travel

Hawaii to cap it all off...

Hawaii to cap it all off...

by Betsy Herbert

I can't seem to stay put. I've been home for several months now after taking a year-long trip around the world. I've been working on a book about my travels . . .but I needed a break.

My brother and his wife live in Kauai and they have a guest room. See where I'm going with this?

Just so happens that the IUCN World Conservation Congress was meeting in Honolulu the first week of September. Some of my environmental heroes would be speaking...people like E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, Kathryn Sullivan, and Sylvia Earle.

That clinched it. After chatting with my brother Charlie, I booked a flight directly from San Jose to Lihue, Kauai, arriving on August 25. Great flight on Alaska Airlines. It was a small jet with quite a few empty seats. I had a whole row to myself, so I sprawled out.

I drove a rental car from Lihue to Kilauea, where my brother lives, on Kauai's north coast. Traffic was heavy at first, making me wonder if Kauai was really the island getaway I remembered.

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Central America: From Zone 3 to Gringolandia

Central America: From Zone 3 to Gringolandia

by Betsy Herbert

Seems everyone around the world is interested in the US primary election, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. After flying from Quito, Ecuador to San Salvador on March 12 to begin a 16-day tour of Central America, I took a taxi to my hotel.

My cab driver was eager to discuss the US presidential election. He spoke no English, but by now my Spanish was pretty good. I began by stating my opposition to Trump. As if on queue, the cabbie launched into a rant about Trump's racism. He was incredulous about the level of support that Trump seemed to be getting from American voters. I explained that US politics was extremely divisive and that there were plenty of people who opposed Trump for many reasons, including his racist views. I also told him I didn't think Trump would win. He seemed somewhat relieved to hear my opinion.

Looking back on my year-long trip around the world, I realized that nobody that I met, with the exception of a few American travelers, had anything nice to say about Trump. While I have more serious concerns about Trump, I know that if he were elected, international travel would become a lot more uncomfortable and unsafe for Americans.

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Ecuador: Before the quake...floods & volcanic eruptions

Ecuador: Before the quake...floods & volcanic eruptions

by Betsy Herbert

After a memorable tour of the Galapagos Islands in February, I headed back to the Ecuadoran mainland to hang out for a couple of weeks in Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city. [I couldn't have known that six weeks later, on April 16, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would devastate parts of Ecuador; even so, the quake did not seriously impact Cuenca.]

Cuenca is well known among American ex-pats as one of the most attractive places to retire. I wanted to see for myself, since I noticed that most of hype about Cuenca is published by the real estate and tourism industries. Whenever I read about a place that sounds too good to be true, well, I get curious. Cuenca is touted for its great climate...it's near the equator, but at 8,500 feet, it's not unbearably hot and humid. It's also known for it's beautiful old buildings and town squares and its cheap cost of living. 

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Galapagos Islands...like no place else on Earth.

Galapagos Islands...like no place else on Earth.

by Betsy Herbert

My flight into Mariscal Sucre Airport, just outside of Quito, Ecuador, was the scariest of my year-long journey around the world. As the flight from Buenos Aires approached Quito, nestled at 8,200 feet in the Andes, I had a birdseye view of the city. The buildings of Quito snake up the sides of the huge mountains and around the lips of canyons that wind between them.

The airport runway sits atop a long narrow ridge top, edged on either side by steep canyons. As we approached the landing strip, the winds were blowing fiercely, buffeting our plane from side to side. Just 5 - 10 feet above the runway, the plane was wobbling so much that the pilot suddenly nosed it up, goosed it, and, and as we all hung on to our seats, he urged the plane slowly upward in preparation for another landing attempt. During the 10 - 15 minutes we circled the airport, as the heavy winds continued, I popped a Lorazepam, which I kept on hand just for such occasions.

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Patagonia: Wild, rugged nature via urban gateways

Patagonia: Wild, rugged nature via urban gateways

by Betsy Herbert

To venture into the wild, rugged, beautiful and remote Patagonia (the southern tip of South America), most travelers start out from either Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Typical travel photos of Santiago are taken on those rare clear days when deep blue skies contrast sharply with snow-capped peaks of the Andes. But most likely, what you'll find when you arrive in Santiago is smog so thick that those glorious Andes fade out from view in a yellow blur.

I approached Patagonia from Easter Island, 2,400 miles off Chile's Pacific coast. My flight was delayed twice for mechanical reasons. So I arrived in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, three hours late on January 28.

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Easter Island's ancient history: Exploring the mysteries

Easter Island's ancient history: Exploring the mysteries

by Betsy Herbert

I've always been fascinated by the mysteries of Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui), which lies in the Pacific Ocean 2,400 miles west of Chile's mainland. One of the most remote populated islands in the world, Easter Island's nearest inhabited island, Pitcairn, lies 1,289 miles to its east.

Some of the remaining questions about Easter Island's ancient past include: How did people first get here? Why and how did they build the enormous stone figures that Easter Island is famous for, how did the island become a wasteland, and why did the population of Easter Island crash between 1500 and 1700 CE?

Easter Island, a province of Chile, is now relatively easy to visit. My flight from Tahiti took five hours. Easter Island was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Most of the island now lies within the Rapa Nui National Park, and there are plenty of accommodations in the main city of Hanga Roa.

