Friday, April 25, 2014

Dinner on the River

Understand when we want some fresh fried catfish this is our go-to ride.  It was our first 80-degree day in in a while and in August in Tennessee you don't get very many of these.   So it was time to celebrate with a motorcycle ride and a catfish dinner.

The Riverview Restaurant is across the river in Ashland City.  A 26-mile ride south on a winding road called Highway 12.   Is there anything better than a motorcycle ride on a warm spring evening?   I can think of only one.   There is no need to say what that is.  Riding this river road brings all the senses into play.   The smell of the dogwoods and redbuds in bloom bring the aroma that says spring.   We are in the midst of a great rebirth after a long hard winter.   

As we watch the barge traffic go by and eat Mississippi farm-raised catfish on the Cumberland River, it is hard to imagine that life can be any better.    There is nothing better than knowing your place in the world, being able to see how all the pieces fit.   I know that I have accomplished more than some and less than others.  I am fine with all that.   My life is more than OK.

After dinner, we were standing outside the restaurant an elderly man drove up in his Lincoln continental. When I say elderly I have to say more elderly than me.   He jumped out of his car and said, “Did you jump out of Airplanes?”   He must have seen my army unit patches sewn on to my motorcycle vest, seeing that we are brother paratroopers.  Yes I said, “At Ft. Bragg with the 82nd”.  He then proudly stated I jumped at Ft. Campbell.   You could see him reliving old memories in his expression.   It is an honor to be a member of this airborne fraternity.   I find that I am relieving those great memories myself lately.

Well, it was a surreal ride home, a great time for reflection.   Although I have found that it is never too late to make better memories.   If I could tell people one thing, be careful on how you live your life because eventually, you will have to live with the memories of it.    There are a lot of unhappy people in the world.  This is a big source of unhappiness.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Snorkeling:Balnerio Condado near Old San Juan

General Description:   Great Snorkeling in the heart of San Juan near where the cruise ships dock. This is a small public beach among the resorts in the Condado neighborhood.

Degree of Difficulty:  Easy

Grid Coordinates: 18.461379, -66.082413  

Maps: PR San Juan 20130920 US Topo    

Finding the Beach:   Playa Condado is a short walk from Old San Juan.  Just across the bridge at the eastern end of Old San Juan Island.   If stopping in San Juan on either a cruise ship or flight layover this would be a short taxi ride, then easy snorkel.

If walking from the cruise ship dock, walk to the left to the first road heading up from the bay, Calle Juan Antonio Coretejas.  Walk up a block to Paseo Covodonga take a right heading east walk approximately 1 mile to Puente Dos Hermanos.  While walking Paseo Covodonga east it will turn into Ave De La Constitution.  You will walk by the Capitol Building, after the capital, there will be a large park also on the left.  After about a mile you will see the Avandia Ashford Bridge that crosses the bay.  The small public beach is at the base of the Condado Plaza Hilton to the left of the Avenue.  

One day I walked here for a snorkel from my son’s apartment in old San Juan.  I'm sure glad I did this, it was a great snorkel with a touch of high society.   

Beach Overview:  Balneario (playa) Condado is a small snorkeling beach that is on the bay of El Boqueron.  Geographically it is located on the Peninsula de Condado just across from Old San Juan Island.   Playa Condado is a testament to the Puerto Rico public beach system.  Beaches are for the people technically there are no private beaches in Puerto Rico.   This beach ensures that one of the most exclusive areas in San Juan and Puerto Rico is open to the public.    Once leaving Avandia Ashford the beach is located right below the Condado Plaza Hilton Patio Restaurant.  You can rent beach chairs and snorkeling equipment on site.  The beach is well protected from the surf by a rock outcrop.  The outcrop that leaves the north end of the beach and stretches halfway across the Bay of El Boqueron.  

This is the only snorkel beach that I have been to where after snorkeling you can walk right up the street to a high-end Sushi Restaurant.   Avandia Ashford in San Juan is what 5th Avenue is to New York.  At this beach, waiters will initially meet you on the beach and offer to bring you drinks or food from the restaurant and bar.


