Out of Eden Postponed

I was practicing my daily self-torture by reviewing the numbers out of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. I realized that as of the time of this writing, there have been more than 1,900,000 reported deaths worldwide. That’s an horrific number, made even worse by the fact that it’s probably on the low side.

Suddenly I sat up straight in my chair, thinking, “My god. Where is Paul Salopek?”

I’ve blogged about Mr. Salopek a few times before. He’s the guy being sponsored by National Geographic to do the Out of Eden walk, and write dispatches along the way for our reading pleasure. His path follows the migratory route of humanity, and started in January, 2013.

He began his walk in Ethiopia, where humans first evolved. From there he went to Djibouti and crossed the Red Sea. That took 5 months. From there he spent 14 months walking through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. It took him a further 20 months to make his way through Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. From there he crossed the Caspian Sea and traveled along the Silk Road, through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That took him 22 months. From Pakistan he went to India, and into Myanmar. That was a further 23 months, and then (insert sound of record scratch) he was stopped cold by the pandemic in March, 2020.

He’s been in Myanmar ever since. I was glad to see that he’s alive and well. At the time I wrote this, his latest dispatch was only a few days old. He’s passing the time by writing a book.

Salopek must be the world’s most patient man. Personally, as much as I adore travel, after about 12 days, I want to go home. For him, it’s been nearly 8 years, and he still has a long way to go. The entire journey was only supposed to have taken him 7 years.

His plan, from here, is to go up through Asia, across to Alaska, down the west coast of the United States, into Mexico and Central America, and then all along the West coast of South America, ending in Tierra del Fuego. But first he has to wait out this pandemic.

What must it be like, being away from loved ones that long, and only having the friends you meet along the road as you’re passing through? What must it be like to live with only what you can carry on your back? What happens to your concept of stability and permanence and home?

That, and his feet must be killing him.

Just as with the rest of us, I’m sure this pandemic took Salopek by surprise. But he seems to be coping with it. In the meantime, he has a lot of fascinating stories to share. I highly recommend that you check out the Out of Eden website and enjoy his journey vicariously just as I have done.

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The Headington Shark

I was cleaning out the bookmarks on my browser (sort of) when I came across an article from April of 2019 entitled, “’It went in beautifully as the postman was passing’: the story of the Headington Shark.

Honestly, I have no idea how I let this one slip through the cracks. I love public art, and I love, even more, people who zig when everyone else is zagging. This was a story that screamed out to be blogged about.

It appears that much of the neighborhood of Headington, in Oxford, U.K. is a place where all the townhouses look alike. I personally couldn’t live in an area like that. It would drive me nuts. And apparently the late Bill Heine, a writer and broadcaster and former student at Oxford, felt the same way.

Heine, the owner of the townhouse, commissioned his friend, John Buckley, a sculptor, to do something to liven the place up. He proceeded to install a 25 foot long shark on the roof, which looks as though it fell from a great height. That seems rather random.

The simple answer is that Heine really liked sharks, but he also wanted to make a statement about war, and about feeling helpless when unexpected things drop from the sky. According to Wikipedia, the work was unveiled on August 9, 1986, which was the 41st anniversary of America dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.

I think it’s a delight, and apparently I’m not alone. Tourists flock to the shark to this day. But the Oxford City Council was not nearly as amused. They tried to get it removed for reasons of safety, but upon professional inspection, the shark, which weighs about 440 pounds, is structurally sound. The federal government then got involved, and there were some public hearings, in which it was made quite clear that the shark had become a beloved resident of the community, where it still resides to this day.

Heine died in 2019 at the age of 74, and by that point his son had already bought the place to keep the shark safe. He now operates it as an AirBnB. Naturally I had to pop over to the website and check it out. It sleeps 12. It’s a beautiful place, not far from the city center. I was disappointed that the shark’s head doesn’t emerge from the ceiling of one of the rooms, but I suppose it would be rather hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances. The place costs about 220 pounds a night to reserve, with a 3 night minimum, but it would definitely be a fun travel memory.

