Butterflies and retirement

Hola amigos,     

 Back in February some friends convinced me that a visit to a Mexican central highlands town called San Miguel de Allende was worth a visit, so Robin and I hopped a plane south for a week. It’s a beautiful old Spanish colonial city of about 175,000 folks, with cobblestone streets, an impressive central church and square, and plenty of restaurants serving up tasty food and fresh margaritas. One of the draws for the visit was that monarch butterflies from North America migrate every year in the millions to a pine forest a few hours away. We rode horses up a trail and then hiked to a spot in the middle of the forest to immerse ourselves in the magic of thousands of butterflies flittering around. Of course there was also pickleball, wine tours and a local music festival, so it made for a memorable trip.     We returned home for a few weeks before heading back to FL to celebrate my mom’s 95th birthday, and I’m hoping I have her genes to keep on living independently at that age with good mental and physical traits in a nice setting.     The big news from home is that I sent a letter to my patients announcing that after 40 years as a dentist I’m retiring from my practice in Colorado at the end of June. It’s been a great run, from the South Pole to Alaska and lots of interesting places in between, and I may continue to do some part time work in remote settings if the mood is right. Of course not many folks ever called me a workaholic, so I don’t think the transition will be too traumatic. Robin announced her retirement as well, so we’re all set to be spontaneous and hit the road whenever the mood strikes.      Hope that spring is in the air for you and summer not far behind. Send some news from home and raise a toast to retirement.

Cheers,

Almost retired Bob

Cobblestone streets in San Miguel
Main church in front of the town square
Tamale stop on the way to see the butterflies
Monarch butterflies gather on the branches of the pine trees
Trees covered with butterflies
Pickleball with the locals in Mexico
Celebrating mom’s 95th birthday at a favorite waterside restaurant 

Vanuatu was a great time!

The island of Santo in Vanuatu has an amazing history related to WW II. It was home to up to 500,000 US troops during the war as a staging ground for the fight in the Pacific. In 1942, the luxury liner Calvin Coolidge was conscripted to be a troop carrier, and it was packed with 5000 troops and 300 crew as it approached Santo on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Suddenly one of the ships in the area called Segond Channel noticed the liner heading towards the area where mines had been laid out the week before, and franticly signaled “STOP, STOP, STOP” to the captain, who had not been notified of the mines. He immediately ordered full reverse on the engines. However, the forward momentum was still propelling the ship into the mines,  and two explosions rocked the ship as it approached the shore. The captain realized the damage was catastrophic, and immediately ordered full speed ahead to try to beach the ship before it sank. He was able to run in aground on the reef, just short of the shoreline, and in the end only 2 lives were lost. The ship quickly took on water and within an hour was tilted completely on its port side. Shortly afterwards it slipped down the angled slope of the reef back into the water, and finally came to a rest with the bow at 62 feet and the stern at a 240 foot depth. It’s easy to access the wreck from the shore with scuba equipment to see and swim around the intact liner, which is now a thriving artificial reef.

The other draw for tourism is Million Dollar Point, just a half mile from the wreck of the Calvin Coolidge. It is where the US dumped millions of dollars of jeeps, tanks, bulldozers and the rest of the military hardware left over from the war rather than let the French and British have it for free. They offered to sell it for 2% of it’s value, but when that offer was refused they spitefully dumped it in the ocean. It is easily accessible from the shore for a good snorkel or scuba excursion.

I spent the last 3 days of my time in Vanuatu on a nearby island called Aore, and rented an “off the grid” house along the shore. I had use of a bike and enjoyed a few days of pedaling around the island as well as enjoying the reef at my doorstep.

