Visiting a time warp: Madang, Papua New Guinea

Boys in hand-crafted dugout canoes rowed beside our ship.  Guests on the ship’s deck threw gifts – fruit, coins and other minor items, and the boys dove to retrieve them.  It is was something I had seen before, perhaps in a movie from the 1930s or 1940s.  But this time it was real.  This was Madang, Papua New Guinea in 2011.


Our ship passed place-names saturated with bloody World War II history.  We went through the China Straits from the Coral Sea to the Solomon Sea, sites of major sea battles.  Men fought on land in Papua New Guinea, the southern half of the island of New Guinea.  We passed New Britain and Bougainville.  Guadalcanal was about ten degrees to our east.  Coast-watchers hid in island jungles to report Japanese movements to Australian, British and American forces.  Madang was almost completely destroyed during Japanese occupation and the fight to retake it in April 1944.  So many young soldiers, sailors and airmen died on both sides.

But all that was during our parent’s generation.  We are old now, and most people will soon forget.

Madang Province has many of the island’s highest peaks and active volcanoes. But it was raining and cloudy, so we did not see much of the mountains.  As we approached the island, we were told 175 languages are spoken in Madang, some by tribes with fewer than a thousand people.

Papua New Guinea

Australia has had a close connection to Madang since the First World War. Therefore, many people speak English or a form thereof, and Australian and U.S. dollars were accepted as well as the local “kira.”

The ship sailed through a long channel into the beautiful harbor just before noon.  The rain let up, and crowds of people on shore followed from empty lot to empty lot.

The Amsterdam, at 778 feet, was short compared to many modern cruise ships.  But it extended beyond Madang’s dock at both ends.

Alie and I were among the first to get off.  A “bamboo band” played on the dock.  In addition to stringed instruments, two men sat on what looked like a pile of bamboo organ pipes and slapped the ends with paddles. The size and length of the bamboo determined the sound.

A large crowd had gathered by the port’s gate.  As we walked through it, people began to smile, wave and applaud.  For a second, we felt like celebrities.

We walked along a muddy street beneath huge trees towards the Coast Watchers Memorial.  We were asked by a local lady if we needed directions.  We really didn’t, but “Maggie” stayed with us and chatted with Alie until we reached our goal.  The memorial to World War II coast-watchers is a tall obelisk with a rotating navigation light at the top.

Maggie, who had declined several rides from friends, then left us.  We saw her later, and it was clear she had gone out of her way just to talk to us.

Madang is poor, and every house and building was fenced, barred and had security warnings.  A “Comfort Inn” motel with an armed guard at the gate sat across from the memorial.  But there were no beggars.

Many faces looked like their fathers or surely their grandfathers had been head hunters.  Teeth were often filed to points and stained by betel nut.  But everyone was friendly and welcoming.

We bought a shell necklace, a wood pendant and a small inlaid wood bowl.  Their carving is good.   Other passengers were buying large carved masks and various stone and carved weapons as well as bows and arrows.

At one point, a girl told us something was twelve dollars.  Alie asked how much money I had, just wondering what I was carrying.  The girl immediately reduced her price, but we weren’t bargaining.  We insisted on paying the full price.  In some places, they feel bargaining is appropriate and might even look down on those who don’t bargain.  But we, wealthy enough to be on a cruise ship even if in an inexpensive cabin, felt ashamed to bargain when they clearly needed the money.

Click on photos to enlarge.

When we left in the evening, people once again lined the dock and cheered and waved.  As it got dark, cars blinked their lights on and off.  As went down the channel again, they followed shouting “bye, bye, bye.”

It was like something out of a really old movie.

Date of our visit: 27 February 2011

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Chinese Gooseberries, a.k.a. Kiwifruit in New Zealand

Looking back while moving forward: As I winnow out a bunch of old photographs, here is a look back.

It is wonderful to be passionate about your work…someone who loves their work really never “works” at all.

