Nov 022018

A place such as Ushuaia tantalizes us map-addicts. It’s such a delicious name, rivaling others such as Addis Ababa, Ulaanbaatar, Kalamazoo. And it’s in such an end-of-the-world place, too! There’s just something special about places that crowd the edges the way Ushuaia does.

Docking at “Puerto Ushuaia” after returning from Antarctica

As the cold November winds rise in the northern hemisphere, I’m mindful that spring is beginning to blow its more moderate breath upon those living at the other end of our globe. Way down south from my home in North America, the ski season is winding down in Ushuaia, Argentina. Soon, the floods of Antarctica-bound tourists and research scientists will return, as will the migratory birds, swelling avian numbers at the nearby national park to ninety species or so.

A look inland from the port

The wider world has known about this area since Magellan sailed through in about 1520, although indigenous peoples known as the Yaghan (or Yamana) were already there, and others had been in residence for about 10,000 years. Magellan named this area “Land of Fire,” and Ushuaia is the capital of this “Tierra del Fuego.”

On our brief visits to Ushuaia, I found myself captivated by the circumstances of life on an island located at the very tip of South America. It was easy, when strolling the streets of the small town, to witness a fair degree of whimsy and eclectic taste in architecture. And the Pan-American Highway (aka Argentina National Route 3) ends here, too. Or does it begin here? Depends on your perspective, I guess.

A themed house showing the characters who once lived in this small town

The convicts are escaping from the themed house! (That’s OK, they aren’t real…)

Ushuaia is rich in the history of sea-faring people who had to negotiate the turbulent waters at Cape Horn via the Drake Passage to gain access to the next ocean over (Atlantic to Pacific, and vice versa). Then, too, there is the history of the seal – and whale – ships plying the Southern Ocean in the 19th and early 20th centuries in search of their oil.

Like the outpost of Australia, Ushuaia seemed to some a good place to colonize with convicts. The first arrived aboard a naval ship in January 1896, and in 1902 a military prison elsewhere was moved to Ushuaia “for humanitarian reasons.” When we visited the prison (now a museum), it was difficult to perceive the situation as being a step up. For one thing, the harsh, remote environment certainly put a damper on escape efforts. Of course, the convicts were conscripted to build the prison themselves, between 1902 and 1920. At one time, more than 600 convicts called the place home, until it was closed in 1947.

Ushuaia Jail and Military Prison (cleaned up and not populated…)

Hemmed in by the Martial mountain range (locals call them “Andes Fueguinos”) and the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is home now to about 57,000 persons. The town motto is, “Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything.” Indeed.

The (famous) Beagle Channel at an impressive time of day!

Oct 192018

My early days of adventure travel were bolstered by slim travel volumes, such as those from Lonely Planet. Among the best of my resources was the thin tome, “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring.” The finest travel advice, though, came from a friend just before Jim & I set out for our year of wandering: “Tips from other travelers are like dancing lessons from the gods.”

Indeed. At the hostels we frequented in those days, we compared notes with people traveling in the opposite direction. The result was fresh word-of-mouth insights and important travel tips, and often, new friends. I miss that serendipity. Continue reading »

The Adventure Juggling Act

 Adventure, Generally Write, Travel  Comments Off on The Adventure Juggling Act
Aug 222018

Adventures are all about challenging myself to step beyond the everydayness of daily life and finding that which can teach me something new. It begins, I suppose, by taking on the attitude that life itself—even that which appears to be normal or routine—is always a challenge, even without the add-on of going somewhere. Just getting out of bed is a new adventure, if you ask me.

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Aug 312017

The first time I saw Denali up close, it snuck up on me. In 2009, I had done some fancy four-wheel maneuvering with my cousin Mike and a group of new friends to his gold-panning acreage 17 miles or so beyond the pavement. We were way out on Petersville Road, hilly, willow-covered, difficult country off the Parks Highway by the Trapper Creek turnoff. The town of Talkeetna is due east, but the Susitna River slices a dose of no-access-thataway between the two places, so the turn to Talkeetna off the Parks Highway is well to the south. Continue reading »

Aug 102017

The vastness of Alaska is practically impossible to grasp, even when it’s right in front of you. One way I like to help describe it is that the drive I’ve done now a couple of times from Anchorage to Anchorage (via Denali, Fairbanks, and Tok) makes a 1,300 mile circle. Yet it looks downright insignificant when superimposed on a map of the entire state. The place is just…immense, no matter where you are: on the rivers, in the mountains, or in the interior. No wonder Alaska holds such a mystical, far-away reputation.

In June and July, I spent another month of my life in that great state, doing a reprise of earlier trips with my cousin, Mike. With a friend, we first drove those 1,300 miles, and then we spent 16 happy (if cold) days on the Alsek River, crossing in and out of Alaska and British Columbia along the way. On several occasions, I got to witness the land slipping by under the wings of an airplane. This blog is dedicated to those varied and artful aerial views. Enjoy.

The first batch of photos is from the flight between Anchorage and Juneau, along the southeastern coast overlooking the mountains, icefields and glacial rivers of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.

mudflats & river/lake/ponds

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Peleliu and World War II: Palau (Part 4 of 4)

 Generally Write, Travel  Comments Off on Peleliu and World War II: Palau (Part 4 of 4)
Jun 282017

Before our group formally came together in Palau last March, I joined a pre-trip day-long visit to Palau’s southernmost island of Peleliu. My original interest in visiting the tiny Pacific nation was driven in large part by curiosity about my father’s service in WWII. He was a naval aviator in the Pacific theater, flying kingfisher float planes on reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. Much was written about the war, and in particular Peleliu, in the history books I had been reading to prepare for the trip, but somehow it had escaped me that it was part of Palau. I was excited to see it. Continue reading »

May 312017

While in Palau, I added to my lifetime hours of snorkeling by factors of ten. As a novice, I was in that delicious “beginner’s mind” world where everything seemed wondrous. Our guide, Ron Leidich, is a lifelong biologist/naturalist and knows every fish and coral and grass and mammal (yes, we saw one) that we saw under the surface of that azure water. Although I don’t remember most of the names, I do remember his utter enthusiasm about the underwater world of Palau, and his joy in sharing it with us as if for the first time. Continue reading »

Oct 112016

During the year of focusing on writing a book, recently, I had a hiatus from wandering (ok, except for Egypt in December…). It helped me realize just how much I love being at home. I really do. It’s seductive to have your things in a semblance of order and routines well in hand. There’s something to be said for sticking around and showing up for all the stuff of daily life. You get to be with friends, of course, including the four-footed sorts. There’s time to attend to various stacks of neglected detail. I even got to chip away at that accumulated pile of good intentions.

At a certain point, however, when the intensity of the project died down and the demands on my time took a turn, I was reminded of the road…and it has been calling to me ever since.

photo-1 Continue reading »

Dec 282015

Five a.m. in Chicago, Saturday, December 19. It’s two p.m. in Cairo, and Luxor, and Aswan, and lunch is already finished. This morning is the one when I know I have finally returned across the time zones, when I awaken feeling refreshed and present, after three nights of trending this way. And already, Egypt feels like a dream to me. It was a more amazing journey than I ever thought it would be.

IMG_20151215_094229752 Continue reading »

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