Saturday, December 19, 2009
We awoke early to another beautiful day in Terlingua. I rolled out of bed to get the coffee on, and noticed our other campers up stirring around getting breakfast started.
After breakfast, Ok Hwa and I headed out towards the park to see what else we could find. On the way out of the Chili Cook-Off, we stopped by the front gate to get some pictures of the entrance. It's pretty interesting:
Down in the park, we came upon Croton Springs road. We had never been down there before, so we drove on in for a look. It is a typical unpaved park road, and after about half a mile we came to the end of it at a large clearing, a primitive campsite. A trail led on down from there to a dry creek bed, about a quarter mile away. We hiked down to there, and down the creek bed for a ways, but never came upon a spring. We slowly worked our way back to where we were parked, taking pictures along the way. Back at the truck, we set up the tripod for a few self portraits before heading on:
Back on the paved road, we headed up to the Basin Road, turned onto it, and headed up to the Basin. We had an ice cream at the little store there, then, as usual, walked around taking pictures:
Back in the truck, we headed up the Basin Road, on our way back to Study Butte:
Later, back at the Chili Cook-Off, we had dinner with our friends around the campfire. We had lingered a bit longer than usual in the park today, and it was after dark before we returned. Lucky for us, they had saved us a good meal. We had a great fire, and some good conversations going. After a while the moon rose up over the mountains to the east, and the music started up on the stage down below. After the first act, we all headed down to watch the King Bucks, and do a little dancing. Here's a video of Mark introducing the band, and their opening number:
After a while, we all drifted back up to Margarita Hill, and our campfire. Thanks to the new sound engineers, the music could be heard perfectly up there. It was so comfortable to be relaxing around our own camp while listening to the good music from the stage below. We had some more good drinks and laughs up there, listening to the music, and watching the moon march across the star filled sky. As the fire died down, we said our good-nights, and headed off to sleep.
The King Bucks: http://www.myspace.com/thekingbucks
Terlingua Chili Cook-Off: http://www.abowlofred.com/
Big Bend National Park: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
We awoke to a slightly deflated air mattress this morning. It must have a pin hole leak in it somewhere. Oh, well, no time to search for a leak now. I just pumped it up again, and hoped for the best.
We had breakfast with our fellow Margarita Hill campers. Steve and Christie had showed up from Dallas this morning, which brought our number up to seven. They were not camping on the hill with us, but had secured a hotel room at the Big Bend Motor Inn. We were expecting one more couple, Mike and Maria. They would not make it 'till Friday afternoon.
Ok Hwa and I had planned another day of exploring in the park, and the rest of the group were planning a hike to the top of Casa Grande Mountain. Ambitious indeed!
After breakfast, Ok Hwa and I set off in the Bronco with no real plan in mind. I asked her where she wanted to go today, and she said to the Hot Spring. The Hot Spring is in the east end of the park, near Rio Grande Village. This area is also where the old river crossing into Boquillas, Mexico is located. In earlier years, it was almost a rite of passage for Big Bend visitors to cross over to Boquillas, for and afternoon of drinking in the cantinas there. After September 11, 2001, the U.S. authorities closed the crossing until further notice. It remains closed to this day.
Last summer, there was a tremendous amount of rain in northern Mexico, which caused a breach in a dam on the Rio Conchos, a tributary of the Rio Grande on the Mexican side. Water from the lake there poured out over the dam, and down the Conchos, and Rio Grande for weeks, causing much flooding in the Presidio, Texas area, and downstream along the river in the Big Bend area. When we were there last year, the Santa Elena Canyon area was closed to the public while crews cleaned up, and rebuilt the facilities there. I made a solo hike down there to view the destruction, and it was bad. The river had deposited about six to eight feet of silt over the entire area. The clean up crew had a motor grader scraping it up, and a front end loader scooping it into a line of dump trucks. They worked for weeks there to get the area back to it's former self. They had to rebuilt the restroom building from scratch. Across Terlingua Creek, I saw a crew of volunteers cleaning up and rebuilding the lower portion of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. I took some pictures, then hiked back out to the Castolon Road to join up with Ok Hwa.
