Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Chile

© 1991, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Originally, this diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip; however, now I've transcribed and edited it. The diary cover reads, "Diario de Viaje a Chile y Argentina, Octubre y Noviembre 1991." To get in the spirit of the Spanish language, I wrote each day's name in Spanish, and I added "new Spanish word" lists to various days. I also glued all kinds of things into the paper version: postcards, bus tickets, receipts, and so forth. The Spanish content was not transcribed, and the add-ins have been omitted from this electronic version, as were the food and drink samples I'd spilled on several pages.]

This was my second big adventure trip, and involved two weeks with a group crossing southern Chile and Argentina, billed as a Patagonia Walking trip, preceded by some days on my own in Chile getting in a Spanish-speaking mood.

[Diary] We touched down in the capital, Santiago, at 7:30 am, local time, and my luggage arrived soon after. From there I went to change some money. The Chilean Peso wasn't worth a whole lot, and for US$150, I got 53,250! Coins were in dominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 pesos, and banknotes of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and higher. You certainly can't buy anything for 1 peso!

By 8 am, I had all my gear and was ready to depart. Unfortunately, the tourist office didn't open until 9 am, so I set out for the city anyway. After waiting at the place the signs appeared to indicate, I watched a number of buses pass me by. Finally, one stopped, and we set off on the 26-km run to the capital. The one-way trip cost 350 pesos, a little less than $1. It was a comfortable coach and the price was right. As we approached the city, the smog seemed to increase. While many places looked to be, and were, run-down, things were relatively clean with not much litter, which was a good sign. On the outskirts of town, an Italian circus was setting up its tents.

The main street of the city is called La Avenida de O'Higgins. Now while O'Higgins was a famous local general, his name doesn't sound very Hispanic. However, there are streets, hotels, and even a bank named after him. Traffic was hectic with small buses darting in and out constantly.

My first stop was the hotel from which my adventure tour group would depart several days later. It was quite up-scale with rooms running $100–200/night. There were doormen and staff everywhere. I walked into the foyer dressed in my sweat pants and green parka, carrying a daypack and duffle bag, and wearing hiking boots with bright red laces. They probably thought I was lost or just another of those eccentric, rich foreigners. I certainly got looks from lots of people as I came up the grand staircase to the front desk. I confirmed my reservation for several days later and left my duffle bag in their storage room. I had no desire to stay in such a place at all, and wanted to get the feel of the "real" Chile.

It was a short 6-block walk to the tourist office, or at least to where it used to be. On my arrival, a kindly gentleman informed me it had moved. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) From what I gathered from his Spanish the new location wasn't too far away, but he suggested I take the subway. I decided to walk anyway, which turned out to be a mistake. It took me an hour and my feet got tired and sore. Along the way I spied an old pickup truck, so I stopped to chat with the proud owner. He informed me it was a 1938 Chevy. By that time, I wished I had waited the extra hour at the airport for that tourist office to open.

At the tourist office, a young woman helped me with maps and information regarding the subway system, so I rode that to the main bus station. The flat fare was 100 pesos. The system was very modern and efficient. At the bus station, I bought a one-way ticket to Valparaiso, the country's main port and second largest city. The fare was 650 pesos. The coach was very nice and had a driver and two staff all dressed in uniforms. On-board one could buy food and drink, and there was a toilet. The service was outstanding; in fact, I would have paid at least 675 pesos! A radio was broadcasting throughout the bus, and Tom Jones used that to serenade us in English en route. Driving time was 1:45 hours. I sat next to somebody's grandma, and we chatted a bit with me asking her lots of questions and she replying so fast I understood about two words per sentence, although when hearing rapid-spoken Spanish, it's hard to tell where one sentence ends and the next one starts. For all I know she may well have telling me about a boil on her butt!

While I was making progress on my Spanish reading and speaking, it was clear I was very deficient in comprehension. My most common responses were "no entiendo" (I don't understand) and "mas despacio" (speak more slowly).

Out the window, I saw green fields full of golden and orange flowers. En route, I ate leftover airline food for lunch. Soon we came to pine forests, which also contained many eucalypts, something that surprised me. (I thought they grew only in Australia; silly me!)

The good news was that there was a tourist office right at the Valparaiso bus station. The bad news was that it closed 30 minutes before I arrived, for a 2-hour lunch break. (I could see a pattern developing here with respect to tourist offices.) However, another office stayed open during lunch if I cared to walk the 15 minutes to get there. I took a while to get my bearings and a young woman from the bus station escorted me to a local bus stop, put me on a bus, and told the driver where to take me. Just as the bus started, I noticed that I'd left my daypack in her office, and I jumped off just in time, but lost my ticket in the process. They were just locking up the station, but I managed to retrieve my bag. Finally, another bus came along and, don't you know, it dropped me right at the street for which she had given me directions. The only problem was that it was in the adjoining town some 3–4 miles away and she had written down the wrong town. Don't you just hate that?

Perhaps it was fate that brought me there, but the town of Viña del Mar (literally, vineyard of the sea) was very much up-market, so much so that I didn't think I'd be able to find cheap accommodation. I got wind of a hostel, but after 45 minutes of walking, I discovered it had closed. After that long walk had tired me out what to do but stop at a supermarket and buy a bag of dried sultanas (US: golden raisins) and sit in the sun and eat them. They didn't help my feet any, but they sure tasted good.

Well, my travel motto is, "Always have a plan B, even for Plan B!" I finally found a place right downtown on Agua Santa. It was your typical hostel with mix-and-match furniture. The share-bathroom had a cold-water basin and shower in a tub. A large gas cylinder sat at the end of the tub, and one just switched on the gas, struck a match, and "let her rip!" The price was $5/night, which was just fine with me.

As it happened, my adventures for the day had not yet ended. Today was the day the staff had chosen to replace some of the furniture and bedding in my very room. So, when I say that I had to make my bed, I mean that I had to make my bed, literally. Being much taller than the guys assembling the double bunk beds, I offered to help them, and we become buddies even though we could barely understand each other. However, there was one bit of good news. One of the bolt holes in the bed was drilled incorrectly, and the bolt wouldn't fit properly. Just that very morning I had been learning some new Spanish verbs, one of which was the verb "to fit," and lo and behold I got a chance to use it in a real-life situation, "it won't fit," or as we'd say in Australian-Spanish, "No bloody fitto, Jose!"

We assembled three bunks and put on new mattresses, sheets, and blankets. My mattress was rock-hard, just as I like it. The old mattresses we replaced sagged almost to the floor. With them, I reckon I could have rocked myself to sleep trying to get out of bed.

My room had two big windows, one at the head of my bed and one on the side, and the cool breeze blew right on in. A rock band started practicing in the house next door, but it wasn't too loud.

At 7:15 pm, I ventured out to find some food. I spied a family bakery with deli, and the staff was just filling the bins with hot rolls as I arrived. I bought some fresh rolls along with liter containers of chocolate milk, orange juice, and apple juice, and ham and Gouda cheese. Hey, I'm a growing boy! In my haste to race home and devour my purchases I had forgotten to buy butter, so my rolls were a bit dry.

I checked out the gas shower and after coaxing the burner gently, I got a good wash. By 8:30, my personal lights were starting to dim. Apparently, I had two roommates, and I hoped they wouldn't be too noisy when they got in. In any event, with all the new furniture, they might think they've come to the wrong room.

So, how was my first full day? I confirmed that relatively speaking, I don't know much Spanish. The day could have been better, and it could have been worse. As I had no big expectations, there were no big disappointments. Besides, if everything had have gone smoothly, I wouldn't have anything interesting to write about. Both heels finished up with sizeable blisters on the bottom, and two toes were a little squashed. I guess they need more toughening before the real hiking starts in a few days.

[Diary] I got up at 11 am, to find that I was sharing a room with two guys from Columbia and one from Chile. As I had long missed breakfast, I made my own from leftover supper and some milk. I did learn one important lesson; if you are 6'4" (195 cms) tall and sleeping on the bottom bunk, don't sit straight up in bed as you'll hit your !@#$ing head!

The weather was nice with temperatures in the high 60s F, and I made my way outside around noon. I headed for the beach nearby where some babes were taking in the sun. Students from several universities nearby were out in force. I stopped in at a small museum dedicated to a well-known local writer and adventurer. It was housed in a small castle-like building built on the rocks overlooking the sea.

There really was no litter and the gardens were blooming. Date palms lined the beach road along with numerous other trees. Viña del Mar is where wealthy people had their summer homes. I came across a rather swank-looking casino. Numerous high-rise apartment buildings lined the beach.

I spent quite some time at a large supermarket comparing prices and trying to figure out what some things were. There was a lot of Chilean wine for about $2/bottle. As the potato chips looked inviting, I bought a packet. I wrote some postcards and discovered empanadas, which involved meat wrapped in pastry. I bought two and the vendor offered to heat them for me. They also contained egg and, to my unpleasant surprise when I bit one, a black olive, which I quickly spat into the gutter.

At 7:15 pm, I was seated in the city's grand theater awaiting a choral performance by a university choir. Although there was no charge, I was hoping to get more than my money's worth. Although I was not able to decipher the program, it seemed to have something to do with the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the Americas. Some women were wearing furs, and some men had on ties. As for me, I was in my hiking gear and carrying a daypack!

The choir warmed up and there was a lot of humming; perhaps they hadn't yet learned all the words. Patrons filled a number of private boxes on the main level and two upper balconies. The ceiling was a large dome. The program I'd been trying to decipher turned out to be details of the university's plan for education. The public-address system featured Lennon and McCartney songs played on an Andean flute, which was quite conducive to my absorbing some of the local culture. Although the performance started 15 minutes late, three choirs sang for 90 minutes total. At the end, the three groups (80-odd voices) sang together. According to my attempt at translation, the title of the program was "We Sing in Spring."

[Diary] I lay in bed a good while and joined the 10-am-breakfast shift. There I met a young Chilean woman who lived in Stockholm with her Swedish husband, and taught Spanish. To make it interesting her father was German, and her maiden name was Müller. We had a conversation in a mixture of Spanish and English.

I took my last look around my room and noticed that the "quaint" curtain rods really were strands of heavy-gauge wire. The dilapidated clothes closet had a door that wouldn't close, just like the door on the room itself. "Spartan" was probably the most appropriate description. However, at $10 for two nights with a continental breakfast included, it was a good deal.

Around noon, I caught a bus back to Valparaiso, the town in which I had intended to stay originally. That town was bustling, and I sat and watched the goings on in the fruit and vegetable market before finding a large park. The order of the day was to wander about, write postcards, buy some stamps, and find a place to stay. The weather was cloudy but not at all cold. A young university student sat next to me as I fed some sparrows and a pigeon. As he spoke no English, my Spanish was pushed to the limit. I gathered that his name was Louis and that he was studying Chemistry.

I found the main Post Office, bought stamps and more cards, and posted some cards. From there I went to the main square, Plaza Solomayor. And right across the street, I spied the Hotel Reina Victoria (The Queen Victoria), but I doubt she'd have been very proud of it, at least not in its current state. The front desk was up a flight of stairs and it was tended by a kindly grandmother. We got along famously and soon, I was ensconced in my own large private room on the 3rd floor. The room had a washbasin, two face washers, a mirror, and a power outlet. There was a large wardrobe and a bed that sagged quite badly. The bedside stand had a small reading lamp on it along with—yes Ladies and Gentlemen—a chamber pot! A small table, chair, and a rug completed the décor. The two windows opened out over the plaza. To my left was the Chilean Navy Port and to my right was the Naval Headquarters. A window seat was built into the wall, and as I sat, I could see sailors coming and going to/from the Armada de Chile building.

Now, I ask you Ladies and Gentlemen, how much would you expect to pay for such luxury and a view? Well I paid 2,000 pesos per night, a little less than $6. Continental breakfast was included and would be delivered to my room. A share bath was down the hall and ran on a gas-fired apparatus. I even had a view of the plaza from the toilet seat. But wait, there was even more; my room came with a living pot plant!

At 7:30 pm, I asked the woman at the desk to fire up the hot water, to lay out my silk pajamas, and to get some bearers to carry me down to "el tubbo." Well, the water was very hot and plentiful, and I had a good soak under the shower. It was good to be able to stand straight and still fit under the showerhead. I noticed that toilet paper was supplied, and was in strips of 2' laid atop the cistern. (Most cheap places did not supply it.) During my nap, I'd dreamed I was staying in a 5-star villa and when I awoke, viola, there it was! Perhaps it will all be turned back into a pumpkin at midnight.

Back in my room, I rubbed some secret-recipe liniment into my tired and aching calf muscles, after which the place smelled like a men's locker room. I guess they will have to change my sheets this week after all given the smell I'll leave behind. The ceiling was at least 12' high and the light hanging down was so bright I could almost see enough to find the switch on the wall to check if the light was actually on. By the way, the electricity supply was 220V (unlike the US) and with screw-in bulbs (just like the US). The power outlets were 2-pin European-style.

After lying in bed a while, it was clear that I wasn't going to get to sleep with my butt dragging near the floor in the saggy mattress. And my feet were higher than my head. So, I dragged the mattress and bedding onto the floor, which was an improvement. All night, there was traffic outside my window, but as the noise was constant, it was not at all annoying.

[Diary] The tea that I'd ordered for 9 am arrived at 8:30, and it was coffee! Don't you just hate that when that happens! It sure is hard to get good help nowadays! And just as I finished eating, my alarm sounded. Actually, the coffee was not so strong; in fact, the spoon needed some help before it could stand up on its own. The bread was fresh and came with lots of butter, and made a hearty start to the day.

[Diary] Back in the capital, I came across the Residencial Londres hotel next to the main cathedral, and I rented a room. The marble staircase was most impressive, and the place was built like a castle, with solid walls, wood paneling, and plaster moldings. As I glanced at the guest registry, I saw several Finns, a Dutchman, and two Argentines, among others. For 2,600 pesos ($8), I had a double room to myself. The beds looked decent, towels were provided, and there was a writing table and chair, armchair, robe, and a bed lamp that made electrical-short-type sounds when switched on. The window opened out onto the street and I was on the ground floor. There were heavy indoor shutters to make the room dark and quiet. The share-bathroom was next door, and it had hot water all the time, a huge shower alcove—perhaps the guests all shower together—and toilet paper. All room doors were huge and well-made with solid locks, and swung easily. There was a small courtyard with garden.

After resting in my room, around 5:30 pm, I headed out for a stroll. I took in the new movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner. It was in English with Spanish subtitles, and was preceded by a Disney cartoon along with a newsreel on Germany. At $2.50, it was good value.

From the theater, I walked down a long mall and ran smack-dead into a large student demonstration coming towards me. I could hear them chanting as I got closer. Then something set them off, and they started running towards me, and I guessed the police were breaking them up. I and numerous other pedestrians turned into a side street. That street had many people selling things on tables and blankets on the ground with small children playing. I tried not to step on anyone with my Seven-League boots. As I moved away from the intersection I turned to see an armored car with a water canon spraying high-pressure water all around. Then I heard a metallic sound as a tear gas canister started rolling towards me. Some smoke grenades exploded nearby.

As I moved further away, the crowd was very orderly, and two blocks further on, the shoppers were oblivious to what was happening behind me. When I reached the main street, the police were out in force in full riot gear, with shields and helmets. I decided that was as close as I wanted to get to a Chilean jail!

Back at the hotel, I told my tale to the front desk clerk, and he said that was a regular occurrence. The students got a permit to march, and they always went further than was permitted, leading to a confrontation with the police, so it was sort-of choreographed. While it was good to know that I wasn't in any real danger, my heart rate did race there for a bit.

[Diary] I sat down for breakfast at 9 o'clock, having apricot jam on bread with tea. I chatted with two American woman working with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, and another American traveling around the continent. While eating, we started to hear singing and speech-making outside, over a public-address system. Frankly, it sounded like a 1930s Nazi rally! It was indeed a political rally, for the Radical Party of Chile, and it was taking place right outside my hotel. We watched it from a balcony. After the previous evening's events, I had visions of a SWAT team landing on the roof and rappelling down the hotel walls to break things up.

The demonstrations were mostly about political prisoners. I found it impossible to relate to the local politics. One cannot hope to appreciate the loss of something until one has lost it. Somehow it always seems to happen to people "in other countries," but here I was in one of those other countries! Sadly, I expect the impact on me will wear off in a few days when I'll be off on another adventure. [See Human rights violations in Pinochet's Chile.]

[Diary] Back at the swank Hotel Carerra, I found that I was sharing a room with Thomas from Brooklyn, New York City, who was in my tour group. He told me we had a 5:30-am wake-up call the next morning. Say what, I'm on vacation!

[Diary] At 6 o'clock, I met the whole group downstairs, and we boarded a small bus for the airport for an 8-am flight to Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the continent, with a stop at Puerto Mott. I sat with Stan, our trip leader. His partner, Kate, was in charge of trip logistics. My other seatmate was a delightful Chilean businessman who owned boats that fished for bass and swordfish. He also had the biggest kelp-harvesting operation in the country. A breakfast omelet with fruit and coffee was served in-flight.

From my brief encounter, there seemed to be an interesting mix of people in my group. Thomas was a retired policeman from NYC, who carved wooden figures in his spare time, and was interested in opera and fine arts. There was a retired couple from Utah (Virgil and Jackie), he a doctor and she a dietician. He'd gotten bored, so went back to work becoming the medical director of the Mormon Missionary program. (During the trip, the four of us became friends.) There were also two women from Montana.

The sky was clear, and we followed the Andes all the way down to their end. Along the way, we saw more than a few volcanos, none of which was spewing ash that day. (There was a significant eruption several months earlier, from which ash was still settling.)

After collecting our baggage, we boarded a mini-bus for the 4-hour drive north to Puerta Natales, a fishing town located on Última Esperanza Sound (Last Hope Sound). Along the way, we were served empanadas for lunch. We saw quite a few rheas, a smaller version of emu/ostrich. The landscape reminded me of Iceland: windswept with rocks and small brush. Although there were lots of trees, none of them was large enough for lumber. All posts, poles, and houses were made of concrete, the houses having corrugated-iron roofs. After we arrived in town, I went for a walk and spoke to two young high school students who knew some English.

At out hotel, The Eberhardt, I sat in an upstairs lounge, and took in the view over the sound with snow-capped mountains straight ahead and all around to the right.

