Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Driving to Michigan

© 2010, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In August of 2010, my wife, Jenny, and I headed out on an 11-day driving trip that would take us to parts of the US states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia.

From Home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

We were up early and had a light breakfast. We packed our luggage, took the back two seats out of Jenny's Dodge Caravan, and loaded everything in. At 10 am, we departed Reston via Route 7 west to Route 15 north. At Point of Rocks, we crossed from the state of Virginia into Maryland and continued north to Frederick where we caught Interstate Highway 70 (I-70) west to Hancock. Then we turned north crossing into Pennsylvania. That first 100 miles took us two hours.

We then traveled west on I-76, which is a toll road. None of the rest stops on that section had any picnic tables, so we had our picnic lunch in the van at a gas station. The weather was great for driving; we had the windows down the whole way with the sun mostly behind us. The countryside was green with forest most of the way.

By the time we exited I-76, we'd paid $8.40 in tolls. From there, we ventured west on I-376 on into Pittsburgh. However, the tunnel through the hills at the exit of the downtown area was closed for repair for the weekend, and it took more than 90 minutes to go about five miles due to the detour, single lane, and lots of traffic. We'd gotten some hotel discount coupons from a visitor center along the way and made our way to the Knights Inn in Bridgeville, just west of Pittsburgh. Originally, we'd planned to go back into the city for the evening, but with the tunnel closure and subsequent traffic jam, we decided to stay in and eat another picnic for supper. The hotel room was cheap ($56), very comfortable, quiet, and came with a microwave and fridge. As is the case with many cheaper hotels around the country, it was operated by an Asian Indian family.

A short, light rain shower fell as we lay on our beds reading novels. We watched a bit of TV, and I connected my laptop computer to the free Wi-Fi link, took care of mail, and surfed the internet. Lights out around 10 pm. By the day's end, we'd driven 260 miles.

On to Cleveland, Ohio

We were up around 8 o'clock and lay in bed reading. A light breakfast was included in our room rate, so we went down to the breakfast room for that. We loaded up the van, checked out of the hotel, filled the car with gas, and hit the highway at 10 am going north on I-79, west and north on I-376, and then west on I-80 where we crossed into Ohio. Along the way, we crossed over the Ohio River, which starts in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers. We stopped at an Ohio State visitor's center to pick up some hotel discount-coupon books and other information and had a cup of tea and picnic lunch at a table in the shade. The weather was wonderful.

We exited the freeway onto local road 422, which ran through some small towns. We stopped at a yard sale where we bought a flowerpot (50 cents) and a toolbox ($1). Along the way, there was forest, forest, and more forest! Using the hotel books, we located a very cheap hotel near Cleveland Airport and arrived there around 2 pm. It cost only $46 for two people, and included continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and hot tub; what a deal!

We spent the afternoon at the RainForest Center and adjoining Zoo, which, combined, cost $10 per person. The RainForest Center was two acres on two floors, enclosed in a glass-domed room and walls. It featured animals; birds; flowers from Africa, Asia, and South America; and a huge waterfall. A digital clock counted the world's population at a rate of 165 births per minute while another counted the number of acres of rainforest destroyed in the world at a rate of 120 acres per minute. These were very sobering statistics.

We crossed over to the zoo and started at the large Australian exhibit, which included animals, birds, and a recreated outback station (ranch) house. There was also a sheering shed complete with Merino lambs and camel rides. [Camels were taken to the Outback for the early explorers, and many went off to breed in the wild. Now, more than a few are exported to the Middle East for racing!] From there, we walked around the African Savannah, through a butterfly house, to the veterinary medicine facility, and on to the rhinos.

On the way home, we looked for possible eating-places, and ran across one of our perennial favorites, Denny's. So, at 6:30, we pulled in for supper. They had new $2, $4, $6, and $8 menus, which were great value. One of their selling points is that they serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I had biscuits (AU: scones) with white sausage gravy and a side order of four sausage links. Jenny had chicken wraps. It was all very tasty and cheap, and we had a very nice young waitress. As we went to pay, we found that we were eligible for a 20% discount for "old farts" (although we were only 56 and not retired, we were members of the American Association of Retired Persons).

We were back in our room by 8 o'clock, and once we removed our shoes and lay on our beds, we hardly moved. Later, I started this diary while listening to an instrumental CD by an Aussie composer. We read novels until lights-out at 10:30. We'd driven 160 miles.

A Visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

We slept quite well until 8:30 am, and thanks to the very heavy drapes the room was pitch black inside. The continental breakfast was served until 9 am, and it was spartan even from a Spartan's point of view! 'Nough said. Back in the room, I checked my email to find a message from the guys ripping out the old bathroom and kitchen in one of our rental properties. The good news was they had started the project on time. The bad news was that they had discovered that the original plumbing was in poor shape. C'est la vie!

We left the hotel soon after 11 and drove downtown right to the waterfront where we found an all-day parking station for $10. After a 5-minute walk, we were in the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," which opened 15 years ago. Admission cost us $22 each. We walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And we listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as we learned of the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars.

Next, we moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. We came to it near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were playing. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and we watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, we got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! We really enjoyed the performances.

We looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While we were familiar with most inductees, there were a few we'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 and we spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, our ears were ringing a little.

Just outside the Hall, we waited to cross the street when a woman drove through the intersection and caused an older guy riding his big motorcycle to fall off on the ground. I went over to help him up and gasoline was pouring out of a broken fuel pipe. After a short sit, he was able to get up and walk around, and his bike did not seem damaged otherwise. [Ohio doesn't require riders to wear helmets, and we'd commented earlier that no matter whose fault an accident was, the rider would always come out worst off.]

On the way home, we found our way to Denny's again; however, our waitress from the night before was not on duty, so we had to "break in another one!" I had studied the menu the night before, so was ready to order immediately. I had ground steak with BBQ sauce, gravy, grilled red and green peppers, mashed potatoes, green beans, onion rings, and slices of garlic bread. It was just like Grandma used to make! Jenny had an omelet with biscuit and white sausage gravy. The meals were big enough that we took the excess food home.

Back in our hotel, we found that housekeeping had passed us by, so we made our own beds. Oh well, we had gotten an extra cheap rate anyway. I worked on this diary and we both read our novels. Lights out at 10:30.

On to Michigan

We were awake soon after 7:30 am, and we read in bed for a while. For breakfast, we finished up leftovers from the night before, and they tasted just as good. By 9:15, we were loaded and checked out. We stopped off at a gas station near the hotel to fill the cooler with ice. From there it was a straight run north to Highway 6, which ran east/west along the southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.

Light rain fell intermittently as we drove west. There were many very nice houses along the coast, most of them with huge front yards covered in grass and large trees. There was very little traffic. After some time, we were among cornfields and vegetable gardens. We stopped in a quaint little town called Vermillion where we rescued some "treasures" from a consignment shop and bought some books and videos at a Goodwill charity shop. Just west of Sandusky, we drove north on a peninsula up to a ferry that took day-trippers to one of several islands on the lake. We found a small picnic area in a local park and ate lunch there while planning for our time in the next state.

On the outskirts of Toledo, we waited in a long line of traffic at a light when a woman wanted to get across in front of us from the on-coming lanes. So, we backed up a bit and let her through, for which she thanked us by waving and smiling. She pulled across in front of us and then started to cross the next lane when a guy came racing along from behind us in that lane and hit her car dead center. There was a loud bang, and the impact pushed her vehicle across the road and up into a garden on the side. I dare say both drivers' days were ruined, although neither appeared to be injured. If we hadn't had been kind to her, she would have avoided the accident!

We drove north on I-75 and crossed the border into Michigan soon after. It was our first time back in that state for 30 years, when we lived in Chicago in 1979–80. We stopped at the Visitor's Welcome Center to pick up a hotel coupon book, and after studying that, we found a favorite chain that had a property right near where we wanted to be, so we headed for that location.

We arrived around 4 pm and they had a nice room with a king-size bed for $45 + tax. The desk clerk was a very pleasant and efficient young woman. Free Wi-Fi was included as was breakfast, a daily newspaper, and tea/coffee in the lobby. We unpacked and made a plan for the next day. Then we snacked in the room while watching some TV. Later, we took care of some email and read our novels. Lights out at 10. We'd driven 170 miles.

A Visit to the Henry Ford Museum

We slept soundly waking at 8 am. The room rate included a breakfast voucher for $3.50 per person at a local restaurant, so we walked there for our morning exercise. Leon's Diner was busy and a typical neighborhood place with regulars. The menu had a wide selection and cheap prices. I had bacon and eggs with toast and hot tea, and Jenny had eggs with sausage, ham, and hash-brown potatoes.

We departed the hotel around 9:30 and after a short drive to the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, we parked at the Henry Ford Museum. We'd visited it more than 30 years ago, but didn't remember many of the details. We bought a combined ticket for the Museum and the adjacent Greenfield Village, which we'd visit the next day. The museum contains a collection of Americana all housed under a 12-acre roof. The main exhibit areas are Manufacturing, Furniture, Agriculture (tractors and implements), a futuristic house promoted in 1946 as the "way of the future," Power Generation, Liberty and Justice (including the bus on which the black woman Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man; we sat in the bus itself and heard of that historic event), Early Aviation, and Transportation (including the car in which President Kennedy was shot). On one exhibit, I read the following text: "American woodworking machinery became famous in the late 1800s as fast and labor-saving, but very wasteful of wood. In many ways, Americans today continue to have similar attitudes: willing to sacrifice natural resources for convenience and labor-savings." An interesting observation. After seven hours, we'd covered the place from one end to the other pretty much without a break. It was a short drive back to our hotel where we were very happy to put our feet up, have a cold drink, and read our novels.

Around 7 pm, we headed out to a Bob Evans family restaurant nearby to inspect their menu. I had a wonderful chicken quesadilla fully loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cheese, onion, and salsa with sour cream. Jenny had the homemade meatloaf, gravy, and mashed potatoes on a slice of Texas toast. We had great service from all the staff. Back in our room, we read, and I brought this diary up to date. Lights out at 10:30.

A Walk Back in Time

We slept late and took our time getting going. Once again, we enjoyed breakfast at Leon's Diner, and then we drove a few miles to Greenfield Village, another of Henry Ford's pet projects. In 1929, he opened the museum we'd visited the day before. He also decided to gather in one place the original buildings (or in some cases, reproductions), in which numerous notable people had lived or worked. As he was a good friend of Thomas Edison, he recreated Edison's New Jersey research labs and Edison's lab in Florida that was next to his holiday home. Ford also brought the county courthouse from Illinois, in which Abraham Lincoln had practiced law for many years, and the poet Robert Frost's house, Ford's own birthplace, the Wright Brothers' house and workshop, and many others. All of these were put in Greenfield Village. The land occupied by the Village is more than 250 acres, but only 75-odd are in use for buildings and supporting gardens, farms, and animal enclosures. Some of the rest is being developed.

We spent five hours alternating between live entertainment, visiting houses and workshops, and riding around the park. We saw a 30-minute song-and-dance review of Broadway shows; listened to concerts of women, men, and co-ed groups; and heard stories told by a man posing as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. A fleet of Ford Model T vehicles (sedans, touring cars, and small buses) took people on 10-minute tours around the village. We paid $4 each to ride in a 1914 touring car, one of the nearly 15 million Model Ts built using the same engine design. For another $4, we rode a steam train around the whole compound, and while it was enjoyable, there certainly was a lot of coal soot. Quite a few locomotives and carriages have been restored and put into service. The last thing we did was to listen to a live 15-minute presentation by a 1904-era Federal Forest Ranger. He was dressed in a uniform from the time period and carried a .45-caliber Winchester rifle in a saddle scabbard and a matching revolver on his hip. His horse was named Catherine, and her breed was distinctly American.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped to resupply our emergency rations kit, and then we had supper in our room. I settled into a couple of hours of work to help pay for the trip. Later, we read and watched a bit of TV. Lights out around 10:15 after an interesting and educational day.

Back to Ohio

Once again, we slept late, then packed and checked out of our hotel. We ate our usual breakfast at Leon's Diner while reading the national newspaper. By 10:45 am, we were headed south on the freeway on the next stage of our trip.

It was great weather for driving, not too hot with the windows wound all the way down. We headed south on I-75 to Toledo and continued south for another hour. Then we went east on a state highway that took us through corn and soybean fields aplenty. After about 2½ hours, we stopped at a very nice rest area and had a light lunch at a table in the shade.

By 3 pm, we were in the metropolitan area of Columbus, the largest city and capital of the state of Ohio. We found a nice Red Roof Inn hotel with a great price. Our room was still being cleaned, so we waited 30 minutes in the lounge/breakfast area, sipping drinks and surfing the internet on the public computer. An ever so tiny chambermaid from Mexico finished making up our room, and we moved in with our gear. A microwave and fridge were included as was a large selection of cable TV channels, a continental breakfast, and all for $50/night. Jenny went off to work out in the exercise room while I worked on this diary.

Jenny met a woman who told her that the Ohio State Fair was on and would end the coming weekend. As we had never been to a state fair and we'd just been talking about the possibility of attending one sometime, we jumped at the chance. And, don't you know, as a local supermarket chain was selling $10-admission tickets for only $6, we bought tickets for the next day. On the way home, we stopped off at Pizza Hut for a salad and pizza. Lights out at 10:15 pm. We drove 190 miles.

Our Very First State Fair

The heavy drapes kept the room dark, and we slept through until 8:15 am. The hotel breakfast consisted of juice, tea, coffee, bread, and pastries, and a toaster was available.

We left the hotel in very nice weather and drove the five miles downtown to the fairgrounds. It had opened at 9 am, and as we arrived before 9:30, we got a parking place quite close to an entrance. Parking was very orderly with swarms of State Police everywhere directing traffic. After entering, we took the program and map, and sat for 15 minutes to see what was on when and where, and just how much there was to see and do. There was a lot to do with some events scheduled only once, others every few hours, and some running continuously. And the grounds were extensive. The fair is one of the biggest in the country and runs for two weeks.

As far as livestock went, we saw a lot of beef and dairy cattle, horses, pigs, sheep (including an Australian Shepherd dog and a Border Collie pair with five new pups), poultry, and many hundreds of rabbits. We also watched some judging. For entertainment, we watched a family of four juggle (sometimes on unicycles), two artists singing new country, a high-diving troop, a barbershop quartet, a juggling comedian, and a 200-student All-State Choir. We joined a large crowd to watch a pig race. After much anticipation by the people, out waddled three very fat and slow pot-bellied pigs, which were quite entertaining. A large petting zoo included the usual farm animals, some exotic ones (including camel, deer, and zebra), along with a pair of kangaroos, and three emus. Some dog handlers demonstrated their skills with black labs and retrievers, which swam out into a pond to fetch decoys while directed by hand gestures and whistles. There was also a pumpkin contest with the winner coming in at 790 lbs. (360 kgs) that grew in 52 days.

The weather was excellent all day with quite a lot of cloud cover to hide the hot sun. We alternated between sitting and watching events, visiting animal halls, and strolling through sheds full of commercial, educational, art, and handicraft displays. In total, we spent more than 10 hours there, and it was well worth it. Back in our room, we put our feet up and ate slices of leftover pizza and drinks. Lights out at 10:15 after a most enjoyable day.

A Look Around Downtown Columbus

After a restless night, we were awake soon after 9 am, but decided to take things easy. I worked on this diary while Jenny got a few more ZZZs. We made breakfast in our room and topped that off with hot drinks from the fancy machine in the hotel breakfast room. I settled into some personal and business email, a call back east to friend Phil, and some work on my personal blog. Jenny went off to do a load of washing at the local laundromat, which turned out to be quite crowded.

At 1:30 pm, we headed south to downtown Columbus where we parked in the shade next to the State Capitol. We entered and chatted a bit with a young State Highway Patrol officer at the front desk. There was no security check; it was nice to know that there were still parts of the country that hadn't yet succumbed to the "surrounding everyone with everything" Homeland-Security mindset. We joined five others for the 2-o'clock guided tour, which took us through the basement, the Senate, and the House. It was most informative. Afterwards, we toured a small museum where we learned that Ohio adopted ideas from the Australian Voting Act of 1891 requiring all candidates' names and party affiliations to be printed on the same ballot slip, which was only distributed to voters at a polling station on Election Day. Apparently, this went a long way to removing the corruption that had plagued prior elections. On the way out, we stopped and chatted with a male and female trooper to find out how one becomes a state policeman and what the job entailed. We spent 1:45 hours there touring the buildings and walking around the grounds.

Next up was a visit to a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria. The name of the city Columbus was taken from the famous explorer, and the ship was built for the 500th anniversary of his discovery of the Americas in 1492. For a $4 fee, we got a 40-minute tour literally from "stem to stern" lead by a young university student. He knew his stuff and answered all our questions.

Many years ago, the Ohio School for the Deaf stood on a 10-acre block downtown. After the school was relocated, the city turned the block into a very nice park and commissioned a sculptor to make metal frameworks around a set of yew trees to shape them into people, animals, birds, and boats, all to look like the scene from a famous French impressionist painting. The result was the "Topiary Garden at the Old Deaf School." We stopped by to take a look. A few people were looking at the sculpted trees while others sat in the sun or shade reading. Free Wi-Fi was available throughout the park for those people who just "had to be connected!"

On the way home, the traffic slowed down as we approached the state fairgrounds. It was the final day and people seemed to be leaving in large numbers, so we got off the freeway and drove back through some local neighborhoods. Jenny went off to the breakfast lounge for her late-afternoon cup of tea while I brought this diary up to date.

At 6:30, we drove a few blocks to a Red Lobster restaurant where we had a very nice meal. Our waitress, Nia, was a student studying psychology, and she was both interested and interesting, much more so than most 21-year-olds. We watched a movie until lights-out at 11 pm after a restful and educational day.

On to West Virginia

We were up, packed, breakfasted, and gassed up by 9:15 am. We took state and local highways south and east all the way to the West Virginia border, stopping a couple of times along the way to stretch and snack. We also visited a small factory that made washboards. While some sales go to musicians and others become souvenirs to hang on a wall, most are actually bought by people who wash clothes by hand! One group that does the latter are US military people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we saw letters and photos of that on a pin-up board.

We got to Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, mid-afternoon. As it turned out, the only thing we really wanted to do there was to visit the State Capitol. It was a magnificent building and we walked around on our own. There was no security desk. After that, we decided to head in the direction of home and we drove more than an hour northeast on I-79 until we were tired, and we found a hotel. Pretty much all we saw was trees, trees, and more trees. We had supper at an Italian family restaurant and bought some emergency rations at the supermarket nearby. Lights out at 10 pm. We'd driven 250 miles.

Headed for Home

We got up soon after 8 am and had a light breakfast before heading out. It was great weather for driving. After an hour on the interstate highway, we turned east and wound around smaller roads for more than two hours, passing into the western tip of the state of Maryland then back into West Virginia.

We found a picnic stop in a small town and sat there for a while. By that time, it was well over 90 degrees F, so we started up the van's air-conditioning. Soon after, we crossed into Virginia and drove the 75 minutes home. We'd driven 250 miles that day and 1,380 all told.

We unloaded our gear and packed everything away. It was good to be home. We'd covered a lot of ground in 11 days, but got a taste of each area we visited. It was a most enjoyable trip.

Signs of Life: Part 33

© 2023 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. These photos were taken during a trip Down Under.


A fish-and-chip shop in North Adelaide, South Australia.


A sign above the sink in the staff kitchen of St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide, South Australia.

Despite having lived in that area for 10 years in a previous life, this was my first time visiting the cathedral. An elderly volunteer greeted me at the side entrance, and I jokingly asked her if I was late for morning tea. She said that if I spoke to another volunteer, I could get a guidebook and a cup of tea/coffee. (If you don't ask, you'll never know!) I had a look around; it was pleasant without being austere or too much, and had some nice stained-glass windows. The second volunteer then took me into the staff kitchen where she made me a cup of coffee.


This Aussie burger chain's name includes the word concrete. As best as I could find, "the menu focuses on the simple things—burgers and concretes—and aims to do them perfectly."


An interesting take on William Golding's book "Lord of the Flies."


Well now, this looks like a friendly place to get some ink!


I'm thinking their use of asylum leans more toward "lunatic asylum" rather than "safe haven."


Wow, a ridgy-didge Aussie pizza place! It looks like the swagman from Waltzing Matilda is camped by a billabong eating a pizza with a wallaby.


An Aussie chain of bottle shops (US: liquor stores).


Hmm! Just what does Australia taste like?

Frankly, if you didn't grow up with Vegemite on your dummy (US: baby pacifier), you likely won't ever aquire a taste for it.


Although I've long been a fan of FruChocs (dried apricot and peach paste, coated in milk chocolate), I'm not sure I want to eat them in a fondue.


I can understand that after having drank here you might be caffeined, but then one meaning of fiend is "addict or fanatic."


"Ankle biter" is Aussie slang for a young , possibly annoying, child.


Parking place reserved for Mums (US: Moms) with small children.


Here's one idea about exercise!


From my home town of Loxton, South Australia.


BTW, the Men's Shed movement started in Australia.


Now it's always wise to give way to cattle in the Aussie Outback, but for some unknown reason, some young Aussie guys feel the need to shoot .22 rifle bullets into road signs.


If you have ever driven through areas with livestock, you'll be used to opening and closing gates. And the rule is to leave a gate as you found it, open or closed.


That's a very long way to have to pay close attention as to what is hopping across the road in front of you, especially at dawn, dusk, or night when visibility is low.


My older brother had a 75-pound kangaroo "come out of nowhere" and right through the front windscreen (US: windshield) of his car while he was driving at 60 miles-per-hour (100 kph) on a paved highway. Don't you just hate that when that happens!


