Wednesday, May 18, 2016


(This piece was written about our winter travels,
this one continues to look at our travels to San Diego, California.)

            I find it interesting that when you travel to another place faraway from where you call home, some interesting connections with your home may pop up along the way.  San Diego, California seems far removed from having any ties to Wisconsin or especially the Kickapoo Valley, but looks can be deceiving.  If you start digging into a place’s history, remarkable connections can be unearthed.
            Alonzo Horton is known historically as “The Father of San Diego”.  In downtown San Diego, the Horton Plaza mall is named after the real estate developer who began the process of turning the little mission town into a booming city.  Horton had come to San Diego shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War to make his fortune in real estate development.  He bought the area near San Diego Bay where the harbor was located.  Over a twenty-year period Horton sold over 200 city blocks of land in what became known as New Town.  With its location near the busy harbor, New Town businesses thrived and Horton became a very rich man.  He once said, during the height of the San Diego real estate boom, “I’m getting tired of handling so much money”. 
            Horton’s connection to Wisconsin is that before coming to California, he had made a fortune in real estate development in the Badger State.  Horton had moved west from Connecticut, where he was born, to purchase a large tract of land in eastern Wisconsin.  Horton’s land purchase coincided with Wisconsin becoming a state in 1848 and within a few years, he had developed a thriving town southwest of Green Bay.  The town, Hortonville, bore his name.  In 1851, Horton sold the last of his land interests in Wisconsin and headed to California during the great Gold Rush of that time.  He became a successful businessman in San Francisco before heading south to San Diego in 1867.
            Oscar Millard was known as the “Father of Ontario”, the small village located in the northern part of the Kickapoo Valley.  Millard came from the eastern United States after Wisconsin became a state and purchased lands for lumbering.  He ran a general store along the Kickapoo River and named the settlement that grew up around his store, Ontario, after his birthplace in the state of New York.  Eventually, Millard sold off his store and land interests (after compiling great profits at both ventures) and moved to the American West.  For a time he was located in San Diego, where he operated a general store at the same time when Horton was developing New Town near the city’s harbor.  While he was in San Diego, Millard had a grandson move to the city to work as a telegraph operator for the railroad.
            William and Henry Minor operated a lumberyard business in La Farge in the 1890s.  The Minor brothers also had a lumber mill located in the Town of Clinton, north of Bloomingdale and at the bottom of Perkins Hill.  As was the case with these lumbering operations, a little village grew up around the mill that was called Minortown.  The lumberyard was started in order to sell that lumber from the Minortown mill in the booming village of La Farge.  By 1899, the Minor brothers had sold their La Farge operation and headed north to start lumbering there.  They bought 4,000 acres in Forest County from the railroad and started a lumber camp at a place called Carter.  Soon after the mill at Minortown was disassembled and moved to Carter and many of the men who worked for the Minor brother’s lumbering in Vernon County went north to work there.  The lumber mill at Carter was very successful for the Minor brothers.
            Eventually, the Minor brothers moved to the state of Oregon, where they built another large lumbering operation.  They built a huge store that filled an entire block in Eugene, Oregon.  The Minor brother’s store became the retail center of Eugene.  When they decided to retire from the retail operation, the Minor brothers donated the huge store to the University of Oregon.  The proceeds from the sale of the store were used to create a perpetual chair professorship at the University of Oregon in the School of Forestry.
            In returning to the story of the connection to San Diego, Alonzo Horton found that there was not sufficient lumber available in southern California for the rapid expansion of his New Town development.  In order to get more lumber on hand to build the stores and houses in San Diego, Horton arranged for lumber to be brought down from Oregon.  An efficient highway or railroad system had not been developed at the time of Horton’s need for more lumber.  So, the lumber was assembled into rafts and floating booms in Oregon, then pulled down the Pacific coast by tugboats to San Diego.  The idea of the floating rafts and lumber booms is eerily similar to the early days of lumbering in the Kickapoo Valley.
            We know that the lumbermen of the Kickapoo Valley took the “The Fatal Oak” lumbering folksong north with them.  That song, taken from a poem written to memorialize the loss of three lads from La Farge killed in a lumber rafting accident, was sung in Carter and other lumber camps Up North and across the country.  Perhaps the Minor brothers, who originally worked in that early lumbering time in the Kickapoo Valley, when the rough sawn lumber was bundled into rafts and assembled into booms and floated down the river to Midwestern markets, took that knowledge to Oregon with them.  There it could have been used to enable their Oregon lumber to get to San Diego.  Perhaps, Oscar Millard, one of the early proponents of the Kickapoo River lumber rafts, built his store in San Diego using lumber delivered with that same transportation method.

            Historic connections – San Diego and the Kickapoo Valley – may tie people and places together forever.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


(This is the last in a series of articles
 that tell the stories about our three-week holiday
 to San Diego, Hawaii and Australia.)