[Diary] We left town around 10:30, and had a long, slow drive over dirt roads. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch. We saw a lot of large rabbits and several eagles. Later, we came across large numbers of guanacos near the road, and six Andean condors circling overhead. Further on, we saw more guanacos, condors, geese, ibis, and other birds. We stopped off at a magnificent, large waterfall, Salto Grande (Grand Falls). The wind blew something fierce although it wasn't cold. We finally reached our destination, Torres del Paine National Park, and arrived at the park's HQ, some 30 km away from the park entrance, where we had an orientation from a park ranger. The glaciers, snow-covered mountains, and windswept bushes were much like parts of Alaska, Scotland, and Iceland, all rolled together.

We had switched to camp-mode, and the campsite was set up by 7 pm. Each guest pair had to erect their own 2-person tent. They were dome-shaped and quite roomy with a small annex, although not tall enough to stand. I was pleasantly surprised that Nestlé Milo hot/cold-chocolate drink was very popular in Chile, and the camp kitchen had copious quantities. The camp table was set, complete with crockery, with places for 14 diners, which included the two American guides and the Chilean cook and bus driver. The camp fire was roaring, and pots were bubbling.

[Diary] I was awake at 6:30 am, and small birds were chirping outside my tent. Some 20 feet away some geese swam in a river. The crew brought us hot water and we did our ablutions before packing our gear. We broke our luggage into two parts: the main part would stay on the bus while the other would go on pack horses for an overnight hike. My new sleeping bag and self-inflating mattress had worked really well on their maiden outing. Tom went to sleep in 60 seconds and snored a lot. At 8 o'clock, we ate scrambled eggs, which I washed down with some strawberry milk. We'd each been assigned a plastic lunchbox, and into that we packed a lunch, from cheese, salami, chocolate bars, fruit, and trail mix. We loaded the bus, and rode it to the trailhead to start our hike at 10:30.

We met up with three cowboys and their six horses, which would carry our gear and food for two nights away. The first few hours of the hike were over flat, open grassland, between two separate mountain groups. We were surrounded by snow- and ice-covered peaks, glaciers, and very cold rivers with pieces of ice floating in them. There were lots of flowers and birds, and the sun was strong all day. The rivers were grey with glacial flour.

After a while, we started going up and down, and I raised a sweat. As I had a lot of clothes on, I started to shed some outer layers. If one were ever to get excited by a view, then this would a good place to do that. The big mountain lake before us was very blue, and the snow-covered peaks reflected were in it like a jigsaw puzzle picture. Although we saw an occasional tree, none was near the trail, so there was no shade in which to rest. The light wind combined with the sun to burn the skin, and my exposed hands got quite red. As we walked at different speeds, the group spread out, and after six hours, I reached camp with half of the people still behind me. The final hour was the most strenuous. When we arrived at our destination, another group was just departing. A solo hiker headed in the direction we'd come.

Supper was noodle soup, chicken, rice, peas, beans, corn, and mashed potato. Although cooked, the peas, beans, and corn were served cold, as is the Chilean custom. Those of us not accustomed to this, rectified the "problem" by loading them into the hot soup. We finished off with hot tea and pieces of chocolate. For this part of the trip, we had a large dining tent with folding seats.

[Diary] After a breakfast of oatmeal with hot milk, tea, and bread, we packed a picnic lunch, and we hit the trail about 9:15. It was overcast with a threat of rain. As we left, Virgil played his harmonica. The wind was quite fearsome, and come straight at us. Just before lunch, it rained a few drops. Grey Lake is fed by Grey Glacier, and ultimately runs into Grey River. We saw quite a few small ice floes, many of which had been blown to the end of the lake. As we neared the glacier, we saw several large icebergs that had run aground.

The glacier forked into two parts behind a hill, and the front of each head was about 200 yards across. Many bergs were waiting to calve off the heads. Where it was really packed down, the ice reflected only blue light. We sat on a huge rock outcrop from which the glacier had retreated. The boulders in front us were scoured with deep, regular furrows that looked man-made. There was forest around much of the lake, and we could see a number of waterfalls and swift-flowing streams.

[Diary] We packed up our tents and were on the trail around 9:15. After yesterday's "Death March," my big boots took over and propelled me well ahead of the others.

We stopped for lunch, and then after four hours, we arrived "home" before the pack horses. Hot showers were promised later, and I looked forward to that. The aches in my body had evaporated, although I hoped it hadn't gotten too used to exercise! The shower was great, and I celebrated with the rest of my carton of strawberry milk, and bought another at the camp store. With only one shower, it took a good while for the group to get through. Some of us watched a big, brown hawk in a tree nearby, and it was very interested in the garbage bin.

Around 4:15, we departed for Laguna Azul (Blue Lake). The ride was rough and took several hours. One of the cowboys, Jose, rode with us and we dropped him off at his home. Along the way he and I spoke at length. We saw geese, guanacos, rheas, and one condor.

The location of our new campground was fantastic; I immediately decided to move there, permanently! There was a large lake surrounded by mountains, which were more like grass-covered rolling hills. A herd of horses roamed the bottom meadow. There were some very colorful pintos and a young colt. A herd of guanacos grazed near the campground. By the time we erected our tents, it was 9 pm, but it was still quite light with the sun just having dropped below the hills. Some of us collected firewood. After the sun went down, I walked to the lake to see the snow-covered mountains with a ring of grey clouds, reflected in the water.

[Diary] We all did laundry, and the surrounding bushes were decorated with our clothes. The day's hike was optional, and I chose to stay in camp, to read, write, and to go off to watch the guanaco herd. During the morning, Eliacer (the cook), baked a large chocolate cake, and iced it with white and brown frosting. (Like I said earlier, this is not just any old camping trip!)

It was a lazy day, with the sun alternating with light drizzle, and the laundry got dry, mostly. Karen had decided to stay in camp as well, and we went off on an animal-finding expedition, but had no luck except for several hares, and some birds and flowers. The countryside reminded me of Scotland. Eventually, I saw some pink flamingos (now you know where they go south in the northern winter), some swallows, and a flock of parrots. I rigged up a place near the campfire to dry my socks.

For an evening appetizer, we ate Chilean camembert and edam cheese and drank local wine. Supper was lasagna with broccoli. The iced, chocolate cake followed. Then Virgil recited some poems, one of which he wrote. We kept the fire stoked even though it wasn't cold; after all, you can't camp without a fire! Lights out at 10:30.

The next day, we crossed the border into Argentina, where we spent five more days, eventually staying our final night in Buenos Aires.

[Diary] The trip was definitely worth the money. I practiced my Spanish a lot, met some interesting people with whom I planned to stay in touch, sampled some new cultures and food, and most importantly I slept very well most of the time. After having three weeks off following a hectic work schedule, it made me even more determined to work only half-time the following year!

Signs of Life: Part 20

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from visits to Edinburgh, Scotland; London, England; and Beijing, China; among other places.

 

Sign outside a preschool.

 

While shopping for used clothes at the Salvo's thrift shop, you can help someone else.

 

I've found that it's udderly silly to confuse "other" with "udder".

 

I guess that's another way of saying "Get your drink and food here".

 

BBQ pork, anyone? And with haggis as well; hold me back!

 

While this sign certainly made me smile, the June week I was in Edinburgh was quite nice, with the rain mostly coming at nights.

 

From their website: "We run a shop of vices filled with fine wines, champagne, craft beers, boutique spirits, as well as luxury tobaccos, pipes, cigars, lighters and men's gifts."

 

I cannot emphasize enough that everthing in this play really does go wrong! It was absolutely hilarious.

I saw it while in London, and learned of another play, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, by the same people, and very much enjoyed that too.

 

This German sign literally means "parking place for dogs," and something like it is often seen outside of shops, where owners can tie up their dogs before going inside. Many such places have a bowl of water.

 

The name of this shop in Beijing, China, is quite a mouthful, and I wondered if the translation is exact!

 

Do you suppose the Chinese writing means, "finger-lickin' good!"?

BTW, Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel.

 

With me being so tall, as I went up the steps of this place, I felt sure that the Chinese writing on the sign said, "Mind your head!"

 

I studied this sign in Beijing, China, for quite a few minutes before I decided that it was an error, and really mean to say "Occupied".

 

Of course, wearing the right spectacles just might cause a public spectacle!

This sign from the town of Brunswick, Maryland, USA.

 

Need a little pick-me-up with your breakfast porridge?

This from my hotel's breakfast area in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

 

Perhaps you've heard about "truth in advertising."

This sign from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

 

 

The REALLY BIG Picture

© 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[As used in this essay, a billion is a thousand million (1,000,000,000), while a trillion is a million million (1,000,000,000,000).]

Until writing was invented, one's knowledge was limited by one's own experiences and by the stories told by others. Writing allowed information to be handed down directly over generations, and the advent of the printing press revolutionized writing. With each, our world became bigger. Then came the telegraph, automobiles, the telephone, flying machines, television, and, eventually, space travel. Each of those inventions allowed us to broaden our horizons even further. While it took our ancestors months to cross 1,000 miles (1,600 kms) on foot or with a horse and wagon, by today's standards, that is v-e-r-y s-l-o-w. For example, from one of my travel diaries from 2016 regarding a flight from Austria to South Korea, "I had lunch at the airport in Vienna, Austria; supper over Ukraine; breakfast over Mongolia; and lunch over the Yellow Sea between Beijing and Seoul."

Yes, for many of us our world is shrinking. But just how big is our world anyway? For most of us, most of the time our world is our neighborhood or town, and maybe up to 50 miles (80 kms) away. [See my essay series "What is Normal?"] But what about the big picture? Just where does our world fit into The World? Here are some things to ponder:

  • For almost all of us, our world is limited to the places to which we can reasonably travel; that is, planet Earth and up to eight miles (12.8 kms) above it.
  • Earth is but one of a number of planets in our solar system, and while our moon is the only one Earth has, other planets also have one or more moons. [See my essay "A Little Bit of Astronomy: The Moon" from October 2016.]
  • Our sun is a star that is at the heart of our solar system. It is estimated there are 300 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, some of which have planets and moons.
  • It is estimated there are 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe. Each of those galaxies has stars, some of which likely have planets and moons.

Are you feeling small yet? If not, read some more!

Humans have long tended to believe that they are at the center of the universe. After all, they are much "smarter" than all other known life forms, so why shouldn't they be King of the World? As it happens, it wasn't until the 1600s that the old geocentric model (in which Earth is at the center of the Heavens) was replaced by the heliocentric one (in which the sun is at the center). Of course, as we now know, all that is just in our own little solar system.

How important/significant are you really? Yes, you are probably a key player in your immediate household, and maybe even in your extended family, community, and workplace. And for a few of you, within your industry, profession, or state. But in the big scheme of things, each of you is only one individual out of 7.5 billion. And what do those other 7,499,999,999 people care about you? Frankly, with a small number of exceptions, absolutely nothing! [I'm reminded of the sarcastic take-off of the saying, "He's a legend in his own time" that goes, "He's a legend in his own mind!"]

Recently, I stumbled on the term "Middle World", which Wikipedia describes, as follows: "a term coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is used to describe the realm generally experienced by humans that lies between the microscopic world of quarks and atoms and the cosmic world of stars and galaxies. It also refers to the lack of appreciation humans generally have for the spectrum of time, from picoseconds to billions of years, because people generally refer to time in units of minutes or hours or weeks and live for only a portion of a century. This term is used as an explanation of oddity at both extreme levels of existence. We have a lack of understanding of the quantum and molecular parts of the universe, because the human mind has evolved to understand best that which it routinely encounters."

In this essay, I'll look at the truly macro as well as the micro. In doing so, I recommend Bill Bryson's excellent book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything," ISBN 0-7679-0817-1, 2003. [When I cite from that book, I'll use the notation "BBpp", where pp is a page number.]

Our Comfort Level with Very Big (and Very Small) Numbers

When I was a kid (some 55+ years—indeed, a lifetime—ago), a million of anything was a big number. Not so now, however. Here in Northern Virginia, USA, there are plenty of houses selling for more than a $1 million, and for executives earning $250,000 per year, they'll gross $1 million in only four years. One can go out and buy a private jet or island for less than $10 million. And numerous states here in the US occasionally have lottery jackpots of $100 million or more. Also, if one's heart beats 75 times per minute, that's 19.7 million times per year.

Here in the US (and many other developed countries) being a millionaire really is "small change!" And while being a millionaire suggests that one actually owns a million dollars, I suspect that having control over that amount is the important thing. That is, are you a millionaire if you owe a million dollars? Clearly, being a billionaire is 1,000 times better financially than being a lowly millionaire. As of 2018, Wikipedia reported there were 2,200 US-dollar billionaires in the world, with a combined net worth of US$9.1 trillion.

Then we have national Gross Domestic Products (GDP), defense spending, and national debt. (For the US in 2016, these were $18.46 trillion, $598.5 billion, and $19-odd trillion, respectively.) But to us mere mortals, these numbers don't mean much. [There is a well-known (but often misattributed) quote, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."]

And as for extremely small time intervals and distances, such as milliseconds (1/1,000 of a second) and nanometers (1/1,000,000,000 of a meter), they all seem unreal.

The dot on the following lowercase letter i is about the size of 500,000,000,000 protons [BB9]. All the visible stuff in our solar system fills less than a trillionth of the available space [BB24]. And the average distance between stars is 20 trillion miles (32 trillion kms) [BB27]. So, space is rather spacious! By the way, the average distance of the earth to the sun is 149,597,870.691 kms [BB56] (92,955,807.28 miles) and an early estimate of the earth's weight was 5,000 trillion tons (4,535,925 trillion kgs) [BB57]. A cubic centimeter of air contains 45 billion billion molecules. A bolt of lightning can heat the air surrounding at to a temperature much hotter than the surface of the sun [BB260], which is around 27 million degrees F (15 million C). A human sheds some 10 billion flakes of skin a day, and the digestive system contains 100 trillion microbes [BB302–303].

Suffice it to say, most of us are really only comfortable with, and relate directly to, measurements of things in our own visible world.

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Yes, I'm a Carol King fan, but that's not the reason I chose that heading for this section. What's all this about continental drift and all the continents having once been part of a supercontinent, Pangaea? Now it turns out that "continental drift is old speak;" what we now have is plate tectonics, which I should add is referred to as a theory. [When I was a university student in the early 1970s, the field of plate tectonics was quite new, and for a theory, it's holding up pretty well.]

Based on lots of measurements, it appears that continents (which are formed on top of tectonic plates) are moving as much as 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cms) per year. Now while that doesn't sound much, and certainly isn't in our lifetime (remember our own world model?), over a million years that's 15.8–31.6 miles (25.3–50.6 kms), and over a billion years that's 15,800–31,600 miles (25,300–50,600 kms), more than halfway around the earth's equator. So, if you buy into very long-time scales, the possibility of the continents having been arranged in a different way a long time ago, is quite plausible. But, of course, that scale is way outside our world.

Oh, by the way, due to the continued push by the Indian subcontinent on Asia, Mount Everest is growing 0.16 inches (0.4 cms) each year. Over a million years that's 13,330-odd feet (4,000-odd meters). It's currently 29,000 feet (8,700 meters) tall.

For lots of information and discussion on this topic, see BB Chapter 12.

The first time I saw a glacier up-close was Worthington Glacier, Alaska, where the motion of the glacier had pulled soil and rocks onto its top, so much so, that I was standing on top of the glacier without knowing it. [Don't you just hate that when that happens!] On that same trip, our ferry stopped at the very wide mouth of the Columbia Glacier, as it entered Prince William Sound. (Back in 2001, that glacier was discharging icebergs at approximately 1.7 cubic miles [7 cu kms] per year.) Soon after, I visited Portage Glacier. My next such experience was in the Dolomites of Northern Italy. It certainly was a sea of ice, but the most fascinating thing I recall was seeing ice worms living in the ice, burrowing tunnels going from one trapped food source to another. On a trip across the Patagonia of southern Chile and Argentina, I stopped off to look at the glaciers at Torres del Paine National Park and Los Glaciares National Park. There, I got right up to the receding ice wall and could see how it had gouged out huge grooves in the underlying rocks. So, just how fast do glaciers move? According to Wikipedia, "Glacial motion can be fast (up to 30 m/day …) or slow (0.5 m/year on small glaciers or in the center of ice sheets), but is typically around 1 metre/day." Clearly, this is too slow to discern with the naked eye, so we have to trust the scientific measurements.

On several occasions, I've been to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Now I've seen videos of molten lava running across land, but I want to see it for myself! Can rock really melt, or is it just fake video? While lava has been flowing during each visit, there was no safe/sanctioned place one could go to actually see it. Instead, over a number of days I tried to look at the active flow from the air in a helicopter out of Hilo, but each day, the flight was cancelled due to heavy fog and rain, bugger! Once again, I'll have to trust the scientists. And as for islands rising out of the sea, that would be something to witness even though it takes a very long time for the mountain to grow from the sea floor.

A common, slow-moving activity is soil erosion and weathering. With respect to the Grand Canyon—which is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters)—according to Wikipedia, "While some aspects about the history of incision of the canyon are debated by geologists, several recent studies support the hypothesis that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5-to-6 million years ago." Separately, several years ago, I spent time looking at the weathered rock formations in the Arches National Park in Utah. I've also visited Uluru (formerly "Ayers Rock") and Kata Tjuta (formerly "The Olgas") in Central Australia. The latter is a very weathered version of the former, and the contrast shows how much erosion has taken place over the eons.

Just because you can't see something move, doesn't mean it isn't moving!

The Speed of Light

Light moves very fast, at approximately 186,000 miles (300,000 kms) per second. As such, when we look with a naked eye at any object at a distance of "as far as the eye can see," for all practical purposes, the light reaches us from that object instantaneously. OK, but what about moonlight? That takes 1.3 seconds to reach the earth. And sunlight? That takes 8.3 minutes. Of course, once we go outside our own solar system, the distance (and thus the time taken) increases. For example, our nearest neighboring star system is Alpha Centauri. Light from there takes 4.3 years to reach us, as it has to travel some 25.8 trillion miles (40.9 trillion kms)! Now rather than deal with such large numbers, we use the term "light year," which is the distance light travels in one Earth year, some six trillion miles. So, Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years from Earth, and any image we receive from there right this very instant is 4.3 years old; we are looking at what was there 4.3 years ago! And we have no way to see what is there today. [Note that I said, "one Earth year," which is the time it takes Earth to go around our sun. The length of a Martian or Venusian year, for example, is quite different.]

