Monday, April 26, 2010

Route 66

Both my father and I have been looking forward to retracing the roads of our past and when we leave the cemetery to begin this three day road trip, my father happily unfolds his new crisp California map and navigates as I drive. We drive south on Hwy. 101; the morning light reflects off the haze and the horizon line between ocean and sky is indistinguishable. I am happy to be the chauffeur with no decisions to make. Just before Oxnard, I turn East on Hwy. 126. The black ribbon of road unwinds towards Fillmore and Piru eventually intersecting with Interstate 5. Heading south we pass the Magic Mountain Parkway. Two immense twisted roller coasters are starkly silhouetted against the grey sky. They look like giant erector sets, colorful and impossible mechanical contraptions. We leave the interstate and cut across through Santa Clarita catching Hwy 14 East towards Palmdale. At 65 mph, this two lane stretch of road rides like a mini roller coaster with dips and rises and my van has moments of weightlessness when the highway drops suddenly away. Our plan is to stop in Palmdale for lunch but there are only fast food restaurants along the main drag. We feel fortunate when we spy an I Hop, but the 45 minute wait on a Sunday afternoon sends us elsewhere. There is another restaurant, some distance away across the undistinguished strip mall parking lot. I set out on foot to investigate and discover that there are no customers whatsoever in this Mediterranean restaurant. This is never a good sign, but at least we won't have to wait. The young Armenian waiter is the owners son, and we have his undivided attention. Our two shish kabob lunch platters arrive quickly, are ample, flavorful but sadly overcooked.

My father takes an after lunch cat nap as I drive on towards Victorville. This stretch of road is monotonous and I pull into a Starbucks for a coffee fix to power me on. We approach Victorville from the north, cross the Mojave River and follow the historic route 66 for a brief stint. I regret that I didn’t pull over to photograph the wrought iron Route 66 sign that spanned the historic downtown street.

Years back, my fathers parents as lived in Lucerne Valley and his sister Helen, lived in Apple Valley. As we pass through this area I ask my father if he can find Helens' house? I remember celebrating many Christmases in this high desert and the house that Helen and her friend Martha lived in was designed by Neutra. If memory serves me correctly, the year was 1965 and I was around 14, when Martha had the house built. I remember then thinking it was unusual; all straight lines, lots of glass and a reflecting pool. It sat a couple of miles up a dirt (?) road and had an expansive view of the valley below. Although my father knows the general area, he doesn't remember the name of the road and with so much new construction, we miss the turn off. I would have enjoyed seeing this remarkable house and rekindling memories. Several days later, we find out, it is on High Street in Apple Valley.

We arrive in 29 Palms just after 5:00 P.M and check into our motel. There is a Marine training base in close proximity to 29 Palms and the majority of the shops along the stretch of downtown, are tattoo parlors, bars and barber shops, advertising military style hair cuts. My father and I eat an unremarkable Mexican style dinner together. The booths within the brightly lit restaurant are filled with young military families, enjoying a Sunday night dinner out.

Happy Birthday Mom

Today would be my mother’s 90th birthday and our first stop is the Santa Barbara cemetery to wish her a happy birthday and place roses at her grave. She has both an ocean and mountain view and we sit with her quietly on this blessedly beautiful Sunday morning.

Road Trip

I’m on a three day road trip with my venerable father, a renowned Geologist, who has spent much of his life in the field in Southern California, mapping the San Andreas Fault and the surrounding area. At 92, my father, John C. Crowell, professor emeritus, pretends to be retired, but with Spring in the air, and a wish for us to spend time together, we arrange a road trip to Yucca Valley, Indio and the Anza Borrego Desert.

My road trip begins a day earlier when I make the drive from my home in Santa Cruz to my fathers retirement apartment in Montecito. I have made this trip many times over the past several years, and my old Toyota Van, with 160,000 miles on the odometer, knows the way. If only I could accrue frequent driving miles in the same fashion as I collect my frequent flyer miles.

