Meandering Through David Copperfield

I’m reading “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens in preparation for reading this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver. Although it’s not a requirement to be familiar with Copperfield before reading Copperhead, the latter is based on former so I figure it can’t hurt.

Given my blog’s name, imagine my delight when, in the opening of Copperfield, I found a short treatise on meandering. David Copperfield was born with a caul (amniotic sack) around him. Back in the day, cauls were thought to have mystical properties, one of which was to protect whoever possessed it from death by drowning. They had value. David’s family sold the caul in a raffle. It was won by an old lady who died triumphantly in her bed years later at the age of 92. She was triumphant because she did not drown. But drowning would have been difficult for her even without a caul since she never went in or near the water except to cross a bridge.

Copperfield says, “Over her tea, to which she was extremely partial, she, to the last, expressed her indignation at the impiety of mariners and others who had the presumption to go ‘meandering’ about the world. It was in vain to represent to her that some conveniences, tea perhaps included, resulted from this objectionable practice. She always returned with greater emphasis and with and an instinctive knowledge of the strength of her objection: ‘Let us have no meandering!’”

That made me laugh. Good thing the dear departed lady is not alive to read my blog. She would surely find it objectionable.

I have been doing my share of meandering lately, thus my absence from this blog. I hope to write more soon about my adventures traveling around the state and culture of Wisconsin.

Nicollet Island: A Story of Renewal and Friendship

This is the Bell of Two Friends on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis. We came across it during an impromptu walk around the park pavilion. See the rope hanging down over the archway? Ringing the bell it’s attached to signifies a prayer for world peace and continued friendship between the people of Minneapolis and their sister city, Ibaraki, Japan.

The sculpture was inspired by a 2,000-year-old terra cotta mold of a bronze bell, discovered in Ibaraki. We didn’t know all this when we rang the bell, but we could feel the friendship somehow.

Nicollet Island is supposedly the only inhabited island in the Mississippi River. I’ve had the chance to visit it on several occasions. Each time, I come away thinking that if I was forced to move from Duluth (probably at gunpoint, which is what it would take) and reside in the Twin Cities, I might be able to be happy on this island.

I love the historic feel of it, the energy of the river that runs on both sides, the roar of St. Anthony Falls, the green spaces, and old homes. My latest visit prompted me to read a book about the island (“Nicollet Island” by Christopher and Rushika February Hage). I learned that there used to be five other islands near it but once settlers arrived, two were filled in so that they joined the riverbank, two were destroyed when a lock and dam was built, and one eroded.

The view from underneath the Hennepin Avenue Bridge on Nicollet Island.

Before it was named for explorer Joseph Nicollet, the Dakota people called it “wita waste,” meaning beautiful island. They fished from its banks and tapped maple trees that covered it. Rites of transition from childhood to manhood were carried out there and the island was considered as a safe place for women to give birth. Plus, it had the added benefit of the sound of the falls to drown out the screaming. 😊

Waterpower from the falls proved irresistible to the settlers, who used it to run sawmills and flour mills. Once the home of the most fashionable and prominent Minneapolitans, the island changed drastically after a fire in 1893 that began by boys smoking at a Wagon Works. Eventually, rebuilding occurred in the form of a Catholic high school and a monastery. Once-elegant apartments were subdivided and occupied by pensioners and veterans. As the economy tanked during the Depression, the island became home to the homeless.

The Hennepin Ave Bridge in black and white.

In the 1950s, the city razed many buildings in the nearby Gateway District, forcing even more homeless people to the island. Then the razing eyes of city government turned toward the island, but the residents resisted.

In the 1960s and 70s, the island was a favorite with the counterculture. Musicians, artists, (dare I say writers?), and drug-users coexisted with the poor island residents. They did not want to be “improved” upon by city planners.

In 1971, St. Anthony Falls and the island were designated in the National Registry of Historic Places. A city preservation commission helped with a movement to preserve the island’s historic homes. Eventually, a city park was established on the site of vacant industrial land.

Now, people like Russ and I enjoy walking, biking, and running on the island. And we ring a bell in world friendship.

One of the island’s historic homes.

Wabasha Street Caves: Gangsters, Mushrooms, and Cheese

Russ and I meandered to the big city recently: i.e., the Twin Cities, i.e., Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. One of our stops was a tour of the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul.