Going to the extreme, the current state of astronomy tells us that the edge of the visible universe is 15 billion light years away. And given that the age of the earth is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years, that means that light reaching us now from some point on the universe's edge left on its journey to us some 10.5 billion years before Earth existed!

Rising Sea Levels

One of the most often quoted measures used when discussing global warming is how various islands and island nations may well be underwater sometime in the next 100 years. [Regarding the Republic of Maldives, according to Wikipedia, "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report predicted the upper limit of the sea level rises will be 59 centimetres (23 in) by 2100, which means that most of the republic's 200 inhabited islands may need to be abandoned. According to researchers … the Maldives are the third most endangered nation due to flooding from climate change as a percentage of population."]

Until recently, I was skeptical that there was enough water on the planet for this to actually happen. However, I've done some calculations and I'll share some of the numbers here. (Yes, some of them are crudely rounded, but not so much that that has a significant impact on the result.)

According to Wikipedia, the surface area of the world's oceans is 139,434,000 square miles (361,132,000 square kilometers). And the surface area of the continent of Antarctica is 5,405,000 square miles (14-odd million square kms). So, the oceans combined are no bigger than 26 times the size of Antarctica! Given that some 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km (1.2 miles; 6,200 ft) in thickness, we're talking about a lot of ice. So, if 1" (2.5cms) of ice melts from over the whole continent, the ocean level would rise 1/26th of that, a paltry amount. But if 100 feet melts, the ocean level would rise 3.85 feet (1.15 meters). A 500-foot melt results in a rise of 19.25 feet (5.75 meters), and we'd still have 5,700 feet (1.73 km) of ice still frozen! Yes, as sea level rises, the water would spread inland, so it would take more water. And the density of ice and water are different. But the rough estimates are in the ballpark. If Antarctic ice continues to melt, sea levels will rise!

Just because you can't see the sea level rise, doesn't mean it isn't rising!

Atoms

I spent three full years studying chemistry (and physics) at high school, and six more at university while working fulltime in the field of chemistry, so I know a little about atoms and their structure. Each atom has a nucleus that contains one or more protons and one or more neutrons, "which make up 99.94% of an atom's mass." Electrons race around the nucleus at very high speed, and back in the late 1960s when I first studied this topic, electrons were thought to circle in discreet layers. However, 50 years later, as best as I can tell by current atomic theory, electrons are everywhere and nowhere at the same time!

One source states, "… for a typical human of 70 kg [154 lbs], there are almost 7x1027 atoms (that's a 7 followed by 27 zeros!) Another way of saying this is "seven billion billion billion."" Now as each of those atoms in my body has one or more electrons, and they are racing around, how come I don't feel anything? And, I just can't get my head around the idea of electrons racing around inside the atoms of solid material, such as steel and stone.

Oh, by the way, according to Wikipedia, "Atoms are extremely small; typical sizes are around 100 picometers (a ten-billionth of a meter …)." Knowing that, it is hard to imagine building a device that can actually manipulate things at the atomic level, but that's just what nanotechnology is all about.

The Earth's Water System

One of the things most of us in the developed world take for granted is the ready availability of clean water. We switch on a tap in our house, and, voila, out comes drinkable water. However, the lifecycle of any water we directly or indirectly use is quite complex. What distinguishes the Earth from other known planets is its abundance of water. There are vast quantities in oceans and seas; in fresh-water lakes, rivers, and streams; trapped underground; and in the lower atmosphere. It's a closed system; that is, what we have is all we're ever going to have.

I was raised in a semi-dessert area of rural South Australia where the average rainfall 40+ years ago was around 10 inches (25 cms). And there were one or two droughts every five years. Now that area seems to be getting around half that precipitation. Along the main river nearby, there is irrigation for fruit growing, but by and large, the 4,000–6,000-acre wheat and sheep farms do not use irrigation. Most properties are serviced with water from the river for domestic uses, and those that are not, have windmills or electric pumps to get water from underground. Interestingly, 25+ years ago, housewives became less interested in buying potatoes grown in the rich, black soil of the high-rainfall Adelaide Hills, so some enterprising growers decided to move their operations to the semidesert areas where land was cheap and artesian water was plentiful and free. Soon, one found 90-acre irrigation pivots "out in the bush" where the sandy soil produced—and still produces—nice, clean potatoes. However, while it has taken millions of years for the artesian basin to fill, with few controls on the amount of underground water pumped out, it will take a lot less time to use it up.

At the local level, people see a local resource, and they see no problem exploiting it. In Australia, there is one major river system flowing through the most-populous states. When there is plenty of water, no-one complains, but when river levels fall precipitously, the states downstream get very vocal about up-stream states using "more than their fair share." [The introduction of nut farming in the past 40-odd years has caused concern as that requires more water than the traditional citrus and grape plantings.] The same problem occurs with the Colorado River in the US, with Mexico being the loser. For all the flood control and irrigation that's been made possible by dams, there has been a downside. [I once worked on a computer system that monitored and controlled river levels between hydroelectric dams. A major concern was providing the correct environment for fish and water sports activities.] The damming of the Nile has resulted in similar concerns. Other major water-related problem areas include the Caspian Sea and the Dead Sea.

The Big Picture as far as earth's water is concerned is the ocean currents conveyor-belt-like system and its associated thermohaline circulation.

Some 38 years ago, I was sitting in the famous "lost" Mayan city of Machu Picchu in the Andes of Peru. Thousands of feet below me in a deep valley filled with clouds roared the Urubamba River, a major tributary of the Amazon River. I considered the following: How long would it take for a droplet of water below me to reach the mouth of the Amazon at the Atlantic Ocean? I figured that it would take at least 30 days. In any event, it put into perspective that one river system.

Fossils and Such

According to Wikipedia, "A fossil is any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age. Specimens are usually considered to be fossils if they are over 10,000 years old. The oldest fossils are around 3.48 billion years old to 4.1 billion years old."

In the past 30-odd years, dinosaurs have become very popular, being portrayed in movies and cartoons, and sold by the millions as toys. Current thinking is that they went extinct some 60+ million years ago, long before man showed up on the scene (which makes it interesting to see old science fiction movies with both species together). The big extinction event supposedly came when a comet or asteroid hit the earth. Now according to Wikipedia, with respect to an asteroid a few kilometers across colliding with the Earth, "Such an impact can release the equivalent energy of several million nuclear weapons detonating simultaneously." So, one can only guess at what would happen if a much larger body hit the Earth, such as the 10–15 km-wide one from that extinction event.

Although I've seen more than a few lots of fossils and bones in museums around the world, my "closest encounter" was at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. A man was excavating a home site when he uncovered some old bones, which turned out to be "the greatest concentration of mammoth remains in the world." The site is now a working museum built over the top of a prehistoric sinkhole, and it was impressive to see the mammoth skeletons in-situ; that is, sitting or lying right where the animals died when they fell into the sinkhole.

I've also seen some very old petrified wood, the most recent being at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Washington State, USA. Interestingly, a few days earlier, a huge fire had raged through the park, but as the trees are now stone and not wood, they couldn't be burned!

Here Comes the Sun!

Recently, I watched a video on the terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. As a star—such as our sun—ages, it burns more brightly and gets hotter. It is estimated than in a few billion years, life as we know it on Earth will no longer be possible, because things will be so hot that all the water will have evaporated into the atmosphere. Now that is some serious global warming!

As a consequence, the temperature will increase for the outer planets, and more importantly for their moons, such as the Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. As some of these moons have a lot of water ice, the temperature increase there might be enough to melt the ice and to create an environment suitable for life to exist. So, as life on one planet goes extinct, it may well begin on another planet or moon. As the French say, "C'est la vie!"

Conclusion

Regarding one's seeming insignificance, if you've made it this far, then you haven't given up in despair and thrown yourself into a prickle bush (the worst-possible fate a young student once imagined). Of course, one can easily feel insignificant. [This happened to me in the summer of 2016 as I was touring Zagreb, Croatia, where I was but one out of 800,000 people in town. Then it occurred to me: it was very likely that I was the only one there wearing a Beans-in-the-Belfry T-shirt and an Adelaide Crows Aussie Rules Football cap. As such, I really was special!]

Try as I might, I cannot find the source of the following quote, which goes something like this: "For all we know, the universe as we know it might be contained entirely in a foam beer cooler in some alien's garage!" Now if that sounds familiar to you, you might have seen the first Men in Black movie, in which "the galaxy is on Orion's belt." You might also enjoy the Riverworld books by Philip José Farmer.

The Geologic time scale (GTS) is "a system of chronological dating that relates geological strata to time" that shows the really big picture with respect to a timeline for the Earth.

By the way, something to think about tonight when you go to bed, your mattress is home to two million mites, and your pillow may have around 40,000 [BB365].

Recently, during the northern winter, I spent time in Tahiti in the South Pacific. It was 9 o'clock at night and very dark, and I was floating on my back in a swimming pool. I looked up to the clear southern sky to see the very distinctive Saucepan (as it is known to Aussies and Kiwis), part of the constellation of Orion. As I lay there contemplating the "Big Picture of the Universe," I wondered if at that very same time an alien floating in its pool on a planet on one of the solar systems surrounding those stars could see my sun, and if so, was it wondering the same about me. (Never mind that the stars in Orion are between 243 and 1,360 light years from Earth, so what I was looking at was what Orion looked like 243–1,360 years ago.)

Here's my final word on the magic of big numbers: There's an old story that goes like this: The inventor of chess so impressed his King that the King asked the inventor what reward he'd like. The request was to be given one grain of wheat for the first square, two for the second square, four for the third square, eight for the fourth square, and so on doubling, for all 64 squares. The King thought that was an absurdly small request until his treasurer pointed out that it amounted to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains, which far exceeded the Kingdom's stores. [In fact, according to Wikipedia, "This is about 1,645 times the global production of wheat in 2014."]

Travel: Memories of the US Desert Southwest

© 2011 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Diary] Each November, I attend a plenary for an international computer standards committee. It has a number of subcommittees, one of which I chair. Late in 2011, the US hosted, in San Diego, California, which is not far from the Mexican border. Mario, a colleague and friend from the German delegation, and I had been talking about doing something together afterwards. As he had never been to the desert southwest, I offered to take him on a road trip through the southern California desert, up the Colorado River in Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada. And he accepted.

The plenary ran 5½ days and, for the most part, the weather was fair-to-nice. The social event was a dinner cruise around the harbor. [San Diego is a major US Navy port, so there were plenty of naval vessels around including some large carriers.] Friday afternoon (Memorial Day), I skipped out of my conference, and took my Finnish colleague and friend, Juha, for a drive. Our first stop was Cabrillo Point, the overlook on the end of the peninsular from which one can see the Coronado Peninsular and downtown. No sooner had we arrived, right before our very eyes, Air Force One approached and landed at the Naval Air Station down in front of us. Two Air Force Fighter jets flew as escorts. President Obama (an avid basketball fan and player) was in town to witness the basketball game between two college teams that took place in the evening on the deck of an aircraft carrier moored in the harbor.

[Diary] After breakfast, I headed out to the local supermarket to lay in supplies for our trip, including some ice. By 9:30 am, I was back at the conference keeping one ear on the proceedings while I handled email. We wrapped up around 1:15 pm, at which time we said our goodbyes to the other delegates who then literally headed off to the four corners of the globe (as in South Africa, Russia, Australia, and Korea).

By 2 pm, we were on the highway in our trusty Dodge Avenger rental car, in steady rain. As we climbed into the mountains, we encountered some fog, but visibility wasn't too bad. However, the road was narrow and winding. Around 3 pm, we pulled over in a parking lot in a small town and ate a late picnic lunch in the car as it was still raining.

The initial plan had been to get to the visitor's center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park before it closed at 5 pm, but by the time we got to the town of Borrego Springs, it was getting dark and it was still raining. The first hotel we tried was full due to a vintage car club having an outing, but the next place, Hacienda del Sol (Spanish for "house of the sun"), had room for us. The friendly desk clerk got us checked in, and we each had a room with two queen-size beds. A DVD player was included, and the office had a large selection of videos at no charge. I settled on Cold Mountain, which was a bit grim. We walked to a Mexican restaurant nearby for supper where we ate and talked for a couple of hours.

[Diary] The rain stopped during the night and the sun was streaming down when I stuck my head outside around 7 am. All was right in this part of the world. The few guests had been very quiet. I decided I was in no mood for a meal, so I snacked a bit. Mario walked around to the restaurant, but once he saw the food, he too decided he really didn't need anything yet for a few hours.

A wifi signal was floating around the yard, so I hooked up my computer and got an email fix. Then I started on this diary. We arrived at the park visitor's center at 8:45. It is built underground. At 9 o'clock, a ranger opened the doors and we had a look at the exhibits, which included mounted birds and animals from the park. A stuffed mountain lion was lying atop a rock formation ready to jump on us as we rounded one corner. We watched a video that covered all four seasons in the park, and then another that featured an Australian man and his Ukrainian wife who lived out in the desert for 20+ years. They were self-sufficient and raised three kids there.

We drove out of the park through the badlands, a long stretch of rugged hills with deep gorges cut by water over the millennia. Along the way, we say a red hawk sitting on a power pole. We came across quite a few camps of motor homes with trailers full of off-road motorcycles and 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles. Eventually, we came out to the Salton Sea, a large saltwater inland lake formed 100 years ago. We found a picnic table at a yacht club where we had a picnic lunch among the palm trees while watching the pelicans and ducks. There was a lot of agriculture in the area: date palms, oranges, artichokes, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables. From there, we went east on Interstate Highway 10 for 25 miles, at which point we went north on a narrow road.

We stopped off at the ranger station for Joshua Tree National Park. Because it was the Memorial Day long weekend, park admission was free. We had an interesting chat with a ranger who had colorful tattoos on both arms. She was a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe and the artwork had some tribal significance. We stopped off at various places to take photos and shoot video, especially where a recent storm had washed out large areas near the road. At one point, a rabbit ran across the road and, 10 seconds later, a coyote followed in pursuit. We stopped to walk through a large cholla cactus garden; boy were those spines long and sharp! We also stopped at a desert campground in which the sites were mingled in and around huge boulders.

By the time we exited the park, the sun was behind the mountains, and it was getting cold as well as dark. So, we drove the few miles into the town of Twentynine Palms. It has a large US Marine Base nearby. We quickly found a decent hotel for only $50/room/night complete with king-size bed, microwave oven, fridge, and wifi connection. We'd been salivating over the idea of a pizza, so at 5:45, we headed out to Pizza Hut to satisfy our desire. 90 minutes later, we'd devoured almost all of a large, meat-lover's pizza with stuffed cheese crust, and plenty of anchovies. Yes! We waddled to the car and were back in our rooms by 7:30 after a hard day of playing tourist.

[Diary] We were up and ready to eat by 7 am. On the way into town the night before, we'd spied a Denny's restaurant (one of my favorites), so we went there. I asked the waitress for a booth in the VIP section, and she laughed and led us to a regular one by the window. There were way too many choices, but we showed great restraint by ordering smallish meals, which we finished off with coffee.

Around 9 o'clock, we headed out east on the main highway and drove through desert country for several hours, listing to country music stations along the way. We stopped at a few places to take some photos of the mountains and rock formations. Eventually, we crossed over the Colorado River into the state of Arizona, losing an hour in the process as we moved from Pacific Time to Mountain Time. We drove north along the river stopping occasionally to take photos and video.

In Lake Havasu City, we bought a few groceries and then went to see the old London Bridge. It was decommissioned around 1971 in London. A wealthy American bought it in 1968 for the princely sum of about $2.5 million, and then spent another $4.5 million to ship it to the desert of Arizona and rebuild it. It now spans water in Lake Havasu from the mainland to an island in the lake. "Build it and they will come" is a quote that came to my mind, although in all truth, one must ask "Why?" Mario certainly did!

We drove further north looking for a picnic table, but couldn't find any, so we finally settled on a small patch of grass at a gas station. It was a warm day and very pleasant out. From there, we got on Interstate Highway 40 and drove 45 minutes to Kingman. We made our way to a nice property on the famous American road, Route 66, where for $50 each, we each got a nice room with large bed, high-speed internet connection, microwave and fridge, and an entertaining desk clerk. Once we settled in, we went on-line and booked a rather special tour for a few days later, but more about that later.

At 7 pm, we drove to a wild west-style steakhouse nearby where we had pork ribs and steak with beans and salad. The food and service were great, but I took half mine away for lunch the next day.

[Diary] There was a busy train track running beyond the hill on which our hotel stood, with trains coming and going many times during the night. The hotel provided breakfast after which we climbed up the hill behind for a look around the general area. After that, we gassed up the car and headed northwest.

We arrived at Hoover Dam around 11 am, where we joined a tour group that went down inside the dam in an elevator to the power station on the Nevada side. The wall is 720 feet tall and about that thick at the base. Built in the 1930s during the Great Depression, it was completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule. It certainly is a sight to behold. We drove across the top of the dam and parked on the Arizona side where we had a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we parked near the new bridge that now spans the canyon and walked out along the bridge taking photos and video.

Early afternoon, on the Nevada side, we headed east along the Colorado River to the Valley of Fire State Park, a series of hills and rock formations that are bright orange. We caught them just at the right time with the afternoon sun streaming down. While we were there, a wedding party arrived in a limo to have their photos taken.

By the time we got to Las Vegas it was dark, so we drove along a long section of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) so Mario could take photos of all the dazzling light displays on the casinos and shops. We checked in at our hotel, Circus Circus. We each had a room with a king-size bed in a tower on the sprawling premises. After resort fees and taxes, it cost $48/night, which is pretty darned good for a nice room in this town. And parking was free!

After we unpacked and freshened up a bit, we walked along The Strip where we had dinner at a family restaurant. At 8:30, we stopped by the Treasure Island casino to watch the free show that is performed out front several times each night. A pirate ship meets a ship of shapely sirens who woo them onto the rocks, and the pirate ship sinks. Prior to that, cannon shots were exchanged and there were various explosions and fires. In the end, the pirates swim to the sirens' ship and, as they say in Fantasyland, "They all lived happily ever after!" Afterwards, the sunken ship (which was a pretty good size), was raised up from the bottom of the small lake on a series of hydraulics and was "sailed" back into position for the next show.

