Monthly Archives: November 2018

Michael Crichton’s Travels

I love travel books.  In fact, I’m currently reading one about a single woman from Missouri, Kira Salak, who paddled up the Niger River in Africa from Old Segou to Timbuktu alone sometime in the 1st decade of the 20th century.  I recently finished a very old book by Michael Crichton, who died in 2008 from cancer.  Among his many books was Jurassic Park, but he also wrote a book called Travels.  I found it in a used bookstore several years ago, but for some reason didn’t read it until now.


Now I understand why.  It was only one-third about actual travel.  The 1st 80 or so pages was about Crichton’s experiences in medical school.  The essays in the middle part were about his definitely exotic travels to unusual destinations between 1971 and 1986.  The final part concerned his explorations in spiritualism and New Age subjects, some of which he described as “a lot of hippie-dippy airy-fairy baloney” on page 303.  Because his travel experiences were thoughtfully rendered, I really enjoyed them.  For example, he visited Singapore before it became like any other big city, the most expensive metropolis in the world, and a movie set (Crazy Rich Asians).

I rushed through all the stuff in Crichton’s book except for the travel essays even though I rather enjoyed reading about his medical school experiences while he was trying to decide whether or not to desert medicine for full-time writing and movie-making.  He made the right decision.  He was an excellent writer/describer with individualistic ideas about travel, and Crichton wrote about offbeat places like the Pyramid of the Magician and Baltistan.

To illustrate his talent, here is my favorite episode.   While walking in the jungle on the Malaysian island of Pahang, he noticed he was suddenly surrounded by flowers.  He was in a vast jungle in bloom.  Then he realized that he was also surrounded by bees.  His companion Dennis told him to remain calm because the bees were only on him because of his salty sweat.  “They will not sting,” Dennis assured.   However, Crichton wrote, “I feel them crawling over my cheeks and forehead.  I feel them in my ears, and hear the hum of their many wings.  I see them crawling on the frames of my glasses.  I feel them tickling as they walk on my eyelids.  I feel them clustered on my lips.   I am no longer relaxed.”



Immense Orlando

What is theme park city USA?  Most travelers would say Orlando, Florida.  When Walt Disney World came to town in 1971, Orlando’s population was slightly more than 500,000.  Now it’s more than 2 million.  According to, the Orlando area’s people-count grew by 3.2% this year.

Ruth and I went to Orlando about a month ago.  It was her 2nd time there and my first.  Orlando was the only American city of more than one million people that I had never been to, and I wanted to see it for that irrational reason.

Was it worth it?  Yes and no.  Orlando is the kind of town best visited with children.  Almost every ad and brochure about it shows grinning kids or happy couples with at least 2 children.  We had no children with us this time.  I found Orlando ridiculously expensive.  It cost us more than $20 just to use the toll road to get there from Fort Lauderdale, and we had to pay another toll to get to our hotel.  We planned to spend an entire day at Epcot until several people told us that it was not worth $94 per person.  They said the international idea remained viable but that its attractions were tired and needed overhauling, at the very least.  There were plenty of other theme parks to focus on, but a city of this size with massive road construction projects everywhere and poor signage made it difficult to get around and ate up both time and desire.

The best way to visit Walt Disney World, we quickly learned, was to buy multi-day tickets that included discounts.  We were only there for a couple of days, which made this less-than-useful information.  Again families with deep pockets would definitely benefit from this new change in ticketing options as long as they didn’t mind going back to Disney for several visits.  And other big changes are coming.  In 2021 a Guardians of the Galaxy rollercoaster is due at Disney.  It will be one of the world’s longest enclosed rollercoasters.  There will be several changes at Epcot too.  By 2020, for example, the traditional fireworks display will be history and there will be a new nighttime spectacular set to Disney music.  Any decent theme park is constantly changing its offerings to attract families.

I did not find Orlando an especially excellent place for adults seeking culture.  Its main museum named after Charles Hosmer Morse bragged about its Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass collection, and I’m sure its fine if you haven’t seen much Tiffany stuff in other museums.  But we have.  In fact, I’ve seen enough Tiffany glass to last a lifetime, and we were in Orlando on a Monday, the typical day for museum closures.  The Kennedy Space Center was not incredibly far away but did require some travel time.  Our AAA book about Central Florida encouraged us to visit all-ages Wonder Works to “experience the wondrous world of science…and try to stand in 71 mph hurricane winds.”   One AAA consultant at home spent some time trying to get Ruth and me to go to Gatorland.  She said that when she lived in Orlando, this attraction that has been around for 68 years was her favorite.  Universal’s Volcano Bay wanted me to “ride the Ko’okiri Body Plunge”.  Its main attraction is a 70-degree fall through a drop door.  The AAA calls this “white-knuckle fun”.

Brightline is coming!  In the future, people heading from Miami to Orlando will be able to hop aboard a relatively high speed (up to 125 mph) train to make the 235 mile trip in 3 hours. There is no estimate of ticket cost yet, but this project will require at least $2.5 billion to complete.  Eventually.   I think I’ll wait until its operational to return to Orlando.


Wright’s Taliesin West

The last time Ruth and I saw Taliesin West, we had a guide who told us facts.  This time we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s western headquarters in Scottsdale, we were led about the property by Larry, who interjected interesting stories among his facts.  This made for a more interesting experience.   What a great tour!