I sail down Hwy. 101, the rolling hills along side the highway, a velvety green, lush from the ample rains earlier this year. New growth tips the trees and splashes of psychedelic yellow mustard paint the hillsides. The color pallet along this stretch of landscape changes with each season surprising me each time that I make the drive. I can cut 15 minutes off the drive by taking Hwy. 154 up via Cachuma lake. This part of the drive is breathtaking in the late afternoon light, a montage of purple shadowed mountains against the horizon. The fires in recent years have left much of the hillsides barren and vulnerable, but a patchwork of new growth; dusty green and muted lavender is filling in the scarred hillside. For 15 miles I have been speeding uphill. The highway levels and begins to drop down and around the next curve, is the bay; shimmering and blinding the bright afternoon light, and the city of Santa Barbara a mirage below. I merge onto Hwy.101 at the height of Saturday afternoon freeway traffic and inch through Santa Barbara, bumper to bumper, arriving in Montecito, much later than usual. I change clothes in the parking lot at Vons market and am only two minutes late when I stroll into the formal dining room at Casa Dorinda to

greet my father and his friends.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dragon Love

We have a new member to our dragon family. Several weeks back, a friend of Johns found "Munch" wandering lost in Santa Cruz. Unable to care for him properly, Munch has come to live with our two bearded dragons. Show Off and Spirit have accepted Much with few questions asked. This morning, when I checked on them, they were a happy pile of Dragon Love. Check out their beautiful scale pattern and their wonderful dragon claws.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Dead Sea: The End of The Journey

The Dead Sea is our final stop before heading to the airport in Amman. It is mid afternoon when we arrive at the resort hotel, at the edge of the Dead Sea. An elaborate buffet luncheon is waiting for us, but the Dead Sea also beacons so we must divide our time between eating and swimming. We walk down the steep incline to the beach but there is so little time to swim, that I decide not to take the plunge. I don't want to be sticky and salty for the next many hours on the plane trip back home. Stephanie is more adventurous and takes a 5 minute dip. Those in our group who do go into the water, float, bob and laugh, in the flotsam and jetsam of the sea. The high salinity makes it impossible to sink.

There is no time for showers and the bus will not wait since we all fly back home tonight. The various flights leave at different times, but we must arrive at the airport in time for the first of the departures.

We have had an early start and a long day and Stephanie and I will have a 6 hour wait in the Amman airport before boarding our plane to Paris. In Paris, we will have a 5 hour lay over. The flight between Paris and San Francisco is 13 hours. As marvelous as our adventure has been, arriving back home and having Art there to greet us is the best.
Thank you Art, for indulging my adventurous spirit and taking care of business in my absence.

Madaba; The Virgin Mary Church and the "Tile Factory"

We stay up late into the night packing and our wake up call is early. We place our luggage outside our room door at 6:00 A.M and are onboard the busses by 7:00 A.M. for a full days tour, via the Dead Sea and onto the airport. This tour is not part of the Young Living tour. We have each paid an additional $100 for todays experience. It will be over 48 hours before I sleep again in a real bed. I doze until our first stop at the town of Madaba, to visit the Virgin Mary Church and our group is escorted up hill to the church. The street that we follow is lined with enticing shops and Stephanie, Sandy and I hope that we will have time on our own later to explore. The mosaic floor, a map of the biblical lands, discovered in 1896 is the treasure. Sections of the mosaic are missing and although I wish to understand the historical significance of it all, my biblical knowledge is also fragmented.

Although we have time to enjoy the church, we are unduly hurried back through town and onto the buses. We return along the same colorful street; lined with many unique shops but when I stop to admire a tasseled camel blanket, I am hurried on by the commanding voice of our tour guide. The merchant at this shop door hisses or whispers to me, and I pause to comprehend. He tells me that the the tours won't allow us to shop with the local merchants because they will not get their commission. His price for the camel blanket is extremely reasonable; a fraction of what I priced them at in Petra. I wish for time to explore the possibilities, but our group has left me far behind and regrettably, I slink away, towards the bus and onto our next destination.

