Log: Updated November 18, 2009
Where Have We Been?
Busy traveling! By boat and plane from Panama and Afghanistan to Atlanta...
By truck and motorcycle to Alabama and Key West...
Then on airplanes again, Tracy to Afghanistan, and Sharon to California before going home to Panama. Lots of miles covered!
Mid-Year Leave Trip
Hard to believe, but Tracy has already come and gone for his mid-year leave, which means he has been in Afghanistan for over six months already. Time flies!
We decided to meet in Atlanta instead of overseas or in Panama for a number of reasons: cost; the desire to visit with family and friends; a Jacksonville State University football game; and the opportunity to do a motorcycle road trip, one of our favorite pastimes. It is so much easier to relax in familiar surroundings, with friends and family. And after being in a war zone for six months, relaxing was Tracy's highest priority.
To be on time to meet Tracy, Sharon left home for Bocas on Wednesday, September 30. Flew to Panama City early Thursday morning, then flew to Atlanta early Friday morning. With those plane schedules, sometimes it seems like you just can't get there from here! Leaving Tocumen International Airport on the way to Atlanta.
Arrived Friday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, with the buildings of downtown Atlanta in the far distance. Took a shuttle to a nearby hotel, met up with friends Kenny and Donna Geoghagen, who dropped off their truck for us to use, and then called it a day. Another early morning coming up!
Tracy left his training site in Kandahar, Afghanistan,
and its infamous Emerald Lake (aka Poo Pond), on Thursday, October 1st.
Made his way to Dubai with a ten hour layover, and arrived in Atlanta at 5:45 Saturday morning. He was in transit for thirty-four hours, the last 14:30 of it in a flattened coach class seat, nonstop, 7,589 miles. Ouch! Sharon took the shuttle from the hotel to meet him at the airport when he arrived.
He looked just great!! Lost some weight, and very fit. Very happy to be on U.S. soil, too. (Of course the camera was back at the hotel.) Went back to the hotel, packed our stuff (lots and lots of stuff) in the truck, and got on the road to get to JSU in time for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Reuniting with the Harley and the Sigma Nu Fraternity Brothers
First, though, we drove to Kenny and Donna's in Acworth to get Tracy’s Harley-Davidson 2002 Electra Glide motorcycle. They have been storing the bike in their garage, after reclaiming it from the consignment shop where we had left it in the spring of 2007. Though Sharon's Sportster 1200L sold relatively quickly, the Electra Glide still had not sold after over two years, and the consignment shop was looking perilously close to going out of business. So Kenny rescued the Electra Glide for us, and has been storing it ever since.
Sharon followed Tracy in the truck (only lost him once, when we got separated by heavy suburban Saturday morning traffic, and he took a right turn and Sharon whizzed right by, not seeing him) over to Jacksonville, AL. There were complimentary tickets waiting for us courtesy of the alumni office. Tracy’s fraternity brother Patrick Rose, who visited us in Panama in March, met us there with his new wife.
On a beautiful fall day almost too hot for football, JSU crushed their opponents (Gamecocks Dominate UT Martin In 52-7 Trouncing), and the JSU quarterback, Ryan Perrilloux, was phenomenal. Tracy was thrilled to have the opportunity to see him play!
(Photo courtesy of JSU web site)
After the game, as required by long-standing tradition (since 1977?), we headed off for wings and beers at Jefferson's with a crowd of older fraternity brothers and their girlfriends, then over to the new fraternity house for a tour and visit with the younger brothers and pledges. Seems like it's been three new houses in our last three visits. Those frat boys can be hard on a house! But at least the last few haven't burned down...how times change!
Stayed the night at the old Gamecock hotel, another tradition. On Sunday in a light drizzle, Tracy got on the Harley, Sharon followed in the truck, and we headed down the lonely Alabama back roads to visit friends Ken and Kathy Carter in Gulf Shores.