On the way home, we stopped off at a very up-scale McDonalds for coffee. After a hard day of playing tourist, we had an early night.

[Diary] My 6:45 am wake-up call came a minute after I woke up. An hour later, we were sitting in the sun out front of our hotel waiting for a shuttle bus to take us on our tour. It came soon after and then proceeded to pick up others at various hotels before driving 30 minutes to Boulder City to the south. At that city's airport, we checked in and got our safety instructions for a flight.

It was close to 10 o'clock when Emily, our pilot, herded us out to her helicopter, a sleek machine for which her company paid $2.5 million new. She sat in the left front with two passengers on her right. Four other passengers sat across the back. It was a typically sunny and warm morning and soon we were circling Hoover Dam. From there, we headed out across the desert and mountains to the western end of the 270-mile-long Grand Canyon, at about 4,500 feet. Once we were inside the canyon, we circled around and put down at a spot up a small hill at an altitude of about 1,400 feet, which overlooked the brown Colorado River. There we were served a picnic lunch with champagne, and we shot film and video of the surrounding canyon walls. A number of ground squirrels came begging for food. We flew back along a more southerly route and saw the river below Hoover Dam. At the airport, the shuttle bus took us back to the tour company's depot in Las Vegas, where we were informed that we'd be taken back to our hotel in a stretched limousine. So, we climbed into the back of that sleek, black monster for the short ride. By the time we got back to our hotel, some five hours had passed; however, it was worth it.

At 6:30 pm, we headed out along The Strip stopping to take the occasional photo. It took us more than an hour to get down to the MGM Grand Hotel, where we went to the box office to pick up tickets we'd reserved online. Nearby, we found a Chinese fast-food place where we enjoyed a feast and a drink. Soon after 9 pm, we walked back to the MGM Grand, and by 9:15 we were seated front and center, three rows back in a very large and tall, custom-built theater. Promptly at 9:30, the KÀ Cirque du Soleil show began. And what a spectacular it was! Cirque du Soleil is a French-Canadian company that has performed daring acrobatics for years, and their traveling groups tour the world. Currently, they have seven different troupes in "permanent" theaters in Las Vegas. It really is impossible to describe their aerial acrobatics; you simply just have to see it for yourself.

After 90 minutes of non-stop action, we walked to a McDonald's nearby for coffee and hot chocolate, and to rest. I was tired out just watching! We caught a taxi back to our hotel. Lights out around 12:30 am.

[Diary] We were packed, loaded, and checked-out of our hotel by 9:30 am, and at a supermarket stocking up for the next stage of our road trip. By 10 o'clock, we were on the road to Death Valley, the lowest place in the US (282 feet below sea level). We stopped off at various places and got to the visitor's center well after 1 pm. We had a picnic lunch and a rest there for a while before driving out the western side into the mountains.

By 5 o'clock, it was quite dark, but we decided to push on a bit further. We forewent a couple of small motels in pokey towns, and then couldn't find a place to stay when we needed one. We finished up driving some distance off the main highway until we found just the right place. I stayed in for the evening and snacked a bit while Mario went to the pizza place next door for supper.

[Diary] It was another clear, warm morning in the desert, but the wind was picking up and dust was blowing from the north. The hotel provided a decent selection of light breakfast foods, and I got talking to a retired couple that was passing through the area. By the time we packed up and checked out, it was 9:30 am. We drove south on the main highway for 90 minutes by which time we were out of the desert. However, there was a great cloud over us that looked a lot like pollution from Los Angeles, which was not far away. Once we got on the interstate highway, the speed limit went up to 70 mph, so we really covered some distance. Along the way, we stopped for coffee and some bread. As there were no roadside stops, we finally took an exit into a town and looked for a place to eat lunch. With no parks or picnic tables in sight, we improvised up a back road.

After four hours, we arrived in Escondido, a town in the mountains some 30 miles from San Diego. There, we found a hotel and booked in for two nights. It was adequate, but nothing special. It did have a great family restaurant next door. At 7 pm we went there and had a nice, but quite large, meal. Our waitress was a bubbly young woman from Serbia. Back in my room, I listened to some music while playing games on my computer.

[Diary] I was awake early, so started reading a novel in bed, after which I snacked on some leftover food. At 8:30 am, I filled the cooler with ice and prepared our picnic lunch. Mario slept late and grabbed a coffee. Just before 10 o'clock, in very light rain we arrived at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Safari Park, several thousand acres of natural habitat for a large selection of animals from around the world. Although I'd visited it a number of times, the last time was more than 10 years ago, and things had changed, some for the better and some for the worse, but I guess that's called "progress." We rode the tram around half of the park taking in many animals from Africa. Then we walked the trails to look at numerous other habitats and to take in a bird show. We had our picnic lunch outside the park and went back in for more walking and looking. It's definitely an impressive place and helps preserve and reintroduce species back into the wild. The rain held off all day until we drove out the park.

By mid-afternoon, we were back at our hotel resting up. Being a tourist sure can be hard work!

At 7 pm, we went to the restaurant next door for supper. As they served breakfast all day, I decided that was what I wanted, so I ordered a chicken-fried steak with eggs and sausage gravy. Mario had a salad followed by a combo-dinner of steak, chicken, and shrimp. He thought he might like desert, so he ordered a slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream. However, when it arrived, it was a huge serving, so reluctantly I forced myself to help him devour it. Afterwards, we waddled across to our rooms.

[Diary] We were up by 8 am and light rain was falling. By the time we packed, grabbed hot drinks, and checked out, it was around 9 o'clock. We took the interstate highway right into downtown San Diego, and the weather was clear, but with a cool wind blowing. A leg of the America's Cup yacht race was taking place at the waterfront, so police were out in force redirecting traffic. Being a Sunday, we parked for free right at the water's edge.

Right next door was the aircraft carrier USS Midway, commissioned in 1945, and decommissioned in 1992. It had been turned into a floating museum. We spent more than five hours onboard taking in all the exhibits, listening to the details from the audio tour, and watching videos. The crew consisted of 4,500 men (women were not permitted as crew members back then). Each day, 13,500 meals were served, which included 3,000 potatoes, 1,000 loaves of bread, 4,500 lbs. of beef, and 500 pies. Of the crew, 600 worked in engineering, 225 were cooks, 40 were corpsmen, five were physicians, and three were dentists. We toured the bridge as well as the Captain and Executive Officer's quarters. During Operation Desert Storm, the initial air attack on Bagdad, Iraq, was coordinated by an Admiral on the Midway, managing that and three other carriers. When it was built, it was the biggest ship in the world, and it held that title for 10 years.

By 4:30, we were at our hotel. By then, the rain was coming down hard. We watched some news on TV for a couple of hours, after which I drove Mario to the airport for his flight home to Hamburg, Germany. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped off at a supermarket to buy some emergency rations. There was flooding in the streets as the rain pelted down. It was a good night to stay indoors.

[Diary] The rain had stopped, and the sun was out in force. I spent the whole day in my room snacking on all my leftover food, drinking hot tea, and working. Yes, as in working for money! After six hours at the laptop keyboard, I'd completed a major editing effort.

I spent the evening writing some essays for my blog, reading a newspaper, and listening to music. Then I finished my novel.

[Diary] I was wide-awake before 6 am; don't you just hate that when that happens? I lay in bed for a while and started a new novel. Then I finished up the last of my food, packed my gear, and watched some news programs. Despite the number of channels available, there was a dearth of content actually worth watching. [I've been without cable TV now for more than a year, and I don't miss it one bit.]

Once I checked out of my hotel, I gassed up the rental car, and coasted some five miles to the airport. The sun was shining and was quite warm. The courtesy bus dropped me at Terminal 1, and I was checked in immediately. Security was quick, and soon after I was sitting in United Airline's business lounge updating this diary. There were some mechanical difficulties with the in-bound plane, and I was switched to a flight that required me to change planes in Chicago. Once that was done, my original flight was restored, and I was changed back again. However, I was upgraded to First Class and my luggage survived the swaps. On the smooth flight home, I was served a nice lunch and I slept for a couple of hours. As I got in the taxi for the ride home from IAD, the Heavens opened, and very heavy rain fell all the way home. That coupled with low-lying fog made for low visibility.

Once home, I proceeded to unpack and take care of numerous things before going to bed around midnight. However, after a couple of sleepless hours, I got up, and cooked and ate a meal. It rained throughout the night and I listened to it through an open window as the temperature outside was quite reasonable.

Signs of Life: Part 19

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

A bridal shop.

 

The lamp on the table made this an interesting sign for an interior decorator.

 

So, when you have the very best burgers in town, how do you distinguish yourself from those other "pretend" burger joints?

 

And these are just a few of the side effects experienced by women who eat Marmite!

And just in case you were wondering, PCOS is short for "Polycystic ovary syndrome".

 

Hmm, this looks like a place an Aussie might invent, or at least patronize.

In any event, Innis & Gunn is a brewing company based in Edinburgh. Its beer kitchens serve craft beer and food.

One of its brews is "Frank & Sense Golden Ale", a golden ale infused with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Presumably, it's drunk by wise men everywhere!

 

A UK coffee company.

 

Now I'm a chocolate lover from way back, but knowing that haggis "is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach," I declined to buy a block.

 

Apparently, this hotel is "The In-Place to Stay!"

Of course, just as I took the photo, some Aussie tourist walked by; don't you just hate that when that happens!

 

Just the place for a man and a woman to get some fresh apple pie! What could possibly go wrong?

 

Yeah, like I want a haircut just like Larry, Curly, or Moe!

 

What was interesting here, was that the top two signs were either side of the bottom one. However, I don't think the establishment was currently run by the Salvos.

 

The sign on the restaurant awning says "The Crazy Bull" in Spanish, while the one in the window tells you the deal on offer.

 

Grassmarket is a major shopping street and area in Edinburgh, and apparently these two sheep found the grazing there quite good!

 

The name of this tea and coffee house is an interesting play on the name of the ship Cutty Sark, one of the last of the tea clippers.

 

I was in Edinburgh for its world-famous Fringe Festival, where outragious was the norm. In this poster, this "woman"—suposedly called Cally—was performing.

Her show was quite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

Anyone for a Caribbean cocktail?

 

 

Football, Aussie Style

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The word football means different things to different people. To an American, it's American football (of which Canadian football is a relative); to most Europeans, Asians, Africans, and now many Aussies, it often means soccer; to Aussies from the right side of the tracks, it's Australian Rules Football (Aussie Rules); to some other Aussies, Kiwis, Fijians, Samoans, Japanese, and Frenchmen, it's rugby league; the Irish play Gaelic Football; and then there's rugby union, among other football codes.

Call me biased, but having been raised on Aussie Rules "since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," I have never been able to get remotely interested in any other code of football. I ask you, what sort of games allow time-outs; require that you break your nose at least once per season; have players who look and often behave like professional wrestlers; penalize you for getting ahead of the opposition; dress you like a gladiator; have specialty players who get only a few minutes of on-field time each game; or after two hours of play end in a nil-nil draw?

In this essay, with very few further insults, I'll provide a gentle introduction to the one true code of football, as perfected Down Under but first, let's define a few terms. When I say "professional football," I'm referring to the Australian Football League (AFL) national competition, whose players' jobs are to play football. "Semi-pro(fessional)" refers to the top league in each Aussie state or Territory, in which almost all players have full-time jobs outside of football, and who play football on the weekends in season. Many of these players get some financial compensation for playing. "Local" refers to all other leagues, in which some players of some teams might get paid at least something to play depending on the level of the league and the local economics.

The Basics

In Australia, the game of Aussie Rules is played from March through September; that is, in late autumn, winter, and early spring. The regular season—called the minor round—runs around 22 games and is followed by a series of finals. The AFL has a pre-season competition, and at that time, many leagues play trial games between teams in the same or different leagues as practice matches.

A game is played over four 25+-minute quarters. During the quarter- and three-quarter-time breaks, the coach addresses the players on the field, while at half-time, the players leave the field and rest in their dressing room.

The game is played on an oval, a field whose shape is, well, oval. The object of the game is to kick the ball between the goalposts at each end of the oval; high score wins (more on that later). Games can be drawn, and under certain circumstances, a draw can result in extended time. In all finals, if scores are tied at the end of official time, two five-minute periods are played. If the scores are still tied after this extra time, play continues until the next score.

When I played, each team had 20 players suited up, 18 on the field and two reserves on the bench. A reserve could only take the field if a teammate left the field; no interchange was permitted. Later, interchanging of players was added, so players could be rested, and less-debilitating injuries could be treated. Later still, in some leagues (including the AFL), the number of reserves was increased to four for a team total of 22 players.

Of the 18 on the field for each team, 15 start in fixed positions and 3 as "roaming" players, arranged with 6 in each of two zones within 50 meters of the goals and six across the center. Of these 6 in the center, 4 are within a 45-meter central square. A team's offensive and defensive players are on the field at the same time. After play commences any player can run/play anywhere on the oval. Each of a team's 15 fixed-position players has a direct opponent, who they are said to stand. Each quarter, the teams change ends.

Once a player has possession of the ball, there are two ways of disposing of it: kicking it with either leg or holding it still in one hand while punching it with the other fist (called a handball). Throwing the ball is not permitted! A player cannot carry the ball beyond 15 meters without kicking it, handballing it, or bouncing or touching it on the ground.

If the ball has been kicked a minimum of 15 meters without being touched by anyone, a player can catch the ball. This is called marking the ball, and the player took a mark. Unless the marking player plays on (that is, runs on with the ball), play stops, no tackling is allowed, and that player chooses to restart play either by kicking or handballing. Marks can often be quite spectacular with players leaping 1–1.5 meters (3–5 feet) off the ground.

The AFL has 18 teams in one national league, with 10 of them in one metro area, Melbourne, a city of around 5 million people. My own state capital, Adelaide, a city of around a million, has two teams (which play each other twice a season in what is called a "Cross-Town Showdown".) Adelaide's semi-pro league (SANFL) has 10 teams.

The Playing Field

At each of the two narrow ends of the oval there are four posts. The inner two are taller and are the goal posts. The outer two are the behind posts. The boundary of the oval is marked with a thick, white chalk line.

There is no fixed size for an oval, and they vary from 135–185 meters (145–200 yards) long, goal-to-goal, and 110–155 meters (120–165 yards) wide. [The Marvel stadium in Melbourne is covered by a retractable roof.]

Markings on the ground include 50-meter arcs (from the center of the goal line) at each end of the ground, and a 5-meter diameter circle in the center of the ground surrounded by a 45-meter square.

Many ovals have at least some light towers to allow training in the dark (remember, it's wintertime). Some ovals have major lighting systems allowing for games to be played at night. [The oval at my semi-pro club, Norwood, was well lit, as it also hosted semi-pro baseball games at night.]

While ovals host football games in winter, many also host cricket games in summer. Cricket uses a rectangular pitch some 20 meters (22 yards) long and several meters (yards) wide, located at the oval's center. Better pitches are made of turf and are rolled hard. The worst are made of concrete, which can hardly be hidden by several inches of dirt during football season! Even so, heavy rain on the sandy soil of a turf pitch in winter can make for a mud patch! The refurbished Adelaide Oval (capacity 55,000) actually has a very large machine that can lift-out the whole cricket pitch at once and replace it with different soil and turf for the football season.

The hallowed ground of Aussie Rules is the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which has 100,000 seats.

Scoring

There are two kinds of scores: a goal (worth six points) and a behind (worth one point). The team with the most points at the end wins. For example, a total score of 10 goals 20 behinds (10x6+20=80 points) beats one of 12 goals 5 behinds (12x6+5=77 points).

A goal is scored if an attacking player kicks the ball without it being touched by any player, and it goes between the two goal posts without touching either. If the ball is touched (even by an attacking player's teammate), or it scrapes the inside of a goalpost, one point is scored. Kicks going between a goal post and its adjacent behind post, result in a behind. When a goal is kicked, the ball is taken back to the center circle where play is restarted. When a behind is scored, the key defender [the role I mostly played] kicks the ball back into play from the goal square, an area in front of the goal posts.

At the end of a season, the leading goalkicker for each club and each league receives an award. A hundred goals are a lot for any one player to kick in a minor-round season.

The Umpires

The game is refereed by a group of umpires. Back in my time, there was one central umpire who ran over the whole oval, blowing his whistle and calling out play status, for things like marks and penalties, and when players play on without stopping. Given the pace of the modern, streamlined game, and that play can go from one end of the oval to the other in a few seconds, and that some players can kick the ball 70 meters (75 yards), and on occasions, much further if there is a tail wind—it can be hard to keep up. That led to semi-pro and pro leagues having two central umpires, and now three. The AFL is trialing four. That gives more sets of eyes on the game, especially for violations committed away from the play. [Most local leagues use two central umpires. Semi-pro leagues use three.]

At each end of the oval, a goal umpire stands on the goal line between the goal posts, and determines if a score is a goal or a behind. Each of the two boundary halves is patrolled by two boundary umpires, whose job it is to throw the ball back into play if it goes out-of-bounds (except that if the ball is kicked out on the full or kicked out deliberately, a penalty is awarded).

At the end of the game, the central umpires agree as to the three best players of the match, but that information is kept secret until after the minor round ends, at which time, the "Best and Fairest player" in the league for that season is announced.

In recent years, women have begun officiating as umpires.

The Ball

The ball is a 3-dimensional oval, but not as pointed as an American football. It is designed to be kicked, handballed, and bounced.

At the start of each quarter and after each goal, the central umpire bounces the ball in the center circle of the oval with the ball rising straight up some three meters (3+ yards), and two competing players try to hit it to a teammate. However, if weather or oval conditions are such that the ball cannot be reliably bounced, it is thrown up, much like a jump-ball in basketball. The ball is also thrown up when play stalemates in a scrimmage.

A player can bounce the ball while running at full speed, which is sometimes necessary, as it is not permitted to otherwise run with the ball beyond 15 meters.