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The Hess Triangle

I love stories about noconformists. They make life interesting. Unlike anarchists, they do obey the law, often to their detriment, but they are usually still able to get their point across.

Such a man was David Hess, who owned a 5-story apartment building in the West Village in Lower Manhattan. From 1913 to 1916, New York City was exercising imminent domain to extend Seventh Avenue for eleven more blocks. Even though Hess fought the demolition of his building, it was eventually razed.

But the Hess family learned that the surveyors had screwed up and left a tiny triangle of land that by rights still belonged to them. They took it to court and won. The city actually had the nerve to ask them to donate the triangle to them as it was encroaching on the public sidewalk.

The family not only refused, but they installed the tilework pictured below. It says “property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes”. It’s a little nose thumbing at the municipality, and that mosaic is still to be found in the sidewalk to this very day.

The Hess family eventually sold the triangle to a cigar shop to the tune of $1,000. It has been sold several times since then, but it still is private property, and taxes are dutifully paid. If you would like to see the Hess Triangle, go to the corner of Christopher and Seventh Avenue, and the triangle is right in front of the cigar shop’s door. It’s nearly impossible not to trespass on this property when you enter or exit the store.

Sources for this post:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-tiny-spite-triangle-that-marks-a-century-old-grudge-against-new-york-city?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hess-triangle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hess_triangle

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Maybe I’m Latvian

I just read an article entitled, “Latvia: Europe’s Nation of Introverts”, and it did my heart good. It’s rare to encounter fellow travelers, because we isolate ourselves by definition. Hearing that there’s a whole country full of them felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I may have found my people.

Obviously it’s impossible, or it should be, to make a sweeping commentary about the character traits of a whole nation of people, but it seems even they poke fun of this cultural tendency. And the article goes on to point out that creativity has been found to be strongly linked with introversion. Latvians take creativity very seriously. They also seem to enjoy comfortable silences as much as I do.

I can’t imagine how Latvians coped with being part of the Soviet Union, a time when they were forced into communal living situations and were constantly being watched. That would be my definition of hell. Unfortunately, in spite of the low population density in this country overall, they still are clustered into apartment blocs in metropolitan areas to this day, all the while longing for the single family homesteads of the pre-Soviet era.

And it seems that Latvians are leaving the country at an alarming rate, meaning that it is in sharp decline, and the nation may have to embrace immigrants if it’s ever going to thrive. That will pose a challenge for these people who tend to cross the street to avoid talking to strangers.

Latvians are quick to point out that other countries have a reputation for introversion too. They cite Sweden, Finland and Estonia as having this trait as well. Personally, I think it has to do with the weather and the desire to emotionally hibernate when the weather is crap. It’s a theory.

This article portrays Latvians as self-sufficient, creative, and thoughtful people. I think I’d like them. If I didn’t look so much like my sisters, I’d wonder if I were adopted.

From what I’m seeing on line, it’s a beautiful country. I may just have to go visit. Just having friends say, “Why on earth are you going to Latvia?” would make me smile.

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Off We Go in Search of Snow

Dear husband asked me what I would like for my birthday a few days ago. We already have too much stuff. We both prefer experiences. So I asked for snow.

Obviously, he couldn’t conjure up snow out of thin air, and hiring a snow machine seemed a little over the top, and wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the real thing. Instead, we elected to do another one of my favorite things: ROAD TRIP!!!! So off we went, in search of snow.

Fortunately, the area in which we live, Seattle, doesn’t get much snow. It sees maybe 3 or 4 days of it a year, if that. That suits me. As an adult, snow is less about sledding and snow angels and snowball fights, and more about horrific commutes, shoveling, and outrageous heating bills. No thank you.

But another beautiful feature of this area is that there’s snow nearby. We headed for Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range, to the little town of Alpental. And as you’ll see from my photos, the trip there was breathtaking, with its snow covered trees, frozen waterfalls, and fog.

