writing it costs $15 to make an ornament and $20 for a more complicated piece. IMG_7837

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Here’s a terrific opportunity for travel writers: the Spring ’12 Pacific NW Travel Writers Conference, April 29-30, at Fort Worden Conference Center near Port Townsend, Washington. Myrna Oakley, Portland-based writer, guidebook author, and teacher extraordinaire is the main organizer.     Myrna’s message:

The theme for this year’s Travel and Words conference is “Go! Pitch. Write. Publish.”  We have some dynamic speakers who’ll bring us their expertise on these key issues. They include —

Jason Brick, Portland, OR, a freelance writer. He’ll share his strategies for writing full-time while being a house-dad and utilizing his business experience to gain paying gigs online and in print.

Michael Fagin, Redmong WA, FL writer, blogger, and weather forecaster.  He plans to tell us how he casts a wider net with his freelancing endeavors.

Sue Frause, Whidbey Island, WA, FL writer, blogger, and social media expert who also does radio and culinary theater work. Sue will give us glimpses of the travel writing life, frequent ferry trips, and her love of B.C. Her blog: www.ClosetCanuck.com.

Karen Gilb, Vancouver, WA, FL writer, travel blogger, and fiction writer. She’ll talk about looking ahead and how she is expanding her Northwest writer’s brand for 2012-2013.

Marty Wingate, Seattle, WA, FL garden writer, garden tour developer, and mystery writer (The Garden Plot and the Potting Shed series).  Marty will tell us about marketing and how she connects her niches and  travel interests.

Carrie Uffindell, Portland, OR, FL writer, travel blogger, and fiction writer. Carrie specializes in family travel in the Pacific Northwest and in Wales and will discuss how she does it successfully.

Check the Travel and Words website for see the full Event Schedule, Travel and Tourism Exhibitors, and Registration details. I hope to see you April 29-30 in Port Townsend! — Myrna Oakley

Thanks, Myrna. I’m looking forward to a great time at Fort Worden State Park Conference Center and a visit to the historic charms of  Port Townsend.  And to meeting writers, bloggers, editors, and tourism and winery reps. See you there.




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Susan TroccoloBefore I had the pleasure of travel for fun, I traveled as a road warrior in pantyhose and girl shoes. For one full year, my territory was western Canada. I wasn’t traveling “lighthearted” yet–work is work after all–but I did learn how to pack light enough to toss my bag from the dock onto a commuter sea-plane.  

One of my frequent work destinations was the futuristic, wind-swept city of Calgary, Alberta.  As a small town southern California girl, I never got used to stepping outside the airport to bitter winter winds that made my nose hairs freeze. 

The night that opened my heart to lighthearted travel occurred in icy February. I arrived late in Calgary and checked into one of those homogeneous high-rise hotels for business travelers like me. The only thing on my mind was the swimming pool in the health center on the top floor. But where was the fluffy white hotel robe that is de rigueur? And why the heck didn’t I pack any flip flops along with my bathing suit? I’d packed only a thin cotton robe. 

At ten o’clock, the hotel halls were quiet. I looked right, then left. Nobody. Just the ubiquitous trays of soggy leftover cheeseburgers and fries, tiny salt and pepper shakers, one vase with one limp daisy. 

I pushed the elevator button impatiently; this was going to be a quick dash up 5 floors to the pool and back again.

When the door opened, I gasped. The elevator was filled with men carrying briefcases: eight gentlemen in long white robes, with white turbans and wisps of long wiry hair. They looked at me and I looked down, wiggling one bare toe over the other. 

Then the oldest of the gentlemen spoke in a kind, but weary voice, like a grandfather:     “Come in dear, you will never be safer.”

Susan Troccolo is a writer, gardener, and community volunteer. She travels light and lighthearted whenever she can.

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