Nowadays, there are two kinds of kick. A drop punt involves holding the ball in a vertical orientation and dropping it on the front-center of the boot. The ball turns end-over-end. A torpedo punt involves holding the ball at an angle and dropping it on the outside of the boot. The ball screws much like a thrown American football. Back in my time, drop kicks were allowed. This involved bouncing the ball on the ground and kicking it as it rose.

Player Equipment

Each player wears a pair of shorts in approved club colors, with a jockstrap (athletic supporter) underneath. They also wear a sweater-like jumper—sometimes called a guernsey—which must also be in approved club colors. [AFL teams have home/away sets to distinguish against rival colors; they also have special-event sets.] Each player has a distinct number, which is on the back of the jumper. The AFL allows a small commercial sponsorship logo; the player's name is not included.

Long or short socks are worn; these too must be in approved club colors.

Boots are much like numerous other sports. The soles have cleats (sometimes called studs; in my time, sprigs). Fifty years ago, the cleats were made from layers of leather and were held in place by several nails, which with wear-and-tear could lead to sharp metal edges. As a result, prior to the start of each game, the central umpire had to run his hand on the underside of both boots of each player to make sure there was no obvious danger. Later, rubber cleats molded around metal screws were used. Eventually, the sole had the cleats molded right into it.

Although some players might wear shin guards in their socks, players do not wear helmets or body padding.

Tackling Rules

The rules are very strict/limiting with regards to permitted body contact between players. For example, the following are not permitted: tripping, pushing in the back, grabbing around the neck/head, or punching. In fact, a player cannot interfere with an opponent unless the opponent is in possession of the ball or within 5 meters of it.

That said, it is common for a player to use his body to push aside or to get in front of his opponent when competing for the ball.

The Coaches

At the top level, the game is way too fast and complex now for a coach to also be a player at the same time, although playing coaches still exist in local league clubs.

At the pro and semi-pro levels, a coach has assistant coaches who specialize in some aspect of the game.

The coach usually sits high up in the stadium and communicates with his assistants and reserve players by radio/phone. He also has a runner who is permitted out on the oval after a goal is scored to deliver messages to/from players, and to move players to different positions.

The Finals Series

For leagues with a small number of teams, there might be a final-four team group that competes for the championship. Some leagues have a final-five. The AFL has a final-eight. In all cases, eventually all but two teams are eliminated, and those go on to play in the Grand Final.

Infringements and Violations

Most infringements result in play being stopped and a free kick being awarded to a player. If the recipient of the free is injured or otherwise unable to take the kick, a teammate can do so.

Disobeying a central umpire's ruling can result in a 50-meter (55 yards) penalty, and multiple such penalties can be awarded, which can sometimes allow the recipient to move right up to the goal square.

Other offences—including off-field behavior—can result in fines. Very serious offenses result in a player or official being reported by one or more of the umpires. Reports can also be made after the game by video review. Reported players attend a hearing/tribunal several days later, at which time, they are exonerated, fined, or suspended for one or more games. [Intentionally hitting an umpire can get you a very long, if not lifetime, suspension.] In my time, being found guilty meant disqualification from the league's "Best Player" award, but that now depends on the severity of the charge.

In AFL and semi-pro leagues, a player is not sent off for serious infringements, but most local leagues have their own regulations to allow for "send-off" or "sin-bin" for a limited time.

Common Injuries

The classic injury is torn cartilage and/or ligaments in knees. [I suffered both.] Certainly, players can get concussed. Twisted ankles can easily occur. Hamstring and groin muscle injuries are common. Players who have suffered some sort of head injury in the past, might wear a soft, leather, head protector.

While some injuries can end a career [as was my case], they are generally not too debilitating. That said, in the 1970's one semi-pro player had his neck broken leaving him a quadriplegic.

Some American Influence

The US has long had professional leagues for its football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey, among other sports. And it treats such sports as business. As such, it is not surprising that leagues in other countries adopt or adapt rules and operating procedures from US sports. Examples in the AFL include the following: drafting new players, trading existing players, blood rule, team salary cap, fines (for both on and off-field conduct), specialty coaches, sponsor logos on oval turf and players' jumpers, and characterization and recording of statistics such as goal assists.

For local and semi-pro leagues, games are still mostly played on Saturday afternoons. However, the nine AFL games played each week might be staggered over Thursday and Fri nights, Saturday afternoon or night, Sunday afternoon, and on holiday Mondays. As such, they can get people to pay to attend multiple games in the same week. Afterall, each pro club is a business!

My Own "Footy" Background

As a young kid, I started as a boundary umpire. I first played competition in an Under-14 team in my hometown. I then moved to the Under-16 team in which my right leg was broken in the dying moments of a Grand Final (which my team won). During that time, I was recruited by one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in the South Australian state semi-pro league, Norwood. However, I deferred joining them until I finished high school. [Over the years, more than a few players from my hometown have made it to the state semi-pro league, with a few going on to play pro. The most notable from my time was Russel Ebert, who won the South Australian Magary Medal a record four times.]

At age 16, I moved to the state capital and played a mediocre season for Norwood's Under-17 team. Then I played two very good seasons with their Under-19 team, both times winning the state competition. For certain, the highlight was playing both finals series on the league's premier field, Adelaide Oval, in front of a large crowd.

The following year, I played in several pre-season trial games trying out for a spot on the top-level team. Although I was doing well, during the third game, I had the first of a series of knee injuries that eventually forced me from the game. C'est la vie!

Of the 30-odd teammates I had in Norwood's junior teams, at least a dozen went on to play at the top level. One, Michael Taylor, was club champion many times, represented the state, and was assistant coach in the pro league. Another, Neil Craig, was a star player, and a semi-pro and pro coach.

The club coach and captain at Norwood when I played there, was Robert Oatey, who went on to receive the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2008, for his "service to Australian Rules football as a coach and as a contributor to the development of younger players." [Some 40 years after I started at Norwood, I reconnected with Robert, and spent quality time with him during several visits to Adelaide.]

In 1967, my Year-10 high school home-room teacher was Roger Magor. [He also taught me mathematics and chemistry.] Due to injuries, he retired from playing and became an umpire at the local level. He eventually worked his way up to become a semi-pro league umpire, and finally Chairman of the Board that managed umpiring for the state of South Australia and was responsible for appointing umpires to officiate at games.

In 2015, during a visit to Adelaide, my good friend John took me to a Cross-Town Showdown at Adelaide Oval. While I was there, it occurred to me that it was the first time I'd been at that oval since I played there in an Under-19 Grand Final in 1972. It was a rather nostalgic moment!

Conclusion

There are some similarities between Aussie Rules and Gaelic football, which led to some Irish players being recruited by AFL (and other) teams. Also, at the end of the AFL and Irish seasons, Australia plays an International Rules Series against Ireland.

Over the years, a number of semi-pro and pro Aussie Rules players have played in the US National Football League, selected for their ability in kicking field goals and kick-offs. Click here for more information.

The AFL actively promotes Aussie Rules outside Australia, and each season, a few games are played in other countries (e.g., China and New Zealand) to showcase the sport. International fans can also subscribe to live/replay broadcast videos.

In the past 10 years, there has been growing interest by women in playing Aussie Rules. In 2017, the AFL started a women's competition. Semi-pro and local leagues have followed.

Historically, Australian aborigines have shown a significant aptitude for various kinds of sports, including Aussie Rules. The AFL encourages the participation of indigenous players, and currently, they make up some 10% of the AFL player's list (which is a much higher ratio than their 3.3% in the general population).

Unlike the US college (university) sports system, which is a major pathway to playing professional American football (among other sports), Australia does not have any such system. Nor does it have any big, organized high school sports league systems. Players come to the semi-pro and pro ranks straight from high school or from local leagues.

Barring injuries, a good player might play 300+ games over 18 seasons, from age 18 to 35.

Unlike US pro teams, Aussie Rules teams are not owned by individuals or corporations; rather, a club owns itself! As such, teams are not bought and sold, renamed, or relocated to other cities.

For the rules of the game, click here.

If you've made it this far, and want to see how real football is played, search this website for game videos.

[Thanks very much to Roger M. for greatly improving my initial draft by incorporating all the changes during the game's evolution in the 40+ years since I left Australia. Thanks also to Kathy and John—rabid Port Power and Crows fans, respectively, for their input.]

Travel: Memories of Yorkshire

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was June and time to get back on the road again, this time to London, England. After some business meetings there, I planned two weeks' vacation in Yorkshire. For something different, I decided to take along a traveling companion, a very bright, stuffed toy caterpillar (whom I christened Mr. C), and to use him to meet people and to take photos-with-a-difference; that is, with him in each of them. Yes, I'm still a kid at heart, and maybe I really have lost the plot!

[Diary] At 11 am, the Virgin Train express to Edinburgh departed with my stop, York, being the first. I sat facing backwards, and my seatmate was a 22-year-old woman, Evia, from Latvia. Ethnically Russian, she learned Latvian in school, along with English and basic French. She was a delight to be with.

At the York railway station, I met a small boy who had two stuffed animals, so I stopped and introduced him to Mr. C. His father smiled as we "played." I also chatted with a policeman, and got train information. As I walked into the city, I spoke with a Ukrainian woman who lived in San Francisco. My objective was the tourist office, where I got great service and a chat. Back at the station, I looked at tourist information while waiting for a local train to Poppleton, a village on the edge of town. The train there ran every hour at 11 minutes past. During the 6-minute ride, I chatted with a very elegant woman (around 80, I'd guess) from Lancashire, who'd recently returned from a 3-week river cruise all the way from Amsterdam to the Black sea. Next, she was headed on a tour to Athens and the Greek islands. She certainly was living life to the fullest.

Host John had sent me walking directions from the train station. He, black Labrador Sam, and two cats were there to welcome me to their home. He showed me my room upstairs after which we drank tea. I outlined my plan for my time in York and John helped me fine-tune a few things. Then I talked about "what next" and he gave me maps and brochures to help. As a result, I changed my plan for the next destination. I also exchanged a novel for one of his. The place was a Bed-and-Breakfast (B&B). I had a very nice, big room with a large bed and plenty of natural light, complete with tea/coffee facilities. There was a shared bathroom down the hall. A retired Aussie couple from rural Victoria were also guests. For supper, we all bought fish and chips, and mushy peas, which John fetched from a shop, and we ate, drank, and talked the night away. It was a good beginning to my holiday. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] As I got to the end of my street, several hundred yards from my bus stop, my bus went racing passed; bugger! Oh well, another would be along in 30 minutes. I walked into the village where I met an elderly man waiting at that stop. He owned a restored fire truck, and was going to pick it up to take it to an exhibition. He asked where I was traveling and highly recommended I visit the northeast coast of the county.

Very light rain fell as I waited and while we drove into and through York, and out the other side. Once we cleared the built-up areas, we came across fields of wheat surrounded by hedgerows, and a large horse farm with new-season foals racing about. The end of the line was the village of Stamford Bridge, the place where King Harold defeated the Vikings in 1066, just before he had to march his army south to face William the Conqueror at Hastings.

The exact location of the battle is unknown, so I looked at the memorial plaque before asking some locals for information. I headed to the bridge over the River Derwent to a public path that meandered along the river. The path was a narrow swath cut through 4-foot-high grass and stinging nettles with many wildflowers. Although the grass was wet, it hadn't been raining long or heavy, so my shoes and clothes didn't get very wet.

I made my way to the viaduct and walked on that over the river stopping to chat with a group of villagers who were working on a public garden at the old train station. Along the way, I stopped to pat some very friendly dogs and to chat with their masters. I walked around the village stopping occasionally to take a photo. I went inside the village church and wandered around the graveyard, which included markers for several local WWI soldiers. As I'd seen pretty much all there was to see, I waited for the next bus. As the friendly driver had sold me a day pass for the price of one return trip, I decided to go back to York and get off there.

[Diary] Back home, I set up my laptop on the breakfast table where I named the photos I'd taken, and brought this diary up to date after several days of neglect. Email arrived from friends Kathy and John with an update and photos of their time in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a city I have plans to revisit for an extended period. Fellow guests, Peter and Jan, returned from their trip into York, and we worked side-by-side sampling, repeatedly, the Cadbury's hazelnut chocolate I'd bought. Our hosts came home, and tempted us with fresh-made scones with jam and cream. I resisted eating there and then but took one for 'Ron (as in 'later on').

I researched the North Yorkshire Moors area and went online and booked a room for three nights, and checked out the transportation situation. For supper, I made a cup of cream-of-chicken soup, which I ate with potato chips, followed by a dessert of scones with a glass of milk. Lights out at 10, asleep at 10:01.

[Diary] I had a very nice breakfast of bacon, sausage, fried tomato on toast, and juice. I ate half and packed the rest for 'Ron. I walked into the village where I caught the mid-morning bus to York. A few drops of rain fell along the way. I got off at the train station where I bought my ticket for the following day. Then I boarded a city tour bus for a 1-hour tour, and I sat right up front, upstairs in the double-decker bus. After that orientation, I walked through some nice gardens, atop one section of the old city wall, around the York Minster (cathedral), and along narrow streets of shops including the famous one, The Shambles. I stopped to listen to on older man playing well-known ballads on a guitar and harmonica, then to two young women singing while a young man played guitar. As I approached, they were singing my new, favorite song, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, and that's what caught my attention. After four songs and lots of encouragement, Mr. C put one penny in their guitar case, and I put in £1. I figured they were high school students.

It was a mostly nice and sunny day with a cool, strong breeze blowing. Feeling tired, I walked back to the train station for a pint of cold milk and a Cornish pasty filled with Madras curry beef.

[Diary] I was up at 8 o'clock and packed soon after. At 8:30, John served me fried tomato on toast with bacon and sausage, and juice. It was all veddy civilized. I wrote in the guest book before settling in to a few more chapters of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I'd found on a shelf in my room. I left the house at 10:45 and walked to the main village bus stop where I chatted with an elderly couple. It was overcast with a cool breeze. I rode the bus to the York train station where I met two delightful Japanese ladies who were heading back to London and Tokyo. I also chatted with a young backpacker from New Zealand.

The 12:15 train to Middlesbrough arrived. The good news was I had a reserved seat; however, the bad news was that the train's printer wasn't working, so the staff couldn't print and put out the reserved-seat signs. That said, there was plenty of room and I staked out a table with four seats all to myself. As we raced north, I pored over maps and brochures getting a better idea of where I was headed. Once I happened to look out the right window where I saw the Kilburn White Horse, a very large horse made with limestone chips on the side of a hill in 1857. Soon after, the skies darkened, and it started to rain. At Middlesbrough, I had a 45-minute layover. On the 1:15-hour ride to Whitby, I chatted with an Englishwomen who'd long lived in Toronto, Canada. She too was headed for Whitby, and we exchanged information.

It was raining heavily as I came out of the railway station and crossed the street to the tourist office. There I got lots of good information and brochures. I also got an answer to my question, "I have come away without my woolen hat. Can you please direct me to a thrift shop where I might buy a used one?" Nearby was an Oxfam shop, and they had just the thing; a gaudy knitted hat suitable for a circus clown and that doubled as a tea cosy. It was perfect, and cost only £2!

Armed with my town map, I walked up some steep steps in the rain and soon found my new home, a 4-storey townhouse that had been very nicely renovated. Host Helen was there to meet me and to explain the house rules. The first was to remove street shoes. And as I travel with slippers anyway, I was happy to do that. She boiled water, but instead of tea, I made a cup of minestrone soup from my emergency rations. We chatted of many things before I went up to the attic bedroom that had a window looking out over the river and the east side of town. High on the hill the Abbey ruin was visible through light fog and rain.

I did a load of laundry and hung that all around my room to give the place some ambiance. I worked on my laptop and then spent quite some time going through all the tourist information I'd accumulated. By the time I was done, I'd decided that three nights wasn't long enough, so I extended my stay by another night.

Although I was yawning, I decided to go out into the night air for a brisk walk. I rugged up and went out around 8 pm. Thankfully, the rain had long since stopped. I toured a large supermarket and picked up some juice, sweets, cheese, and small deserts of vanilla custard and rice pudding. I walked all along the waterfront on the east side stopping to look in all the shop windows. Most fast-food places were closed or just about to when I came upon a fish-and-chip shop from which I rescued a large sausage that was battered and fried. It was served with a large cup of curry sauce into which I dipped said sausage. It was wonderful! I ate half and then walked out to the end of the East Pier right into the teeth of a strong and cold wind right off the North Sea. At the end of the pier, I found a sheltered spot behind a stone wall where I finished off my late-night snack. Back in my room, it was lights out at 9:30.

[Diary] When I woke, I felt sure it was only 6 am, but it was nearly 9:30 and I'd had 12 solid hours of sleep. YES! I went downstairs to the kitchen where I made coffee and toast, which I smothered in raspberry jam and cheese, together. It was a Breakfast of Champions. I was very happy to take a break from a cooked English breakfast.

Although the rain had ended, it was cold and windy out, so I rugged up before stepping outside around 11 o'clock. There, lo and behold, in the front garden next door were some 10 toilet bowls filled with soil and many colorful flowers. My host had lent me two town walking guidebooks, and my plan was to follow those. I started with the west side of town crossing the so-called swinging bridge. I stopped off at the Captain Cook Museum where young James lived during his seaman's apprenticeship. Then it was along the River Esk to the East Pier and breakwater. After that, it was up the 199 steps to the cemetery at St. Mary's church. According to my guidebook, "The broad landings and seats were designed 'for the easement of bearers of coffins where they rested their burden on the long climb to the clifftop graveyard'." Nearby was the Abbey Ruin that inspired the story of Dracula. Back at the river I dropped by a fish-and-chip shop to sample a serving of fried onion rings.

Back across the river, I started the walking tour of the west side of town. That took me to an overlook having an archway made of whalebones near a statue of Captain Cook that had plaques from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, all marking his exploits in their lands. By the time I got back to my starting point the sun was out and it was decidedly warmer.

I was back at my B&B after 4½ hours, and my legs were complaining about all the steep steps and paths. I settled in at the dining table to handle email, name photos, and to work on this diary. Co-host Phil, who was a professional musician, and I chatted a bit before he headed out to conduct a small local orchestra. I continued listening to an album by Enya and stopped along the way for a cup of minestrone soup and some leftover food. A young German-speaking couple from Switzerland arrived and I gave them a brief orientation to the house and town. They were staying two nights in a room in the basement.

