Author Archives: DebHallSF


December 2022

Many of us in the Northern hemisphere dream of vacationing someplace closer to the equator at this time of year, and I had that opportunity earlier this month. A couple of my friends, Carrie and Donna, invited me to join them for a week in a villa south of Cancun. Carrie’s childhood friend, Bo, flew in from Maryland to join us. It was a pleasure to spend a week in shorts and flip-flops, a welcome break from home renovations. Donna, Bo, and I watched the sunrise almost every morning. I spent hours lounging on the beach, watching waves, reading, and playing in the warm Caribbean water. I also took a tour to Mayan sites and enjoyed time in Puerto Morales, the nearest town.  

Saturday, 11 December – Travel  

I got up at 5:15 and my friend Jessica gave me a ride to catch the 6:20 Airporter. United changed the terminal once and the gate twice, then delayed the flight two hours to bump off 18 passengers, starting with the lowest ticket price, due to weather. In my case, I was “lucky” to have paid full price. The take-off was bumpy, but it was sunny above the clouds and I timed my bathroom visit perfectly between seatbelt required stretches. I was one of only a few wearing a mask. Carrie and Bo met me at the Cancun airport. We picked up groceries on our way to the villa, where Donna was waiting. We had a late dinner with roast chicken.  

Sunday, 12 December – Playa del Secreto (Secret Beach) 

Still on west coast time, I slept through sunrise, but got up in time to take a beach walk before fixing eggs for breakfast. I spent much of the day in a lounge chair on the beach. I finished the book I started on the plane, took a short nap, and tried boogie boarding. We ate leftover chicken for dinner.  

Monday, 13 December – Puerto Morales 

I watched the sunrise with Donna and Bo then lounged on the beach, read, and fixed what became my standard lunch, a mini-quesadilla: two corn tortillas with cheese and leftovers. Carrie woke with a cold and tested negative for Covid. I kept my mask on and car window open while she drove us to Puerto Morales, 15 minutes away. Donna took Bo and me to her favorite shops and we bought a few small souvenirs. I got a t-shirt for Nick and a couple cute beaded birds for friends. Donna is still missing the pre-hurricane plaza, but her favorite bar, My Paradise, is still standing. We lingered there, on the white sand beach, sipping cocktails for several hours. Their mojitos are good. Carrie picked us up, we unsuccessfully hunted for covid tests, picked up more groceries, and headed back to the villa. I had time for a cold shower before Chef Beto come over and cooked us a nice fish dinner.  

Tuesday, 14 December – a long Chichen Itza Tour 

From door-to-door, my tour of Chichen Itza and other sites in the state of Yucatan took 15 hours. I wouldn’t have signed up if I knew that in advance, but I’m glad I went. Alberto, the villa’s caretaker, drove me to a nearby resort where we waited a half hour for the tour van. I was the first passenger and until an English-speaking Mayan guide, Philip Ernesto, got onboard, I wasn’t even sure I was on the right tour. I could have skipped our first stop, Cenote Suytun, a small cave with a pool of water inside. At our next stop, a touristy Mayan village, we enjoyed a buffet lunch, watched dancers, and had the “opportunity” to purchase obsidian carvings and other souvenirs. (I added a small elephant to my collection).

When we finally reached out main destination, Chichen Itza, we were given a short tour, mostly focused on a game involving rings and possible sacrifice, then were left to tour the site on our own, surrounded by the sounds of roaring jaguars and birds, thanks to the hawking of noise-making souvenirs. I bought a t-shirt for Alex. It was late afternoon when we reached Cenote Ik kil. Cenotes are sinkholes containing water. The Yucatan peninsula is essentially a huge limestone slab riddled with thousands of caves and cenotes. I walked down more than a hundred uneven, wet, stone steps to take a refreshing dip in this pool.  Our last stop was in the town of Valladolid, where we barely had time to see a church and cross the street to a plaza where noisy birds were flying and birdman dancing. The sun was setting when we departed and it was bedtime when I got dropped off. 

Wednesday, 15 December – Playa del Secreto 

The sunrise was pale but pretty and the wind strong but warm. Donna, Carrie and I spent much of the day in beach chairs while Bo stayed inside with the AC. I swapped my paperback for another from a bookshelf in the villa. Carrie and I played in the water with boogie boards, occasionally catching a short ride. When Donna asked what I liked best about this spot, I told her it was the gestalt: the light, color, sound of waves, light breezes, warm shade, a few puffy clouds. I also took a call from one of the contractors working on my house; it’s always a risk to have work done in my absence and in this case something had to be redone when I returned. I fixed dinner, which we shared with a very hungry calico cat.  

Thursday, December 16 – Puerto Morales 

I filled a large trash bag during my post-sunrise beach walk; the wind brought more garbage ashore: mismatched shoes, toothbrushes, and other random plastic items, including lot of bottle caps. There was time for lounging, a quesadilla lunch, and short nap before Carrie drove us to Puerto Morales. I went out on a boat to snorkel for a couple hours. My camera battery died shortly after I stepped overboard, and the coral was not healthy, but I loved being in the water. Afterwards, I met Donna and Bo at My Paradise for cocktails. Carrie joined us for dinner, at an interesting seafood restaurant, and then we strolled around enjoying the Christmas lights.  

Friday, 16 December – Farewell to the Beach 

The wind was gone when we got up to watch a cloudy sunrise. One last time, I strolled and lounged on the beach, reading and enjoying the setting. When Carrie got up, we went kayaking, which was easy once we dragged our boats past the waves. I fixed another quesadilla lunch, then showered and caught a cab to the airport. Fortunately, I got there in plenty of time and my plane departed on schedule. Donna was not so lucky when she tried to get home a few days later; then the traffic was so bad that she missed her flight and was delayed a whole day.  It was 86oF (30oC) when I left the beach. Fortunately, I had socks and layers handy since I arrived home in the middle a cold spell; it was about 38oF (3.3oC) when I got off the Airporter that night in San Rafael. My housemate, Linda, was waiting to pick me up in a warm car. 


Rafting – Gates of Lodore

August 20-25, 2021

I’m still savoring the memory of the rafting trip I took a couple months ago with seven friends, and friends of friends. It was my first post-covid plane ride and my first multi-day rafting trip. We were all fully vaccinated and I wore an N95 mask in the airport and on the plane. We traveled with 14 others, plus six guides, down the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles Colorado and Utah. We traveled through five canyons, each with its unique red rock formations. It was an awesome trip; I loved almost every minute of it. When I got home, I became consumed with packing and preparing to sell my home of 40 years, hence the delay in this post.


August 20 – Getting There

Beth gave Ginny and me a ride to the airport, and we flew to Salt Lake City where we were picked up by Lynn and Sue who were already there, having spent a couple days visiting friends. The five us crammed into a Jeep Cherokee; our gear barely fit and it was crowded in the back seat. It took about three hours to reach the Microtel Inn in Naples, right next to Vernal in the northeast quadrant of Utah. There we connected with our East Bay contingency: Amy, Brenda, Sheila, and Glenne. They took two days to drive out in Glenne’s spacious van. We collected dry bags from our guide, Miles, then headed out to dinner. The only place in town with outside dining was booked, so we got take-out food and ate in a park, Mexican food for some of us, pizza for the rest. We also made a stop at a liquor store after learning that there would be an ice chest for our use on the river. 

