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I Know How To Keep A Fire Going
Continuing my efforts to get caught up on this thing - a pictorial account of last year's visit to Mt Cardigan (3,121'). Just Tom N and me on this one. Apologies to Rob, who had previously tried at least twice to organize a trip to Cardigan, but the schedules just didn't work out. Tom and I happened to have the day available and we went for it.

Breakfast at Chantilly's in Hooksett NH again. Why mess with success? From there, north on Rte 93 to Bristol, then west to Alexandria (should have checked to see if they have a library) and on to Cardigan State Park. The directions were a little vague, and a couple times we wondered if we'd made a wrong turn, but then the AMC Lodge appeared.

Cardigan Lodge. Pretty nice.


Fairly warm, and more sun than clouds as we prepare to depart.


Lots of group camping sites not too far up the trail from the Lodge. Looks like this is a popular destination for Boy Scouts and other youth groups. For some reason I was fascinated by these Jobox containers.


Many trails ascend Cardigan. We continued on the Holt trail... later, we chose to remain on Holt rather than branching left onto Cathedral Forest, which would have been longer but not so steep. This may have been a mistake.




Here it started to get quite steep, but was still completely wooded. We stop for a rest while another hiker passes us by. More cloud cover is coming in now.




Pretty rugged for a medium size mountain, but still we figure we can handle it. At this point we thought we'd seen the worst of it, and that we'd be at the summit in no time.






Yikes! We are wrong! Suddenly the path goes straight up! This mercifully brief segment of the Holt trail is the steepest thing I have ever climbed, save perhaps the Flume Slide in '94. The people in this picture were trying to climb that segment a few minutes earlier as we approached from behind them, and we watched helplessly as the guy lost his footing and slid downward about ten feet. It was scary. He was freaked out. So was I! Tom and I managed to climb it, with difficulty. There was very little to hold onto, and it was hard to get a good grip on the rock face with your feet.


From there it was only a short distance to the summit, which has a huge open area thanks to a fire way back when. Here we look west towards the town of Orange. Cardigan can also be ascended from the west side, which I understand is substantially easier.


Looking north towards Firescrew (3,050'), Cardigan's little brother. We will be heading over there shortly.


Contents of this fire tower: one grumpy Fire Warden. No backpacks!!






Here, Tom appears to be auditioning to become a member of America's favorite musical act: The Fifth Dimension! Up, up and away, on my beautiful, my beautiful balloooooon...


Leaving the summit, we descended briefly on the Mowglis Trail and completed the short journey over to nearby Firescrew. Here we look back at Cardigan.


Posing with a cairn.




Neat.


Mountaintop ecosystem.


Eventually we returned to that trail junction, and I examined this sign more critically. "Trail on steep ledges dangerous when in rain, or ice has formed." !!! Dangerous every day!


We didn't stop for dinner, but I seem to recall a Burger King drive-thru and a frosty chocolate milkshake.

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(Decided to push this chronology up back up to the top of the blog, since hiking season is coming up and I've just posted some of the Garfield pics [1998]. Haven't yet gotten to Mt Cardigan or Mt Osceola [both 2007] but will try to get there soon.)

This seems like the right place to record my recollections of the hiking excursions I've made over the years. I'll start with a timeline covering as many trips as I can remember. Might have the years slightly off on a couple of them. All in New Hampshire except where noted.

1990: Mt Owl, at Baxter State Park in northern Maine. With Craig, Mike, Tom S. (Details here.)

Hiking kind of fell off the radar for a couple of years after this.

1993: Loop around Mts Lincoln and Lafayette. With Craig, Mike, Tom S.
1993: Mt Jefferson. With John Maisano, one of my college roommates.
1994: Loop around Mts Flume and Liberty. With Mike, Tom S. (Details here.)
1994: Mt Eisenhower. With Craig, Kim, Mike. (Details here.)
1995: The "May" trip- several days in and around Gorham, NH. With Mike and a guest appearance by Rob.
1995: Kancamagus Highway weekend, including visit to Boulder Loop. With Mike, Rita, Tom S, I think.
1996: Grand Canyon, Bright Angel trail. Part of the Arizona trip. With Mike, Tom S.
1996: Mt Moosilauke. A large entourage did this one, including but not necessarily limited to: Mike, Jody, Heidi, Dave G, Dennis, Carol.

1997 was a lost year for me as I dislocated my shoulder playing hoops in the spring and wasn't back up to par physically until it was too late.

1998: Mt Garfield. With Craig, Kim, Mike, Tom S. (Details here.)
1999: Mt Adams. With Mike, Tom S.
1999-2002? Loop around Carter Dome and Mt Hight. With Mike. Really struggling to place the date on this one.
2000: Mt Washington. With Mike, Tom S.
2001: Mt Madison. With Mike, Tom S.
2002: Mt Chocorua. With Mike, Tom S.
2003: Greeley Ponds and Welch / Dickey loop. With Mike, Tom S. (Details here.)
2004: Zeacliff and Zealand Notch. With Rob. (Details here.)
2004: Mt Kinsman. With Bill.
2004: Pack Monadnock. With Mike, Rob, Terri.
2005: Loop around Mts Jackson and Webster. With Mike, Terri, Tom N. (Details here.)
2006: Mt Cube. With Tom N.
2006: Loop around Mts Percival and Morgan. With Mike, Rob, Tom N. (Details here.)
2007: Mt Major. With Tom N. (Details here.)
2007: Mt Monroe. With Tom S. (Details here.)
2007: Mt Cardigan. With Tom N. (Details here.)

I'll post what details I can recall of these trips in future entries as I find time.