Covid and Me

© 2020, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In late February of 2020, I was minding my own business having a very laid-back, three-week vacation in Tahiti in the South Pacific. Prior to my departure from home here in Northern Virginia, USA, there were an increasing number of news stories about the spread of the coronavirus—otherwise known as COVID-19; I'll just call it Covid—in other countries, and especially on cruise ships. Throughout my trip, most days, I read on-line news reports, including some from my home state of South Australia, where as a result there was an acute shortage of toilet paper; really! I got back home on March 11, just two days before the US airline industry was shut down. (Numerous times since then I've stated, "If I hadn't gotten home when I did, I might have been stuck in Tahiti for several years!")

Some six months into the pandemic, I wrote the bulk of this document to share with friends in Australia and Europe, some of whom had far better situations than did I, and some far worse, depending on their location and their government's handling of the crisis. For my Aussie readers, to put things into perspective, the contiguous 48 states of the US (and Federal capital Washington DC) are about the same size as Australia, but with 15 times the population, and of course the huge difference between the sizes of the two economies.

Grocery Shopping

My first reality check was the morning after I arrived home from Tahiti. As my fridge was empty, I headed off to my local supermarket to restock. I definitely wasn't ready for the chaos that awaited me. The place was very crowded with each shopper having a large cart filled to the brim often with large quantities of items I thought were hardly necessary in a crisis. It definitely was a case of panic buying! If it hadn't been so sad to see, it would have been amusing. I started chatting with another shopper who, like me, was doing an ordinary shopping run, and we compared what we had in our carts to the others nearby and considered our priorities. I had milk and chocolate, and she had beer and snack food!

Once restricted hours or closures were mandated for different kinds of businesses, places selling food were exempted as being essential (along with gasoline stations). Not long after, my supermarket, which opens at 6 am, announced that from 6–7 each morning, customers would be limited to Senior Citizens only. Basically, by 6 am, the place had been thoroughly cleaned, so the more vulnerable customers had less chance of infection. Also, staff were sanitizing carts between uses. All the entrances, but one, were closed. Customers had to keep socially distanced in the long line leading to the self-serve and manned checkouts. I shopped once at that time, but decided I really didn't want to have to set my alarm to go grocery shopping, especially when I could go at any time during the day. In any event, I didn't see myself as being in the at-risk population.

One day as I was pushing my cart down an aisle, I was sternly reprimanded by an employee stacking shelves. Apparently, they had placed arrows on the floor of most aisles, so customers in such aisles would all be going in the same direction. And I was going the wrong way! In my defense, I must say that I don't go around a supermarket looking at the floor. However, I learned my lesson, and eagerly took on the job of policing that rule during subsequent visits. However, the store wouldn't give me a badge or gun; how un-American is that!

Everyone over the age of about six had to wear a mask to enter a public place, and it was challenging to recognize people when they were wearing a mask. Of course, some people just had to have expensive, designer masks, and other masks with witty or cerebral writing. After six months, there was less enforcement of the rules, but there were still disinfectant sprays and hand towels at the entrance, and sometimes handwash gel. (These were widely available even 30 months later.)

For those of us who take reusable bags, we had to pack our own things; the staff would not touch our bags. There was a large plexiglass partition between the customer and checkout operator, and the credit card payment machine and keypad were covered in plastic sheeting.

For the most part, I could usually buy almost all the things on my shopping list. However, early on, there definitely were shortages of packaged meals, rice, pasta, and such. And one time there was little meat. Several months into the crisis, I actually wanted toilet paper and paper towels, which proved challenging. After visiting six places, I finally got some of each—and face tissues—in a neighboring state a half-hour's drive from home.


In most US states, the public-school systems are run by local government (as such, we have thousands of different systems), and they each came up with their own rules. Mine is run by my county, and it closed schools by the end of March 2020. Of course, they had no infrastructure in place or staff training to change over to remote learning, so things were quite disorganized for the remainder of the school year, which ended in late June for the long summer break. Ordinarily, many systems offer "Summer School" classes to allow students to retake something they'd failed or to improve a grade. These were cancelled as were in-person educational and recreational summer camp programs (a multi-billion-dollar business here in the US).

The many thousands of universities and community colleges followed suit, which played havoc with all the extracurricular activities US colleges are known for, especially college sports (another multi-billion-dollar business). Many small cities and large towns exist to service a college, so with students living at home instead of on-campus, the economies of those cities and towns were devastated. Of course, many service businesses closed, but for those still open, their pool of students working as part-time staff had evaporated. And with so many towns relying on revenue from local sales taxes, their revenue projections were lowered significantly.

The fall (autumn that is) semester of the 2020/2021 school year ran from late August through mid-December. My county had (often contentious) public meetings, and finally presented parents with two options: completely remote schooling at home, or remote at home for three days with two days in-person at school. Then just before the school year began, the country decided that everyone would attend remotely. As the staff had the whole summer to figure out how to make this operate, things went much better than the previous semester. Some teachers I know went to their school and taught from their (otherwise empty) rooms.

Of course, there was the problem that not everyone had an internet connection at home, and if they did, could it support high-speed transmission for audio and video? Soon after, we started hearing about screen-fatigue from many hours of intense concentration.

One side effect was that the school bus drivers were mostly out of a job. In many school systems, there are more than a few students on "free and reduced meal" programs, and they usually get breakfast and lunch at school, five days a week. Also, during the school year, kids from food-insecure families get food put in their backpacks on Friday afternoon for the weekend. But if students are not attending school, how do they get such food? In my county, a few buses went out, but instead of picking up and dropping off kids, they delivered meals to those who would have previously gotten them as school. Some buses also served as mobile hotspots providing wi-fi to certain areas.

A major disappointment was for High School Seniors being denied their "rite of passage," a formal graduation ceremony and prom. Likewise for university students who were missing out on in-person activities, including sport.

A huge problem was having parents working from home where kids were attending school remotely. People were getting on each other's nerves! And there was no longer any place to have kids go for "after-school" care for those parents working outside the home.


The lobbies of all banks in my area closed in late March 2020. For those of us who use online banking, use a drive-through teller window, or use cash machines, this wasn't a problem. However, at the end of each month, I need to get access to my safe-deposit box to store an off-site backup of my computer files. To do that, I phoned the branch, and I was assigned one of the 30-minute timeslots. Then at the designated time, I stood outside the main door wearing my mask, and an employee admitted me.

By the way, it was common to see people wearing gloves while handling other peoples' money (such as drive-through tellers). One person I met said that he actually washed with disinfectant all paper bills (AU: bank notes) he got from others.


As soon as my county's schools closed, they put up "No Trespassing" signs at the entrances to school property, which, frankly, I thought was overkill. All they really needed was to keep people from introducing the virus into school buildings. This impacted many non-students who used school athletic tracks and playing fields to exercise. (In my case, a charity with which I volunteer collects bags of garbage for a small fee each Saturday morning from people living outside the town and without a regular pickup service. We ran that from a high school parking lot, but had to move elsewhere, at least temporarily.) After some 6–8 weeks, common sense prevailed, and that order was rescinded. (Sadly, part of the problem in this country is the litigious nature of many people, and the corresponding "cover your ass" paranoia that follows. "If we don't put up such signs, and someone contracts the illness on our property, we'll be liable for millions!)

In 2019, I swam and did water aerobics twice a week, and after three weeks of swimming every day in Tahiti and having increased from two to three times a week in January and February back home, when I got home in March, I very much looked forward to swimming again. However, that was not to be; my local indoor pool closed a few days after I got back. It reopened in July, and I have to say that with all the precautions they took, it probably was safer than before the pandemic!

I used to go whenever I felt in the mood, and stayed as long as I liked, but typically only 30 minutes. Now, I had to book in advance and a reservation was for an hour. No more than one week in advance, I could go on-line and reserve a lane for the days/times I wanted. My pool has four wide lanes, which can each accommodate two swimmers; however, at the times I go, I very rarely have to share a lane.

There was a plexiglass screen between customers and the front desk. Those of us with 25-visit passes usually swipe them in a machine, but for the first two months back in operation, admission was free. (At US$2.60/visit, it's hardly expensive anyway.) Swimmers were not to arrive until five minutes before their time. The change rooms were open, but the storage lockers were taped shut and the showers were "off limits." However, one could use the toilets. Basically, we arrived "ready to swim" and entered the pool from the changeroom. We had to walk around the pool in a clockwise direction only, so we didn't encounter others. At each end of a lane there was a seat numbered for that lane, 1–4, where one put one's towel, clothing, and valuables.

As with pretty much all public pools in the US, at least one lifeguard must be on duty at all times. My pool mostly hires high school and college students, and they work in 15–20-minute shifts.

When I was done, I dried off, dressed, collected my stuff, and left the building by a different door than the one I had entered.

During the four months my pool was closed, I walked a lot and rode my bicycle, which exercised other parts of my body. And to get some variety, I sometimes drove to another area of town or another town and walked or rode around there.

Of course, professional sports, and sports at the university level, are big business here in the US, and that suffered greatly. A big disappointment was for those recruited from high school on full scholarships to play at a university, and then the university season was cancelled.

All my local gyms and fitness clubs were closed, but many set up equipment in their parking lots to handle small groups "at a distance." However, they had to spend a lot of time and money to clean everything between uses.

Volunteer Work

In recent years, I've had one main client at a time who I drove to medical and other appointments, and shopping. The most recent one passed away early in 2020 at age 94, and I declined to risk myself by being exposed to new/unknown clients. However, I do have an 80+-year-old friend (who's legally blind), and I drive her to medical appointments. We get along famously, and we have a socially distanced lunch at a restaurant before each appointment.

Medical Appointments

Most medical facilities cancelled all but emergency appointments. Since my laser surgery for a detached retina some years ago, I have had a checkup every six months. For my first visit during the pandemic, in August 2020, my doctor had on a protective suit and large, flip-up visor mask, and looked a bit like an astronaut.

For some appointments, such as with my sleep specialist who oversees my CPAP usage, I had tele appointments. When driving others to medical appointments, I had to wait outside.

Late in 2020, after a long break due to a low-iron count, I started again as a blood donor. However, instead of donating a pint of whole blood every eight weeks, I went every two weeks to give platelets. Then every four weeks I gave plasma, and every eight weeks, red blood cells as well. The machine took my blood, extracted one to three things, and then returned the unused parts to my body. It took around two hours per visit. I went to a large medical facility as this process is not usually offered in their mobile vans. The donor center was very well maintained with everyone wearing masks. I figured that was one of the safest places to be. A few days after I donated each week, I received an email telling me, "Our SARS-COV-2 Antibody Test was Negative for antibodies."

Restaurants and Bars

These were closed completely for some time, and many went out of business. For the first year, I only ate out a few times, sitting outside or at tables spaced apart. (Typically, they used only every second table.) The initial reaction was to try and offer food to pick up and/or be delivered, and some places still do only that, after three years! Culturally, a lot of Americans eat out, even for breakfast!


Through the end of 2018, I travelled constantly, both domestically and internationally. At any one time, there are thousands of planes in the skies over the US, but not for the first few years of the pandemic. I haven't flown since I got back from Tahiti, and even now, three years later, I have no plans to do so. After several years of being very tired of travel, in September of 2019, I got interested again, and mapped out a half dozen pleasure trips that involved flying and a number driving in the US and Canada. I have put all of those on hold indefinitely. It has even occurred to me that I might never fly again!

Late August 2022, I was scheduled to be in Milan, Italy, but that being the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy, the trip was cancelled with the five days of meetings being handled via a series of 2-hour teleconferences over a 10-day period. I had planned a 2-week vacation afterwards going north overland to Lake Como and the Swiss countryside to Zurich, but that was not to be.

For several years leading up to the pandemic, my international travel schedule had been reducing anyway, as travel budgets kept getting cut in a growing number of participating organizations. At the same time, reliable and often free, high-speed audio and/or video-conferencing facilities had become available, which reduced the need for travel. However, this has been at the expense of being limited to two hours at a time to accommodate attendees across widespread time zones. (I typically interact with people in Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and the US west coast on the same call.)

As you might imagine for an "on the go" country like the US, pre-pandemic, millions of people flew, stayed in hotels, rented cars, ate in restaurants, and did other travel-related things. With much of that travel gone, it had a really big impact on businesses. From time to time, some cities decide to build a professional sports stadium for their existing team or to try and entice a team from another city to relocate. Now these facilities cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and very often, the locals don't want to have to pay for them. So, what the cities do is levy an occupancy tax on hotels and/or a usage tax on rental cars, all of which is paid by people visiting from out-of-town. Of course, without the travelers, there is no tax revenue coming in!

Starting in mid-2021, I started taking 4–5-day road trips within 2–5 hours' drive from home, mostly staying in private rooms at AirBnB places.

Closing State Borders

Unlike Australia, where they have a small number of crossings from one state to another, that is not the case in many US states. Also, more than a few US cities are on or very near the border. For example, the 70 square miles of the national capital, Washington DC, neighbors suburban Maryland and Virginia with many hundreds of thousands of commuters and commercial vehicles moving through each day. It would simply not be possible to set up roadblocks and check people.

That said, many states did have quarantine rules for travelers coming from certain states or countries.


Of course, the majority of people who can work from home have been doing so, and there was a huge decrease in traffic and air pollution. (Something good comes out of everything!) Many people lost their jobs. Many were furloughed with medical insurance coverage provided and a promise to be recalled "as soon as possible." However, after 8–12 weeks of that, the chances of being recalled all but evaporated for many. My (wealthy) county government kept all its employees on full pay even when they weren't working!

Ironically, as millions were being laid-off, my business increased. Due to the pandemic, my biggest client had more than a few contracts cancelled or deferred, and therefore had an unused budget before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. And managers hate to give up budget, 'cos they likely won't get it back again the following year. As such, I was offered extra money for one of my projects. I asked for 150 extra hours, and they allowed 250! So, for several months, I worked full-time, a very rare thing for me! For most of that time, I had, and still have, no fixed schedule, which made it easier.

Working from Home

I've been doing this for the past 39 years, so it was not an adjustment for me like it was for most people. Certainly, one needs a good dose of discipline, and many managers don't much like not being able to keep an eye on their employees. The clothing/fashion/cosmetics industries took a big hit, as everyone now lounged around in their PJs or sweat suits without makeup.

One consequence of this was that more people were out during weekdays at the supermarket or in the park when they would otherwise be at work. Also, with a lot less demand for gasoline, prices were low.


I not only borrow books on a regular basis, but I volunteer at the library, primarily for the twice-per-year donations and sales of used books and audio/video discs. Once the libraries were closed to the public, only a skeleton staff was needed. I went online to order materials and then waited for an email or phone call to notify me when they had arrived at my local branch. I then drove there and either phoned from a mobile phone or used the extension outside the front door to let staff come out and deliver the materials in a plastic bag to my car.

More than a few people use my local library for internet access. To support this, the wi-fi signal was boosted to reach the parking lot where patrons could connect on devices from their car or from a picnic table under a tree. Initially, books could only be returned to an outside bin and then only during operating hours. They even put a lock on the return bin to enforce that! And, returned books sat in quarantine for 3–4 days before being handled.

I used to run a weekly, one-on-one conversational-English session with a Mexican man, and that was held in a library meeting room. That all stopped.

Although libraries opened within six months, the meeting rooms were still closed, and there were no group children's' programs. However, they made a lot of programs available via the internet.

My county decided to stop the public from entering two libraries and to use them for day-care centers for county employees' children. That was controversial, and never went ahead, but only because there was insufficient demand.


The US Presidential election is held every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In 2020, it was on November 3. We also elected one third of the 100 Federal Senators, all 435 Members of the Federal House of Representatives, and many state and local officials.

Voting is controlled by each state, and as you might imagine, with 50 states and a Federal Capital, we have 51 different sets of rules. Some states moved to voting-by-mail years ago, and this year all will allow that, but President Trump tried very hard to discourage that. Previously, in Virginia, one had to have one of 10–15 permitted reasons to "vote absentee" and have someone witness one's signature on the ballot envelope. That year, in Virginia, voting began mid-September, and no witness was required. Typically, states that allow early voting do not allow any of the envelopes to be opened/counted until election day. Due to the large amount of work needed to count the vote this time, unless there is a landslide one way or the other, we might not have a good idea of the winners for days or even weeks afterwards.

I went online and asked to have a mail-in ballot sent to me, which I received. But then the state mailed one to every registered voted as well, which they would not ordinarily do. Given that bad weather and long lines deter people from voting in ordinary years, voting by mail may well become the default way for many states in future.

Contact Tracing

In the months after lock-down, when places started to re-open, I saw regional, national, and international news about requirements to "register" when entering a business or facility, either using a mobile phone or by writing one's name and contact information. The idea was that if someone tested positive at that place, the authorities could contact all the people who had visited that place around that time, so they too could get tested. And I know people who lived in localities where this actually happened. Oddly, it never did in my area!

Covid Gets Close and Personal

Late afternoon on Day 0, New Year's Eve, 2022, I was driving home from lunch with friends, and a light headache started. At bedtime, I was lethargic and had a slight fever, and I had a sneaky feeling that it might be Covid.

On Day 1, New Year's Day 2023, my arms and legs ached more than a little, the light headache was still there, and there was some congestion. I tested myself around 11 o'clock using the recently arrived pack-of-four tests provided for free by the Federal Government. Although the instructions said to wait 15 minutes for the results to be displayed, as soon I pressed my nasal swab into the card, the pink/purple Positive line indicator showed, and got stronger with time. So, what to do? Well, first, I had some milk chocolate with hazelnut, and then I had some more. Then I made a list of things to do in the short and long term, such as cancelling all in-person meetings and activities for the next two weeks. Fortunately, the day before, I'd bought plenty of groceries and fresh fruit and vegetables. And my pantry and freezer were well-stocked. (One of the friends from the Day-0 lunch had tested positive for Covid several weeks earlier and was not adversely affected by exposure to me. The other friend was fully vax'd, and also was unaffected by our close encounter.)

Day 2 saw much more congestion, reduced headache and leg/arm ache, and some coughing, but never a sore throat. Given my quite mild symptoms, when I called my doctor's office, the staff simply advised me to take over-the-counter medicine for congestion, as if I had mild flu. Neighbor Lillian bought that medicine for me and delivered it to my door.

By Day 3, all aches were completely gone, and the congestion and nose-blowing peaked. On Day 4, the congestion was mild, and I spent eight solid hours working and doing administration. My neighbor Susan delivered an extra gallon of whole milk.

Being in quarantine, I couldn't do my three-times-per-week swimming ritual, but as we had a burst of unseasonably warm weather, some days I walked several miles, wearing my mask and keeping well away from others.

By the way, I contracted Covid from a volunteer client I had driven three times in the week leading up to Day 0. And as I found out on Day 1, she had tested Positive after our third drive, and didn't bother to tell me! So, no good deed goes unpunished!

Test 2 on Day 8 was strongly positive, and Test 3 on Day 11 was weakly positive. Finally, Test 4 on Day 14 was negative. However, by that time, I'd already cancelled most external activities for the next week.

The only side-effect I had was a metallic taste on my tongue, which many people have reported.

I'd used up all four of the government-issued tests, so I bought a pack of two more, as backup. They cost US$10 each. (A year earlier, I'd also received a free pack of four from the government, and I used two of those, both of which tested negative. Once the remaining tests' expiry date was reached, I discarded them; however, later on, that expiration date was extended.)


Not having small children or kids in school, or even a "regular" job, and having a decent Federal pension while still working, at worst, I have been inconvenienced by Covid. I certainly can't say the pandemic has been any sort of hardship for me. As I keep telling people, "It could be much worse! What if we had no running water or electricity?" (In my case, without electricity, I can't pump water from my underground well.)

One of the strengths of the American system is the level of independence that runs through communities. Here, many things that happen at state or federal levels in other countries can be determined by each city/town/county instead. However, the downside is that we have many thousands of separate education systems, law-enforcement systems, welfare systems, and the like. And each has to develop its own rules, raise taxes, and implement those rules. As a result, we have the President talking about reopening schools when that is a local school district decision. And state governors want to override a local government mayor's order to wear facemasks. At a time when we need everyone to pull together, we have a very fragmented web of activity, and during Trump's time, no positive national leadership. And we have a lot of lawyers, so pretty much anything controversial is challenged in court within hours of being announced!

My guess is that when the dust has finally settled, after some months, the vast majority of the people will go back to living as much as possible like they used to (for example, not saving and not living within their means) without any permanent, constructive changes, just like they did after 9/11. At such times, I'm pretty sure that our civilization as a whole isn't so smart after all! Time will tell if this crisis ends up any different!

To end on a less-than-happy note, some experts here suggest that once the pandemic is over, it will take the US economy 5–10 years to recover. In the meantime, we keep on "printing more money." The $1,200 many of us got plus payouts to prop-up businesses earlier this year cost the Federal government two trillion dollars; that's US$2,000,000,000,000! Then came the Democratic proposal in the House of Representatives for another 1–3 trillion on top of that. By the way, at the end of fiscal year 2019, the total US federal debt was US$22.8 trillion, and that was before the pandemic hit! The Congressional Budget Office projects that the deficit for 2020 alone will be 16% of U.S. gross domestic product, which is the largest it's been since 1945.

Was the virus not as potent as we'd been led to believe? Was I in much better shape than all those who suffered or died? Did my vaccinations help? We'll never know for sure. In any event, stay safe and keep replenishing your emergency stash of chocolate. And above all, remember, life is just about filling in time until you die! In any event, as Horace wrote back in 23 BC, Carpe diem!