Going slow and easy, we broke up the 300 mile ride over two days. The middle of Alabama may not be much of a tourist destination, but it sure is lovely in the fall. Sampling the local fare for lunch. (Our neighbors' and worker Joe's family name is Green, so we took this picture especially for them.)
Back Home at Homeport, Gulf Shores, Alabama
You will remember Ken and Kathy from this log. They moved off their 56' Hatteras and built a beautiful home just north of our marina before we left for cruising. They have always told us that the guest room over the garage is “our room.” Well we finally got to stay in it! Monday night they grilled us a huge pile of Gulf shrimp, and we ate in their garden courtyard surrounded by tiki lights. Felt very, very good to be home!
The whole southeast was entering a heat wave and the daytime temperature was in the low 90’s, just perfect for a boat trip. Ken and Kathy took the afternoon off so we could go out in their boat, an 18’ McAleer Marine custom with 140 hp engine. It goes along quite nicely! Launched on Wolf Bay in perfect weather and headed to their favorite sand island on the ICW, just in from the Gulf near Perdido Pass.
On beaching the boat we immediately recognized a young Osprey in a snag (see it behind them?), and the Great Blue Heron wading around didn’t seem to mind us, either.
Took a walk on the sandbar and floated in some comfy water chairs, sipping beers and catching up, then boated up a ways to the Florabama, one of our absolute favorite sleazy bars, right on the state line. Tracy had one of his first drinks there at age 17. But today, we were there for the oysters!
Sated for the moment, we jumped back in the boat and took a tour out the pass, just to be on the big Gulf water for the sunset.
Made it back to the launch ramp at just-dark, dropped the boat and trailer off at the house, and headed down to Lulu’s at the Homeport Marina, our old home port, for dinner. Crab claws and fried okra and L. A. (Lower Alabama) caviar (black-eyed peas in a balsamic vinaigrette). Yum!
Sated yet again, we walked the docks to visit Ken and Kathy’s “new” boat in its slip at the marina, a 1973 Bertram 42 that they did not really want, but ended up with when the buyers of their 56’ Hatteras, Floridays, couldn’t make the payments or sell the Bertram…It’s a nice old boat with new engines, but, they really didn’t want another boat!
On the Road Again
We left Gulf Shores sooo relaxed the next morning. Tracy left first, then it took Sharon an hour to get from Ken and Kathy’s house to I-10. It should have taken 30 minutes…and she should have taken that old atlas that Kathy offered.
Got lost!! Missed the left she should have taken, so took the next road north, SR-95, thinking she could catch up with that missed turn…but 95 T’s at 32, which T’s at another road, which, eventually, runs out of asphalt and dead ends…at the County Landfill…Argh! Hated to backtrack, but had to do it! At least she got to see two Red-tailed hawks hunting on the detour. And then bought a map at the next stop for gas…
Hooked up with Tracy just outside of Tallahassee, and we took highway 19 down from I-10. 19 is a little-traveled two lane divided highway on the west side of Florida, and what a great ride!! Tracy loved it on the bike, and the scenery was just great. Lots of “old Florida” feel, Spanish moss and cypress trees, white herons in the swamps, cattle egrets in the horse pastures, pine plantations, signs for bears crossing…lovely country. Tracy even had to swerve to avoid a big rattlesnake slithering across the road!
Got into Port Richey, Florida as the sun was setting around 7. We decided to pull into a hotel rather than try to find our way further south in the dark. It would have been really hard to keep track of each other after dark, and we didn’t know where we’d be staying anyway…
Port Richey is only an hour north of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, so we made a good dent in the trip to Key Largo, where we had reservations the next night at our old favorite, Gilbert’s Resort, by the bridge over Jewfish Creek.
Took a bit of a walk to stretch our legs and found a Chinese place for dinner, big buffet with lots of seafood and sushi. But some of the sushi had sliced hot dogs and chicken and pork in it! Is that so weird or what?! Fortunately we spotted it before taking a bite. Blech!