Aug 21 (Day 1) – Canyon of Lodore

When we went to bed, Beth was worried because her pet sitter had not been able to get Bella, one of her cats inside. By morning, Bella was still missing, so Beth cancelled her trip and found a ride back to the Salt Lake airport. The rest of us boarded a van and road about two and a half hours to the put in, above the Gates of Lodore. They put the eight of us onto two rafts; I road with Sheila, Amy, and Brenda. It was uncomfortable sitting four abreast in a raft filled with gear. 

The Green River was brown and cooler than anticipated, but I was comfortable in my lightweight sunblock attire. We floated through several Class II rapids, Whinny, Unnamed, Upper and Lower Disaster Falls, named by Powell when one of his long wooden boat crashed at this spot in 1869. I got splashed and was ready for more. Along the way we stopped for lunch – Caesar salad warp with hummus. “Special” meals served first (gluten and nightshade-free for me, vegetarian for Ginny and a couple others). We reached Pot Camp around 4:00 and set up tents – mine was the tallest and hard to put up, especially with no stakes. Miles gave us an intro to the “groovers”, the portable toilets we used in camp, named for an earlier version the left grooves in rearends. 

We took a walk up to a ridge with a view of the river, then had our own happy hour circle. Lynn and I had vodka tonics. Ginny, Sue, and I all sketched a bit while enjoying avocado toast with mango salsa. Dinner finally ready around 8:00 – yummy salmon, my favorite meal of the trip. I was one of first to bed. There was a storm during the night with waves of rain, wind, thunder, and lightening. The crickets quieted before each rainfall, then returneds in full force afterwards. Some people had leaks, but my floppy tent kept me dry.

Aug 22 (Day 2) 

We came on this trip expecting to actually be paddling, but instead the rafts were all equipped with large oars that enabled them to be controlled by one guide. (I’ve since learned that there are paddle, oar, and hybrid trips, so confirm ahead of time which type you are getting). When we complained to Miles that we were too crowed on the first day, and expressed an interest in paddling, he moved all the gear out of his raft, gave us paddles, and let all eight of us ride in his boat. We didn’t paddle all that much but is was much more fun. I rode up front with Amy and got splashed regularly. I tried to take a video during our biggest rapid, officially a class IV, but more like 3.5. The video didn’t work, so you won’t get to hear Amy’s screams. 

We had another­­ late lunch at 1:30. I skipped the bread and rolled up pieces of deli meat and cheese. After lunch, we took a hike to Rippling Brook, where many took turns standing under a trickling tall waterfall. After another hour or so on the river, we reached Limestone Camp around 4:00 pm, set up tents, then went on another hike. It was quite steep with loose gravel, so I turned back about half way up. 

Glenne was not feeling well; she slept through happy hour and missed the best appetizer: caprese on tasty gluten-free crackers; I skipped the tomatoes. I enjoyed watching the light changing on the cliffs and did another sketch. We carried our chairs back and rejoined the main group for dinner (pasta w/chicken, salad, strawberries for dessert). I asked Miles if we could go around the circle and hear everyone’s name, so he promptly asked me to start. It was interesting to learn a bit about everyone, from experienced rafters to newbies. It’s a good thing we were on an adults only trip because one camper told some pretty risqué stories. 

Aug 23 (Day 3) 

I was one of the first up as usual, around 5:45 a.m. We road in the paddle boat again and had an awesome day, exiting Lodore Canyon, passing through appropriately named Echo Canyon, into Whirlpool Canyon. There were jaw dropping red stone vistas at every bend. Clouds threatened rain a few times, but the drops only fell at our lunch stop when we sheltered under an overhang on a tall cliff. Amy and I took a turn in one of the duckies, rubber kayaks that flex and bend over rapids. We floated past bighorn sheep and eagles. 

Our hike of the day, after reaching Jones Hole camp, took us to two waterfalls and pictograms. A few people had fun sitting in the stream and blocking the flow to Elk Creek Falls, then releasing it in a burst onto whoever stood below. Once again, we formed our own happy hour circle near our tents. Another camper stopped by to let us know we could use their solar shower; Amy and I both jumped at the chance. It felt great; I’ll have to bring one on my next rafting trip. We finished just in time for dinner, undercooked steak (I took mine back for extra grilling). I enjoyed a bit of after dinner chat, took a final trip to the groover, and retired to my tent. The moon was close to full and I considered getting out my tripod and heading down to the river, but I was too tired to venture back out. The crickets seemed louder and more hurried than previous nights. I slept through the night, missing the skunks that wandered through camp. 

Aug 24 (Day 4) 

We covered 19 miles today, our longest day on the river. It was gorgeous at every turn. Once again, we road in the paddle boat, occasionally using our paddles. When I asked Miles if the others minded our using this boat again, he assured me they were happy because it gave them more room in the other rafts. The first several miles were quite calm and our guides got a good workout with their oars. Lynn and Sue got tired of paddling in their kayak during this section and hitched a ride on another raft, rejoining us at lunch. After that there were quite a few class II rapids. 

We ate lunch on a tiny beach in direct sun. The surprise receipt of a cold Le Croix was most welcome. We continued down river, getting out near the end of Split Mountain Canyon. From there it was a short van ride to the Dinosaur National Monument. We arrived just in time to catch the last shuttle to Quarry Exhibit Hall where more a thousand dinosaur bones are embedded in the rock wall.  A few more minutes in the van and we were back at the Microtel, and relived to receive notice that Beth’s cat came home shortly after she returned. We took quick showers and went to dinner at Vernal Tavern, the only place in town that serves outdoors. (I made reservations before we got on the river). 

Aug 25 – Getting home

Lynn, Sue, Ginny, and I headed to Salt Lake City for our flight back to SFO, while the other four headed south for a couple days in Moab before beginning their long drive home. With only two in the back seat, it was a more comfortable ride than when we arrived. Not wanting to eat indoors at an airport restaurant, Ginny and I picked up Vietnamese veggie spring rolls; I ate mine in the car. We found a sparsely populated section of the airport to wait in, and were rewarded with wonderful piano music, provided by an airline employee on a layover. We clapped and a woman near us asked “Am I at an airport or a concert hall?”.  Our flight home was uneventful. Since Ginny and I were neighbors, before I moved, we shared a cab ride back to city. 

I’m now beginning to research other rafting trips, since all of us want to go again. When we asked Miles what he would recommend next, he said it was a challenge to come up with one since we started with the best. 

Central Sierra Mountains

July 2021

Sage and I enjoyed five days exploring Calaveras and Alpine counties in the Sierra Nevada, from the foothills to a mountain pass. I traveled with Lynn, Sue, and Monica, plus Laika, Monica’s English Cocker. Dogs and humans got along great. The highlight of most days was swimming, especially at Lake Alpine. The highs ranged from 80o (27oC) to over 100F (38oC), depending on our elevation each day (a welcome escape from this year’s relentlessly foggy summer in San Francisco). Unlike at home, we did not see a single mask. We are all vaccinated, and our activities were outdoors, so I didn’t worry about Covid.