For example, I learned that Mr. Wright arrived in Phoenix 10 years before he conceived Taliesin West to work on the now historic Biltmore Hotel.  He and his 3rd wife Olgivanna began winter camping at what is now his southwest architectural laboratory in the Phoenix area in 1933, when he was already a vigorous 70 year old.  He still had 22 productive years ahead of him, and living in the Sonoran desert near the end of the Great Depression led to new thinking.   Frank Lloyd Wright was a man of little formal education.  He was a learn-by-doing kind of thinker.  I also learned that his given middle name was Lincoln, not Lloyd.  He had a less-than-great relationship with his father and, when appropriate, he adopted the name Lloyd from his mother’s side of the family.   I didn’t know that he retained keys to the properties he built, and that clients who rearranged his furniture and objects sometimes returned home to find  items moved back to the place he originally visualized for them.

Frank Lloyd Wright was probably the premier US architect during his lifetime and even after his death in 1959.  When Architectural Record magazine did an article about the 100 most significant buildings in the world in 1991, according to Taliesin West’s interpretive guide, 11 of them had been designed by him.

After staying in the desert for 5 or 6 months for several years to avoid Wisconsin winters, Frank Lloyd Wright decided to move his sleeping quarters inside, and he created a small all-aluminum bathroom crafted from airplane parts for personal use.  Tour takers see it.   They also see a hexagonal door, the power lines that Wright hated, and some excellent water features.  Told that he would have to go down 5,000 feet to have water on his property, Wright struck it at less than 500 feet.  He was blessed with an inventive brain that seldom shut down. Thoughts came so often that he didn’t take the time to patent his better ideas, except for his favorite color, Cherokee red.

Larry took the time to tell us about other Wright properties in the Phoenix area that Wright designed.  Some of them give tours that are not widely known and publicized.  I plan to learn more about them.


ps one woman on the tour convinced herself that the floor in the room we were visiting was slanted.  It was an optical illusion invented by restless genius Frank Lloyd Wright.



Manzanillo is a safe destination in Mexico.   Both the Mexican army and navy have bases there.  It has the lowest crime rate of any city in the country and is in the least touristy part of Mexico’s Pacific cluster of ports.  Manzanillo is in Colima, which is Mexico’s 2nd smallest state.  It’s increasingly popular as Acapulco has fallen on hard times.

While still regarded as safe for tourists, Acapulco continues to have its troubles. It’s reported that 5 drug cartels are engaged in a turf war there.  Acapulco is often referred to as Mexico’s murder capital.

Manzanillo’s #1 attraction is fishing.  It’s known as the sailfish capital of the world.  Marlin, tuna, and other fish are also regularly caught.  It hosts national and  international fishing competitions every year that attract thousands of fishing fans.  A turquoise sailfish sculpture dominates its waterfront.  The sailfish competition is held in November at the beginning of the dry season, which lasts until May.  Manzanillo is also a popular place for snorkeling and diving because it sits on 2 attractive bays with coral reefs and dive sites nearby.

Not as big as the nearby city of Colima, Manzanillo has grown to about 140,000 residents and is thriving.   It benefits from being close to busy Pacific Coastal Highway #200, which runs from the Guatemalan border to Tepic, a distance of almost 1,300 miles.  It’s an increasingly important port because it handles lots of the cargo heading for landlocked Mexico City, which is now larger than New York and one of the largest cities in the world.  Mexico City is listed as one of the hot destinations for 2019 in the latest edition of National Geographic’s Traveler Magazine.  Manzanillo is also a well-used and satisfying cruise ship port with a Walmart.



Fuego Volcano


The smoking but not erupting Volcán de Fuego above the Guatemalan city of Antigua that we visited in October, 2018, has blown again.   The eruption began on November 19th.  Thousands have been evacuated so far.  Fuego is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and this proves it.  It also erupted last June.  That incident killed 194 people, and more than 200 are still missing.

On our way to Antigua we drove through the devastation.  The highway we were on went right through it, and there were signs of recovery all around.  There was lots of truck traffic and machinery grooming the terrain along National Route 14, especially around the golf course affected.  Even clothes were hanging on drying lines as people were trying to return to normal.  A store or two in the area had reopened and there were vendors operating what looked like temporary stalls.

Lots of vehicles were using the highway, but our driver was clearly uncomfortable.  He took us back to the ship via another route, which gave us a chance to see some chicken busses and Guatemala City.  Fuego is less than 19 miles from Antigua.  Another source reports a 9 mile distance.  Nine seems more accurate, but I don’t know for sure.

We did not stop, but I was able to take a few hazy photos through the bus window while feeling like a reporter in a war zone.  Our host on the bus, a man named Ericka, told us as we drove through the affected area that his country has 32 volcanoes. Yet another source says that Guatemala has 37 volcanos.  Ericka told us that the Volcán de Fuego has been erupting regularly for many years and that the lava flows were especially dramatic at night.  He told us that many of the locals had refused to leave the area in June and were swept away by the pyroclastic cloud, a fast moving combination of gas and volcanic matter.  They are still missing and presumed dead.  Pyroclastic flows move quickly down valleys. rather predictably says, “No.  You should not cancel your trip to Guatemala because of Fuego Volcano’s recent or future eruptions.”  This historic city is far enough away from current eruptions to be safe.   For now.  There are 2 other volcanoes visible from Antigua, one is dormant and the other is described as extinct.