So, that was the river last year. This year we had just seen the Santa Elena Canyon area the day before, on Wednesday, November 4, and it looked good, all cleaned up. Now we wanted to see if there was any lingering damage over on the other side of the park, at Hot Springs.
The drive over to Rio Grande Village from Terlingua is fifty miles. It's a beautiful and interesting drive, skirting along the northern flank of the Chisos Mountains. The highest point along this drive is at the Chisos Mountains Basin Junction, at about 3800 feet, then it's a twenty mile gradual descent to 1850 feet at Rio Grande Village. A few miles before arriving at Rio Grande Village, the road takes a broad, sweeping turn over a long curved bridge at Tornillo Creek. Looking north from the bridge you can see for miles up the wide Tornillo Flat. Ahead of you in the distance for the last twenty miles, has been the massive geologic formation called Sierra del Carmen, looming ever larger in your windshield as each mile passes. The first time we saw it, years ago, we were amazed by it's sheer size. The Sierra is not in the park, or even in Texas, but, across the river in Mexico. The high point there is at 8921 feet, more than a thousand feet higher than the highest mountain in the Chisos, Emory Peak, at 7825 feet. Sierra del Carmen is part of the Maderas del Carmen Flora and Fauna Protection Area, and it, along with the Canyon de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protection Area in Mexico, and Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend National Park, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in the U.S. make up the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert.
We went on down to Rio Grande Village to have an ice cream at the campground store there. Rio Grande Village consists of the store and gas station, an RV park with full hook-ups, another campground without hook-ups, and a visitor center. There is a trail from here to the Hot Spring, three miles upstream to the west. A few miles to the east, the Boquillas Canyon overlook and a couple of trails up into Boquillas Canyon offer some interesting diversion.
We headed back up the road, and a couple miles before the Tornillo Creek bridge is the turn off to the Hot Spring. Many years ago the Hot Spring was a resort, with a small stone hotel building to house the visitors. The building is still there, protected and maintained by the park service. The store here also held the area's first post office. This stone building is also still here, and also protected and maintained by the park service. Pictures of the old stone store and post office, with it's iconic palm tree are a Big Bend post card favorite. We made sure to get a picture of it for ourselves (pictured above). We went down to the banks of Tornillo Creek which joins the Rio Grande here, and followed it downstream to the confluence, taking pictures along the way.
Next was the short hike over to the Hot Spring. The clean up from last year's flood was almost complete here. The crew was putting the finishing touches on the area around the old hotel and pathway. The path follows close by the the river, under an overhanging cliff. Along this cliff are some ancient Native American pictographs, clearly visible. We also came upon a display of Mexican handicrafts for sale. The folks in Boquillas del Carmen, on the Mexican side, who used to depend on the American tourist trade for their livelihood, now sneak across the river and leave these things for sale. They leave an old coffee can to put your money in, next to some very nice little hand crafted pieces of art, bracelets, walking sticks, and rocks painted by their kids. We left a five in the can, but took no merchandise. The park service discourages this unofficial trade, but sells the same Mexican hand made merchandise in the park store at Rio Grande Village.
The Hot Spring bubbles up out of the ground about three feet from the fast flowing Rio Grande. The water is about 110 degrees. Back in the thirties, the resort built a square pool of rock walls around the spring, and upon this foundation there was a building of some kind. All that's left now is the pool foundation. It is directly adjacent to the flowing water of the Rio Grande, and when the river is swollen after a rain, it spills over into the pool of hot water.
I took off my boots and socks for a short wade in the pool. I wish I'd brought my swim suit so I could get all the way in. Next time for sure.
Back in the Bronco, we headed up the two miles of dirt road to the main park road. I took a short video of this drive which I present for you here:
The fifty miles back to Terlingua was broken only by our usual stop at the Big Bend Motor Inn and the coin-op showers.