I was a little shocked, upon arrival, to see the logjam of cars on the road, waiting to park for the ski lifts. This area is known for both downhill skiing and cross country. We saw lots of sledding off the roadside, and snowboarding, and snowball fights, too. But not a single mask. We didn’t get out of the car. We didn’t even park. We love our lives too much.

I can’t believe how selfish people are. As long as they have fun, they don’t mind putting other people’s lives at risk. How clueless can you be? Wear a mask, folks!

But I did want to touch snow at least once, so we pulled over on a deserted back road, and I decided to have DH film me throwing a snowball at the car. I’m walking gingerly because the roadside was a sheet of ice. And this was about take number 4, because I kept missing the dang windshield. Hence, the chuckle at the end.

Anyway, happy winter to you!

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Two Historic Smogs

If I ever find myself 24 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I will make it a point to visit the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. Until then, I’ll have to content myself with visiting the website and watching the fascinating videos there. The museum educates the public about what Wikipedia describes as one of the worst pollution disasters in America’s history.

On October 27, 1948, the yellow smog started settling upon the town of Donora, which had a population of 14,000 at the time. There was a temperature inversion, which was causing warm air higher up to force cold air to remain down below, and the pollutants from the nearby U.S. Steel Donora Zinc Works and the American Steel & Wire plant, which normally disbursed into the upper atmosphere, were trapped. These pollutants included sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, and fluorine.

The fire department and the town’s medical staff were pushed to their limit during these five days, and an emergency center had to be set up in the town hall by the American Red Cross. Visibility was so limited it was nearly impossible to drive.

This picture was taken in Donora at high noon during the disastrous smog.

By the time the smog disbursed five days later, due to a weather change, 20 people had died, and half the residents had been sickened. An additional 50 people died within the month, and even 10 years later, mortality rates in Donora were a lot higher than in other nearby towns. Research later showed that thousands more would have been killed if the smog had lasted longer than the five days.

U.S. Steel has denied all responsibility for this toxic event, even though the emissions from the zinc plant had killed all the vegetation within a half mile radius of the plant. It made a few paltry settlements of lawsuits, but none of the victims were ever adequately compensated. And to add insult to injury, property values dropped by 10 percent within a year. The current population of Donora is around 6,000.

The one silver lining to the Donora Smog is that it made people start taking pollution seriously, and this resulted, eventually, in the Clean Air act of 1963. It also triggered stricter regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in the hopes that such a disaster would never happen again.

But unfortunately, it seems that London did not get the memo, or if they did, they chose to ignore it. A little over 4 years later, on December 5, 1952, the people of London experienced the worst pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom. And it was eerily similar to that of Donora. It, too, was the result of a temperature inversion. It, too, lasted 5 days. But 1952’s Great Smog of London was much more deadly.

For London, the pollution sources seem to have been a combination of the poor quality coal that residents were forced to use for heating after WWII, which produced sulphur dioxide. There were also several coal fired power plants within the city limits. The smog contained hydrochloric acid, fluorine and sulphuric acid, similar to the Donora incident. The city was also full of vehicles, steam trains, and diesel buses. And of course there was industry. Lots and lots of industry

The people of London could barely see three feet in front of them in the daytime. Public transportation was shut down, as was the ambulance service. Public events were cancelled as the acrid smog even got indoors. If people had to go anywhere, they were forced to feel their way, one step at a time.

The Great Smog of London, 1952.

When the weather finally changed, at the time it was estimated that 4,000 people had died and 100,000 were made ill. Current researchers set the number of deaths closer to 12,000, taking into account the many people who continued to die for months afterwards of lung infections and hypoxia.

This smog, too, lead to greater public awareness and increased environmentalism. It, too, led to changes in legislation, including the City of London Act of 1954, and a national Clean Air Act in 1956 and in 1968. At least we are capable of learning from our horrendous mistakes.

Now, if only China and other nations with heavy industry would get the memo and learn from it, too.

Recent photograph of smog in Beijing.