Monday, July 5 – Getting There, Leisurely

I picked up Monica shortly after 9:00, and we introduced Sage and Laika. They are both good travelers and got along fine. We stopped for lunch next to a cute small lake in White Pines Park, in Arnold. There was a logging museum nearby so we took a stroll through rusting equipment afterwards. Less than 150 years ago this was state of the art machinery, sadly used to destroy ancient forests. We stopped at a couple stores looking for swim noodles, but they were sold out everywhere, thanks to recent heat wave. I bought an inflatable ring instead. We drove up to Lake Alpine, took the dogs for a short walk, and scouted locations for the next day. 

We met Lynn and Sue in the late afternoon at our rented A-frame cabin in Camp Connell, a tiny community at 4760’ (1450 meters) in Calaveras County. I fixed dinner – salmon, mashed sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts – which took twice as long to cook as at home. While waiting we enjoyed gin and tonics on the deck. After dinner, we moved indoors to get away from mosquitos and started a jigsaw puzzle. 

Tuesday, July 6 – Big Trees

We are each on our own for breakfast. I ate a piece of leftover salmon with goat cheese on a toasted slice of homemade sourdough, a tasty combo. Afterwards, we headed to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, arriving shortly before 10:00. I took the popular North Grove Loop, while the others, along with the dogs, took a longer loop on fire roads. At 1.7 miles, it’s the longest “hike” I’ve done since I pulled a hamstring a month ago. I went slowly and took lots of pictures of the remaining large sequoias (the biggest were logged more than a century ago).

After a stop at Big Trees grocery store in Arnold, we returned to our cabin for lunch, eating a variety of what Alex in his youth called “rabbit food” and what I might call “nibblies” – crackers, hummus, egg salad, olive, carrot sticks, fruit, etc.  We then packed up our swim gear and headed back to Lake Alpine. Sage rode on the front floor and Laika on Lynn’s lap. 

We went swimming just past the Marmot Day Use Area (more floating than swimming in my colorful ring which attracted fluorescent dragonflies). The water felt chilly at first but it didn’t take me long to get adjusted. Sage was very tempted by sticks but would not go deep enough to get her paws off the bottom.

Our challenge of the day was finding dinner. First, we headed to a restaurant in Arnold whose website and voice mail stated they were open. It was closed due to a plumbing problem or something. We drove by several other restaurants, all closed on Tuesdays. We lowered our sights and headed to a brew pub, only to find out they weren’t serving food that day. We finally settled on the Lube Room Saloon, which was only serving pizza that day, one fixed size, cheese or pepperoni, that’s it. I enjoyed my beer more than the couple small slices I consumed. Still hungry, we headed back to Big Trees, the store not the park, where the deli section was closed. I found a pack of frozen mini pot-stickers which I nuked back at the cabin.  After the kitchen was clean, Lynn, Sue, and I enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021 – A Cave, A Hammock, and Community Train

After breakfast, we headed down mountain to a trailhead leading to a cave along the river (more like a stream during this summer of a drought year); we left the dogs at the cabin. I slowly walked the mile or so each way. A nice woman from Guatemala greeted us with fresh herbs she’d just harvested; she was picnicking with her family on the rocks next to us. I used a trekking pole to carefully enter the water, the wet rocks were extra slippery thanks to bits of green slime. The water was a tad colder than Lake Alpine. We got on rafts and half floated, half paddled through a short cave. What fun! After lunch, I dunked my whole body, clothes and all, except hiking boots, in the water to provide portable air conditioning for the walk back to the car. 

Lynn and Sue were ready for another adventure so they headed off to explore a swimming spot near Boards Crossing Bridge (later reported to be a beautiful spot, but with water moving too rapid to swim much). Monica and I stayed at the cabin. I played fetch with Sage and dozed in a hammock. 

When the swimmers returned, Lynn fixed vodka tonics which we enjoyed with my avocado dip. Lynn and Sue cooked ribs, squash, and mashed cauliflower for dinner. We wrapped up the evening with several rounds of Community Train (a.k.a. Mexican Train, a variation of dominos). 

Thursday, July 8 – Hwy 4 (Ebbetts Pass to Murphys)

We headed up Highway 4, stopping here and there along the way. Our first stop being a fifteen minute wait for road pavers; we had a pleasant chat with the flag holder. Rather than leave his cats and wife behind each week, he drives two hours each way to the job site. Next up was the Bear Valley ski area where Sue worked in her ski enthusiast (a.k.a. ski bum) days. Even without snow, it’s a pretty location. We then winded our way up to Ebbetts Pass (8730’, 2660 meters) where we took a short walk to stretch our legs. On our way back down, we stopped for lunch at the picnic table we spotted on our way up. A few miles east of Lake Alpine, it offered a beautiful wide view of the mountains and puffy white clouds. 

We stopped at the lodge for ice cream, then headed to the Marmot Day Use area on the west shore of Lake Alpine, where we once again relished swimming and floating. Sage enjoyed fetching sticks along the shore, until a mean dog nipped her. Fortunately, she was fine and got to play again later when he departed. I was sitting on a stool, sketching, when I felt an earthquake, followed by a couple aftershocks. The women floating in the water also felt it. We later learned that the epicenter was only 35 miles east of us; it measured 6.0. 

We got back to our cabin later than planned, so I took a super quick shower before we headed down to Murphys, with the biggest selection of restaurants in the area. We enjoyed our meals and sangria at Rob’s Place. It was still in the 90’s when we completed our after-dinner stroll through this cute town and headed up the mountain. Back at the cabin, we finished the jigsaw puzzle we started a couple days back.

Friday, July 9 – Home 

Check-out time was 10:00, we almost made it. (That seems awfully early given that we couldn’t check in until 4:00). We headed in two different directions after cleaning up and packing. Lynn and Sue returned to Lake Alpine for a final swim, while Monica and I went to breakfast at Murphys Hotel. It was 101F (38oC) at 11:00 am; and we worried about the dogs’ paws crossing the asphalt. Fortunately, the shade and misters kept us comfortable. We split a delicious veggie omelet. We were back in the city by 3:00. Fortunately, it was sunny and relatively warm so I didn’t freeze in my sandals and capris. 

San Luis Obispo

For only the second time since shutdown, I traveled out of town, this time for three nights in Pismo Beach. Kate and I both got covid tests ahead of time so we felt comfortable driving down together and sharing a hotel room. I especially liked tide-pooling, outdoor dining, and watching the pelicans. It was foggy every morning and evening, so we saw no sunsets. But we found sun every day a mile of so inland.

Sunday (9/20/20) – Scenic Drive to Pismo Beach

I picked up Kate at 8:00 and we drove about four hours to San Luis Obispo County. We had a picnic lunch in Morro Bay, took a short stroll in Los Osos, then visited Spooner’s Cove in Montaña del Oro State Park. Shortly after we left the beach, I realized that my phone was missing and figured it fell out of my pocket when we sat to put on shoes. We drove back and after a few frantic minutes of searching, I found it partially covered with sand. Whew! 

We checked into our Pismo Beach hotel, wiped down the room with Lysol wipes, and plugged in an air purifier. Our room overlooked a foggy cliff filled with pelicans. We got take out from Mo’s BBQ, the chicken was dry and the corn muffin tasteless. 