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Boy, it's been a long time since I posted anything here. Anyway, discussions re: this year's hiking plans are well underway, and I was recently reminded of our trip to Mt Garfield in 1998. I have some photos Tom S took way back then with his ancient digital camera, so.

The original plan was to do South Twin Mountain, a rather lengthy hike. I think I picked up Tom and we headed up to Mike's work (I believe he was still at Media 100 then) to get him. Craig and Kim were living in Haverhill at that time, and they had invited us to spend the night there. Our intent was to get up real early so that even with the 3 hour drive we could still get to the trailhead at a reasonable time. Somehow the getting up early part never happened and we got a late start. Even so we were still thinking that we might make decent time and still do South Twin-- until Craig got pulled over for speeding.* While we waited for the trooper to do his thing, I concluded that we no longer had time for the bigger mountain since we might find ourselves descending after dark. After a moment's consultation with my many reference books, I settled on Mt Garfield (4,500'), which would be a somewhat shorter journey.

*(A couple months later I took a day off and joined Craig when he returned to NH to contest his speeding ticket. His hopes rested largely on the possibility that the trooper might be a no-show, but he was there and the judge unsurprisingly sided with the lawman. Later that day we hiked up Belknap Mountain, an easy trek which features a rickety old firetower and a view of one of the big lakes.. can't remember if it's Squam or Winnepesaukee.)

The trailhead is off Rte 3, just north of Franconia State Park. We got there between 10:30-11:00am, leaving just enough time to get back safely before dark, so long as we didn't dawdle. Here we are getting ready to begin.

Kim, Craig.


Tom, me, Mike, Craig.


Doritos and Nature. Could I be any happier?


Resuming the ascent.


This is the final steep climb just before reaching the summit. There are no views on the way up, not even a glimpse, which just made the panoramic view that suddenly opened up at the end all the more spectacular.


Mt Lafayette and Franconia Ridge in the background.


This little chap followed me around for awhile. Maybe I dropped a Dorito?


The gang huddled here to escape the wind while enjoying a pic-i-nic lunch.


Looking south into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.


This picture strikes me as funny. Not sure I can explain why.


Mike unleashes an odd expression as the descent begins.


That night we stayed at the Profile Lodge in Twin Mountain, and we spent most of the night playing Honor of the Samurai. We've since discovered better games, but at the time it was our favorite.


Later, wackiness ensued as Tom (aka the Comedian) managed to break the sink.


If anything memorable happened the following day as we returned home, it has escaped me. Here are Mike's old car and my Toyota Tercel side by side at the Media 100 parking lot.


[EDIT 4/19/08: Okay, multiple sources are alleging that it was Mike, not Tom, who broke the sink. Fine, fine. But I bet Tom instigated it, somehow.]

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Tom and I headed north this past week, to attend the Nickerson family reunion held Thursday July 26 in Levant, ME. It had been several years since either of us had been in Maine.

Wednesday July 25:

It was a hot day, and the forecast was for it to remain so through Friday, even in Maine. I took the day off and he worked a half day, so I picked him up at his place in Newton around 1pm. I had forgotten my sleeping bag (and I needed a new one anyway) so we agreed that we'd stop somewhere along the way. We tried the Burlington Mall first, but the offerings there were too upscale to be of any use to lesser mortals like ourselves, so we went up the road apiece and found an EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports). While I bartered with the sales associate, Tom picked up a copy of the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, published by the Delorme Map people. The maps and supplementary information in this book are excellent. I love maps.


We had a quick lunch at Wendy's and were on the road again by 2:45pm. We drove straight thru except for a stop for gas and another time at a rest stop north of Waterville. The directions were good and we had no difficulty finding Nancy's house in Levant, arriving around 7pm. As forecast, it was quite warm.

Our first look around the outside of the house.








Clive and Dacia had arrived before us. Also greeting us, along with Nancy, were Kayley and Sophia, who have been staying with her. We joined them for a light dinner.

Almost forgot Tippy! Or is it Tippie? I forgot to ask for a ruling on the spelling here.






After a stroll around the grounds, we settled in for a viewing of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Foot massages and popcorn were offered - I partook only of the latter. Nancy, Kayley and Sophia had seen it before and did not stay for the whole thing - but Sophia was kind enough to explain the operation of the TV and remote control before retiring for the evening.

Tom and I slept in the loft over the garage.


The day's heat still lingered up there at first, but we soon achieved comfortable sleeping conditions with the aid of this fan.


Thursday July 26:

After a leisurely (and tasty) breakfast, preparations for the day's events began. Grills to set up, chairs to move, badminton nets to untangle.. Visitors were expected to start arriving by midday.

A look around the place before the crowds appear..










Below: The Place of Bouncing. Above: Treehouse. I was asked to climb up to confirm that the treehouse was free of Hornet's Nests and Grizzly B'ars. It was. I was disappointed.


Roses courtesy of Rhode Island Rose Society.


Plenty of food has already been prepared. Here we have Brownies and Magic Squares. YUM


Kayley preparing yet another delicious treat.






The morning calm is shattered by the appearance of a gunslinger.


Tom flees outside, but there is no escaping her.




She's out of ammunition!!


Beverage menu...


And sign for Hot Dog stand.


Mmm boy that's good "With Fixins" Is fixins a word? It should be.


What are they up to?


Making weapons, it seems. This is bound to end badly.


Last chance to rest.


Visitors begin to appear. In no time the place is packed.
















Get yer hot dogs here.... Where are the customers? WHERE IS THE SIGN? Our marketing campaign has failed us. You can't succeed without advertising.


Shady spot.






Engine.




Sighting of unusual outfits are reported...


Wait, could it be? The Bootleggers are about to perform!