            We stayed in Honolulu for two days on the way back from Australia.  By stopping in Hawaii both coming and going from Australia, we broke up that killer of a plane ride that we had endured on previous visits Down Under.  The last time we returned from there in 2010, we traveled for 34 straight hours from leaving Sydney to arriving in La Farge, most of it flying or waiting in airports.  It is brutal travel!  (Interestingly, because of crossing the International Date Line again, it was still the same date when we returned to the Kickapoo Valley as when we began the day.)  Besides making the air travel easier, stopping in Hawaii is a beautiful place to visit.
            While in Hawaii, we stayed at the Hilton Resort, which is the largest hotel complex on Waikiki Beach.  It has four huge high-rise buildings full of rooms, an expansive beach along Waikiki, several pools on the grounds and restaurants, and bars and shops everywhere that you turn.  It is also one of the most expensive hotels in the Hawaiian capital city.  Everything is expensive everywhere in the 50th state, but our hotel seemed to take it to another level.  (Another guest at our hotel told me that he had a breakfast at one of the hotel’s restaurants of Spam (Hawaiians are crazy for that Midwest delicacy (?) from Hormel), eggs, hash browns and coffee.  The guy was from Las Vegas, so he was used to things costing plenty, but was a tad taken back by the $57 bill for his breakfast.)
            On our first day on Oahu, we took a tour of the east shoreline.  Our first stop was going to be at a beach just outside the city where there was always lots of surfing action.  But the beach had been inundated with poisonous jellyfish the day before, so it was closed.  We stopped at an overlook above the beach to admire the view and saw some humpback whales in the distance.
            Our tour van drove up to Diamondhead, the dormant volcano that looms above Honolulu.  We went down into the crater of the old volcano where hundreds of people were taking nature hikes on the many trails around the crater.  As we descended from the volcano crater, we made another stop at an overlook of Hanauma Bay where we saw more whales cavorting in the Pacific.
            We continued our drive around O’ahu’s East Shore to the Holona Blowhole & Cove.  The blowhole is a creation of the lava rock on the shoreline.  When the waves crash into the rock, the lava blowhole located far above the surf, shoots a water spray like a geyser up to thirty feet into the air.  Since the surf was very high the day we were at Holano, the blowhole was spectacular!
            Next to the blowhole is Holona Cove, a favorite swimming beach on O’ahu.  It is also where the love scene in the 1953 movie “From Here To Eternity” was shot (Remember those waves crashing around Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr as they made out in the sand?  I watched that movie at the Mars Theater in La Farge.), and there were lots of young couples on what is known locally as “Eternity Beach” emulating the movie stars.  From the view above Holona Cove we could again see lots of humpbacks breaching near the shore.
            After a brief stop at Sandy Beach (which had recently posted signs warning about the jellyfish) and at Makapu’u to view the lighthouse sitting out on the rocky point, we ascended Pali Mountain.  We stopped at the top to walk over to the overlook, which has a fantastic view of Honolulu.  There is an old railroad tunnel next to the overlook and on the way up the mountain we had driven through a couple of tunnels that the highway passed through.  When constructed, the tunnels had allowed the road and railroad to cut through the mountain, shortening the trip to Honolulu for people and trade goods from the other side of O’ahu.
            An oddity of Pali Mountain is the wildlife or should I say wild tamelife?  The place is famous for its feral cats and chickens, which roam around everywhere.  The two species have adapted to the mountain and each other in perfect harmony, even lying down next to each other as we walked along the paths of Pali.
            On our last day in Hawaii, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  There were 25 people from our hotel who boarded the ENOA tour bus for the trip out to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument located at Pearl Harbor.  The park is operated by the National Park Service and is first rate in every respect. 
Before starting our tour of the USS Arizona, we walked around the park looking at other exhibits and displays.  A World War II era submarine, the USS Bowfin is also anchored at the park, but we did not have time to tour the boat.  Last September, we had toured the submarine USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.   That submarine is the same class of WW II subs as the USS Bowfin.  The shipyards at Manitowoc built 28 submarines of that class during WW II, four of which were sunk during the war.  The USS Bowfin was built at the shipyards in Portsmouth, Maine.  There is also a submarine museum located in the park at Pearl Harbor.
We walked along the Pearl Harbor East Loch to look at the various displays.  There was the Waterfront Submarine Memorial, USS Arizona Anchor, Remembrance Circle and Contemplation Circle, all of which presented displays that told the gripping accounts of that fateful day of December 7, 1941.  Usually there is an actual living veteran of WW II on the grounds giving a narrative of the war.  On our visit, a veteran who was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attack was selling a book written about his memories of that day as he talked with visitors to the park.
We joined people from other tour groups and at our scheduled time, were escorted into a small theater next to the docks. The USS Arizona Tour begins with a 23-minute video about the Japanese attack on the bases at Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  It is an excellent presentation of the events as they unfolded that day and includes film footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor that I had never seen before.  Retired veterans serve as ushers and guides in the theater and an aura of reverence is soon felt.  When the moving and emotional film concluded, many people (myself included) were wiping tears from their eyes.