From Port Richey we had only about 300 miles to drive the next day, so an easy day, and we love Gilbert’s, know it well, and couldn’t wait to get to their Tiki Bar and do some more relaxing!
Heading Down the Keys
Friday, we headed to Key West, stopping at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, to wander the trails, make a donation and see their birds.
Lots of hawks, owls, pelicans, all with some injury or another, most human-caused (bullets, fishing line, fish hooks, power lines) that prevents them from leaving. But they do rehabilitate many birds, nursing them back to health and freedom.
This guy reminds us of Sharon's old cockatoo Nutmeg, but with a more friendly attitude toward Tracy!
Key West Reprise
Key West is one of our favorite vacation spots. We have been there many times, both together and before we knew each other. Sharon even lived there the year after she and Tracy met, working first at the Oceanside Marina, and then at the Key West Citizen newspaper.
We chose the Popular House Bed and Breakfast on the basis of online reviews, and we were not disappointed. It was perfect! A three story Victorian in Old Town,
it has bright, clean, air-conditioned rooms, a tranquil tropical courtyard with a cooling jacuzzi tub,
fresh fruit and bagel breakfasts,
helpful, friendly staff, and best of all, it's within easy walking distance to Duval Street and the waterfront. Our top floor room was both cozy and airy, and we could have stayed for weeks.
Sampling the Saloons
Of course we had to visit our favorite bars: Captain Tony's, Key West's oldest and a real dive, best known as a favorite Ernest Hemingway hang out,
with generations of bras, panties and business cards stapled to the ceilings. No pictures of the bras and panties, as this is a kid-friendly web site, but we swear, the lingerie gets larger each time we visit!
Schooner Wharf, "A last little piece of Old Key West," and non-stop music on the stage.
We were hoping to hear one of our favorite musical storytellers, Michael McCloud , whose song "Just came down for the weekend (twenty-five years ago)" epitomizes for us how easy it is to get waylaid by the tropical lifestyle.
Hog's Breath ("Hog's Breath is better than no breath at all!"), one of friend Michael Haskins' regular haunts.
At one bar we walked past on Duval Street, empty in the early afternoon, Tracy heard a musician singing his heart out, and we ducked in. Though we can't recall his name, we were fast friends for a couple of hours, listening to him play, calling out old favorites, and singing along. He is talented and personable, and we hope he makes it big!
And at the end of the long day, to provide sustenance, we just had to stop at Finnegans's Wake for their colcannon, a perfect comfort food of mashed potatoes, cooked cabbage, scallions and sharp white cheddar cheese, just the thing after too many drinks!
After such a grueling first day, we were feeling a need to get out on the water, so went on an afternoon sailing/snorkeling/kayaking tour on an old schooner.
And, this being Key West, there were adult beverages provided after the snorkeling! (Love that farmer's tan!)
No trip to Key West is complete without visiting Garrison Bight Marina, current home of the 1973 Amel 36’ sailboat, formerly named Dorian, now called Mustard Seed. This is the boat that brought Tracy and Sharon together!
In 1997-98,Tracy was taking a sabbatical from "real work," and selling boats in Jacksonville, Florida. Sharon was living in her cabin on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and trying to come up with a "What's Next" plan after moving back from Costa Rica and deciding to sell the cabin. Cruising seemed like a good idea, but first, she had to find a sailboat. And probably better to start off in warmer water, rather than risking the frigid waters of the Northwest. That cold Pacific is not very forgiving of new-captain errors.
There was a boat listed on the Internet, located in Jacksonville (the water is warm there, right?) that seemed worth investigating. She made the call...and guess who just happened to answer that phone call that day?
After a cross-country trip in her old Volkswagen van, she bought the boat, with a lot of brokering help from Tracy, and soon sailed off. And the seed was planted.