Snorkeling Instructions:    Enter the water anywhere along the beach area.  The beach front is small maybe 50 yards from the street to the rock outcrop.  There are underwater rock formations all throughout the bay.   I observed the most fish snorkeling along the rock outcrop and the bridge over the bay.  I have never seen any motorized traffic on this bay.  I doubt that it is allowed.  There are plenty of fish to view, but I have seen much better coral formations in other parts of Puerto Rico and Culebra.  A snorkel in the city of San Juan will be an unforgettable experience. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Motorcycle Ride to Columbia, Tennessee

The Saturday before Easter was just one of those days where it felt like a crime to remain home and inside.    So how about a motorcycle ride, to Columbia, Tennessee.   It felt good to get on the road especially after I found my lost sun glasses.   Darn I hate when they fall behind my desk.

Because of the lost sunglass we get a late start and we almost didn’t go.  I am sure glad we started the bikes up and got out of here.   It was in the mid 70’s, just above motorcycle jacket weather.  So a long sleeve shirt and vest did the trick. 

Heading down Highway 48 we are headed to Columbia, home to the old Saturn Plant.  I do think they still make car engines there.  Also it is the ancestral home of the 11th president of the United States, James Polk.    His parents moved here from North Carolina.   He resided here from 1816 to 1824.   We were going to go inside, but $10 each to go inside was a little steep; to see old furniture, to me anyway.  Heck you can go to Springfield, IL; there you can see Lincoln’s house for free.   So we decided to just walk the grounds and gardens surrounding the house. 
It was fun to see parents at the gardens for Easter photo’s with their kids, probably to send to family members.   Polk is the President that threatened war with England over the Oregon territory.  No Seahawk Super Bowl Win without old Polk.   Well he did do some other things too.  He started the Naval Academy, Smithsonian Institution, and issued the first postage stamps.   Polk is known as “least known consequential presidents” by scholars.

Well after downtown Columbia we stopped on the way back at Papa Boudreaux's Cajun CafĂ©  for dinner.  It was a hole in the wall place off the beaten path.   The food was great, like you were in Nola itself.  Fried Boudin Balls for an appetizer.  Terri had the Shrimp and Chicken Creole.   I took the Saturday night special, Prime rib, Gumbo, fries, and a very special item Crawfish Pie.   I can say it was more than pretty good.  The hospitality was great from very friendly people who relocated here after Hurricane Katrina.    It is a must go to if in the area.

After dinner we headed home, the day could not have gone any better.   Spring has come on with reckless abandon.  We must all take advantage of it while we can.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Louisiana Bayou

On the road again, just leaving Natchez, we are on US Highway 61 the river road, which runs through the Delta and blues country of Mississippi.  We are headed to Louisiana and the Atchafalaya Heritage Area just west of Baton Rouge.   So far, it’s been a great trip; Clarksdale, the Blues Museum, Vicksburg, and Natchez.   We must come back to this area on a motorcycle. 

As we cross the Mississippi state line into Louisiana, we stop at a state line casino for some bad fried chicken.   Well, this must be the hiccup of the trip, but we were so hungry and not willing to find something better.  Surprising what a little hot sauce will do.  It wasn't bad then.  Plus, I was so hungry cardboard would have tasted good with a bit of hot sauce on it.

As we make a right-hand turn in Baton Rouge, we cross the mighty Mississippi, the granddaddy of all rivers.  Most of the water that falls between the eastern slope of the Rockies and the western hill of the Appalachians flow through this river.   It’s hard to imagine.  It's big and wide it looks almost like a lake.  The barge traffic, once you get this far down the river, looks congested even for a river this large.

After crossing the Mississippi traveling on Interstate 10, you enter the Atchafalaya Heritage Area; this is a large area between the Mississippi and the Upper and Lower Grand Rivers.  This area creates a geographical and social region that is like no other in the United States.  This is Cajun Country. This area initially settled by the French before Louisiana was sold to the United States by Napoleon.   This Bayou region is made up of small rivers, lakes, and islands.   It has an eerie and unsettling feeling at times, some say haunted.   When people talk, you know that this is a unique place like no other in America.  An American-French Accent that is hard to understand sometimes.   People here have learned to talk regularly once discovering that you are from outside the bayou.   It is much like a foreign country in that respect.