Travel: Memories of Hawaii – Maui and the Big Island

© 2016, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Aloha! Since I moved to the Northern Hemisphere, most winters, I've gone to a warmer place for several weeks. In January 2016, my original plan was to go to some place new in the Caribbean. To that end, I looked long and hard at Trinidad and Tobago, but simply couldn't get excited about that or any other island in the general area for that matter [perhaps I really have traveled too much!] Then, quite unexpectedly, Hawaii—half a world away—came onto my radar, and very soon after, I'd booked a 2-week trip there: 10 days in an apartment on the island of Maui, followed by four more staying with friends on the island of Hawaii, known locally as the Big Island.

[I'd been to Maui once, for two days in September 1982, as part of a 3-island trip. At the time, I'd applied for US Permanent Residency, and once my temporary visa expired, I couldn't get a new visa until I got permanent status. And that took three years! Therefore, if I'd have left the US during that time, I wouldn't have been able to get back in! As a result, I flew as far as I could go domestically. As for the Big Island, this would be my 10th trip there, the last one being more than 10 years ago. Eight of those trips were to attend conferences held during the very cold northern winters.]

This is an unusual trip in that it is not primarily for business, although I fully expect to work more than a bit. As I have a steady diet of business trips and plenty of time off, ordinarily, I extend those trips with personal time, and rarely take just a personal trip. Flying as much as I do, I have accumulated many Frequent-Flyer points, but in order to use them I have to travel even more (poor baby)! In any event, I cashed in some for this trip, so only had to pay the taxes, $11.20, not a bad price for a roundtrip ticket across five time zones to get a 40–50-degree F temperature improvement. (Actually, being the generous person that I am, I was prepared to pay as much as $15!)

The Long Trip Out

My 10:30-am taxi arrived 10 minutes early, and my driver was a very-well spoken, educated, young man from Ethiopia. It was a nice day out, and not at all cold. We talked about many things—mostly about his country—on the way to Washington's Dulles International Airport (IAD). Check-in was immediate and smooth, although security took a while. As a Trusted Traveler, I can leave my computer gear in its bag. However, my daypack contained two laptop computers, power cords and adaptors, a wireless and wired mouse, a disk drive, cell phone and pocket computer chargers, a headset, and more. With all that electrical gear, I was subjected to a detailed check—got to keep an eye on us foreigners—but the attendant was very polite and friendly. No "untoward" objects were discovered.

I took the mobile lounge to Terminal D where I walked to Gate 1. The flight to San Francisco was overbooked, and staff were asking for volunteers to take a later flight for $400 compensation. Although I was first in line to board, I didn't get to board first (don't you just hate that when that happens!) People with disabilities came first, followed by Global Service Members, then military personnel in uniform, Spanish-speaking left-handed carpenters, honest politicians (a very small group), and then all of us in Zone 1! No surprise, people had to check luggage at the last minute as the overhead bins were filled rather quickly. Flight UA525, a Boeing 737, took off on time for the 6-hour flight to the west coast.

As you might recall from previous diaries, I often fly in Business Class; however, on this trip, I made do with the Extended-Legroom section of Economy; no point "wasting" my flyer miles during a daytime flight! I settled into Seat 11A, a portside window. As we had 30 minutes until takeoff, I started work on this diary.

Late in the boarding process, an 18-year-old university student sat in the seat next to me. From our "Hellos" onward, we got along famously, and talked of travel and culture, among other things, for more than two hours. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, and had lived and traveled in several corners of the world. Due to her parents' ancestry, she had passports from Hungary, the UK, and the U.S. Based on her enthusiasm and abilities, there may be hope for her generation after all!

As we flew out over the Midwest, the sun shone brightly and was reflected up from the snow-covered countryside. In fact, despite our aircraft smoothly coasting at 30,000 feet, my side of the plane was uncomfortably hot. I worked on my laptop for three hours.

We arrived at San Francisco International (SFO) 10 minutes early in nice weather. I was very pleased to find there were no earthquakes in sight. I snacked on a fish sandwich before going to my connecting gate where I worked for another 30 minutes at a business desk.

At Gate 90, Flight UA1749, another Boeing 737, took off full for the 5½-hour trip to Kahului, Maui (OGG). I had Seat 7A, a bulkhead window seat with a large amount of legroom and a power outlet, don't you know! Seated next to me was a German couple from the state of Lower Saxony. They had just flown in from Frankfurt on the polar route, so had already had a very long day. He spoke some English, and she had none, but she had questions, so I quickly got into my (quite rusty and limited) German mode and managed to help her. Later, I helped them fill out their agricultural forms. (With Hawaii being a remote island chain, many things are prohibited.) She was quite surprised when I asked her if she had any live snakes in her baggage or on her person! (Yes, that was one of the questions on the form.) Now I knew the German word for "snake," but not for "live," so I improvised with "not dead." She claimed to not have any, but I wasn't so sure!

I worked another hour in-flight, but started to fade, so I read a bit, and then lay back in my seat with the light off, resting my eyes. However, no sleep came.

The Island of Maui

We landed at 9 pm, local time, to a balmy 75 degrees F (24 C). I got a bunch of tourist books and brochures from a stand and then picked up my bag, which was one of the first out on the carousel. I hopped in a taxi and the driver took a while to find my destination on his GPS. Near my place, we stopped at a supermarket so I could lay in some basic supplies for the next day.

I found my apartment unlocked with the ceiling fan going and the windows open. I unpacked my gear, had a nice, not-too-hot shower, and crashed at 11 o'clock with just a sheet over me. It was probably 11:30, however, before I went to sleep.

[Next day] Around 4 am, I woke to feel a chill, so I closed the windows and pulled up a blanket. I was wide-awake at 5:30, after about 6½ hours sleep. The apartment owner had provided some fresh fruit, so I sliced a banana over my cereal with milk, and boiled the kettle for a cup of coffee. The first signs of dawn came at 6:15, after which it got light rather quickly.

My new style of personal-travel accommodations these days is AirBnB; however, after six times renting a room, this time I chose an apartment, so that my traveling companion, Mr. C (my stuffed caterpillar, and traveling companion of late) and I could have our own kitchen and bathroom. After a few false starts, I finally found just the right place, up a mountainside on the last street looking out over the main town. It's called Treehouse Cottage, and while it isn't literally up in a tree, it is surrounded by many large ones, including a papaya and several banana, with plump fruit hanging right where I can reach them. A balcony out the back was screened in to keep the insects out, and it overlooked my very own little jungle. The place was one large room with a small bathroom set in a corner. The bed was only a double, but I could just about fit across corners. At least it didn't have an end-board! The kitchen was very well appointed and had all I needed, and then some.

I passed the time working on a list of administrative chores and going through the tourist information to see where to go and what to do. My plan ended up being to work, read, write, and nap at the apartment and to walk the local areas for the first five days, and then to rent a car for the last five, so I could visit several interesting areas around the island. At 10:30, I headed back to the supermarket to lay in supplies for the remaining nine days. The first half mile was gently undulating, but the second was downhill at a 30% grade. It was getting quite hot, so I stuck out my thumb. It'd been many years since I'd last hitchhiked, but I thought I'd try it. Well, don't you know, all kinds of yuppies in their land yachts raced right by me without a clue as to the wonderful time they might have had had they stopped to pick me up. (Perhaps I'd have had more luck if I'd worn some clothes; just kidding, after all I had on my straw Hawaiian hat!) Well, halfway down the mountain, my faith in humankind was partially restored when a man pulled up in his big pick-up truck and drove me right to the front door of the supermarket. He'd served in the US Navy and had been to Adelaide, Australia (my home state's capital), and loved it. He recognized my accent right away.

I had my daypack and a reasonably strong paper bag with carry handles. I barely managed to get all my groceries in them, and the lot must have weighed at least 30 pounds. As I trudged back up the mountain, it seemed that just maybe the earth had moved while I was shopping, as the angle of the ascent seemed much steeper than the trip down. Unfortunately, no one stopped to pick me up, so I had to stop several times to rest in the shade and to put my heart back in my chest. By the time I got back home, I was drenched in sweat, and after I packed away my stuff, I splashed water over myself and lay on the bed unable to move for some time. I know for certain that I don't work that hard for money! Later, I showered and tried to nap, but to no avail.

I met the owner, Mark, who lived in the basement of the main house in a huge studio, in which he painted and made metal sculptures and ceramic koi fish. We chatted a while and he gave me the Holy Grail, the password to the wireless internet. After nearly two days of being disconnected, the legitimate messages and spam had piled up, waiting for my attention. I disposed of them while the sounds of a neighbor playing various instruments wafted in my windows along with a slight breeze. I can't say it was a bit of Heaven, but perhaps it was in the outer suburbs of said place! I paused to make and sip a cup of boiling Earl Grey tea, and to nibble on some crackers containing peanut butter.

Alas, I'd encountered a major problem with my new home. As I planned to do more than a little personal and business work on both the laptops I'd brought, I needed a decent table and chair with support. However, these did not exist. The narrow table-like stand—intended as a breakfast bar—was too low for my tall knees, as was the coffee table on the balcony, but what to do? Well, don't you know, just as I was climbing back up the mountain from the supermarket and about to collapse from exhaustion, I had an idea that was more cunning than the Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. (There you go Black Adder fans!) Knowing I would have an apartment, as I was packing my little travel kitchen back home, I included four strong plastic containers with lids in which to store leftovers in the fridge. Now, I put their lids on, turned them upside down and stood the breakfast bench legs right on top where they fit very nicely into the indentations as if they'd been made for that very purpose. I then brought a comfortable cane chair in from the balcony and filled it with cushions to get me at just the right height. It worked wonderfully well, so much so that I'm thinking of patenting the idea. However, I think my working product title, table-leg-lifts-made-from-plastic-tomato-and-basil-soup-countainers, needs some tweaking. Perhaps I'll hold some focus groups! [Would you pay $29.99 for a set of these? No? But wait, there's more; included in all orders placed in the next 30 minutes will be, yeah, a raspberry-flavored tongue depressor!]

I stayed in for the rest of the day working on my laptop on a whole host of personal things, including this diary. Afternoon tea consisted of a large mug of steaming Earl Grey tea. Supper was a ham salad and a tall glass of whole milk, just the thing for a growing lad!

I started my first reading project, a biography of two US Navy carrier pilots during the Korean War. One was white and from a wealthy New England family, the other black and from a poor southern family. It was called Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, by Adam Makos. From the start, it was a good read. [Thanks, Danielle, for that great birthday present.]

I was yawning from mid-afternoon on, but managed to stay awake until 7:30, at which time, I crashed. I think I was asleep at 7:31!

Iao Valley State Park

[Next day] After 12 hours of reasonably restful sleep, I was wide-awake and ready for the world, but was it ready for me? The dress code was bare feet and boxer shorts. As breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I had a tall glass of orange and passion fruit juice along with sausage and egg on bread with ketchup.

I checked my email and was delighted to hear that it was below freezing with light snow back home. Hopefully, all or at least most of winter's weather will come and go in the two weeks I will be away.

At 10 o'clock, I headed out with my daypack containing rain gear, emergency rations, water, sunburn cream and insect repellant. The cloud cover made it pleasant. My destination was Iao Valley State Park, which I estimated was a 5-mile round-trip. Once again, I held out my thumb, and after a quarter mile of walking, a young guy picked me up and dropped me at the main road to the park. He smiled and told me the fare was $150! However, he backed off when I threatened to sing instead. I walked 10 minutes more before a young American guy in a jeep stopped. With him were a young woman from Germany and another from the Ukraine. It was a veritable United Nations gathering.

At the park entrance, there were terraced gardens with Korean and Chinese pagodas, koi ponds, ornately trimmed trees and bushes, and a memorial to all the people from Puerto Rico who emigrated to Maui in 1900 after their own country (in the Caribbean) was devastated by a hurricane. I stopped to chat with a French-Canadian couple from the province of Quebec.

The road to the second parking area ¾ of a mile further on was closed, as construction of some sort had started. I read all the warning signs and after thinking for 10 seconds, stepped over the barrier, and headed up the road. Soon I encountered numerous others going in my direction or coming back. Apart from some large tree branches that had been cut, there was no evidence of anything remotely dangerous. After a 15-minute walk, mostly in the shade, I stood on a bridge over a fast-flowing creek coming down from the mountains, taking in the view of Iao Needle, the 1,200-foot (400 m) remnant of a lava cone.

Back at the main park, I sat in the shade and made notes for this diary while having a small snack. Many people were BBQing, and the food smelled awfully good. Afterwards, I took a few photos of Mr. C against some tropical backgrounds.

I started walking back home, and soon was passed by a steady stream of at least 40 classic VWs, mostly Beetles and Kombi-vans, but with some Kombi-trucks, Karmen Ghias, and dune buggies, as well. Shortly after, an elderly couple from Memphis, Tennessee, stopped to give me a lift. When we got to the road that went off to my place, they very generously said that as they didn't have anything better to do, they would drive me all the way home, saving me a mile, mostly uphill. All told, I figured I'd saved about 3½ miles of walking.

Back home, it was snack time, so I made a healthy salad sandwich, which I washed down with ice-cold milk. To aid the digestion, I cranked up the in-house stereo and settled into some 60s/70s/80s classic rock from a local station. [Ironically, back home, I often listen to an internet radio station that plays traditional-Hawaiian music.]

[Next day] It was a national public holiday (Martin Luther King Day), but I was in the mood for some serious work. So, work I did, putting in 17 hours over two days. To break out of my sedentary mode, I stopped occasionally for snacks and drinks, and a stretch.

A Drive up to the Haleakala Crater

[Next day] After a serious breakfast suitable for a growing lad, I spent the morning reading and dealing with email. Around noon, my landlord, Mark, generously drove me to the airport where I picked up a rental car, so I could get "out and about" on the island. Well, I have to say that the Ford they gave me had so much electronic gear, I couldn't even figure out how to start the darned thing! Apparently, the key I'd been given only opened the door and the trunk; it didn't actually start the car. For that, I had to put my foot hard on the brake pedal and press the start switch. [Is that progress? I remember driving very old cars in the 1960's that had no ignition switch and a starter button.]

It was a pleasant day, with a cool breeze, so I had all the car windows down, at least that is until I got higher up the mountain where it got significantly cooler. My plan for the day was to drive to the top of the extinct volcano, Haleakala, and to pay my respects to the Goddess Pele. Early on in the drive up the mountain, I came across two young guys hitchhiking, so I picked them up. They too were headed to the top. Having recently turned 62, I was eligible for a US National Park lifetime-entrance card for $10, what a deal! Therefore, at the entrance to the park, I bought one, which entitled all the people in my vehicle to enter without charge as well. After a look around the small visitor center and the summit peak (10,023 feet/3,055 meters), we parted company. While the two guys hiked way down into the crater, I ambled down no more than a mile where I sat and took in the vast crater, one side of which had been blown out. I met and chatted with quite a few people, mostly from Canada, a German, some women from Spain, a Frenchman, and a Chinese woman from Hong Kong. And believe it or not, two natives of Bismarck, North Dakota. The walk back up was arduous, and I stopped and rested on a regular basis. [Some 34 years earlier, I'd learned the hard way about physical exertion at altitude when I was in Cuzco, Peru, very high up in the Andes.]

The two hitchhikers and I met up again at the summit where we joined 100 others to watch the sunset. Many were shivering in their shorts and T-shirts, while I had on long pants, a warm jacket, an outer wind-proof coat, and a woolen cap. The sun dropped quite quickly, and the most interesting aspect of the sunset was that we were well above the clouds, so the sun set below the cloud top, not the horizon. Below the clouds, sunset was 5–10 minutes later. We drove the very windy road back down in the dark, and at one point nearly hit a very large cow in a small herd grazing by the roadside. Around 7 pm, light rain started, which got quite heavy as we got further down the mountain.

It was a challenge driving in a new place, at night, in the rain, but I had some basic maps. Fortunately, a main highway went to the end of my street, so I found my way home by 8 o'clock without incident. I made a nice ham salad for supper and settled down to do some reading while the rain came down. Lights out around 10 pm with the windows mostly closed.

[Now apart from seeing the sunset on the mountain, I had also considered going back to see a sunrise. As this was such a popular thing to do, the Park entrance was manned from a very early hour. Currently, sunrise was around 7 am, but the Ranger at the entrance told me I should be in line with my car at the entrance around 4:30! I pondered that advice for the rest of the visit up there, and at the end of the day, I decided that I really should leave something new to do during my next visit, so why not make it that!]

A Day at Home

[Next day] It rained through the night and didn't stop until about 8 am. I read in bed for a while and decided to alternate work and play days. With this being a wet and overcast day, I'd stay home. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal with tropical fruit pieces in juice, topped with milk, and a steaming cup of coffee alongside.

I idled away the morning going through my photos from the day before and dealing with the inevitable email that kept on arriving. Apparently, the world simply could not get along without me! Reports from back home told me that schools were closed in anticipation of the big blizzard, and snow had already fallen (as had the temperature). It appeared that the Weather Gods had heeded my request to wait until I was gone. Hopefully, the mess will be cleaned up before I return home.

I was less than enthusiastic when I started work around midday, so much so that my efficiency was only at 105%! Soon after, things improved, and I put in a solid and productive afternoon.

Supper was a bowl of hot tuna with pasta and a creamy sauce, followed by some tropical fruit. I went through all the reading material in the bookcase and found "Dave Barry Does Japan." I've long been a fan of his writing (and his influence is shown in some of my essays and diaries from time to time), and I enjoyed the first few chapters immensely while sitting out on my enclosed balcony. Lights out at 9 pm.

[Next day] I was wide-awake at 7:30 am, ready for the world. I put the kettle on to boil and then made a 4-egg omelet with sausage and cheese. It was all very tasty with leftovers for Ron ("lateR on," that is). The organic brown eggs had ever-so-orange yokes, the chickens that laid them seem to have actually been outside scratching for worms!

The wireless network had gone off air the previous night and was still not working, so I went to see the landlord. He reported a general outage and that someone was coming later today to fix it. Hopefully, "later today" is not island-speak for "later this month!" It's so easy to rely on technology which can quickly become unavailable without warning. Oh well, as I've maintained for many years, "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B." As I had planned a driving trip around the north and east coasts that day, the impact was minimal, although I really did need to go online to my bank to transfer some money between accounts. C'est la vie!

A Drive Along the East Coast

Around 10 o'clock, I headed east on the Hana Highway, which, surprise, eventually leads to the town of Hana. There was plenty of cloud cover and a fresh breeze, so it was a good day for driving. I stopped at Ho'okipa Beach Park where I saw my first beach. As I was taking some photos, I saw a large sea turtle swimming out thought the waves. It was 2–3 feet (1 m) across. (Apparently, at sunset they come to that beach in large numbers.) I already mentioned the complexity of my rental car, but it went to a whole new level at that stop. You would think it a simple thing to lock a car, but NO! Each time I pressed the "lock door" button on the remote, the doors locked and then after a few seconds they unlocked again. After a half dozen tries, I consulted the man who had just pulled in next to me. He told me that I had to step away from the car a few paces before I locked up. Then as soon I got close to any door, the door and remote recognized each other and the doors opened. Call it "convenient" if you must; I call it "a bloody nuisance!" In the parking lot, I saw a vehicle with California license plates, which got me thinking the driver must have made a wrong turn somewhere!

Early on in the drive, I passed large areas of sugar cane, something rather rare these days. Later, I was surrounded by one of my favorite plants, ferns, on each side of the road for miles.

According to my guidebook, "The road boasts approximately 617 curves and crosses 56 one-lane bridges," which I can confirm. I stopped off at a couple of places to look at waterfalls and out over the coast, and to stretch. For the most part, the speed limit was 15 or 25 mph. I didn't speed much, and the 50-odd miles took nearly three hours. To be sure, the highlight was Wai'anapanapa State Park just before Hana. (Try to say that name three times quickly!) The old lava flows went right down into the water, and the vegetation was tropical. The small beach was quite black, mostly made up of small and medium-size rounded pebbles, but also some lava sand. The waves came in high and hard, which challenged the swimmers. I had a quick look around Hana and decided that the drive had really "been about the journey, not the destination."

Soon after I started back, one of my alternate personalities took over my body, and proceeded to test the rental cars brakes and steering through all those tight corners. Now I won't admit to breaking any laws, but let's just say that I got back in one hour less than the out-bound trip after what might be called "Toad's Wild Ride." As I neared home, I managed to regain control of my body.

At My Apartment

Back home, I had an early supper and a warm shower. For something different, I'd spent the day sitting in a car seat rather than in a chair at my laptop. I wiled away the evening reading, snacking, and doing logic puzzles on my computer while both CDs from Leonard Cohen's Live in London album played.

[Next day] Although I was in bed a long while, I wasn't particularly rested. However, after a small breakfast and tea, I felt better. I started a load of laundry; you can't escape those domestic chores even in Paradise! Email from back home informed me some 24" (60 cm) of snow had fallen in my area. I phoned a neighbor to check, and he told me it was still coming down and was so deep, he couldn't even get his large tractor out to start plowing his yard and driveway. The whole DC metro area likely would be shut down for days.

I worked solidly for much of the day, but as the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Around 4 o'clock, I headed out for a beach where a reliable source had informed me, I might be able to see some giant sea turtles around sunset. Once there, I sat on a large rock in the sunshine and finished my Dave Barry book. Then I walked down to the beach area where 22 turtles were sunbathing on the rocks. They were each 3–5 feet (1–1.5 m) long. It was a first for me. Near my car, a woman was lying in a hammock making baskets from palm fronds, and I bought one she'd just finished. As I was speaking with her, a very distinctive, strong, sweet smell came from behind me. Two young men were seated in their pickup truck smoking joints.

Back home, I had an easy supper, browsed online, listened to music, and read until lights-out at 9 pm.