Then we were ushered onto a boat that was waiting dockside next to the theater building.  The US Navy operates this shuttle over to the memorial and reverence is maintained on the short ride over to the fallen USS Arizona.  The memorial itself is a 184-foot long structure that rests on the water’s surface immediately over the sunken battleship.  It was designed by architect Alfred Preiss and was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1962.  At the far end of the memorial, away from the loading docks, there is a wall that contains the names of all of the 1,177 crewman of the USS Arizona who died on the day of the Japanese attack.  Nine hundred of those sailors remain entombed in the sunken hull below the coral waters.  At the end of the list of names, there is another growing column of names that really surprised me.  It is a listing of forty-some names that were survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona and have returned to rest with their fallen comrades.  I talked to one of the National Park Service guides working there at the memorial about this list and she said that the cremated remains of those former sailors has actually been lowered into the sunken structure of the battleship, where they remain for eternity.  I found this very special and was emotionally touched by the revelation.  As you watch the spots of oil leaking to the surface from the sunken ship below, one is reminded of those fallen sailors.
Another special moment occurred on the USS Arizona Memorial when we bumped into two other Kickapoogians while we were out there on the waters of Pearl Harbor.  When I was admiring the memorial’s wall of names, I noticed this guy wearing bright neon green tennis shoes and shorts.  I thought the guy was a dead ringer for Frank Kopecky and sure enough – it was!  Frank and his wife Margot were also in our tour group and we visited with them as we all took the shuttle ride back over to the park.  They had been staying in Honolulu for a month, visiting Frank’s son who works in the city.  They just happened to be out on a Pearl Harbor Tour on the same day and at the same time that we were.  It is a small world.
            Later that day, we were aboard our Delta Airbus 330 and headed back to the snowy Midwest.  Our seven and a half hour flight covered the 4,000 miles to Minneapolis seamlessly and we were soon driving home to La Farge.  Our amazing three-week holiday to the Pacific was over (although the jet lag would continue on for several more days).  San Diego, Maui, Sydney and Honolulu had been our destinations and now were grand memories of pleasant times. 

More from Down Under

(This is another in a series about our three-week holiday
 to San Diego, Hawaii and Australia)

            On one of the days that we were in Australia, we went on a day tour of the Blue Mountains.  Sandy gave us a ride into Sydney where we were picked up at Circular Quay by the tour van.  There were 14 of us on the tour – 12 Americans and a couple from Canada.  It’s about an hour and a half drive out to the mountains and on arriving we began with a breakfast of coffee and scones in Leura overlooking Wentworth Falls.  We were fortunate to see a pair of lyrebirds feeding next to our veranda seating. This species is a ground bird with magnificent tail plumage and is renowned for mimicking sounds of all kinds.  (Check out lyrebirds on YouTube for some fantastic audio of their mimics.)
            We then drove on to the city of Katoomba and out to Echo Point where we saw the “Three Sisters” rock formation, the most famous in the Blue Mountains.  We took the Skyway tramcar across the valley and saw “Shining Falls” on the way to the main building of Scenic World.  We then took the cable car down to the floor of the valley, where we did a very interesting nature walk around the rain forest floor.  The walk ended at the site of an old iron mine, where some of the abandoned mining equipment was displayed.  We hopped on the vertical railroad which shot us right back up the face of the cliff.  On the drive out from the rim of the valley we were fortunate to see two kookaburras perched in a tree.  This bird species is a tree Kingfisher that has a distinctive haunting laugh for a call.
            On the way back to Sydney, we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park.  The park has many of Australia’s animal and bird species on display.  The highlight of our trip was getting a picture taken with a koala bear (they have the softest fur).  After leaving the park, we ran into a massive traffic jam on the freeway that made us miss our ferry ride back to Sydney Harbor.  Our tour guide switched to “Plan B” which enabled us to tour the Sydney Olympic Park, where the 2000 Summer Olympic games were held. Much of the area is still being used for outdoor recreation and for hosting events of all kinds (there was a huge Country & Western Music show scheduled for the Olympic Arena later that evening).
            Now over an hour late for our return, the tour van stopped at Canada Bay, a small finger of water off the western end of Sidney Harbor.  There we caught a ride on a little ferryboat that in twenty minutes had us back at Darling Harbor in downtown Sydney.  We hiked up the hill on busy city streets to Sandy’s office building and took an elevator up to the 17th floor where her offices are located.  In ten minutes, she was ready to go.  Once back down on the street, Sandy made a phone call and we were swooped up by David and Izzy coming by from his law office.  Twenty minutes later we were back at the house in Kingsford, quite amazed at how the connections for our return had all turned out.