We were on a tour out of Tauranga, New Zealand’s third largest port.  They took us to a “winery,” actually only a store and restaurant.  It used to be all tours took you to cathedrals; now they go to wineries, and this one was even more dull than our 51st church.

But when we stopped at a family run kiwifruit orchard, the owner, Graham Crossman, boarded our bus and said, “my son was supposed to take you around but he isn’t around, so I will do it.”

His ardent fervor soon converted us to the religion of the wholly [holy?] nutritious and flavorful kiwi fruit.

Kiwifruit came to New Zealand as Chinese gooseberries.  But when New Zealanders wanted to export to the U.S., the tariff was higher on berries than on fruit.  So in the 1960s, they renamed the product Kiwi-fruit.

They grow on vines like grapes but are strung on wires about five feet overhead.  Crossman’s 11-acre orchard was one of about 2000 in an area that produced 350,000 tons of export quality – no bruises or cuts – kiwis a year.

The plants roots reach deep into the rich volcanic soil and needs no irrigation to get the large amounts of water they require.  Crossman boasted their quality was higher than kiwis from India and China which produce more.

There is one male for each four female plants, but the flowers produce no nectar.  Therefore, the farmer leased 35 hives, 80,000 bees altogether, at $160 per hive.  He paid a premium to rent his pollinating bees because there is no nectar and no honey is produced; indeed, he had to feed the bees sugar water to keep them alive.

The plants need a frost to kill pests and set the flowers, but a frost in the spring will spoil the fruit.  In some areas where late frosts are infrequent, they use helicopters to blow warm air from an inversion layer down onto the plants.  He had too many frosts to make the expensive helicopters practical, so he built a U.S, $55,000 fan that rotates every ten minutes circulating the air over his fields.

Through grafting plants over the previous seven years, 25 percent of the crop was now a patented gold fruit.  A Rutgers study of 13 common fruits found kiwifruit to be the most nutritious.

They are hand-picked from April through June, and Crossman said the government will not pay the “dole” during picking season because jobs are available if one wants to work.  Minimum wage was $13 an hour, and all unemployed must pick.

Click on Photos to enlarge.

I cannot adequately convey the enthusiasm in Graham Crossman’s voice as he took us among the plants.  We eagerly consumed kiwi-flavored products at the end of the tour, all sure we would add kiwis to our diets when we got home.  Alie and I had scones with kiwi-fruit jam and clotted cream, probably negating the nutrition value of the berries.

Now years later, we eat an occasional kiwi, but it isn’t the same as it was in Graham Crossman’s passionate presence.

New Zealand Kiwi statue

Date of our visit 8 Feb 2011

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

U.S. National Parks; the last set

These are photos from the last of our list of U.S. National Parks.  Visit the previous weeks to see the others.

Pandemic restrictions are gradually being lifted as I write this, and I hope we can all travel more frequently soon.  Happy travels.

  1. * Kobuk Valley National Park: Alaska
  2. * Lake Clark National Park: Alaska
  3. Lassen Volcanic National Park: California
  4. Mammoth Cave National Park: Kentucky
  5. Mesa Verde National Park: Colorado
  6. Mount Rainier National Park: Washington
  7. * North Cascades National Park: Washington
  8. Olympic National Park: Washington
  9. Petrified Forest National Park: Arizona
  10. * Pinnacles National Park: California
  11. Redwood National Park: California
  12. Rocky Mountain National Park: Colorado
  13. Saguaro National Park: Arizona
  14. Sequoia National Park: California
  15. Shenandoah National Park: Virginia
  16. Theodore Roosevelt National Park: North Dakota
  17. Virgin Islands National Park: United States Virgin Islands [No pictures]
  18. Voyageurs National Park: Minnesota
  19. White Sands National Park: New Mexico
  20. Wind Cave National Park: South Dakota
  21. Wrangell—St. Elias National Park: Alaska
  22. Yellowstone National Park: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
  23. Yosemite National Park: California
  24. Zion National Park: Utah

Click on photos to enlarge.