Within 10 minutes our buses pull into a large parking lot and I know immediately that this "Tile Factory" is a controlled tourist shop. The cavernous shop is the size of most Costcos and after peering inside, I balk at the entering. I have an uncontrollable gut reaction which I verbalize to the stunned tour guide; exclaiming that I do not want to be here and refusing to enter. I announce that I am going to leave and go drink a Turkish coffee somewhere. A handsome Bedouin man takes my arm, offering me turkish coffee within the shop. Stephanie and Sandy are more tolerant and urge me to come with them, but I make an about face and march back into the parking lot. I pace the parking lot and walk to the gated perimeter. We are far outside the town; a two lane highway stretches in both directions. There is nothing of remote interest outside of these gates, but I leave the confines of the tile factory and walk down the country road. I am fuming! A beautiful orchard is across the highway and after looking both ways with not a car in sight, I cross over and stroll into the grove. Becoming aware of another' presence, I look behind me to see the security guard from the "Tile Shop" following me. He is congenial when he asks me where I am going and I blurt out my dissatisfaction about being here. In retrospect, I know that he did not understand my angst and anger at being held captive in this place. He walks with me into the grove, his machine gun slung casually over his shoulder. He asks me why I don't want to go into the shop and I try to explain. He proudly points to a simple walled compound beside the shop and tells me that he lives there. I imagine that as tourists we support the lifestyle that he is so proud of. I tell him that I want to drink coffee and with a glimmer of understanding, he points directly across the road to a tiny shack; a 10 x 10 wood structure with a tin roof. One lone man stands behind a counter void of goods. Immediately grasping that this is the local cafe, I practically jog back to the tourist shop; yank Stephanie away from her shopping and the cup of coffee that she balances in her hand and usher her across the road to the cafe. "My" security guard is still with me; somewhat bewildered at my actions, but still smiling. I order two Turkish coffees from the man behind the makeshift counter who asks if I want milk and sugar? These queries are mimed when he opens a tiny refrigerator, with a single can of condensed milk inside. He pours the heavy and sweet condensed liquid into both of our cups. There are no chairs or tables, but Stephanie and I take our two cups of coffee outside and sit upon rocks adjoining the cafe. The owner immediately, brings two milk crates outside, tipping them over and offering them to us for seating. Stephanie and I reposition ourselves upon the crates and proceed to drink the rich and delicious Turkish coffee.

Our extended stop here has put us behind schedule. We have been here well over an hour. Several in our group made large purchases and the powers to be allowed them as much time as needed to part with their money.

Mount Nebo and the River of Jordan

Before today, the names and places of biblical history were just a fantasy. We stop to visit Mount Nebo, to pay honor to the memorial of Moses. Our buses pull into a large parking lot and we hike up the hill to the museum and the overlook. The day is mild and sunny and the view from the hilltop is hazy but a sign at the summit points to Bethlehem, Jericho and the Dead Sea. Israel is just over the horizon and all these famous destinations are just a stones throw away.

For me, the most significant stop is at the Jordan river. The campfire song, "The river of Jordan runs muddy and wide.." repeats in my head as we walk along the arid pathways beside the muddy river. 2000 years ago, the Jordan river may have been wide, but it is not today. We come to the revered section of the river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. There is definitely a spiritual presence here and almost all of us take a moment to kneel and dip our hands into the water. During this two week excursion we have experienced so much; the magic of Egypt; temples, pyramids, tombs and incredible unfathomable art. We have been awed by the magnificence of Petra and the accomplishments of the Nabataean people. Today we are walking where Jesus walked.