A tracked tank that was dumped in the ocean

A submerged forklift at Million Dollar Point on the island of Santos

The off the grid beach house on Aore in Vanuatu

Sitting area at the beach house I rented for a few days

Photo of the Calvin Coolidge as 5000+ troops abandoned ship an hour before it slipped back under the waves

Ocean view from Freshwater Plantation on the island of Aore

Close and personal to Mt Yasur volcano

Click to see movie of Explosive lava reaches for the sky

 

A visit to the Island of Tanna in Vanuatu is worth the trip for the chance to get on the rim of Mt Yasur, a thundering, magma spewing volcano that never disappoints. It seems like I signed a waiver that said standing on the rim of a volcano belching hot lava every five minutes might be dangerous but I don’t think there is a lawyer within 1500 miles of here anyway. There were three vantage points from the rim that were all upwind of the toxic sulfur gases, and the constant rumblings and fiery explosions were mesmerizing. We were also advised that if a cascade of rocketing two thousand degree lava was arcing in our direction, to keep an eye on the trajectory and calmly step aside instead of running like a screaming banshee. We stayed as is got dark enough to contrast the red explosions against the night sky, and then were herded back to the trucks to return to our unscorched habitats. Truly an unforgettable setting and experience.

The thundering crater as seen from the rim

The west side of the volcano has an ash plain that extends for miles

Another fiery explosion gets our attention

 

 

Vanuatu

I got out of McMurdo with only a 24 hour delay, which is as good as “on time” for most airlines. The next morning in Christchurch was spent sending most of my worldly possessions home from the US post office next to the Antarctic office. That left me with just some carry on bags to take a trip to someplace warm. I spent the next few hours with a helpful travel agent named Josie, and by the early afternoon I was booked to fly out to Vanuatu the next day. It’s a South Pacific nation of 83 islands, with the promise of warm beaches, good diving and an active volcano. Air New Zealand took me to Auckland, and then Air Vanuatu for the 3 hour flight to the main island called Efate. I had booked a nice resort on the beach for the first 5 days, and the rest was going to be figuring it out along the way. After 6 years working in Antarctica without a helicopter ride, I decided Vanuatu was the place to check that off my bucket list. It was wonderful to see the island from the air and take off and land on the floating raft. So far so good, and I’m off to another island called Tanna this afternoon to see the volcano up close and personal. With tour guides one can go visit great islands and tour them peacefully, view publisher site here to get that to happen.

The Kiwi pilot never missed his postage sized landing zone

Helicopter view of the reef

The resort on the left and the island I kayaked to on the right

The 4 seat chopper on it’s landing raft

A neighboring island that I kayaked to one afternoon

View from my room

Outdoor fun in Chile

Laguna Azul in Torres del Paines park, Chile

Magellanic Penguins in southern Chile

King Penguin colony in southern Chile

King Penguin with an incubating egg under his belly

My niece, Leandra hiked 11 miles with me to Laguna Torre and back

Shipwrecks arranged in Punta Arenas, Chile as a tourist site

Los Cuernos peaks in Torres del Paines National Park

A lesser rhea, a relative of the ostrich,  in the park

Guanacos, which look like llamas lounging around in Chileo

Georgia on my mind, and under my skin

A centuries old castle in Georgia

Gamarjoba,

That means “hello” in Georgian, the former Soviet Republic, not the peach state. I ventured there for a few weeks with some Colorado hiking comrades in September, with our own personal guide, Sean, the son of one of our hikers who had done a Peace Corps project there in the past and liked it enough to return and marry a sweet Georgian lady. We flew through Doha, Qatar, and I was unexpectedly upgraded to business class for the last 4 hour flight to Tbilisi, much  to the chagrin of my companions back in steerage despite my promise to share some left over caviar from my meal- go figure!