            On the last weekend of our stay in Australia, we went to Lake Macquarie to enjoy some time away from the city.  Everyone hustled around on a late Friday afternoon to get both cars packed for the weekend.  We threw the kayak on the top of the big car and set out – Izzy and I riding with David in one car while Sandy drove Carolyn, Rory and Jamie in the other.  It was nearly a three-hour drive out of Sydney, heading northeast to our destination located on Warners Bay, just past Newcastle.  We found our rental lakeshore house on Paroo Avenue with no trouble.  We stayed in a lovely two-story lake villa with a boathouse below on the ground level.  The villa had curving outdoor verandas that faced the lake on both of the top two floors.
            After getting everything unpacked from the cars, David fired up the electric “Barbie” on the 1st-floor veranda and grilled us pork cutlets for supper that we had with a great salad and some local wine.  Sunset over the western end of the lake was spectacular that evening.
            The next morning, David and I went to town to buy some frozen mullet and shrimp that we used for bait for fishing.  We rigged up three poles for the kids and Izzy was soon hauling in little shiners as fast as she cast out.  The boys and Carolyn went swimming some and then Carolyn and I took the kayak out for a spin up and down the shore, looking at all of the lake houses and boats in the bay.  After lunch on the veranda, Sandy and David went for a longer kayak paddle, checking out several other bays along the western shore of the lake.  Towards evening we all drove into “The Esplanade”, a little business district of shops, stores and restaurants in Warners Bay.  David and the boys went on a scooter trip along the walkway next to the lake.  Later we all met at the Brown Dog Café for supper.  The “ ’69 Summer Ale” went well with my monstrous Ozzieburger and fries.
            We drove around to the north side of the bay to a wonderful children’s park built and maintained by the local Lions Club. The park had zip lines, multiple slides and chutes, water machines, bicycle paths and lots of fun things for kids to enjoy – and it was all free!  We stayed until sundown before heading home to our villa on the lake.
            Our last day at Lake Macquarie (Sunday) was very windy so it was nearly impossible to fish.  We found a single kayak in the boathouse. Carolyn paddled it and followed David and Izzy in the other kayak over to a nice little bay out of the wind where they could swim.  Sandy drove the boys over to another park to look for pelicans, but had no luck.  After lunch, everyone enjoyed swimming, kayaking and splashing around in the lake for a last time.  It took awhile to get the cars all packed up for the return home and then we started back.  On the way, we stopped a couple of times to look at houses for sale on the lake as David and Sandy are interested in purchasing one for a vacation home.  When we got back to the house in Kingsford, Sandy’s mother, Julie, had a delicious supper waiting for us.
            Our last day in Australia was a tad bit hectic.  After dropping Izzy and Jamie off at their school (their month-long summer vacation from school had ended the day after Australia Day) Sandy drove us in to Sydney.  Because Sandy had a busy day of work ahead of her and did not know if she would get home before we left, she treated us to breakfast at a sidewalk café not too far from her office building.  After our tearful hugs and kisses with her, she was off to work (as it turned out, Sandy did not get back to the house until after midnight that evening). 
            We went over to Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and walked the many winding paths looking at all of the different tropical trees and shrubs.  The banyan and fig trees with their massive above ground root systems were particularly impressive.  We walked all the way around the gardens to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which is a rock formation on the end of a point sticking out into the harbor.  It has great views of the backside of the Opera House and Fort Denison.  On the way back, we stopped at the tea garden for a little lunch and fed the ibis some of our carrot cake.  We walked to Hyde Park and enjoyed one last bus ride back out to Kingsford.  Back at the house, we packed up our suitcases and played with the children.  Julie made us a delicious supper. When David came home from work that evening, he called for a taxi to take us to the airport.  After hugs with everyone but the boys, who were much too busy running in the yard for that sentimental stuff, we rode over to the airport.
            Check in for our Qantas flight was smooth and we taxied out on our Airbus 330 for a 10:30 pm takeoff.  We waited as other planes landed and took off.  Then we taxied to another waiting area and waited some more.  After an hour and a half of waiting we went back to the terminal to disembark as out flight had been postponed because of mechanical problems.  The airline provided taxi fare for a ride over to a nearby hotel, where we plopped into our beds at 1:30 am, tired and flustered.  It was a very short night as we checked out of the hotel before seven the next morning.  Our flight was again delayed, as there were no open gates at the terminal.  Finally we left shortly before eleven that next morning for the ten and a half hour flight back to Hawaii.  Because of the flight delay, we were going to loose an entire day of fun in Honolulu.



            We were up at 4 a.m. to finish packing and check out of our resort hotel on Maui’s beautiful Ka’anapali Bay.  The drive back to Kahului was smooth – little traffic that time of the morning.  I only was lost once trying to find the right road to Maui’s main airport.  We checked the rental car back in at Alamo and caught a shuttle over to the airport.