We walk from the sacred river towards the newly erected commemorative church, its golden dome shining in the distance. The afternoon sky casts a dramatic light upon the scene. The interior of the church is quite lovely with fresco ceilings and gilded chandeliers, but its newness feels out of place in this ancient landscape. One member of our group begins singing a gospel hymn, her voice strong and reverberating within the fine acoustics of the chapel. Soon, many of us join in her song of reverence and celebration. One song morphs into another and it is only the time constraint that brings our impromptu choir to an end.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Little Petra

For days, our schedule has required that we wake before dawn, but this morning, we sleep until nearly 7:00 A.M. We will visit Little Petra in the afternoon, but have the morning free and a group of us have arranged a visit to a Turkish Bath. We enjoy an elaborate buffet breakfast overlooking the rock canyons adjacent to our hotel and at 9:00 A.M. are picked up by taxis and taken to the bath. Stephanie, Sandy and I are in one of the first taxis to arrive at the baths and we are ushered downstairs into the foyer. We each pay our $30, all inclusive, for the procedure, tip, and the round trip taxi service.

It has been nearly 40 years since I enjoyed a Turkish Bath in Istanbul, as a lone back packer; where ample women with pendulous breasts and voluminous baggy underwear scraped and massaged me into cleanliness. Todays procedure is more industrial, and wearing the advised swim suit, I obediently follow directions and the three of us are ushered into the steam room. Initially, I am disoriented with all vision obliterated by the clouds of steam. I grope my way and find a seat along the wall of the marble room and within seconds am finding it difficult to breath. A fellow "steamer" invisible within the mist, suggests that by putting ones head down, breathing will be easier. I lower my head between my knees and take a welcome breath of cooler air. Although I cannot see my other steam mates, I believe that there are about 9 of us within this room and we dutifully sit and sweat for 12 - 15 minutes. During this time, groups of three or four enter and prior groups exit. It is soon our turn to rotate out and a heavy set man enters, taps our shoulders, and the three of us follow him to the outer room. He motions for us to lie down upon a raised marble slab and with some effort, I climb up onto it, slipping and sliding and positioning myself face down as instructed. The marble slab is intensely hot and wet with water. Our torturer repeatedly flings buckets of ice cold water upon us and I somewhat enjoy the contrast of the cold water against my overheated body. Some minutes later, we are instructed to turn over and cold water is again flung onto us. My body has adjusted to the intense heat of the marble slab and I am relaxing into the experience. It is doubtful if this part of the procedure lasts more than 10 minutes before we are ushered back into the steam room for another period of intense sweating. Stephanie, Sandy and I are again removed from the steam room, this time individually, and escorted into private rooms where again, we are placed upon a heated slab. By this point, my body has relaxed into jello. I am face down and the practiced masseur, with one motion, jerks my one piece swim suit down around my hips and begins intensely kneading and scraping my back. As if on a spit, I am modestly rotated until all sides of me are scrubbed clean. The procedure is somewhat painful, but my tight muscles relax and the skin scraping is cleansing. A limp 20 minutes later and after a hot shower, I am cleansed. Back within the lounge, we all drink tea and those of us who wish, may smoke a water pipe.

Shortly after lunch we board our three busses to drive to Little Petra. Had we visited Little Petra first, I would have been awe struck; but yesterdays visit into Petra; one of the wonders of the world, dwarfs Little Petra. Rooms and treasuries of all sizes are carved into the cliffs and the afternoon light casts a magical glow. Stephanie and I leave the group to hike up a rock hewn stairway; a monolithic rock formation hovers at the peak of the staircase. I want to climb down the other side of the staircase and explore the canyon beyond, but we are called back to the group and all too quickly are herded back onto the busses.

Stephanie writes: "What I found amazing about Petra (Greek word for rock), is not only the truly magnificent wonderland of the full spectrum of color but the unbelievable accomplishments of the Nabataeaens. (a Semitic tribe dating back to at least the 6th century B.C.) Our guides, who were also scholars, were able to share information that had to do with the rich history of this land and these people who possessed the ingenuity to build canals and cisterns, carved into the rock to bring water. Petra was on the Caravan route from Yemen to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. The Caravan trade route is what we were trying to depict as a part of the documentary that Gary Young and Mary Young of Young Living Oils were producing in the filming of " The Frankincense Trail." The Nabataeaens ruled for quite a while and sculpted remarkable temples; the Treasurey building ( where the frankincense was stored) tombs, caves, stairways, monastaries, theaters; all carved out of the natural rocks in organic color. All this was created by people who I had never heard of prior to this day. Petra and Little Petra; both a most magnificent wonder of this world. It is also amazing because everywhere you look within these rocks there are sculptures; some natural and some not. It is all quite haunting……."