This event must be captured for future generations to enjoy.


Warmups?


A dramatic introduction.






After some discussion, it was decided to relocate the performers closer to the house and the car radio, so as to better synchronize the performance to the song. And away we go!




Astonishing. Who would have thought that Jessica Simpson's "These Boots Are Made For Walking" could be put to such good use?




Great googly moogly! This is getting a wee bit racy.




The crowd goes wild!




Moments after this picture was taken, Sophia hurled a pass which sailed over my head, and unwisely I dropped back and leaped into the air to retrieve it... suddenly there was a thud and the world became a tangled mass of elbows and rocks and broken skin...


My injuries (photo taken several days later). I did, however, catch the pass. Pain is fleeting. Glory is forever.








Portrait time.






The main event having concluded, people started trickling out.


Later in the day Tom goaded me into a game of badminton. I'm afraid I fared poorly. However, I did learn that badminton rackets are excellent tools for shooing away deer flies, which get my vote as World's Worst Insect. More on that later.


I'm pleased to report that I was able to get Category 5 to the table that night... there is something satisfying about teaching a good game to people who haven't played it before.






Friday July 27:

Another fine breakfast this morning. Afterwards we leisurely collected our things, and by late morning we were ready to be on our way. We said our goodbyes to Nancy, Kayley, Sophia, Gene and Kathleen and headed out. Clive and Dacia left at the same time we did. It's going to be another hot day.


Despite the heat, we decided to do a little light hiking on our return journey. Consulting the Maine Gazetteer, we selected Mount Pisgah, a short (2 miles round trip) hike in Monmouth, ME. We didn't have much difficulty finding the somewhat obscure trailhead and parking area.


After walking up the trail about 100 ft, Tom spun around and started heading back towards the car. Realizing that he was waving away deer flies, I grabbed my container of Deep Woods Off and sprayed my head, thinking that this would be enough to ward off the beasts. Boy was I wrong.


This is a deer fly. It is a bloodsucking monster. It is attracted to motion, and when it finds you, it begins flying around and around your head, making an unpleasant buzzing noise all the while, waiting for the opportunity to pounce and deliver a painful, irritating bite. It does not go away if you wave at it; that only brings out more of them. I despise them. And the woods of Monmouth, ME are absolutely infested with them.


Tom N: Frog Hunter.


After a brief detour (there was no trail map to point us in the right direction) we identified the main path and made our way up to the top. By this time we were both surrounded by dense clouds of carnivorous flies. I had some luck waving them off with a small tree branch, but I had to keep waving it continously. Anyway we were glad to find the tower, and hoped that the flies would not follow us up.




Narrow, dilapidated stairway... is this safe?


No deer flies up here. They are content to wait for us below, I guess.








We hustled back to the car and were glad to take our leave of the Great Outdoors. Heading back towards civilization, we found a Friendly's. I had some difficulty with my camera here (look closely for impatient-looking person at center of photo). Maybe it was the day's heat that made it seem so good, but the after-dinner sundae was just exceptional.




Last stop before home, the Delorme Map Store in (or near?) Freeport.


I do not know what message this sturdy bruin is attempting to convey. Nonetheless, I like him.


This is me in a sort of relaxed orbit.


End. I believe this breaks my record for most pictures attached to one entry.

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I have been hearing that green tea is much better for me than coffee or regular tea, so I have been making an effort to restrict myself to that in the morning. I have advanced to the point where it does not require a desperate act of willpower to force it down my throat. However, it still tastes a bit like lawnmower clippings.

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In mid-June Tom S and I hiked up Mt Monroe in New Hampshire. I believe it is the northernmost of what are called the Southern Presidentials-- that is, those mountains in the Presidential Range that lie southwest of Mt Washington. It is the first "big mountain" I have done since Jackson/Webster in 2005.

We headed up on Friday, stopping at an Applebee's on the way. En route, we discussed a PBEM game that Tom has just joined, and he asked me for advice on creating a character. He is leaning towards a Dwarven Knight.. in an eerie coincidence, I had previously reserved us a room at the Seven Dwarfs motel in Twin Mountain, NH. I was approaching from the southwest via Rte 3, so they told me to keep an eye out for Little River Road on my right.

? Are we going the right way?


A sign!


Say what?


Slightly more reassuring.


The motel.


I believe that is North Twin Mountain (4,761') in the background.


These dwarves don't appear to be mighty warriors, but perhaps Tom can draw some inspiration from them anyway.


The owner handed me the keys to "Doc" and told me to go ahead and park at "Doc". Huh?




That night while we were unloading our stuff we heard "a commotion" up near the motel office (actually, we heard a woman scream), so we went up to see what was going on.. there was a bear! The owner was out there and was very excited, waving everybody over to take a look. It was a black bear and he actually wasn't all that big.. probably smaller than a St. Bernard. I didn't get a picture, partially because I figured it wouldn't come out well in the dark and also I thought the flash might scare him. So here are some pictures of where we saw him, taken the following morning. At first he tried to climb this tree..


Then he sniffed around for a few minutes, finally running off between these two buildings towards the woods.


How long do you suppose this has been here? 30 years?


Friday night we spread out "the stuff" and hammered out the details of Tom's character.




The room had one queen size bed and a "camp bed" shown here. We reached an informal agreement that Tom would take the big bed and in exchange he would pay for my breakfast. I've slept on less inviting surfaces, I guess.


Saturday morning-- up at 7:30. We ate breakfast at the motel. There is a small picnic area near the river, which we visited before leaving.


Stocking up at Foster's. Apparently Foster's is the only game in town these days, as the general store across the street has gone out of business since we last visited Twin Mountain in 2005.