Back at the Chili Cook-Off, the evening's entertainment was Terlingua's own Pinche Gringos. What a great band. I was able to capture them in a video of a great song, "El Gallo Prieto". Here's the video, which closes another great day in Terlingua:
A short slide show of photos from this day:
Official Website of Big Bend National Park:
Saturday, November 21, 2009
After a great night's sleep on the air mattress, we woke up at 06:30, ready for adventure. Since we were invited, we headed back over to the Conejos Cowboy Camp for breakfast. We had another nice visit, and some eggs, sausage, and potatoes on tortillas. Thus fortified, we climbed into the Bronco, and headed for the park.
The western entrance to Big Bend park is a few miles south east of Study Butte. Highway 118, which turns into the main park road, runs down to the south east area of the park, to Rio Grande Village. I asked Ok Hwa where she wanted to go, and she said to Santa Elena Canyon, and the Castolon Store. These are in the south west end of the park. That meant taking Old Maverick road, a dirt road short cut, that turns off the main road just inside the park entrance. It's thirteen miles down this road to the canyon. I shot a couple of videos while driving down Maverick road, and they are here:
Santa Elena Canyon is a very dramatic canyon that the Rio Grande has cut a couple hundred feet into Mesa de Anguila. Since the river is the international boundry, Mexico is one side of the canyon, and Texas is the other. The mouth of the canyon is where Mesa de Anguila ends, giving way to the much lower desert floor to the east. Terlingua creek, flowing down from the north, joins the Rio Grande at this point. There is a parking area there, with pick nick tables, and restrooms, and a short trail up into the canyon. You have to cross Terlingua Creek to get up into the canyon, and the trail heads up the low ground at the base of the cliffs for about three fourths of a mile. There, the low ground and the trail ends, and there is nothing except sheer rock walls and river. It's canoe, raft, or swimming only from this point. Sometimes, from the trail here, you can see people in canoes, or rafts floating down from upstream, to the take out spot by Terlingua Creek. I took a video of the hike up Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and present it for you here:
After soaking up the view of The Rio Grande, Santa Elena, and Terlingua Creek, we headed the eight miles over to Castolon Historic site. We always go to the store there for an afternoon ice cream in the shade of the front porch. Castolon is the site of an old trading post. The Mexicans would come across to buy things from the store there, and there were food crops being grown in the lower Terlingua Creek valley. The wagon loads of wood to fire the mercury smelters in Terlingua came across from Mexico here, also. The store here was operated by the original owners for several years after the National Park Service bought up all the land around it for the park in the early nineteen-forties. Those folks eventually gave up their rights to the property, and the Park Service now runs the store here, in the very same building.
We wandered about here for a while, taking more pictures, then it was back into the Bronc, and on up the road. We were headed back to Terlingua now, but, by a different route. This time we went up Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This is one of the best roads in West Texas. It runs from Castolon twenty-two miles to the junction at the main park road, and passes by the western base of the Chisos Mountains, the heart of Big Bend Park. From the junction, it's thirteen miles west to Study Butte. I took a short video of part of the drive up Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Sotol Vista Overlook. Here it is:
Back in Study Butte, we hit the coin-op showers at the Big Bend Motor Inn, our daily stop on the way back to the campsite. Mark, Barbara, and Scott were due to arrive at the camp around five p.m., so we went on back over there to wait for them.
They arrived as the sun was going down, and we all pitched in helping them get their stuff set up. Barbara had pre-cooked a great evening meal for us, and we had that after warming it up on the campfire. We settled in for drinks and conversation, watching the stars come out. About an hour later the moon came up over the mountains, to bathe us all in her glow. The full moon was two days prior, so it was still very large and bright. It was a great evening spent around the campfire, with that big ol' moon shining down from above. Terlingua time at it's best!
