Feb 7, 2016

Change is coming to Trujillo, Honduras

O’Henry is better known for “The Gift of the Magi” but he also wrote “Cabbages and Kings” based on his stay in Trujillo where he fled in order to avoid being charged with embezzlement. He coined the phrase “Banana Republic.”  The book was written in 1904 but not much has changed in Trujillo.  

Trujillo has a fascinating history.  On August 14, 1502 Christopher Columbus’ fourth and final voyage arrived at the mainland of the America for the first time. Under Spanish rule Trujillo became the capital of Honduras and a fortress was built on a bluff above the Bay of Trujillo but the Spanish could not defend the area from pirates so the capital was moved inland. 

There is an American who features strongly in Central American
history and yet most Americans never heard of him.  His name is William Walker. Walker was a well-educated American who was a privateer and invaded Latin America with the intention of setting up English-speaking colonies under his personal control. He actually usurped the presidency of Nicaragua and was the country’s president for one year. He was defeated

by a coalition of Central American armies and was executed in Trujillo in 1860. There is a stone monument at the site of his execution and he is buried in the Old Cemetery. 

Several unsuccessful attempts have been tried to revitalize Trujillo in recent years. The most bizarre on was in the 1990s. Trujillo Bay was to be the site for constructing the Freedom Ship, or The Floating City, which would float around the world. The plan was over the top with condos, universities, and more.  The locals were pinning their hopes on it but nothing came of it but a few signs and a website. Now, however, they are

trying to make Trujillo a cruise port. Some cruise ships have stopped but the area is not ready for the big ones but it is a good port for ships with less than 1000 passengers.  They have spruced up the city square and there are actually tours people can take. 

On our last visit we went out on a dive boat.  Amazing, years ago we unsuccessfully tried to take a boat ride - there were boats but no working motors.  A Canadian, Ken Reaume has a real dive boat and all the necessary equipment. Some of us went snorkeling and some diving. Trujillo Bay has a place called Starfish Bay where the starfish are different colors. It was a great day. Hopefully, it will be the start of a new renaissance for Trujillo.  Another fun time was on the Rio Grande where there are swimming holes between the huge boulders plus an area with a natural water slide. 

There are several “gated communities” that have been developed in
the last 15 years but they seem to be languishing in the sun. All the properties have been sold but only a few houses have been built. There is a bright light on the horizon - Njoi, a gated community that can hold its own with any in the
Caymans and elsewhere.  They seem to be doing it right with all the necessary infrastructure and beautiful homes – only a couple have been built. 

Before arriving in Trujillo some of our family stopped in La Ceiba and went canyoneering down the jungle waterfalls - one waterfalls was 83-feet high.  Honduras has a lot to offer tourists.

Feb 1, 2016

Learning about Pres. Ford, Art, and Mammoths in Ann Arbor

The Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor on the University of  Michigan’s campus has the President Ford’s baby book indicating that his birth name was Leslie Lynch King, Jr. He didn’t change his name legally until he was 22. Ford was born in Omaha, Nebraska but was raised in Grand Rapids and graduated from the University of Michigan where he played football. He earned the designation of Most Valuable Player and was offered a position on both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.  Instead he went to Yale, a life changing decision.

The Ford Library collects, preserves, and makes accessible to the public a plethora of archival material dealing with Ford’s political and personal life. Ford was a well-liked congressman and became vice president under Nixon when Spiro Agnew resigned, then became the 38th president of the United States following Richard Nixon's resignation, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. In the lobby there is a permanent exhibit called “The Remarkable Life and Times of Gerald and Betty Ford” that define the tumulus 70s. When Ford took the oath of office as the 38th President, he declared, "I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances...This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts." 

The University of Michigan can claim to be where the Peace Corps
started.  Well after midnight on Oct. 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy arrived at the Michigan Union after a long day of campaigning for the presidency. In his speech he challenged University of Michigan students to dedicate themselves to global peace and justice by living and working in developing nations—and hundreds responded with signed petitions; from that powerful idea and the action of the U-M students grew the Peace Corps.

While on campus we took time to wander around observing the public. I am not an art aficionado so maybe that is why I was underwhelmed by Maya Lin’s Wave Field which is considering an “an artistic treasure.”  It is a wave of earthen mounds the appearance of which changes as the sunlight casts shadows on it.  Maybe I would be more appreciative if I visited on a sunny day.  I did, however, enjoy touring the University’s Art Museum where I could identify with much of the art. In the magnificent entry way is “Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii’ who led friends through the ash covered city. 