Hiking in the WMNF (White Mountain National Forest) is not free! A $3 fee is charged for parking near the trailheads. A fee well worth paying.


Ready as I'll ever be.


He seems surprised.


Tom hurls himself into the watery abyss!


The trail climbed moderately for about 45 minutes until we reached this pleasant waterfall and pool. After this, things got really steep, and remained so for the most part.


A ladder?!


The first real view opens up, this is looking west, I think.


The Ammonoosuc Ravine trail follows water almost all the way up, an unusual and rather pleasant feature. However it does result in a few somewhat treacherous crossings.




Looking north, Mt Washington rises majestically. Our destination today is Monroe, so we will be turning south when we reach the ridge. However, this trail is also a common approach for Washington, so many of the hikers with whom we are sharing the path today will be turning north at the trail junction.


Tom breaks out the camera phone...


We're getting close.. there's the Lakes of the Clouds hut! But we still have a few hundred feet of climbing to go. Monroe's peak is now visible, to our right. Tom has been setting an aggressive pace and I've been doing my damnedest to keep up. My legs are burning.




Do you suppose he is really tired, or just posing for comic effect?


Think about it.


Ha! I took this pic from the very top of Mt Monroe (5,384'). Tom is about to break out one of his super high-protein candy bars. 20 grams of protein in a candy bar?!


Looking east, you see Crawford Path, which (I am told) is the oldest of the trails ascending Washington. It follows the Presidential Ridge, starting in Crawford Notch off to the southwest and terminating at Mt Washington.


To our immediate north is Washington itself.


To the west.. if you look closely you can see the smoke from the Cog Railway. We heard the train whistle several times during our journey.


And looking south, there are the Southern Presidentials. The red arrow indicates the rounded dome of Mt Eisenhower, where we got caught in a thunderstorm in 1994. But wait, what's that on the extreme left hand side of the picture? Perhaps if we zoom in?


Goodness gracious! It's Rob & Rachel, waving hello to us from faraway Hanover, NH! Hi guys!!


Before descending from the ridge, we visited the hut. Lakes of the Clouds is said to be the largest (in terms of sleeping capacity) of the AMC huts in the WMNF, and it is certainly the most impressive of the huts I've visited. I gather it was renovated in recent years.






During our descent we discovered a side trail we had missed on the way up, with a small sign reading simply "Gorge". Usually such side trails lead to nice views or interesting natural features. My trail book didn't say anything about this waterfall, so it was an unexpected bonus. Not sure that this photo really captures it, but the way the sunlight reflected off the falling water and wet rocks was rather impressive.


Overall a fine hike. Challenging, but I was in fairly good shape so it didn't tear me up too much.

It was mid-afternoon when we finished and we immediately set out for home. On our way back we stopped at Pizzeria Uno's in Concord, NH. Tom had a cheeseburger pizza, which, he was dismayed to discover, contained pickles.

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I had planned to hike Mt Monroe in New Hampshire's Presidential Range on June 16, so I was looking to do a tuneup the weekend before. Tom and I picked Mt Major, a popular family hike just to the south of Lake Winnepesaukee. My hiker's guide indicated that the trip would be about 3 miles all told with 1,200' of elevation gain: a nice half-day hike. The forecast looked iffy as late as Saturday night, but we decided to go ahead on Sunday unless it was actually raining.

Sunday morning brings bright sunshine - it's a go. We left his place around 8:00am, made our way to Rte 93 and headed north.

Buffet breakfast at Chantilly's Restaurant and Pub, in Hooksett, NH. Tom ate a biscuit here which apparently had a very high density. He said it filled him up completely, and he didn't eat much the rest of the day.


To reach the trailhead, you take the Laconia exit, but instead of heading into town you continue east on Rte 11. The trailhead parking is clearly marked. By this time it was clear that the day would be sunny and warm. I changed into shorts, realizing that I would roast in the pants I had brought. Tom also suggested that I lather myself with suntan lotion as he was doing. Not wishing to repeat my burn experience from our recent trip to the Dominican, I took his advice. It was the right call.

The first half of the trail climbs only gently and is really just a pleasant woods walk with a mild incline.






But eventually things got a little steeper. I enjoy scrambling up open ledges like this. Of course it can get a little hairy if it has rained recently.




Enjoying the first view of the lake.


But there is still some more climbing to do.


" **PLEASE** In order to prevent continued erosion from multiple herd paths, please use the blazed trail and allow area to re-vegetate. "


This sign seems to be pointing the wrong way?


Oh.


We reach the top (Elevation 1,786 ft). But what is this stone structure? A shelter of sorts? Interesting.




Mt Major is unusual in that it has a large, flat, open summit.




We rested here and enjoyed the view of the lake, off to the northwest.


Would you believe me if I said this guy is happier than he looks?


For variety's sake we decided to take the Boulder Trail back to the parking lot.






Boo? Perhaps this is the boulder in question.


We made the round-trip in about 3 hours, including our rest at the summit. Not a grueling journey by any means, but a nice workout with some great views. Recommended as a day trip- and suitable for families or hikers who aren't feeling up to a major challenge.

Neither of us was up for a big meal afterwards, so we hit the Burger King drive thru in Derry. Frosty chocolate milkshakes...

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We'll begin Part 2 of our saga in just a moment. But first, a word from our sponsor:

* * * * *

It's time once again for Veterinarian's Hospital, the continuing storrrry of a quack who's gone to the dogs.

NURSE PIGGY: Dr. Bob, Dr. Bob?

DR. BOB: What?


NURSE PIGGY: Where did we get this patient from?


DR. BOB: Oh. Well, she was found with a bunch of cows.