Here's a short slide show of images from Santa Elena and Casotlon:
Official website of Big Bend National Park:
Saturday, November 14, 2009
After we were done with our visit to The Field Lab, we drove on down to the Chili Cook-Off campground behind the Terlingua Store on Highway 170. We set up camp, and I laid down for a much needed nap.
I woke up from my nap around five p.m., and we set off in search of something to eat. We thought of going into Terlingua, or Study Butte to a restaurant. As we were heading towards the highway, I thought I'd swing by the Conejos Cowboys Camp to see if they were there yet. They set up their camp in a little arroyo to the south of the stage. Sure enough, they were already set up, and had been for a couple of days.
We re-introduced ourselves, and they invited us to have supper with them. We went about making ourselves comfortable, and chatting with them for a while. Pretty soon they rang the dinner bell and we set down to eat. They were serving chicken and dumplings, and frijoles, and we dug right in. We'd had lunch with John Wells earlier that day, but we were sure hungry again.
After eating we helped them clean up a bit, then hit the ice chests for some beers. They were mighty generous to us. I decided to go over to the car and get out my old guitar, and play a bit for them, seeing as how they had fed and watered us. I always wanted to sing for my supper, and here was my chance!
I played and sang a few songs for about thirty or forty minutes, while they made the camp ready for the night. As were saying our good-byes to them, they invited us back for breakfast. They said that they'd be cooking dinner and breakfast every day, and that we were invited to join them every day. What generosity. What a great group of folks.
We joined them for breakfast the next morning, and for dinner on Friday night, and they were always welcoming, and friendly.
John Wells if the man's name, and what a resourceful fellow he is. He comes from a professional photography background, and so the daily posts on his blog usually include some great photos. He also seems to know, or quickly learn, how to do or build almost anything. He's built a miniature evaporative cooler for his little home, four wind turbines, and two solar collector arrays to generate what electricity he uses, and is in the process of building a greenhouse for growing his own food. He has set up rainwater catchment systems for collecting, and storing the water he uses. He has built a solar oven, which he uses to cook most of his meals, and to bake bread which he gives away to friends, and visitors. He has built a solar hot water heater to supply his hot water. Now, he's setting up web-cams so that his many followers can check in on him for a live view of what's going on at The Field Lab. I can hardly wait for the next interesting thing he puts together!
A visit to The Field Lab was high up on my list of priorities for our trip to Terlingua this year. After an all night drive from our home in Dallas, we arrived at The Grub Shack on highway 118 at around ten o'clock Tuesday morning, November 3. We met three motorcyclists there, and they mentioned going out to visit John. I inquired if it was the famous John Wells, and they said yes. They agreed to lead the way, and so we followed them the last few miles out to John's place.
John was waiting for us, and greeted us warmly. It was a busy visiting day there at The Field Lab. In addition to myself and my wife, there were the three motorcyclists who were local friends of his, and, then, pretty soon three photojournalists from Fort Worth arrived. John spent some quality time with all of us, and showed us around the place. He even introduced us to his pet longhorn cow, Benita. We got to see the greenhouse, still under construction, the famous solar hot water heater and shower, and the solar oven with a loaf of bread baking inside. John presented Ok Hwa and me with a loaf of beer-bacon-cheese bread that he'd baked earlier. Next we all got a turn posing on his front porch for the famous visitor photo. He even honored me by naming the blog post for that day "The Allen Hare Show", and featuring us on the live web cam. What a great guy!
We all got a chance to wander about the place, taking pictures to our heart's content. I had a special request in mind, and had prepared for it in advance. In many of the daily photos on his blog, John is seen wearing a grey t-shirt with "The Field Lab" stenciled onto the front in red. I had brought two new grey t-shirts, and asked him if he'd do the red stencil job on them for me. He kindly agreed, and said that they'd be ready in a couple days. Great! That meant we'd get to come back for another visit later in the week.
We came back for our follow up visit two days later, on Thursday, November 5. He had the first shirt done, and waited 'till we got there to peel the stencil off the second one. They both looked great. We had brought some sandwiches to share with him, and we ate them on his front porch. That gave us a chance to talk with him some more, and get to know one another.