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The Sedona Vortices

Sedona, Arizona is said to be a very spiritual place. Many go on very expensive retreats there. You can visit astrologists and fortune tellers, get your chakras realigned, commune with crystals, meditate, practice yoga, take a reiki tour, look for UFOs, be healed by a shaman, reawaken your spirit, and get an image of your aura. Apparently you can also meet with a Siberian Metashaman, and she’s handicap accessible.

But the most prevalent spiritual activity seems to be visiting the many Sedona “vortexes”. (Vortices is the plural of vortex, but these grammatical rules seem to fly out the window in Sedona, along with so many other things.) There is an entire industry that revolves (sorry) around these vortexes and their supposed ability to reengergize your very soul.

I must admit that I didn’t explore these vortices very thoroughly. I did stumble across one, though, in a patio of a gift shop/gallery called Son Silver West. We had been wandering amongst the delightfully cluttered displays for some time, and all of a sudden we came across a wrought iron bench with a sign hanging above it that said “vortex” with an arrow pointing straight down.

My first thought was, “you’d think the sign would be spinning if this were a vortex.” But I also thought it would feel good to sit down. And it did. I tried to keep an open mind. And I must admit I did get goose bumps, but I think this has more to do with my desire to believe than any type of actual proof.

Here’s the thing about Sedona. It seems that the vast majority of spiritual shop owners and guides and soothsayers and shaman and tarot card readers are of northern European descent. There are lots of blonde shamans out there, more than happy to enlighten you for the right price. And more power to you, I say, if that’s your thing. But I do struggle with all the cultural appropriation for profit.

If Sedona were really such a spiritual mecca, I think the Native Americans wouldn’t be so offended by this appropriation, and they’d in fact be out there trying to enlighten all of us themselves. But you see very little of that in Sedona. What you see, mostly, is a lot of money passing from one white hand to another.

But having said all that, I must admit that Sedona is a special place, not because of the spiritual accessories that it wears, but in spite of it. It is one of the most naturally beautiful places that I’ve been to in my life. The red rocks and the cozy canyons call to me. For that reason alone, I’d love to retire there. The food is also excellent and there is art everywhere you look, so I think it’s a lovely place to be.

I do enjoy being around whimsical and liberal people, too. I adore active imaginations. I try to take the gullibility factor with a grain of salt. I find nothing wrong with people seeking enlightenment. And if you’re planning to do that somewhere, you may as well do it in a gorgeous locale.

So, spiritual, smiritual. Sedona is still one of my favorite places on earth. For that reason, it will always seem magical to me.

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Twin Arrows and Two Guns

I’ve gotten my kicks on Route 66 more than once. And on a stretch of that magical highway that goes through Arizona, between Winslow and Flagstaff, lies two desolate, yet intriguing, ghost towns. One is called Twin Arrows, and the other is called Two Guns. The first time I passed these places, years ago, I thought, “There’s got to be a story behind this.” But I never got around to looking it up. But now I have a blog, in which I do all the looking up so that you don’t have to. So here goes.

Two Guns has a rather sad history. The Navajo murdered a group of Apaches that were hiding in a cave there. They smoked them out and shot them as they emerged. The 42 who did not emerge were asphyxiated. The place is called “death cave” to this day. Then a settler came along and built a store next to death cave.

Once the road that is now Route 66 was established, a restaurant and gas station were added. This was a good stopping place for tourists to gas up and eat. This place, which was also the best route across Canyon Diablo, had earning potential.

Enter a character named Harry “Two Guns” Miller. He leased some land and turned this place into a tourist trap. He added a zoo, tours of death cave, and sold the skulls of the Apaches therein as souvenirs. He also put in some fake ruins and a soda stand. He later shot his landlord, but was acquitted of the murder.

During his time at Two Guns, Miller, who liked to dress up as an Apache, complete with braids, was robbed of nearly everything in the trading post, bitten by a Gila monster, and mauled, twice, by mountain lions. Then the trading post burned down, and the widow of his dead landlord, Louise Cundiff, won a lawsuit to prove her ownership of the land. That’s when Miller finally gave up and left.