Monday (9/21/20) – San Luis Obispo and beaches

We ate a boring take-out breakfast at the hotel, then drove into warm, sunny San Luis Obispo. We explored downtown, took a pleasant walk along SLO Creek, and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Novo – we split lettuce wraps, brussels sprouts, and vanilla bean crème brûlée. Yum.

Back on the coast, I took a short nap on foggy Morro Strand State Beach, sleepy after drinking an Arrogant Bastard Ale at lunch. We then strolled the beach collecting sand dollars and watching the shorebirds. 

It was sunny by the time we reached Avila Beach, in the late afternoon. We got ice creams and took another beach stroll. Then we headed Ada’s Fish House in Pismo Beach for dinner where the parking lot had been converted into a dining room for socially distanced dining. We split another tasty meal – crab cakes, salmon with broccolini, and sweet potatoes fries.

Tuesday (9/22/20) – Montaña de Oro State Park

Seeking tidepools, we parked at Sandpit Beach and walked to Hazard Canyon Reef. In hindsight, we could have found a more direct route, but this way we were able to collect clam shells. The reef has fascinating sedimentary rock formations, spoiled here and there by black spots from an oil spill. We drove further into the park and took a walk along the Bluff Trail just as the sun was finally coming out – beautiful views of the coastline!

We headed back to SLO for a late lunch/early dinner at Novo – BLTA and a mixed salad with salmon. The desserts weren’t as good as the crème brûlée. Back at our hotel, I photographed pelicans while Kate went in search of water dogs (a.k.a. water shoes) to replace the ones left on the roof of the car. (She did not find any and went barefoot for our last beach exploration). 

Wednesday (9/23/20) – Margo Dodd Park

We visited one last beach before heading home. It was more rock outcropping than beach and required a bit of scrambling. I enjoyed the sea caves. The sun came out while we were there, and based on the forecast it might have remained clear all day. But alas, we were headed home. We stopped for a picnic lunch in King City, and afterwards listened to the Spotify playlist I will eventually play at a dance party to celebrate the end of the pandemic (instead of the special birthday party that would have taken place six months ago). 

Tahoe Donner

I got out of town a couple weeks ago for the first time since shutdown, for a short camping trip with Anne, Amy, and Ginny. We took four cars and stayed in four tents. It felt great to get out of the fog and into the warm Sierra near Donner Lake. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

It took just over three hours for me to reach our destination, Alder Creek Campground, so I needed no stops on the way. Anne arrived at about the same time, and the other two were closely behind. We set up our tents in the shade and went for a short hike on a nearby trail. Pine trees, a small meadow, and wildflowers here and there. It was in the 80’s so we were content to spend the rest of the afternoon at our campsite, sketching. Anne and I split take-out Mediterranean food, while Amy and Ginny hydrated a bag of backpacking food. 

Wednesday, July 15

A pump house next to our site made noise all night, otherwise this is a terrific camping spot. After much debate, we settled on a hike at Donner Pass, and headed out in two cars, masks on, windows open. Google neglected to inform us that the final section of Donner Pass Highway was closed, so we started hiking three miles earlier than planned, heading up to through Donner Pass Canyon. We stopped for lunch near where we had planned to start. It was a great hike with a variety of trails, views of Donner Lake, and wildflowers.

We stopped for ice on our way back to camp. I skipped a shower, to minimize my chance of virus exposure, and cleaned up with wet wipes. (Though I was tempted when I saw how refreshed Amy and Anne were when they returned). We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our campsite, drawing pictures, chatting, eating dinner, and playing Pictionary. 

Thursday, July 16

After breakfast and packing, I took a short walk on the nearby trail and then headed home, arriving in time to shower before my afternoon painting class. 

Lighthouse Road Trip

As I shelter in place, I’m slowly catching up on a backlog of photo projects. I hope you are staying healthy, physically and emotionally, and I look forward to reconnecting with many of you in person, someday. 

I took this trip two years ago, in 2018, with Susan and Sage, my then six-month old Border Collie.  Our goal was to see all of the lighthouses between San Francisco and the Oregon border.


4/13/18 – Drive to Arcata

We left town mid-morning, stopped for a short picnic lunch along a river, and when we reached Rockefeller Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, took turns taking short hikes since dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. The quietness was wonderful.  We reached our dog-friendly Airbnb around 6:00 p.m. and snacked in the room – hummus, veggies, chips, and a great bottle of wine – and then soaked in the hot tub.

4/14/18 – A Day in the Sun

After playing fetch with Sage in the large back yard, we headed over to the Trinidad Head Memorial Lighthouse, a replica of the original lighthouse and a memorial for those lost at sea. We stopped at a Farmer Market, strolled at Trinidad Head – lots of seagulls, fishermen, boats, and stinging nettle – took a scenic drive, and ended up at Clam Beach for a light, late lunch. An orchid show in Eureka, a walk in Sequoia Park, and we were reach for a siesta with Sage flat out on her side. (A tired Border Collie is a rare thing). A good salad and heavy pizza for dinner, followed by another hot tub soak. Relaxing.

4/15/18 – Drizzly

We ate breakfast at a cafe in town, then took a two-mill loop in the Acrada Community Forest. The drizzle wasn’t letting up so we headed to the theater and enjoyed a movie, Isle of the Dogs. We ate dinner at the Plaza Grill, great crab cakes and salad, followed by dessert at Arcata Scoop.

4/16/18 – Drive to Crescent City

It was a chilly day, in the 40’s, but the projected rain didn’t materialize so we were happy. We made many stops along the way, and took turns with short hikes in Lady Bird Johnson Grove. We saw elk in Prairie Creek State Park, on way to our next Airbnb across the street from Pebble Beach. The Battery Point Lighthouse was closed, but it was low tide and we were able to walk around it. After a beach walk, we ate dinner in our spacious lodging. I returned to the beach for sunset pictures while Susan watched the Warriors game.

4/17/18 – Trees of Mystery

I woke up with a mild cold. Rande, our Airbnb hostess gave us a tour of her art studio, I was especially inspired by her art quilts. Sage enjoyed a bit of fetch and then we headed out to a hokey tourist attraction I last visited decades ago with my sons, Trees of Mystery. There we strolled through big trees and large wood carvings of animals. Sage was not happy about the tram ride, and we were under impressed with the view at the top. The day was overcast, but we enjoyed a stroll at Crescent Beach, watched more elk, and enjoyed another sunset at Pebble Beach right across from our lodging. I like this place.

 4/18/18 – Drive to Fort Bragg

After packing, I had a pleasant chat with Samuel, our other gracious host while playing fetch with Sage in the puppy park, a parcel of land across the street that they purchased primarily for their dogs to enjoy.

We spent most of the day on the road. I drove to Eureka where we had a picnic lunch on a lawn at the marina, after stopping at the Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata. Susan drove the rest of the way. We spent much of that time listening to “Nickel and Dimed” for our political book club, not our favorite selection. I napped briefly still fighting off the cold that Susan is hoping to avoid.

It was late afternoon when we arrived at our remote Airbnb lodging, a spacious one-bedroom apartment above a garage surrounded by trees. I took Sage, who is an awesome traveller, to play fetch in the large adjacent yard.