[Next day] I was awake at 6:15 am feeling well rested. Around 6:45, the neighborhood roosters announced the coming sunrise, so I got up and made coffee and a small breakfast. I went online to find that the storm back home had ended with 36" (90 cms) of snow on my street. The temperature was predicted to get above freezing for the rest of the week and rain was coming, so between those two a lot of snow likely would melt before I got back. Although I was happy to be in a much warmer place, part of me wanted to be back home to experience the rare event.

A Drive Around the South Coast

I thought about working, but after 10 seconds of serious consideration, I said, "Nah!". At 8:30, I headed out. It was already 75 degrees up my mountain, and a cool breeze was blowing in my windows as I drove down. However, it was very bright, and a hot day was ahead. Down at sea level, it was at least 5 degrees warmer. I stopped to fill up with gas. [Being a small island, lots of stuff must be brought in from another island or the mainland, so prices for many things were much higher than back home.]

I drove down the south coast, passed Kihei and then drove until the road ran out for 2-wheel-drive vehicles. I was in the middle of a field of old a'a lava, which while it looks interesting, is pretty much impossible to walk on. I definitely was on the dry side of the island. I drove back north and then headed to the west side, stopping at an overlook to remove my trouser legs and to apply some sunburn cream.

In Lahaina, I drove along the beachfront where I decided to have a traditional Hawaiian snack. Yes, dear reader, I stopped at a McDonalds for some French fries and a coke. I figured that if I was only going to eat out once in Maui, I'd go all out! I drove north to Napili and then turned around and found a parking spot back in Lahaina. My first order of business was to buy some postcards, which I did. I then sat under a huge banyan tree that covered 1–2 acres (0.5–1 hectare), I kid you not! There, I spoke with a delightful, retired couple from Minnesota. On a sidewalk, a man had a number of rather exotic parrots with which he was taking tourists' photos. Much to my surprise, one was a galah from Australia, where it is considered a pest and not at all exotic! While walking through the town, I shot more than a few photos that will end up in an instalment of "Signs of the Times" on my monthly blog (which I just know you are following, right?)

[As I ready this diary for publication on my blog in August 2023, sadly, Lahaina had just been devastated by fire.]

The highway to the west was well made with a high speed limit, so once again I put the rental car through its paces. It was very warm, a nice breeze blew through the car, and I was listening to my favorite songs from the 60s/70s/80s with the volume turned waaay up. Life doesn't get much better than that in mid-winter! About five miles from home, I came across a young Native-Hawaiian hitchhiking, but with a difference. He was pushing a bicycle on which he was trying to balance a car wheel, complete with a very heavy metal rim. It was 85 degrees, and he was sweating. I stopped, we loaded the wheel into the trunk, got 90% of his bike in after it, and I tied the trunk lid down with a piece of trash I found along the side of the road. He was very polite and grateful, so I offered to take him right where he needed to be, even though that was a few miles out of my way. Regarding the favor, I asked him to "Pay it forward!"

Back home I had an ice-cold drink before jumping into the shower. Being a "boy from the bush," I was raised with bath-day being every Saturday morning, whether you needed it or not! Therefore, this showering every afternoon seemed quite decadent. To end, I had a rather cold shower, not because I'd had evil thoughts (well, maybe a few), but because it just seemed like the thing to do. Afterwards, I was ready to bring this diary up to date.

I had a quiet evening, reading, listening to music, and enjoying some unnecessary snacks and drinks.

A Short Hop over to the Big Island

[Next day] I was wide-awake at 7 am. It was Travel Day, but nothing too strenuous. After breakfast, I washed my dishes, stripped the linens off the bed, and packed my luggage. My groceries were almost all used up with just enough to make a sandwich for lunch. I put the apartment back into the same shape as I'd found it and set out at 11 o'clock. I drove to the port and parked in the shade overlooking the sea near the dock where a medium-sized cruise ship was berthed. About 100 yards out to sea, the head of a large sea turtle came up for air as it swam along the shore.

At noon, I headed to the airport nearby where I returned my rental car. I was pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was. A few minutes later, I was on the bus for the short ride to the terminal. It was my first time in air conditioning during this trip, and it was way too cold. The check-in kiosk refused to help me, instead directing me to a counter for assistance. It seems that I was somehow "special." I checked my bag and got my boarding pass, but had to pay $25 for the luggage, the first time I'd paid for that in many years. I'd also paid an extra $10 to get a seat with extended legroom. You see, I was flying on Hawaiian Airlines, not my usual one with which I have all kinds of privileges.

Hawaiian Air Flight HA140 took off on time at 2:35 pm from OGG for the short flight to Kona (KOA) on the neighboring Big Island. It was a Boeing 717, a not very common model. I sat next to a couple who have lived there for many years. They ran an art gallery, and she was an artist. Some nice fruit juice was served. Once I got my luggage, I phoned my friend Tom, who was five minutes out. He and his wife, Lana, picked me up and we drove north towards their place on the dry side of the island. [I'd last seen them in September when they stayed with me for two nights.] We stopped at a resort village where we walked along the beach and had an early supper outdoors at Lava Lava, a very pleasant restaurant with a great waiter. I had fish with vegetables and rice, along with a Divine passionfruit smoothie!

We arrived at their house around 7:45, and after getting settled and meeting the three extra-friendly dogs, all of whom needed my attention, it was lights-out at 8:30 with the ceiling fan slowly pushing around some cool air.

A Visit with Tom and Lana

[Next day] I was awake at 7:30. Breakfast consisted of coffee, bread and jam, and some wonderful fresh blueberries. It was time to post a new essay to my blog, so I got started on that. Then Lana and I headed out to the wet side of the island to a state park where we hiked a short trail through the dense forest and ferns. We sat in a picnic shelter afterwards and drank water and had a snack. All that exercise and fresh air made me yawn all the way home. Along the way, we stopped off at Waimea to mail some postcards and to buy some more. Back home, I was so tired, I had a 2-hour nap. This vacation thing sure can be tiring!

At 4:30 pm, I finally got around to finishing posting the new essay and sending out the next one to my reviewers. Then I took care of business and personal email that had been accumulating.

We had drinks on the verandah while watching the sun set behind the clouds. Then we moved inside for hot soup with fresh-baked bread. I washed that down with a bottle of Hawaii's finest gingerade.

Afterwards, it was time to bring this diary up to date. Lights out at 9:30 after a very nice first full day on the Big Island.

[Next day] I had a leisurely day, eating and drinking, and doing a few hours of work for various projects. It was so hard that I had a 90-minute nap after lunch. Lana made some great taco soup for supper after which we had some delicious dessert. Lights-out at 9 o'clock with the ceiling fan turning slowly and just a sheet over me.

Hilo and Volcanoes National Park

[Next day] I was awake very early and did not get back to sleep. After breakfast, I packed my luggage and computer gear, and around 9:30, we headed out. We drove south and up the mountain to the new saddle highway, which we took over the top all the way to Hilo, a pleasant piece of old Hawaii. There, we had a picnic lunch on the famous Banyan Drive, a road flanked by huge banyan trees and hotels on the water's edge. Afterwards, I walked a bit around the beautiful Liliuokalani Park and Gardens.

From there, we drove to Volcano, a town and area right near the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park. We'd booked a 2-bedroom vacation house for the night and settled in there. It was a very nice place and was right on the edge of a golf course. I was in a queen-suite across the deck from the king-suite, just past the hot tub! After a short rest, we headed to the park and its Jaggar Museum, where we looked at photos of the active crater nearby. Cameras nestled on the crater's edge were taking and sending pictures every 30-odd minutes. There was a large active red pool of molten lava. Two weeks earlier, it had exploded in spectacular fashion, and people came from all over to see it erupt into view. It's a small crater in a larger one, which is inside a very wide one. Recent lava flows had closed the circular road around the main crater. We drove into the park a way and looked out over the broad lava fields from a lookout point right next to a collapsed lava tube. We were back at our house by 4:30, where I brought this diary up to date as the sun streamed in my window on its way to setting.

Soon after 7 pm, we headed out to dinner, and along the way, we saw a bright red glow coming from the main crater. It reflected on the low clouds above. We had a wonderful fine-dining experience at the Lodge's restaurant, and I very much enjoyed a nice steak with vegetables. We shared some desserts. At 9:15 pm, we drove back to the observation area in the park where we watched the glow from a half-mile away. It's the closest I've ever been to active lava.

Back at our house, I closed all the windows but one, and settled into my nice, hard bed. However, at 4,000 feet altitude, it got a little cool during the night, and I closed that one window.

Kona and Home

[Next day] We drove back to the Lodge for breakfast, half of which I took away with me to eat later. After we checked out, we headed out on the 2-hour drive to Kona. There, we parked downtown and walked around the waterfront through some shopping arcades and markets. At 1 o'clock, Tom and Lana dropped me off at the airport. It had been a great visit with them.

Flight UA1263 took off on time, and the Boeing 737 was pushed hard by a strong tail wind getting us to SFO an hour early. I had no window, but then again there was nothing out there to see but the ocean. I worked on my laptop for several hours before starting to read an autobiography I'd read some years earlier. [It was Karen Armstrong's Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery.] I had a 2½-hour layover at SFO, by which time I was starting to fade. Flight UA697 was another B737, and although I had extended legroom, the seat did not recline far enough for me to get any meaningful sleep.

[Next day] We touched down at IAD at 6:30 am, where the temperature was a cold 15 degrees F (-9.4 C), some 60 degrees F colder than when I'd departed Kona; brr! I appeared to be the only person at the airport wearing a straw Hawaiian hat; imagine that! I'd left my car at Jenny's place, and after spending having breakfast with her and catching up with a few things, I made it home to my place around 2 pm. Although all the streets had been plowed, my long driveway was 1–2 feet deep in snow. After I unloaded my gear and waded through the deep snow, I dug out a space large enough to get my car off the street. It was easy digging as it was neither cold nor windy, and the sun was streaming down. Besides, the snow was light and only the bottom inch was icy due to melting and refreezing overnight.

While I was away, my neighbor couldn't get to my house for eight days, and my indoor plants were looking quite forlorn. However, a couple of hours after I gave them a good drink, they perked up to their former glory. As I had plenty of food in the freezer and pantry, I did no shopping other than to pick up milk. I crashed at 7:30, sleeping soundly only until 9:30, and then I unpacked my computer gear and dealt with email until midnight. Then I got a decent sleep. It was a GREAT trip!

Did you know that Captain James Cook "discovered" the Hawaiian Islands? In 1778, he named them the Sandwich Islands after his patron, The Earl of Sandwich (for whom the humble sandwich is named). As to why the Hawaii State Flag has the British Union Jack on it remains unclear; there are a number of possible explanations.

Signs of Life: Part 32

© 2023 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.


As a person who takes off his shoes when entering his house, I quite understand.


A store in Penn Station, New York City, that sells men's accessories, such as neckties. However, it's not clear to me that many tycoons ride the train.


That's not asking for too much, is it?


This sign says it all!


While it's not your average police car, space in New York City is limited!


From Haren in the Netherlands. Literally, "Pentecost flower path."


A poster protesting the ability to hunt bears in the US state of Wyoming.


A recycling bin in the Netherlands. When was the last time you saw a place to recycle handbags and curtains?

As I've often said, "Those foreigners have words for everything!"


Where in the English-speaking world are you likely to pay $12.67 plus tax for 30 minutes of parking? New York City!


Well, as we can see, this dog's bollocks are certainly on display! What surprised me was that this English slang term was the name of a pub in Groningen, the Netherlands.



A café and wine bar; naturally!


A clothing shop in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Not necessarily for sissies, however.



As I exited a Dutch church, I saw this high-tech way to donate to the church-restoration fund.


Now there's a fantatstic idea! I've certainly stayed in my fair share of places where that didn't happen!


My One Time Wwoofing

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Several years ago, I learned about an organization that connected farmers needing short- or long-term labor, with volunteers wanting to help; however, I'd forgotten all about it. Then early in 2022, I heard about it again on a TV documentary, and I decided to check it out. It's called WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, volunteer workers are called Wwoofers, and the volunteer activity is called Wwoofing! Chapters exist in many countries. Some hosts grow fruit and/or vegetables, some have various kinds of livestock, others have a vineyard. Some are commercial and large operations; others are small and private.

As I live in the US, I went to the US National Chapter website. After looking over the host profiles within 3–4 hours' drive from my place, I paid my US$40 for a 1-year volunteer membership, and set out to find a host. It took quite some effort, and it wasn't until the sixth place I contacted over a 3–4-week period that I had success.

Hosts are required to provide a safe accommodation space and three meals a day. Some hosts invite the volunteers to eat with them while others provide food for the volunteers to prepare on their own. Many hosts are vegetarian and some are vegan. Hosts typically ask volunteers to work 4–6 hours per day over a 5-day period.

This essay is broken into several parts: my membership profile; my first (and, thus far, only) experience as a farm volunteer through this program, during July of 2022; and my efforts trying to find a host farmer along with my observations and conclusions.

Part 1: My Membership Profile

Here's what I wrote about myself on the Website:

Availability: I work part-time, from home, mostly on my own schedule, and have a lot of flexibility. And so long as I have good internet access at least once or twice a day while away from home, I can service my business clients and deal with other important matters remotely. Currently, I'm looking at stays from 2–10 days. I live in the rural west part of Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, and am currently looking at hosts within 1–6-hour's drive from home, but am open to considering places further afield.

Accommodation: By far the most important thing is the bed. I'm 6'4" tall, but can manage to fit into a single- or double bed provided it has no footer; that is, I can hang my legs over the end. I absolutely need a firm and flat mattress. If I can't consistently get a good night's sleep, I won't be staying long, so don't accept me if the bed doesn't fit my requirements.

Quirks: I am not the least bit interested in social media; I have a very full life, thank you very much! I don't do texting, and I rarely have my cell phone switched on, except by appointment! I use it entirely for my (occasional) benefit, and then only as a phone and camera.

Background: I was born in, and lived in, Australia for 25 years, and came to the US in 1979, where I lived in Chicago for a year, and thereafter in the greater Washington DC area. Until age 16, I lived in a 10-inch rainfall, semi-desert area of South Australia, on various farms up to 4,000 acres in size. We cropped wheat and barley; raised sheep, chickens, and pigs; and had a vegetable garden. Being of German descent, we butchered our own meat; made our own sausage, hams, and bacon; and smoked them. We canned fruit and vegetables. When we had a few dairy cows, I hand-milked one each day after school, and I hand-cranked the milk separator for the cream. I trapped rabbits for meat and skins.

I was a part-time university student for many years while working in Chemistry, before discovering computers and programming. Since 1984, I have been self-employed, having at least 3 months off each year, spread over the year. Nowadays, I work about 50 hours per month.

For the 40 years prior to the COVID pandemic, I travelled extensively around the US and abroad, mostly on business, but always adding on personal time "to stop and smell the flowers." [Many of my trip diaries are posted on my blog, as is a series of essays called "What is Normal?"]

I am a prolific writer and reader. I *love* learning and teaching. I am interested in languages, and have basic skills in German and Spanish, and minimal ability in spoken Japanese.

On the volunteer front, I fund and operate a small foundation that serves underprivileged kids and their families, and involves support for reading. I've been a host and travel member of the international, peace-based hosting organization Servas for 35 years. I am also a Couch Surfing host and traveler, and an AirBnB user. I drive (mostly elderly) clients to appointments and take them on social outings. I've mentored high school and university students, and I tutor individual ESOL students. I also read with elementary-school kids.


  • I like working with most kinds of animals.
  • I'm very comfortable in a vegetable garden.
  • I know my way around quite a few hand and power tools, including a chainsaw. I've renovated a house and done a lot of handyman jobs.
  • I'm a very practical guy with more common sense than most (which, sadly, isn't saying much). I believe in planning for success!
  • Once you've explained/demonstrated to me what you need done, you can leave me to it.
  • I'm a self-starter, and put in a 110% effort. If something is worth doing at all, it's worth doing properly!
  • I'm an "ideas" person who loves to brainstorm a solution.
  • I love preparing food and cooking, but nothing fancy. (I try not to let my snacks interfere with my meals!)
  • I can help with home schooling, in numerous subjects.
  • I can teach you how to create better-than-basic Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. I can help you master Quicken for record keeping and invoicing.

Part 2: Trip Diary

The Drive Down

Having stayed very close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I hadn't travelled in a long while, and had to get back into travel mode with respect to packing and preparation. But over the past 40+ years I have developed a detailed list for that, and it all came back to me rather quickly.

I loaded up my gear and headed out at 1:45 pm. It was a straight run south on state Highway 15 to the James River. The non-stop, 3.5-hour drive was without incident, although I missed a couple of turns at very busy intersections. Outside, it was 90–95 degrees F (32–35 C), while inside, I had the air-conditioner keeping it much cooler and drier. Although my 2002 Nissan Pathfinder SUV, Norrie, had developed some permanent, fuel-related problems, I decided to take it on this trip to give it a good workout, and I am happy to say that it performed admirably!

I arrived at Dragonfly Farms at 5 pm, where I was greeted by Judi. After unloading my gear, I met her husband, Doug. Both were in their 70's. My room was large and had a big-boy bed that was just right for Goldilocks and me (although not necessarily together); not too soft and not too hard!

Having had a very large lunch, supper involved a small snack of garden-fresh cucumber slices with black pepper and salt, all washed down with a fine bottle of creaming soda.

After a cold shower, I felt much better, and I settled onto my bed with a large fan blowing hard. (The house had no air-conditioning. That was good as I didn't want the room cold, and bad as I would have preferred to not have high humidity.) I'd browsed the hosts' bookshelves and found some interesting titles on numerous topics, and I read bits and pieces from several for an hour. By 8:15, I was yawning, so I settled in for the night. Although the windows had no blinds or heavy drapes and it was still quite light outside, I fell asleep almost immediately.

Workday 1

I slept soundly for more than eight hours, and lay in for another one, finally getting up at 5:15. I was surprised that it was not yet light outside, but the days were getting shorter now. I read bits from a travel book on the US state of New Mexico, especially the area around Taos.

When I connected to the internet for the first time, a flood of mail arrived. Also, my electronic calendar informed me that it was the 43rd anniversary of my arrival in the US in 1979. (I'd only planned to stay a year, but that seems to have been extended considerably!)

My hosts surfaced soon after, and Doug took charge of the kitchen. It was a vegetarian house. I had a bowl of fresh peach slices, a fried egg on toast, and my first-ever plant-based sausage, along with a glass of apple cider. Afterwards, Doug and I washed the dishes.

We spent a half hour walking around the greenhouses getting me educated on the tasks that needed to be done. Along the way, we restored the deer-proof barrier around a tomato patch. It consisted of a thin, white tape at deer-head height, and I wiped it with some sort of egg-based solution, which apparently keeps the deer away.

The farm produced peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, black berries, blueberries, strawberries, and various kinds of herbs. Customers ordered on a website, and deliveries took place each Thursday. This being a Thursday, the day's orders were already in labelled bags in refrigerators, and we packed them into large coolers. We also loaded some herbs and other plants that had been ordered. We set out around 9 o'clock, soon after Judi's caregiver arrived. (Judy had early-onset dementia, so couldn't be left home alone.)

We drove 45+ minutes to the outskirts of Richmond, the state capital of Virginia. In a shaded parking area, growers like us unloaded their goods giving each set of orders to one of about 15 distributors whose trucks were lined up in alphabetical order of destination. My task was to deliver the orders to the correct destination truck, and to initial a form showing I'd done so. After a few hours there, all grower deliveries will have been made and the distributors take their orders to their home area, which is typically 30–60 miles away.

Although it was quite humid, it was nowhere near as hot as the day before, and we drove home via the back roads with the windows down. We passed several county and state prisons, one of which was a working farm where the inmates worked with livestock. A number of inmates were working right next to the road and were dressed in orange tops and blue pants, their prison uniform. We stopped in a large town to lay in supplies from a supermarket, and to get spoiled by the air conditioning. We were home at noon.

We had ears of corn for lunch, and I smothered mine in butter, black pepper, and salt. I very much enjoyed a tall glass of ice-cold, whole milk. Afterwards, with all the fresh air and exercise, it was naptime, and I slept soundly for more than an hour.

Refreshed from my sleep, I went up to one of the greenhouses and trellised tomatoes by tying the plant tops to thin, plastic strands hanging down from the roof. It was easy work, but soon my shirt was completely soaking wet with perspiration. (That morning, I'd borrowed a belt from Doug for my new work shorts, as they were too loose. Later, I had to tighten the belt even more; I figured I was getting thinner with the perspiration loss.)

After an hour of work, I headed back to the house for a cold shower, and then to work on this diary with the fan blowing at my back. I had a quiet evening, reading, and eating a light supper. Lights-out around 9:30 after more than five hours work throughout the day.

Workday 2

I took ages to get to sleep and didn't get my full quota. At 5:15 am, I was at my laptop handling email and then revising a seminar I'd created more than 20 years earlier. After a couple of hours in business-work mode, I had breakfast, which consisted of a bowl of cereal with fresh-picked blueberries and milk, and a glass of apple cider.

By 7:15, Doug and I were out working. One of the large, semicircular-shaped greenhouses had two ends, each with doorframe and door. The greenhouse was about 100 feet (30 m) long. Our task was to remove both ends, so Doug could get his tractor in there to plow up the old strawberry beds, and to prepare them for some other kind of crop. The challenge was that the ends were not complete units; they were built onto the main frame, so we had to disassemble them in pieces. That took some physical effort with various electric and hand tools, sometimes up a ladder. And although we were mostly working in the shade, it got quite hot and very humid. That task took two hours.