We have yet to visit those with an asterisk.  We are particularly hoping Biscayne National Park [in the first list] opens before we move away from Florida.

Click on the links to go to the National Park Service site for each park.


Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Oklahoma State Sugar Arts Show and Grand National Wedding Cake Competition

Alie loves baking; I love eating.  It is a match made in heaven.  But years of rheumatoid arthritis have crippled her hands, so she can only admire talented cake decorators.

Kerry Vincent, an Australian-born cake designer, was founder of the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition and co-founder of the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show which celebrated its 25th and last anniversary in 2018.

Tulsa State Fair, September 2009

The annual competition ran for a number of years on the Food Network and was one of our favorite programs – again, Alie likes to bake; I like to eat.

After a few years marveling at what we saw on TV, we decided to see it for ourselves.  We flew to Tulsa for a long weekend and, in addition to the competition, visited the Tulsa State Fair and Gilcrease Museum of Western Art.

The cakes were divided into divisions ranging from professional to amateur, masters to beginners, adults to teenagers and categories from wedding cakes to novelty cakes to simply elaborate sugar decorations.

We have far too many photos.  But here are a few I hope you will enjoy.  Click on photos to enlarge.

Although Vincent has retired, a Google search might lead you to see a similar show yourself.  Here is just one link.

Date of our visit: 27 Sep 08

PS: We loved to see it; but I was disappointed to learn the competition was all about decoration; the cakes were often months old and therefore inedible.  Nonetheless, the artwork was amazing.  Alie’s cake below might not be as elaborate, but it was delicious.

Alie’s cake inside a sugar cage

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

National parks, part 2: Begin to dream.

When does a trip begin?  Does it begin when you leave?  Or does it begins when you dream, when you have an idea?

I am writing this while we are still locked down by the pandemic.  As I wrote two weeks ago, it is good to see what is in the United States between the coasts, and a good place to start is with the U.S. National Parks.

Here are photos from my second group.  Asterisks note parks we haven’t been to yet.

  1. Dry Tortugas National Park: Florida
  2. Everglades National Park: Florida
  3. * Gates of the Arctic National Park: Alaska
  4. Gateway Arch National Park: Missouri
  5. Glacier Bay National Park: Alaska
  6. Glacier National Park: Montana
  7. Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona
  8. Grand Teton National Park: Wyoming
  9. Great Basin National Park: Nevada
  10. Great Sand Dunes National Park: Colorado
  11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Tennessee, North Carolina
  12. Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Texas
  13. * Haleakalā National Park: Hawaii
  14. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park: Hawaii
  15. * Hot Springs National Park: Arkansas
  16. * Indiana Dunes National Park: Indiana
  17. Isle Royale National Park: Michigan
  18. Joshua Tree National Park: California
  19. * Katmai National Park: Alaska
  20. * Kenai Fjords National Park: Alaska
  21. Kings Canyon National Park: California

Click on photos to enlarge.


Click on the links to go to the National Park Service site for each park.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

A Blue Hawaii on Kauai

Elvis Presley’s film Blue Hawaii was filmed at the Coco Palms Resort on the island of Kauaʻi.  The resort, built in 1953 on the site of an 1896 coconut plantation, was managed by Grace Buscher.

The Coco Palms Resort

Buscher made the resort a destination for Hawaiian-style weddings and established an evening torch-lighting ceremony [copied by many other hotels] and tree-plantings in honor of famous people from the islands and around the world.

The Chapel on the property was built by a movie production company in 1953 for the film Miss Sadie Thompson, starring Rita Hayworth.  Elvis’ character was married there at the climax of his film.

A Blue-Hawaii wedding.

Although very popular with its Blue Hawaii-themed weddings, by the time we visited in 1990, the resort was beginning to show wear.  But we made it in time.

