Never Off Duty

When an elderly woman's stumble turns disastrous on a small-ship cruise in the Galapagos Islands, Sally Moir, a nurse on vacation, suddenly finds the traveler's life in her hands. Fortunately, all ends well, but Sally is left to wonder about the line between adventure and recklessness. 

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Gorillas in the Missed

by Fyllis Hockman

"It can be a difficult journey. If you have a cold, cough or sniffle, don’t even bother lining up. Good hiking boots and a walking stick are a must. Bring plenty of water. Be sure to stay at least 25 feet away. Remember these are wild animals. If we need to carry you out, that will cost an extra $300." 

I was already intimidated by the pre-trek briefing and we hadn’t even started on our mountain gorilla expedition, which was part of a 16-day tour to southwestern Uganda sponsored by ElderTreks. The 25-foot rule, I learned, was for both their protection and ours. Sharing 98.4 percent of our DNA, the gorillas are very susceptible to human-borne illnesses. We were carriers and they had to be protected from us. They were wild animals and we had to be protected from them. A fair quid pro quo. Thus, eight humans a day are allowed to visit a gorilla group for no longer than an hour. Works for us; works for them. 

Gorilla trekkers ascending one of many steep climbs.

This is not exactly a drive-by photo op. With a vigorous trek of 1-7 hours, depending upon where the gorillas are that day, you have to REALLY want to see them. But even with visitation restricted to an hour, it is usually well worth the effort.

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What If Something Happens?

by Sally McKinney


Squeezed between napping young people in a tour van, I doubted that this Virgin del Carmen dance festival weekend was a good idea. I’d finished my bottle of water. The driver was swerving down rough roads toward a Peruvian village 3,200 meters high. Weak and dehydrated from several medications, I felt nausea with each lurching switchback.  

When I planned this July weekend in remote Paucartambo, I imagined the fun I’d have. Tripping around in my long, ruffled skirt—while sipping a pisco sour--I’d hitch up my skirt and join Peruvians, dancing in the street. 

Paucartambo, jammed with visitors for Festividad de La Virgen del Carmen, had limited lodging options. In the rear of the van, my back-up bottle of water was buried under luggage. Trucks, vans, cars, carts and visitors with daypacks blocked our way. We parked near a school so we could camp there for the night, but could not unload. After an hour in the parking lot, a tardy local woman unlocked the school room. I unzipped my duffel and gulped all the water I could hold.

Before I left home, my younger sister, Judy, who seldom travels, had shared her concern. “Isn’t Peru a developing country?” she asked and then began scolding, “You’re 78 years old! And you’re going to Peru?”

During the six-block walk to the plaza, we strolled past market stands stacked with alpaca blankets, fuzzy sweaters, striped ponchos and ear-flap hats. We were clearly in Peru. Two-story buildings with blue balconies overlooked the plaza on all sides. Standing on the sidewalk, I strained to see costumed performers parading down the street. My sister had said, “What if something happens?” Yet, as I surveyed the crowd, the festival scene looked safe enough to me. 

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Communing with the Garifuna in Belize

by Fyllis Hockman

Garifuna healer, Erdangela Polonio. Buyei, Belize. Picture this. The large thatched-roof, sand-carpeted temple was barren except for the obviously ill child curled up in the single cot by the wall. An old woman could be heard chanting from within her sacred chamber, candlelight flickering around the corners of the sheet separating her from the long hall. Her healing incantations, I later discovered, were addressed to the spirits who may have had reasons of their own to inflict the child.

Intrigued? Okay, here’s the story. Spirits are big in the Garifuna community of Belize -- which by the way is a Central American country that thinks it’s a Caribbean island.  Garifuna, you say? Never heard of them. Part of the melting pot civilization which comprises Belize, the Garifuna share the land with Creole, Mayan, Spanish, Mennonite, Chinese and other neighbors but their language, customs, foods and religion are unique. So are their spirits.

Now there are only about 7000 Garifuna currently in the country, but the spiritual population is a lot larger. “Our ancestors are all about us,” Lawrence, our guide, told me: “Just as we must eat and drink to live, so must they be nourished as well.” This is something the ancestors take very seriously.

So if they perceive they are being neglected, the dead return, most often through dreams, to remind the living that they are in need of nourishment. If this message goes unheeded, the spirits may get angry and make a family member sick. The ancestors do not take kindly to being ignored.

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Once Upon A Vine: A Unique Gathering of Grapes

by Fyllis Hockman

Relais San MaurizioAlright, we all know by now that drinking red wine is supposed to be heart-healthy. So then, shouldn’t slathering a glass of Merlot on your body be good for the skin? Such is the theory, sort of, at the Caudalie Spas. There are currently only four in the world, and I am luxuriating in a ‘vinotherapie’ massage in the Relais San Maurizio Hotel in the heart of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. The vintage is being absorbed into the skin rather than ingested into the bloodstream.

As is also true in Bordeaux, France, Rioja, Spain and New York City (Hmmm; don’t exactly think of the latter as a major wine-producing area…), here wine is king! And the appreciation of its many attributes – which, as those who know me can attest, I try to experience as often as I can – is a venerated practice. So it seems appropriate that the consumption of wine extend beyond traditional imbibing.

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China Observations: The More it Changes, The More it Stays the Same...and Sometimes Not

by Fyllis Hockman

As a travel journalist, I’m fortunate enough to travel the world, reveling in a multitude of life-enhancing experiences that I would never otherwise be exposed to. I then get to come home, kicking and screaming, and write about them, usually dispensing with facts and focusing instead on my observations. After a recent trip to Shandong Province in China, I had even more observations than usual and was motivated to record them before even thinking about the article I would ultimately write. So here I’ve blended the personal with the professional—and they are indeed more personal than professional—in the hopes of sharing with you my private reactions to that recent trip.

Once a country of thousands upon thousands of bikes, gray-green clothes and propaganda signs everywhere promoting Mao Tse-Tung, the glories of socialism and China’s one-child policy, China now boast 6-lane highways full of traffic, bright Western high-fashion dress and advertising promoting Sony to Gucci to Prada to Ferrari to KFC and Starbucks, of course, and even 7/11s. What not long ago were farming villages are now bustling urban metropolises with legions of skyscrapers and high-priced  condominiums . China has not only come into the 21st century but is forging ahead of most other countries into the next.

After 10 days and nights with our 30-year-old young guide and mother of a three-year-old, we became such close friends that we were walking down the streets with our arms around each other. A strange and wonderful relationship forged so quickly.

Many Chinese prefer drinking just plain hot water to anything else – and everything is served warm, from water to soda to beer – especially beer.

Despite all of China’s progress, Western toilets have not really caught on except in the better hotels. Everywhere else, at attractions and restaurants, treadle toilets are the norm—more often than not, without toilet paper. You think you get used to them—but you don’t really.

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