     We started in the capital of Tbilisi, which is a mix of old and new, from a main boulevard  of prosperous shops, hotels and restaurants, to centuries old castles and crumbling Soviet era buildings. One morning we ventured to the Turkish baths, which included a massage on a marble slab next to the steaming waters. I was one of the few who signed up for that, imagining a nice young woman masseuse with a firm but gentle touch. Instead I was rewarded with Gregor, a large hairy man of considerable girth who barked orders and wore a mitt made of what felt like steel wool which he proceeded to rub vigorously all over my body in an effort to exfoliate a few layers. The ensuing derm-abrasion was not what I had in mind, and the best part was when it was over, much like the end of a bad movie.
      Our group of six plus a driver then ventured around the mountains called the Caucasus for 10 days crammed in a 4 wheel drive Toyota, and we hiked and ate our way through wonderful Airbnb hosts in a half dozen towns. The people and dogs are friendly all over, and we managed to avoid any confrontations with the occupying Russian solders in the north that have effectively kept Georgia from joining NATO. One memorable visit was to Gori, where Stalin is revered as a home town boy. The impressive museum behind his preserved childhood home boasts of all his achievements but fails to mention how he tortured and killed an estimated 20 million people during his 30 years in power. The most interesting trivia we learned was that Putin’s (the current thug running Russia) grandfather was one of Stalin’s chefs, and his son, Putin’s father, was a food taster to make sure Stalin wasn’t being poisoned- quite a den of thieves.
      We also spent a few days in the scenic wine region, and enjoyed great meals with local wines. One day we were invited to a wine tasting by a restaurant owner, and were humbled by a large bellied fellow who as he led us through the selection of wines he casually mentioned that he drinks 6 liters of wine daily with no sign of being inebriated in the least.
     Our final day in Tbilisi found us at a wonderful French café with fresh croissants and delicious entrees which fueled us to explore a new museum and funicular cable car to the top of the hills overlooking the city. In an effort to experience the public transport mini buses swarming around the city, I asked for help from a lady standing on the corner. She provided great assistance to us, and I asked her where she learned to speak English so well. She mentioned that some years ago she had met and married an American who was stationed at a base called Fort Carson and lived in Colorado Springs for two years- small world!
     Another great adventure with friends that will provide a plethora of fond memories for rocking chair stories on the porch someday if my cognitive powers remain intact. And if not, living for those moments were sweet enough.
     Snow is forecast to return tomorrow, so hope you’re enjoying some sun and warmth with friends as we accelerate into the holiday season.
Cheers,
    Skin abraded Bob

Climbing the rail-less steps of the Tbilisi fortress

The Peace bridge and tubular unfinished concert hall in Tbilisi

Buying walnuts for $1 a pound in the market

Hiking in the Caucasus offered some spectacular views

A travertine hillside of mineral deposits from springs in the rock

Buildings made from dry stacked rocks in Mutso, near Shatili

A house reserved for plague victims to go to for their final days

Homes carved from the cliffs in the cave city of Vardzia

Typical farm to table food for dinner

A vendor spiral cuts a potato, then deep fries it for fresh chips on a stick

The Tbilisi metro descends hundreds of feet below the city

Celebrating with raspberry banana smoothies to the end of a great trip

 

Underwater to Outer Space

Hanging out at 40 feet with a friendly turtle

Greetings outdoorsmen and women,
     The summer is over and the snow is falling, but not without some highlights of recreation in August. Some good friends in the dental industry, Bob and Barbara, invited Lynn and me to join them in Bonaire, an island in the Caribbean next to Aruba, where their son Thomas and girlfriend Rachel are both scuba instructors. After a moment of thought, we booked a trip to share an Airbnb house with a pool large enough for Lynn to do a refresher scuba course with Rachel. Following that we dove a few times, did a little windsurfing, and Lynn even did a “body dragging” kite surfing lesson, which was more fun than the image she had of a chain behind a pick-up truck. The company and food were great for a week of fun in the sun, and we flew off to Texas from there, tanned and relaxed.
      I was scheduled to do my annual dental workshop in Galveston for the new Antarctica medical team, and they are an interesting and diverse group who hopefully picked up some dental skills for their 6 months on the Ice. I signed up to go back too, but not until December, so they’ll be on their own to deal with dental issues for a while. Some of the new participants are from the University of Texas Aerospace Medicine program, and when I was finished, their instructor, Ed, who previously worked at NASA, asked me if I’d be interested in doing a presentation to the NASA medical folks in the future. Of course I said “yes” and a few weeks ago I was back in Houston with my Dentistry 101 Power Point presentation. My last slide pointed out that I was available for a mission to the space station or the moon, so I’m waiting for the call and it won’t take too long to pack some bags for that one. (Not quite ready to sign up for the 6 month one way to Mars yet)
     Hope your fall is going well and the sun is shining too.
Cheers,
   Bonaire Bob

Lynn and I after a refreshing dive in Bonaire

The Bonaire bunch on the beach at sunset

Rachel gives Lynn some pointers in the pool at the house

Picnic lunch at the windsurfing bay

Lynn working on her kite surfing body dragging

Thomas shows off his upside down levitation trick over the pool

Mountains of sea salt ready for export from Bonaire

Two of the aerospace medicine docs work on each other at the dental workshop

My NASA doc buddy Rahul and his wife gave us a
VIP tour of the Johnson Space Center

A fully suited astronaut is about to be lowered into the 40 foot deep pool, known as the “Neutral Buoyancy Lab” for a 7 hour practice of weightlessness.