The Museum of Natural History has exhibits on geology, the evolution of life, dinosaurs, and artifacts from human cultures around the world. They are justly proud of their newest acquisition – a recently unearthed mammoth. The mammoth was discovered by a farmer digging to install a drainage pipe.  How exciting that must have been. Mammoths roamed the area 11,000 years ago.  The surface of the molar was the size a print left by a very large man’s shoe. 

Not far from the campus away tucked in a mall is one of my
favorite restaurants in the Ann Arbor area, Ayse’ Turkish CafĂ©. Don’t be fooled by the lack of curb appeal the food is awesome.  Think of it as eating at a friend’s house.  Ayse doesn’t have printed menus because she cooks what she likes based on the fresh ingredients she can get but she always has stuffed peppers, my personal favorite. If you have never been to Ayse’s, considering ordering a couple of dishes and sharing them. 

Jan 25, 2016

Exploring the Hudson with Blount Small Ship Adventures

When John and I were on the last leg of our Blount Small Ship cruise it included a visit to Hyde Park and West Point.  The scenery along the Hudson River was beautiful as we passed by several lighthouses, under some bridges, and by some stunning countryside. It is easy to see why President Franklin

Roosevelt said, “All that is within me cries out to go back to my
home on the Hudson River.” Even though Roosevelt’s home where he was born, lived and was buried is referred to as Hyde Park his home is more correctly called the Springwood estate which is located in Hyde Park.  It is now a National Historic Site.  I can see why he would love it because he probably arrived via the long, tree-lined drive that leads to the house but; alas, visitors do not.  The house is lovely but not the palatial mansion one might expect. The tour includes the room where Roosevelt was born and his boyhood bedroom. 

A lot of history took place in the house but I like all the stories that
don’t make it into the history books.  In 1939 the Roosevelts hosted King George VI and, his wife, Queen Elizabeth. The visit is sometimes referred to as the Hot Dog Summit. The Royal guests were served hot dogs for the first time. The Queen asked how she was supposed to eat them and disregarding the advice used a knife and fork to cut them up but the King enjoyed them the American way. 

The tour gives insights to life at Springwood.  One stop on the tour is the Snuggery, a room used by Roosevelt’s mother, from which she conducted the business of running the household. Over the years the house was enlarged and modernized and the number of servants increased. There has long been a controversy about just how domineering and controlling she was. 

Another stop was at the West Point US Military Academy. I was
impressed to see the Academy from the water.  It really looks like a fortress.  Given the security at West Point I was surprised that the Blount ship could dock there.  The tour bus picked us up at the dock and we were told to bring our passports but no one checked them. The military academy can only be visited on a tour. There are remnants of the chain that was strung across the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War; actually
there were two, to prevent British naval vessels from sailing up river. The Parade Ground is where George Washington drilled and organized the Continental Army and where cadets still drill and parade. It is also where Dwight D. Eisenhower had to walk off his demerits. Some cadets graduated without any but Eisenhower has the distinction of being one of the people to have accumulated the most. Today the Academy accepts females and blacks. It wasn’t always the case.  Recently John and I watched, “Assault on West Point: The Court-Marshall of Johnson Whittaker,” about one of the first blacks accepted to the Point.  It is not a pretty story. 

Traveling the Hudson River itself would have been worth the cruise. As we neared New York City we passed the Palisades, steep rock cliffs on the New Jersey side of the river.  The captain’s narration along the way was excellent as were our views of the city and the Statue of Liberty. 

Jan 19, 2016

Louisville is Bourbon and more

 I try to make sure every trip includes something interesting to see and do.  John and I were invited to a wedding in Louisville, Kentucky so we arrived a day early so we could explore Louisville.  It was our first trip to the city.  We headed to the West Main District that has some of the oldest structures in the city including some with cast iron facades. It is also the district that features Museum Row with several museums within walking distance of each other.   

We toured the Evan Williams Bourbon Museum. It is located on Louisville’s Whiskey Row across from the riverfront location where the Evan William’s distillery once stood.  I am not a bourbon connoisseur but I like to know the history of everything. Williams was the first commercial distiller.  I thought it was going to be a talk and sip tour but it was very well done.  The tour combines videos, dioramas, and displays to explain the history and distilling bourbon starting in 1783. I learned that all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. By law bourbon
must be aged in brand-new, charred white oak barrels, and it must be distilled in the United States to be called bourbon. Our tour ended in a “tavern” for a tasting.  Three different bourbons were sampled and we were taught how to sip bourbon like an expert. It is very well done. Dedicated bourbon sippers can go on the Bourbon Trail; pick up a passport, get it stamped at all the places and at the end you get a t-shirt. We passed on that. There were too many other things to see. 