Cundiff and her new husband didn’t have much luck in Two Guns either. Route 66 was rerouted to the other side of the canyon, so they had to move the entire town with it so as not to lose the tourist trade. Still, Two Guns kind of fizzled out in the 1950’s and stayed that way until it was revitalized in 1960 by a guy who put in a new restaurant, gift shop, gas station and zoo.

But Interstate 40 was on its way, and that tended to kill just about everything on Route 66. Even though Two Guns had its own exit ramp, it finally became a ghost town when a huge inferno burned everything to the ground in 1971. You can still visit the cave and check out the sad ruins of this strange town.

To add to its odd history, in 2011, Russell Crowe purchased it to film a Westworld remake, but it seems that nothing has been done with it since.

Twin Arrows stands on the site of the Canyon Padre Trading Post, named after the nearby gorge, but that trading post did not really attract tourists until it was renamed Twin Arrows Trading Post, simply because a place called Two Guns was nearby. Eventually a gas station, diner and gift shop was added, and then two 25-foot arrows, made out of telephone poles, were placed by the highway.

Twin Arrows was also slowly killed by Interstate 40. It was finally abandoned in 1995. The area is owned by the Hopi tribe, and is on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. The Twin Arrows Navajo Gaming Casino opened just north of there in 2013, but the only thing left of the original town are a few gas pumps and a stove from the old diner.

The huge arrows were steadily decaying, so they were restored by the Hopi tribe and some Route 66 enthusiasts. Whether they symbolize warrior spirit or entrepreneurial spirit is up to individual interpretation. I just love that they’re out there, as I’m a public art lover.

So there you have it. Everything you wanted to know about Two Guns and Twin Arrows but were afraid to ask. If I ever pass that way again, I may just have to stop and explore. That would be a lot more fulfilling than just wondering.

Sources for this post:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Arrows,_Arizona

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Guns,_Arizona

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/two-guns

https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/115

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Home, via the Columbia River

It was the last day of my vacation, and as per usual in these situations, I had very mixed emotions about it. I love to travel. I enjoy going places I’ve never been. It’s an opportunity to set aside the stress of everyday life.

On the other hand, I was missing my dogs so much that it was killing me. And packing and unpacking suitcases and schlepping them from pillar to post can get very tedious. I missed my bed. I missed my little free library. I missed blogging. 13 days is pushing the outer envelope. It was time to go home.

If I was at all hesitant to leave Sunriver, the two 5-year-old girls, screaming and giggling in the room next door, was enough to make me beat a hasty retreat. If I had wanted to deal with noisy children, I’d have had some of my own.

Sunriver is a beautiful place, especially in the autumn when the leaves are turning to gold on all but the many evergreens. I decided that I’d enjoy the area a bit more by making a stop in the delightful city of Bend, Oregon. One of my favorite restaurants on earth is there. I’ve blogged about Spork before. If you’re ever anywhere near Bend, this place should not be missed. The ambience isn’t what it used to be now that they only do takeout, but the food still does not disappoint.

From there I drove off into a dense fog, with a light dusting of snow here and there. I was definitely leaving the sun behind me, and returning to the crappy weather of a late autumn in the Pacific Northwest. At least I got to delay that for a few weeks.

I passed an alpaca farm. I didn’t learn until much later that you are allowed to pet the alpacas. Had I known, I’d have stopped.

Prolonging the inevitable ever so slightly, I decided to take the scenic route home, along the banks of the mighty Columbia River. Avoiding the highway, I went through The Dalles and skirted the Northern and/or Western bank of the river as long as I could. That allowed me to go through some delightful little one horse towns, full of quaint little museums and courthouses. This area is definitely retirement-worthy, if you are so fortunate.

I also got to see a dam, but damned if I know what it was called. (Sorry. Had to.) And I stopped for pictures of the Bridge of the Gods, because how can you not take a picture of a bridge that’s arrogant enough to have that name? I mean, bow down, people. Pay homage.

I also passed Drano Lake. I don’t think I’ll be drinking out of that one anytime soon. You first. I’ll expect a full report.