The area surrounding the Bayou is agricultural, with the largest town of Lafayette on its western boundary.  The Ragin Cajun is the mascot for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.   We stayed at Lake Fausse Pointe State Park on the edge of the Bayou.  Driving in the Bayou can be disorientating, having to drive all directions on Islands, to cross bridges, to get to a location in the opposite direction.  Yes, it felt this way, making many turns to get to a destination on a particular island.

Lake Fausse Pointe State Park was a great place to camp and to use as a staging ground to tour the Bayou.  The camp spaces on the water had their own boat dock.  I have never seen this before. We were here for 3 days hiking the trails at the park several times. The trails wind through islands with interconnected bridges.   There are Armadillos everywhere.   I could see a B movie being filmed here called the attack of the Armadillos.  

The Highlight of our trip was the Tabasco Plant and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island.    We first went to the Jungle Gardens, started by Mr. McIlhenny, the original producer of Tabasco.  The gardens span 170 acres of semitropical foliage.   Along with the gardens, you will see alligators and Egrets.  It is a beautiful place.    After the Gardens we went to the plant itself, with a free tour it gives you the history of Tabasco along with viewing the production lines.   It is still owned by the family.   There are 136 shareholders with an estimated worth of over 1 billion dollars.   Along with the Tabasco store, it is a must-see if you are in the area.

When visiting New Orleans and the Bayou Country, one has to understand the food, some of the best in the world.   I love to eat, and I have found no better place to do it other than Louisiana.   It must be the French Cuisine tied with an abundance of great ingredients.  Oysters as big as a fist, crawfish etouffee, gumbo, fish, and the Po’boys.  Oh, the Po’boys good French bread stuffed with all kinds of deliciousness.   One place that we stopped was typical fare the Qwik Stop Cafe.  We grabbed lunch for the road, and this place is Cajun all the way.  The catfish tasted like it was swimming in the water yesterday.

Well, our trip through the Deep South is winding down it’s time to head home to Tennessee.  In my mind, I would love to spend the winter months in this area.   If it happens, I don’t know, but it is fun to dream.  We will be back, you hear….!!! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vicksburg and Natchez Mississippi

We are headed to Louisiana and the Atchafalaya Historical District just west of Baton Rouge, but first we stopped in Vicksburg and Natchez to visit historic sites.   After visiting the Blues Museum we headed south from Clarksdale we are taking Highway 61 south thru the heart of the Delta.  We stopped in Vicksburg for the night.        

The Vicksburg siege was the final phase of the Vicksburg Campaign lasting from May  
18 to July 4, 1863.  To make a long story short, General Grant surrounded Vicksburg pinning the Confederate forces commanded by General Pemberton in the city.   After several bloody assaults General Grant decide to out camp the confederates who had ran out of supplies and were starving.   General Pemberton finally surrendered on 4 July 1963.  Legend has it the city of Vicksburg whose citizens suffered terribly, did not celebrate the 4th of July until the start of World War II.   During the siege Union force lobbed 22,000 artillery shells into the city from gunboats and artillery pieces controlling the bluffs around the city.

The Vicksburg Battlefield National Historic Park has a great visitor’s center.  We watched the 20 minute film that explained the battle and its importance to the union war plan.   Vicksburg was the final key to gain control of the Mississippi. "Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together...Vicksburg is the key" – Abraham Lincoln.  The 16 mile driving tour was excellent circling the bluffs above the city.   During the driving tour you must stop at the USS Cairo Gunboat museum.   This gun boat sunk during the battle was raised out of the Yazoo River.   Its reconstruction and separate museum are on the tour route.   It was a time capsule of artifacts sealed in river mud.

