Oct 6, 2015

Bonaire - A Great Destination

When John and I told people we were going to Bonaire most people would say, “Where is that?” Bonaire is 50 miles north of Venezuela and 86 miles east of Aruba.  Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until 2010 when it became a special municipality within the Netherlands. Most people speak Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento (the island language). Dutch, English, and Spanish is taught in schools and Papiamento they learn at home.

We met many locals who were originally from Aruba or Curacao and they all said they preferred Bonaire because it was much quieter with less development. There are no stop lights and you can walk around Kralendijk, the capital, in an hour. The island is only 24 miles long and no more than seven miles wide.  Most people are not aware that Bonaire is one of the few islands that is out of the hurricane belt so any time of the year is a good time to visit.  It is always warm and sunny.

We stayed at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino which was perfect.  The hotel just finished a multi-million dollar upgrade and we could walk into town.  There are two pools but I loved the larger one that was only steps from my waterfront accommodation. Poolside there are cabanas with curtains for added privacy or to provide shade.  I heard one young girl say, “There’s music in the water.”  People just nodded with a raised eyebrow but there really is music under the water as we all found out. Very cool.

A morning tour to the southern part of the island
includes information on Bonaire’s salt production.  I have seen many things in my years of travel including the salt flats in Thailand but nothing compared to the salt production on Bonaire.  The sea water is pumped into shallow holding basins by fragile looking windmills. The wind and sun make it more salty and then it goes into other salt pans where evaporation continues and it turns a sea green. In the last phase it turns a beautiful rose color. When the wind blows – which is usually does – the rosy salt pans become rimmed with white salt crystals.  Eventually the water evaporates completely until only the salt remains.  It is harvested and piled into huge white, Pyramid-shaped mountains of salt awaiting the arrival of ships to take it to all corners of the earth to be used in chemical production, water softening, pool treatment, deicing and as table salt.

At one time slaves labored in the salt works. Nearby are replicas of the small huts that were built to shelter the slaves. They were not constructed until the last years of slavery. Slavery was abolished on Bonaire in 1862. The worker’s families lived in the north part of the island and when permitted they would walk seven to 12 hours to the village of Rincon to visit their families. Rincon is nestled in a valley making it a safe place for their families. There are a variety of island tours that take visitors to the salt flats, Rincon, the Donkey Sanctuary, and other Bonaire must-sees but many people rent a vehicle and never learn the complete story of the salt flats and don’t understand the significance of the small yellow slave houses. The salt works is owned by Cargill and it is a shame that they have not built a museum in the area.

Sep 28, 2015

Places to visit in Peru

The Uros Islands are just one of the amazing sites in Peru. The islands are located near the Andean city of Puno. If visiting Peru is on your bucket list and your travel dates are flexible check the airfares frequently. I have never unraveled the mysteries of airfares. I have seen some flights to Peru for under $500. I find it less expensive to book the land portion of travel myself. I contact hotels directly and booking tours locally. Only a valid passport is needed. Visitors to the Andean region (Puno, Cusco, Machu Picchu) should take it easy the first couple of days to adjust to the altitude.

1. Lima: In Lima, the capital city, head to Plaza de Armas, where the Government Palace is located with a colorful Changing of the Guard at noon. Be early to get a good viewing spot. Also on the Plaza is the Cathedral of Lima and the Archbishop’s Place which was built in the 1600s. Take note of the intricate carved wooden balconies.

2. Cusco: The Incas thought Cusco was the center of the world. The city is a jumping off point for visiting Machu Picchu but don’t miss the Plaza de Armas with a beautiful cathedral and where there are usually llamas, alpacas, vendors, and Andean musicians. Take note of the foundations of the older buildings which were built by the Incas. The Spanish built on top of them.

3. Machu Picchu: There are several ways to get to the iconic Machu Picchu. The hale and hearty can take a multi-day trek along the Inca Trail. Most people take either the tourist train or the luxurious Hiram Bingham train. The last part of the train trip is a heart stopping bus ride from switchback to switchback.

4. Nazca: The Nazca lines are one of the world’s mysteries.  They are only visible from the air. There is a fun four-wheel tour over the massive sand dunes.  The small plane dipping and turning over the Nazca Lines and the four-wheel ride that charges up one dune and down another are exciting to say the least.

5. Trujillo: Trujillo is a coastal city north of Lima. Near Trujillo is Chimu, the capital of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas. The city was made up of large plazas, temples, and large tombs for their nobility. The Chimu Kingdom reached its peak in the 15th century and then fell to the more powerful Incas. It is another of Peru’s World Heritage sites.