We had a very pleasant dinner – fish tacos for dinner on an outside patio at Silver’s at the Wharf, at Noyo Harbor. They had a dog menu, so I ordered a bone for Sage which kept her occupied for the whole meal. We finished just in time to catch the end of sunset in the Noyo Headlands.

4/19/18 – Mendocino

After visiting the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, we admired wildflowers along the Mendocino bluffs and ate a late lunch on the outdoor patio at Mendocino Café, Sage was perfect. We did a bit of shopping, Susan bought a couple items.  We were going to walk along the perimeter of the Mendocino Headlands but turned back shortly after we started due to wind. Instead we visited a couple galleries, and Mendocino Art Center where I’d like to take a class someday (and did so in July 2019).

4/20/18 – Point Arena

We climbed 145 steps to the top of Point Arena Lighthouse, tied with Pigeon Point as the tallest on the west coast – great views! The original was damaged in the 1906 earthquake and rebuild two years later. It looks to me like the point around it is eroding away. We skipped our planned hike on the Stornetta trail, due to incoming fog and wind, and after a late lunch in Elk, headed inland into sunshine. We took a hike in Hendy Woods State Park, on the Big Hendy loop which allowed dogs. I love hiking amongst old growth Redwoods. We started another jigsaw puzzle before sunset.

4/21/18 – Drive Home

After fetch with Sage, we finished our jigsaw puzzle and packed the car. I drove the first half, a beautiful route down coast then Hwy 128 to 101, lined with Redwoods and later lush green on oak trees still standing around the vineyards that are sadly replacing native grasslands and woodlands around California.



Chiang Dao

We spent the last few days of our tour in this small village north of Chiang Mai, resting and getting ready to transition back to our “normal” lives. We got massages, walked to temples, explored caves, and attended closing circles. It was the perfect way to wrap up an amazing journey. 

19 December, 2019 – from elephants to mountains

 We left TECC after lunch and made several stops on the way north. Val found a drum like the one she played with the mahouts, Shar purchased a record number of scarves at the silk store, and we all bought cases for our Yaks. After hearing Katherine’s story about how a Yak protected her home, we all wanted one. While we were walking with elephants, Khack found us some Yak pendants that had been blessed by monks. Our last stop was along the Ping River where we sent wishes on beautiful bouquets downstream, as is done during the Loi Krathong festival which occurred in early November this year.

Running late due to all our stops, we went right to dinner before checking into our rooms at the Nest, perfectly timed for the weekly barbeque buffet. The chicken satay and grilled pineapple were especially yummy. Our lodging is the most luxurious of my trip, little cottages with two bedrooms, separate bathrooms, and a living room. I shared one with Judith-Kate. They are nestled not far from the base of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, one of the highest mountains in Thailand.

20 December – hot springs, temples, and massages

We met a 7:30 and got a ride to the hot springs, a series of round cement pools of varying temperatures. After breakfast, Val and I walked to a nearby temple and admired the Buddhas carved into the limestone hillside. In the afternoon most of us met in a square gazebo to talk about our experiences on this tour. I thanked Jami for adding time to the end of the trip in this relaxing place to process my experience before reentry into the rest of my life. And I’m grateful for all the people we met who are dedicating their lives to saving elephants. Though they have much less than we do in a material sense, they have much more in terms of acceptance. Overall, they seem happier than most Americans and have not lost their ability to experience wonder and joy. They certainly smile more.

I then went for my last massage, the only options being two hours with oil or balm, I chose oil. Val and I both had to get up about three-quarters of the way through to run to the restroom; my bladder was not ready for a tummy massage. This brought my trip total to 18 massages, about one every other day!

We all gathered in Judith-Kate’s and my cottage before dinner for show and tell, so we could see some of the goodies we had each purchased along the way. I had the least amount of clothes, and possibly the greatest number of elephant-related souvenirs, though we all had some of those. Trunk up, good luck, trunk down, long life. I have some of each.

21 December – more temples and caves

We met at 7:00 and walked in silence to Wat Tam Pha Plong, a small forest temple reached by ascending a rolling 510 steps. Along the way were many signs with Buddhist wisdom in both English and Thai. The gold-topped chedi was closed for renovation, but we were able to see the monks chanting and being fed breakfast on a set a rolling trays. We were invited to eat in the kitchen, but declined.

On our way back, Val and I detoured to Wat Tham Pak Piang, a temple dedicated to Quan Yin. The nuns were busy with the construction of a new Buddha and we were welcomed into a cave filled with statues. We could easily have lingered longer, there was another cave to explore, but we were hungry and didn’t want to miss breakfast. We got back just before the dining area closed at 10:30. I had crepes with fruit and a glass of lime “drinking yogurt”.

We packed a bit, then headed back to the Chiang Dao Cave which we ran out of time to enter yesterday. There are two routes through this cave, one is well-lit and easy to walk through, the other requires lanterns, a guide, and a bit of scrambling. We only did the former. Both the stalactites and the Buddhas were fascinating. Afterwards, I picked up a Thai ice tea (waan noi, “little sweet”), skipped lunch, and finished packing.

We met in the late afternoon for a closing circle. I was overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes filled with tears as I walked through the door of Shar and Suzette’s cottage where we were meeting. After spending two weeks with these women, it was sad to say goodbye. Kupkumkaa (thank you) to each of you for your beautiful presence. We were thrilled to see Jami surprised by her farewell gift, a panel with elephants that we all loved at the silk store.

Our final dinner included a yummy dish I hadn’t had before: Meung pla tuna. The vegetarians had it with tofu. We also had fried morning glory salad, two types of fish, soup, and vegetables. Aroy mak mak (very delicious)! I have eaten Thai food every day for a month and I am not tired of it. I definitely have to learn to cook some at home.

22 December – a rough trip home  

We ate a light breakfast and headed to the airport. Three of us were on the same flight to Taipei, the other two leaving later in the day or the next. Jami is staying in Thailand with a three-week break between tours. I started feeling worse on my first flight and by the time we landed, needed to run quickly to the restroom. We found some couches and during the four-hour layover, I lay shivering under a blanket, getting up only for the bathroom. Worried about my ability to survive the upcoming flight, I tried every herbal and mild remedy in my medicine bag before taking one of the Azithromycin I carry with me for travelers’ diarrhea. I was miserable but made it home with only one urgent trip to bathroom. I didn’t eat a single bite on the ten-hour flight. Eva has more leg room than China Airlines, so I was able to sleep a bit.

I later learned that three of my fellow travelers got sick, at different times, on different flights. I don’t think the cause was our last dinner together, most of us would have gotten sick sooner than we did. The only common denominator we can find is beverages at the Chiang Mai airport, or perhaps special meals on the plane. I’m glad I didn’t mention that I wasn’t feeling well; Judith-Kate was banned from her second flight and needed to get a doctor’s release to continue. She got home a couple days later than planned.

Sage and Timbre, my dog and cat, greeted me at the door. It was good to see them. After a shower, nap, and a cup of peppermint tea, I felt a bit better. Out of new habit, I threw my toilet tissue in the trash. Alex, my son, delivered ginger ale and crackers. Fortunately, I fully recovered in time to host Christmas dinner. I love to travel and I love to get home, though I’m already missing elephants and temples, and craving a massage.