And just outside of Stevenson, an otter ran across the road in front of the car. That’s a new one. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.

The rest of the drive kind of passed by in a fog, literally and figuratively. It was good to get home and hug my fur babies, and finally break free of the albatross of suitcases that had been hanging on me for the entire journey. It made me feel like I’d lost 150 pounds.

13 Days. 4200 miles. From 9995 feet above sea level to 282 feet below sea level. From 98 degrees to 35 degrees. In and out of national parks. It was an amazing vacation. One that I’ll never forget. And here’s what I love the most about travel: it reminds you that there’s no place like home.

And as it turns out, it’s a good thing I traveled while I could. Now California, Oregon and Washington want you to quarantine for two weeks before crossing their borders. If that had been imposed while I was still in Nevada, it could have taken me 6 weeks to get home, if those rules were being strictly enforced. We are living in very strange times.

Enjoy some of the pictures from the day! And here’s a link to the first post in this adventure.

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More Sun, Another Crater

On the next to last day of my road trip, I was celebrating the fact that the trip as a whole had a certain symmetry to it. At the beginning, I went to Sun Valley, Idaho and then to Craters of the Moon. I visited Meteor Crater somewhere in the middle, too. And on this day, I was leaving Lake Tahoe, and heading to Crater Lake, and then would spend the night in Sunriver, Oregon. I had been calling this trip “The Great Western Ramble” in my mind, but perhaps “The Trek of Sun and Craters” is equally appropriate.

After gassing up the rental car and doing the daily ritual of debugging the windshield for better photo opportunities, I set out. Passing through valleys and past lakes, I reflected on just how vast and varied and majestic this country is. And then I passed the high school in Tule Lake. “Home of the Honkers.” That gave me a bit of a giggle. I didn’t  realize at the time that Tule Lake was also the home of another Japanese Internment Camp. That’s not the least bit giggle-worthy.

I also went through Klamath Falls, and stopped at their visitor’s center. When you enter this town, you quickly discover that the area is known for bird watching. There are birds everywhere. They’re on murals and sculptures and street signs and bill boards and they’re incorporated in business names. This place has embraced a natural asset, and more power to them, I say, especially if it motivates them to preserve said asset.

I then headed up to Crater Lake. I had been there before (and blogged about it here), but last time the rim road was closed due to snow. This time it was open, and I took full advantage of that. The views, as you’ll see below, were stunning.

I have to admit, though, that I felt a certain un-vacation-like sense of urgency while there. The dark clouds were rolling in. It was cold and rainy and the sun was going down. I even saw a few dustings of snow. I strongly suspect that the rim road was closed within a week of my visit. But the weather added to the photographs, I think.

North of Crater Lake makes you feel as though you’re slightly south of the middle of nowhere. That made me nervous, because it was getting late and dark and bitterly cold, and I was starving. Then, like an oasis magically appearing in the desert, I came upon a restaurant called Loree’s Chalet in Chemult, Oregon. It was a quaint, homey little place, and the waiter was charming.

He was also not wearing a mask. None of the staff were wearing masks. None of the patrons in the bar in the next room were wearing masks, either. This made me kind of uncomfortable, but I was ravenous, had the dining room all to myself, and my options were limited.

I have to say, the bacon wrapped steak was delicious. They boast the best ranch dressing in the entire world. I have to agree.

After that, it was just a matter of getting to Sunriver Resort. I got there in pitch darkness (more symmetry from the beginning of the trip) so there are no Sunriver photos below. You’ll have to wait until the final post of my journey for those.

I ended the night luxuriating in the bathtub. I have to tell you that if you prize a good bathtub as much as I do, Sunriver Resort is the place to go. It was by far my favorite place to stay on the entire trip. Nothing like a nice hot bath after a cold, raw day!

There will be one more blog post about this trip that will be posted the day after tomorrow, so watch this space! I’ll try to link all the posts about this trip together, so that you can start at the beginning if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. Here’s a link to the first post in the series. And here’s a link to the last day of our trip.