So, Mr. John Wells, what an intelligent, and friendly guy. I really enjoyed spending some time with you. My wife was so impressed with your whole operation, that she's still talking about it. We look forward very much to the next visit.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Music is a large part of my life, and there are two areas where it really manifests itself for me. One is through my guitar playing, and singing. This has been a mostly solitary pursuit for me, but, with the help of my great guitar teacher Dan Hodan, and a lot of other guitar playing friends, I have made good progress, and am starting to feel more comfortable playing and singing in front of others.
The other area that music really impacts my life is through radio, specifically our own community station here in Dallas, KNON 89.3 FM. I became addicted to this commercial free, alternative station in the early 1990's. Through them, I have gained an appreciation for a world of music, largely unknown to the general public. I dug the music coming out of this station so much that, in October 1998 I just showed up on their doorstep one Friday afternoon, wanting to be a part of it somehow. The "Texas Renegade Radio" program was about to start, and I knew that the host, Mark Mundy, would be walking in the door any minute. I introduced myself to Mark, and he invited me in. So, it's been eleven years, now, that I've been helping Mark on his show, answering phones, pulling and putting up Cd's, and what ever else I can do to make myself useful. He has been a great friend throughout it all, and really makes me feel welcome.
During the show yesterday, Mark decided that, after eleven years in the passenger seat, so to speak, it was high time that I learned how to drive this thing. He told me to go to the racks and pick out about twenty minutes worth of music, and come on back behind the control board. I've often wondered what it was like to actually run the board, and do the on air talking, and I finally found out. It's not really technically difficult, but, the nervousness of talking on air, and keeping everything flowing smoothly was a bit daunting. I've watched Mark do this hundreds of times, but, of course, it was very different when I was doing it myself. He was standing by, teaching me what buttons to push, reminding me of times, volume levels, and so forth. It made me feel comfortable having him close by to bail me out if need be. I probably didn't do too badly on my first outing, and so, am looking forward to the next time. Hopefully there will be a next time. What a blast it was, though! Running the control board of an actual radio station, and wondering how many people were out there listening, and what they must think of your song selections, on air banter, and such. That was me as a student yesterday.
Today I went into teacher mode. I've been learning all I can about music and playing guitar for the past three and a half years. I'm beginning to see, now, how much I can't do, and how much more there is to learn. I'm comfortable with where I am along this path, but, maybe to someone else I'm not much to write home about. There are a few people, however, who think I know a little, maybe enough to teach something.
My great friend and neighbor, Carlos, has been talking to me for a little while about teaching his youngest daughter how to play guitar. She is nine years old. I asked her if it was really something she wanted to do, and she assured me that it was. Today we put the plan into action. We went together to Nadine's Music Manor, and bought her a beginner's full size classical guitar. We had debated about whether to buy her a 3/4, or 1/2 size guitar due to her small stature, and young age. The salesman suggested the full size one, and after she tried it on for size, we went with that.
Back home I went about figuring out the first lesson. Where do you begin teaching someone about something as technical as this, especially when she is so young and knows absolutely nothing about it? I began by pointing out, and naming all the different parts of the guitar: the headstock, tuners, nut, neck, fingerboard, frets, body, sound board, sound hole, the back and sides, and the bridge. Next we went into getting the guitar in tune, and a couple of different ways to do that, and the names of each string. I showed her how to sit and hold the guitar, with the left foot on the footstool, and she seemed comfortable with it. Then it was time to get her fingers on the strings for the first time. It's very important how the hand is held, and how the fingers touch the strings. This is where it got hard. She seemed to loose focus, not looking at me or listening to what I was saying. I was probably expecting way too much from her, as I don't spend too much time around children, and forget how short their attention spans can be. I was trying to teach her a simple chord, D, and she just could not get it. I adjusted my sights downward then, and concentrated on just getting her to play a single note, any note. This was more realistic, but she still struggled with it. The lesson seemed to loose cohesion at this point, but I left her with this assignment for the week: Just practice playing one single note at a time, anywhere on the fingerboard, and getting a clean note without buzzing or muting, and do this for fifteen minutes a day, to build up the callouses on the left hand finger tips. If she actually does practice for fifteen minutes a day, she will get better. Maybe next week we can get back to work on that D chord.