Sawasdee Pii Mai Ka! Happy New Year! (The ending of many phrases in Thai varies depending on the gender of the speaker, so if you are a man, you would say Sawasdee Pii Mai Krab). May we all find all Peace, Health, and Happiness in 2020.

Lampang and Elephants

After a relaxing day in Lampang, we immersed ourselves in the world of elephants. A century ago there were an estimated 100,000 domesticated elephants in Thailand, with several times that in the wild. Today only about 4000 remain, with more than half in captivity. We spent five days at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), dedicated to increasing conservation and knowledge about elephants.

14 December – Lampang

We had free time in the morning, so I took a walk with Sharmon and Suzette. We found a shimmering temple, crossed a bridge, walked along the Wang River, and went to see Wat Ponc Sanuk Nua. On our way back we came across what was once a beautiful teak building, now decaying. We reconnected with Judith-Kate and Valerie who had been having massages, and got a van ride to lunch to meet Richard Lair, a renowned elephant expert. He regaled us with stories about his 40+ years in the elephant world, starting at Marine World when it was in Redwood City. Since, sadly, there are more domesticated than wild elephants in the world, he made them his specialty and has worked hard to train mahouts and others in the proper care of this amazing animal. Perhaps due to their long lives, about sixty years, elephants have not been selectively bred as have other domesticated animals, so they retain their wild nature.

After lunch those of us who had not had massages in the morning got dropped off at the Herbal Center for one-and-a-half-hour balm massages. The first half was like a traditional Thai massage; in the second half we got padded with hot balls of herbs. My legs remained yellow for several days thanks to the tamarind they contained.

Jami and I got dropped off at an ATM on our way back to our hotel, for one last withdrawal from my checking account. On the elephant tour part of my trip, most of my cash has been spent on souvenirs since meals are included. I immediately made a purchase on my way through the street market, spending about $3 for a cute cotton jacket. We ate dinner on the patio cooked by our host’s staff: delicious chicken, fish, jackfruit salad, vegetables, and a couple small meat dishes.

15 December – meeting our elephants

It took about an hour to get to the primary destination for this tour, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC). The center has about 120 elephants and more mahouts; each of these men paired with an elephant. We sang a few songs on the way. When we reached the center, we unpacked at Home Stay, my bamboo hut is dark and musty, and changed into mahout suits: large, baggy, denim outfits.

We were then introduced to “our” elephant, all female. Mine is named Wanalee, she is 22 years old, and one of the shorter elephants. Her mahout, Tiam, is one of the older ones. The elephants were happy to get a break in their routine. Four of them, including Wanalee, are usually in the elephant show, and the fifth is a “taxi elephant” giving rides to tourists. They eagerly greeted their friends as we headed to the forest, one of them trumpeting goodbye to an elephant temporarily confined due to a leg injury.

We hiked about six miles with Wanalee bringing up the rear, eating the whole time. One of her favorites was bamboo. She pulled down the stalks, stepped on them and stripped off the leaves. She weights 3000 kg (6600 lb); this is more than three tons, about the weight of two cars. For her size, she has been deemed to be a bit overweight, so she and a few other elephants now have a daily walking routine so they can lose a couple hundred kilos.

The elephants were staked out in various spots in the forest while we had our lunch break. For our walk, most wore a chain around their right front foot which was draped across their neck much of the day. We were served sticky rice and chicken, tofu for the two vegetarians, wrapped in a banana leaf. I saved the leaf and much of my rice for Wanalee. The elephants were dusty when the mahouts gathered them, so they had them lay on their sides and we helped sweep them off with leaves. On our way back to the village, the mahouts climbed onto their elephants and walked them into the water to bathe them. They liked that.

We got back down in the mid-afternoon and the elephants were returned to their overnight spots. We picked up cold beverages and snacks at the tiny village market and changed out of our mahout outfits. I must be jinxed when it comes to showers because for the third place in a row, I had no hot water, so my hair is still dirty. Someone reset the heater afterwards, so hopefully I’ll get a warm shower tomorrow. Dinner was delicious: green curry, vegetables, and rice, with sweet potato balls for dessert.

16 December – learning about TECC

Jami lent me a Thermarest pad to add to the hard mattress so I slept fairly well. A few roosters started crowing around 4:00 a.m. but they stopped soon and I got back to sleep, until the whole chorus began at 5:30.

We walked up to collect elephants at 7:00 and watched the mahout routine. Tiam gave Wanalee a pile of hay to eat while he raked the area around her. Lots of food in means lots of dung out. He unchained her and had her lie on her side so he could sweep her off; I helped by swatting her with a rag. We walked down to the body of water, nicknamed Poop Pond, where the elephants got bathed. I rode with Tiam and we walked Wanalee into the water. I got soaked to my waist, while he rolled up his pants and stood on her back and stayed dry. I continued my ride to showgrounds, where she and others were stacked and fed, ready for the three short performances they do each day.

I took a hot shower before breakfast and changed into a new mahout outfit. We had rice soup with bowls of chicken, egg, cilantro, and garlic to add. A truck picked us up to give us a ride to the mahout training center, a few of us rode in the cab instead of the back. The muscle I pulled in Chiang Mai bothers me most when I sit on hard surfaces. Our first stop was the camp where they keep the dangerous elephants (16 males and two females), those who have broken their chains and frightened or harmed people. They are handled by experience mahouts, with a team of two each time they are moved. Male elephants in musth must also be handled carefully. During these hormonal periods even the most placid elephants can become aggressive.

At the mahout training center, Pune (“Bun”), a retired mahout, oversaw our production of medicine logs for elder elephant: rice, roots, bananas, and lot of herbs crushed together with a foot-pumped pestle. We also stopped by the hospital. TECC provides free medical care for any elephants brought to the center. Two elephants were recovering from surgery. Both had been overfed unhealthful foods and their babies died in the womb, too big to be delivered. Giant slings were available to hold the elephants upright while anesthetized.

After lunch, we watched the elephants bathe again, this time with paying tourists riding in and getting soaked, then saw the elephant show. The show is more educational than entertaining. It demonstrated how elephants were used for logging, and some of the things they can do with their trunks which contain thousands of muscles. Afterwards we walked or road with them back to their night spots. The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, drinking beer (some of us), chatting, and enjoying another tasty dinner.

17 December – another forest walk, baby elephants, and a museum

This morning we collected our elephants at 6:30, ate breakfast, and headed out into the forest. I road on Wanalee for the first fifteen minutes just to have the experience of seeing the world from that vantage point; it was more comfortable than I expected. On our way to our lunch spot, a bamboo platform in the middle of forest, we stopped to visit two baby elephants, each in a large pen with their mothers. Moonbeam is two years old and Baiboon is one. We played with Baiboon for quite a while. She is so cute! (There is a chance that Wanalee is pregnant, since she had a “honeymoon” with a male a few months ago. Her first calf died after birth about five years ago.)

After a leisurely lunch break we got picked up in a truck and went to see the TECC museum. It has exhibits about the different types of elephants and their history. Mammoths, African and Asian elephants have a common ancestor. Asian elephants are the smallest ones, though I wouldn’t consider them small by any other definition. The ones we are meeting are of the Indian subspecies. Based on a small carving found in Pakistan, elephants have been domesticated for at least 5000 years. They have been part of the Thai culture for centuries and used for many purposes, including war, transportation, and logging.

