Thursday, January 30, 2014

Road Trip Map

A fun way to keep track of your travels is to highlight a physical road map. It adds an extra dimension beyond push-pins in "cities visited." Some countries have vast open spaces, and you saw a lot of terrain between those cities. I keep an updated USA and Canadian atlas, with a lot more detail than this example, and I have updated maps for several other countries. I just wish there was an electronic version available on the Internet. If there is - point me to it! But there is something to be said for an honest-to-goodness folded map with worn edges. It's an emotional connection my GPS can never replace.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Watching the Super Bowl at Disney is the New American Dream

The Super Bowl is being held in a cold weather city for the first time this year, but I chose to travel to its more traditional setting, Florida. Phil Simms had to win a Super Bowl to go to Disney World; I just had to have kids.

Home ownership and a better future for our children was the American Dream until risky credit and the pursuit of  "stuff for me, right now" put middle-America in a toy-filled house that can't be paid off in a statistically realistic lifespan. Now the dream is a family pilgrimage to the "happiest place in Earth," where debts are less likely to be forgiven, but you will learn to appreciate the yoke of your mortgage for the week you're a captive of Orlando theme park prices. Then, like all dreams, you wake up and face the bills.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Comments Activation

I've activated comments for most major blog posts now. Don't forget, for general feedback, please visit my dedicated Comments page. I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Carnival on the Caribbean - Mounting Casualties on the Barrier Reef

Who would think a cruise ship excursion could be a full contact sport? Our port of call today was Roatán, Honduras, largest of the Bay Islands at the southern end of the 1000-kilometer-long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The Liberty was late in clearing customs as it waited for a sister Carnival liner to dock in Mahogany Bay. Stacey and I waited patiently in line at the embarkation deck for clearance to exit. That's evidently a mistake on a cruise ship, because when the path to the gangplank opened, a crushing mass of opportunistic humanity surged in front from the sides of the line. I can't call them vultures, because those scavengers politely wait their turn at the kill. My family would never survive in the event of martial law.

After disembarking, visitors who booked shore excursions were herded into another of those generic tropical malls. I noticed the stores and even at least one restaurant were exactly the same as those in Belize City. The duty free shop has been the same in all three ports, with the unimaginative moniker "Dufry." I half expected to see the same staff. We navigated through this promenade of uniformity to the excursion staging area.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pictures of the moment - January 23, 2014

It was -32º C (-25.6º F) on our dawn arrival in western Labrador that day (December 2, 2013), not too bad considering how low the temperature can get near the Quebec border. Still, it would have been a good day to remember a hat. The temperatures faced by much of the North American population this week are standard fare for several months in only slightly more northern climes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Clear and Cold on the Iron Range

Cold is relative in the North Country. When the thermometer plunged a couple weeks ago, the record low temperatures were a major news story along the eastern seaboard of North America. The phenomenon was described as a "polar vortex." In Minnesota this kind of weather is called a "normal January." A friend once told me this is the price of five months of paradise. And black flies.

Temperature in farenheit (same as -31C) on Tuesday morning, January 21st.

Iron Rangers aren't especially tougher, just a different kind of acclimated. When I lived here more than one person told me they couldn't wait for the unbearable 80 degree days to relent...and for ice fishing. But there is justifiable pride in their own brand of hardiness, casual indifference to the Minneapolis climate--the "banana belt"--and respect for anywhere currently colder than home. In time, my new blood began to thicken too, and before long the winter jacket would open up like maple sap in March. The kids didn't know any different. Shortly after we moved to Ohio, a teacher chastised my son for not wearing his coat on a below-freezing winter day. "Why?" he replied. "It's not cold."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Carnival on the Caribbean - Belize City, Bannister Caye and the Barrier Reef

We moored this morning, a 10-minute tender ride off of Belize City. Today's main agenda was snorkeling on the barrier reef that runs the length of Belize, the second longest reef in the world, which has been on my wish list of destinations for a very long time.

We were picked up by a catamaran boatside. Everyone was issued the standard fins, snorkel and goggles. I was pleased to see the equipment was in good condition and very clean, which is not always the case for some operators. We were also issued a mandatory inflatable vest, though experienced snorkelers could deflate it upon entering the water. We tested equipment on the way to the reef while some couples writhed to Bob Marley, whose music is stuck in a loop track at a single station that broadcasts throughout the Caribbean.

Broadway in Northern Minnesota

The Hibbing High School auditorium is Broadway in northern Minnesota. I lived on the Iron Range for several years, and there have been many times I've looked back and wished my boys had gone on to Hibbing High School. I still make a point to drive past it during every business trip. Besides being a throwback to the days of industrialist philanthropy, Hibbing boasts one of the consistently best academic public schools in the nation. The edifice itself is a tribute to the gilded age, if built a few years later in 1923. The same construction today (2014) would cost at least $55 million to build, and some of the artisinal skills are probably lost forever. But it's no surprise in this proud town of superlatives -- one of the largest open pit mines in the world and the home town of Bob Dylan -- where Paul Bunyan still echoes. We attended a few of the school's productions in the auditorium, and the setting could have been Broadway. No trip to northern Minnesota is complete without a walk through these halls.

Thanks to my friend David Oberstar for sharing this link on Facebook.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - January 16, 2014

I'll post the occasional picture memory for some color, when I have the inclination.