Just down the street was the Frasier History Museum. I started on the top floor to explore the Lewis and Clark Experience.  I have always wanted to follow the trail of Lewis and Clark.  I admire people who explore the unknown. There was a cut-away replica of a keelboat, a Sioux tipi, and a Mandan earthen hut along with hands-on learning
displays. We had time to listen to one of their free daily historic interpretations.  It was called “Free Frank” and told about Frank McWhorter, a former slave who moved to Kentucky and worked to free the rest of his family from slavery. There were sections devoted to America’s wars. And, as you might expect, there was a section on the history of bourbon. Museums always have unique displays such as the Frazier’s Toy Soldier Collection. There are more than 10,000 figures making it one of the largest public displays of toy soldiers in the United States. 

On the way back to our hotel we drove through the one of the city’s Olmsted-designed parks. Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and his sons John and Frederick Jr. designed 18 parks and six parkways in Louisville creating an amazing amount of green space for the city.  Cherokee
Park was on the way to the hotel so we drove through it.  It was perfect.  We drove along the tree-lined 2.4 one-way Scenic Loop past beautiful residences.  There were several walking trails but we didn’t have time – next time. We stopped at a statue of Daniel Boone and at Hogan’s Fountain topped with a statue of the Greek God Pan and designed as a dog- and horse-watering fountain. The 409-acre park is has scenic stone bridges and plenty of recreational areas. It was a great way to end the day. 

Jan 11, 2016

Saint Marianne Cope dedicated to the lepers of Molakai

Years ago when I read James Mitchner’s “Hawaii” I was impressed
by the part that dealt with the leper colony which was contagious. Today, Hansen’s Disease, as the preferred name, is curable. So great was the fear of contraction Hansen’s Disease that, in Hawaii, those with the disease were sent to Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian
island of Moloka’i. Kalaupapa was isolated as it was a projection of land bounded by a high sea cliff and the pounding ocean thus making it nearly inaccessible. When I was on Molokai I did not visit Kalaupapa, now a National Park, and now wish I had.  There are two ways to get there, on a prearranged tour down a 3.5-mile treacherous trail on a mule or flying in but that costs several hundred dollars. Guess that’s why John and I didn’t go. I contented myself to looking down on the settlement and reading the sign boards atop the sea cliffs.

Saint Marianne Cope of the Order of St. Francis is also known as
Saint Marianne of Moloka’i.  I recently visited the Saint Marianne Cope Shrine and Museum in Syracuse where I learned about her dedication to those banished to Kalaupapa. In 1883, Sister Cope received a plea for help caring for the leprosy sufferers from King Kalakaua. More than 50 religious groups had declined but not Cope . She replied, “I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minster to the abandoned lepers.” In October of that year Cope and six sisters left Syracuse for Hawai’i. One was Sister Leopoldina who chronicled their time helping lepers.  Not one of the sisters contracted leprosy. 

The sisters took the train to California then a week-long sea trip to Hawaii. Sr. Marianne was very seasick, which is probably the reason she never left the islands. In Maui she founded St. Anthony’s Schools and the island’s first hospital. It must have come naturally because she was instrumental in opening two of the first Catholic hospitals in Central New York: St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Utica and St. Joseph Hospital Health Center in Syracuse. 

In 1888 the sisters moved to Kalaupapa to care for those with
Hansen’s disease. In addition to bringing professional hospital care she sought to improve the patients’ quality of life by treating them with dignity and respect. The Saint Marianne Cope Shrine and Museum has excellent displays dealing with her life, her time in Hawaii and her road to sainthood.  Displays included her trunk, desk and Sister Leopoldina’s journal relating their time at Kalaupapa. She took charge of the home Father Damien had established for men and boys.  She introduced cleanliness, pride and fun for the people.  Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women and games for the children was part of her approach. Today there are only a few permanent residents.

Her life is inspirational.  I am in awe of anyone who dedicates their life to a cause that benefits mankind.  She said, “Let us make the very best use of the precious moments…” and “What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown.”  Her work did not go unnoticed or unknown. Marianne Cope died in 1918 and was beatified in 2005 and canonized in 2012. Her reliquary at the shrine is flanked by feathered standards of honor reserved for Hawaiian royalty. 