This series of seven caves are in a sandstone/limestone bluff not far from the Mississippi River. They were dug in the 1850s to mine silica for making glass.

Our tour guide was named Lois. She began our tour not in the fancy entrance that leads to a refurbished part of the cave, but in a more primitive entrance, where we could see what the unfinished, original walls look like. While we stood in front of an entrance to a side cave, Lois explained that once the silica mining was over, the caves were used to store produce from off the river boats. Temperatures range from 50 to 55 degrees, which makes the caves ideal for storing veggies, growing mushrooms, and aging cheese.

The Wabasha Street Caves were once home to the largest mushroom growing operation in the United States. An immigrant Frenchman and his wife saw the cave’s dampness, darkness, and cool temperatures as the perfect environment for growing the delectable fungi. Plus, the streets of St. Paul provided a free source of growth medium in the form of horse manure.

Although that operation eventually ceased, the mushroom company lives on today in the form of Lehman’s Farm in Lakeville, Minnesota, which sells its marinated mushrooms to high-end food outlets like Lunds & Byerlys. The caves were also used by the Land O’Lakes Company to age Roquefort cheese.

In the 1950s, the caves fell into disuse until a flood caused massive damage to St. Paul. Lois said the caves were seen as the perfect place to store all that untidy debris. She shined a light down a side entrance where she stood to show us it was filled with old tires and dirt. But, before the flood, in the 1920 and 30s the cave was modified as a speakeasy, casino, and a nightclub. The debris-strewn side tunnel was thought to once lead to the speakeasy.

Tour guide Lois tells us spooky tales of nefarious doings in the Wabasha Street Caves.

From there, our tour moved into the refinished part of the cave. We saw the long bar, which was rebuilt based on old photos. Stucco covered the ceiling and water pipes and electricity ran through the walls. A separate section contained a dance floor, fireplace, and a stage. Lois said that famous jazz bands used to perform in the cave’s Castle Royal Nightclub.

The nightclub and casino were favorites with local gangsters. St. Paul had the reputation as a safe haven for them. The police wouldn’t arrest gangsters as long as they didn’t commit any crimes in St. Paul, although Minneapolis was fair game! The gangsters also shared their ill-gotten gains with the police department. This was called the Layover Agreement.

Despite this agreement, one notable crime happened in the caves. Four gangsters were gambling after hours. One of them apparently took umbrage at the conduct of the others and shot them all dead with his Tommy gun. At the noise, a cleaning lady ran in from another room to find three of the gangsters lying dead in pools of blood. She alerted the police who came to investigate.

Suffice it to say, with the cozy relationship between the gangsters and the police at that time, justice was not served. The police cleaned up the scene and chided the cleaning woman for filing a false report. It’s thought the bodies of the three gangsters still reside in the caves somewhere. Despite the protestations of the police, evidence of the crime can be seen in bullet holes on the cement fireplace.

Now the caves function as an event center and tourist attraction. They offer swing dancing and special ghostly tours. We were fascinated to learn about the caves and the shady history of the city of St. Paul.

Part of the fancy event center in the caves.

Still Chased by Snow in Arizona

When last you heard about us, Russ and I were having past life regression sessions in Prescott. That done, we left Prescott a day early under the impending threat of ten inches of snow. We drove across the mountains to the funky mining town of Jerome. Russ had not been there before and we were so close, it seemed a must-see.

Like on my previous trip, we ate lunch at Bobby D’s BBQ. This time, it was Russ’s turn to sit in the “haunted booth” where a former restaurant owner died. Despite this unappetizing tale, we heartily enjoyed our lunch of BBQ chicken, ribs, onion rings, and zucchini fries. They make the BBQ sauce on-site. Our favorite of the four was the jalapeno, molasses and brown sugar one. Zippy but not too spicy, even for us Minnesotans.

Sated, we searched for Nellie Bly’s kaleidoscope shop, which I’d visited last time. Then, I did not purchase any of these tubular wonders. Now, I had some relatives’ birthdays as an excuse. I even bought a small polished wooden one for us. Sometimes, you just need to look at the world in multiple triangles.

A kaleidoscope image I took with my phone camera, looking through the scope when back at home.