After leaving the Vicksburg we made the 80 mile drive to Natchez stopping the Natchez Historical Park.  We toured the Melrose house, it is an 1800’s Greek revival style mansion.    King Cotton for a time made Natchez one of the wealthiest places in the world.  The Melrose house built by the wealthy planter John  T. McMurran owned several plantations in Mississippi and Arkansas.  Melrose house was not a plantation house but the owner’s city home on 80 acres in Natchez.

Well it was time to get on the road and to our destination in Louisiana.   We do need to come back here on our motorcycles and ride this river road.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Snorkeling Playa Puerto Nuevo

General Description:  Typical local public beach with an outstanding guarded bay to snorkel.  100 yard swim to prime snorkeling area.

Degree of Difficulty:  Easy to Intermediate

Grid Coordinates:  18.491339, -66.398961

Maps:   USGS TPR5654820, Manati, PR

Finding the Beach:  When traveling from San Juan take freeway 22 to the Highway 2 Vega Baja exit.  Turn right follow highway 2 three miles drive though Vega Baja, and then take a right onto PR-686.  Follow PR-686 to the Play Puerto Nuevo beach entrance. 

Beach Overview:    This was the first beach that I snorkeled in Puerto Rico.   It was my second trip to the island during a business trip.   I had to give a presentation to a group on a web site I was helping develop at the Embassy Suites Beach Resort in Darado.   After my presentation I couldn't change into my swimsuit fast enough.  I jumped into my rental car and just started to drive not knowing where I was going.   I knew if I headed west the ocean would be on my right.  I could also see the central mountains to my left.  After driving a while I took a right and ended up at Playa Puerto Nuevo.   It was a great day; it was good to get out of the conference room and onto the beach.

This small sleepy town of Puerto Nuevo has a picturesque beach with a guarded cove for some outstanding snorkeling.   This is a public well-guarded policed beach part of the Puerto Rico National Beach System.  You will see all types of local people here enjoying the sun and the water.  This is well away from the tourist area like the resort in Darado.  Past the beach and on the beach itself there are roadside stands and restaurants that sell local fare.   It is a good stop after a long snorkel.
Snorkeling Instructions:    Enter the water towards the east side of the beach, near the rock outcrop guarding the cove.  Swim along the rock outcrop to view fish and coral.
There is a roped off swimming section of the beach.  Swim past the rope buoy.   Along the volcanic rock outcrop you will see fish as soon as you enter the water, but the prime snorkeling area is about 100 yards up from where the outcrop starts on the beach.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Motorcycle Ride to Chattanooga and Georgia

There is nothing in the world better to clear the head than a three day, 500 mile motorcycle ride.  From Clarksville to the Nooga.

What a great ride to the Nooga.   Its spring and we are in Chattanooga for the weekend.   We took all back roads crossing the state from north to southeast.  It was Terri's second long distance ride.  We road to Tupelo last summer, she is ready to move up to a bigger motorcycle.  It was a blast riding the 170 miles on Friday after Terri finished work.

Spring is in full swing the trees are leafing out, the wild redbuds and dogwoods are in full bloom.  It natures fresh start, a new beginning. Saturday we rode to Chickamauga to see the bloodiest 3 days of the civil war.  10000 souls perished in 3 days in mid September 1863.  This battle ensured that the north would win the civil war.

We had lunch on top of Lookout Mountain at Cafe on the Corner in Tennessee.  We then road along the top of Look out mountain to Georgia, stopping at Cloudland Canyon State Park to take in the views. Tomorrow it's back to Clarksville first stopping in Nashville.

On the way back we stopped to visit our son Thomas in east Nashville. We had lunch with him and his girlfriend Anna at Mad Donna's what a great eclectic restaurant in the heart of Five Points.   It was a nice visit with them.  We then headed home.

Once home it was time to wash the bikes and think about the next trip.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Snorkeling Playa Mar Chiquita

General Description:   A very unusual beach with in a small cove with an active ocean swells.  This was great snorkeling lots of fish and coral.