NURSE PIGGY: Not bunch. Herd.

DR. BOB: Herd of what?

NURSE PIGGY: Herd of cows.


DR. BOB: Sure, I've heard of cows.

NURSE PIGGY: No, no, no. I mean the cows herd.


DR. BOB: I don't care if the cows heard. I haven't said anything to be ashamed of.


NURSE JANICE: But Dr. Bob, are you going to operate?


DR. BOB: No, I think we've milked this joke long enough.


COW: Oh, look, I have a steak in this too.


Be sure to tune in next time, when we'll hear Nurse Piggy say:

"This has really been a moo-ving experience."


We now return to our feature presentation.

* * * * *

May 7:
Isla Saona day! We were up at 6:30, breakfast at 7:20, and we boarded the Prieto Tours bus at 7:50.

Not fully awake yet.


En route.


The first leg of our bus ride took us through a rural area and featured many random goat and donkey sightings, leading to the inevitable "nice ass" comments. While passing through a small town, our tour guide explained to us that electricity is not available 24 hours a day here - it is shut off twice daily. Apparently this is viewed as a significant improvement. After about 45 minutes we pulled over near a building labeled "Museum de Tabaco". There were dozens of flying creatures buzzing around the building, which I believe were bats. Don't recall ever seeing bats out so early in the day before... Here, several more tourists from another Prieto group boarded our bus.

Francisco gives us the lowdown.


We set out on our way again and soon entered a larger town called Otra Banda, which, we are told, is largely populated by immigrants from the Canary Islands. Here it was more crowded, the streets were narrow and the going was slow. At one point the bus stopped and a fellow with a video camera hopped on and started videotaping us. I thought this odd at first, but Francisco soon explained that this was planned and that we would be able to purchase a video record of our trip through Prieto Tours at a later time. We passed a large cathedral, which was said to be one of the largest or perhaps THE largest cathedral in the Dominican Republic. I have since tried to look for information on this cathedral online without success.

The cathedral as seen from the bus.


Overall our bus ride took much longer than we had anticipated - two hours! Finally we arrived in Bayahibe, a fishing town. We waited several minutes for Francisco to make the speedboat arrangements, during which time it became apparent just how hot and sunny this day was to be. We were told that before going to Isla Saona we would be stopping at the 'Natural Swimming Pool'. I assumed that this was a swimming hole of some kind.

We're off!


Even the natives fear the effects of too much sun.. here Francisco is putting on the sunblock.


We weren't the only group heading to Isla Saona. That's another speedboat racing us in the background.


This 'cliff' extends for some distance on the southeast corner of the main island, east of Bayahibe. I did not fully grasp its significance, but I gathered that it is part of the National Park system in the D.R. I tried looking for this online as well, also without success. I don't think the Dominican has much of a Web presence.


The Natural Swimming Pool. All it is, really, is a shallow point in the ocean, several hundred feet offshore. Rum & Coke was served as we splashed about here for 30 minutes or so. I partook of the Coke... Unwisely, I took my hat off here, which contributed to a nasty scalp burn.


After another 15 minutes we made it to Isla Saona. The speedboat crew seemed to expect a "donation" so we tipped them $2. Just minutes after we arrived I saw some wild pigs run by, but I fumbled with my camera and didn't get a picture.. they never came back. Isla Saona is also part of the National Park system, so tourists may visit but are not allowed to stay overnight. The beach was pretty, but for the most part I stayed out of the water (and the sun), parking myself under a tree on the beach to read and relax. A sand crab kept busy expanding his lair just a few feet away from me. Just before 1:00 we were served a nice buffet lunch including rice & beans, chicken, lemon flavored fish and pasta. More groups continued to arrive by powerboat while we were there. The largest of these, who we took to be Brazilian, were certainly in a festive mood. Nearly all of them were topless, and they had obviously gotten off to an early start, alcohol-wise.

At Isla Saona.








At 2:30 we took the powerboat out to a catamaran which was waiting for us just offshore. The Brazilian group boarded as well, so our leisurely paced return to Bayahibe was loud & lively. It was rather hot and we took the opportunity to sit in the shade provided by the sail when we could. During the journey, the video guy approached us several times, attempting with his limited command of English to cajole us into buying the tape he was making. We didn't bite. We also took a few minutes to trade biographical details with Francisco, who seems like a genuinely nice guy.

When we returned to Bayahibe, we thought we had better take advantage of the local restrooms before boarding the bus for the long ride back. And having done so.. at this time I would like to retract any comments made earlier about the bathrooms at the Charlotte airport. In Bayahibe they have.. well, first off nothing is cleaned. And secondly, they don't have flush toilets there, I guess. What they have is.. a little girl with a bucket of water. Eww? While boarding the bus we were approached by an ice cream vendor who assailed us with piercing calls of "Ice Cree!" Given the heat we might have been interested, were it not for the unpleasant restroom looming just a few feet away.

On our return trip we stopped again at the "Museum de Tabaco" again, but this time we were actually led through the 'museum' itself. It really isn't a museum, just a couple of poorly maintained, lame exhibits meant to provide a justification for the cigar shop and gift shop to follow. We lingered here for 45 minutes, for reasons unknown to us (where did the driver go?). The museum is near a busy section of road, and I spent some time observing the traffic flow, which seemed wildly aggressive to me. Cars and trucks passed each other often, even though it was just a two lane road and there was usually oncoming traffic in the other lane. Many people were riding those little scooters, but nobody wore a helmet. Nobody wore seat belts. Numerous times I saw pickup trucks go by with maybe 10 people crammed in the back. A different world. Also I saw several more of those ice cream vendors, each of whom lugs his wares around by bicycle. One of them approach us, and after he saw that there was no more interest, he'd make his way on down the road.. five minutes later another one would appear.