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Moorea: A writer's respite in the South Pacific

Moorea: A writer's respite in the South Pacific

by Betsy Herbert

In month nine of my yearlong trip around the world, it was time for a break. I took a 5-hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Papeete, Tahiti and then took the ferry to the island of Moorea. After an hour long ferry ride, I hopped on a public bus in Moorea that took me directly to my hotel. The buses run with the ferry schedule, so it's really easy, and it cost me only $2.00.

My beach bungalow at the laid-back Kaveka Hotel was an idyllic retreat with “Bali Hai” views of Cooks Bay and the coral reef that separates it from the Pacific Ocean. Since I was here during the off season, things were quiet and there were very few other guests at the hotel.

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New Zealand: A bump in the road in a sojourner's dreamscape

New Zealand: A bump in the road in a sojourner's dreamscape

by Betsy Herbert

When I first arrived in New Zealand, I had just broken off a romance with a man whom I had hoped to travel with here. I had discovered--by sleuthing on his Facebook page--an irrefutable trail of deceit that left me no alternative but to end the relationship.

So, here I was on my own in New Zealand, reeling from a disheartening betrayal. But, as I’ve said in previous blogs, life goes on while you’re traveling. . . and this was just a bump in the road.

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Vietnam on speed; where is it headed?

Vietnam on speed; where is it headed?

by Betsy Herbert

Scary border crossing. When we arrived at the Hanoi airport in north Vietnam on November 8, I feared my visa would not be accepted, since just hours before we landed I noticed that it had fallen apart along its fold-line. My passport had been opened and closed so many times since I left the states seven months ago that my Vietnam visa inside simply deteriorated. My fears proved to be well-founded; I was rudely questioned and detained for four stressful hours by immigration in Hanoi before I was finally issued a new visa and admitted into the country.

Not an auspicious beginning! But, at least, due to a little help from my friends (thank god for travel buddies), I was finally in Vietnam!

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Thailand is for glitz: Temples, teak, elephants and ladyboys

Thailand is for glitz: Temples, teak, elephants and ladyboys

by Betsy Herbert

Just three hours after my flight left the New Delhi airport at 10 a.m. October 26 bound for Bangkok, the magnitude 7.5 Hindu Kush earthquake struck South Asia. Though the earthquake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan, there were hundreds of casualties in Pakistan and the tremors in New Delhi sent thousands of panicked people into the streets. I didn't learn of the earthquake until just after I arrived in Bangkok.

I had a few days to kill in Bangkok before meeting up with my next tour group, Intrepid Travel’s “30-day Indochina Loop,” which included Thailand, and later Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

I quickly learned that the Thais really know how to put on a show. Glitz is everywhere. . . in the ornate temples, the golden Buddhas, the orchestrated elephant performances, and the brash "Ladyboy" shows.

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India: Unpredictable, unexplicable and unforgettable

India: Unpredictable, unexplicable and unforgettable

by Betsy Herbert

When I first arrived in India after ten grueling days in Madagascar, I made a beeline for Goa, an old Portuguese port on India’s southwest coast known for its beach resorts. I was in serious need of R & R.

When I arrived in Goa I was completely exhausted so I was deliriously happy to see a sari-clad Indian woman waiting at the gate holding a placard with my name on it. . . my ride to the hotel!

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Bhutan: Himalayas, official happiness & the Divine Madman

Bhutan: Himalayas, official happiness & the Divine Madman

by Betsy Herbert

For years, I’ve been intrigued by the small Himalayan country of Bhutan, where the government measures its success by the “Gross National Happiness” of its people. So, naturally, Bhutan was near the top of my list of places to visit when I started my year-long trip around the world six months ago.

What's so special about Bhutan?

In case spectacular natural beauty is not enough reason to visit, I did some reading beforehand. I learned that “Gross National Happiness” as measured by the Bhutanese government is based on a scientifically constructed index that considers non-economic aspects of people’s well being, such as education, health, social relationships, environmental protection and cultural preservation. Imagine!

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Madagascar: Paradise lost?

Madagascar: Paradise lost?

by Betsy Herbert

I left Tanzania on September 15 bound for Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, where I would be on my own for 10 days. . . I was excited but wary. Why did I want to go to Madagascar? A popular travel guide describes Madagascar as follows:

"Lemurs, baobabs, rainforests, beaches, desert, trekking and diving: Madagascar is a dream destination for nature and outdoor lovers...and half the fun is getting to all these incredible attractions." -- Lonely Planet travel guide to Madagascar

Madagascar is made to sound like a paradise. But I knew from my own reading that deforestation, erosion, and water and air pollution were big environmental problems in Madagascar. I had keen interest in these problems, since forest management was the focus of my academic research and publications. I wanted to see Madagascar’s deforestation with my own eyes.

 

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Travel woes: Getting to Provence

Travel woes: Getting to Provence

by Betsy Herbert

On April28 I left Paris on the TGV (bullet train) going south to Aix-en-Provence, where I would pick up a rental car to complete the remaining 90 km journey to a country inn called Campagne Berne, just outside of the old village of Forcalquier. But before I tell you more about Campagne Berne, which defines in my mind the laid-back, rustic beauty of Provence, I feel compelled to describe my short journey there, just to acknowledge the darker side of traveling solo.

After arriving from Paris at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, I had no trouble finding a restroom, but to my dismay, pay toilets are still au courant in French train stations. Had to pay half a Euro. As I fished a coin out of my purse, I paid a silent note of gratitude to March Fong Eu, the California legislator who led the campaign to ban pay toilets in California back in the 1970s.

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