The property was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.  The property has no direct beach access and is unlikely to ever become a hotel again.

Alie and I enjoyed several blissful days on Kauai before we were joined by old friends Neville and Linda.  Unfortunately, Neville had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, had to eat on a very strict schedule, and was seriously depressed.  We were sympathetic, but it was depressing for us all.

But as they checked in, Neville noticed The Kingston Trio was booked to play that week.  He immediately purchased four tickets in the first row.

The “theater” was simply a conference room which quickly filled up.  Alie said her friend Stef at home would love to have the trio’s autographs.  None of us had paper or a pen, so I volunteered to go back to the room to get them.  When I returned, I noticed the trio was alone in a bar.  I went in and apologized to Bob Shane, one of the original trio: “Tonight you are a quartet; my wife knows every one of your songs and will sing along.”

In the middle of their performance, Shane leaned over, pointed at Alie and said “You’re right.  She knows them better than we do!”

Being at the front, we were last to file out after the show.  There the trio was again alone in the bar.  We went in.  Alie got to sing again with the Kingston Trio [Bob Shane, George Grove and Roger Gambill at the time].  I recall Grove grumbling he had been with the group many years longer than original member Nick Reynolds but never got the credit. Grove, who knew nothing of Neville’s problems, told Neville he could play Grove’s banjo while they sang.  We had no idea Neville was an accomplished banjo player.  He then began playing the most expensive banjo he had ever held.

The depression was gone.  For the rest of the week, Neville was a happy – yea even, ecstatic – man, and we all enjoyed a fabulous time.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Dates of our visit: 1 Nov 90 to 13 Nov 90

PS: I got two autographs for Stef and her husband Steve before the show and the third in the bar after it.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Begin with United States National Parks, Part One

I recently read a post by a well-traveled foreign blogger who referred the the United States as ecologically “dead.”  He had visited the U.S. — Miami, New York and Los Angeles — and somehow thought he had seen the United States.

Unfortunately, our own citizens are not much better.  When I was working in Washington, D.C. and the metro New York City area, so many of my acquaintances had been to Paris, Rome and London but had never seen any of our own country.

This is a big country.  You really can’t grasp it from an airplane.

Perhaps when “social distancing” has ended, people won’t be interested in seeing sparsely-populated areas, but there is a lot to see.  There are 109 million acres of protected wilderness in the U.S.   Our national parks cover 84 million acres.  The Bureau of Land Management manages 244.4 million federally-owned mixed use acres and the Forest Service manages 192.9 million acres.  Plus, fifty-six percent of the 751 million acres of forest land in the United States is privately owned.

As a reference point, the United Kingdom has an area of 59.922 million acres.

Wrangell St. Elias is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined! And it has higher mountains!

If you are ready to explore the U.S. beyond the coasts, the national parks are a great place to begin.  They are beautiful, for the most part well-managed, and illuminate a country that has been committed to preserving its natural beauty for over one hundred years.

There are 62 U.S. National parks.  Here is a list of the first 17 alphabetically.  Asterisks indicate parks we have not visited yet.

  1. Acadia National Park: Maine
  2. American Samoa National Park: American Samoa
  3. Arches National Park: Utah
  4. Badlands National Park: South Dakota
  5. Big Bend National Park: Texas
  6. * Biscayne National Park: Florida [barely three hours from us, no less 🤔]
  7. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Colorado
  8. Bryce Canyon National Park: Utah
  9. Canyonlands National Park: Utah
  10. Capitol Reef National Park: Utah
  11. Carlsbad Caverns National Park: New Mexico
  12. * Channel Islands National Park: California
  13. Congaree National Park: South Carolina
  14. Crater Lake National Park: Oregon
  15. Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Ohio
  16. Death Valley National Park: California, Nevada
  17. Denali National Park: Alaska

Click on photos to enlarge.