At Museum de Tabaco.




The drive back took even longer than the drive in. The Barcelo complex was their last stop, so we didn't get back until after 8:00. All of us had gotten way too much sun.. Fortunately Tom & Terri had both brought ample supplies of Aloe. After 9:00 we went over to one of the other hotel complexes to eat at Mexico Lindo (a Mexican restaurant). I had no difficulties, but something we ate here didn't agree with either Terri or Tom. Afterwards we visited the Bavaro Casino, where I was disappointed to learn that the 'Poker' being played here was actually just a game of pure chance where you make a wager and then get a payoff if certain card combinations are dealt. Returning to the room we napped until 2am (!), then headed back out to the Discoteca. I left there at 3:30 and was out soon after returning to the room.

May 8:
Last full day at the resort. No plans for today, and no more exploring to be done. Consequently it was the least eventful and perhaps the most relaxing day of the trip.

I slept until about 8, when hunger woke me and drove me to breakfast.. still feeling drowsy I returned to the room and napped until about 11, when we all got up. Early afternoon was spent relaxing at the beach, but when the weather turned overcast and windy (and thus a bit cold) we meandered over to La Pina again for lunch. Or maybe it was La Brisa? I dunno, my recollection of our meal selections this day are kinda blurry.

Ice Cream! Or remnants thereof.


Looks like there aren't too many pictures of me here, better remedy that.. Whoops! Forgot to smile.


Is that our room up there?


Yes.


At poolside.


Tom & Terri spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool while I finished my book. (I won't make the mistake of not bringing enough reading material again.) That night we went over to Bavaro Beach and had an excellent meal at the Steak House, perhaps the best meal of the trip. Later we stopped by the 'Latin' dance club (Las Canas), but there was hardly anybody on the dance floor and the bartender disappeared after taking our drink order, so we left. Afterwards we went to the Discoteca for one last time.

May 9:
Up at 8:30am.. it's raining! We packed up our things, had breakfast, then returned to the room to relax for a bit. Tom has been feeling a bit under the weather for the last day or so. Our original theory was that it was something he had eaten at the Mexican restaurant, but now we are beginning to think it may be the local water. The bottled water is probably safe, but the ice in our drinks may be a different story.

Rain.


Tom prepares to pass judgement on Coca-Cola Light.


Thumbs up!


Is this enough?


Hey, they fixed the gutter! Just in time too.


The bus arrived to take us to the airport at 11:50am. Check out these glum faces - is it because of the rain or because our vacation is ending? A little of both, perhaps.


After checking in we ate at the airport Wendy's. Have I mentioned before that the Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich is just about the best thing in the world? No? Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement. It's pretty good, though.


A musical send off at Punta Cana airport, just before boarding the plane to San Juan. We left paradise at 2:30pm.


Difficulties in San Juan. Our 5:55pm connecting flight to Philly was delayed, then cancelled. (Mechanical problems with the plane, which was to have come in from St Maarten.) They weren't able to get us on any other flights that would take us back to Providence, so we just had to accept that we wouldn't be getting home until the 10th. The airline people were very helpful however, and set us up with rooms at the airport Best Western without any hassle. We also got a free meal at Subway out of the deal (the chocolate chip cookies were surprisingly good!). After checking email at an Internet Cafe, we played a quick game of Category 5 and then went to bed.

May 10:
Our flight to NY left at 8:20am. We were stuck at Kennedy for awhile as our connecting flight to Providence was delayed several times (reason unknown). Fortunately this flight didn't get cancelled, and we got back to Providence sometime around 4:00-5:00pm. Our luggage didn't make it. After making arrangements for the luggage to be delivered to Terri's house, we took the shuttle back over to Payless Parking, picked up my car, and headed home. We got to my house about 6:00pm. After that my memory fades...

The End?

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In early May, Terri, Tom N and myself spent 5 days at a beach resort in the Dominican. What follows are some photos, some recollections, and a boatload of my patented pointless observations.

May 4:
The night before leaving we all went to Uno’s in Bellingham for the usual trivia and socializing. Tom asked if I remembered the commercial for “Chow Daddy,” a PSA from the late 80’s or early 90’s that promoted school lunch(?). He said that in his high school days there was a picture or a painting of Chow Daddy in the cafeteria. I have no recollection of this.. I think it may have been slightly after my time.

May 5:
Terri and Tom arrived at my house at approximately 5:30am, and shortly thereafter we headed south towards T. F. Green airport in sunny Warwick, RI. On the way down we found ourselves behind a couple who seemed to be paying more attention to each other than they were to driving in a straight line, if you follow me, so we kept a safe distance. We also noticed quite a bit of construction around exits 18 and 19 on Rte 95 (what are they building?), and right near the airport we passed Ninja World! Woo hoo! I pledged to come back and visit this ninja haven some other time. (A promise I expect I will fail to keep.. I’d be afraid to go in. What IS Ninja World, anyway?)

We dropped off my car at nearby Payless Parking (only half the price of parking at the airport lot) around 6:10am and took the shuttle to the airport. Our connecting flight to Charlotte took off at 8:00am.

We snacked on these while waiting to board. A tasty breakfast snack?


The flight was uneventful, save for a comedic interlude involving a toddler emerging from the restroom and waddling down the aisle with his pants down. After landing we were stuck on the plane for awhile as the planes were backed up at the gates for some reason. It was cool and rainy in Charlotte. Despite the delay we had time to hit California Pizza Kitchen for lunch. We split two pizzas – Four Cheese & Barbecue Chicken – which were tasty but overpriced. By the way, two thumbs down for the poor maintenance and housekeeping of the airport restrooms. Boo hiss! Our next flight – bound for Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic – took off at 11:35am.