After some more browsing, we decided it was best to hightail it to lower elevations before the snowstorm came. We drove to Phoenix where we stayed overnight. The next day we visited the Heard Museum, which specializes in Native American art. From the sculptures outdoors to the paintings indoors, it was all marvelous. But my favorite exhibit was “Stories Outside the Lines: American Indian Ledger Art.” Hidden in several upper floor hallways, the drawings show events and past achievements that Native artists recorded in ledger books.

According to the museum, this art form began in the late 19th century when several Great Plains tribes were relocated to reservations by the U.S. Government. Many of their cultures had traditions of recording events on animal hides using natural pigments. Faced with imprisonment for practicing their cultural traditions, the Natives turned to the materials they had at hand, which were ledger books and colored pencils, provided by traders and government agents.

What struck me was their two-dimensionality. They looked like something a school child would draw except for the subtle sophistication of the topics they depict.

Russ and I are both big “Outlander” book and TV series fans, so our next stop was in the suburb of Phoenix at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. The bookstore is near Outlander author Diana Gabaldon’s home and she sometimes does events there. We found that we missed Diana by a mere day – she was going to be speaking the next evening. Although tempted to stay, we had relatives waiting for us in Tucson, so we had to content ourselves with buying a few books instead. (After I got home, I discovered that one was autographed by Diana!)

An example of ledger art, courtesy of the Heard Museum.

Later, we drove south to Tucson and stayed at a relative’s home. We awoke the next morning to, you guessed it, a few inches of snow. It was the first snow the city had experienced in several decades. It seems we just could not escape it. However, the white stuff quickly melted.

We saw my son in Tucson and toured the Sonoran Desert Museum. Both Russ and I had been there before, but my son hadn’t. It had been years since we’d been there – the exhibits seemed more numerous and larger than I recall, but I suppose some had been added since the 1980s!

Our trip capped off with a hike in Madera Canyon, which to me seemed more like a valley than a canyon in the national forest nearby. The area is known for its birds, so we made sure to take in the bird-feeding station at the Santa Rita Lodge after our hike. We saw a lot of turkeys and Mexican jays.

Thus, ended our trip to Arizona to escape the snow. We failed in that regard, but the experience was successful in so many other ways.

A stream in Madera Canyon

Regressing in Prescott

Image courtesy of Deva.

When Russ and I travel, we usually do many “outward-looking” things like hiking, biking, seeing the sights, etc. For our recent trip to Arizona, we decided to go on a more inward adventure. We contacted a local psychic for past life regression sessions.

I’ve never shopped for a psychic before, but I figured the internet was a good start. A search of psychics in the Prescott area came up with three hits. The one that looked the most legit to me was “Psychic Readings by Deva.” Deva does readings by appointment only. She lives in a lovely home on the outskirts of Prescott.

We corresponded by email to set up the appointment. That went fine, except on my end. I was so distracted by dealing with the details of our impending trip that I sent Deva the incorrect dates of our visit. I thought I was setting our sessions up for the end of February and she thought they were going to be at the end of March!

When we showed up a month early, of course, she wasn’t home. Her husband was, though, and we were able to set up a session with Deva for the following day. Deva was very accommodating about this and I am forever grateful. I’m usually not such a scatterbrain. Was I unconsciously trying to sabotage the experience? Only Carl Jung can answer that!! (Get it? The famous Swiss psychoanalyst? Anyway…)

Besides past life regressions, Deva does tarot card readings, hypnosis, and energy work. She’s originally from Germany and has an accent that fits a session on a couch, which is where we laid during our separate hour-long regressions in her basement.

But first, while we were still sitting upright, Deva asked why we wanted the sessions. We basically just said we wanted a different vacation experience. Deva explained that in past lives, we could be different genders and races. There could be some violence involved since human history is so full of wars and conflict.

Russ went on the couch first while I waited upstairs, reading a book.

I was looking forward to the experience. I can’t say that I’m a true “believer” in past lives, but I am open and curious. I was bummed when I feared I had messed up our opportunity with the date snafu and was so glad that it worked out, after all.

A past-life regression is definitely not something I would have ever considered doing at home, where life is so busy. However, years ago, I bumped into a group past life session that was going on once down the hall from a meeting I had in the same building. A bunch of handouts entitled, “Tips for a Group-Guided Past Life Regression Experience” lay on a table, beckoning me. I picked one up.

