Travel vignettes from Norman Olson

From Touring with the Chinese to Twerking with the Caribbeans –how we roll

by:  Norman J. Olson

 

back in the beginning of October (2016), our two Chinese friends came to spend some time with us in Maplewood, Minnesota,…  we did some local site seeing, driving to Taylors Falls, for example to walk along the St. Croix river and see the beginning of the fall colors…  we walked around Beaver Lake (across the street from our house) and spent time visiting and working on the yard, cutting brush, and getting ready for winter…  it was very interesting to learn that most of what we consider Chinese food was said by them to be very Americanized with added salt and materials that were prepared differently than they would be in China…  anyway, we traveled with them to California, flying to LAX on October 11 and renting a car…  we drove across the desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas…

since they like to travel cheaply as we do, we made great traveling companions…  we stayed at Circus Circus Hotel in Las Vegas for three nights…  our friends are younger than us by a lot and they enjoyed going out in the evening and sleeping in while we did our usual Las Vegas activities with Mary spending some time in the casino and me finding a quiet corner to sit and draw or read…  we saw the sites including walking on the strip and finding an authentic Chinese drink stand on the strip and seeing the seedy street performers downtown…

then we spent a whole day driving to Three Rivers, California where we spent two nights in a nice lodge a few miles from the entrance to Sequoia National Park…  we spent the next day driving up the mountain and walking among the giant Sequoia trees…  Mary and I had been to Sequoia Park last spring but it was really cool to see the amazing giant trees amid the colored foliage of the brush and small trees of autumn, without the snow…  I asked one of the rangers about the drought and he said that while the drought and a beetle infestation was killing a lot of the pine trees, the sequoia trees should be okay unless the drought lasts longer than another 25 years…  as in their long lives, these trees had experienced many climate fluctuations…

the drive up and down the mountain to 7000 feet where the big trees grow is very spectacular with switchbacks, hairpin turns and long vistas looking out across the valley to the jagged soaring snow peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains…

the next day, we drove back up to the big trees and across Sequoia Park to Kings Canyon National Park…  in Kings Canyon, we found the second largest of all the Sequoia Trees, the General Grant tree…  in a lovely grove of enormous trees…  it was raining lightly and we could see ribbons of mist going through the branches of the trees a hundred and fifty feet up…  and the old trees seemed to be loving the rain…  I felt like I could almost hear them purr, there was such a feeling of calm among the ancient trees in the misty rain…

we then drove down to the Central Valley and stopped at a fruit stand…  driving through groves of citrus and other trees and vegetable fields…  we stayed a night in a nice cheap hotel in Fresno and found a Chinese restaurant that was not very authentic, but we all agreed that it was good…  the next morning after eating waffles at the hotel’s free breakfast, we left for Yosemite…  we spent two nights in a kind of rustic hotel just outside of Yosemite…  we drove into the valley and saw all of the amazing sites of Yosemite, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome and the other enormous granite cliffs and peaks which make Yosemite such a scenic wonder…  we parked and walked on the paths back into the woods for a closer look at Bridalveil Falls which is an enormously high waterfall with sprays and mists of water coming down to make a small creek…  Yosemite valley is flat and easy to tour by car and with a bit of walking in the woods makes a very nice day for tourists like us…  the next day, we drove back through the valley and then up to Glacier Point where you look down from a three thousand foot granite cliff over the Yosemite valley and out across the surrounding mountains…  it is an enormous and spectacular view…

the next morning, we drove across the Central Valley to Carmel by the Sea just south of Monterrey on the California Pacific coast…  Carmel is maybe the prettiest town in the USA with small but expensive homes going up the hill from a lovely beach…  there is an area of expensive shops and restaurants and we found good Chinese food…  we stayed there two nights…  we drove into Monterey one day and had a wonderful seafood lunch at a fancy restaurant looking out on the bay were we saw a whale arching through the water and had a great meal…  then back at Carmel, we sat in the shade of one of the weird old trees on the beach until the sun dipped into the ocean beyond the foamy surf…  then walking through that lovely town in the warm evening breeze…  it was very nice…

we then drove down the coast through the Big Sur region with its massive cliffs tapering down to the crashing waves of the Pacific…  there were lots of places to stop and take photos and I wandered if the vista had somehow faded from being so often photographed???!!  then after a night in a nice hotel in Lompoc, we drove on past Oxnard, where my brother was during his time in the Navy and across the Los Angeles Megopolis to Riverside where our oldest daughter and her family live…  the next day, when our daughter and her family went to work and school, we drove into Los Angeles to do some site seeing…  we drove through Beverly Hills and Bell Aire, looking at the massive estates of the very rich and wound up on Hollywood Boulevard, just looking around before going back to Riverside…