6. Arequipa: Arequipa, lovely colonial city, is home to Monasterio de Santa Catalina which is frozen in time. For centuries it was closed to the public. It is the jumping off point for visits to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

7. Puno: The city is located on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world accessible by
the train from Cusco. The main reason to visit Puno is to take a tour to the Uros Islands where the villages of the pre-Inca people are on floating reed islands.

8. Amazonia: There are several places in Peru to enter Amazonia. Most travelers head to Iquitos for a river cruise. However, Manu National Park, another UNESCO site, has a large expanse of virgin forest and is less visited. Don’t expect to see a lot of wild animals including snakes in the Amazon.

Sep 21, 2015

Visiting Sodus Point Museum in Sodus, New York

When John and I visited Sodus Point it was a beautiful sunny day.  The lake was calm, there were a couple sailboats enjoying the day, and all was peaceful.  Things were very different during June 1813. During the War of 1813 the frontier villages along the Lake’s shore were aware of the danger with the British fleet never too far away. Some government stores were kept at Sodus Point and it was the policy of the British officers to commandeer the stores if they found the place undefended, by force if necessary. The British soldiers attacked confiscating the stores and private property then set fire to the houses. The Old Lighthouse Museum is one place to learn about the battle and the history of the area. 

A light station was in continuous service at this site from 1825 to 1901 when the Sodus Bay Outer Pier Light became the main navigational aid for Sodus Bay. The footprint of the 1825 lighthouse is just behind the lighthouse museum. The light was provided by eight whale-oil lanterns with brass reflectors which needed frequent attending.  In the 1800s the shoreline was different than what it is today. The shoreline to the east of the
Lighthouse Museum to the pier gradually filled in with sand and today there are several buildings in what was once Sodus Bay. In 1870 a new lighthouse built to the west off the 1825 one and included the light keeper’s house which now is the museum. Each of the rooms explores a different aspect of the area’s history including the 1813 attack.  On display are examples of maritime equipment including a gimbaled lamp which would hold candles and lanterns upright in foul weather.

The Erie Canal was so successful when it opened that many areas wanted to get in on the boom including Sodus. A route from Clyde to Sodus Bay was surveyed then dredged but the 200-foot difference in elevation between the canal and the lake would have necessitated numerous locks so the plan was abandoned in 1865. The canal boom ended with the advent of railroads which provided year-round service and were faster.  

Sodus Bay has long been a vacation spot. On display are 1880s
bathing suits. Beach guards monitored the beach making sure appropriate attire was maintained. If a women was wearing makeup or not wearing the prescribed attire including stockings while swimming they could be banned from the beach, fined or even sent to jail. It must have been extremely difficult for women to swim in such cumbersome suits. My, oh, my, how fashion and mores have changed.

At one time there were many industries around the bay including a grain elevator, railroad roundhouse, ice houses, and a malt house. Each winter, before refrigeration was developed, ice was taken from the lake and stored for use the rest of the year. A typical home used about 300 cakes of ice during the summer. From 1873 to 1969 there was a large coal trestle used to offload Pennsylvania coal from trains into ships bound for Oswego and other Lake Ontario cities.
Local residents could hear the dull roar day and night when the coal was being loaded. In 1971 the trestle caught fire while being dismantled. There is a signboard detailing the construction of cobblestone houses and a map of those in the Sodus area. They are open May 1 to October 31.

Sep 15, 2015

The Cobblestone Museum

There are about 200 cobblestones houses near the shores of Lake Ontario. In fact, historians estimate between 75 and 90 percent of all the American cobblestone buildings are located within 100 miles of the Cobblestone Museum in Albion. The lake provided the stones.  They were there for the taking. Masons who no longer had work once the Erie Canal was finished provided the expertise.  It was a labor-intensive job.  The Cobblestone Museum has metal rings that were used to gauge the size of the stone.  Only four layers could be laid in one day because the mortar had to set before more layers could be added. After the Civil War construction of cobblestone buildings slowed when concrete became the preferred building material. 

The Cobblestone Museum is made up of eight historic buildings.  The museum’s welcome center is in the basement of the 1834 church, the oldest cobblestone church in North America.  The main part of the church has been restored with Victorian Country character. My guide, Georgia,
pointed out many interesting aspects of the church.  The collection basket was a velvet bag so that the coins would not clink when deposited.  Take note of the curtain on the bottom of part of the choir loft’s railing.  That way people would not be able to look up the skirts of the singers.  The decorative screen to the right of the organ hid the poor, sweaty youngster who had to pump the organ. 