            The people at the Hawaii Air service desk said that our bags would be checked through for our connecting flight to Australia.  We had $4.50 cups of Starbucks coffee (I may never get used to the high prices of everything in Hawaii!) while waiting for our B-117 to board.  It was a little hop of twenty minutes over to the main island of Oahu, landing at the local and commuter flights terminal of the Honolulu Airport.  This is where all the flights from the different islands in the Hawaiian chain land and depart and it is a busy place.  We took a shuttle bus over to the main terminal and out to the international wing to board our Qantas flight to Sydney.
            Flying first class on Qantas is highly recommended!  There is great food and drink with impeccable service. But the best part of Qantas 1st-class is very comfortable and roomy seats that actually can recline into beds if you want to sleep.  I don’t sleep on planes much, so I read a book, did some puzzles, watched some TV and a movie – all designed to take up time on the 10-hour flight to Australia.
            The flight from Hawaii to Australia also takes you across the International Dateline.  So, we left Honolulu in the late morning of Saturday, January 23, flew southerly across the Pacific Ocean for ten hours and arrived in Sydney in the early evening of Sunday, January 24th.  You loose an entire day on the calendar while on the flight, but don’t worry we will have it returned on the flight back.
            Checking through customs at the Sydney Airport is a breeze as we had our entry visa to the country arranged before we left on the trip.  As we rolled our luggage outside of the main terminal building, we were greeted by a warm summer evening. Remember that we also had crossed the equator on our flight and have plunged deep into the Southern Hemisphere where it is now mid-summer.  Sandy and her children Isobel (Izzy) and Jamie were waiting for us and drove us back to their house in Kingsford, an eastern suburb of Sydney.
            Some of the readers of this column will remember that Sandy Mak was an exchange student from Malaysia who lived with us during the 1990-91 school year.  She became like a daughter to us and we have kept in close contact ever since.  When she married David McManus in Scotland in 2005, we were at the wedding.  Most recently, we visited Sandy and her family in Sydney in 2010.
            Sandy was going to college at the University of South Wales (UNSW) when we first visited her in Australia in 1997.  She was living with her younger sister Wendy at the time.  Wendy was finishing up her high school education then, while Sandy’s twin sister, Cindy was attending medical school not far away in Sydney.  All three sisters still call the Sydney area home as does their mother, Julie.
            When we arrived at the house in Kingsford, David, Wendy and her husband Phil greeted us.  We met for the first time little Rory, Sandy and David’s youngest child, who would turn three in a few days.  We sat outside on the garden patio in the cool evening and caught up with everyone before crashing for a fitful night’s sleep.
            The next day, Sandy drove the kids and us into downtown Sydney, which is a half-hour’s drive from their house.  Sandy is a partner in one of the top law firms in Sydney and had a little office work to catch up with.  She took the kids with her to the law offices while we walked down to Sydney Harbor’s Circular Quay to look around.  We walked over to the Sydney Opera House to see what was happening and stopped at a dockside café for cups of “Tall Blacks” (Aussie coffee is amazingly delicious!) and afriand (a Belgian pastry that was quite good).  Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”) is an amazing place as all of the ferryboats, water taxis, and tour boats are constantly moving in and out of the six separate loading docks.  Circular Quay also serves as a station for the elevated trains and buses that serve the city.  We met Sandy and the children at the Sydney Museum, where we had some lunch and toured the exhibits.  Carolyn helped Sandy, Izzy, Jamie and Rory building things in the Lego Exhibit on the second floor.
            Back at the house, David prepared a supper of fresh prawns (huge Australian shrimp), scallops and calamari that we enjoyed out in the garden patio on the warm evening.  Carolyn gave the children presents from Hawaii and was soon reading to them from a Harry Potter book.  The children even warmed up to the old man from Wisconsin when the boys learned that we were all Minions fans (King Bob!). 
            The next day, January 26th, was Australia Day, which is like America’s 4th of July.  Everybody Down Under takes the holiday to celebrate the origins of Australia as an independent country.  Sandy drove Rory, James and us into Sydney for the festivities that were centered on Circular Quay.  She had booked passage on a tour boat to go out in the harbor and follow the Ferryboat Race. The race is an annual event on the holiday and attracts hundreds of boats to the harbor to follow along.  It was an amazing site!  The four racing ferryboats lined up near the Harbor Bridge, a cannon was fired from the nearby Rocks, and all of the boats in the race were off! 
Well almost all, as one of the ferryboats immediately broke down, so the other three were off.  All of the hundreds of other boats followed along with the racers, out past the Opera House, beyond Madam Macquarie’s Chair and past Fort Dennison Island. After racing towards the Pacific Ocean entrance to the harbor, the ferryboats, now rejoined by the one that had broken down, pivoted in the water and started on the homeward leg of the race back to Circular Quay. 
As the entire flotilla was approaching the busy docks, a noontime 21-gun salute of cannon were fired from up on the hill. As a military band played the Australian National Anthem, a convoy of jets flew overhead in formation, trailing streams of vapor behind.  A group of helicopters appeared and flew under the Harbor Bridge as Aborigines pounded on their dance drums on one side of the harbor.  What a sight to see!  Happy Australia Day!