One of the tips was to ignore your critical thinking so you can be fully present in the experience. This is very hard for me because I’m judgmental and critical by nature. Another was to trust that the information that drops into your mind during the regression is exactly what you’re supposed to see, even if it feels like you’re making it up.

When it was my turn, Deva spent about 20 minutes of the session on relaxation – taking me from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. Then came some imagery work that prepared me for exploring my past life/lives.

I ended up describing three lives. I really did feel like I was just making it all up, but thanks to that handy stolen tip sheet, I realized that was okay. I was male in two of the past lives, and female in one. One of the lives had a lot of violence and loss, but the other two were rather tame, except for a prairie fire and an absent husband.

In each life, I learned a lesson. None of the lessons were things that particularly resonated with me currently, and I didn’t really see anyone in my past lives that is in my current life. But I did end the session with a deep feeling of loss. Tears welled into my eyes and streamed down my cheeks. Deva found some tissues for me. 😊

I felt like I’d been through a ringer afterwards. It felt like one of those vacation experiences I often tend to get myself into — like a trail that’s way more difficult than the guidebook described.

On our way back to our hotel afterwards, Russ and I exchanged notes. He explored one life during his session. It seemed like it was in greater detail than my lives. But there were many similarities in it to the life of mine that had a lot of violence and loss. We were even the same ethnicity, although we were in different time periods. The lessons learned in these separate lives were eerily the same.

The session helped me understand some of my passions and dislikes and why I seem to have lost my green thumb.

In summary, Deva was great. The experience was unique, but if you do a past life regression, don’t expect a flippant jaunt down a flat trail, even if the guidebook classifies it as “easy.”

Chased by Snow in Arizona – Prescott

Russ and I wanted to escape Minnesota’s snowy winter and cold. We also wanted to visit my son who’s in college in Tucson, so we hoofed it south a couple of weeks ago.

Our first stop was Prescott, a small historic town in north western Arizona roughly between Phoenix and Flagstaff. I’d visited the town as a child. The tall pines and bright sun (due to the 5,000-foot elevation) had piqued my interest.

I must convey the correct pronunciation for Prescott. The locals say “Preskitt.” If you call it Press-Scott, they might shoot you with their open carry pistols.

We drove up the mountains from Phoenix at night, missing views of the saguaro cacti that stand as sentinels on the landscape. As we neared Prescott, a light rain began to fall. We checked into the Hassayampa Inn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. We chose it for this reason and because it’s within easy walking distance of the town’s many attractions. Also, it has a coffee shop, bar, and art deco restaurant (the Peacock Room).

The inn’s name is derived from Apache and is named for a nearby river. Hassayampa means “the river that loses itself”— fitting for a mysterious stream that often disappears beneath the earth and reappears elsewhere. The inn’s promotional language says that the inn has the same effect on its guests, “who often come for a chance to lose the tensions of hectic urban life and emerge restored.”

Our plane got delayed, so we didn’t arrive at the Hassayampa until near midnight. A cheery fire in the lobby welcomed us and did the night clerk, who gave us (and our luggage) a ride in an old-fashioned cage elevator up to our floor.

When we awoke in the morning, the rain had turned cold. The view out our window included about four inches of snow covering the land. So much for our grand plan to escape the white stuff!

After breakfast in the Peacock Room (excellent, plus friendly staff), we walked around town picking up supplies. The historic district was only a couple of blocks away. Alas, the museums (the Sharlot Museum was one) we had hoped to visit were all closed due to snow, but many stores were open as were the saloons and restaurants on Whiskey Row. This historic district developed after a fire in 1900. When rebuilt, the area featured an “inordinate” number of bars (40), built to quench the thirst of gold miners and settlers drawn to the town.

For supper that first day, we ate at one of the original saloons: The Palace. In addition to imbibing scotch whisky (how could we visit Whiskey Row without it?), I had a scrumptious burger called “the beast,” which is made from a mix of meats including boar and elk. I heartily recommend it!

Unlike in our hometown of Duluth, MN, the snow in Prescott melted fast. Most of the streets were clear by the afternoon.