Civilized trip to Bermuda

Bermuda Smiles with Lauren

Hi travel fans,

During the summer I visited Lauren in Florida and asked her if she would be interested in a father/daughter trip sometime. After a moment of thought she said “Yes! but not on some crazy adventure trip” like she imagines I would choose. Not sure where she got that idea, but I asked her to come up with a place and we would discuss it. She picked Bermuda and in mid October we were on our way to a new destination for both of us. It was a wonderful place, and a special time to have a week together. One interesting excursion that she came up with was to sea kayak out and under the bridge to the airport, pull up on a new beach, hike through a park to a large pool of inland water known as The Blue Hole, and jump off a small cliff into the water to snorkel around. I was surprised but said “of course!” knowing if I had suggested that type of itinerary it would have been met with suspicion and caution, but since it was her suggestion it was perfectly fine. We also rented one of the first electric rental cars on the island, since it’s the only place I’ve ever visited that doesn’t have rental cars for tourists to keep the roads less crowded. It was a neat vehicle with a touch screen for forward and reverse and a max speed of about 35, and we listened to the warning that there were only 3 charging stations on the island so we didn’t run out of juice before returning it the next morning.

Just prior to that trip I spent some time in NJ with my brother helping our mom sell her house so she can enjoy full time living in Florida. We scheduled real estate agents, estate salesmen, crawl space renovators and a whirlwind mix of other folks, and had the house listed and contracted in less than a week, and 3 weeks later mom was lounging in her condo by the beach with the closing behind her. Naturally I found some pickleball in the NJ neighborhood, and played a few days with some goodfellows who were straight out of central casting for NJ mafia. They waxed poetic about the good old days with Jimmy Hoffa and the teamsters, so I went easy on them on the courts just to keep it a friendly game.

Back home, I spent a day in Greeley doing some volunteer dentistry for the Colorado Mission of Mercy which is always an enriching experience, and then sent out emails for dental donations for the next Alaska sojourn.

Cheers,

Bermuda Bob

Lauren relaxes in paradise

Sea kayak trip to the far beach

Jump into the Blue Hole

Lauren and E-car

Bermuda sunset

COMOM in Greeley

CO made wind turbine blades 2 train cars long

Fun times in New Caledonia

Bonjour mes amis,

   Following a successful escape from the Ice after a 4 day delay because of a broken plane sent back to Hawaii for repairs, I spent a few days in Christchurch enjoying the deluge from Cyclone Gita with my pharmacy and ping pong buddy, Tien. My 90 year old mom, who brags she’s already 91, hesitantly took off from Miami and in the end I was only an hour late meeting her in Auckland. We enjoyed 2 days of walking around the harbor and spending an evening with Hamish, a doc I worked with at the South Pole 2 years ago.

    We then jetted off for a 3 hour flight to the French territory of New Caledonia with the promise of sunshine, warm beaches, a beautiful reef for scuba diving and wind for kite sailing and windsurfing. I’ve checked all those boxes off already with 4 more days to go, so it’s all icing on the cake at this point. My mom and I get out for a stroll a few times a day, usually along the beach scene, and have found plenty of restaurants to compare fresh fish and chocolate mousse each evening. That plus some rousing Scrabble matches have kept the neurons from deteriorating too rapidly.

   Our first hotel had a killer view of the beach, but the room was tiny so after 4 days there we switched to a suite in a hotel a block from the beach. The trade off for the view was two rooms with a kitchen plus a great breakfast included. I didn’t realize I had signed up for the $22/day “continental” breakfast instead of the $35/day “delux” buffet, and have defied the croissant police each morning when I snag an extra chocolate croissant beyond the contracted limit. Adding to my arterial challenge is the fresh Brie cheese and duck pate I found at the market yesterday. There is also an amazing French bakery a block away if you want to add more butter to the menu.