Later that afternoon back at the house, preparations were under way for a birthday party for Rory, who would turn three on the following day.  David fired up the “Barbie” and grilled chicken, sausages, steaks and lamb chops.  Sandy’s Mom helped prepare food for the guests that included Cindy and her two small boys, Wendy & Phil, cousin Anna and her small boy and three other couples with small children.  There were ten children in all racing around the house and garden during the party.  Everyone brought a favorite salad or dessert that the adults enjoyed with fine Australian wines and craft beers.  It was a wonderful end to Australia Day!


(This is another in a series that tells the story of our travels earlier in the year to San Diego, Hawaii and Australia.)


            As our Alaska Air flight descended towards the tiny specks of land in the Pacific Ocean, we finished our welcoming Mai Tai’s that were served by the airline.  The fruity drinks with a touch of rum were a refreshing end to our six-hour flight from San Diego.  The Boeing 737-800 flew in over the Hawaiian island of Maui and touched down at the Kahului Airport.  After departing the plane we had a surprise “Lei Greeting” in the lobby as we were adorned with necklaces of local flowers and directed to where we could pick up our rental car.   
            I drove our Chevy Cruze south for almost an hour to Ka’anapali Bay where we checked into the Sheraton Maui Resort Hotel.  Our corner room on the fifth floor had not one, but two balconies overlooking the beautiful bay.  After settling into our room and lolling around on the larger balcony, we looked around the hotel complex for a while before taking the beach walk south along the bay.  As we were walking along, we noticed people on the beach pointing out various waterspouts out in the bay as whales swum by.  (This would be a harbinger of what was to come the following day on our whale-watching cruise.)
            We did some shopping in a little mall stuck in between the numerous resort hotels along the beach.  We still needed to get gifts for some little ones awaiting us Down Under.  I also purchased a Hawaiian shirt so I could look more like a guy from Wisconsin trying to look like a guy from Hawaii.  We stopped at the Hula Grill for an early supper on the patio overlooking the beach.  I had a great Mai Tai, this one spiked up some with a healthy dose of dark rum, to go with our great fish and chips, that was quite similar to a good Friday Night Fish Fry that we might have back in the Badger State.
            We walked back along the bay to our hotel and had a drink at the Tiki Bar next to the hotel pools. As we watched a beautiful sunset across the bay, the Black Rock Ceremony began.  The Black Rock is a prominent projection of a black lava cliff that reaches out into the Ka’anapali Bay.  Each evening the story is told of how the first people to inhabit Maui considered the Black Rock to be sacred, since it protected the bay from the roils of the Pacific Ocean beyond.  So, each evening, a series of torches are lit along a trail that runs along the top of the rock formation.  When the torch lighter gets to the end of the rock where he lights the last torch, he offers thanks to the Gods of Hawaii for the bounty of the land and then dives seventy-five feet down into the bay below.  It is quite a good story and an even better show that was a great way to finish our first day on Maui.
            Our whale watch cruise was the highlight of our second day on Maui.  That morning, we saw a couple of spouts from humpbacks cavorting in the bay from our balcony.  After breakfast we went down to the beach to board our Teralani Cruises catamaran for our whale watching experience.  When we met the Teralani personnel on the beach, they had us take off our shoes and socks because we would board the catamaran in the surf.  It would be a barefoot cruise for the two-dozen people aboard the boat.  Once we got everyone on board (we had no trouble, but a couple of people were swamped with a sudden wave as they boarded and had plenty of drying off to do on the sunny day.) we moved out into Ka’Anapali Bay to view the great sea-going mammals.  There were whales everywhere!  As we learned later, the El Nino occupying the Pacific this winter had caused the warmest waters to be centered on the Hawaiian Islands and all of the humpbacks were attracted to it.
            We saw whales breaching on both sides of the boat, cow and calf combinations swimming along side and interested whales following along on our trip.  At one point we had to move our catamaran over near another whale watching raft that could not get rid of an attentive bull.  With the whale so close, they could not start their engines to return to shore.  So our catamaran came to the rescue and attracted the whale over towards us so the other boat could leave.  The whale was intrigued by our shouts and whistles and swam around our boat for a quarter of an hour before swimming off. 
            Despite there being near-record numbers of humpbacks in Maui, the tour boat operators can identify the individual whales by the distinctive white markings on their fins and tails.  Those white marks glow an eerie fluorescent green or blue in the water and provide quite a site for a couple of Kickapoogians.  With so many whales to see (I’m guessing that we probably saw more than a hundred humpbacks while we were out on the tour.) we were nearly an hour late in getting back to the beach to disembark. Amazingly, the only negative aspect of the tour was getting my feet sunburned that morning!