Some months prior, a very strong wind had lifted the roof up in places such that a number of the roof hoops separated from their pipe bases, and our next challenge was to lift those hoop ends back up and onto their corresponding bases. We studied the problem for a good bit before figuring out the best and simplest solution, which required two guys to have the same strength as the original windstorm! Anyway, after much grunting and groaning, we succeeded! By then, I was dead on my feet, and I collapsed on the wet grass in the shade of a large tree, drank a lot of water, and poured the rest over my head. I then lay there for a good while until my heart rate got down to somewhere near normal. I knew then that I surely didn't work that hard for money! After a rest on my back, I took the tools back to the shed, took off my shirt which was soaking wet from perspiration, and jumped into a cold shower. Although I felt like I'd done a day's work, my clock told me we'd only been at it for 2:15 hours! I had a mid-morning snack, lay on the bed, and closed my eyes, but no sleep came, so I got up, had a can of ice-cold Coke to get some caffeine in my body. I then sat down and worked on my seminar-revision project.

My hosts headed off to a town nearby to visit the library and do some shopping, so I had the place to myself. I rested, drank, and read.

Late afternoon, when it was cooler, Doug and I ventured out and I re-attached the plastic sheeting roof on a greenhouse with special spring-wire strips. By the time we'd quit for the day, I'd put in more than three hours and had perspired a lot.

After my second cold shower for the day, I had a light supper and read away the evening before lights-out at 8 o'clock.

Workday 3

I slept well and long, getting up around 5:30. After a steaming mug of Twining's finest Earl Grey tea and some crackers with cheese, I watched some of the weekend's Australian Rules football game highlights on my laptop.

Around 7 am, Doug surfaced, but having slept in some strange position, he was disabled in the area around his neck. As a result, I was quickly promoted from watcher to doer! We unhooked from the tractor the bush hog slashing device Doug had used the previous afternoon, and attached a cultivator with two rows of tines. It had been a very long while since I'd driven a tractor, but it all came back to me quite quickly. There was a hand throttle, and a tractor clutch can take a while to master. And one must be in neutral gear to start and stop various attachments, and to start the tractor to begin with. I backed the tractor into the shed, we attached the new implement, and I drove down to the greenhouse where we'd worked the day before.

My task was to plow up the ground inside the greenhouse to clear the weeds and old strawberry plants, and that was straightforward. However, there was still a row of cantaloupe melons (AU: rock melons) growing down the center, so I had to avoid running over the vines and fruit, and getting the tractor wheels or plow tangled up in the netting supporting them. The melon row was a little off center, which meant it was easy to go down the wider side, but a challenge going back on the narrower side. After that task was done, I lay on the damp grass in the shade for a good while to regain my strength. Due to the curvature of the walls, I couldn't plow too close to them, so a row of tall weeds remained. To those, I took a heavy, long-handled hoe and started to hack them out. I then raked the trash into piles and loaded that onto a large 4-wheeled wagon I found in a shed, and dumped that in the woods. After 2½ hours, I was well and truly spent, and I'd finished about a quarter of the weeding and raking. I had to leave something for later, right? Besides, as Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!" I guess I'll find out later on!

Back in the house, I had my first shower for the day, and around 10:30, ate a large bowl of fresh blackberries with cereal, along with some cold apple cider. With the high heat and humidity, lethargy was the order of the day!

At noon, I decided to go for a drive. I started with the windows down, as there was a decent breeze, and there was tall forest, forest, and more forest on both sides of the local roads, so I was in the shade. (One of the main industries in the county was logging, for lumber and paper pulp.) There were occasional cleared patches where small houses stood. The few cleared fields had soybeans growing, and there was a goat farm. Eventually, I got onto a state highway, and there was a bit of traffic. I stopped off to browse in a couple of discount stores and a thrift shop. On the way home, I rescued a half-gallon container of whole milk, and at home I mixed into it a whole lot of Milo chocolate powder I'd brought with me in my "travel kitchen box." It was just the thing for a growing boy.

Mid-afternoon, I lay on the bed and had a very deep sleep for more than an hour. Then at 5 o'clock, when it was quite a bit cooler and the large trees provided shade as the sun dropped down, I sprayed several rows of edamame beans with a hand-pumped container, to keep the deer away. The spray was made from hot peppers, so Doug told me to not get it anywhere near my eyes. (That reminded me of my visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, where I learned about Scoville Heat Units [SHU], which measures the hotness of peppers.) After I finished that task, I thoroughly washed the equipment and my hands and arms. I specifically avoided wearing gloves, as I figured if some of the liquid got inside them, it would be there forever!

Next up, I tightened some screws holding the greenhouse roof to some poles. And then I weeded a section and raked up and disposed of the debris. After nearly two hours, I collapsed on the grass in the shade, and lay there for quite some time, until some enterprising insects decided to start eating me.

After my second shower of the day, I had a great supper of lentils, onion, peppers, and various other things, which I washed down with several large glasses of chocolate milk.

When outside my house, my most common footwear is hiking boots, and I have four pairs in various stages of wear. The two good pairs get used a lot just as shoes-with-great-ankle-support. The two oldest are somewhat worn, but still serviceable for heavy duty activities, and those were the ones I took along for farm work. The soles on the oldest pair had come adrift at the front, so I wrapped some duct tape around the boot toes as "running repairs."

At the end of the day, I'd accomplished a good amount. Lights out at 9 pm.

Workday 4

I slept soundly for eight whole hours. YES! I eased into the day by watching the final three game highlights of Aussie football. At 6:45, I was in work mode in a greenhouse, hoeing weeds, raking then, and hauling them out into the woods. Just as I finished and was resting, Doug and Judi arrived to inspect my work. After some discussion of "what next?", we unhooked the implement we'd used the day before and hooked up a disk plow. I then pulled that up and back a few times with the tractor, getting the greenhouse bed ready for planting in late August, for kale, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli.

After two solid hours of work, I took off my sweat-laden shirt and my boots and socks, and enjoyed a cold shower, followed by a big bowl of blackberries and cereal.

I was surprised that all my hard physical labor hadn't resulted in any soreness or cramps, but that morning, I was feeling a bit run-down. I prepared hot-and-sour soup for lunch, which included bamboo shoots, carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms. As that is one of my favorite dishes to make, it likely would restore my physical powers for more work later on.

I rested up all afternoon and evening. It was a short workday. I barely managed to stay awake until lights-out at 8 pm.

Workday 5

I was up at 6 o'clock, and had a bowl of cereal with fresh blueberries. It was just the thing for a growing lad! By 7, I was at work in the greenhouse removing some rusty bolts and rotten boards. I also picked cherry tomatoes for house use. At 8 o'clock, worker Chris arrived. (He helped out two half-days each week, and he lived in a basic cabin in the woods not far away, and was slowly making it his own place.) He and I got along just fine and we re-attached plastic sheeting to one side of a greenhouse, and then replaced the rotting boards I mentioned earlier. Then we picked some cucumbers, and trellised tomatoes. After 4½ hours, I headed back to the house for a long cold shower.

Lunch involved a sandwich with the tomatoes I'd picked a few hours earlier, along with an ear of corn, and several tall glasses of lemon-lime-flavored Gatorade.

I rested all afternoon and evening. The rain that was forecast to start at noon finally arrived at 6 pm, with a lot of thunder. Although there was very little rain, the temperature dropped more than 20 degrees, which was most welcome. During the short storm, I sat out on the front porch in a large swing chair and read the Richmond newspaper and a news magazine. I barely managed to stay awake until lights-out at 8 o'clock.

Heading Back Home

With the large temperature drop, I'd left the bedroom windows open all night, and did not use the fan. Unfortunately, the humidity stayed very high, and I was quite damp when I woke. I was up around 6 am, and I packed my gear and got my last email fix. For breakfast, Doug scrambled eggs with peppers and goat cheese, which we washed down with apple cider.

At 8 o'clock, I said my goodbyes, loaded up my Nissan, and headed out in light drizzle. It wasn't at all hot, but the humidity was high enough that I ran the air-conditioning all the way home. It was overcast and an excellent day for driving. Traffic was light, and I made good time, getting to my home area in under three hours. I stopped at a supermarket to lay in some supplies.

At home, I unpacked, started a load of laundry, went through the mail, and planned the next few days-worth of meals. Then it was naptime!

For supper, I had a large, lettuce-based salad. After having had very little green-leaf vegetables for nearly a week, I needed that. And I smuggled in pieces of ham, not having eaten meat for a while. Fortunately, the humidity at home was much lower. After an hour session tutoring English at my local library, I read until lights-out at 8:45.

As is usually the case after a trip, I was very happy to be back in my own home, with my own kitchen, and in my own bed!

Part 3: Follow-up and Reflections

Filing and Receiving a Review

At the end of a visit, hosts and volunteers are each asked to submit a review of their experience, but neither gets to read the others until both are posted, or some submission period expires.

Here's what I wrote: This was my first time as a Wwoofer, and it went very well. Doug and Judi were very welcoming, provided me with a very comfortable bed, and plenty of good food and conversation. The internet connection was fast and reliable. Overall, I worked about 4 hours per day. These are the main tasks I performed during my 5-day stay: • Unloaded produce at a distribution hub • Trellised tomato plants • Sprayed edamame beans • Removed the ends from a greenhouse • Re-attached plastic sheeting on a greenhouse wall • Repaired wooden baseboards on a greenhouse • Hand-hoed and raked weeds • Used a tractor to cultivate and plow in preparation for fall planting.

Here's what Doug wrote about me: Excellent person of high character. Hard worker, self-motivated, can-do attitude. Willing to tackle any job even with no prior experience. Highly recommended.

So, we both concluded that the visit was a success!

Looking Back    

Regarding my WWOOF experience, it was a good trip; I was very productive, and the host was very happy with my work. I enjoyed his company and conversation. We had no real schedule, and made things up as we went, which suited me just fine.

After Day 1 and again on the drive home, my big question was, "Will I ever do this kind of volunteer activity again, and if so, with what changes?" To be sure, the novelty and romantic attitude of helping someone while getting fresh air and exercise evaporated by the end of the first day. (To be fair it was very hot and very humid, but I limited my main working hours to early morning and late afternoon.) I'll need to sleep on that question for a week or two, but the answer may very well be "NO!" especially as many hosts ask for five, six, or more hours per day. And one downside I hadn't thought about in advance, is the possibility of bites from deer tick, which can lead to the very debilitating Lyme Disease. (I can also get a bad reaction from touching poison ivy.)

When I first joined, I was very enthusiastic, but over the next four weeks, that faded. First, a number of hosts whose projects interested me never replied to my enquiry, and another replied many weeks later, by which time it no longer worked for me. Then more than a few hosts didn't keep their availability calendars up to date; they said they were available when they weren't, and vice versa. And as I was close to locking in one place, the host announced she had downgraded the accommodation to a very primitive and, to me, an unacceptable level. Of course, she hadn't updated her profile to say this! That said, some hosts replied promptly, but almost all had all the labor they needed, but would keep me on a list. None ever got back to me later, not even several who seemed very interested in having me.

Along the way, I made numerous suggestions to the website organizers, especially regarding how to filter out the hosts I had no interest in. Unfortunately, there was no way to do that.

In the end, I decided that this program was best suited to young travelers who wanted to learn some skills, improve their English, meet people, live cheaply, and use their time off to look around to experience something of rural America.

As for me, now nearly a year after I joined, I don't see myself renewing my membership. Besides, after 10 years of trying to find a local farm where I might help out, I finally made that connection and have helped butcher chickens, remove large thistles, clear brush along fence lines, and worked with sheep and cattle.

Travel: Memories Guatemala, Part 2

© 1993, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Continued from Part 1 (April 2023).]

Antigua: Week 2 of Spanish Lessons

Back in Antigua, I bought some emergency rations, dropped my postcards at the post office, and was back in my room by 1 o'clock. The trip back took three hours, which was less than half the time it took me to get away, but more than three times as long as if the original minibus trip had worked out. C'est la vie! Or as they say in Spanish, "Así es la vida;" such is life! I enjoyed a nice, long, hot shower, and had a Spanish lesson from 2–5.

At 6:30 pm, I saw the movie "Body of Evidence," starring Madonna and Willem Defoe, which I enjoyed. Prior to that, they showed some CNN International news in which I saw fires near Los Angeles. At the movie, I met a couple from the UK/Ireland, and we chatted a while afterwards.

I found a Chinese restaurant with Spanish menu and had a great meal of curried chicken with celery and rice. Total cost, $2.50. Then it was off to my favorite restaurant for dessert. Unfortunately, they had run out of honey-covered fried banana. I tried the banana with cinnamon sauce, which I washed down with some coffee. It was adequate. All the while, I read my new novel, "Lie Down with Lions," by Ken Follett. Back home, I read a bit before lights-out at 10:30.

Before I stopped for the day, I thought I'd write about my bus experience. It turns out that legally they are not supposed to carry more passengers than they have seats. Twice during my weekend trip, the driver yelled out that he could see police coming, and all those standing should crouch down, so it wouldn't look obvious that the bus was overloaded. As if the police didn't know how buses operated! Anyway, picture a bus with an aisle down the middle, a door at the front, and an emergency door at the back that was also used for normal exit and entry. Many of the buses are cast-off school buses, and each seat can hold three small bottoms. Once two adults occupy a seat, the driver's assistant gets other people to sit half on the remaining seat space, hanging out into the aisle, and pretty much against the person hanging out from the seat across the aisle, leaving no room for anyone to get down the aisle. Ideally, you pack the passengers in from the middle towards the front or back doors. But no, that would require discipline and planning, and people simply took whatever space they first saw once they got on. And to compound things, instead of selling ticket as passengers boarded, once the bus was loaded, the assistant tried to come down the aisle, literally climbing over seats and people, standing up on a seat with his back to the roof for stability as he sold tickets and made change. Invariably, when a person needed to get off, they were nowhere near either door! What a system!

[Next day] I woke early and lay in bed reading for an hour. After some cereal, I washed my clothes by hand, and moved my desk and chair into the courtyard, the only place receiving direct sunlight. I was bringing this diary up to date when Carmen arrived around 10 am. We worked outside in the glorious sunshine, although it got pretty cool when the clouds intervened. It was hard going!

I visited my friendly bakery for lunch, where the lady made me a roll, which I washed down with a strawberry Fanta. [It wasn't until I left Australia in 1979, that I discovered Fanta came in flavors other than orange!]

I ventured out and visited some ruins and the main plaza. Mid-afternoon, I took in the movie "The Fisher King," with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. By the time I went home to change into some warmer clothes and came back, the 6-pm movie was about to start: "Thelma and Louise," starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. Afterwards, I made my way to the Italian restaurant and had a small pizza with every topping imaginable, and a couple of cups of coffee, while I read my novel.

I must say that the novelty of learning Spanish was wearing off!

[Next day] Once again, I was awake early, and I read in bed. Then after a small breakfast, I moved my table and chair into the courtyard where I could sit in the sun and prepare for my day's lesson. Carmen arrived at 10 o'clock. I made good progress. We snacked on potato chips and orange juice, and we worked for three hours.

I went to a bank to change US$200. Although I was only second in line at the teller, the customer ahead of me seemed to be opening an account for every living soul in his hometown. It sure took a while, and he signed many sheets of paper. The exchange rate was about the same, and I had to pay the "huge" commission of $1. Armed with a basketful of play money, I headed to my friendly bakery, where I ate Chile relleno on a warm bread roll smothered in spicy salsa. It was so good, I had a second one, and washed that all down with a bottle of raspberry Fanta. After some time, I smelled fresh doughnuts, which looked so good, I just had to sample one.

I headed to the park to sit and read some travel literature, as I planned to leave town on the weekend. Afterwards, I took in the movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes." Now ours was the last showing of the day, and once the operator got everything going, he headed home for the night. However, 75 minutes in, the screen went blank, and it was obvious that when the movie was recorded, something went wrong, and we were missing the final 45 minutes. Don't you just hate that when that happens! [It was quite some years later that I finally saw the rest of the movie!]

As we got out early, I had time to kill before a movie at another theater. I stopped at a burger place and had a cheeseburger and coffee. At 8:20, I got up to leave for my 8:30-movie, when the whole town was blacked-out. The waiter immediately raced to the front door and shut it, presumably to stop patrons from sneaking out in the dark without paying. Outside, stall owners lit candles and there were headlights on cars, as I made my way to the theater. After 30 minutes, the power came back on, and "Unforgiven" starring Clint Eastwood got underway.

[Next day] I woke at 8 o'clock and read in bed a while before going downtown. There, I visited a travel agency and organized a package trip to the Mayan ruins for the following week.

Back home, I had a light breakfast and prepared for my 10-am Spanish session. Things went quite well, and we spent most of the time reviewing the five compound tenses I'd learned the previous day. Then Carmen surprised me with a written test that required me to conjugate 20 verbs in six different tenses! I struggled with a few, but of the 120 problems, I got only five wrong, so I was pretty happy. When I'm working on any one tense I do okay, but switching between them on a regular basis can make one's head spin!

On the edge of the main square, I discovered a new restaurant for lunch. I ordered a club sandwich, Antigua-style and my usual café con leche. The sandwich was very good: four slices of toast filled with chicken, salad, tomato, lettuce, and salad dressing, among other things. It dripped down my hands as I ate, making it a challenge to read my novel at the same time.

Out in the park, I met a Texan who was reading a novel by an author I liked, so I stopped to chat. It turned out he was looking for a room for two with private Spanish instruction, so I told him mine would be free starting Sunday. Then I met a retired couple from Boston who wintered in New Mexico, and we talked while watching a wedding celebration nearby. Apparently, the family had hired two local buses to hold all the guests who were out taking photos in the square dressed in very colorful clothes.

Back in my room, I sat on the balcony writing, and one of the Dutch girls was doing likewise. I started a new novel, and got right into it. As I had only one other book left, I'd soon need to find a bookshop or exchange.

Late evening, I arrived at a theater and settled in to watch "Glengarry Glen Ross," which was about the worst movie I'd seen in a long while, so much so that I don't ever want to read/see anything written by the author, David Mamet! The good news was that I'd only paid $1.

Back in my room, I read my novel until I finished it, all in one day! After two weeks, I was ready to leave. It was time to break the daily ritual and to do something new.

[Next day] I was up at 8:15, and having used up all my cereal, I ventured out for breakfast. It was another nice day, and I sat at the bakery eating a doughnut and sipping coffee. Back home, I prepared for my final class with Carmen. I decided that I'd had enough of grammar, and I suggested we look at pictures in a book, and I'd describe the situations to give my vocabulary a workout. Afterwards, Carmen asked me to describe my trip to Costa Rica the previous year, to get my past tense going. Then I wrote a few sentences. After two hours, I was spent, so we stopped. I took her photo, and I paid my bill for 14 nights' accommodation and 33 hours of tuition, which came to the Grand Total of US$100! But since I was VERY happy with the whole experience, I gave her an extra $25.

At a local bookstore, I swapped two books and bought three new ones. I started reading one about Perry Mason, and got right into it. [So much so that I finished it that evening and raced back to exchange it for two others!]

I took my time crossing the park, but the rain came down quite heavily, so I hurried to my 6-o'clock movie. It was "Husbands and Wives," starring Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. I really enjoyed it. It was 8 o'clock by the time the film ended, and I had planned to eat dessert and coffee only, having had a large lunch. However, I found myself at the Italian restaurant reading while waiting for a pizza to be cooked. Light Italian opera music wafted in, followed by some foot-tapping accordion music.

Back in my room, I set the alarm for 4-bloody-am! Unfortunately, it was a noisy Saturday night, and although it was "lights out" at 10 pm, sleep took a while to come. The concert music downtown was very loud, but I refused to look at the clock, so I wouldn't know how much sleep I didn't get!

Flying North Over the Jungle

[Next day] All too soon, my 4-am alarm sounded, and by 4:15, I was packed and waiting out front. It was Sunday, and time to take my weekly malaria pill, especially as I was headed for the jungle in the northeast. My pickup time was 4:20, but that came and went, as did 4:30. I had visions of missing my flight. Then at 4:40, lo and behold, a minibus arrived and headed off around the town picking up other passengers. Twenty minutes later, we drove back past my front door to the other side of town! An hour after I started waiting, we actually left town. But, of course, we were on Latin-American time, as in mañana!

The road to the capital was much better than I remembered from the trip out. Of course, this minibus was much more comfortable, and every passenger had their own seat. The van pulled a small trailer that contained all our luggage. As the bus filled, I moved to the single seat next to the driver. We were filled to capacity. Day broke as we drove through the mountains, and the lights of the capital filled the valley below. The sun rose around 6 am as we descended to the city, and people were out setting up food and drink stalls. Some were even jogging.

We reached the airport's international terminal soon after, where we dropped off half the passengers. Then it was on to the domestic terminal, all the way around the other side of the field, next to an air-force base. After we passed through a military police checkpoint, I was dropped at the hangar for the carrier Tapso. However, as I was the only passenger booked on the flight, they cancelled it, and rebooked me on another carrier, Avcon. I walked several hangars down where I was checked in and given a boarding pass. A number of 25- and 50-passenger turboprop planes stood nearby.

Departure time was scheduled for 7 am, so I sat and had a nice cup of coffee, which the airline provided free-of-charge. Some 10 passengers were waiting for my flight, and they were speaking a variety of languages, as my destination was popular with international tourists. We boarded a small plane. I was first on-board, so picked a single seat on the port (left) side right behind the cockpit. As the wing was on the roof, I was in a good viewing position.

We took off right on schedule; imagine that! And we were in the air after using only 100 yards of the runway. I looked out over the capital until we climbed into the clouds. We levelled off at 8,000 feet and it was "smooth flying" from there. After 20 minutes, we were out of the mountains and over flat jungle with a clear sky. Although I could see a long way, there wasn't anything to view except for trees with an occasional cleared patch, a large meandering river, and one main road going north. Occasionally, smaller roads branched off.