Next to the church is the Ward House.  Horace Greely once owned the house but never lived there although he did visit on occasion. I always like to look at the kitchen items that were used years ago.  Just when I think nothing can surprise me my guide pointed out the cooling coffin in the parlor.  The concept of preserving the deceased increased in popularity during the Civil War when so many soldiers died far from home so the cooling coffin was invented. 

The 1849 cobblestone schoolhouse was in continuous use until
1952.  It is the only one-room schoolhouse I have visited – and I have been to many – where the grade of the floor gradually increased so that the students in the last row could see the teacher; and, the teacher could see them better. There were clever flaps on the ceiling that could be opened with a pulley during the hot weather. The cobblestone on the school is a façade. When the students went for a picnic on the shore of Lake Ontario they took baskets with them so they could collect stones that were then used to create the school’s façade. Teachers often posed riddles for students to figure out.  On the blackboard was: YYUR, YYUB, ICUR,YY4ME! 

Across the street are four other buildings: a blacksmith shop, print shop, harness shop and the Farmer’s Hall.  Joseph Vagg, the blacksmith who was also a wheelwright, was the last blacksmith on the Ridge Road.  The Farmer’s Hall has a variety of displays including a variety of butter churns including one that
was dog operated. In the entrance way there is a taxidermy collection by Carl Ackerly, the father of modern taxidermy, known for positioning his specimens in their natural setting. The Cobblestone museum also has a collection of outhouses in a variety of architectural styles such Federal and Eastlake.

Sep 8, 2015

Visiting President Garfield's home

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site is located in Mentor, Ohio just a short detour off Interstate 90 east of Cleveland. Recently John and I visited and learned many interesting facts about a president who only served 200 days.  The last 80 days of
Garfield’s presidency was spent trying to recover from an assassination attempt.  On the morning of July 2, 1881, as he walked through the railroad station with his two sons on the way to New Jersey for a short vacation a disgruntled job seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot him. For 80 days doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet. Alexander Graham Bell, one of his physicians, was unsuccessful in locating the bullet using the metal detector he invented. Sterile operating conditions had yet to be universally accepted. 

We also visited a replica of the log cabin where Garfield was born
in 1831in the nearby village of Moreland Hills. He was the youngest of four children. His father died when he was two leaving the family in poverty. At the age of 16 he worked for a short time on the canals. He earned enough money to further his education becoming a teacher, an ordained minister, then college president, and a member of the US Congress.  

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site Visitor Center has an 18-minute video, several interesting displays, and is where the house tours start. The informative video said that Garfield “was the most prepared individual ever to be elected to the White House.” During the Civil War when Garfield was 30-years-old he was promoted to Brigadier General making him the youngest general in the Union Army.  Garfield was the only president to ascend to the presidency from the House of
Representatives. He never sought the presidency and conducted his campaign from the front porch of his house in Mentor. Hundreds would gather to hear him speak and reporters would camp out on the lawn.  He felt that instead of touting himself he would let others do that for him. He may have been a great president had he lived for he advocated equality for women and blacks. He appointed four black men, including Frederick Douglass, to posts in his administration. I loved his comment: “I am exceedingly disgusted with all the wire pulling of politicians and total disregard of the truth in all their operations.” 

There are interesting features of Garfield’s beloved Ohio home, Lawnfield, where he said, “It is the one place I feel at peace.” The wallpaper and a side table have a spider web motif. Victorians believed that house spiders brought good luck and good fortune. After his death his wife, Lucretia, worked hard to preserve his memory including creating a Memorial Library in the house to honor him. Near the house there is a windmill tower that was used to pipe water to the house.  On the stairs there is a large Japanese temple bell.

President Garfield may have been born in a humble log cabin but
his final resting place is an impressive monument 180 feet tall that combines Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles. It is located in Cleveland’s LakeView Cemetery and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The caskets of Garfield and his wife are on display. It is open to the public daily. In one day it is possible to visit all three Garfield sites.  

Sep 2, 2015

MidLakes day trip on the Erie Canal

I think everyone has at least one thing that is a must-do during the
summer.  For me it is spending time on the Erie Canal away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. This year I took the MidLakes Navigation’s Emitta II from Dutchman’s Landing to Cross Lake.  The name Dutchman’s Landing intrigues me. Captain Dan Wiles explained that before MidLakes Navigation bought the land there was a bar there of the same name. It is no longer there.  I can’t help but wonder if the name derived from the time – before the canal system - when New York State was New Netherlands and the Dutch traveled the waterways of New York in search of furs and other tradable commodities. 