            After lunch, Carolyn went shopping and ran into Jeff Bridges in the hotel gift shop.  He was going to be putting on a couple of shows at the hotel on the day we left and was looking for some Hawaiian-looking clothes and a hat to wear.  “The Dude” had breakfast a few tables over from where we ate on the lanai the next morning.  (It was probably best that we left Maui when we did because you can’t have two “Dudes” in that close of proximity.)
            That evening we celebrated a luau on the grounds of the hotel.  We sat with a family from Missouri and enjoyed the Hawaiian music and dancing.  (With sufficient fortifications from a few Mai Tai’s, I was even able to hula a bit.)  Roast pig is a part of the tradition of the luau and they cook the porker underground using rocks heated in a fire.  We went over to the fire pit as they dug the pig out and watched the chef carve it up for dinner.  Poi, from the taro root, is also a tradition at luaus and we had the lavender colored poi sauce over our lavender colored baked potatoes.  (The bread was also a lavender color, so I suppose that was made from taro as well.)  We topped the meal off with a heavenly almond flavored rice pudding for dessert.
            “The ‘Road To Hana’ must not be missed”.  So said basketball analyst Bill Walton during one of the games at last November’s Maui Invitational basketball tournament broadcast.  (By the way, when we were in San Diego, we drove by Bill Walton’s house.  It is a very distinctive place overlooking one of the deep canyons of that area.  But what makes it a particular standout in the neighborhood is a large permanent teepee in the front yard.  Bill apparently uses the teepee for spiritual and other recreational activities.  BTW-2, the Wisconsin Badgers will play in this year’s Maui Invitational – perhaps something for a couple of Kickapoogians to attend?)
            So, taking the advice of my favorite buckets guru, we checked out the highway on our third day in Maui.  We had picked up some information on the trip from our hotel concierge, who had advised us to start early and drive carefully as the road was very winding.  Now, having grown up in the Kickapoo Valley, I am used to driving on winding roads.  Old Hwy 131, which used to follow the winding river through the Kickapoo valley was just about as curvy and winding a road as could be found and I cut my teeth driving on that road back in the day.
            In my opinion, the “Road To Hana” might also be named the “Road To Hell”!  The brochures about the road boast of the thousands of sharp turns (most of them of the hairpin variety and up or down steep grades) and over sixty one-lane stone bridges along the forty-plus mile route.  Besides those, there are numerous other places on the highway (and I use the term highway loosely here as some of the route might better be named PATH!) where the road narrows to one-lane stretches that demand numerous pullovers to let oncoming traffic pass.  It is intense driving – you cannot take your eyes off the road for a second!  There are mile after mile of luscious scenery along the highway, but this driver did NOT see much of it.  To make matters worse, it was raining for most of the trip towards Hana.  We stopped at Twin Falls, but could only view the smaller falls as the road to the bigger one had been washed out by torrential floods earlier.  After driving for over two hours, we pulled in at the food stands at Nahiku. We bought some coconut chips from Jungle Johnny and had lattes and brownies for some late morning sustenance.  After checking the maps, we found we were still over ten miles from Hana and I was virtually driven out!  We turned around to return to Pa’ai, where the road had begun.
            The sun came out, it warmed up and the driving was somehow easier and much more enjoyable for me.  We stopped at a couple of overlooks along the way at Ke’anae and Kailua – spots with spectacular views of the rugged and wild coastline.  When we arrived in Pa-ai, we had some of our Maui Chips (recommended) while watching the surfers at the local beach.  We saw a few whales out in the deeper water there – as I said before – the humpbacks were everywhere in the waters around the islands of Hawaii.
            Later we learned from some friends who had been to Maui, that the best way to see the “Road To Hana” is aboard a tour minibus or van.  (That would have been nice to know beforehand!)  Live & Learn.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Travels With Brad & Carolyn

In January, we went on a three-week holiday to San Diego, Hawaii, and Australia.  I will be posting some articles that I wrote about our trip on this blog.

We are flying First Class aboard a Delta MD-90 bound for San Diego.  I sit in my seat by the window, sipping from my glass of wine.  On this nearly cloudless day, the view at 33,000 feet is panoramic as I watch America’s Great Plains give way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  Our flight slides down around Denver then starts a long descent near Las Vegas.
            This is where the friendly skies get interesting.  Before I would see an occasional plane off in the distance, a silver flick on the far off horizon.  Now, as we enter one of the busiest airspaces on the west coast, all that changes.  I see other airplanes everywhere.  Some are dropping down into a landing in Las Vegas or one of Nevada’s other gambling destinations.  Some are on their way east, heading back into the snow and cold of the Midwest.
            At one point, I notice that I can see three other airplanes from my window.  Then, WHOOSH, a bright blue Southwest Air jet flies past just below us.  I am amazed as the plane jets past us, flying in the opposite direction.  Its speed as it races by is startling. But soon I notice other airliners flying past us in various directions.  This air corridor into San Diego is a busy one on this Thursday morning.