After an hour of flying, before landing, we circled the field at Santa Elena. I could see the large Lake Petén Itzá in the distance, as well as the town of Flores. In recent years, the rainfall had been extra heavy, and as the lake doesn't have an exit point, it had flooded over into the neighboring towns. An Aviateca Boeing 737 stood nearby. That airline serves the capital and neighboring countries.

My package tour was with the Jungle Lodge, they had a desk at the airport, and my name was on their list; YES! The two agents were friendly and spoke English. By the time the other guests had been rounded up and our luggage found, it was 9 o'clock. We were 10 passengers, a driver, and a guide, and we boarded a comfortable van. We drove north for an hour on a decent road.

The Mayan Temples at Tikal

The Jungle Lodge reminded me of the base camp at which I'd stayed along the Amazon River in Peru, and of the lodge at Canaima, Venezuela. The main building housed offices, a lounge, and a large eating area. Everything was wide open with thatched roofs and tall ceilings with the obligatory fan. My room was 6B, and shared a common wall with the room next door. I had two double beds, some bits of furniture, a bathroom, and a front patio (with seats) that overlooked a garden. The bathroom was about the same size as the room I'd been living in for the past two weeks! The shower stall was so large, I used only a small corner of it. Although it was by no means fancy, it was more than adequate. Electricity was available from 5:30 pm to 10 pm only, so there was no reading or ceiling fan after that. My neighbors were German, which I gathered from their accents through the common wall.

By mid-morning, I had unpacked and went in search of some food. A short walk from the hotel, I found a cheap eating place. I ordered a picnic lunch to-go. It included a boiled egg, which they'd cooked while I waited. Two sandwiches contained an assortment of meats. An orange and some salt were included in the plastic bag. Cost: $3.

After I ate a sandwich, I went back to the lodge where I met my guide, Alfredo. We set off on a personal 2-hour orientation of the archeological site nearby. Tikal is one of the best-known Mayan building sites. Built over 1,000 years, it seems that it was abandoned around AD 900. More than 3,000 different structures have been identified, including a number of reasonably large pyramids. Apparently, they were into sacrifices, including human, and had lots of altars. And although lots of jade trinkets have been found, they didn't have any gold. In fact, they had no metal tools. All carving was done with pointed sticks, and hammers were made of stone.

We looked around the main plaza where there was a concentration of large structures and Temple I, the one featured on most postcards. Although it was impressive, there was a lot of erosion on the stones. It's a stepped pyramid with a 3-room temple at the top, and a "comb" on top of that. A single flight of stone steps rises from the bottom to the base of the temple. As it was closed for renovations, I could only gaze upon it from a neighboring building.

Each complex has a main structure in each of the positions north, south, east, and west. The Mayans were very knowledgeable, especially about the planets. They had a calendar, a written language, and a number system. They've been gone some 1,200 years, and I wondered if civilization had really progressed much since then!

Across the plaza is Temple II, which was also quite impressive. I raced up the steps to look around that complex, and then went onto Temple III. This was still in the condition in which it was found in 1860, overgrown completely up to the base of the temple on the top. You'd never know it was not "just another hill." I climbed up the "path" over slippery rocks using some roots as handholds. From the top, I got a view of Temple IV nearby, which is the tallest structure; it too is still completely overgrown. The Park had installed very strong, wooden ladders that slope gently up, so one can reach the temple without too much effort. At the base of the temple, a steel ladder allowed me to climb right to the top where I could see out over the jungle for miles around. Near the temple base, I met a coatimundi, a friendly animal that walked off into the undergrowth, or perhaps I should say overgrowth! Back at ground level, I spied a vendor with a cooler of beer and soda, so I had a nice, cold Pepsi in the shade of a tree.

Alfredo pointed out a howler monkey sitting quietly overhead. I also spotted a pair of toucans in all their resplendent glory, sitting just above my head.

At the end of our tour, I stayed in the main plaza and read the guidebook I'd bought at the entrance. It was written by William Robertson Coe II, an archaeologist who'd worked at the site through the University of Pennsylvania. By then, the insects were gnawing on me, despite my XXX-rated repellant. And while the mosquitoes kept their distance, some tiny, black critters sure liked my blood! So, I went in search of a good breeze, and I found it at the top of Temple II. Clouds blocked out the sun as I continued to read my guidebook. The view from the top was spectacular, across the main plaza to Temple I sitting 100 yards away, with a detailed complex on either side.

I chatted with a young German woman from Heidelberg, and then a Belgian couple, before finishing with a good Spanish workout with a park ranger. Then came a young man from Finland, and a French couple, the wife of which had cut her shin rather badly. So, I broke out my First-Aid kit and "patched her up." After carrying it around the world for some years, I was happy to finally use it, but not on myself!

It started to get cool around 5 o'clock, especially under the thick tree canopy, so I headed off on a trail, eventually finding my way to the main entrance. (One needed a permit to stay in the ruins from 6–8 pm. Apparently, the pyramids are worth seeing in the moonlight.)

By 5:30, I was in the pool. After a hard day of slashing through the humid jungle, there's nothing quite like a swim. Following that, I settled down in a restaurant with a new detective novel. I ordered fresh-squeezed orange juice; a plate of cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple; and a toasted bacon, tomato, and onion sandwich. It cost me all of $4!

Having started the day at 4 am, by 8 pm, I was starting to fade, and not long after, it was "lights out." Like all jungle environments, the room smelled musty from the high humidity, and the sounds of the night critters came in the open window. The good news was that the screens kept out the hungry insects.

[Next day] Early morning, it started to rain quite heavily, making a loud noise on the corrugated-iron roof. Despite that, I slept quite well until 9 o'clock. I lay in bed reading until 10, and then shaved and showered. Although the electricity was off, the water was hot, but the pressure was quite low. All the water is carted in from a large lake 30-odd miles away. As the local soil is so porous, ground water is not retained, so wells are no good.

Late morning, I packed and handed in my room key, and left my backpack in the lobby. I was told that the bus to the airport would depart around 2 pm. I'd eaten a boiled egg for breakfast, but now it was lunchtime. I ordered scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, and bacon. When it arrived, the usual black-bean paste was present. I washed that all down with coffee while writing in this diary.

The site has at least three lodges and a nice campground. The government has done a good job of keeping the place simple and clean. As I approached the museum, it started to drizzle. There, I bought some postcards and looked over the exhibits, which were mostly altars and stele. I also bought a 70-minute video of the area, so I could re-experience the trip from back at home. It rained quite heavily, but stopped when I walked back to the hotel. I sat under a thatched roof by the pool sipping a cold bottle of Pepsi, and the rain started up again.

A Stay in Flores in Flood!

While waiting for my bus, I read a bit about the town of Flores, my next stop. It took an hour to drive south to the airport, where most passengers got out. The driver then dropped me at Pasada el Toucan, a cheap hotel recommended by my guidebook. It was fully booked, and I was told to try next door, at Villa del Largo. They had one double room left for Q70, which wasn't expensive, but I declined. As I sat reading my guidebook for other options, the manager told the desk clerk to offer me the single rate of Q40, and I promptly agreed and paid for two nights. The bed was comfortable, and an electric fan was mounted on one wall. There were two shared bathrooms. It certainly was more than adequate. The back patio led to a dock right on the lake. In fact, the lake had flooded the lower back yard, which in a normal season is 100 feet from the water's edge!

Flores is a densely packed town situated on an island in the lake with a causeway to the mainland. By mid-afternoon, I set out to walk around the island. The street running around the edge was under two feet of water, and there were gangplanks leading to the front doors of many houses and other buildings. I was especially amused by a rather rundown beauty parlor still in operation despite water lapping the front doorstep. There was a flat-topped hill in the center with a church and a small park complete with coconut palms, shrubs, and trees.

I found a grocery store that had everything from cornflakes to rat poison! I bought milk, juice, and cookies. By then, the sky was black, and rain was imminent. It came soon after and positively teemed down, so I waited some 15 minutes in several stores and talked to a young woman at a travel agency. Unfortunately, she hadn't been to any of the places she sent her clients. Once the rain stopped, I headed home.

I was hungry, so I headed out to find somewhere to eat, and I soon settled on a place nearby primarily as it was well lit, so I could read. Of course, no sooner I'd ordered, the power on that side of the island went out. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Within minutes, the staff brought me a candle that was so small I could hardly see the table let alone read my book. Unfortunately, the enchiladas weren't very tasty and were only partly offset by the coffee.

The power was still off when I got back to my hotel, but there were two very large altar candles in the lobby. An elderly man was on duty, and I had trouble understanding him. Eventually, I got from him the Spanish words for candle and matches. After an hour, the power came back, and the quiet town started booming with music and TVs blaring.

I read until 9 o'clock and then collapsed, leaving the fan on more to drown out the music rather than because it was hot. However, I couldn't sleep, and at 10:15, I started reading again, finally getting to sleep at 11.

[Next day] I woke at 8:15 and read until I finished my book. Breakfast was a tall glass of chocolate milk and some cookies; YES! At 10:30, I made myself reasonably presentable and set out across the causeway to the mainland town of Santa Elena. There, I sat in a small park and wrote some postcards. I picked a street at random and set out to explore the neighborhood and stumbled on a bustling market and commercial district. It was a typical Latin-American market: imagine a 5-acre pigsty the day after a heavy rain. Then imagine 100–200 small stalls erected there in a drunken stupor! The stalls were built of odd bits of wood and old galvanized iron sheets, all held together by bits of rope and canvas. Narrow and dark walkways meandered between the rows of stalls. They sold everything from electronics and toys to silver-tipped cowboy boots and saddles.

I stopped in the shade to drink a nice cold Pepsi and to watch the world go by. There was an army base out near the airport, and a truck full of soldiers came and carried off a large stack of boxes of fresh eggs, all done with military precision, not! I found my way to the post office, which reminded me of when I was a kid playing "shops;" you know, cartons and crates set up as a counter. The postal clerk efficiently stamped my cards.

On the walk back over the causeway, a boatman offered me a ride out on the lake. While I was interested, I told him the price was too high. He lowered it enough and we pushed off at noon and headed across to a small zoo on the mainland. There were some impressive jaguars, pumas, monkeys, and rodents of some species I'd not seen before. Next up, we stopped at the base of a hill, and I climbed to the top to find a huge tree with stairs up to a platform. I could see well out over the lake to surrounding towns. Two hours after we'd started, he dropped me back at Flores where I snacked on some tasty potato trips as I walked home. Then I read and napped.

Early evening, I started a new novel, and then headed out in search of supper. I found a nice place set over the water. My first choice wasn't available, the alternate choice was only fair, the dessert wasn't quite what I expected, and they had no coffee! Then they could not make change from a Q50 bill, and the waiter had to go and find change, taking 15 minutes. Apart from that, everything was wonderful!

I strolled around a bit before getting back home around 7:30, when I settled into my book until it was finished. Lights out by 9:30.

Back to the Capital

[Next day] I had the fan on most of the night to keep the insects away. I started the day in bed with a new novel. After a shave and a shower, I packed my gear. It was only 9:45 am, and my plane didn't leave until 4 pm, so I had a lot of time to kill. It was another sunny day in Paradise! I sat in the shade in a park, searching in my guidebook for a place to stay back in the capital.

I went out in search of some food and found a nice restaurant where I was the only customer. My ham and cheese omelet was exceptionally good, as was the milk coffee. However, when I asked the waiter for another cup, he informed me that they had no more milk. Say what!

I ambled back to the hotel and left my pack in the lobby. Then it was nap time, but I couldn't find a shady spot to stretch out. I watched the world go by, which mostly involved a middle-aged woman doing laundry by hand in a corrugated-iron lean-to. I walked a bit and found a nice patch of soft grass in the shade, so I laid down and closed my eyes. Well, don't you know, I felt a slight drizzle on my face and when I opened my eyes, a black cloud loomed right overhead. Within seconds, it was raining quite heavily. It lasted only 15 minutes, but afterwards there were no dry places to sit!

Eventually, a taxi drove by, and I hailed it. I got my gear and we drove to the airport arriving around 2:30. The "terminal" was a big, open shed, and although there was security, it was "out to lunch" when I arrived, so I walked right in. Later, a guy came and checked all hand luggage as people entered. I tried to buy postcards at several stalls, but they couldn't change a Q20 bill. Then I spied a stall with potato chips, but it was closed.

A number of us boarded an un-marked plane at 4:10, and we took off. It was a relatively new twin-engine craft with some 25 seats, fewer than half of which were occupied. We flew at 10,500 feet and the trip was uneventful, as one likes flights to be. I snagged the front seat, as that was the only one with enough room for my long legs. After 45 minutes, Guatemala City came into view. We landed swiftly, and taxied right into a hangar. We each grabbed our luggage as it was unloaded.

A taxi driver asked if I needed a ride, and I said, "Si," so we walked to his cab parked nearby and headed out. He stopped along the way trying to solicit other passengers at various hangars eventually arriving back where we'd started. Then he transferred me to another guy's cab, and we repeated the process, eventually enticing one other person, after which we headed for the downtown area, during peak-hour traffic. He dropped me at my hotel, and I checked in.

At 6 pm, I headed out for 6th Avenue, the main place for shopping, eating, and nightlife. I hadn't been interested to spend much time in the Capital and was pleasantly surprised at how clean it was. The stalls on the sidewalks made it crowded, but being two feet taller than everyone else, it wasn't at all claustrophobic. I was heading for McDonalds and could almost taste their French fries. Along the way, I came across a complex of six theaters, and not having seen a movie in four whole days, I checked out the program. One at 7:15 looked promising. Then, right there in front of me was a Pizza Hut; Yes! So, I ordered a small Supreme and ate outdoors.

At 7:15, I'd bought my ticket and was seated waiting for the start of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero. The best I can say about the movie was that it helped pass the time and it was cheap. By 9:30, I was seated in McDonalds having the fries I'd drooled over earlier, along with a mug of hot chocolate. It was the first McDonalds I'd ever seen with an armed guard! He had a pump-action shotgun, a pistol, and handcuffs.

Back in my room, I read a while. Lights out at 10:30.

[Next day] Although I was wide awake at 7:30, I lay there until 8 o'clock and then read until 9:15. I decided to stay the final night in the same hotel. As I was almost out of local currency, I asked the front-desk clerk if he'd take US$ cash, and he said, "No problemo!"

So, where to go for breakfast? McDonalds, of course! I ate an egg-and-sausage sandwich smothered in ketchup followed by a mug of hot chocolate while I worked on this diary. I strolled down 6th Avenue to a park, an area the size of at least two city blocks. There were plenty of trees, seats, and a performance stage. I made my way over to the Presidential Palace nearby. A band of seven men played double bass, drums, and two very long, multi-person xylophones. I sat and listened to them play for quite some time. That week was the 50th anniversary of the Palace's construction, and there was a small exhibit, which I visited. I toured the three main floors and was quite impressed by the building, the courtyards, gardens, and fountains. Many government ministries were located there. After that, I sat in the park by the large fountain and watched the world go by then read my novel.

At 4:15, I bought a movie ticket and settled in for the 4:30 showing of Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone. What a movie; it had me on the edge of my seat from the get-go! It ended at 6:20, and I raced off to buy a ticket for a 6:30 show, Death Train. It too was great!

Not having eaten all day, I was ready to "eat a horse and chase the rider!" Although I saw McDonalds off in the distance, I went to Burger King instead, where I washed down a bacon-cheese burger with hot chocolate. As my final night in Guatemala wound down, I was more than ready to be home. It was after 9 pm when I walked to my hotel, and the street stalls were being packed up for the night. Lights out at 10 pm.

Heading Home

[Next day] I woke at 2:30, then again at 4:30, and finally at 5:30, 10 minutes before my alarm was due to go off. I was dressed and packed in 10 minutes, and out front in a taxi at 5:45, speeding toward the international airport. Although the city was starting to come alive, it wasn't yet crowded.

I was third in line at the check-in counter, and everything went smoothly. Then, as I went through security the alarm sounded. However, none of the attendants seemed to hear it or care, so after waiting there a minute with no-one coming, I walked through. Great security, huh? I was supposed to depart at 7:45, but there was a long backup at customs/immigration, so we were delayed 30 minutes.

Finally, our lightly loaded Boeing 757 took off. Breakfast was decent: three smoked sausages, tortilla, an omelet containing my daily vegetable requirements, bread roll, butter, cinnamon roll, and coffee. Soon we were over Mexico and a mountainous desert. As we approached a volcano, I recognized it from the previous year's flight when I flew up from Costa Rica. There was snow on the ground. Smoke was rising from the volcano's cone as we flew by only a few miles away.

We came in over Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis of 20+ million people. A thick, brown cloud of pollution hung around 1,000–2,000 feet up. We landed, and although I didn't have to change planes, I did have to deplane and re-board. So, what did I do on the way to Washington's Dulles airport? I watched a movie, of course: Sleepless in Seattle, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. According to the menu—which is still in pristine condition 28 years later—I ate a green garden salad served with a tangy vinaigrette dressing, followed by sliced roast beef with a caramelized onion and comino (cumin, that is) sauce, accompanied by green beans, celery, potato, sweet pepper casserole, and sautéed red peppers. Dessert involved cookies.

So, after never having thought about going to Guatemala, I'd spent three weeks there, and it was fine. I'd worked on my Spanish and had a bit of a look around, and I was quite impressed with the Mayan ruins.

Travel: Memories of Guatemala, Part 1

© 1993, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Originally, this diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip, in October 1993. Many years later, I transcribed and edited it. I'd glued all kinds of things into the paper version: postcards, bus tickets, receipts, and so forth.]

In October 1992, I was in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, staying at the youth hostel. I had three roommates, one of whom was Norwegian. Like a lot of budget travelers going to Latin America, he'd spent time in Antigua, Guatemala, taking basic Spanish language lessons. Rather than stay with a host family, as offered by many language programs, he'd found his own accommodation and private language teacher. He gave me the family's name and address, lest I should ever be in that area. At that time, Guatemala had never been on my travel radar, but I listened to him tell of his experiences, thanked him, and filed away the information. And don't you know it, a year later, there I was knocking on that family's door, asking about renting a room and taking Spanish lessons!

Preparation, Departure, and Layover

At Washington Dulles International airport (IAD), I waited in the lounge for my flight to Mexico City (MEX). It was packed, and seated to my left were two French couples, while a Spanish-speaking family sat on my right. The announcements were in English and Spanish, so I started getting into "Spanish mode." And while I had a basic grounding in some aspects of Spanish grammar and a decent-sized vocabulary, my comprehension was very poor. In fact, the main reason for this trip was to improve those skills.

Apart from buying a guidebook and a good map, my preparation for the trip was pretty much non-existent. I'd make it up as I went, right from Day 1. However, I'd set a goal of having two weeks of intensive, one-on-one Spanish tutoring.

I'd bought a new backpack for the Costa Rican trip the previous year, and I loved it. Having travelled extensively, I'd refined the packing process, and was carrying the bare minimum. In fact, I'd packed everything in 15 minutes on the day of the trip! For a 3-week trip, my pack contained the following: 5 pairs of woolen socks, 3 pairs of sock liners, 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sandals, 5 pairs of underpants, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of trousers, 4 T-shirts, 1 rainproof jacket, 1 warm jacket liner, 1 warm cap, 1 sun hat, numerous Spanish grammar and vocabulary books, an electronic Spanish translator, and some candy.

As we boarded the flight, I got a workout in both Spanish and German as I helped several travelers with the boarding process. The flight was smooth and uneventful, just as one prefers. I had a window seat, and next to me sat a young man from Mexico City. Dinner was served, and I spent some time studying the Spanish half of the menu, learning several practical words and phrases. I watched the movie "The Firm," starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.

After 1,200 miles and 4:30 hours, we arrived at MEX at 8:10 pm, local time, two hours earlier than back home, in light drizzle. Since my plane was continuing to Guatemala, I stayed onboard, talking to two young German women. [As it happened, I had been in their part of Germany just six weeks earlier.] We departed at 9:15 pm with only a small load. The 660 miles took 1:30 hours.

Guatemala City    

The United Airlines agent who greeted us at Guatemala City airport (GUA) was very friendly, and sold me the required tourist card for $5. Customs and immigration were a formality. I knew the airport bank would be closed, but I went there to read the exchange rate. An enterprising policeman came up to me and told me the bank was closed, but he was willing to sell me some local currency (Guatemalan quetzales, GTQ) for US cash, if I wanted. He offered five for 1 US$, which was very fair, so I changed $20-worth.

Out at the curb, I met Felix, a young German from Stuttgart. As he didn't have a place to stay either, we agreed to share a taxi downtown to a cheap place I'd found in my guidebook. However, the taxi driver informed us that place had gotten expensive, and he recommended another place, so we took his advice. The ride was like being in a high-speed race, and cost us $10.

The pension he dropped us at was a seedy dump frequented by tourists travelling on the cheap (just like us). Our room had four beds, and I picked one without an end, so my long legs could hang over. Despite being spartan and run-down, the room was clean, and cost us $2.80 each for the night. Lights-out around 11 pm, local time.

[Next day] I slept well, and was up at 8 o'clock. After a quick look around, I packed and walked to the main bus terminal from which buses left for the former capital, Antigua. My fairly new Ford bus was gaily painted and decorated, and like all the buses, sported a large and very loud air horn, which the driver used constantly to warn pedestrians and other drivers to "get the hell out of my way!". While I expected there were road rules, I surely couldn't figure them out from our driver's behavior. It seemed that the rougher the road, the faster the driver went. As I wanted to take my pack inside the bus rather than risk having it stolen from the roof, I paid double fare, a whopping $1.50. It took an hour, and we stopped pretty much anywhere anyone waved us down. The bus license stuck to the wall said "43 passajeros maxima," but I think we set a Guinness World Record, as we were stuffed in like sardines! I sat up front and made room next to me for a small (the usual size down there) mother with a baby hanging in a shawl wrapped around her neck. Several women flagged us down, and it took three guys to load their baskets of pineapples and melons onto the roof.

