Sunday, September 27, 2015

GETTYSBURG - Just off the Road

On my recent visit to Pennsylvania, I visited my favorite place in the state - Gettysburg National Military Park.  Each time I visit, I find myself moved in ways that surprise me.  The National Park Service is doing an amazing job of maintaining this hallowed place in the condition that existed at the time of the battle.  There's a diorama created in 1884 that represents Pickett's Charge and high water mark of the confederacy.

 There are many monuments commemorating those who fought.  Each state that participated has erected a memorial with the most impressive being this one for Pennsylvania.

The most moving site for me is the Devil's Den, where Federal and Confederate troops attempted to take the ground between Little and Big Round Tops.  The pictures taken after the battle include bodies strewn among the rocks. 

In my family archives is a letter written by one of my ancestors who took part in various Civil War battles.  But there's more than that connection for me when I visit Gettysburg.  As I stand where Abraham Lincoln once stood and read the words of his address, I realize that the phrase "freedom is not free" is truth personified here on this hallowed ground.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SLOWING DOWN - Just off the Road

I was born and grew up in rural Pennsylvania with a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.  Recently I visited my brother and his family who still live in the same area.  Now don't get me wrong, we were not Amish and did not get around by horse-drawn carriages, but on my visit, I was somehow comforted to see that, in this day of technology threatening to take over, some people still find that horses go just fast enough.

As I sat and watched this one-horse mode travel down the road, my mind took me back to simpler times, when hurrying from pillar to post wasn't as important as smelling the roses.  As I age I've slowed down from my younger pace, but there are still moments when I feel rushed, stressed, pressed for time.

I've made a vow that, when those times crowd in on me, I'll take a moment and picture myself moving down the road, enjoying the clop-clop of horse's hooves, smelling the roses along the way.

RURAL LIFE- Just off the Road

 Rural Central Pennsylvania is different!  On my recent visit to my brother's house, I woke one morning to the sound of turkeys.  Bob and Brenda don't own any turkeys so I was confused until he told me that his neighbor owns turkeys.

These are free-range turkeys in the truest sense of the word, in that they range the neighborhood, searching for the random bird seed dropped from Brenda's feeders.  How they discovered this treasure from across the road and down a way is beyond me. 

 Bob and Brenda rescued a duck from a grandchild who really loved it as a duckling, but not so much when it started doing grown-up duck things.  They installed it, strangely named Duck Brown, in the pen with their goat (told you it was rural) and the two have become fast friends.

Goaty-Goat is one-of-a-kind.  He loves the duck, but hates Brenda and will come after her should she dare to enter his terrain.  Another of Brenda's loves is cats, and she's succumbed to the need to care for all the feral cats in the neighborhood, feeding around 30 at last count.  I remember when I was small we had lots of "barn cats" as we called them.  We'd occasionally pour them a bowl of milk but their diet consisted of mice, rats, birds, or anything they'd scavenge.  Not good enough for Brenda, she provides two daily meals and even warms milk replacer for the runts of the litters.

Well, I guess if those eyes were gazing beseechingly at me, I might just accidentally drop a bag of cat food in my cart...  Love the country!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

TORTOISES - Just off the Road

     Evan's fascination with turtles has been fulfilled!  He got up close and personal and even he was intrigued with how big they are, and how docile.  Never one to be close enough, he found another way to really get inside their head, as it were...
     Evan is a tall 5'9" and as you can see, he fits pretty nicely into this tortoise shell, though the getting out was worth watching!  They really are huge, and did I say docile? 
     It appears that these two are having a difference of opinion, with the more aggressive one on the right eventually backing down the smaller model on the left.
     This saddle-backed tortoise has adapted to a different diet of Opuntia cactus that grow high above the ground and must be reached by extending one's neck.  I think I'm beginning to get the idea of where Charles Darwin is coming from.

AMAZON BASIN - Just off the Road

     Our trip with REI and our 12 other companions was pretty comfortable in this Mercedes van.  We had the most amazing and knowledgeable guide in the person of Miguel Vera who was a walking wikipedia on Ecuador and all things historical, not to mention flora, fauna, and every other topic.
     Our first destination was the Amazon basin which involved crossing a 13,000 foot pass over the Andes.  We even took a hike near the top with no ill effects for anyone.  The road was much better than we anticipated, and with Miguel to narrate, the trip was actually fun.
    Our lodging was the cutest lodge in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, strangely named Hakuna Matata.  I'd thought from my viewing of "The Lion King" that 'no worries' applied to Africa, but here, in the Amazon, aside from the bugs and the torrential rain, worries seemed far away.
     During a long hike, we came across this version of plumbing which made all of us glad for the indoor facilities of our lodge.  I must admit that we were impressed with the ingenuity of the owners.
     After a 4-hour Class III river rafting excursion, we found ourselves with some time on our hands, and wandered to the small river near the lodge.  The thing about travel is that, rather than checking a place off my list, I usually find myself adding a place to which I must return.  Hakuna Matata definitely qualifies and a further exploration of the Amazon Basin is now on my lengthening bucket list.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

QUITO TRAFFIC - Just off the Road

     As I mentioned before, a few weeks ago we found ourselves wandering around Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and exposing our grandson, his mom, and us to the wonders of traveling in South America.  Though it's hard to see, this family of FOUR found a way to get around on the back of a small motorcycle with no problem whatsoever.
      There are other options, of course.  For those who want variety in their mode, this colorful bus which included musicians in full volume, presented a unique opportunity to get around.
     We didn't see many convertibles in Quito, but as we were leaving the city, we came upon this local version, flying down the road, with it's own version of air conditioning.

     My favorite of all the types of travel we saw didn't actually involve a vehicle, but rather people who stand in the intersection and entertain with waving flags, as these ladies, or sometimes by juggling bottles, balls, or any number of other items - all with the hope of a small donation for the free show.
     Quito is somewhat unique in our travels thus far since it's perfectly clean, people are friendly, and even though our Spanish is somewhat lacking, they are extremely patient and good with hand gestures - the positive kind.

QUITO - Just off the Road

      See that group of tea-drinking people?  Can you believe that we're having tea inside the Basillica of the National Vow in Quito, Ecuador?  How did that happen, you ask?  It all came about as the result of our grandson's early love of tortoises.  Since he was a little guy, Evan had a fascination with turtles and, always eager to please, we began showing him pictures of the Galapagos tortoise and somewhere in there, we promised him a visit to see them for real.  He's 13 now, and last year he sat me down and said, "JoJo, you know I'm not getting any younger."
     Now what's a grandma to do but sit down with Grandpa (otherwise known as "G") and lay out the options which were actually very few  We began researching Galapagos trips and came across a family adventure organized by REI Travel and the rest, as they say, is now history.

     Evan wasn't too eager for the sightseeing in Quito until we climbed our way to the top of the Basillica and he got a look around.  Did I forget to mention that Quito is at 9,000 feet ASL?  It took some huffing and puffing, but we made it on our first full day in the city, and were amazed at the city which is spread all over hills and into valleys to accommodate its 2,000,000 residents.  And we hadn't even got near the Amazon and Galapagos which were our next stops.   Thanks, G!