            After crossing the southern California desert region, we start to descend into the coastal mountains that frame San Diego. As we descend, the mountains rise up and seem larger than they probably are.  Our plane keeps getting closer and closer to the coastal range and one could imagine a probable landing site at that altitude.  But after flying over Balboa Park, we descend towards the coast where the San Diego Airport is located.  Down between the hillside neighborhoods of the city we fly and descend to the shoreline of the bay where the landing strip awaits.
            A short cab ride takes us back up into Mission Hills, a place we flew above an hour earlier.  Our lodgings are in a guesthouse on Ingalls Street, the building is a converted carriage house from an earlier time.  We are staying in North Mission Hills – a gentrified neighborhood in progress – an old part of the city of San Diego.  That night we dine at the Harley Gray Kitchen & Bar on West Washington Street, a few blocks from where we live.  We eat coconut shrimp, mussels in the shell, lobster tails, sea bass and fish tacos.  All of the seafood is delicious and fresh; we are not in the Midwest anymore.  Later, we are driven back to our guesthouse lodgings in a Mercedes Electric car.  We are definitely not in the Kickapoo Valley anymore.
            We are visiting our niece, Caron, her husband David and their nearly four-month-old baby girl, Chloe.  They live a few blocks from where we are staying and the next morning we walk over to their place.  We stop at the Meshuggah Shack for lattes on the way.  The place has great coffees and there is nearly always a line of people waiting to get their morning Joe.
            While in San Diego, the high temperatures are in the 60’s and 70’s depending on how much sun shines.  It is cool at night and one needs a jacket or sweater if you are out and about.  There is light rain on a few of our days there, which is typical for the winter season.
            On another day, we go down to the bay and walk the baby in her pram along the walkway above the seawall.  We stop at an old lighthouse site that has been converted into a restaurant and have drinks and calamari on the deck as we watch all the boats go by.  San Diego is a busy harbor at most times and currently houses three US Navy aircraft carriers that are in port for repair and maintenance.  On just one of those carriers in port, there are 9,000 sailors working on board.  Having that many of the great naval carriers in port at once is not common and security is high as seen by the boats and helicopters constantly on patrol. 
            The tides of the Pacific Ocean are very high as we drive up to the La Jolla area and visit several beaches.  Near record surf with waves fifteen feet high has all of the surfers out.  At the Scripps Reserve Wind & Sea Beach area, Para-gliders fly overhead as we walk down to Black Beach.  The popular beach is packed with surfers of all sizes and shapes, using surfboards, paddleboards and other devices to frolic in the roiling waters.   David, who used to live in the Mission Bay area and was an avid body surfer, gives a little narrative of his old neighborhood as we drive south along the coast.
               One of our favorite spots while staying in Mission Hills was the Farmers Botteca.  It is a restaurant that serves organic foods and follows the farm-to-table format that is a growing national trend.  The food is excellent each time we stop at the Farmers Botteca; the place would remind you of the Driftless Café in our own neck of the woods.  The restaurant also has a bar that features several local craft beers on tap.
            The craft beer phenomenon is huge in San Diego; there are 150 craft breweries in San Diego County currently.  On one of our excursions David takes us to the Stone Brewery Company, the largest craft brewer in San Diego.  The Stone Brewery operation is located in several former naval barracks along the bay and the day that we visited the brewery, the huge bar, several restaurants and the beer garden were packed with people.  We had brought along three growlers for filling as the brewery always has eight brews ready for takeaway.  (I can attest that several of the Stone Brewery lagers and pilsners are very worthy creations.)  At the bar, the brewery offers not only their own brews, but also an amazing array of craft beers from all over the West Coast.  I think I lost count when I reached 120 taps of craft beers on hand!
            While we were in San Diego, the city sports scene was alive with NFL relocation news.  The San Diego Chargers, the current NFL team, may move to Los Angeles in the near future.  Or the Oakland Raiders may move to San Diego soon, possibly for next season.  Or the Chargers may stay in San Diego if the city and county will pony up lots of money for a new stadium.  All of the NFL speculation was really a circus at that time in the city.  This is all very amusing for a Packer fan used to the stability of their franchise in Green Bay.
            Speaking of the Packers, we all dressed up in our best Packer green & gold gear for the playoff game that Green Bay played with Arizona.  Despite the heartbreaking loss in that game, the photo that Caron posted on Face Book of Chloe, Carolyn and me in our Packer colors was “trending” and by the next day more than 125 people had “liked” it.
            After five days of fun in San Diego, we had to say goodbye to Caron, David and sweet Chloe as we were bound for Maui. Caron gave us an early morning ride down to the airport, where we said our goodbyes and squeezed off our farewell hugs.  Our Alaska Air flight left early from the airport and the Boeing 737-800 rose up over the city and away from the coast to start the six-hour flight towards the Hawaiian Islands.
            But that will be the next segment in this story of the trials and tribulations of our travel.  Until then, aloha!