We spent our second day hiking around Watson Lake and visiting the Heritage Park Zoo, which is in the same vicinity. Watson Lake was especially dramatic, with rocky dells rising straight out of the water. We saw lots of Canada Geese and other waterfowl there.

While on our hike, we also saw an interesting warning sign. It alerted us to the presence of flying discs, since the lake has its own disc golf course. That’s not a sign we see every day!

We had intended to stay in Preskitt for another day, but an impending snowstorm, which was supposed to drop a foot of the vile white stuff on the town, chased us out early. The hotel manager was supremely understanding and promised to refund our aborted night’s stay. So, the next day we headed out of the mountains for the historic mining town of Jerome, and then Phoenix.

But before we left Prescott, we had one more adventure planned: past life regression sessions with a local psychic. More about that in my next post!

An Unexpected Wander of Cornucopia Harbor

A coworker and I meandered over to Cornucopia, Wisconsin the other day. This is a small town (more officially known as a census-designated place) on the South Shore of Lake Superior, population 98.

Our goal was to speak with some of the good folks with Halvorson Fisheries for our “Fish Dish” podcast. Our next episode is about burbot – a slimy bottom-feeder of a fish that tastes great and is under-appreciated. Halvorson’s is a fifth- or sixth-generation commercial fishery in Cornucopia and they know their burbot and other, more typical Lake Superior fish like lake trout and whitefish.

We arrived at their business on the harbor, but nobody was around. While my coworker made some calls and wrote texts, I had a chance to wander and take photos of the icy harbor and boats. These are the results. I felt like it was time well-spent!

After cooling our heels in the only open restaurant in town (along with about 40 snowmobilers), we were able to meet with the Halvorsons, do our interview, and get burbot. The problem was they had decided to stop fishing for the season but hadn’t anticipated that when my coworker made arrangements to speak with them a few days previously. But that’s life on the lake. You gotta go with the flow.

We haven’t cooked the burbot yet. That comes this week. I’ve never eaten burbot before, so am looking forward to the experience. I’ll include a link to our podcast in this post once it’s available.

In the meantime, please enjoy the scenery.

Update: You can hear all about my burbot-eating experience on “The Fish Dish” podcast. The eating part comes at about 18:18. It was great! Today I’m going to make burbot chowder – substituting burbot for steelhead in my chowder recipe you can find here.

Ringing in the New Year in an Historic Inn

The Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield, Wisconsin.

For the end of 2022, Russ and I meandered over to Bayfield, Wisconsin, to stay at the Rittenhouse Inn. If you’ve ever been to Bayfield, you’ve seen the place: a huge maroon-red mansion on the left side of the main street as you head toward Lake Superior in this northern town.

This was Russ’s first stay at the inn and my fourth, but it had been years since I’d been there. For my birthday last spring, Russ gave me the choice of two local trips, and this was the one I chose. So, we combined two occasions into one: my birthday and New Year’s Eve.

Built in 1890, the Rittenhouse is a Queen Anne Victorian home. It’s one of three properties in Bayfield owned by Mary and Jerry Phillips. But it was the first one they purchased, back in 1973. Check out their website (link in the first sentence of this post) to learn more.

The Christmas tree at the Rittenhouse Inn.

We checked in on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and had just enough time to change into clothing befitting a six-course dinner at the Inn’s Landmark Restaurant, which is on the first floor of the inn. Our room was on the third floor in Suite #10. This was originally the home’s ballroom. I got a glimpse of it during a tour on one of my first stays at the inn and was impressed by its spaciousness, double-sided fireplace, and view of the lake. I vowed to stay there one day.

Descending the floors on the stunning cherry staircase in my emerald-green velvet dress, I felt like I belonged to the place. Russ looked dapper in his khakis and pressed blue and white shirt. We were seated by the hostess in one of three rooms used for dining. There’s a green room, a red room, and a blue. We were shown to the red room, which features ornate wallpaper, lavish holiday decorations, and a fireplace. Actually, all the dining rooms feature that, just in different colors!

The special New Year’s dinner featured an appetizer (I had mussels in cream sauce), soup (I had oyster soup – sense a theme here?), salad (kale and pomegranate in the shape of a wreath), a palate cleanser of cranberry sorbet, main course (champagne chicken), and dessert (crème brulee with whipped cream and blueberries). It also included a champagne cocktail with a sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and an orange peel curlicue.