An evaporating lakebed during the Western Australia Spring, taken from a Robinson R-44 Helicopter on September 3, 2009, somewhere between Mt. Richardson and the Windarling mining camp. In another week or two it would dry up for summer unless a chance tropical cyclone passed through.

Mulla mulla (genus Ptilotus) of some sort amongst potential iron ore. Mount Richardson, Western Australia. September 3, 2009.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Weekly Snack Run

Monastery Bakery & Delicatessen

Every place I live -- and there have been many across this continent and beyond --  we always seem to establish that one weekly ritual stop for a taste of the good life. When I was growing up on Long Island, it was Family Deli in Bohemia. There always seemed to be a good reason to stop there after church. These days in the Toronto area, our go to destination is the Monastery Bakery in Oakville, Ontario.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Carnival on the Caribbean - Mayan Riviera

I counted back all my trips to Mexico and realized this is my tenth visit to the country between work and play. I recall the tour guide at Teotihuacan during my first trip back in 1985 saying "Once you've visited Mexico, it's in your heart, and you'll always return". He missed his calling in fortune telling.

Though we landed at the port of Cozumel, our excursion today was on the mainland near Playa del Carmen. The "Amazing Secret River" is a limestone cave system with an underground freshwater river located in Río Secreto Natural Reserve. This day trip didn't even exist the first time we visited the Yucatan, as the cave network wasn't discovered until 2006. That's incredible considering a few million tourists visit the area every year, and caves aren't exactly rare in limestone terrain. But once you've seen the thick, scrubby jungle of Quintana Roo State, it's easy to understand why. A stroll in the woods is neither easy nor pleasant. Tourists generally don't stray far from the beach either.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Around the World in 1000 Pictures

Around the World in 1000 Pictures, 1954, Runyon and Bergane eds.

In 1954 there were still some unexplored corners of the world, and even adjacent states or provinces must have seemed far flung to most Americans, only to be experienced through newsreels and books. Around the World in 1000 Pictures was probably the first travel book I ever read-- or at least browsed. There isn't much text. I must have thumbed through it a hundred times as a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s. The brochure format and the descriptions might seem quaint by today's standards ("Monaco is 370 Acres of Gaiety"), but its musty pages still evoke a sense of wondrous adventure in ordinary life scenes of even outwardly familiar Canada and Mexico. And the rest of the then accessible Cold War world appears wrapped in mystery and exoticism that speaks to how new routes to the outside world were at that time. I marvel at how much the globe has shrunk since. This book gave me endless hours of youthful longing for faraway lands. I'm not sure who I inherited my hard-cover copy from, but the e-book can be checked out at the Open Library, and I've seen it on Amazon and EBay.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Carnival on the Caribbean - At Sea

Today is our first full day at sea on the Carnival Liberty. We're currently rounding the western end of Cuba, which is about as close as most Americans ever get to a good cigar. The distance almost looks swimmable, but I see no other boats.

Titanic, How you don't want your cruise vacation to end.

This is our first cruise vacation in over 15 years. Time has dulled my perspective on the things I dislike relative to a beach holiday or road trip. Most notably, it is hard to escape the noise of the "carnival" occurring on top of the boat or the crowds of people. After a while I lose interest in the same quarter mile loop that strategically leads through the smoky casino. More subtly, travel is about experiencing something new, and cruise ships are strictly designed to provide comfortable familiarity for a largely American customer base, just in excess. The biggest risk of travelling by cruise ship for someone who wants to expand their world view is in not actually travelling anywhere.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Upcoming - Carnival on the Caribbean

I woke up this morning to -6°F (-21°C) in southern Ontario. It's that time of year when many people in the northern hemisphere begin to crave a little sunlight and warmth. Starting tomorrow evening (January 4th, EST), I'll post the first of a five part weekly series on our 2013 cruise through the western Caribbean. We "visited" the Mayan Riviera, Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, and Grand Cayman on the beleaguered Carnival cruise line.
"There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth." - Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Carnival Liberty. April 23, 2013 off Belize City.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Ultimate Travel Book?

Travel stimulates the senses, and there is no more visceral sensory experience than the combination of taste and smell. Grilling over an open fire is the standard cooking style across much of the globe. Steven Raichlen's aptly named The Barbecue Bible brings that authentic experience to your home. I know of no other book that so comprehensively captures the varied and distinctive flavors of the world.

I've made dozens of recipes from this book (a series of books really), and I've never been disappointed. Until I discovered The Barbecue Bible I left the grilling to my wife. She thought I was missing a gene. Thanks to this series, the grill is now my domain exclusively. The stories behind most recipes make for good reading on their own merits.

Is there another type of travel writing that can bring home the cultural experience of exotic places more than a good cookbook?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Business and Pleasure Travel From a Common Man's Perspective

The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions and starting anew. This blog is born of a challenge from my wife - stop saying you'd like to try writing someday and write now. Someday will never come. I can only honestly write about my own experience, and – as a professional with a +2500 hour/year, high-travel job and family – what I know about is airport delays, expense reports, week-long getaways with my wife, and road trips with warring children. And, as an exploration and mining geologist, work periodically takes me to some less-travelled backwaters. I also know about moving house...a lot.