Today’s featured SkyMall product: Mock Rock. “Hide unsightly or dangerous problem areas in your yard or garden with our multipurpose Mock Rocks®.”


I don’t exactly understand why SkyMall and other catalogs are always found on planes, though I am thankful for it as I do find them amusing. Apparently airplane passengers are particularly susceptible to the urge to purchase useless products? Most of the flight was over the ocean, and in the last hour or so we began to see scattered small islands in the distance. There were irregularly shaped “somethings” on or near some of these islands, and Tom & I couldn’t quite decide if we thought they were clouds, hills, mountains or what. After about three hours of flying we finally reached the Dominican, and we were flying quite low (it seemed to me) so I was able to pick out quite a bit of detail in what I was seeing below.. houses, dirt roads, farms, etc. Though there were certainly indicators of civilization, it was apparent that much of the interior of the island is undeveloped. We landed in Punta Cana at 3:00pm local time.. and it was about 85° and SUNNY! The airport was a little more rustic than those I am used to…

These pictures are actually from our return journey, as I was enjoying the sun too much upon arrival to bother digging out my camera. Note tropical vegetation and thatched roofs. This type of roof seems to be commonplace on the island, although in some cases it is just for appearances, because if you look closely you find that there are conventional roofing shingles underneath.


This one is taken from a restaurant inside the airport. Note that there is no window or other barrier between us and that plane.


Upon arrival, in addition to showing our passports we were compelled to purchase an “embarkation card”, which we then had to hand over to a collection agent who was standing less than 15 feet away from where we bought the card in the first place. ?? Picking up our bags at the luggage carousel was a disorganized free-for-all.. We then went to the desk of Prieto Tours, which is associated with Travelocity and was handling all of our transportation. After signing our lives away, we were swarmed by an army of baggage men, who absolutely insisted on carrying our bags over to the bus. I hope my $2 tip was adequate.

Waiting in line.


On board Prieto Tours Bus #10.


The bus ride from the airport to the resort took maybe 30 minutes. The biggest thing I noticed along the way is that we passed a LOT of incomplete construction; many building projects that appeared to have been started and then abandoned. Unfinished homes, roads, walls.. I expect there is an interesting explanation for this phenomenon, which I doubt I will ever hear.

We arrived at the Barcelo Bavaro complex by 5:00pm or so, and were dropped off at Bavaro Palace, which is one of the 5 hotels on the grounds. After some more baggage man shenanigans (it took them 10 minutes to dig my bag out of the luggage compartment on the bus), we were finally set free. They made us wear shiny tags marked Barcelo on our wrists, which identify us as legitimate guests of the facility to the staff. I don’t recall seeing any ‘outsiders’ on the resort grounds during our stay, but I don’t think it is unheard of for unwanted guests to appear, and it would not have been too difficult for someone to wander onto the resort by walking along the beach from points north or south.

Our prisoner tags.


After checking in, we found our room (4068), visited guest services to obtain a 3rd bed for the room, then started wandering around the grounds to get our bearings. Bavaro Palace consists of the hotel (which itself is comprised of several buildings), the lobby with gift shop, the ‘teatro’ where there is a live show of some sort each night, 3 bars (one of which, ‘Bar Caney’, is a wet bar, meaning that it is only accessible via the pool), a buffet and several other restaurants (each having their own specialty), the pool, and of course the beach. Again this is all at just the Bavaro Palace – there is much more at the 4 other hotels. We had decided before going on this trip that we weren’t much interested in being in the formal mode, so we never visited Chez Palace, a French restaurant which was the only place at Bavaro Palace with a dress code.

This being our first night we hadn’t yet figured out which restaurants were open and which not. We were pretty hungry and we figured that the Caribe Buffet, which was supposed to open at 6:30pm, would be our safest bet. We were puzzled when it didn’t open until 7:00pm. The food was good. As is the case with many of the restaurants here, the buffet was not enclosed and thus we were somewhat dismayed to discover that mosquitoes can be a bit of a problem when dining after dark. After dinner we walked over to Bavaro Beach, the nearest hotel to our own, and for a time we watched a live show that was geared towards kids. On our return trip we swung by the disco, which seemed to be closed. (We later learned that it does not open until late.) It was quite humid this evening, and it was damp in our room as well. I guess dampness is just a fact of life in these parts. Though our air conditioner performed adequately, we never were able to get anything in our room that had gotten wet to be completely dry again. That night we watched a Spanish language program that was, well, it was intended to be comical; it featured two cops and a man in a dog suit, and then another man suited up as Mickey Mouse appeared and savagely pummeled the man in the dog suit, much to the delight of the audience… sorry, I don’t think I can adequately describe this.

Our room.






First visit to the beach. Looking north..


And south.


May 6:
By 7:00am we are up on what looks to be a sunny day. We discovered that our clock was running 30 minutes fast, explaining why the buffet had opened 'later' than we expected the night before.

Someone doesn't want to get up yet.


Looking out into the courtyard from our room.




Here's hoping it doesn't rain.. this gutter outside our front door has seen better days.


We had a fine buffet breakfast, marred only by my inability to get the Cocoa Krispies to come out of the dispenser. (They were all clumped together due to the humidity.)

Vacation is serious business.






Hey, you're not supposed to break character!