The meal was exquisite. Although the portions were reasonable, I’m not used to that much food anymore and have since sworn off all multi-course dinners! But it made for a memorable and tasty evening.

Afterward, we retired to our room and played a rousing game of Mexican Train Dominoes (I won, as usual). We brought our own bottle of champagne and Chombard liqueur (raspberry). We mixed them together and rang in the New Year.

Some things have changed about the inn since my last stay. For instance, they no longer use real wood in their fireplaces. Instead, they offer those fake logs you can buy at the grocery store, which are easy to light. This was disappointing – I wanted the crackle of a real fire – but it was better than an electric fireplace.

The fireplace in our suite.

They also no longer recite the menu orally. This was a thing on my first visit in the 1990s. The waiters, who all seemed trained in voice or drama, would recite the menu options from memory, adding luscious words and embellishments – so many that it felt like you had eaten a meal by the time they completed voicing the options. That left a lasting impression on me and I discovered the instigator of that past practice was still working at the inn. We met him the next morning at breakfast (which is included in the cost of your room). His name is Lance and he’s worked at the inn since 1974, just a year after it opened.

When I bemoaned the lack of an oral menu, he admitted that the recitation was one of his schemes. I didn’t get to ask him what stopped the practice, but I suppose it was hard to keep up over time, especially if new hires didn’t have talents in those areas.

Not much was stirring in Bayfield on New Year’s Day. Russ and I walked down the main street (Rittenhouse Ave.) and only found one store open, besides the grocery store and coffee shop. But that one store was enough, because I found a birthday present for a friend of mine who was born on January 2. What an awful time to have a birthday! Everyone is “presented” out by then from Christmas. But this year, I revived my present-finding skills quickly, and acquired something I think my friend would like.

The inn’s restaurant was not going to be serving dinner that evening, and we were staying another night, so we asked around and found out which other places in town would be open. We had two options to choose from: a bar and a bistro. We chose the bistro.

But before dinner, we exercised off some of our six-course dinner and scrumptious breakfast calories by cross-country skiing at Mt. Ashawabay Ski Area just outside of town. Besides downhill runs, the ski area offers 40K of ski trails. Because I’m recovering from a broken ankle, we stuck to the easy trails. They were perfect, although the tracks were a bit icy and I could have used a warmer (sticker) wax. But we made of the best of it for 1-1/2 hrs, and I did not reinjure my ankle.

We skipped lunch, so were hungry once we returned to Bayfield. We ate at the bistro and spent our evening curled up by the (fake log) fireplace, reading. Heavenly! The next morning, we had another lovely Rittenhouse Inn breakfast and then headed home to Duluth.

I felt fortunate to have finally stayed in Suite #10 and to spend such a peaceful New Year’s in elegant surroundings. The Rittenhouse or one of its other properties are definitely the pinnacle of places to stay in Bayfield, should you ever have the chance.

The Bayfield waterfront, decorated for the season.

St. Martin Island – the Finale

We are experiencing a blizzard right now in Minnesota. This seems like a good time to wrap up my posts about our wonderful, warm St. Martin Island trip. (To see previous ones about Loterie Farm, Fort Amsterdam, or Topper’s Rhum Distillery, please click on the embedded links.)

Cooling off in the ocean at the end of a trail ride at Seaside Nature Park in St. Martin.

Another memorable outing we did was a visit to the Seaside Nature Park for a horseback ride. Although this former plantation is a nature park, ironically, you have to pass through one of the islands power plants to get there — a rather disconcerting experience. Plus, Google Maps will misdirect you to a road that is not finished yet. We found our way by asking a guy along the road who happened to know. I would suggest calling the park for directions beforehand.

Once we arrived at the rustic reserve, we were introduced to our horses, who were all named after musicians. My horse was named Prince, then there was Electra, Madonna, and Freddie (Mercury). The park offers sunset champagne rides (2 hours) and just regular daytime trail rides (1 hour). After a butt-wrenching experience years ago in Puerto Rico riding a horse for two hours, I decided it was wiser for us to just do the one-hour ride for our inexperienced butts. It was just the right amount of time.