After more than four hours of travel administration, I was ready for a stretch, so I dressed to go out before retiring for the night. I walked around for an hour, and the sun was still high in the sky at 8 pm. I stopped off at a large public garden around a museum center and large playground. Then it was back into the old town along back streets and alleyways. Lights out at 10 o'clock.

[Diary] I readied my daypack and was out the door by 9:15. The weather was decent, cool with lots of clouds and no wind. I walked through the old town and on up the 199 steps to the Abbey ruin parking lot. There at 9:40 I started the 6½-mile hike on the Cleveland Way along the clifftops. I soon found that I had on too many layers of clothing, so perspired quite a bit. The path went way up and way down, repeatedly, and I sure was happy to get to Robin Hood's Bay after 2½ hours. The village had an upper part (where I arrived) and a lower part down by the water. I quickly decided that I had no desire—let alone energy—to go down and back up one more hill, so I stayed in the upper section sitting on the grass having my lunch and a pint of milk.

After a 40-minute break, I turned around and went back up the hill to the Cinder Trail, the bed of a former railway track that was removed many years ago. Although it wasn't steep, it had a steady incline up for the first four miles of the return trip. It ran inland following the hill contour and was several hundred feet higher than the coastal trail. I took just over two hours to get back to Whitby. By that time my feet were very sore with several small blisters developing. After a hot shower and a large drink of juice, I lay on the bed wondering how I could have done such a punishing thing. To revive, I had a cup of boiling tea with extra sugar.

I stayed in for the evening, as I didn't want to put my walking shoes back on. After a cup of soup and a snack, I worked on various bits of administration including researching the next area to visit and the next place to stay. My first choice for a host had the gall to turn me down as she already had a couple and didn't want to have to make them share a bathroom with me. Well, I farted in her general direction and went on to Plan B. Very soon after, I found the perfect place, in a town, some distance away, and that host was delighted to have me. She'd be out when I arrived, but she'd leave a key hidden and I was to have a cup of tea on arrival and generally make myself at home. Lights out at 10, tossed and turned until 11, read some more, and finally put out the light by midnight. Although I was happy to have done the hike, I knew for certain that I don't work that hard for money!

[Diary] I slept rather fitfully with my legs and knees aching off and on after the previous day's walk. I finally got up around 9 o'clock and went down for a light breakfast. I headed out into a nice day around 11 am and started by buying a train ticket to my next destination, a village near Harrogate. Then I rescued an ice-cold can of Pepsi from a shop and enjoyed the caffeine boost. After the hard walk the day before, I abandoned my idea of going to the North York Moors National Park to walk around. Instead, I decided to go to Sandsend, a small village some four miles up the coast. However, the bus there was very late, so I didn't arrive until noon. Families were playing down on the beach, ducks swam in the small river that came down from the hills, and people sat outside several restaurants and cafes eating lunch and drinking coffee. At times, the sun was nice and warm, and with little wind, it was very pleasant.

I walked to the end of the village and found a second river going back up into a valley with stone cottages each side and walking paths and seats by grassed areas down near the water. At the end was the village church. In the entrance, I stopped to look at the cost of various ceremonies one could have conducted by the Church of England: Marriage service £413; Baptisms were free, but a certificate cost £13; and Funeral with burial in the churchyard preceding or following a service in the church £310. I sat on a bench near the seawall and read my novel for some time before an elderly woman joined me and we chatted at length. She was on a day outing with a teenage granddaughter.

Mid-afternoon, I rode the bus back and bought a nice tuna salad, potato chips, and milk, and settled on a bench to eat while a school band performed in the public plaza. Although the weather was still decent, dark clouds crept closer. I was back in my room at 4 o'clock listening to music and handling emails. Some light rain fell. In the evening, I went out for a walk to the end of the pier. The sea was quite calm, in contrast to when I'd arrived Monday evening. Along the way, I dropped into several snack places to have a battered sausage, a scoop of ice cream, and a pint of milk. Back home, I finished off my novel. Lights out at 11 o'clock.

[Diary] Travel Day! I woke just before 9 am, and after a long, hot shower, I packed my gear and vacated my room just as the cleaning ladies arrived to service the house. I spent the morning sitting at the dining table working on various tasks. Although some rain fell, things brightened up as the morning wore on. At 11:30, I departed my place and headed for a narrow street purported to have a bakery with the best sausage rolls in town! I wanted two, but for an extra 10 pence, I could get four. That was not a tough decision by any means, and even though they didn't have any packets of ketchup, the young assistant put a sufficient quantity of that nectar in a paper cup for me to take away. I made my way to the train station as a few drops of rain fell. There I chatted with a couple from Nottingham. When I asked about the health of their sheriff, they replied that he was well.

I boarded the 12:18, 2-carriage train to Middlesbrough, and took a table with four seats all to myself, and I sat facing forward. Across the way was an older couple with a very well-behaved dog who got constant attention from me during the 90-minute trip. It was slow going as we had 15 stops. The whole trip was through valleys in amongst rolling hills, with small rivers with heron, hedgerows, stone walls, and green fields all with yellow and white flowers. There were newly shorn sheep, dairy cattle, geese waddling home from a pond, horses, and pheasants. It was a wonderful trip. Although it was overcast, there was a nice breeze coming in through the window.

After a 45-minute wait in Middlesbrough, I caught the 14:27 train for Manchester Airport getting off at York, where I had another 45-minute wait. As I waited for my 16:10 train, I struck up a conversation with a young woman who was an art student whose medium was photography. She'd worked after high school before going to university, and was 23 years old. She was the youngest of four daughters and had spent her formative years in France, so was fluent in French. We hit it off immediately, she invited me to her mother's clothing store for tea, and I accepted. From the station in Knaresborough, it was a short walk to the middle of town and soon we were in her mother's shop, Giraffe, where I met her mother, Elizabeth. We chatted over tea after which Elizabeth invited me to a musical concert later that evening, and I accepted. Interestingly, the young woman's first name was Boadecea, an alternative spelling for the famous warrior queen, with whom I was somewhat familiar. Like her namesake, she was a very independent woman, and meeting her was most fortuitous. [As I say repeatedly about travel, you can have a good or bad time anywhere in the world; it largely depends on your attitude and the people you meet. And traveling with a colorful, toy caterpillar sticking out of your coat pocket makes meeting interesting people much easier!]

I walked out into the rain and after 10 minutes found my new home, a private house with a large yard in a nice neighborhood. My host, Corrina, was out, but she's left me a key under a large flowerpot, so I let myself in and settled into my nice upstairs room. As it had been a bit humid out, I showered and then dressed for an evening of music. At 6:45, I headed out for St. John's Church where I chatted with a woman while we waited for the doors to be opened. I bought a ticket for £6 getting senior's concession. I reserved seats in the very first pew and soon after, Elizabeth and her friend Stephen, who I'd also met earlier, joined me. At 7:30, Christian Forshaw and the Sanctuary Ensemble began their concert. According to the program, his music explores the ecclesiastical sound world. He played saxophone, while two other men played percussion and an electric organ, and a woman sang. I wasn't sure what to expect from that style of music featuring a sax, but it was most enjoyable and very well arranged. The event took two hours, and included an intermission during which we went to the church hall for refreshments. While others drank wine, I had a glass of apple with elderflower drink while chatting with a man who was taking an opera-appreciation course.

When we adjourned, the weather out was very nice, and I walked home humming all the way. There I met my host before retiring to my room to read. [Host Corinna was a single mom with three young kids who lived half each week with her and half with their father. Before kids, she travelled a great deal and was an outgoing person who just happened to rent out her spare room.] The afternoon and evening had left an excellent first impression of my new town.

[Diary] I went downstairs around 8 o'clock and had some fruit, juice, and milk while I worked on a plan for activities for the next few days. Corinna joined me at 9 am and we chatted. Then she worked on her computer at her end of the dining table while I did likewise at mine. I extended my 3-day stay with her by two days then after an hour of research, I'd booked an upscale B&B right in the heart of the Dales for my last two nights in Yorkshire, and I'd made a plan for how to spend my time.

I stepped outside at 11 o'clock into a magnificent day that was almost hot. I walked into town taking photos and keeping an eye out for a bakery. I found one in the main square and I bought a cheese and onion roll for a light snack, and a bacon roll for 'Ron. I dropped by Elizabeth's shop to say "Hello." From there I wound around the streets to the castle and adjacent museum where I took a tour. The attendant was ever so obliging when I asked her to take a photo of me in the stocks. Nearby were very nice gardens, on the steep slope going down to the river. I walked along the riverbank for quite some distance and watched people working on expanding further their already generous waistlines. I tried to rent a rowboat at two different places, but they required at least two passengers, one to row, facing backwards, the other to steer using a rudder, facing forwards. Frankly, in all my years around rowboats I'd never seen one with a rudder. I walked back into the shopping area and sat in the sun on the steps of a monument where I chatted at length with a woman who was camping in the area.

[Diary] I headed out at 11 am. The local bus stop was a few yards from my front door and I had a 10-minute wait during which an elderly man talked to me of many things. The bus took me to Harrogate's main bus station where I checked the timetables for the return trip as well as other trips later in the week. Next door, was the train station, so I went there to buy my ticket to London for later in the week. The friendly agent found me a very good fare, which, oddly enough was in First Class, so I locked that in.

Harrogate is an upscale place full of nice (expensive, that is) shops and eating establishments. One of its most famous places is Bettys Café Tea Rooms, so I dropped by to look at the patrons through the window. From there it was down a steep hill through a very upscale area. It was Armed Forces Day, and a special activity was being held at a garden complex nearby. The grounds were in bloom and many people—young and old—were dressed in civilian and military clothing from WWII. The live entertainment featured singers and bands playing tunes from that era, and booths sold food and drink. A number of WWII vehicles were on display, and the Yorkshire Regiment had a booth, as did the Royal Air Force Reserves. Mid-afternoon, a Spitfire fighter flew over several times to great applause. It rained a few drops a couple of times then a bit stronger once, but only for a few minutes. Afterwards, we all got back on the grass. I chatted with a young family who'd moved from London and were enjoying the city.

[Diary] I was awake well before my 6:30-am alarm. After a small snack, Corinna and I drove through the countryside to Skipton, to pick up her three children who'd been at their dad's place. We drove through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep. It was very scenic. At 7:45, she dropped me right in the middle of town. The main street was busy as people were setting up booths for the day's market. After a short walk around to orient myself, I settled in at a table at Walker's Tea Room where a very pleasant woman served me a bacon roll and a tall glass of steaming hot chocolate. I grabbed a local magazine from a shelf and did some puzzles, and then read an interesting article about the re-launching of a 50-year-old set of TV puppets, The Clangers. The new venture starred Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) as the narrator.

I walked along a canal path and stopped to look at some barges on which people lived. When I came to a barge rental place, I went onboard one to see how it was equipped, and to find out the price for a week's rental. [For some years, renting a canal barge has been on my "possibles" trip list.] By the time I got back to the market, booths were open, and I stopped to buy cheap pairs of socks "for very tall men". At the tourist office, I got a map and some brochures, and I watched a great 35-minute video of Yorkshire. The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved castle, so I toured that. While there, I learned about the large Castle Woods behind it, so I decided to hike there. It was a mile up along a small, cascading river, then a mile west to the edge of the woods, all under a heavy canopy. My two favorite plants were everywhere: moss and ferns. Once out of the wood, I climbed a stile over a fence and walked another mile back to town through a farmer's field. As I climbed a large stone stile at the top of a hill, I met a woman walking a dog. We talked for a bit and admired the view of the valley and town. The path entered town right by Walker's Tea Rooms, which I took as an omen. So, I dropped in for another glass of hot chocolate, which I drank with my leftover breakfast. I sat outside under an awning watching the world go by. I walked back along the canal and hopped on a tour barge for a 30-minute tour along one section of the canal below the castle, feeding the ducks with a packet of food I bought onboard. Having had an early start, I'd done all I wanted to do in that town, so I headed for the railway station.

There were no direct busses or trains to Harrogate, so I caught a train to Leeds. We went through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep. In Leeds, I walked around the city center for an hour. It was mostly modern high-rise with upscale shops and eating-places with a few old buildings in-between. I bought an ice cream and kept in the shade, as it was quite warm. Back at the station, I paid a visit to the men's toilets, and there, right next to me standing having a whizz, was a young guy playing with his mobile phone. It brought a completely new meaning to the term "streaming video!" After a 30-minute wait, I boarded a train to Knaresborough via Harrogate, and—you guessed it—we went through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep! I walked into town and bought emergency rations at a supermarket before heading home. Not only were Corinna's three kids there, but so too were five of their friends, and all were active and noisy, just like a group of kids should be. And it was great to see that not one of them was using an electronic gadget. I kept out of their way by laying on my bed reading my novel, venturing out once all the guests had gone home. I heated up some leftover food and had a light supper before getting back to my novel. Lights out at 10 pm after a great day.

[Diary] It was Travel Day! I packed my gear and was waiting at the bus stop out front by 9:45, and the bus pulled up several minutes later. We had a leisurely ride into Harrogate where I had a 20-minute wait until my next bus. The Number 24 to Pateley Bridge arrived, we boarded, and it left, right on time at 10:30. The 50-minute ride cost £6. A young mother with a small child in a stroller sat up front next to me, and we chatted until she got off. I looked out the windows on both sides as we drove through the countryside. You guessed it; there were green fields, stone walls, and sheep. However, there were also hedgerows and cattle. All buildings were made of stone and had slate roofs. I was now well and truly in the Yorkshire Dales. It was quite hot out and rather humid.

In Pateley Bridge, I went to the tourist office where I got a map of the village and some information about things to see and do. I also bought a walking map that described a series of short hikes in the area. Next up was my B&B, Roslyn House, where I planned to drop my gear before going walking. Even though I arrived four hours before check-in time, my room was ready, and the hostess, Judith, showed me to my room.

I chose a 6-mile walk that would take me up to the top of the highest hills in the area, from which I could look out over the river valley. The first couple of miles were quite steep, starting on paved roads and then soon becoming public paths across farmers' fields. As I got near the top, I collapsed on the cool, damp grass and put my heart back in my chest. "It could be worse," thought I. "I could be doing this in winter, through a snow drift, on my way to deliver twin lambs on a remote farm, just like veterinarian James Herriot!"

At the top of the ridge, I crossed a section of moorland. However, when I came to a fork on the path, my guidebook provided no help. I went back and forth several times trying to find out which option to choose. By that time, the skies were getting dark and thunder and lightning were just across the valley. Light rain fell right about the time I realized I was no longer where I was supposed to be. Then the Mother-of-all-Thunder-Claps sounded directly above me. The Gods seemed to be quite angry. But was that at me, specifically, or at mankind, in general? I was no longer on a path, so I waded through the tall grass, climbed a stone wall, and crawled under a high gate, generally heading for the valley below where I knew the river and a path to be. Somewhere along the way, my sun hat fell from my waistband and was lost. I was in no mood to go back and look for it. The weather held off, but just as I got to the river, light rain fell again. However, from that point on, I was under a thick canopy of trees. I was back home after 3:30 hours, and I figure I'd done 1–2 miles more than I'd planned. C'est la vie! Back in my room, I had a shower and lay on the bed, too tired to sleep or to do anything useful. It was hot with no breeze.

At 6 o'clock, I ventured out to look for a place to eat, and I soon found a small restaurant tucked away on a back alley. I was the only customer until a couple arrived a bit later. I ordered the sausages, mashed potato, and gravy, which came with a very large plate of cooked vegetables. I sipped an ice-cold Coke while I waited. It was a lot of food, but I took my time and worked on some puzzles. Afterwards, I walked around the village stopping to buy a pint of whole milk. Back in my room, I started a new novel I'd gotten from the lounge room where I swapped over the two books I'd finished.

Lights out at 10:30 and I was asleep right away. I slept soundly until 11:55 when it sounded like the sky was falling, which it was! A hailstorm came and went in about four minutes, and from the sound of the ice chunks landing, some of them were big. I heard the sounds of glass and other things breaking. The burglar alarm on one car was activated, and kept on with lights flashing for some time. It rained very hard for no more than 10 minutes, and the water rushed down the side street out my window. The rain stopped altogether soon after and all I could hear was the sound of bleating sheep. Certainly, some hailstones would have been big enough to kill or maim a small animal.

[Diary] Soon after 8 o'clock, I was down in the dining room. Judith played waiter while her husband was in charge of the kitchen. I had a glass of orange juice while studying the menu. There was a wide range of choices. I settled on some toast, a fried egg, bacon, fried tomatoes, and black pudding, saving the bacon for 'Ron. I took my time and worked on some puzzles while sipping juice, and it was 9:15 by the time I was done. The storm had certainly cooled things off and cleared the air of humidity, and except for all the small dents in the cars from the hail and a broken window in the B&B's dining room, there was no evidence a storm had occurred.

I set out on a 2-mile walk/hike around my village. I took no jacket or pack, as it was only a 2-mile walk! However, not long into it I found that the distinct lack of signposts for the paths and the lack of information in my guidebook made it as challenging as the day before and pretty soon I was off the network and climbing fences. It occurred to me that the map might have been left over from WWII when misinformation was deliberately circulated to confuse any invading enemy. After an extra mile or more, I made it back home, but not before it'd gotten quite cool with thunder and lightning in the distance. I certainly had perspired a lot and my shirt was soaking wet. What to do but sit right down and boil the kettle for a hot cup of tea. That was matched nicely with some fruitcake and a cookie. The downside of the local walking experiences was that I abandoned all interest in doing another in the afternoon.

[Diary] As I stepped out of my B&B, a Royal Air Force fighter jet flew directly overhead at a very low altitude with its noise shattering the rural silence. At 11:15, I was at the bus stop and soon after, the 11:30 departed for Harrogate. On the way, we had the obligatory green fields, stone walls, and sheep! At Harrogate, I made the short walk to the train station where I settled into a coffee shop for a large latte and a blueberry muffin that was "to die for."