Captain Dan provided just enough narration to keep the ride interesting but not so much that I couldn’t just ride and day dream of the time when the canal was the main travel road of New York. At one time it was America’s Super Highway – it was the way West. I was surprised that there wasn’t more activity on the canal. It was a Saturday and the weather was ideal with just a hint of fall colors on some trees. I only saw a few pleasure boats and a couple fishermen. At one time the canal was extremely busy with some boats providing crowded sleeping conditions for those making the multi-day trip.  Cargo boats had living quarters for the captain and his family.  Some children were born and raised on a canal boat.  The ports were booming and I would assume that living along the canal was not the most desirable place to live.  Today there are some camps along the canal but many of them have been replaced with beautiful homes. 

In the canal heydays travelers never saw the beautiful mute swans.
They may add to serene ambiance but they are an invasive species. The mute swans are larger and more offensive than native waterfowl and will drive off and even kill native birds plus they eat up to 10 pounds of aquatic vegetation daily.  Too bad they don’t eat the water chestnut, another invasive species native to Europe that doesn’t have any natural enemies here. Some homeowners have mats of water chestnuts so dense that they have to clear a path through the water so they can get to their docks.  On the happy side I saw a couple of bald eagles and great blue herons which are making a great comeback. 

I never get tired of locking through. On the way to Cross Lake the Emita II locked through Lock 24 in Baldwinsville.  It is the second busiest lock on the canal.  On the way to Cross Lake we traveled along the canalized Seneca River and through Jack’s Reef, a short cut. The waterfront of Baldwinsville is a great example of canal towns being revitalized. According to Captain Dan tourism along the canal generates $350 million and over $3 billion in non-touristic revenue. It was another great day on the canal.

Midlakes Navigation has a variety of day trips lasting from one-hour to five-hours.  A gift of tickets would be great for any occasion and I think it is a must-do when Central New Yorker’s are hosting out of the town guests.  The canal is historically and uniquely Central New York.

Aug 24, 2015

Ganondagan - The Seneca homeland

Before the Europeans arrived in what is now called New York State, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy ruled the area. They formed a confederacy comprised of the Mohawks, Onondagas, Oneidas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras. By the way, Haudenosaunee is the correct way to refer to the Iroquois.  The word Iroquois is an English corruption of a French corruption of an Algonquian word that was used as an insult.  

John and I exited the NYS Thruway at Victor and visited Ganondagan, the site of a village where the Senecas lived for 300 years ago. At one time an estimated 4,500 Haudenosaunee lived there. It is now a state historic site.  The Senecas were the “Keeper of the Western Door.” There is a small display of artifacts in the Visitor Center but one of the most interesting
displays is the full-size replica of the 17th century Seneca longhouse. Inside there are many items that would have been typically found in a longhouse – corn husk mats, tools, pots, and other necessary items for everyday life. There may have been 20 or so people
living in the longhouse – all related through the female side of the family.  There are long benches the length of the longhouse that were used for sleeping and storage. Food had to be gathered during the growing season and stored for the winter. In the center there were fires that were used for cooking above which were air holes to let out the smoke. 

The name “Ganondagan” means “Town of Peace,” and they believed that the “Mother of Nations” is buried there.  What seems like an idyllic life in harmony with nature was often broken by periods of violence. In 1687, the French destroy the village during a campaign aimed at eliminating the Seneca Nation.  In Montreal the French
assembled an army of 1,000 Canadian militia, 832 French regulars, and a contingent of Mohawk and Algonquin launched their attack from Kingston.  The army of 3000 was double the number of the Seneca warriors. There is a reason the Haudenosaunee villages were surrounded by wooden palisades – for protection. Besides the wars there were times when nature must have seemed like the enemy with freezing temperatures in the winter, not enough rain for their crops, and storms. 

Nature is and was the center of their existence. In front of the
Visitor Center is the Three Sisters Garden – corn, beans and squash. And near the long house is "The Creator's Garden" with a signboard that explains the Creation Story according to the Senecas.  
There are trails complete with interpretive signboards. One trail is the "Earth is out Mother" trail that explains the ethnobotanical plant world from the Seneca perspective. Another trail with red borders deals with the importance of the women in Seneca life. It was a matrilineal society. 

Americans everywhere owe a debt to the Haudenosaunee
Confederacy their democratic ideals served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution including the governmental concept of Balance of Power. The Seneca's matrilineal Society helped inspire the woman's rights movement. Their diet of natural foods is popular today as are many of the natural medicines they used to treat illnesses. In October 2015 they will be opening the state-of-the-art Seneca Art and Culture Center that will have a film explaining the Creation Story and galleries filled with unique artifacts, contemporary artwork, and a town model.  It is on my “to-do” list.