this was the week before Halloween, and our Chinese friends had to move on, so we said a sad goodbye to them at the Bus station in Riverside…  they were wonderful traveling companions and in spite of our difference in age, we had a terrific time driving around California and Nevada site seeing with them and I hope that like us they enjoyed some of the enormous beauty of this amazing part of the planet…

after a few days watching our grandbaby and a weekend getting ready for Halloween, we had a great Halloween with our grandkids…  then Halloween night, we drove into LA and dropped the car off to catch the red eye back to MSP…  that week we arrived in Maplewood Tuesday morning, spent a few days with our other equally wonderful grandkids in Duluth, Minnesota came home on Friday, had breakfast with our son and his wife on Sunday and on Tuesday, November 8, we got on a flight to Miami…

we spent the night of the 8th in a cheap hotel by the airport and after a few hours sitting by the pool enjoying a truly lovely evening, warm with that light spicy breeze that you only find in Miami, we retired to our room to watch the election returns…  yikes!!!!

anyway, the next morning, we took the shuttle to the cruise pier and boarded a beautiful ship called the Norwegian Pearl…  the ship is decorated with painted vines and flowers along the bow and on the superstructure and is a largish ship holding  when full some 2400 passengers…  (for comparison, about 80 feet longer and twelve feet wider than the titanic…)  this was a cruise that we had booked a couple weeks before because it looked like fun and the price was right…  it was a theme cruise and the theme was Caribbean music and dancing, so there was a line up of djs and artists in those genres…  we are not great dancers, (too old and fat for one thing) but, we love to meet new people from different backgrounds and in general love music, so there we were, two old fat white folks on a ship full of young black people, mostly from the islands…

we had a wonderful cruise…  we both agreed that it was one of the friendliest cruises we had ever been on and hearing the music and watching the young and fit dance and party was fun…  as usual on a cruise, we spent our two sea days on the Promenade deck drawing and reading…  the weather was gorgeous with temps in the low 80s and a light breeze…  the sea was very calm and this huge ship sailed calmly through the small waves as we sat in the shade and breathed the lovely sea air…  the itinerary included, one day at sea, one day at Ocho Rios and a final day at sea…  so four nights and three full days on the ship…  during the day in Jamaica, there was a huge party on the beach put on by the Caribbean music people with free booze and a huge stage with massive speakers and an all day program of djs, artists and Jamaican instrumentalists…  apparently at Caribbean music parties like this, it is the thing to pass out spray bottles of paint and for the participants to squirt each other, so with all the red paint flying, we were all painted and powdered too…  Mary and I found a picnic table in the shade and read our books while the party rocked on…  the water was lovely and I spent a long time doing the back float hearing the base pounding through the water… my old white polo shirt splotched with red dye is my souvenir…

on the beach as elsewhere, the people were all very friendly and kind to us and the few other oldsters around and we even got a few demonstrations of what we called “the booty dance”…  which seems to involve a species of twerking that sometimes becomes pretty graphically sexual…  at the beach party, this very muscular white guy was on stage with an enormously fat black woman and they were doing the booty dance so energetically, that he wound up holding her up with her legs around his back while they simulated sexual intercourse until they finally tumbled to the stage with the guy flopping on top of this very large woman to the enormous applause and cheering of the audience…

on the way back to the ship, a Jamaican woman talked us into letting her and her friend braid one small braid into my short beard and three into Mary’s equally short hair in exchange for a damp $20 bill…

back in Miami Sunday November 13, 2016…   it took a bit of doing and about twelve hours in the Miami airport to get a flight home, but we were back in Maplewood about 1 a.m. Monday morning, tired and ready to spend some time at home…  the cruise was a lot of fun and the people were so beautiful and kind to us…  it was an altogether amazing experience and I got three nice drawings…  it is still fairly warm in Minnesota with highs in the 40s and low 50s so I had better take advantage of the nice weather to get the rest of my leaves mulched as it is supposed to show on Friday…

Trees

by:  Norman J. Olson

from gigantic trees

laughing softly in misty

California rain

to gnarled cliff edge pines

of Big Sur, trees

follow each other through

the gray

tangles of my brain…

this planet carrying its trees around the sun is my home for now

the palm tree in my daughter’s yard…

the cedar tree in my son’s yard…

the lilac in my other daughter’s yard…

i sometimes think that love looks

something

like trees…  with branches like ink drawings,

tangled and complex

now it is time to mulch the

leaves from my own maple and oak

trees…  i thank “whatever gods

may be” for my luck

and for my trees….

my dad loved trees…  may he rest in

peace…