Degree of Difficulty:  Intermediate  

Grid Coordinates: 18.473104, -66.484604 

Maps:   USGS TPR5654820, Manati, PR

Finding the Beach:    From San Juan take costal highway 22 west; take the Manati exit go south on Highway 149.  The first intersection will be Highway 2, turn left to go west.  Take the fourth turn right to head north on PR-604.  Follow PR-604 for approximately 5 miles it will end at PR-685.  Take a right then the second left onto PR-648.  Follow PR-648 to the Mar Chiquita beach entrance.  Drive down the hill and park next to the beach.  Once parked you can either go to the surf beach to the east/right of the parking lot Punta Marchiquita or west/left to the enclosed beach cove which is Playa Mar Chiquita

Beach Overview:  Playa Mar Chiquita is a large half-moon shaped beach.  It has a lava rock outcrop to the front of the beach.  There is an inlet that allows some of the Ocean swells in the beach area.   There is small beach surf but nothing that isn't negotiable when snorkeling.   At first impressions it seemed like a small local beach.   There is one beachside kiosk that sold drinks and food.    There were groups of family’s swimming and sunbathing.  If you're there just to play in the surf and worship the sun, you can find a spot on the east side of the parking lot at Punta Marchiquita.   Either beach would be a great place to spend a day relaxing in the sun and surf.      

Snorkeling Instructions:    From the parking lot enter the water anywhere along the half-moon shaped beach.   The cove will deepen in the center and get shallow again the closer you get to the rock out crops to the front.  Avoid the entrance to the bay this is where the swell is the strongest.  While snorkeling a small alternating current could be felt from the swells and the inlet.   Exercise caution near the rock outcrop shallows.  Around the rock outcrops and toward the center of the cove there is an abundance of fish and good coral formation examples.   While snorkeling you will feel exhilarated by the Ocean Swells.  This  is the only place in  Puerto Rico or Culebra that I have had this experience. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mississippi River Blues: Clarksdale Mississippi

The Heart of Rock and Roll is in Clarksdale Mississippi, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.  We are headed to Louisiana and the Atchafalaya Historical District, but first, we stopped in Clarksdale for the day.  We are taking Highway 61 south thru the heart of the Delta.  The Delta is the western area of Mississippi that was once a swamp that was drained and cleared to grow cotton.   Flat like Kansas; King Cotton for a time made this area from Natchez to Memphis one of the wealthiest places in the world.   You can see this wealth in the many plantation estates open to the public. Cheap slave labor fueled this wealth, then after the civil war a sharecropping system that was maintained through terror and violence.  It would make today’s current unbalance of wealth seem mild by comparison.    

 In this suffering and toil came this marvels music called the blues.  Although plantation owners would not let slaves read or write they were given musical instruments.  They develop a form of music that is uniquely American and is the root of all the current popular western music Genres.   Clarksdale is in the center of the American Music Triangle; Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.    It is Ground Zero as stated by Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club.  This club across the street from the Blues Museum, in the downtown, where there were several authentic Juke Joints or blues clubs.

Driving west on Highway 278 out of the hill country of Tennessee and Mississippi the landscape flattens out with cotton fields in every direction.  All of the roads become elevated above the farmland; you can tell that overabundance of water is a big part of life here.   Many parts of the Delta are prone to flooding.  Arriving in Clarksdale without knowing the history would leave one to believe that this was just another sleepy farm town.   

You arrive at the crossroads of Highway 49 and 61, this was the place that Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil for the gift of playing the guitar.   I guess it didn't work out too well for him since he died at 27.   He was a pioneer in the music, Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived".  Downtown is the fabulous Mississippi Delta Blues Museum, you must see the log cabin where Muddy Waters grew up.   What impressed me the most were the plaques by rock and roll bands presented to the museum.  They were thanking the blues for their music.   The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Roger Stewart paying their homage to the music that they took and made their own.
We had lunch at  Abe’s Barbeque at the crossroads on Highway 61.  We talked about returning to this holy land of American Music.  There is so much to hear that we were only teased for the day. Clarksdale is an undiscovered American music mecca yet to be spoiled by blatant commercialism.  It is the real deal in American Music History.