As we charged at breakneck speed down the highway, we narrowly missed a manhole whose cover was missing; no problemo! We passed through a police checkpoint. I don't know what the purpose of that was, but the officers carried automatic rifles. This is a country apparently with no mechanized lawnmowers, and plenty of humidity and heat to help the grass grow. As a result, along the way, we passed numerous men slashing the tall grass on the roadside with their machetes. It surely was a life-long job!

Antigua: Week 1 of Spanish Lessons

When we arrived at Antigua, I was glad to be outside, especially as the bus seats were each intended for small people with short legs. My knees sure took a beating! I took out the accommodation address the Norwegian guy had given me in Costa Rica, and got some directions from a policeman. I soon came across the main plaza—a beautiful spot—where I found 2nd Avenue. However, there was no Number 4, which was the woman's address. Number 6 was a store, and I went in. The owner was German, and after a short chat in German and Spanish, she told me I wanted South 2nd, not North. Soon after, I located the house of Señora Maria del Carmen Ramos.

Teenage daughter Indira informed me that her mother already had a student in the mornings, and would return from work around 1 pm. She showed me three bedrooms, and I chose the one upstairs, separate from the main house, with a view over the city towards the highlands. The room was clean, and had a double bed, bookcase, writing desk, and chair. The cost was $5/night, without meals.

Half a block away, I found a family-run, hole-in-the-wall bakery/café that had three tables. A young boy waited on me, and I had a Chile rellano—spicy beef in pastry—between slices of bread with lettuce and salsa. With a bottle of ice-cold Coke, it all cost 80 cents. While I ate, I watched a man sweep the cobblestone street with a broom handmade from twigs (a sight I was to see every day all around the downtown).

Next up was the tourist office. The man running it, Thomas, was very friendly, wore a tie, and introduced himself. I bought a town map for 25 centavos (5 cents), and when I asked about banks, he showed me one nearby. There, a very pleasant señora changed $250, which got me 1,450 quetzales. All the banks had armed guards standing in the doorways, some with automatic weapons, others with 12-guage shotguns. Inside, either I was in a very safe place or a very dangerous place, but which one was it?

The main plaza was a park and one of the nicest I'd seen in Latin America. There was no trash! Most of the foreigners there were French. I spoke with a Canadian couple who'd just come from Belize (the only English-speaking country in Central America) and had visited the Mayan ruins at Tikal (more on that place later). As they were headed to Costa Rica, we exchanged travel advice.

When I got back home, Carmen was there. She told me she could spare me three hours each afternoon that week at 4:30 for Spanish lessons, with more hours the following week. The cost would be $2/hour. I agreed to start that very afternoon.

I pulled out my books and did a bit of a refresher course on past tense (unfortunately, there are two forms of that) and other bits and pieces. Then I had a nap and a short walk around the neighborhood. Afterwards, Carmen came up to my room and, soon we were naked in bed practicing my vocabulary regarding body parts! No; wait a minute; that was a completely different trip! Now I remember, we sat at my table and after I told her the kinds of things I'd like to practice, we jumped headfirst into speaking Spanish! We spent most of the first session using past tense with her asking me questions about myself. To help me, she spoke reasonably slow, but I still missed a lot. She was very patient and a good teacher. We paused halfway in to have coffee and chocolate. My biggest problem had been a lack of practice with direct and indirect object pronouns (and 30 years later, I still haven't mastered them). While I knew the rules and could write correct sentences, when speaking, one has no time to think about the rules. It was a good first lesson, and set the tone for my stay.

Around 7:45, I strolled down to the plaza. The main fountain was working and was lit. Couples sat on benches talking or walked around. The sounds of a Mariachi band (guitars and trumpet) come from a group performing nearby. They were dressed very smartly.

I found a restaurant that specialized in fondue, Guatemalan style, so I ordered one with cheese and sausage. Although it looked small, it was sufficient and came with bread sticks. Along with café con leche (milk coffee) the bill came to $3. The waitress and cook smiled constantly and were very friendly.

I met two young women from Ireland who'd come from Belize. The whole of the downtown had cobblestone streets. No vehicular traffic was allowed on the streets for much of the day, just for early-morning and late-afternoon deliveries. Therefore, it was relatively quiet and unpolluted. And as the rainy season had just ended, the days were dry. After walking around, I finished up back at the plaza listening to the fountain bubble and watching water trickle from the breasts of four stone-maiden statues. Using my electronic translator, I worked on new vocabulary.

Back home, once my light was out, the room was quite dark. It was 10:30 pm, and it had been a very good first full day of the trip.

[Next day] After a good sleep in my comfortable bed, I was up at 8:30 am. I looked out the window to find it was another nice day in Paradise! As there was no running hot water, I shaved in cold water. Then I jumped into the shower. Now this had hot water, on-demand, but at what looked like some risk. Two electric wires ran into a box right on top of the shower head, and they heated the water as it passed through. Although I'd used this kind of device before in other countries, I can never get used to the idea that it's a good thing to mix water and electricity. The shared bathroom was quite adequate with two batwing doors that opened out into the courtyard, and with no roof, so tall people like me could look over the wall and chat to Gomez the gardener while taking care of our ablutions. Being luggage-weight conscious, I'd brought only a hand towel, but I made do.

Back in my room, I had a nutritious breakfast of potato chips and milk, after which I was ready to take on the world. But was the world ready for me? Having the day free until my 4:30-pm lesson, I reviewed the previous day's lesson. I also planned to write sentences for Carmen to check. To that end, I found a stationary store and bought a notebook. I also went to the post office and bought postcard stamps to various countries, the most expensive of which was only 8 cents.

Across the street was a market, so I took a look. It covered several acres under one big roof, which was really a loose collection of galvanized-iron sheets cleverly disguised as a roof. Many of the stalls were very small with hardly any room to turn around let alone swing a dead cat (an Aussie measure of space)! The first section was all clothes, leather goods, and bags. Then came a big fruit and vegetable section where I bought a cucumber, a very large carrot, and three small tomatoes. Many women working the stalls either had a small baby in a shawl bouncing around on their backs, or were breastfeeding between sales. Most were so short they could barely look into my navel let alone see the top of my head! Although they were of small stature, they certainly stacked loads in baskets on their heads without using their hands. Typical of Latin American markets, it was colorful, busy, noisy, friendly, and not too grubby. I certainly had no concerns about buying food there.

Next came stalls selling hardware and groceries, and butcher shops that had no refrigeration. Surprisingly, there were few flies. In any event, I never buy raw meat hanging out in the open. A whole section contained dining places where the prices were rock bottom! Each place was run by a woman or a young girl. What you learn quite quickly in such markets is not to look too long at an item, as someone will approach you and try to sell it to you, speaking way too fast for you to understand. Some vendors were quite aggressive.

Near the market was a very long public pool of water with many troughs. Many indigenous women were lined up doing their laundry by hand and washing and combing each other's long, black hair. They were all wearing very colorful clothes.

I came across the main supermarket where I stocked up on a few cheesy comestibles: milk, orange juice, grapefruit juice, Milo chocolate milk flavoring (which is very popular in Latin America as well as Australia), mayonnaise, bread rolls, cookies, Kellogg's cornflakes, cheese, and ham. Total cost: $14.70. My small daypack was bulging.

Back home, I had a roll with ham and tomato, and flavored milk, which hit the spot! I'd also had a banana at the market.

By the time I started on my Spanish work, it was noon. I got right into it and wrote 12 pages of sentences, and worked right up until Carmen came home. A couple of young Dutch women moved into another of the rooms. Their English was good, and they'd been studying Spanish for a while.

Carmen checked my writing and added only a few red lines! Some of the lesson went well, other parts not so. I had to describe a story told in 24 small pictures, like a cartoon strip. While I could see quite well what was happening, I could not find the right words. At the end, we started on reflexive verbs, something very common in Spanish but not at all in English. A personal problem arose after two hours, and Carmen had to end the lesson early. That was just fine with me as it was clear I had a lot of work to do. I rewarded myself (hey, that used a past-tense verb in a reflexive context) with another ham-and-cheese sandwich and a tall glass of milk from contented Guatemalan cows.

By 7:30 pm, it was getting a bit cool out, so I traded my shorts para mis pantalones largos (for my long pants)! I headed out to the neighborhood and found a minimovie theater with two small rooms each having a large TV, VCR, and 20 seats. The deal was that patrons paid $1 to watch a movie the owner had recorded from cable TV.

It rained lightly while I walked, but it was pleasant. It was quiet with some restaurants closed. I finished up at the fountain where I took a seat and started reading Robert Ludlam's "The Icarus Agenda." I got right into it, and when I got back to my room, I read a bit more, and then some more. It certainly was a "page-turner." Lights out at 10:30.

[Next day] I woke at 8:30 am and read for 30 minutes. It was rather cool out, definitely not shorts weather. In order to promote a better diet, I cut back on the amount of potato chips for breakfast, instead having a BIG bowl of cornflakes. I read some more, studied, and then napped.

After two lessons totaling five hours, I was finding it to be far less romantic than I had (probably foolishly) envisioned. It can be quite intimidating to have someone ask you questions for two hours straight when you don't understand most of them without having them repeated at least twice! Lesson Number 3 got underway at 4:45 pm. Light rain fell and lasted a good while. I struggled through, but at least the written work I'd done earlier in the day was largely correct. Carmen provided cake and coffee.

We finished at 7:45 after which I went out into the street and settled into a theater showing the movie "Salvador" about the civil war in the nearby country of El Salvador. It was pretty gruesome! Back home, I read until lights-out.

[Next day] I woke at 9 o'clock and read in bed for an hour. Then after a shave and a nice, hot shower, I had a bowl of cornflakes and a banana. Afterwards, I ventured out to buy some postcards, but didn't find any that excited me, so I wandered around some stores and the streets to the north edge of town, and up a tall hill for a view of the city and one volcano. I came across eucalypt trees just like I had seen in Peru 10 years earlier. [At that time, I was ignorant of the fact that they grew outside Australia.] One shop was selling something that caught my eye, packets of plastic bags. The interesting thing was that the brand name of the product was "Kanguru," and the picture on the packet showed that the bags were as secure as a kangaroo's pouch!

I saw a number of large ruins, mostly churches, as the Catholics spent a huge amount of money in the region over the centuries. There have been more than a few very big earthquakes over the years, the most recent one about 10 years ago. In fact, I think that's why the capital was moved away from here. One church I saw was built in 1638, destroyed by a quake in 1717, then rebuilt and destroyed in 1773. (I guess that's what the insurance companies mean when they use the term "an act of God!")

By noon, I was back in my room drinking an ice-cold Pepsi and contemplating studying. I squeezed in four hours of very productive work, mostly on relative and interrogative pronouns and adverbs. Very exciting stuff, wot! Everything just seemed to fall into place. I also worked on position and location, such as under, above, in front of, and such. Carmen arrived at 4:45 with coffee and pastries and we talked up a storm. We only spent 15 minutes on the topic I'd been studying, and otherwise digressed into general conversation covering topics such as politics, education, malaria, and waterfalls. It was by far the best and most relaxed workout I'd had yet, and we spent three hours.

I settled in at a fondue restaurant where I nibbled while reading a novel. I had the house-special soup, which consisted of chicken breast in a broth with rice. On the side were dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, oregano, and chili powder. By the time I loaded some of each into my soup bowl, it looked like grass was growing out of it! The meal was served with three tortillas. After a short break, I had a nice, hot cup of local coffee, and got back to my reading. Although I was full, I asked for the dessert menu from which I selected a delectable dish of fried banana with honey drizzled over it. It was served hot and tasted pretty darned good! I washed it down with another coffee. At 10 pm, they started closing the place, so I paid my bill, which came to less than $5, with tip included. Lights-out back home at 11:45.

[Next day] After I read in bed, a bowl of peaches and cereal got me off to a good start for the day. Around noon, I started work on my Spanish, and after only 15 minutes, had mastered the future tense. I made so much progress that I quit studying and went touring instead. I visited a ruined convent and bought some postcards. By 2:30, rain came, and it was heavy, so much so, that I headed home.

Carmen came home at 6 o'clock. The first 30 minutes of our session went like a house on fire, and my written work was decent. However, I then fell into a really big hole, and the next 90 minutes was torture of the worst kind. Fortunately, there were no razor blades handy, or I might have ended it right then and there. But then there'd be blood all over the place, and don't you just hate that when that happens!

At 8 pm, I ventured out to find a quick bite, as I was planning on an 8:30 movie. I found a burger place–Guatemalan-style—and had a cheeseburger and fries. They tasted pretty good, and the burger included some sort of salad with dressing. As hygiene seems to be decent in this town, I didn't hesitate to eat fresh vegetables, which normally are off-limits in third-world countries.

At the theater, I sat in the last row. Two policemen passed me and settled into a dark corner. It seemed that they were on duty and wanted to be hiding lest a superior came in. The light went down promptly at 8:30, and the movie started, with no ads, no intros. It was "Hard Target," a beat-em-up action movie, starring Jean-Claude van Damme. As the patrons were quite noisy, I had trouble hearing the English audio, so had to resort to reading the Spanish sub-titles. Surprise, I even saw some of the new tenses I was learning actually being used! Mid-way through the movie, there were some technical difficulties, and we had an unscheduled 5-minute break. The audience members jeered loudly. We got out at 10:15 and I walked home where I read my engrossing book for an hour before lights-out.

[Next day] Once again, I lay in bed reading for an hour, before taking care of my ablutions. Breakfast was cereal and fruit. I started work with my Spanish books, and fairly soon after, had a breakthrough. To reward myself, I walked to the corner store and bought potato chips and some Chile rellenos, and sat and had a cold Pepsi at a bakery where the woman was always friendly, spoke slowly, and tried to help me improve my Spanish. Then it was back to my books! As Carmen didn't work on Saturdays, we started our lesson at 2 o'clock, and things went very well for three hours.

At 6:30, I went into town and stopped at an Italian restaurant where I had a sausage pizza, although it appeared the sausage had taken a vacation! I washed that down with a drink while reading my novel. There were people out in force, all around the plaza.

I made it to a movie house at 8:25, and grabbed a comfortable lounge chair. I saw the video "The Crying Game." It was quite a dark movie, but I liked it. The price was $1.15. Just before the movie ended, heavy rain started, but eased as I walked home.

Chichicastenango, Panajachel, and Lake Atitlán

[Next day] It was All Hallows Eve/All Saints Eve/Halloween, a big day in the Catholic calendar down here, and I'd set the alarm for 7:30. After some cereal and fruit, I went to the bus station in search of a bus to Chimaltenango. A driver informed me that there would not be any for some time, but I could take a bus to San Lucas and go from there. I took his advice, boarded such bus, which promptly departed, went 500 yards, and stopped and waited for 15 minutes. Thirty minutes after I'd left home, we were parked at the end of my street. I could tell that it was going to be "one of those days."

In San Lucas, I waited on the main road trying to flag down a bus going to Chimaltenango. Many buses came and went, and after two hours, I was still standing there. Afterall, it was a very big holiday period. I got talking with some young Americans who were serving two years down there in the Peace Corps. It rained on and off, and finally I got on a bus. That took me to Los Encuentros (Spanish for meeting place/crossroads). That leg took 90 minutes, and I had to stand for most of the time, packed in with all the short sardines! I was also back behind the rear wheels, so the turning motion was exaggerated. Immediately on arrival, I caught a bus to Chichicastenango, my actual destination, and actually got a seat; YES! A pleasant young man traveling with his family gave me some tips. As we got up into the mountains, there was rain and fog. We arrived at Chichi 6:30 hours after I'd left my room, and I'd traveled all of 50 miles!

Within minutes of my getting off the bus, a big procession of hand-carried floats passed by with people in bright costumes, bands playing, and fireworks. The weekend celebration had begun, and they were bringing a sacred relic from storage to the main church. Of course, I ran out of film just at that moment, but managed to quickly load a new roll and to get some great shots.

Although the town was rather run-down, with all the colors and celebrations, it almost looked nice! Chichi is famous for its cloth, most of which is hand-made, and there was a BIG textile market. As my guidebook said, "If you are not into textiles or anthropology, a couple of hours in such a place might be one hour too many!" And so, it was. After looking at half-a-dozen stalls, it was just lots of repetition. Other stalls sold fruit and vegetables, meat, and fruit, along with prepared food. The market was about five acres in size, all covered with blue and orange tarpaulin squares, each rigged up over bamboo slats and wooden frames. The rain dripped off many of the covers. I bought several pieces of cloth. At a food stall, the vendor cooked me some fries.

As I'd seen the procession, there was no reason to stay the night, so I went in search of a bus. The first one to stop was bursting at the seams with people, and the second was full of smokers. I caught the third one, but had to stand all the way back to Los Encuentros. After a short break there, I boarded a minibus headed for Sololá. From there, I arranged a ride into the nearby town of Panajachel, riding with five others on the bed of a small truck. Fortunately, the back was covered, so we were protected from the wind and rain. The 5-mile road took about 20 minutes in the dark, and in fact, the road was hardly a road at all.

The driver dropped us all in front of the Hotel Mayan Palace, the cheapest of the better places. Having regurgitated my food several times after leaving Chichi, I was in no mood to shop around for a place to stay, so I took a room there, for $12. The bed was comfortable, I had an en-suite bathroom, and plenty of hot water. After a very long and hot shower—during which the shower head fell off—I climbed into bed. There, I ate a chocolate bar and drank half a liter of milk before settling down to read my novel. Lights out at 10 pm after a day that travel-wise I didn't wish to repeat, ever again!

[Next day] It was All Saint's Day (Todo Santos)! After a "sleep of the angels," I woke at 8:30 feeling like a whole new person. It was a new day that wouldn't, indeed couldn't, be as bad as the day before. The town was on a large lake, Lago de Atitlán, and the road down to the water's edge had wall-to-wall stalls selling cloth, clothes, leather belts, and bags. After seeing the lake and the surrounding three (hopefully) dormant volcanoes, I decided to stay another night. There were regular ferry services to towns around the lake, and kayaks and jet skis for hire. There was even a helicopter ride. A path ran by the lake along which there were grassed areas and eating places. Numerous people were sunbathing. It was a glorious day, and everything was right in this little corner of the world. A group of locals was colorfully dressed and was involved in some sort of religious service. Then people started playing musical instruments, and the group sang. I very much stood out as being the only person there who was taller than 4'6" (I'm 6'4"). Women were bathing in the lake and washing and brushing their hair.

Late morning, I found a small, dilapidated restaurant where I ordered breakfast. I had two eggs scrambled with tomato, cheese, black beans, onions, and tortillas. I washed that down with two cups of coffee, all for the price of $2.50. I finished my book while drinking coffee, spending 90 minutes for the break. Then I chatted with a Canadian couple for an hour.

I hired a boatman to take me out on the lake for a look around. We spent an hour, visiting the towns of San Antonio and Santa Caterina. The mountainsides were quite steep and had lots of agriculture. There were some nice-looking cottages on the cliffs.

Back on dry land, it was getting dark and as I walked along a path, I came awfully close to plunging into an open sewer that was several feet deep. One hole in the track was so deep, I could barely hear the cries for help from the people who'd fallen in earlier! I came across a carpenter working late in his shop, and I stopped to have a chat. He was making a display case for a shop nearby. I returned to the beach area and lay on the grass writing postcards and watching the impressive lightening display in the sky and reflected in the lake.

Around 9:30 pm, I started looking for a place to stay, as I'd checked out of my previous place. I quickly found one for only $4. The bed was good, but the location was quite noisy. The bathroom consisted of a hand basin bolted to the outside wall of a shed. There was cold water only, but it did have a roof over it! Wadda ya expect for $4, indoor plumbing? After a cup of coffee, I hit the hay at 10 pm.

[Next day] Panajachel came alive quite early, and so did I! I packed and was downtown by 9 am, looking to catch an early bus. A minibus pulled up and offered to take me directly to Antigua for the princely sum of $12. But I'd have a seat, and there would be no changes. Well, we waited for the bus to fill, and it never did. So, when a regular bus came along, I caught that instead. As I'd boarded at the start of the journey, I had a seat and leg room. The good news about having a window seat was I had a great view of the cliff as we were about to drive over it as we raced around the sharp corners. Of course, we stopped at several places along the way. It's the journey, not the destination, right? The steep hillsides supported corn crops, and I figured the farmers must have one long leg and one short to get around out there. At times, the rain and fog got so thick that the driver thought about slowing down! Of course, he didn't, but he came close to thinking about it! There were so many turns driving through the mountains, and then finally we had a 200-yard stretch of straight road, then 500 yards, and Heaven forbid a whole mile!

Once we got out of the mountains, it was mostly farming with vegetables, sheep, and cattle. At one stop, kids got on and came through the bus selling food and drinks, and I bought two home-made, spicy Chili rellenos, which surely put some fire in my belly. I saw many kids and adults flying kites in the stiff breeze. It was a sunny day, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. At Chimaltenango, I boarded a bus for the half-hour ride back to Antigua. I shared a small seat with a Frenchman. We passed by several cemeteries, which were covered in floral arrangements as part of the All Saint's Day celebrations. After all, that day was the Day of the Dead!

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Signs of Life: Part 31

© 2023 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 trips to the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UK.


Interestingly, as I asked the waiter just how good the food was at this place, his nose got longer and longer!