I arrived at London's Kings Cross station around 5:15, and fought my way through all the people to the Hammersmith and Circle Tube line. It was very humid, especially underground and on the train with little air circulation. I checked into my hotel at Paddington, dumped my gear, and headed back out again, into the city. A new theater guide had been issued the day before, so I grabbed a copy at my hotel to read on the Tube to Leicester Square. There was only one new play that I really wanted to see, but I thought that might be too new to be on sale yet. To my pleasant surprise, tickets were available and at a decent price, so I made my way to the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand where I took up a seat in the stalls with a great view of the stage. At 7:30, the lights went down and the curtain went up on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, starring David Suchet and Michelle Dotrice. Suchet played a woman, Lady Bracknell, and he did it superbly. The three acts plus intermissions ran 2½ hours, and the play was extremely well received, with a standing ovation and two curtain calls. It had been a long time since I'd enjoyed a play that much. It was my second time seeing Suchet on stage in London, and he's well and truly broken the Poirot stereotype with those performances.

[Diary] July 4th, American Independence Day! Oh, say can you see …

At Paddington Station, I boarded the Heathrow Express train and, at 8:10, it departed for the 15-minute ride to LHR. My carriage was quite full for a Saturday morning, especially considering that trains depart every 15 minutes. I got off at the first stop and made the long walk to Terminal 2 where check-in took place way up on the 5th floor. I said goodbye to my luggage and passed through the priority security check where Mr. C survived the X-ray machine. The estimated walk to my gate was 15 minutes! Of course, with my Seven-League boots, I managed that in half the time, but it was quite a hike. Near my gate was a United Airlines Business Lounge, where I set up camp in a comfortable seat to work on this diary. Although I'd be served lunch onboard, I looked at the food on offer there and rescued a couple of tasty Lincolnshire sausages and some fried potato. That was accompanied by a glass of peach nectar.

At 11 o'clock, I got up to look at the departure screen, and was just in time to see the staff setting up lunch. Being July 4th, they had shredded pork with BBQ sauce, coleslaw, and beans. It looked so good that I figured it would be better than the lunch I'd get in-flight, so I helped myself to a portion.

Back home, I unpacked my gear and went through three weeks of mail, and had an unnecessary snack and drink. It was good to be home with my own kitchen and bed. As jetlag kicked in, I wandered off to bed at 7:30, local time (12:30 am, London time).

Signs of Life: Part 18

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from Japan.

 

Magnetic signs in my Tokyo hotel room, which I could stick on the outside of my room's metal door.

I especially liked the pictures.

 

Once you've seen this sign on the sides of vans, you start to wonder what it's all about.

According to Wikipedia, "Yamato Transport is Japan's largest door-to-door delivery service companies." Supposedly, they are as careful as a momma cat is when she moves her kittens!

 

Well, do you?

Yakiniku refers to grilled meat cuisine.

 

East meets west.

BTW, this famous American brand of whiskey is now owned by the Japanese!

 

As big as the Japanese are on small animals as pets, this is a recyclable bottle made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

 

I was staying at a ryokan on Izu Peninsular, and there were two sets of indoor baths with change rooms. The larger one was usually assigned to men; however, at certain times of each day, they swapped over the signs, so the ladies could enjoy the larger communal bath. Now while I remember reading this soon after I checked in, I promptly forgot about it, until that is, I was coming out of what had been the men's room the day before, and ran into a woman coming in. She gasped at the sight of the giant gaijin (foreigner) coming out of the (currently) ladies' room, and raced away!

 

When staying at a ryokan, one gets to wear a kimono-like gown called a yukata, for walking around the house and gardens, and for sleeping. The important thing to remember is shown in the box marked Caution! It states, "Do not put the right side of the Yukata over the left side—this is the way Japanese people dress corpses." So, unless you want to be a "dead man walking", pay attention!

 

In my many years of seeing this beverage during my trips to Japan, I cannot get inspired by drinking the sweat from anything! That said, this sports drink is very popular.

According to Wikipedia, "The reference to sweat in the name of the beverage tends to have a certain off-putting or humorous connotation for native English speakers. However, the name was chosen by the manufacturers originally for the purpose of marketing the product as a sports drink in Japan, where English words are used differently. It was largely derived from the notion of what it is intended to supply to the drinker: all of the nutrients and electrolytes lost when sweating. The first part of the name, Pocari, does not have any meaning; the word was coined for its light, bright sound."

 

Sign on a commercial laundry, probably not run by the Chinaman, Mr. Clea Ning!

 

On the table of a restaurant. Once a customer has ordered, waitstaff do not come and ask, "Is everything OK?" several times throughout the meal. If you want their attention, or to get the bill, you simply press the button, and someone comes.

 

Just in case you were wondering what this pet store is offering, the list contains the following: dog run, dog cafe, dog products, souvenirs, porcelain, and, of course, more!

 

In some Japanese restaurants, one takes off one's street shoes and puts on slippers provided by the host. (However, as I can attest, one size does not fit all!) So, what to do with one's own shoes? Put them in a storage locker in the foyer, close the locker door, and take the wooden block "key" with you. Wakari-mas? (Do you understand?)

 

From a sign outside a store on the island of Enoshima.

For only 500 yen, you can take off your shoes and socks, roll up your pants legs, sit down with your feet in a pond, and let the fish remove all the dead skin. It's ticklish fun!

 

According to Wiktionary, capricious means "impulsive and unpredictable; determined by chance, impulse, or whim." An interesting name for a resort.

 

While all the kinds of people qualified to sit in this train seat are obvious, I can't help but feel sorry for the woman who appears to be pregnant with triplets!

 

As Wikipedia states, 'The maneki-neko, literally "beckoning cat", is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman) which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.' You'll see it "all over the place."

BTW, neko is Japanese for cat.

 

Washington D.C.

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Washington D.C. is the capital city of the United States of America. The "DC" suffix means "District of Columbia", and the city is often referred to as "Washington" or simply "D.C." However, note that there is also a state called Washington (think Seattle and Spokane), in the extreme northwest of the Continental US, so using the term "Washington" can cause confusion unless the context is clear.

D.C. is the home of the headquarters of the three branches of the Federal Government: The Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. [Almost all the Executive Departments and Agencies are within the limits of the District of Columbia, but the Department of Defense is actually across the Potomac River in the Pentagon located in the state of Virginia.]

According to Wikipedia, at the time of writing, "The city hosts 177 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit, lobbying groups, and professional associations, including the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States, …".

For a detailed overview of Washington D.C., click here.

Shape and Layout

When D.C. was created in 1791, it was a 10-mile-by-10-mile square consisting of land contributed by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and the Potomac River that separated them. However, in 1847, that part contributed by Virginia was returned to that state, leaving approximately 69 square miles (69% of the original), the southwestern, jagged edge of which borders on the Potomac.

Some 19% of the city's total area is parkland, which contains a wide variety of plant and animal species, including deer and coyotes.

The streets of D.C. are organized in a grid system. Those running north-south are numbered (as in First, Second, and Third Street), those running east-west are lettered (as in D, E, and F Street), and those running diagonally, at least in the downtown area, are named for states (as in New York Avenue and Virginia Avenue). Now while such a plan keeps it simple for Members of Congress and those that lobby them, in order to confuse any invading army—not to mention people visiting from out-of-town—a twist was added. The Capitol building is at the center of a rectangular coordinate system whose four quadrants are named—TA DAH!—Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest! And any street in a quadrant has the suffix NW, NE, SE, or SW, as appropriate. (For example, the Whitehouse is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and Union [railway] Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE.) As a result, there are actually four distinct intersections of 6th and C Streets, for example, one per quadrant.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

This is probably one of the best-known addresses in the world and is the location of the White House, the residence of the US President. This building includes the West Wing, the location of the President's Oval Office.

Marine One is the Presidential helicopter, which typically transports the President to/from Air Force One (stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland) and to/from the Presidential retreat, Camp David, in rural Maryland. Marine One lands in the front yard of the White House. [Once while taking a cousin on a tour of the D.C. Mall, I watched Marine One land to deliver President George W. Bush. Some years later, I watched Air Force One land at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, with President Obama onboard.]

Every four years, on January 20, the President takes office at the Presidential inauguration, held on the steps of the US Capitol Building. The Presidential motorcade—and its very long parade—then travels from the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue. [I stood out in the cold along Pennsylvania Avenue for the first inaugurations of Presidents Reagan and Clinton.]

Across the street from the White House is Blair House, where visiting dignitaries and other guests of the President sometimes stay. When a head of a foreign government is in residence there, at the corner of each street in the surrounding neighborhoods, a set of three flags fly: Washington D.C.'s flag, the US flag, and the flag of the country of the visiting leader. [When Harry Truman was President and the White House was being renovated, he lived at Blair House. During that time, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate him there.]

The Capitol and Surrounds

[Note the distinction between "capital" and "capitol".]

The United States Capitol building houses the Federal Senate and House chambers, which together make up Congress, the Legislative Branch of government. This building sits atop a hill in what is known as the Capitol Hill district. The Capitol (and other places mentioned below) are protected by the Capitol Police. The public may tour the Capitol via the Capitol Visitor Center (which I highly recommend visitors do).

The offices of Senators and Representatives, their staff, and meeting rooms, are not located in the Capitol. Instead, they are located on the north side of Constitution Avenue NE (Senate) and the south side of Independence Avenue SW (House). However, they are part of the Capitol Complex, and are protected by the Capitol Police.

On the eastern side of First Street NE stands the U.S. Supreme Court (pinnacle of the federal Judicial Branch), and next door, on the eastern side of First Street SE, stands the main building of the Library of Congress, the research arm of the US Congress. The United States Botanic Garden is in the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds. These places are also part of the Capitol Complex and are protected by the Capitol Police.

Although the Library of Congress doesn't look too impressive from the outside, it is definitely worth a visit just to see the interior. As well as entering via its main door, a tunnel leads to it from the Capitol.

The Supreme Court building is also worth a visit even if you don't plan on attending a formal session. There is an orientation video narrated by one or more of the justices, halls of permanent exhibits, and sometimes temporary exhibitions. There is also a nice cafeteria.

The National Mall and Memorial Parks

This is the large area to the west of the Capitol and is part of the National Park Service.

Much of this area used to be a mosquito-infested swamp, which is why, from time to time, people running for national office who have not served before in Washington promise that if elected, they will come to D.C. and "Drain the swamp!"

I highly recommend visiting the following:

  • Smithsonian Museums: These have free admission, although there is a charge for some special exhibits and movies. The National Air and Space Museum is perhaps the most-visited museum in the world. The place to start in the National Museum of the American Indian is in a small, circular theater on the top floor where a video is projected onto blankets. Although its cafeteria isn't cheap—visit even if you don't eat there—all the food is native American, as are all the things in the gift store. The administration building, the Castle, is also worth a visit.
  • Washington Monument (site of a major fireworks display on July 4th): Thankfully, tourists no longer need to stand out in the weather to get inside. Now, they get a (free) ticket in advance, which is stamped for a particular date/time.
  • Lincoln Memorial: The destination of various protests, and where one can stand on the spot from which Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech. Don't miss the basement where you can watch the video shown there. The 36 columns represent the 36 states in existence when Lincoln was President. The classic view is from the left or right edge upstairs, east across the Reflecting Pool, past the Washington Monument, and to the Capitol.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial: After all the war memorials showing dead white guys on horseback, this was a big departure when it was completed in 1982. It's a wall sunken into the ground with the names of the 58,220 dead and missing-in-action engraved on a series of panels ordered by year. Nearby directories help you locate the panel for a given name. Nearby is the Three Servicemen Statue (with Agent Orange marker) and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial: After the Vietnam Memorial, it was a challenge for "what next" in war memorials, but this one really does justice to the conflict. I'm especially taken by the wall containing sandblasted images of photos carried by servicemen.
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial: Situated on the Tidal Basin with a larger-than-life statue at its heart.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial: This set of four open-rooms shows via writing and sculpture a snapshot of each of FDR's terms in office. And you can join the throngs of people who have patted the bronze head of the statue of his well-known dog, Fala.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial: This statue is also situated on the Tidal Basin.
  • National World War II Memorial: At the center of the Mall, this relatively new memorial is sunken down, so it doesn't obscure the view down the Mall at ground level.

Personally, I prefer to visit most of the monuments and memorials at night.

Each spring, the Tidal Basic is the location of the National Cherry Blossom Festival when many visitors come to see the pink and white blossoms. However, it is not uncommon to have strong winds and/or heavy rain in the days before the festival, resulting in many of the blossoms being knocked from the trees.

Local Government

Washington D.C. is not a state (yet)! Instead, it is a federal territory whose government is headed by a mayor and council. However, the US Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws.

For more information on how this all works, click here.

Federal Representation and Federal Elections

Washington D.C. is one of six US Federal Territories (the others being American SamoaGuam, the Northern Mariana IslandsPuerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). None of these territories has a voting member in the US Congress, not even D.C.! And while D.C. does have a non-voting, at-large congressional delegate to the House of Representatives, it has no representation at all in the Senate. In that respect, citizens residing in D.C. definitely are second-class Americans!

Leading up to the American Revolution, in 1773, the Boston Tea Party was a protest by the American colonists who objected to Britain's Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to "no taxation without representation" in British Parliament. Fast-forward 246 years, and we find that the D.C. motor vehicle license plate contains the phrase "End taxation without representation."

In 1961, the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution went into effect. For Presidential elections, this treats D.C. like the least-populous state, as though it had one Representative and two Senators, resulting in its having three electoral votes. (The other 535 electors come from the 50 states.) So, since 1961, citizens in the nation's capital can actually vote in a Presidential election. (See District of Columbia voting rights for more information.) But they still don't have a vote in Congress!

It is interesting to see how some other countries having a "capital territory" deal with this issue:

The Fight for Statehood

There have been, and continue to be, efforts to get D.C. full statehood. And if that were successful, given the model used for Federal representation in Congress for the 50 states, that would result in D.C. have one Representative and two Senators. Now, D.C. has long been a bastion of the Democratic Party, so it is quite likely that all three of these positions would ultimately be held by Democrats. With the Senate having only 100 members (two per state), adding two extra Democrats could easily cause control to swing Democrats' way. (As the House has 435 members, an addition of one would not have anywhere near as big an impact.) As a result, Republican opposition to statehood is high.

See District of Columbia statehood movement for more information.

The War of 1812

Although the British lost the American Revolutionary War in 1783, after licking their wounds, they decided to come back and "have another go," from June 1812 through February 1815. In August of 1814, the blighters actually captured and occupied the US Capital, and set fire to the White House and Capitol. Altogether, they were quite an unfriendly lot!

These days, the Brits seem to be content with a small bit of land in D.C. for an embassy, and permission for its staff and other subjects to play cricket in/near The Mall.

The Greater Metropolital Area

The Washington DC metro area includes the Maryland suburbs on the east side of the Potomac River, and the Virginia suburbs on the west side. This is especially important for prospective tourists to know when they are looking for accommodation. Although the D.C. subway system is relatively small, it does provide easy access to D.C. from numerous Maryland and Virginia areas.

The population of D.C proper is around 700,000 while the metro area has more than six million. Given the large number of people commuting to work from the suburbs, it is estimated that D.C.'s weekday population exceeds a million.

Conclusion

Washington D.C. was not the first national capital. The former capitals include Annapolis, Maryland; New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Trenton, New Jersey.

The second President, John Adams, was the first to occupy the White House, in November 1800. Interestingly, the Vice President did not have an official residence until 1974 when a house on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory was made available. However, its first fulltime resident was Walter Mondale (1977–1981).

Presidential history buffs can visit Ford's Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was fatally wounded.

Many of D.C. neighborhoods have names, and one of the best-known is Georgetown with its brownstone houses and up-scale shopping and eating establishments. It is also home to Georgetown University, and the place where the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal joins the Potomac River.

One of the best "secrets" of D.C. is Theodore Roosevelt Island, a National Park on an island in the Potomac River. Although many thousands of commuters drive over part of it on a bridge each workday, because the island is only accessible from Virginia, and then by only one entrance while driving west, it's not easy to get to, and there is very little parking. Having walked and picnicked there many times, in all four seasons, I highly recommend going there. And if you are a little adventurous and the north shore of the island isn't flooded, you can make your way off the path through the woods to stand on a beach and get the only uninterrupted view of the Kennedy Center and Watergate complex (see below).

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts overlooks the Potomac River, as does the nearby Watergate building complex, the location of the great Watergate break-in, in 1972, that ultimately led to President Nixon's resignation.

The Washington Post newspaper was started in 1877. It is well-known for its reporting on the Watergate scandal, which was the subject of the 1976 movie, "All the President's Men." The 2017 movie, "The Post", covers the paper's decision in 1971 to publish the Pentagon Papers.

According to Wikipedia, "Washington was once described as the 'murder capital' of the United States during the early 1990s. The number of murders peaked in 1991 at 479, but the level of violence then began to decline significantly." Interestingly, in 1995, the owner of "The Washington Bullets" professional basketball team announced he would change the name to avoid violent overtones! Eventually, the team became the Washington Wizards. For many years, there has been opposition to the name of the local-area professional football team, The Washington Redskins, seen by some as offensive. Click here for more details.

Finally, not one of D.C. finest moments, according to Wikipedia, The Bonus Army, "were the 43,000 marchers—17,000 U.S. World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. … Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment [with] compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.

On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired, and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the Army to clear the marchers' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned."

Major George S. Patton commanded a cavalry group, and Major Dwight D. Eisenhower served as one of MacArthur's aides.

Travel: Memories of New Mexico

© 2008 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For some time, I'd been thinking about going to the US southwest state of New Mexico. And now the opportunity to do that finally arrived.

[Diary] My flight landed in Albuquerque (ABQ) at 8:15 pm, a few minutes ahead of schedule, to a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun was a huge orange ball just above the mountains to the west. Altitude-wise, the city is just short of a mile high. It being May, I switched my clock back two hours, to Mountain Daylight Time.

I called my first hosts to let them know I'd landed. I rode the shuttle bus to the rental car companies, and picked up my car, a Hyundai Elantra. While I was riding on the shuttle bus, a man dressed in a cowboy hat and boots and behaving strangely ran back and forth across the highway, apparently intent on entertaining the drivers. As I left the airport, officers from two police cars were "interviewing" him.

Thirty minutes later, I was at my hosts' place meeting Tricia and Ann, their dog Happy, two cats, and several neighbors. They served me a meal, and we started to get to know each other. They had traveled extensively, including time in Australia, where they even visited Hutt River Province, Prince Leonard's breakaway "country". Lights out soon after 10:30 pm.