We went to a few markets and while the cooks purchased dinner ingredients, we shopped a bit. Judith-Kate bought one of the brooms we’ve all been admiring. Back at TECC we helped with a bit of chopping for dinner: yellow chicken curry and delicious veggie soup. We then had a party. The mahouts rolled out a couple bamboo mats in the middle of the street and the Mahout Band played for us. Val joining in with the drumming. There was singing and dancing in the street, with shots of white whiskey (the worst I’ve tasted yet) passed around. We all laughed watching the mahouts perform the elephant dance. Great fun, all rolled up and quiet by 21:00.

18 December – camping

The camping portion of our visit was almost canceled due to drought and we would have missed a wonderful day. Instead it was shortened from two nights to one and large barrels of water were trucked in for the elephants. The elephants wore long lengths of chain around their necks so they could move about while staked out in the forest overnight. We reached our camping spot before noon. Our gear was delivered by truck so we didn’t need to carry much. I walked almost seven miles today, possibility the furthest since I started my trip.

When we arrived, we honored the spirits of the land, lighting incense and putting food in the spirit house. Lunch was served at a picnic table with large banana leaves as a tablecloth; I later fed some to Wanalee. We set up our bedding on a bamboo platform inside mosquito nets, two women per cube. I shared one with Val.

After a welcome siesta, the fun began. We helped cut wood for the fires and bamboo for everything. We admired the mahouts carving ability as they made bamboo cups and stirring spoons for us. Dinner was served in bamboo troughs on a large tarp, and with translation from our guides, Fern and Amnat, we learned move about the mahouts’ lives. Most had never finished school and came to this work due to lack of other options and a love of elephants. They would like to see more trips to the forest and less time in the elephant shows. They toasted Jami for all the joy she has brought over the years. This is going to be her last year leading tours in Thailand; she will be missed. The dishes were shoved to the middle and singing and dancing began. We observed and half-way learned some crazy dances, including a chicken dance and one about fruit, each one speeding up as it progressed. They got a kick out of the hokey-pokey and when Shar mentioned that we don’t go faster and faster, that’s just what we did, laugher all around. The fun switched to card games after we farangs (white people) retired around 9:00.

19 December – goodbye to the elephants and all the wonderful people at TECC

I had a rough night, even with a Thermareast on top of a thin pad, my hip hurt. Fortunately, I was spared the biting ants that got into Shar’s bag. Pune, who never stops working, had a fire going by the time I got up at 5:00, and boiled water for us in large bamboo columns. It was scooped out with bamboo dippers. We ate breakfast, rice soup again, just after sunrise, packed up and headed back. Tiam took a video of me walking through the bamboo with Wanalee following behind. I am definitely much more comfortable around her, and the other elephants, than I was when I first met them. We posed for a group pictures and bid a sad goodbye our elephants and mahouts. I left my sandals with Tiam.

It felt great to remove my mahout clothes and take a hot shower. We had a final meal, kao sai, with our guides and I got an iced Thai tea for the road, yum. We said our final goodbyes, climbed into the van, and headed off to our last stop, Chiang Dao.

Elephants and Sukhothai

My almost two-wek elephant tour in Northern Thailand has begun. I’m traveling with five other women, including our tour leader, Jami. We are all from the west coast of America: California, Washington, and Vancouver. We loaded into a van and headed south from Chiang Mai. We started with a couple days observing elephants in the forest at the Boon Lot’s Elephant Sanctuary, and toured the ruins of Sukhothai, capital of Thailand before Ayutthaya.

Published late due to lack of WiFi.

9 December – a travel day

Our driver, Khack, picked us up after breakfast and took us to Suan Doi House (Garden Mountain House), where Jami lead us in an opening ceremony. I’ve had an affinity for elephants for decades, as evidenced by some of my home décor. Asked about what attracts me to them, I replied their wisdom and compassion. They live long lives, have great memories, take care of each other, and their intelligence ranks up there with chimps and dolphins.

One of our first stops was 7-Eleven for change. ATMs dispense 1000 bhat notes (about $33), but most vendors don’t have enough cash on hand to accept these. On Jami’s advice, I bought a spicy tamarind treat which I really like. We also stopped to sample goi, a.k.a. yam yam, a tasty treat made with yam, coconut, sesame, and sugar. I liked both the hot cooked version (which we requested with less sugar) and the thin crispy chips. After photographing dozens of elephant statues, I saw my first live one when we stopped for lunch at TECC, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center which we will be visiting later on our tour.

I sorted Chiang Mai photos in the van as we continued south towards Sukhothai. I wish airline seats were this comfortable. We had dinner at Boon Lotts with Katherine (Kat), a Brit who founded this elephant sanctuary along with her non-deceased Thai husband. She, with the help of her five young children, mahouts and staff, provides a home for about a dozen rescued and retired elephants and many other animals. She told us a beautiful story of an elephant who spent the last year of her 60-year life at the sanctuary, grateful for the welcoming fruit she received, and departed on the wings of a butterfly. We also heard about the python that she found in her house this year; that would send me packing.

10 December – Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES)

We are staying at a guest house a short distance from BLES. Like most places in Thailand, it had no heat and I needed two quilts to stay warm. We got picked up in a van, along with a young couple also visiting there this week. After a simple breakfast, we spent the whole day with elephants. Three females, nicknamed the Gossip Girls, came down from their night enclosure and hung out nearby, chatting with each other, making a purr-like rumble. We prepared rice patties filled with meds for the oldest elephant. She was used to the routine and came over waving her trunk wondering what was taking so long. I’ve never been this close to an elephant before. Next stop: the medical hut, where Kat and the mahouts treated a couple elephants, one for a foot problem and one for a sore that’s not healing in her back leg. Kat injected fluid in the wound and punched the leg to get out puss.

We walked into the forest with the elephants and their mahouts, and spent hours observing elephants. These huge animals are vegetarians, eating grasses and leaves all day long. They don’t like dirt mixed with their greens; I saw one whack a bunch of grass on the ground until all the dirt came off the roots. Lunch was delivered via truck and we ate it in a treehouse. We walked back to the house and climbed in the back of a large truck to run errands: picking kids up from school, cutting banana trees for the elephants, and picking up live fish for the crocodile who only eats weekly. After a vegan dinner, and a few purchases from the gift shop, we sat around a fire, drinking shots of home-brewed rice whisky and listening to stories about elephants. We left around 20:00 and got a ride back to our guesthouse.

11 December – more elephants

This morning we were picked up in the truck and shivered on our way to BLES. Kat shared more elephant stories with us over breakfast, then we walked back into the forest and watched the elephants for a few hours. Kat, her two youngest sons, and the mahouts then joined us for a goodbye snack at a nearby reservoir. We were able to ask questions and learned that the mahouts like both their pay and the elephants. Each is dedicated to one elephant for years, forming a strong bond of trust. We bid farewell and drove about an hour to Sukhothai.

12 December – Sukhothai

I figured out when I’m getting bitten by silent, unseen mosquitos: in bed at night. This explains why the bites are mostly on my neck. I’m going to start using insect repellent in my room.