Jan 4, 2016

Exploring the St. Lawrence with Blount Small Ship Adventures

Our Blount small cruise ship called Caribe Grande made several stops along the St. Lawrence River after leaving Montreal but first we went through the St. Lawrence Seaway locks. Like a stealth ship, while everyone was sleeping, we departed Montreal
and traversed the South Shore Canal’s two locks. The St. Lawrence Seaway system is connected by five short canals that bypass the rapids.  They include 15 locks 766 feet in length that are filled and emptied by gravity. During the day we locked through the rest of the Seaway’s locks. The Snell Lock raised us 45 feet.  The process of locking through never loses its appeal. Truly an engineering marvel.

We went through US customs in Ogdensburg, NY, after which
there was a tour of the Frederic Remington Art Museum. Remington is famed for his bronze sculptures of the Old West. We had time to walk around the waterfront where there were signboards detailing Ogdensburg’s role in the Revolutionary War. There are so many interesting personal stories.  It seems that the Sheriff Joseph York was left alone to man the cannon against hundreds of British soldiers at which point the British commander raised his hand to cease firing and said, “… there stands to brave a man to shoot.”

The western end of the St. Lawrence is home to the 1000 Islands and Millionaire’s Row. Midday we docked on Dark Island for a taste of lifestyles of the rich and famous. We had a guided tour of the five-story Singer Castle that the owners referred to as their “hunting lodge.” The owner, Frederick Bourne, was president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.  Singer Castle has 28 rooms and secret passageways. The secret passages were used by the servants so they could spy on the diners to see when it was time to serve the next course and maybe for other less appropriate reasons. It is possible to stay in the Royal Suite. 

Our last stop on the St. Lawrence was at Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum, a boat-enthusiast’s dream come true with every kind of boat from Native American dugouts to private luxury yachts to Gold Cup Boats. I liked the collapsible boats, the one made out of paper, and the one that was a cape that could be pumped up to be a boat! 

From Clayton we set sail across Lake Ontario to Oswego at night when the pilot thought the water would be calmer.  It wasn’t.  I wished we had crossed during daylight.  I was looking forward to seeing the shore from the Grande Caribe.

I bought the book “Know Your
Ships” which lists all the ships - salties and freshwater ones – that ply the Seaway. When I saw a ship I would check it off in the book. The book gave a lot of information on the vessels – country of registry, cargo and other information. 

Dec 28, 2015

Visiting Quebec with Blount Small Adventure Cruise

I thought the Plains of Abraham referred to a Biblical site. A bus tour of Quebec City was part of the Blount’s “Lakes, Legends and Canals” cruise John and I took. One place the bus stopped was high above the city at the Plains of Abraham where we learned that in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, the British victory led to France losing possession of Canada. Most likely it is named after Abraham Martin who moved to the area in the 1600s.  Located high above the St. Lawrence River it was easy to see why the area was of military significance. It was called the “Gibraltar of the Americas.” The Citadel is located nearby. We learned about the war and enjoyed a great view.

The tour started in Old Quebec which was like wandering an old French town.  There is a full-wall mural that depicts many aspects of Old Quebec.  It made a great place for the guide to explain various aspect of the old city. Someday I want to stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel which towers over the old city. There is a funicular connecting the lower city to
the upper city.  The tour included a side trip to Montmorency Falls. The falls were named for Samuel de Champlain who was the Duke of Montmorency and the falls are 98-feet higher than Niagara Falls.  There is a cable car to the top of the falls and a hiking trail but we didn’t have time for either. The tour covered all the highlights of the city and ended at the Marie-Guyart building where we went to the 31st floor for great views of the city. There were interactive multimedia displays that covered Quebec City’s history. A great place to end the tour.

After the tour we returned to the cruise ship (it only had 31 passengers – I liked that) there was time for us to walk the short distance back into town to the Museum of Civilization. We wandered through “The People of Quebec – Then and Now.”  It was a great multimedia presentation that traced the history of Quebec from the earliest days to the present with more information on how the French colony became British; however, the French culture is alive and well in Quebec. I was especially interested in their section of the museum dealing with what the Canadians call “The First People” and we call Native Americans.  At one time there were Iroquois villages along both sides of the St. Lawrence. There was also an interesting Egyptian exhibit.

Before our cruise vessel left port to head up the St. Lawrence to Montreal John and I went to the Navel Museum of Quebec.  It was literally just steps from the ship.  While small it was still interesting and had facts and images about the Battle of Oswego during the War of 1812.