So, now, it's been a couple of interesting days for me. I got to experience two of the things that I most enjoy from another angle. That's always refreshing.
To learn more about KNON Community Radio in Dallas, follow this link: http://knon.org/
To view videos of some of the great musicians who have recently played live in the KNON studio, click here:
For more information about Nadine's Music Manor, click here: http://nadinesmusicmanor.com/
Friday, August 28, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Gregory is a fantastic piano player, but, he usually starts off slow and quiet, just dropping well placed notes in among the guitar chords. He plays by ear, and can usually accompany just about anyone.
After the turn goes around the circle once, someone will call out for Greg to play one. He's happy to oblige. He can seemingly play just about any style from classical to blues, stride, boogie woogie, and jazz.
Gregory is homeless, and we can only try to imagine what his life must be like. It's no wonder that he only shows up occasionally. It's always a treat when he does, though, even though he usually puts "the touch'' on anyone he gets to talking to. We'll buy him a few drinks, and some people will give him some money sometimes.
After the crowd had thinned out, I was watching him play just for himself, and shot this video. He was playing the old Gershwin tune "Summertime". I gave him five dollars for letting me do the video, and that put a smile on his face.
I was telling my friend Don O about the encounter the next day. Don hosts one of the blues shows on KNON radio (links: http://knon.org/index.php?id=261, http://bluesdfw.com/, and http://donobbq.blogspot.com/). He is very knowledgeable about blues in general, and the local blues scene in particular. He tells me he's seen many stories similar to Greg's, and, it's a pity, but, what can you do? You can't save people from themselves. He said to send him the link to the video, and I did. He replied with a link to a story in the Dallas Observer from 1997 about Gregory. Here's the link to the story. It's a long one, but, well written, and very interesting.
Here's another video of Gregory, this one shot a week later, doing "Unforgettable"
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Sons Of Hermann Hall is a historic structure, built in 1911, at the corner of Elm St. and Exposition St. in the Deep Ellum section of Old East Dallas. It is one of many Hermann Halls located in towns and cities across Texas. The Sons Of Hermann is an old, mostly German fraternal organization.
Ok Hwa and I have been going to The Sons Of Hermann Hall for many years, to see and hear great music, and to dance. The upstairs ballroom is one of the best dance halls in Dallas, and has hosted a "Who's Who" of fine Texas musicians for decades. Many prominent Texas musicians got their start playing the ballroom at The Sons Of Hermann.
We are members of the Sons Of Hermann, Lodge 66, and as such, enjoy certain benefits, including life insurance, reduced drink prices, special member parties throughout the year, etc.
We can usually be found at the Hall on Thursday evenings for the "Electric Campfire, Acoustic Jam", which is also hosted by Ranger Randell. It's always a fun evening, with many good musicians and singers trading off songs around the electric campfires. The attendees spread out all over the lodge, from the downstairs bar, to the bowling alley out back, the meeting room up front, to the upstairs ballroom, and even in the stairwells and landings.
Other regular events at the Hall include swing dance lessons and party on Wednesday evenings, and concerts in the upstairs ballroom on Fridays and Saturdays. Special events are sometimes held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Today's "SonsStock" was one such special event.
Artists and craftsmen set up booths to sell their wares all over the hall, and there was almost continuous music on the stage in the ballroom from noon to midnight. They were selling burgers and hot dogs from the kitchen by the bar, and the bar was doing a lively business all day long. Almost all of our friends from the Thursday night acoustic jam were there, as well as many lodge members, old hippies, cosmic cowboys, curiosity seekers, patrons of the arts, and members of the general public. It was a very fun day for us.
To learn more about the Sons Of Hermann, follow this link:
Here are the other two videos I made there today:
Friday, August 14, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Before, I had seen a Westin Hotel attached to the complex of buildings that made up the City Center Metro Station, and the bus terminal. It would be perfect to overnight it here, so we could catch an early bus to the airport. We made our way up the series of escalators the the hotel lobby. I've been in a lot of hotels before, and one look told us that this was a "very nice place", translation: very expensive. We had some money left, so I figured we'd cough it up for the one night, just for the convenience of being next to the bus station. When we got to the desk, the hotel clerk told us that they had no rooms available for that night, but that she could put us up in a similar establishment nearby for about two hundred and fifty dollars American for the night. That was pretty far out of our price range, so we told her "no, thank you". We were going to try to find another hotel nearby when one of the concierges pulled me aside to confer. He said he could arrange a taxi for us to a nearby district known as "Hotel City", where there were many good hotels in the forty to fifty dollar range. A nice turn of events that we took advantage of. This nice young man ushered us out the front door, and into a waiting taxi. I tipped him twenty Korean wan, he refused, I insisted, and he took it, clearly embarrassed. I guess tipping is not really part of the culture in Korea. Oh, well, it made me feel better.
The ten minute ride over to the hotel district was a slow, rainy affair. We chose one of the many hotels based solely on the name, as they all looked about the same. The Hotel New York was a good, clean place, with a very nice room. It had a great queen sized bed, big screen TV, computer with internet connection, an excellent bathroom, and room for all our bags.
After settling in we went out for dinner. The rain had tapered off by this time to an intermittent drizzle. We walked down a couple blocks, and over a couple blocks, and found a "Hoff and Chicken" restaurant. I had seen a few of these in Gangneung and Incheon earlier. They are not so much a chain of restaurants, as a type of restaurant. They served many different types of fried chicken, and beer, just as the name implied. Ok Hwa had never seen a restaurant like this before, so she wasn't sure of what to order. We just picked something off the menu at random. When the food came, it was just a large platter of fried chicken, nothing else. This was the best fried chicken I had ever tasted! It seemed to be infused with honey and some other subtle spices. We felt like we could hold another helping, so we ordered a different selection at random. When this one came, like before, it was simply a platter of fried chicken, nothing else. We could smell the difference immediately, though. This one had a strong garlic flavor to it. We did not care for it nearly as much as the one before. Although we both like garlic in moderation, this was almost overpowering. We ate it though, because we were hungry, and didn't want to waste it, and washed it down with lots of water and beer.
We made our way back to the hotel through the damp streets, stopping at a little convenience store for more beer and snacks. Back in the room, we cleaned up, and relaxed in front of the big TV. She watched some Korean shows, while I hooked up my computer, and searched for a wireless internet connection. I was able to find an unsecured connection, and jumped on it. It was the first time I'd been on line for the whole trip. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my e-mail.
Next morning we were up at 06:00, and started packing. We were cleaned up, packed up, dressed up, and out the door by 07:00. Outside we quickly flagged a taxi for the short ride back to the bus terminal. The terminal was crowded, but we were able to get our tickets, and get on the bus without too much trouble. The ride out to Incheon International took about forty-five minutes. This bus, like all the other ones we'd been on, had big, wide, comfortable reclining seats, so it was easy for me to catch a good nap on the way.
At the airport, as usual, it was a waiting game. They want you there two hours early to check in, and we were probably four hours early. We had time for breakfast, coffee, and lots of browsing through the duty-free shops on the secure side. We came away from the duty-free shops with several bags full of great, small gifts for everyone back home. What a deal!
The JAL flight over to Tokyo was an uneventful two hour hop. This time on our Tokyo stop we had a two and a half hour layover. We spent it eating lunch, and more great shopping in the excellent duty-free shops in Narita Airport. The last half hour before our flight we visited with a couple of middle aged American women on their way home from a month in back country China. They'd been doing volunteer work in some impoverished village way off the beaten path. Their story made ours seem like a trip over to Fort Worth for the weekend.
Finally it was time to board that American Airlines 777 for the long trip back across the Pacific. These are just mind and body numbing flights. Thirteen hours in a cramped seat gets old in a hurry. I think next time I'll just take a couple sleeping tablets and snooze the flight away.
Back on the ground in DFW was back to reality. The lines to get through customs were extremely long. It seemed like all the international flights for the day had arrived at the same time. Once through that, we still had to catch a taxi over to where my car was parked at work. I work at the airport, and my boss let me park my car in the employee parking there. These rip-off taxi drivers at DFW wanted to charge me thirty dollars to go the two and a half miles over to my car. I was able to talk one down to twenty, but he was not happy about it. We got in the car just in time for the afternoon rush hour traffic in Dallas. It was the final hurdle. By the time we got home we were just drained, physically, and emotionally. But, man, was it great to be home!
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Our plane was leaving Incheon International Airport on Thursday, April 16. We needed to wake up in either Seoul, or Incheon that morning in order to make our flight at noon. That meant leaving Mrs. Kim and her husband in Sacheon Valley the day before, and traveling back across the country to spend the night. We both really wished we could have stayed another night with Mrs. Kim, but we'd never have made our flight.
We got up early there in Mrs. Kim's house, and packed our bags while she made us breakfast. There was no real hurry to leave at any particular time, but we figured we'd catch the bus when he came by at noon. That would give us time to get a bus from Gangneung to Seoul, and get checked into a hotel over there before dark.
We were done packing and eating by 9:30, so I figured I had a chance for a last walk around the neighborhood before we left. I'm glad I did, because I got some last, good pictures of the valley, and the neighborhood. Since our last trip in 2001, they have cut a new road across Sacheon Valley, in a north/south direction, which is perpendicular to the road which runs up the valley from the coast in an east/west direction. I took a walk up that road, and climbed a hill for the the shot above, looking south, towards Gangneung City. It's a pretty good view of the valley from up there. After strolling around for about an hour taking pictures, I made my way back to the house.
Mrs. Kim made us some coffee, and we had a chance to visit for just a little while longer, say our good-byes, and then we were gone. The bus came, we climbed aboard with our bags, and headed down the valley towards the highway into Gangneung City. As the bus passed in front of their house, Mrs. Kim and her husband came out onto their little front porch to wave us good-bye. It really broke my heart to be leaving them, and I know Ok Hwa was pretty broken up too. She had been crying off and on all morning, and as we drove away, the tears flowed freely.
We were a couple of very sad travelers as we arrived at the bus terminal in Gangneung, to board the bus to Seoul. We resolved then to make the trip back to Korea an annual affair. We just can not allow so much time to pass before our next visit. Eight years has passed since our last visit, and that's just too long. It's sad to think of the two of them up there in their rural home, growing older, and wondering if those boys have come to see them. Oh, well, we'll do our part, and come back every year, and wish it could be sooner.
For a slide show of Sacheon Valley pictures, including the last heartbreaking picture I took of Mrs. Kim and her husband from the bus, click here:
For a video walk up Mrs. Kim's road in Sacheon Valley, click here:
The official website of the Republic of Korea: http://www.korea.net/.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
On our last trip to Korea in 2001, there seemed to be more of them about. There are still plenty of them around, however, especially in the rural areas.
I've seen them used by city parks department grounds keeping crews at Gyeongpo Lake, and by road maintenance crews. Mostly, though, they are the tool of the small farmer all over Korea.
The front, engine section dis-connects from the back part, and a variety of different implements can be fitted for different tasks. They seem to mostly be used in the wagon configuration these days, but I have seen plows, roto-tillers, sprayers, and pumps attached to the back. They are a great, versatile little power source for the small farmer.
For a slide show of mini tractor photos, click here:
For a video of a mini tractor, click here:
The official website of the Republic of Korea: http://www.korea.net/.