    I biked downtown this morning for some exercise, but will probably stick to water sports for the duration. Hope your winter is keeping you busy, and send a note from home.

Cheers,

     Croissant 🥐 Bob

Loading the Kiwi chopper in the C-17

Sitting inside the plane

Tien and I at the Canteburry Table Tennis Center

Auckland restaurant with Hamish, the South Pole doc

A good motto to live by!

Mom in front of the Queen Elizabeth in Auckland

Auckland hilltop

Kite sailing beach in Noumea, New Caledonia

Cruise ship passes by the kite sailing beach

Lobsters for sale at the local market in Noumea, New Caledonia

Oz and Tassie fun

Ready to board the C-17 to leave the Ice

Ready to board the C-17 to leave the Ice

G’day Northerners,

Following a most enjoyable time on the ice with the best roommate I’ve ever had, Lynn and I jetted off to New Zealand for a few days of re-entry into the world of greenery, kids, dogs and fresh vegetables. It was an easy adjustment, and after a few days of warmth we were ready for the beaches and reefs of Australia. Port Douglas is a pleasant town that is close to the Great Barrier Reef, so we did some scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking and beach time there. The local newspaper carried an interesting story of how tourism seems to be down ever since they posted the signs on the beach about crocodiles, even after they assured folks that any crocs over 2.2 meters (7 feet) would be relocated, since a 6 footer could only maim but probably not kill you. They are still working on the details of making that sound plausible.

        Next up was Tasmania, a beautiful island off the southern coast of Australia that has beautiful beaches, over a dozen national parks, and plenty of interesting wildlife. We had some fabulous Airbnb experiences as we drove all over the island for 2 weeks and biked and hiked everyday, rain or shine. We had the best animal viewing one night driving back from a late dinner when the nocturnal creatures pranced around the roads in our headlights, and realized we should have done more night safaris. We ended our tour with a 2 night stay in Sydney, and enjoyed the sights and cuisine of the big city from an apartment overlooking the famed Opera House and Harbor bridge. Cockatoos and parrots squawked above the balcony, and biking over the bridge and back in intermittent rain had us laughing and drying out in the southern sun before a final meal of fresh seafood overlooking the harbor.

    I’m back in the office and Lynn is scoping out work possibilities in town, so we’re staying put for at least a few weeks before the next adventure. Spring snow had me shoveling the driveway yesterday, but I’m hopeful the pickleball courts are dried out by tomorrow for some exercise. Hope your spring is warming up.

Tas tourist Bob

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef- all I'm missing is a gold chain!

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef- all I’m missing is a gold chain!

Sea turtle munching on a delicious jellyfish

Sea turtle munching on a delicious jellyfish

Beautifully colored giant clams adorn the reef

Beautifully colored giant clams adorn the reef

Locals can't figure out why the croc sign has concerned the tourists

Locals can’t figure out why the croc sign has concerned the tourists

Another beautiful sweeping beach on Tasmania

Another beautiful sweeping beach on Tasmania

A large kangaroo rockets across the bike trail on Maria Island

A large kangaroo rockets across the bike trail on Maria Island

A weary looking wombat peeks out of his burrow

A weary looking wombat peeks out of his burrow

The painted cliffs on Maria Island were fantastic

The painted cliffs on Maria Island were fantastic

The painted cliffs on Maria Island were fantastic

The painted cliffs on Maria Island were fantastic

A shy, egg laying mammal called an echidna rustles through the leaves

A shy, egg laying mammal called an echidna rustles through the leaves

One of the 3 poisonous Tasmanian snakes makes a run for it

One of the 3 poisonous Tasmanian snakes makes a run for it

A true one lane suspension bridge on a scenic hike

A true one lane suspension bridge on a scenic hike

We walked through the Sydney Botanical Gardens to reach the Opera House

We walked through the Sydney Botanical Gardens to reach the Opera House