Click on links to go to the National Park Service site for each park.

Posted in Commentary, Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Cardboard Boat Regatta, Cape Coral, Florida

Looking back while moving forward – As I winnow out a bunch of old photographs, here is a look back.

Among pandemic’s victims is Cape Coral’s annual Cardboard Boat Regatta which had been scheduled in April; it would have been the 25th event in 26 years [It was cancelled once because the bay in which it was to be held was polluted.].

Somewhat like similar events in other parts of the country, anyone can participate by building boats using only cardboard, glue, tape and paint.  Materials which would aid flotation are prohibited as are decorations that might help keep the boat together.

Boats are built by everyone: families, students, clubs, neighbors, and businesses.

And yes, a lot of the boats sink.  Maybe that is why as many as three thousand spectators will line the shores to watch the event.  Or maybe it is just fun.

As sports fans often say, “wait until next year.”

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 3 Jun 2006

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Simple pleasures


Bloggers have taught me a lot about India.  But recently, this young Indian woman wrote about using the quieter time now forced on us to find “immense satisfaction and happiness in small little things of life.”

I had not thought about it that way, but we too have enjoyed some new, more relaxed activities.  Among other things, we walk down to the bridge by our condo to feed the fish.  It has been a simple pleasure that rewards us most evenings with something new.

Sitting on our lanai, we had seen people regularly stopping by.  One elderly lady comes with bread for the fish each morning.  They like it better than the commercial pond fish food I had in the garage.

We are careful not to feed Wally, the neighborhood alligator, but he is not there most evenings.  On the other hand, some birds do seem to come shortly before sunset.

An anhinga swam under the clear water gathering up small fish before getting out to dry his wings.

One evening we saw a yellow-crested night heron for our first and only time.  His relatives, the black-crested, are common in the area.

On another night, a young hawk settled on the bridge about ten feet from us.  Recently I saw the rain-sleeked bird on top of a lamp post looking like a finial, but this is the closest I have ever seen any hawk.

A group of three turtles learned to look for people on the bridge.  They come swimming up right away.  They are too slow to compete with the fish, but we find if we lure them into shallower water, they grab a bite now and then.

Three turtles and a heron

But the most interesting to us is a green-backed heron, a small bird.  Unlike the moorhen or the ibis, he is not interested in bread.  He waits for us to toss a piece close to the shore and then grabs the fish that come to get it.  He is very patient and very fast.  Normally his head sticks close to his shoulders.  When he spears a fish, it flashes out on a long neck so quickly it is almost too fast to see.  If the fish is a little larger than average, he has to extend his neck in order to swallow it, sometimes almost doubling the length of his body.

Click on photos to enlarge.

These photos were taken on my phone; I regret I missed both the night heron and several tarpon which came swimming to within about ten feet one day.  It would have been wonderful to have had a camera to capture these unusual visitors.

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Gila Cliff Dwellings, National Monument, New Mexico

Looking back while moving forward.  As I winnow out a bunch of old photographs, here is a look back.

Mogollon Mountains on the AZ/NM border

We spent about three weeks wandering around southern New Mexico in 2005 creating many great memories.  As I write this, travel is limited, but if you live in the southwest corner of New Mexico or are traveling that way after Covid-19 pandemic, check out the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Caves along the Gila River provided shelter for nomadic First Americans for thousands of years.  Then in the late 1200’s, Tularosa Mogollon people built homes there.

Unlike larger and more famous cliff dwellings in the southwest, the park trail actually leads you into the dwellings.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 8 May 2005

PS:  Our truck’s spare tire was held on to the bottom of the bed by a cable and clamp.  Evidently the cable rusted out.  The tire dropped onto the dirt road leading back to the cliff dwellings without our noticing.  But a good Samaritan tracked us down in the Visitor’s Center and told us where he propped the still new tire by a tree on the road.  It is nice to be reminded how kind people are.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments