Driving through a graveyard

We woke up to a happy, sunny but nosehair freezing kind of day. After a quick stop for a couple of McSliders we retraced our route back to the Gettysburg welcome center. Marce had learned about a self -guided tour in a national parks app from the welcoming ranger, even though he seemed to be more concerned about any weapons or explosives we might be concealing under our voluminous heavy coats. The self guided tour actually starts in the town of Gettysburg so a little more backtracking was required.

As soon as we pulled up to the number one sign the app apparently knows that you’ve just pulled up and is keen to tell its story. Unlike most shiny pants installations it actually works.

It’s such beautiful peaceful countryside as you sit there, warm in your car while the voice of a faceless ranger describes the carnage that occurred just over that pleasant ridge, yeah, the one with a dozen cannon facing down the rise.

Really you’ve never seen so many cannons. Monuments and placards were spread out over the fields but more concentrated at the cool bits, where I’m sure something horrendous happened.

And then you come to Confederate Avenue. That’s where, oddly enough, twentieth century Southerners planted monuments memorializing their glorious struggle and they’ve been working overtime. The place is chock-a-block, practically paved with the things, mostly ironically placed on the sites where the Union troops defended their territory. However, I noticed a dozen or so Union cannon on the ridge — there’s at least a dozen on every ridge — facing down the rise in the general direction where the Confederates attacked from. When you win you get to call the tune, but the Confederates seem determined to write their own verses.

We drive from point to point, stopping to listen to what happened in each location. This is classic Pennsylvania countryside with gentle rolling hills, hardwood trees, and grassy meadows. It really is beautiful.

That is with one exception. Little Round Top. After the Confederate troops fought their way through the boulders of the Devil’s Den, they faced a frontal charge up this hill into the face of rifle and cannon fire.

It was a big ask and they knew it, suicidal unless by chance the Union forces were so depleted that they’d leave the hill relatively undefended. That’s exactly what happened. A small force of observers and semaphore communication officers were all there was on top of the mound.

This is where the Union was waiting at the top.

But with incredible bravery, those relatively junior Union officers rallied enough forces to save the day. But it was a close thing.

Marce is paying her respects at the massive Pennsylvania Memorial and looking for the names of her many ancestors who fought in the battle.

Finally you arrive at the site of Picket’s Charge on a hill above Gettysburg where the Flower of the South was spent. General Lee, gambling that one more all-out effort might cause the Union to collapse, sent his army on a frontal assault, charging up the hill directly into intensive cannon and rifle fire. The Union Army was damaged but held just the same. It was another close call but generally considered to have turned the tide for the Union. You can learn more about the entire three-day battle here.

Enough with all this slaughter. By this time you’ll be getting as hungry as Yours Truly was, so might I recommend the famous 3 Hogs BBQ? It’s worth the trip.

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Let the fun begin

As a kid if you’d grown up in Pennsylvania you’ve been to Gettysburg, site of one of the pivotal battles of the American Civil War. One could be forgiven for saying, “Been there, done that.” But you really haven’t. Apparently over the decades since I was last there they’ve made a few improvements. Let me just say at this juncture that nobody does mass battlefield carnage better than the good old U. S. of A.

First, the totally restored, brilliantly colored cyclorama is now housed in a new building which finally presents the 377 feet long by 42 feet high canvas, it says here, as originally designed and painted by Paul Philippoteaux in the 1880s. It depicts the final day of the battle, and especially Picket’s Charge, the last Confederate assault that sealed their fate.

The theatre is entered from below on an escalator and as you rise up to viewing level you’re enveloped in a predawn misty blue sky.

Real wagons, shrubbery and field pieces are artistically arranged in the foreground like figurants in a play, but still blend seamlessly into the perspective of the cyclorama.

Soon a few clashes start up and lights begin to flash, cannons boom with smoke rising over the area where the fun is commencing. Let the carnage begin!

If you’ve never visited a cyclorama (there aren’t that many left in the world) it’s the original multimedia presentation, where the audience stands in the middle and lights draw your attention to various parts of the painting while a narrator tells the story with a backing track of music and sound effects.

The action of the battle ranged over a wide area and it becomes obvious that it’s many skirmishes over miles of varied terrain.

This has everything, a cast of over 150,000 men maneuvering for advantage, cavalry, and just to allay any fears that this exercise is nothing but savagery, brother killing brother, we have booming artillery and a crowd favorite, frontal charges up the hill into the teeth of semi rapid rifle fire. I think that covers it. Lovely stuff.

The artist Paul Philippoteaux pictured behind a tree with sword drawn

For those of us who still have not had enough there’s an excellent museum just below the cyclorama. I always like to gaze at the real stuff and wonder how you could dispatch so many fellow Americans one at a time, in so short a time. As an aid to understanding it all there are several excellent short films to watch, some of them produced by the History Channel.

I caution you to take some sort of tracking device or you will get lost, just as Yours Truly did. I promised to mention the guard who found me, in the blog, so . . . Apparently I’m just no good anymore without a GPS chart plotter.

The weather had turned cold, wet and nasty so finding ourselves ahead of schedule for a change, we decided to return tomorrow to tour the battlefield by car.

Editor’s note: Most Pennsylvania natives can claim veterans or casualties of the battle of Gettysburg in their family tree. In my family, my great grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, was recruited among many other new arrivals to bolster the Union effort. He played the cornet and spent most of the rest of his life in the US Army as a bugler. He died in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. This photo was taken long after the Civil War was over. —Marce

Recruitment poster in German
Charles T. Boettger a few years before he died.

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Stunned and coddled

It took some doing to find a PCR test site we could walk to from our hotel, but we managed and tested negative and finally got to insinuate ourselves into my sister’s home for a few weeks. Jack and I were suffering severe culture shock and were barely communicative at first. The sale of the boat happened so quickly, we had no plan for what’s next, and the Covid situation in America was much worse than we’d experienced previously, especially compared to our safe little island in Malaysia. But my sister and brother-in-law gave us the space to process and kept us fed and watered while we adjusted to a culture that’s familiar and alien at the same time.

Eventually we rented a car and started off toward Pittsburgh, our old home town and still home to other family members.

We took a few days to drive what normally would take one day, zigzagging north and south, shopping for warm clothes and exploring back roads along the way.

Pennsylvania, we learned, boasts more covered bridges than anywhere else in the country and we made it our mission to find a few and appreciate their construction.

It was comforting to be on the move again, and even though we miss the endless blue of our life on the water, driving through the hilly piedmont and over the familiar Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania helped calm our uncertainty. Lovely as it is, even in the bleakest of seasons, we agree we don’t want to live here anymore. But we’re on our way to see some of our favorite people, and that’s the joy we’ve been missing.

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A shock to the system

We had mixed feelings about leaving Zanzibar. Of course we were eager to see our families again but we also knew we were flying from the frying pan into the fire as far as the global pandemic is concerned, and conversely from the tropics to the frozen North in air temperature.

We packed up our bulging suitcases, arranged a lift to the airport and showered the hotel staff with praise as we said goodbye to Stone Town. We enjoyed it almost as much as we’ve enjoyed our visits to Penang over the years.

At the airport our driver escorted us to the outer gate of the terminal building, and I dug the printout of our itinerary out of my tote bag. The stern gatekeeper lady shook her head no.

“What does she mean, ‘no’?” I asked. Our driver held a long conversation with her during which she became even more emphatic. Finally, he turned to us and said, “There is no such flight.”

Apparently, and this took some back-and-forth before it was clear, our flight was canceled and we were now booked on a flight six hours later. I checked our itinerary. We originally had only a 2-hour layover in Dubai. This change meant we’d miss our connecting flight.

Gatekeeper Lady wouldn’t let us enter the terminal because the check-in for our flight hadn’t opened yet. She directed us to an outdoor snack bar where we were welcome to wait the four or five hours until we could enter the terminal. That wouldn’t do, I argued, because I needed to rebook our Dubai to New York flight, which also affected our airport limo and our hotel in New Jersey. Nope. Not allowed in. And we had no internet to attempt the fix online.

For the next couple of hours I appealed to anyone who looked official until finally a security guard escorted me into the terminal and parked me outside the airline office (read ‘broom closet’) where I was supposed to wait until someone official — anyone, really — showed up. No flight, no staff. Occasionally someone would ask me what I needed and then tell me to just wait, the right person would be there “soon.”

It was the longest couple of hours in recent memory, but eventually the right person did show up, we were rebooked on a later flight, the rest of our itinerary was shifted and we were allowed to enter the terminal proper, check out with Immigration, Customs and Health and then the real waiting began.

Had we not been so out of practice on air travel we would have thought to check the status of our flight before leaving the hotel. Lesson (re)learned. It’s so different on a boat.

We spent the last of our Tanzanian shillings on snacks and eventually boarded the plane to Dubai. The rest of our journey to New York is a blur, except to say our seats in Economy Class on the Airbus A380 were the absolute worst we’ve ever had to spend 15 hours in. The flight was packed and we were in the middle two seats in the middle section. It was hell for us long-legged folks. Luckily I slept most of the way, but Jack was not so fortunate.

At JFK airport there was no health screening, no random testing, no Customs inspection, nothing, except for a routine passport check with Immigration. We had just arrived from Africa and Malaysia, countries the CDC lists under “Do Not Travel” and no one seemed to care.

As expected it was freezing in New York, and the wind cut through our thin fleece as we stood outside waiting for our ride. Luckily the driver Michael was friendly and funny and made the long, long trip from Long Island to Paramus, New Jersey, not only bearable but enjoyable. It was a shocker when the sun set over Manhattan at 4:30pm. We had traveled from 8°S latitude to 41°N. We are back in the Land of Long Nights.

We agreed with our family to isolate for a few days on arrival until we could get a PCR test and be assured that we’d all be safe from each other. My sister and brother-in-law booked us into a hotel not far from their house and when we arrived they were waiting for us, with warm socks, gloves, scarves, jackets and virtual hugs.

As anyone who’s sold their boat and traveled back to their own country after many years of cruising will agree, it doesn’t feel like home any more, but it’s sure good to see loved ones in person again.

What’s next, you ask? We still can’t answer that question. First up is finding a place to get a PCR test in a few days, and getting into some warmer clothes.

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Zanzibar

While many of our friends are fighting their way up the Red Sea or around the Cape of good Hope, we were fighting the ever-evolving, mercurial Covid rules while trying to travel via air. So far we have prevailed mainly due to the dogged perseverance of Marce. It seems that traveling by sailing yacht gives one lots of time to work things out, while you have to work well ahead when jet airliners are involved. And that brings us to todays topic, Zanzibar.

We found accommodations at a stately old hotel, well preserved, out of the way, but near the ocean in Stone Town. Just the kind of place I like.


You couldn’t have planned a more disorienting circuitous route through the catacomb like alleyways that make up a cab ride through Stone Town. We haven’t a clue how to navigate this place and GPS was really having trouble. There is not one 90 degree turn in the entire place. Just down the street I noticed a seaside cafe so I thought we’d start there. Couldn’t get lost with this one.


It might’ve been me that said let’s go up a block and then return to our hotel on a parallel alley. There are no parallel alleys. As darkness settles over the town we turned a corner, tail dragging the gravy, expecting another disappointment but there she was the old Beyt Al Salaam.

To this day I have no idea how we managed that.
Getting lost and found would be the official plan of our days.

Marce hiding from the intense sun while trying to wake up our GPS!

I’ve always taken photos of doorways all over the world, and I find these an amazing similarity to the doors of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.


I guess you’d be remiss to pass on buying spices at Spice Island but Bandaneira in Indonesia was better where you’d find a yard full of cloves or cinnamon bark drying on a tarp in somebody’s front yard. That’s the perfume of Spice Island.


Mr. Mango’s claim to fame is that Anthony Bourdain ate here and pronounced the Zanzibar Pizza as ‘weird, wonderful.” Marce agreed.


We had a tip from a friend for this one, four flights of rickety stairs and the view of Stone Town was wonderful, and so was the food.

Wandering these ancient alleyways was endlessly fascinating. The key is to find yourself perpetually lost but with no particular place to go and just let it all wash over you.

Lost and found

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Testing, testing

We didn’t really think how we’d fill a few days in Zanzibar since most people come for the beaches and we lived on a boat for nearly ten years. Turns out, though, you can’t really just stay in a place for a few days anymore because you have to factor in the PCR test needed to get a Fit to Fly certificate, and balance out how soon before boarding your destination country requires the sample to be taken with how long the processing time is in your origin.

We were flying Emirates Airlines to New York via Dubai. At the time — it’s changed since — we needed a PCR test within 72 hours of boarding. The website of the Ministry of Health in Zanzibar said it takes 96 hours to get results. This does not compute.

As we usually do, we enlisted the aid of a local, this time the warm and friendly lady who served us breakfast each morning in our hotel. She called the testing site, told them when our flight was scheduled to leave, what the requirements were for boarding, and asked when we should get tested in order to get the results in time. Ha! They suggested a day and time that was only 48 hours before our flight. Our breakfast lady also arranged for a driver to take us there. Well all right!

We could have — should have — filled out the online form before we arrived but there are always people to assist when you need them.

We had a bit of a hiccup when it was time to pay. We’d understood we needed US cash for the fee but at the testing site they wanted local currency. I didn’t have enough with me and the nearby ATM was out of order. We also tried a credit card but their machine went down just as we got to the cashier. In the end we talked them into taking our dollars, and the swab test took about two minutes.

About 22 hours later we got an email that our results were in. This was so much easier than when we tested in Penang for our flight to Tanzania. Since then, the US changed the requirement for all travelers, including citizens. You must now have a PCR test one day before your flight. We know you can get results within 24 hours but whether the bureaucracy is set up to deliver those results remains to be seen. Clearly, Zanzibar is up to the task. Penang wasn’t.

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Before we go…

We aren’t leaving Tanzania just yet. Sometimes you have to visit a place just because the name beckons. You can’t deny the allure of Timbuktu, Samarkand, Rapanui. That’s why we’re heading for Zanzibar.

It’s Jack’s birthday. Two years ago he celebrated by having knee replacement surgery. We’re pretty sure this is going to be better.

We took our last photo of Mount Kilimanjaro, boarded a small plane and flew the 250-ish miles to Stone Town. We were sad to be leaving the game parks, but eager for a new destination.

We made no plans beyond booking a hotel near the sea for a few days with the understanding that if we felt the need to go further afield, we’d move on later in the week..

Our style of travel has evolved over the years. We no longer do much planning. We like to just show up and figure it out when we get there. I did look up “Top 10 Things to Do in Zanzibar.” Maybe later.

Stone Town in Zanzibar is one of those cultural crossroads, a UNESCO World Heritage site that commemorates the ancient Swahili village that became a trading post for Chinese, Arab, Asian, Indian and European merchants. Zanzibar is called the Spice Island, although it’s also known for trade in ivory and even more so, enslaved people.

The people, architecture and cuisine reflect that history. Jack and I love this kind of place, where the mix of influences is right there in front of you, in the faces, the buildings, the restaurant menus. Just wandering the narrow streets on our own without a guidebook is enjoyable.

Stone Town has a more recent claim to fame as the birthplace of Freddie Mercury. We skipped the museum but I did take a photo, right before two guys reminded us that Stone Town still has one foot firmly in the past.

New or restored buildings share space with old colonial era ones that the town refuses to give up on.

We dined at local eateries where we got friendly advice on what to order.

In the late afternoons we walked to the beach. I think barring the plastic buckets and jugs in the foreground, not much has changed here in centuries.

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I can’t remember when we started planning for a day of tired

You know, a day to recover and recoup. But I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it than the Mount Meru Nature Lodge. This time we got the number one room facing the watering hole, and to top it off, tonight is wood fired pizza night. It did not disappoint.

Marce was fighting off a spot of traveler’s lurgy so I was left to my own devices. I took some time to wander, which is something I like to do.

The grounds are peaceful, restful, and blessed with a healthy stream which leaves them lush and green in the middle of dry season. It’s no wonder all the animals stick around here.

The out buildings feature old photos, windup Victrolas, saddles, and memorabilia from the 1950s safari life along with production stills of nature films shot in the area. Amazing local Masai photos which sadly had to be shot in glass frames on the wall.

The following morning we’re being driven to the Kilimanjaro airport by our friend Julius, with great sadness at leaving Tanzania and yet tremendous excitement for our next destination.

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Squeezing out sparks

It all went so quickly and before we knew it we were on our last safari day. I remembered to take a few more photos of our tent and the general camp layout. All the Tortilis camps are the same layout so that after your first stay in one, all subsequent stays feel like home.

We had no particular plans for our last game drive.

We’ve seen a lot of monkeys in our travels but check out the wedding tackle on these vervets.

I’m still gaga over secretary birds and by this time Emanuel stopped the Landcruiser any time he spotted one and let me watch them to my heart’s content. I’m sorry I didn’t shoot video because they have a gait that amused me no end.

It was another perfect day with chromakey blue skies and billowy clouds. Everywhere we pointed the camera was a calendar shot.

We disturbed these elephants as they were chewing on the bark of a fallen baobab tree and the big guy looked momentarily like he was contemplating making us pay, then thought better of it. Emanuel never turned off the Landcruiser just in case.

This is the Tarangire River, dry season.

And then it was time to secure the top of the Landcruiser and make tracks back to our lodge in Arusha for a couple of days of much need rest before moving on to our next destination.

It was tough to say goodbye to Emanuel. He’s the best guide, smart, kind, funny, flexible, and a damn fine driver, all the qualities you want in a guide. If you’re planning a Tanzania safari, we highly recommend him and will happily share his contact info.

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Masai territory

We haven’t mentioned before but all of our tent lodgings during our safari are within the boundaries of the parks. We chose that option not only to have the “glamping” experience but also to lessen the drive times each day to and from the wildlife areas. What’s been an added unexpected benefit is that we are staying in close proximity to Masai villages, and our daily commutes take us past large and small settlements, children in school uniforms, herders in the fields, and women collecting water and firewood. We have no photos of these daily activities because sadly most Masai don’t like to be photographed without compensation, which we eschew. Turn your camera toward anyone and suddenly there’s a crowd offering to pose for a price.

The villages are beautiful and the sweep of the land, especially in the hills in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, was irresistible.

We left the highlands of the Ngorongoro and made our way to our last park, Tarangire National Park. It’s known for a concentration of elephants and for baobab trees. Almost as soon as we entered the park we saw a mixed herd of animals turn as if on signal toward a watering hole.

We just sat and watched for a while until they had all had their fill and walked as a group back to the grazing ground.

Many of the baobabs are damaged by elephants.

Who can resist ostrich chicks?

Not far away we spotted the other end of the life cycle, circling vultures, and the remains of a giraffe.

The rest of the day was spent watching whatever wildlife we came across. We’re not on a mission to tick any boxes. We’re just happy to be here in this beautiful place.

We just about got settled in our tent when a couple of the camp crew came to escort us down to the water for sunset. With my lingering cold I just wanted to nap before dinner but I’m glad I rallied for the display. Because of where our Escape Velocity was docked, we hadn’t had a clear sunset view from our boat for a long time and this warmed my soul.

Exactly one month ago I watched the sun rise and the full moon set from the beach at Rebak Island and revealed that we had sold Escape Velocity. Here, on this beach in Africa, we watched the sun set and the full moon rise. No long term plans yet. But the sun comes up and the world still spins.

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