When the cruising plan didn't pan out, she sold the boat to Michael Haskins, a co-worker at the newspaper. And Sharon and Tracy eventually got back in touch, and began to correspond...
Michael has remained a friend for the past ten years, and has always offered the boat as our place to stay in Key West. This trip, Tracy wanted room to spread out (his living space in Kandahar is literally 6' by 6') so we declined Michael's kind offer in favor of the B and B. But we all went out to dinner Sunday night at our favorite restaurant, El Siboney, a Cuban place well off the beaten tourist path.
Michael has recently had the great good fortune to have his first book, Chasin' the Wind, published--and then sell out! The night we had dinner, Michael got home to an email advising him that his second book, Free Range Institution, had been accepted for publication. What great news!
Michael sent Tracy an autographed copy of Chasin' the Wind when Tracy got back to Afghanistan, and he devoured it in a day; he just couldn't put it down. Can't wait for the next one, Michael!
Our B and B had bicycles available for rent, so one afternoon we went bike riding around the island, out to the A1A with its great wide bike paths overlooking Hawk Channel. Then made our way south and stopped for the typical tourist picture at Southernmost Point.
All too soon it was Monday, and we had to pack up and head north.
Making Our Way Back
First stop, Cocoa Beach, and a small hotel right on the water where we were the only guests. Tracy got an early start the next morning to make a meeting in Orlando, while Sharon got the chance to do some writing and enjoy the view.
This little guy got stuck behind the concrete wall of the hotel, but after the photo, was scooped up and sent back to the beach.
The next two days we kept driving north, and it just kept getting colder! All the way back to Atlanta, which was having a cold snap. It was in the low 40’s when we got there. Brrr!!!
Tracy wanted to drop the motorcycle off at the dealership to have it serviced and detailed before putting it back into storage. When Sharon arrived to pick him up, he was proudly standing beside a new Electra Glide, and introduced it as "my new bike." Yikes!
Only kidding, right? Hmmm...I guess we'll see!
Family and Friends Time In Atlanta
Tracy’s sister Carole and husband Dick Bruce, from Greensboro, North Carolina, and brother George and girlfriend Linda, from Birmingham, Alabama, had all made the trek to meet us in Atlanta. Carole had recently been invited to be on the Advisory Council of the Business School of her alma mater, Auburn University, and met up with us on her way back from her first meeting.
We had dinner the first night with the family,
and six of Tracy’s former work colleagues: Kenny and Donna Geoghagan, Scott and Connie Lashley, and Jenny and Rod Vanderslice, at Gumbeaux’s, a Cajun restaurant in Douglasville, outside of Atlanta. Party of twelve!
Next night, Sharon got dressed up in her one good outfit and the family and Kenny and Donna (thanks for the truck and motorcycle storage!) went to the Blue Ridge Grill in Buckhead, north of Atlanta. Thank you, Dick and Carole, for such a lovely dinner!
On to the Next Leg---And More Family Time!
Early Sunday morning Sharon was on a plane to Palm Springs. Tracy drove her to the airport, and then he was on a plane to Dubai. It was so hard to say goodbye!
Sharon's Dad picked her up took her to his home in nearby Indio. He and CJ had cooked a turkey, and the house smelled delicious!
There was a box for Sharon waiting for her. After we left Gulf Shores, Kathy had bought a pile of tank tops and shorts (she knows where to find bargains!) and shipped them to Dad’s. So it was like Thanksgiving and Christmas, all rolled into that first afternoon!
Brother Robert and wife Donna made the trek up from San Diego the next weekend, with good news about a job prospect for Robert that has since come to fruition. He'll be working for enXco, a company that develops, builds, operates and manages state-of-the-art renewable energy projects throughout North America. Congrats, bro! Going Green!
A highlight of the visit with Dad and CJ was a trip to San Clemente to visit with Geneal, CJ's adorable mother. Always a class act, she took us to lunch at the Beach House in Dana Point harbor. Sharon's old slip, from when she lived there ten years ago on Little Odyssey, her Catalina 27, was just a few docks away.