Today we toured the ruins of Sukhothai, the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th-14th centuries, one of several political entities that later joined to form Thailand. Our first stop, Wat Saphan Hin, was reached by a short walk up a stone path. There we were greeted by a large standing Buddha gazing down at a beautiful view, a peaceful way to begin our day. Wat Sri Chum also contained a large Buddha, this one in a seated position; here we spent a few minutes seated below it, next to a huge hand on which visitors had rubbed gold paper. After a quick group shot in front of the elephants at Wat Sorasak, Jami rented bicycles for us and we set out to explore the walled center of this small city. I made it to the main temple area, which I think it called Wat Mahathat, before my rear brake failed and I could no longer move my bicycle forward. Several people, including Val, helped me find the nut and bolt which had fallen off, and a couple security guards helped put it back together. In the interest of caution, I headed back our rendezvous spot early, using the extra time to shop for souvenirs. In this case, I got a small Ganesh carving and a couple scarves.

We had the afternoon free and most of us got massages in our rooms. While relaxing, the Thai oil massages aren’t as deep as the ones in Cambodia; I’ll probably stick with the traditional Thai massages going forward.

13 December – travel day with stops

Heading back north, we stopped at Si Satchanalai, “City of Good People”, founded in 1250 as the second center of Sukhothai Kingdom and residence of the crown prince. We rented bicycles to explore this small, flat city. The weather was perfect and my one-speed bicycle worked fine.

After lunch, which included a steamed fish with a delicious lime sauce, we continued our van ride, stopping at a fabric store where everyone bought something. We reached Lampang in the late afternoon. Our teak guesthouse is in a lovely spot overlooking the Wang River. We had drinks on the patio, took a short walk to a restaurant serving New York style pizza; the owner has never been to that state; he’s from Oregon.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai,  “New City” in Thai, was founded in 1296 as the new capital of Lan Na (a state that existed in Northern Thailand from the 13thto 18thcentury) after the former capital was flooded. It is sometimes referred to as the “City of Temples”, or as one guide joked, the “City of 7-Elevens” since they are everywhere. I stayed in the city center, a very walkable square 1.5 km surrounded by defensive walls and a moat that may have once contained crocodiles. I enjoyed a very relaxing four days here visiting Wats (temples), cooking, cycling, and wandering about.

5 December, 2019 (2652 BE, Buddha Era)

I used Grab App to get to the Bangkok airport, with surprising little traffic heading away from downtown. I met another Siriporn in the VietJet line; she was heading back to her home town for a funeral. We spent the next couple hours having a lovely conversation; she treated me to breakfast. My plane arrived before noon and it was a short taxi ride to my hotel close to Wat Phra Singh, the Gold Temple. After settling in, I headed out to explore and immediately got hooked by a tuk tuk driver who wanted to take me shopping. I agreed and negotiated a price based on the condition that I get to see how things are made and get dropped back near a temple. He took me to see silver making, silk making, and painting. Each place of course tried to sell me something but I resisted except for a small painting of an elephant, my weakness. Back in old town, I wandered around until almost sunset, finding a temple on almost every block, and bought handmade paper for use in art projects. I wrapped up my day with a Thai massage.

6 December – sunrise at Doi Suthep

 I was picked up at 5:00 a.m. for an awesome tour of Doi Suthep, a large, beautiful temple near Chiang Mai, on top of the 5500’ (1700 meters) mountain of the same name. Before a road was built in 1935, it took a steep ten-kilometer hike through the rainforest to get here. Legend has it that a king put a Buddha relic on the back of a white elephant who led him to this location for a temple. Our small group, guided by a former monk, was one of the first to arrive, getting there before sunrise while the monks were still chanting. The glowing gold stupa felt magical in the peaceful morning stillness. After lighting candles and offering flowers, I circled it three times, clockwise, while focusing on happiness, prosperity, and well-being for all. I was blessed by a monk and am wearing a string around my left wrist containing his blessings. We exited the temple just as the tour buses were starting to arrive, and had a bowl of khao soi, a Northern Thai dish with yellow curry, for breakfast.

About halfway down the mountain, we stopped at another temple, Wat Palad, where our guide had lived for about decade. He referred to it as the Hidden Temple, though as more tourists discover it, it is no longer hidden. The forest path to the top comes through this tranquil spot. Continuing down the mountain, we stopped at Wat Umong to walk through a short section of the tunnels previously used by monks for meditation. The walls used to be plastered and covered with murals.

After lunch, I negotiated a tuk tuk ride to Warorot Market, a huge three-story building filled with hundreds of shops. I bought fabric and dried mangos; I wish they were this soft and delicious at home. I walked back to old town and got yet another Thai massage, this time focused on back, neck, and head. It was wonderful. As I was leaving the spa, I got a call from Jami, the tour leader for my upcoming elephant adventure. We had dinner together, sharing two of my favorite Thai dishes, green curry and morning glory (a vegetable I encountered for the first time on this trip), and a bottle of Chang, the Thai beer with an elephant on the label.

7 December – yummy cooking class

I was picked up at 8:30 for a full day cooking class. There were eight students, six Americans and two Hollanders, mostly men. Our first stop with our fun teacher, Gift, was to a market to learn about different types of rice and spices. We then went out to an organic farm with a great setup for classes. After touring the farm, where many of the ingredients are grown, I learned how to make Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, Green Curry, stir fry, and bananas in coconut milk. We were able to determine how spicy we wanted to make them. I choose medium, which for Thais is very mild, and reduced the sugar in all dishes. We consumed each dish after preparation, and I was pleasantly surprised to find them all delicious. Hopefully I can replicate this success at home with the cook book provided.

Two more of my fellow travelers, Sharmon and Suzette, have arrived. I met them for dinner, or rather they ate dinner and I drank a beer, too full to eat another bite.

8 December – cycling through countryside

Sharmon and I took a half-day bicycle tour. It’s much cooler in Chiang Mai than the other places I’ve visited on this trip. I wore shoes for the first time last night and this morning I was glad to have packed my thin puffy jacket. I wore it for the first couple hours of my bike ride and would have added a hat and gloves if I had them. Except for the first few and last minutes along a busy road, we were primarily on back roads. Our first visit was to an island in the Ping River that was formerly the McKean Leper Asylum, founded by an American missionary in the early 1900’s. This quiet area, filled with small cottages, is now used for rehabilitation and retirement. We continued through farmland, hearing roosters along the way, stopped at a local market, and visited a couple temples along the way. We saw how sticky rice is cooked in bamboo and sampled this tasty treat, sold at many roadside stands, Our tour ended after lunch, a bowl of kao soi.

I took a break afterwards, then headed out to find an ATM and visit the Sunday Market. Many streets were closed and filled with vendors selling clothing, food, and a variety of trinkets.  As afternoon became evening, it became more crowded and harder to navigate. Just as I was negotiating to buy an elephant figurine, music started playing on loudspeakers and everyone, vendors and shoppers, stopped and stood still, it was the Thai national anthem. I made my way out of the crowd and found my way to Dash, where I met the rest of my travel group for dinner. The food was delicious, especially the sea bass, and women welcoming.