[Diary] I had the bedroom window open all night, and only pulled on a blanket in the early hours. I was awake way too early. Tricia and I had a light breakfast of coffee and toast outdoors in the sun. Ann had left quite early for her work.

Around 10 am, I left for the southwest regional offices of the charity "Save the Children." I spent the morning talking to the director about their current programs, especially the ones involving literacy with which I participated. These programs were for schools with students from predominately Native American and Hispanic families. Another staff member, Liz, joined us for a traditional New Mexico lunch. The official state question in New Mexico is "Red or green?", which means "Do you want red or green chili peppers with that?" The correct answer is "Both".

At 2 pm, the "business" part of my trip was completed, so I headed to the edge of the metropolitan area up to 6,500 feet, to the base of an impressive aerial tramway. It took some 15 minutes to go the mile and a half across, and 4,000 feet up, to the peak. In a deep valley below, we saw the wreckage of a plane crash.

At the top, the temperature was 51 degrees, a drop of 30 degrees from the city below. I hiked a small section of the La Luz (Spanish for "The light") trail, and parts of a few others as well, stopping to shoot video and still photographs along the way. I came across some patches of snow, which had fallen a week earlier. I caught the tram down at 5:30 and was home by 6 pm.

Tricia was a photographer and worked for AmeriCorps, a U.S.-domestic version of the Peace Corps. That evening, she was teaching a photography class to young incarcerated women, so couldn't join us for dinner. Ann and I drove to Old Town where we walked around the shops, and I bought a silver and turquoise necklace from a woman working at her street stall. Ann was Navajo, a Native American tribe to the northwest. She worked for the Santo Domingo tribe on land restoration projects.

[Diary] It was very windy during the night, but it wasn't at all cold. I was awake with the alarm at 8 am, and up very soon afterwards. I joined Tricia for coffee and toast, and then checked my email to see if the outside world was getting along without me; fortunately, it was. We walked Happy to post mail at a mailbox. It was sunny, but a stiff breeze was blowing.

I washed the breakfast dishes, lest I get out of practice, and then packed my luggage, which seemed to have exploded all over the room in two short days. I wrote in my hosts' guest book, said my goodbyes, and departed at 10:15 am. It had been a very good visit.

Soon, I was headed north on Interstate Highway 25 (I-25) to the state capital, Santa Fe (Spanish for "Holy Faith"). (Interstate highways with odd numbers run north/south while even-numbered ones run east/west. I-25 starts in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and runs 1,059 miles through Albuquerque; Denver, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and ends in Buffalo, Wyoming.)

The open-road speed limit was a rapid 75 mph, but I set the cruise control to a sedate 60, much to the chagrin of some other drivers behind me in the so-called "slow" lane.

The terrain was relatively flat, with gently rolling hills and brush on one side, and taller mesas on the other. The 50-mile drive was pleasurable, and I sang to tunes on an easy-listening station on my rental car's XM satellite radio. (Although the road looked rather level, in those 50 miles, I climbed 2,500 feet.)

Just south of Santa Fe, I pulled into a rest stop. They served free coffee, had free internet access, BBQ and picnic areas, and plenty of information.

I took an exit toward the downtown area, and when I saw some Golden Arches in the distance, I decided to pull into McDonald's for a light lunch. I ordered a spicy McChicken sandwich and Coke, which came for the surprisingly low price of only $1.62. The server gave me an unsolicited senior citizen's discount! I must have looked especially wise. I shared a table with an older gentleman who had a small ranch and grew vegetables. He was well informed about national politics and world events, and we had a pleasant chat. Then I pulled out my map and guidebook and made a plan for the rest of the day.

Around 1:30 pm, I put the car into an all-day parking lot, and walked to the Capitol building. A guided tour was scheduled for 2 pm, and I was able to join that. Like some other rural states, the Capitol had no security screening, just police and many cameras. It had a very friendly atmosphere and was quite new. More than 600 pieces of art were on exhibit on the walls, in small galleries, and in the grounds. All the 550 artists at some time lived in New Mexico. And all the art was paid for by private donations.

At 2 pm, guide James lead six of us on a 1-hour tour of the House chamber, a committee meeting room, and the Governor's offices. It was most informative. In odd years, the legislature meets for 30 days, and in even years, for 60. They receive no pay, just expenses.

The building is circular, centered on a rotunda with a skylight roof but no dome. On the floor is the state seal inside a stylized Zia Native American sun symbol of four parallel lines coming out on each of the four sides. These groups of four represent the four seasons, the four periods of the day, the four directions, and the four stages of human life. The circle represents life, no start and no end, just continuity.

At the Governor's office, I asked his receptionist if I could have a business card. She had none but gave me a large color photo of him. He was Bill Richardson, former Federal Representative in Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration.

I walked into the downtown area, stopping off at the oldest European church in the U.S., San Miguel Mission, and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and its garden next door. I chatted with a German couple and another from Canberra, Australia. Next, I visited a western wear store and drooled over the hats and belts, although I thought that $350 was bit much for something to hold up my pants!

I sat in the sunshine in the main plaza area, and watched the world go by. Then I enjoyed all the authentic Native American art stores and drooled again at a shop having all-things sheepskin. I hesitated to try on anything for fear it would fit, and I'd have to buy it!

By 5:30 pm, I was starting to think about food, and soon came across the Plaza Café, a family-friendly restaurant that had some interesting specials. Not being too hungry, I settled on a large bowl of Yucatan chicken lime soup: chicken, rice, mild green peppers, and a good dose of green lime flavor. A fresh roll and butter came with it. I finished off with a cup of very strong café con leche.

At the table next to me sat a family with four small children, including a set of twin boys. I got chatting with the parents, and I asked if the kids were all theirs or had they just rented them for the day. They laughed and said that, unfortunately, the kids weren't rented. They were from Lubbock, Texas.

I walked in the sunshine back to my car. Using a book of discount coupons I'd gotten at a roadside stop, I found a number of medium-priced hotels with good facilities. By 6:30 pm, I was checked into a room with a king-size bed, free wifi internet connection, pool, and Jacuzzi.

I ventured out to a supermarket to buy emergency rations: milk, juice, and dried fruit. Back in my room, I handled email, photos and diary, read the national newspaper, and tried to have an early night. Lights out at 10:30 pm.

[Diary] At 8 am, I joined an international committee for its weekly 1-hour phone meeting. (The trip wasn't all vacation!) By the time I was done with that, the east coast was well and truly into its workday, and email started to arrive.

By 10:45 am, I was downtown and parked in a high-rise parking station. My first activity for the day was a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. She was a well-known American painter who lived to be 100. She spent many years in the area around Santa Fe painting the desert landscapes. The main exhibit was of her works along with a collection of black and white photos by renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams. I paid extra for the audio tour in an attempt to understand the exhibits, but, once again, the understanding of art eluded me, Philistine that I am.

I found my way back to the Plaza café for lunch. It was very busy, and all the tables were taken, so I sat at the counter next to Kathy from Pittsburgh, a fellow Sagittarian. We spent more than an hour swapping travel and life stories, and I invited her to visit me in Reston.

From there, I walked to the park in the main plaza, where I shared a bench with a woman having a brown-bag lunch in the sun. She was a potter and was selling at a stall in a park nearby. It was another glorious day, very warm with a gentle cool breeze and a clear blue sky.

The next culture stop was the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. The main exhibits were made by members of the Mississippi and Oklahoma branches of the Choctaw tribe. There was clothing, beadwork, jewelry, baskets, and art. Now all that artwork, I understood.

[Diary] By 9 am, I was packed, checked-out, and heading north on Highway 285. Then it was west on 502, stopping occasionally to shoot photos and video of the spectacular rock formations. Although there was plenty of snowmelt in spring, the countryside looked harsh.

I turned south on Highway 4 towards Bandelier National Monument. At the entrance, I paid the fee, and drove the three miles to the visitor center. I took the short trail, along a creek, through the ruins of a 500-year-old Anasazi village, and up to a series of cliff dwellings via ladders. Several caves were open for inspection, and each had ceilings blackened from ancient campfires. Inside, they were very cool. Near the end of that trail loop, a sign to another attraction caught my eye, so off down the half-mile trail I went in search of the Alcove ceremonial site. The ceremonial chamber (kiva) was built on the floor of a huge cave 140 feet up from the canyon floor. It was reached by a series of large wooden ladders and was well worth the effort.

I took my time on the highway, and arrived in Los Alamos around 3 pm. This is the home of the world-famous Los Alamos National Laboratories, which was created in the 1940s to research and develop nuclear weapons for the U.S. with Britain as a partner. It is still in operation today. I spent two hours in the Bradbury Science Museum watching videos and looking at numerous displays including mock-up copies of the bombs Fat Man and Little Boy, which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively. It was a moving experience.

Although Los Alamos looked like a nice place to stay, I pushed on up into the mountains with the sun streaming down, a nice breeze blowing, and music playing. I soon discovered the best section of Highway 4, which ran through prime ranch land and pine forests. It didn't take me long to start thinking about living there.

I stopped off at Valles Caldera National Preserve to see some of its 7,000 elk. The preserve is tens of thousands of acres in size, and much of it is down in a caldera formed when the magma underneath ran out when a massive volcano on the edge erupted.

Next came La Cueva (Spanish for "cave"), which consisted of a general store, restaurant, and motel. It was 6 pm, and I got the last room. I paid more than I had wanted, but it was a long way to the next town, the proprietors were very friendly, and they had free internet access. Each cabin/room was named for a bird or animal; I was in Rabbit, right down the end. The bonus came in the form of a totally unexpected queen-size bed. The room was very comfortably furnished and included novels and magazines. The back door led out to a patio and picnic area, complete with BBQs. Just down over the back rail-fence, a stream ran rapidly passed, and, yes, there was even a young beaver swimming there with his small lodge off to one side. I sat in the sun at a picnic table reading the national newspaper as the stream gurgled by. It was hard to image that at 9 am that morning, I was in the state capital.

At 8:05, I went across to the café to eat supper, only to be told they closed at 8! Don't you just hate that when that happens! So, it was on to Plan B, which I made up right then and there. At the general store, I cobbled together some snack food, and retreated to my cabin to eat and do the day's newspaper puzzles. I sat indoors but with the backdoor open. However, once the sun went down, it got cold pretty quickly. I read some brochures that described the places I'd visited. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] It was a cold night up at 8,500 feet, but I had plenty of warm bedding. I was wide awake at 8 am. By 9 am, I was in the diner next door chowing down on sausage, egg, hash-brown potatoes, and toast, tapping my foot to country music. I took my time over breakfast and worked on some puzzles. Then I walked along the creek where a number of fishermen had set up their operations. However, there were no beaver out, probably because of the dogs around.

At 11 am, I checked-out and got email using the motel wifi while sitting in my car. The drive south out of the mountains was very pleasant, but slow. The lush green soon gave way to parched red. After an hour, I hit the main highway, so could increase my speed.

I drove to the outskirts of Albuquerque, and then went west on Interstate 40 (I-40), which goes 2,547 miles right across the country, from Barstow, California, to Wilmington, North Carolina. I stopped along the way for refreshments and a stretch. I was surprised to come across an area with large dark black lava flows. That continued for many miles and was in stark contrast to the surrounding geology.

I got off the freeway at the town of Grants, and went in search of a public telephone. Being one of the (presumably) few Americans without a mobile phone occasionally puts me at a disadvantage. The first phone I found was out of order. The second one had a dial tone, but the buttons worked only intermittently. The third one ate my 50 cents and wanted more money. On my fourth try, I switched to a phone credit card, and actually got through to my next hosts, letting them know I was less than an hour away.

Highway 53 was in good condition, and 40 minutes later, I was at the main ranch gate. Then it was on to several miles of dirt track and up into the forest to my hosts George and Caroly. After 4.5 hours of driving, I was ready to rest.

They built their magnificent adobe, passive, solar house themselves, and were retired on 40 acres. The house had one level, with huge windows facing south, with a great view.

We sat on a patio in the shade sipping cold drinks and getting acquainted. For supper, we had typical southwestern fare: corn tortillas, cheese, chicken and beans. We talked some more and then we each settled down to reading, and in my case, writing this diary. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] My bed was Heavenly, and I had a very good sleep. I was up at 8 am, and not long after, we sat down to halves of grapefruit and waffles with syrup. After the dishes were done, I packed water, emergency rations, hat, and cameras, and headed out for the El Morro National Monument, just a few miles away. There, I paid my $3, watched an orientation video, and then applied sunscreen. The 2-mile hike started at the base of some formidable cliffs, on which Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and settlers moving west had all carved their names, dates, messages, and even a poem at a place called "Inscription Rock". A 12-foot-deep, 200,000-gallon pool lay at the bottom, which is why the spot was so popular.

The trail slowly took me 200 feet up to the top of the rock formation. Along the way, the geology changed several times. Fortunately, there were plenty of shade trees on the way up. From the top, I could see a large canyon down between the two branches of the rock formation. A Native American pueblo (Spanish for "village") ruin was partially excavated. It was occupied in the 13th or 14th century.

Back at the visitor center, I looked at the exhibits, bought a National Park DVD, and had a light lunch. On the way home, I stopped in at a Trading Post where I had a delicious peach-flavored smoothie (milk, crushed ice, and frozen fruit).

Back at the ranch, I rested up, worked on this diary, and went through all the digital photos from this trip, deleting some and naming the others. This tourist thing can be work! Around 5 pm, we had drinks in the shade on the patio. Then at 6 pm, we ate supper there. George grilled kebabs of meat, mushrooms, zucchini, and red pepper. Caroly served a salad. We talked over supper, and then did the dishes before we all worked on individual projects.

I showered and lay in bed reading a guidebook for frugal travelers that Caroly had published some years ago. As I read, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the advice she had given. One bit of information I got was that, at age 19, George had driven from Florida to Alaska to Costa Rica, and from there, to Nova Scotia, in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. What a trip! Lights out by 9:30 pm.

[Diary] I was up with the alarm at 7 am. We all had a light breakfast, and then packed for Albuquerque, me to head home, and them for a big shopping trip.

I left around 8 am, driving east, into the morning sun. It was pleasant out, and I had the windows down, and the stereo blasting as I went down the highway.

At exit 102 of Interstate 40, I went south some 15 miles, onto the Acoma Native American reservation, to an old town built high on a mesa (Spanish for "table"). At the very nicely appointed visitor center, I paid my $12 for a guided tour, and 10 minutes later, a bus took us up to the top. A young Acoma woman, called Tahoma, welcomed us and guided us through the Catholic church, cemetery, and village. Of the 300 dwellings up there, fewer than 20 are lived-in year-round. The rest are only used during Catholic or Acoma festivals, when extended families come to celebrate. I lead a small group back down, via a very steep set of steps carved into the rock. It was challenging, but well worth it.

Back at the visitor center, I had lunch with a retired couple from Alabama. All the food was prepared on the reservation, and I had some rather spicy lamb stew and bread, which was baked in a traditional mud brick oven outdoors.

Back at the ramp to the interstate highway, I picked up a hitchhiker. Originally from Michigan, he'd been working in southeast Arizona, near Tombstone. He was headed to Denver, Colorado, to find work. We chatted the 50 miles to Albuquerque, where I dropped him at a northbound ramp of I-25.

I was looking for a cheap hotel and soon found one with free wireless internet and a king-size bed. For the first time the whole trip I turned on the air-conditioning, and it sure felt good. As I unpacked, I watched some TV, and found that a movie was about to start. So, with my being on holiday, I didn't think that watching a movie at four o'clock in the afternoon was too decadent.

Soon after 6 pm, I walked to Milton's, the 24-hour diner nearby. I had a bowl of soup—just like Grandma used to make—and a BLT, while reading the national newspaper. After supper, I handled email, surfed the internet, and watched some TV. Lights out at 9:15 pm.

[Diary] I was awake a little before my 5:45 am alarm. I got my final email fix, packed my bags, dropped my room key in the "after hours" slot, and was on Interstate 25 for the short drive south to the airport. Weather-wise, it was a very nice, clear morning.

I fly a great deal, and rarely have any problems. However, as the old saying goes, "When it rains, it pours." It started right at the beginning when I returned my rental car; my rental record had been messed up, and the agent was neither polite nor helpful.

Once I got to the terminal, controlled chaos reigned. All the people from a cancelled flight were lined up in the premier check-in line, leaving us premier travelers with the exact opposite of priority check-in. Eventually, I got to the front, but much of the time I'd budgeted for breakfast had evaporated. And, No, United doesn't have a business lounge at ABQ, nor does the airport have a priority security line. So, it was one long line after the other, even to buy breakfast.

Despite having arrived at the airport two hours before my departure time, I got to Gate B9 just before boarding started. When priority boarding was announced, I stepped forward, put my boarding pass into the reader, which promptly rejected it. So, an agent came over, and after some effort trying to figure out why, he solved the problem by issuing me a new boarding pass, but this time, in First Class. Considering I was flying on a free ticket anyway, I did not object. (Of course, having had a rushed breakfast before boarding, I had to decline the nice one they served up front just after we were airborne.)

Once I was on the plane, things seemed to get back to normal. The captain and First-Class flight attendant welcomed me on board with big smiles, a pre-flight drink was served, and all was right in the world, or at least in Seat 2A of UA flight 782's Airbus 319, which was headed for Washington DC, non-stop.

ABQ shares runways with Kirtland Airforce Base, and as we went down the runway, I saw quite a few military aircraft, including two Ospreys, which take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly like a plane once their rotors are tilted. A large number of 4-engine prop cargo planes were present.

I worked on this diary while sipping a mixture of cranberry and apple juice. Then it was time for a short nap. The ride was very smooth, and we arrived at IAD, on-time at 1:55 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, losing two hours along the way. The baggage handlers played "hide the luggage" for a while, but, eventually, it appeared. By then, Jenny had arrived to pick me up, and we were on our way home, in humid weather.

Back home, it was time to unpack from the trip, complete my diary, upload and name photos, and upload and edit video. There was even a little bit of paid work to be done before our house guests (a German family) arrived on the following Friday. And my next flight wasn't scheduled for another four whole weeks!

One interesting fact was that New Mexico was the 47th state to be admitted to the US Union, and it was the 47th state I'd visited.