We were at the beach before 9:00am and we set ourselves up in some comfy chairs in a semi-shaded area. Any questions we might have had as to whether toplessness is permitted here were answered within seconds of our arrival -- it is. We later learned that the hotel's general policy is to politely inform guests that toplessness is technically against Dominican law, but that they will take no action against it as long as it is confined to the beach areas. Sorry guys, no pictures. This is a PG blog... I went in the water 5 times before I put any suntan lotion on. This proved to be a terrible error.. more on that later on.

A gorgeous day to be on the beach, and to absorb mass quantities of UV radiation.




At 10:00am we broke away briefly to meet with Francis, a representative from Prieto Tours who outlined our options regarding the various excursions that are offered. When we told him we were from around Boston, he told us that he was familiar with the area, having grown up in New Bedford. We signed up for a trip to Isla Saona for the following day. Tom knows someone at work who had recommended this particular side trip to him. After finishing with Francis we returned to the beach for awhile. After about an hour, I grew restless and took off for an exploratory walk around the hotel grounds. When I returned it was about lunchtime, and we wandered off in search of La Pina, an outdoor restaurant which according to our map could be found on the northern end of the Bavaro beach property.

Our little piece of paradise.




I almost stepped on this fellow while passing through the hotel lobby. You lost, little buddy?


At La Pina we had a fine lunch. The Spanish rice was especially good. It was here that we first noticed that Tom has an unusual fascination with dinner rolls. We might even call it.. unnatural? "I love dinner rolls," he kept saying. "I LOVE dinner rolls." A man's got to have a passion. Also, during our meal we debated the meaning of the term "power ballad."

At La Pina.




From here we wandered east, off Bavaro property. As Francis had predicted, we were immediately assailed by aggressive flea market types looking to sell us valueless trinkets. Both Terri & Tom managed to obtain necklaces for free. These were somewhat reminiscent of the cursed item from the Brady Bunch. Eventually we made our way back, and we spent the rest of the daylight hours in the pool area. I myself only stayed in the water for about 30 minutes, later retreating to a shady area to read, as the extent of my sunburn was becoming apparent. I made a big dent in the book I had brought- "The Subtle Knife," which is Book 2 in Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' series. It is a good read, but unfortunately also a very quick one. I had not brought anything else to read, and so far our explorations of the resort had not turned up any bookstores. Tom & Terri stayed in the water until after 700pm.

No sandy feet in the pool area! Washing your feet after returning from the beach is required.


I elected not to pack any flip-flops - a mistake. Fortunately Tom lent me these, which proved invaluable when passing over insanely hot sun-baked surfaces.


Near the pool.


The lighting on this one is very poor, but anyway this is the wet bar.. a bar at poolside.


Aimless meandering. The highways and byways of Bavaro Palace.










OW! Who ever heard of a foot burn? Not me, obviously.


After dinner we decided to take the shuttle around the complex to see what was happening for nightlife. Before we left, Tom & I both ran into "belt trouble." Tom couldn't find his, and as for me.. my brand new belt, never used before, just.. fell apart. ???

Triumph! After a lot of frustration, Tom finally found his misplaced belt...


And there was much rejoicing.


I was not so lucky. What the heck?? Remind me not to buy any more belts at Wal-Mart???


The shuttle.


At Bavaro Beach, we watched an entertaining live show - a dance contest comprised of couples that had been pulled from the audience. After this we spent some time riding around on the shuttle, eventually stopping at the Discoteca (the primary dance club). I was denied entry because I was wearing shorts instead of pants. As I am not really a "dance club" kind of guy anyway, I could not summon enough interest to bother with running back to the room to change into a pair of pants. Instead I took a leisurely walk back to our hotel, then spent some time reading and flipping through the Spanish language TV channels before turning in.

* * * * *

Thus endeth Part 1. Part 2 to follow!

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RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

I think it was Tom that gave me a copy of this a few years ago, and I have just now gotten around to watching it. How embarrassing that I call myself a movie buff, and yet prior to this year I had never seen ANY of Tarantino's films. Well, the Death Proof segment of Grindhouse got things started, and now I'm rolling. Next up: Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2.

Returning to the subject at hand: Reservoir Dogs is about a botched robbery at a jewelry store. More accurately it is about the events immediately following the debacle, and also the events leading up to the attempted heist (told in flashback mode).

Six thugs have been hired to do the deed by crime boss Joe Cabot (Laurence Tierney) and his son "Nice Guy" Eddie (Chris Penn). None of the six know each other before being hired, and to reduce the possibility that any one of them could identify the others, each is assigned a code name. The primary players are Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), fidgety Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the frighteningly sadistic Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen).

The opening scene is just before the six set out to commit the crime, and it consists of a breakfast conversation which is memorable but also seemingly irrelevant. Primary topics include Mr. Brown (Tarantino) rambling about the true meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin", and Mr. Pink's refusal to tip the waitress.

Shortly after this we flash forward, and it is apparent that something has gone horribly wrong. Mr. Orange has been badly wounded, and Mr. White is bringing him back to the the hideout. Shortly after they get there, other members of the gang start trickling in. It starts to come out that the cops knew about the robbery, and that there was a deadly shootout. Someone must have given it away. Who's the rat? Hence the drama...

From left to right: Mr. Blonde, Mr. Brown, Mr. White, "Nice Guy" Eddie, Joe Cabot, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink. Not pictured: Mr. Blue.


There's a lot of violence here, and plenty of blood. There is some clever dialogue and I understand how the movie has attracted a cult following over the years. Memorable scenes include: a slow motion sequence of the gang walking towards their cars immediately after breakfast; a particularly brutal and torturous sequence which is played out with the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" playing in the background; and a final showdown, followed by a memorable and somewhat ambiguous resolution to the friendship of Mr. White and Mr. Orange.

Pretty solid. Tolerance for extreme violence required.

(Grade: B+)

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