With hairdressers' names like that, what could possibly go wrong?


This on a men's barber shop. However, I'm not sure I'd want a treatment that came "without warning."


If I understand correctly, a dormouse is a rodent, and we certainly wouldn't want one of those in a bookshop!


At a first glace, this sign seemed to be about getting high on drugs and being drunk. However, on closer inspection, I saw that it was a jewelery store and that the O in the first word was a ring!


Another hairdresser, but I have to say that I'd never seen an organic one.


"What big teeth you have!" "All the better to eat your sandwiches!


When my son was quite young and wouldn't eat his raw vegetables, I told him that carrots were good for his eyesight. After all, rabbits eat carrots and you don't see them wearing glasses! And then I came across this sign!


Although an apothecary is a pharmacy, this place was a bar and restaurant. Apparently, Mr. Postles' "innovative thinking is portrayed in the extensive range of magical potions and eccentric elixirs on sale at the counter."


Well, that certainly narrows down the sorts of things this place sells!


Geting connected, with nature, sounds like a fine idea.


There I was in London, killing time between an afternoon matinee and an evening theater performance, when I came across this eating establishment. Many of the people around me were German-speaking tourists, and we all agreed that Herman the German's wurst was indeed the best!


Well, I've heard of various kinds of co-operative business, but I'd never come across one that handled funerals. Why not? Any how, it adds some intersting possibilities to the wife saying, "Dear, I'm just going to make a quick trip to the co-op! Have you seen my casket; I mean basket!"


Yes, those are bullet holes! And the barbershop seats were upholstered in military camoflage-patterned cloth!


The instructions at this place seem to be quite straighforward.


My first thought was of mace spray, and how the staff might use it to keep order in the classroom. Not many repeat offenders, I expect!


A Little Bit of Sports and Recreation

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.


I was raised near the town of Loxton in the Riverland region of South Australia, from 1953–1969. I then lived in the state capital, Adelaide, for 10 years. My father, my two brothers, one of my two sisters, and I were very much into sports, both as a player and a spectator. (My father and one brother were also part of team/club management.) The Riverland has produced—and still produces—some very talented sportsmen and women, who have competed at the state, national, and international level (including at the Commonwealth Games), and even won Olympic gold (see Alexander Hill and Grant Schubert).

Although a wide variety of Christian churches were long established in my home state, in reality, the main religion during my years there was sport! And I think it's fair to say that is still true today. And in every sporting household, Saturday—especially the afternoon—was reserved for sports.

Australian Rules Football

Down Under, winter is in the middle of the year, and the longest-played main winter sport for men and boys in most states is Aussie Rules Football. (In the past 15 years or so, women have started playing it as well.)

Regarding my time with this game, see my essay "Football, Aussie Style" from January 2020.

I remain an avid fan, and each weekend from April to September, I view the Australian national league game highlights online.


While I never played competition tennis at a young age, I did go to all the local club's games. In fact, that's where I learned to play. Before, after, and in-between official games, a friend and I would race out and hit the ball around. At that young age, I served from the halfway line as the base line was way too far back for a kid. A team was made up of 10 players, 6 men and 4 women, and included two of my brothers and one sister. Our club had two blacktop courts. The poles holding up the nets were old iron railway sleepers (US: ties). And the backstops were tall, metal frames covered with coarse wire netting (US: chicken wire). We played in summer, and summers in the semi-desert of Australia can get pretty darned hot, although back then there was no humidity. At the end of the game, we had afternoon tea. Years later, while in high school, I played several seasons in that league.

In the late 1970s', I played in a nighttime league formed by state government departments and agencies. Playing tennis at night was a whole other challenge, and as I'd had several lots of knee surgeries by then, I had to pace myself. I preferred doubles, as I didn't have to move around so much.


Although I was quite tall, my basketball career was short, and many games I was sent off with five fouls. (Apparently, tackling opponents like in football, is not permitted!)

For the last couple of years of high school, I played for the Zebras, a team whose colors were green and yellow. Yes, Australian zebras are indeed those colors! (Actually, being an older club, the Magpies had already taken black and white.) The A-Grade competition was pretty serious and there were some very talented players. B-Grade, which I played, was a whole other story; we had fun.

My good friend Peter was a fellow Zebra, and he introduced me to the game, and drove me to/from games, which were held on mid-week nights. Before I started playing, the league played indoors. Later, a pair of outdoor concrete courts with lighting were built on the edge of town.

Each year, the state capital hosted what was called a Country Carnival, with teams coming from all over the state. I recall playing in at least one. The team members slept in sleeping bags at a host sporting club's facility.

Each year, Loxton High School and Kadina High School met in "combat" for a week, with competitions mostly involving sports, but there was also a debating contest. And each year, the host alternated. In Year 12, we went to Kadina by bus where I was hosted by a family that just so happened to live in and run a large country pub. As such, I stayed in a guestroom and ate my meals in the dining room. My team was soundly defeated that year!


In my early years, I attended small schools. Each week, we had a Physical Education (PE) lesson. Then at some time during the year, we had a regional Sports Day, which was comprised of individual and team events. I participated in both. However, it wasn't until I got to high school that I really "showed my stuff."

Each week at high school, we had a PE lesson, separated by gender. Depending on the season, we played a number of things, from football, cricket, tennis, field hockey, and athletics (track and field in the U.S.). Each year, we had a Sports Day between the four school houses: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. During my five years there, my house, Alpha, did very well in athletics, and I contributed significantly. Individual events were classified by age, as follows:

  • Sub-Junior – Under 13 years-old
  • Junior – Under 14 years-old
  • Intermediate – Under 15 years-old
  • Senior – 15 years-old and over

[School began with First Grade, at age 5, so most students were 16 going into Year 12. Grades 1–7 attended Primary School, and Grades 8–12 attended High School. There was no equivalent to the US's Junior High/Middle School.]

As I was 11 years and 2 months old when I started Year 8, I spent two years in the sub-junior ranks, and in Year 9, I won the Boy's Sub-Junior trophy. In Year 10, I placed second in the Boy's Junior competition, and in Year 11, I placed third in the Boy's Intermediate competition. [Do you see the pattern?] In Year 12, I was up against all those guys who were 16, 17, and some even 18 years old. My biggest event was high jump with triple jump and long jump not far behind. I was pretty good at flat races of 100 and 220 yards, but not very good at longer distances or hurdles. In later years, I threw the discus and javelin as well.

In the last few years of my time in high school, cross-country running was introduced, and I competed once, in Year 12. The best I can say in retrospect is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time!" The school was located on a main highway near high cliffs overlooking the river flats below, and to make it interesting, competitors walked down a dirt road to the bottom of the 500-foot cliffs, and we started the race there. Yes, we ran back up that damned hill, then for some three miles on a flat, packed dirt track, then down a cliff track, across several miles of muddy river flat/swamp land and then back up that damned hill again, to finish at school. As the old saying goes, "Nothing is a complete waste; it can always serve as a bad example!"

Walking and Hiking

In the mid-1960's, walkathons became very popular ways of raising money, and somehow, I managed to enter two of them. (It must have seemed a good idea at the time!)

The first was 13 miles (21 kms). Buses drove us to the river flats near Berri and unloaded us at the bottom of a very steep and long hill, called Bookpernong Hill. The biggest challenge was at the beginning. Once one got to the top of that hill, it was relatively flat all the way to Loxton, although we were walking/running on the edge of a busy two-lane highway with no breakdown lane.

The second was 20 miles (32 kms). Once again, we were bussed to the start, which was somewhere near Moorook, and we walked/ran from there. For the final few miles, I was with my cousin Tim, and we agreed that we'd run across the finish line together. But being young males, as we got to within a few hundred yards of the finish line, we both started sprinting, and I beat him by a nose to come in third.

[In May of 2005, I managed to walk the 187 miles (300 kms) of the Thames Path in England, with a full backpack. I can assure you that I was no longer a young male and there was no running! I walked 15 days over a 21-day period. See "A Walk along the River" from July 2011.]


I enjoyed squash, but unfortunately, didn't really start playing it until after I'd had my first serious knee injury. As such, whenever I really extended myself, I finished up twisting a knee. Court time was booked in 30-minute slots, and I can assure you that a half hour of serious squash gives one a very good workout.

The US pseudo-equivalent to squash is racquetball. I tried it a few times, but much preferred squash.

Swimming, Water Sports, and Fishing

For many years in my home state, each summer, the state Department of Education sponsored "Learn to Swim" campaigns, so that kids all around the state could earn certificates of many levels from beginners to lifesaving. Most instructors were schoolteachers, who like their swim students were on their summer break.

I was never a very good swimmer, as I swam with my head out of the water. [Hey! How else am I gonna see where I'm going?] In any event, at the start of Grade 7, I managed to complete the Beginner's Certificate program. Over the next year or so, I started the next level.

Towards the end of my high-school days, we started a swimming carnival, a team and individual competition between the four houses of the school. The only event I entered was the whistle grab, which involved a large number of students jumping into the pool at the sound of a whistle to retrieve tennis balls. Hardly an Olympic event!

Brother Terry had access to a speedboat, and from time to time, he would take me to the river to waterski. I never progressed beyond skiing on doubles, but I can clearly remember the buzz I got from racing along at 30 miles-per-hour (48 kph). And while water might seem pretty soft, when you hit it at that speed (or even faster on an outside corner), you certainly can bounce quite a lot before sinking.

As far back as I can remember, Dad liked to fish, and sometimes the techniques he used weren't exactly legal! Now the River Murray was famous for its Murray Cod, which could grow up to 30–40 pounds (13.5–18 kgs). But over time, they were few and far between, and there was a limited season. One way to catch them was to use a spinner, a large lure that involved a metal shaft around which span two propellers, in opposite directions. At the tail end was a large hook. Spinners were definitely illegal. Now while it was legal to have a drum net, it definitely was not to have a gill net. Of course, Dad had one of each!

Most often, we anchored the boat and sat in one spot for a while with hand rods (US: fishing poles) using either worms or shrimp as bait. When moving, we trailed a line with a floppy, a small rubber lure that looked a bit like a fish and contained a hook. Sometimes we rowed and sometimes we used a small outboard motor.

I recall one year that we went to Port Param, not far north of Adelaide. The beach there was famous for crabs, and we'd each walk out towing a metal tub set inside an inflated car tube (US: inner tube) that was tied to our waist. We used homemade crab rakes to dig around in the sand in about 1–2 feet (30–60 cms) of water until we felt a crab move, and then we scooped it up quickly and dropped it in our tub.

In my mid-60's, here in the US, I discovered that a neighboring town had an indoor pool, which cost a pittance to use. After an initial visit, I bought a pass and went once a week. (No sense overdoing it, right! In any event, once a week is infinitely more often than never!) Over time that increased to twice a week, and now it's three times. Having played semi-pro sport in my youth, exercise was part of the job, and never something I enjoyed, so the only way to not lose interest in this endeavor has been to limit myself to 30 minutes per session. I have a form that involves six kinds of swimming or exercise. Much more than a half hour seems like work.

Lawn bowls

In the British Commonwealth, playing bowls on a flat, hard green was a popular pastime for both men and women, as individuals or in pairs. My parents were avid players. However, I recall that in my youth, it was deemed to be "old person's game;" however, that changed over the next 20 years as much younger (even teenage) players got involved.

Although I tried the game a few times, it was not something that interested me.


My rural area had a 9-hole golf course on which the greens were actually browns! That is, they were made of packed, fine-grained sand rather than grass, and that sand contained oil (something simply not allowed now in these eco-friendly times). And to make it interesting, a major, 2-lane state highway ran through the middle of the course, and near several holes there was a large quarry (that had been created to build the highway).

My Dad and two brothers played there for several seasons. I remember once caddying for my father, who managed to hit his ball into the quarry. Let's just say that after a lot of swearing, he finally got it out after more than a dozen shots!

When I lived in Adelaide, I occasionally played a par-3 course.

I have since learned about Mark Twain's attitude towards golf—Golf is a good walk spoiled—and I'm inclined to agree. I also recall hearing that, "If the ball goes right, it's a slice. If it goes left, it's a hook. If it goes straight ahead, it's a miracle."

Given the generally warm climate in Australia, even in winter, golf is very popular, and many clubs have associated motels, restaurants, and caravan parks. And fees to play can be quite low. As such, I was stunned to learn from my Japanese friends that as there is little flat land in Japan, golf courses are rather scarce, and many people can only afford to play a few times a year. Most make do by hitting shots from platforms at a multi-story driving range!


This 7-person form of basketball used to be for women and girls only, but in the 1970s, men started playing it too. It's very popular throughout the British Commonwealth. The goal does not have a backboard, and the ball is passed; there is no dribbling. During my school years, in my local leagues, the women played netball at the same time and place as the men played Aussie Rules football.

Field Hockey

In Australia, I knew this sport simply as hockey; after all, what other kind of hockey could there be?

Although I was required to try the game during high school PE classes, I played it like golf, but apparently one isn't permitted to swing the stick above one's shoulder!

Of course, I've since learned that in Canada and many parts of the US and other countries, hockey means ice hockey, as God intended, and many youngsters there learn to skate before they can walk! Some years ago, I stayed with friends in Slovakia, and at the end of my trip, my host gave me a Slovakian national ice-hockey team shirt. I rediscovered it several years ago, and sometimes wear it as a night shirt.


Now, what sort of a game is played over five days and can end in a draw, and stops for tea breaks? That would be cricket! It's another very popular sport throughout the British Commonwealth.

Back in my youth, cricket pitches were made of concrete, and they were often located in the middle of Aussie football fields. (Cricket is played in summer, football in winter.) Imagine having a long concrete slab in the center of your football field! Clearly, that was dangerous. At major venues, the cricket pitch was made of hard-packed dirt, but in the winter when it rained, that section became very muddy and slippery, making things very difficult for football players (he says from experience).

In 2015, on a trip to Adelaide, South Australia, I had the privilege of having a behind-the-scenes tour of Adelaide Oval, the home to the state cricket team and now to the city's two professional Aussie Rules Football teams. Before the football season starts, they use a large machine to dig up as a whole thing the grass cricket pitch, transport it to another field, plant it there, and replace it with another grass section of the same composition as the rest of the field. So, no more muddy football games!

Like tennis and some other older sports, cricket had a (conservative) dress code: one could wear any color one liked, as long as it was white! However, in the late 1970s, Aussie media tycoon, Kerry Packer, upset that classical approach, and then some. He founded World Series Cricket, which directly competed against the classic international cricket test system, and–Heaven Forbid—had players in colored uniforms! Eventually, there was a great reconciliation of the world's cricketing organizations, and the game was very much improved as a result. Many major games are now held on a single day, which makes playing more aggressive and results in higher scores.

Except for high school PE, I had no exposure to the game, and I definitely wasn't keen to face a bowler sending me a very hard ball at great speed, having it bounce once on a concrete pitch on its way toward my head or body. To use an Aussie saying, "I'd rather have a poke in the eye with a blunt stick!" These days, players wear helmets, and sometimes face guards.

Snooker, Pool, and Billiards

At age 16, I went to play in a junior league for a semi-pro Aussie Rules Football club. The club recreation room had two full-size billiard tables, and I soon fell in love with the game of snooker. I also enjoyed pool, playing that mostly on smaller tables, but preferred snooker. On rare occasions, I played billiards. If you have never played on a full-size table, I can assure you that being tall and having a long reach is an advantage!

Occasionally, I watched a very popular British TV show called Pot Black, which featured snooker games.

Table Tennis

I definitely like playing table tennis. As a very tall person with very long arms, I can reach around the table without having to jeopardize my bad knees, so it's one of the few physical games I can still manage. That said, I rarely play it, but when I do, my natural ability soon surfaces, especially with my backhand shots.

Ten-Pin bowling

This was a popular activity in Adelaide in the 70's, and I played occasionally with a few friends. More often, after university night classes ended, several of us would go to a bowling alley, sit upstairs in the visitor's lounge, and watch people playing, while we ate grilled cheese sandwiches.

Rifle Shooting

On a visit to my hometown, my dear friend Colin invited me to a meeting of the local rifle club. We spent some time down in the large hole below the targets. Our job was to lower the target after each shot, record the score, and plug the hole. We were in communication with a club officer back at the shooting line via a telephone. Later, I took my turn actually shooting, and I varied from hitting the target close-in to missing it completely. Although my eyesight has never been stellar, looking at a target some hundreds of yards (meters) away over an open sight showed me that a very small error at my end meant a very large one at the target end!

Attending Professional Sports Games as a Spectator

My first-ever baseball game was on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. Back in 1980, the field had no lights, and the game was played on a weekday afternoon. (I lived in Chicago from 1979–80.) My second baseball game was at (the now demolished) Comiskey Park, then the home of the Chicago White Sox. It was a night game on America's July 4th Independence Day holiday, and there was low cloud cover. As such, when the fireworks were set off, the sound of the explosions was contained, and fairly shook the stands. My third game was at (the now demolished) Kingdome, home of the Seattle Mariners. What made that especially interesting was the field was indoors, which made for a pretty good-sized building.

While living in Chicago, I saw an exhibition game of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. (Oddly, I never did go to a Chicago Bulls game, however.)

My only ice-hockey game was in the Washington DC area to see the Washington Capitals play the Edmonton Oilers. It was a high-scoring game with three goals scored in a minute or so.

I've attended two professional American football games. The first was Opening Day with the Seattle Seahawks. I was in a private, corporate suite for 24 guests, halfway up the stands, overlooking one end's goal line. The cost of that little 3–4-hour soiree was around US$18,000, with food and drink included. The second was with the Washington Redskins, (whose name was deemed politically incorrect, and has since been changed to Washington Commanders).

While on separate trips down under, I attended an Aussie Rules Football night game at (the now-retired) Football Park stadium at West Lakes to see the Adelaide Crows, and years later an evening Crosstown Showdown between my home state's two teams, Adelaide Crows and Port Power.

Olympic Games

Although I've never had the urge to attend, as a tourist, I have visited a number of Olympic stadiums. My first was Montreal, Canada. The facility was built with enormous cost overruns, which took years to pay off. Next up was Helsinki, Finland. Originally built for the 1940 Games, which were cancelled because of WWII, the facility sat idle until 1952. I've twice visited the Beijing, China, site, where I was very impressed by the exterior view of the "Bird's Nest" stadium. Of course, my visit to the Munich, Germany, site conjured up memories of the "Munich massacre." My most recent Olympic site visit was in Barcelona, Spain. I've also visited Lillehammer, Norway (a Winter Olympics host), to attend a conference. At that time, deep snow was all around and one could see the Olympic ski jump in the distance.

Bits and Pieces

Recently, when I was tired of looking at a screen for hours at a time, I searched through my (now not so large) collection of books, and came up with "Rules of the Game: The complete illustrated encyclopedia of all the sports of the world," an Aussie publication from 1974. I spent several hours reminding myself about rules of games I'd played, as well as learning about some others. Here are some of the things I (re-)learned from that book and subsequent research:

  • The biathlon involves cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
  • A quadrathlon (or quadriathlon, tetrathlon) is an endurance sports event involving swimming, cycling, kayaking, and running. However, in winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing replace swimming and kayaking.
  • Regarding the pentathlon, according to Wikipedia, "Five events were contested over one day …, starting with the long jump, javelin throwing, and discus throwing, followed by the stadion (a short foot race) and wrestling." However, the modern pentathlon involves fencing, freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross country running. (This event should not be confused with the Aussie Working-Man's Pentathlon, which involves the following: having the wife sprint to the local bottle department [US: liquor store] to get cold beer; having the wife deliver beer to husband who is sitting on the couch watching sport on TV; husband drinks beer; husband burps repeatedly and loudly; husband calls out, "Beryl, bring more beer!" And when she asks, "What's the magic word, Dear? [as in please]," he replies, "Now!")
  • The heptathlon involves seven track and field events, which differ by gender. Over two days, men compete in 60 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60-meters hurdles, pole vault, and 1,000 meters. women compete in 100-meters hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin, and 800 meters.
  • If you are a true glutton for punishment, you might try the decathlon, which involves 10 track and field events held over two days.


I once observed my long-time friend Gerard compete in an Ironman triathlon qualifier. He was one of 2,000 people who at 7 o'clock in the morning, thought it was a good idea to swim two 1-mile (1.6 km) laps in the sea, ride 112 miles (180 kms) on a bike, and then finish off with a marathon run (26 miles/42 kms). I was tired just thinking about competing! [Being Dutch, in winter competitions, Gerard replaced the swimming component with skating on a frozen canal.]

From time to time, I think about taking a parachute jump before I die, but not just before I die! Certainly, I'd be tethered to a jump instructor. But then being so tall, I'd likely hit the ground before the instructor. I've also thought about flying, but given that I don't do well with motion sickness, piloting small planes would never work. But flying an ultralight might! I briefly considered helicopters. (I've had two such rides: a short one around Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and a long one from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.) I once went to the top of a small mountain to watch people jump while hanging under very large hang gliders. While I can imagine trying that from the top of a sand dune, jumping off the edge of a precipice is not my idea of fun!

Once I'd played a decent level of sport, I found it way more interesting to be a player rather than a spectator. And about the only game I actually enjoy watching is Aussie Rules. However, after my knee surgeries at ages 19 and 21, my playing days for most sports were definitely over. When I'm doing something, be it work or play, I put in 110% effort; I really don't know how to put in less! So having a casual game of anything is quite a challenge.

In my humble opinion, a major downside to sports in Australia, is that as a fundraising thing, many sporting clubs installed poker machines. In way too many cases, this simply provided yet another way for blue-collar workers to waste their money. As such, on a trip to my home state a few years ago, I was encouraged to hear they were reducing the number of machines allowed per venue.