Dropped Geneal off, ran a few errands, then took a short trip out to the hills of Talega in San Clemente to visit with the Bowmans. Back down the hill with them for a quick dinner at Dave's, a hole-in-the-wall, slightly divey Mexican restaurant and surfer's hang out in San Clemente. Sharon's family has been going to Dave's since moving to San Clemente in 1979, and Sharon and Dad were astounded when the Bowman's announced we were going to their favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner---Dave's!
The rest of the time in Indio was spent well: a shopping trip on El Paseo in Palm Springs with CJ; grocery shopping for a care package to ship to Tracy, filled with yummy things he can't get on the base in Kandahar; lunches and dinners with family and friends; long walks with Max the family Schnauzer; and boxing up Dad's read paperbacks to ship back to Bocas. And of course, time in the pool and hot tub!
We also set up a Slingbox so that Tracy can watch all the television channels available with Dad's Dish Network subscription, including Tracy's favorite: college football games! And when Tracy isn't watching it, Sharon can access the Slingbox from Panama, too. But she probably won't have time to watch much television. Beau shipped her new external hard drive to Dad's, but first loaded it with more TV shows, cartoons and movies than she could watch in half a lifetime, including all the episodes of the Star Trek original and Next Generation television series. Thanks again, Beau! (This is the second time he's had to do this. The last hard drive died after just three months! The rainforest environment is really hard on electronics.)
Headed South, With a Winter Storm Delay
All too soon the family days were over. Up in the dark of a Tuesday morning to catch a 6 a.m. flight out of Palm Springs. Then an unplanned night in Atlanta, without luggage, after a six hour snowstorm delay in Salt Lake City.
While trying to re-book the Delta flights in Salt Lake City, the Delta agent on the phone said she could not provide any help with a hotel in Atlanta because the itinerary was on two different Delta tickets, so it wasn’t their problem. This, despite the fact that they had booked the luggage through from Palm Springs to Panama.
Fortunately, a very nice desk agent in Atlanta helped with that one. He provided a voucher for the nearby Country Inn and Suites. The shuttle dropped her off around 10:00 pm, exactly when she had been expecting to get to the hotel in Panama City. She thought the $50 voucher meant she was getting a free room. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Nope, it just meant that she got a $50 room rate instead of the usual rate...so much for all of Delta's assistance!
So, twenty-four hours late, finally checked into the hotel in Panama City. Early the following morning, we were flying over the Panama Canal and headed to Bocas del Toro. Look at that muddy water!
Flying over Bahia Almirante, past our peninsula and the mangrove islands that buffer the eastern side of Dolphin Bay. Buena Esperanza and Cerro Velero are on the southern shore. Tierra Oscuro, or Darkland, is off to the southwest, and Isla Cristobal is passing just below, on the far right side of the photo. Touchdown in Bocas in about three minutes!
Meanwhile, Back at Home
The trip could not have happened without Mary and Carl's help with the dogs. Mary sent photos mid-trip to show us Gellie and Indy had happily adopted Casa Qué Será as their second home. And Cricket lived on their shore for the month, just in case the rains drained the battery and the bilge pump stopped working.
The Howler Monkeys were hanging around the neighborhood while we were gone. These guys were in the tree right off Carl and Mary's porch.
While we were gone, it rained a lot. On twenty-two days in October, for a monthly total of 17.2 inches. The year to date total is 145 inches. Guess that's why they call it a rainforest. And happy to be back in it!
Changes on the Way
Much to our surprise, we learned that while we were gone our neighbors the Greens decided to sell the rest of their property and move permanently to their house in Almirante. Wow! We had expected their family would live here forever.
But, if anyone has been tempted to buy some property down here, now's a good time to do it, and we'd love to have you as our new neighbors!