Our horses plodded along steep cliff faces with spectacular ocean views. Some of the horses were not too fond of each other, but we quickly learned which ones needed to avoid each other. A highlight was the end, where we rode our horses into the ocean to cool off after the ride. They enjoyed the saltwater dip so much, they groaned with each step! That was something to hear.

The water rose higher than we were expecting during this part of the ride. I thought maybe our calves would get wet, but we went deep enough that our butts (and saddles) got wet. I almost floated off my horse at one point, so a tip would be to bring towels along in the car so that you can use them to sit on for your car ride back to wherever you are staying.

Our guide took photos of us with my phone. I was glad my phone did not fall into the ocean! It was a memorable experience. We all walked sort of funny for a few steps after we got off our horses, but no lasting damage was done to our physiques.

I’ll share the last of my “good” images below and some other tips to help you navigate St. Martin that we learned along the way.

Pro Tips:

  • If you’re driving and someone blinks their headlights at you, that means “go ahead.” They are either letting you turn in front of them or some other friendly move.
  • If you happen to stay at the Divi Resort in Little Bay, a great place to snorkel is near the pelican nesting area. Currently, there’s a houseboat there and some buoys that mark a place where people (used to? Currently?) do those Sea Trek dive helmet excursions. The fish there are used to getting fed and will swarm around you near that site, even if you have nothing to feed them. We also saw a sea turtle and an octopus on our way from the resort to the buoys.
  • Iguanas will bite if they think your toe is food. Beware!

The infinity pool at Divi Little Bay Resort
Marie makes a rare appearance (twice) in her own blog. This is at Fort Amsterdam.
Sunset on Little Bay. Image by Garrett Maron.

Loterie Farm: Rustic Paradise

The view from Chewbaca Point on Loterie Farm, St. Martin.

Continuing my posts about the isle of St. Martin, I offer this one about Loterie Farm, a private nature reserve on the French side of the island. This was my second time at the farm, but a first for my traveling companions.

The Jungle Room

The other time I was there, I was initiated into ziplining. The farm has a course that takes you through the surrounding trees and hillsides. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the resident monkeys as you glide along. But since I’d already been there, done that, I and two others from our group decided to explore the farm’s hiking trails.

I admit to not doing much research on the trails beforehand. But I should have clued into the strenuousness of the hike from the switchbacks on the map, which we paid $10 for. (I advise just accessing the map on your phone from the farm’s website if you have coverage). The receptionist’s questions about whether we were wearing adequate footwear also should have been a big hint.

We each grabbed a cane stalk hiking stick from a box near the trailhead, which we were thankful for later. We took the short (60-minute) hike to a spring and then up to Chewbaca View Point.

The hike to the spring was easy, although the spring was not flowing when we were there in November. Then the trail headed up a mountain. There were parts where we Elders were scrambling over boulders, clinging to handholds as best we could. This is where we were very thankful for the hiking sticks.

But, the view from Chewbaca Point was worth it. We could see all the way to the ocean and many of the towns in between. We rested there and rehydrated. (Bring water!) The temps were about 85 degrees (F) and my tank top was totally soaked in sweat from the climb.

From the point, the trail descends back to the farm whence we came. Erosion caused gullies and tricky footing, but we went slow, and everyone made it back to the trailhead without mishap. Along the way, numerous green moths fluttered around us, making us feel like we were in a Disney movie or something.

The best mojito ever!

I should also mention that before our hike, we ate lunch at the farm’s Jungle Room Restaurant. It’s up among the treetops and features cozy couches for large groups and an area for sit-down dinners. The food was exquisite the first time I was there, and we certainly had a repeat performance. I had one of their poke bowls and Russ had the cajun Mahi Mahi salad (see image). Both were delectable, plus my mojito with fresh mint was the best I’ve ever had.

After our hike, we contemplated a plunge in the farm’s Jungle Pool, but we would have only had an hour to enjoy it, and the price tag didn’t seem worth it. So, we hung out at the bar while waiting for the rest of our crew to return from their activities. I ended up having one of their nonalcoholic mixed drinks – I think it had mango in it. So refreshing!

I find it ironic that I was able to complete our hike intact because when I returned home, I ended up breaking my ankle doing a simple side-shuffle exercise during a kickboxing workout. So, I sit here in my ankle boot, envious of my past flexibility and prowess on this adventure. Oh well. Go figure!

The cajun Mahi Mahi salad.