At 4:00 P.M. we have a mandatory group meeting in the conference room at the hotel. A few in our group will leave tonight to fly home, but the majority of us have another full day and will take a tour along the Dead Sea en-route back to the airport in Amman.

After the meeting, Stephanie, Sandy and I walk the short distance into town to shop and to eat dinner. We buy last minute souvenirs and have dinner at a local restaurant. I wish for a beer with my meal, but no alcohol is served in the town; only at the tourist hotels. My meal of skewered chicken, rice and hummus is nothing exceptional, but the mint lemonades that the three of us order are incredible. The frothy green elixir is more like a milkshake than lemonade, and my desire for a beer is quickly forgotten.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Bedouin Barbeque

We have been on our own in Petra all afternoon and hurry back to the hotel to change into warm clothes for tonights Bedouin barbecue in the desert beyond. As we board the buses for the short ride to the barbecue, the sun casts a golden glow on the hillside of the modern town. Sunset descends, a dramatic splash of deep rose and purple, setting over the sculpted canyons. The night is bone chilling cold and I am grateful for the several bonfires blazing. It is not as authentic as I hoped, but the food is tasty and ample and the 108 of us heap our plates with lamb and goat skewered meat hot off a large grill. There are dishes of salad and warm pita bread and hummus. When our plates are full, we return quickly to the perimeters of the fires to warm ourselves. Soon the music begins and those brave enough to leave the warmth of the fire keep warm by dancing to the rhythm. The evening is a festive and fitting close to a remarkable day.


Everything about Petra is mind boggling; from the archatectual splendor of this immense city, hewn into the canyon walls, to the abstract "paintings" that nature created in the rock formations.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Carriage, Camel, Donkey or Horse?

Gary Young, the CEO of Young Living Oils, gives a final empowered explanation of the history of Petra in relationship to the Frankincense trade trail. He talks nothing about the geological significance of the region and I wish that my father were here to enlighten all of us. We have the afternoon to explore on our own and we break up into our smaller social groups to explore the region. Stephanie, Sandy and I set off together, hiking further down the canyon. We explore many of the carved cliffside chambers, walk into ancient amphitheaters and take countless photographs. As renowned as this archeological site may be to the world; it is even more significant to the economy of the local Bedouins. Young Bedouin men, strikingly handsome with dark eyes outlined with Kohl, hawk hand made jewelry at "oasis" throughout the site. They all seem to possess a "Johnny Depp" magnetism but as charming as these young men may be, their "silver" jewelry is fraudulent and it pains me to see members of our group paying good money for silver plated jewelry. I observe that the "transportation" industry within this archaeological site is booming and am amused and delighted by what entrepreneurs the Bedouins are. It is an easy 3.5 mile hike into Petra, gently sloping downhill and a relatively easy return in this overcast climate, but tourists have the option of returning via donkey, camel, carriage or horse. Sandy wishes to engage some mode of transportation for the return journey and Stephanie and I are agreeable. Donkeys cluster at the far end of the trail, watched over by their Bedouin owners. After drinking turkish coffee at one of the roadside cafes, we barter for a donkey ride for our return journey, but soon learn that the 3.5 mile return trip is divided into distinctive territories. We may ride a donkey only so far. The donkey territory ends at the ancient amphitheater and from there we must hire a camel. The Camel territory goes only to the famed, architectural stronghold; the vault where the oils, and spices were stored. From there one can only ride in a carriage to travel up the narrow canyon. It is not the price for the various modes of transportation that deter us; but the complexity of it all and we return by foot enjoying the visual spenders of the area. When we emerge from the canyon, it is still nearly a mile back to our hotel and there are horses waiting. All three of us ride horses on this final leg of the journey and for $5 each are deposited at the edge of the hotel property.