Our Bear Visit…

This was taken 10 feet from our deck, after his dinner in our condo!

In some places they have “fish stories”, in Tahoe, we have bear stories. It’s a classic tale of best intentions, producing unexpected, undesirable consequences. Twenty years ago, it was rare to even see a bear in Tahoe, unless you were in the back country.

Getting as far away as possible from that damn dog!

The way I understand it, at some point some mama bear figured out that it was easier to eat garbage out of the trash cans, or the dumpsters behind restaurants, than it was to forage. She taught her cubs this nifty trick, they taught their cubs, and voila’! – we have a bear population that no longer knows how to feed themselves in the wild. The problem is, that in an effort to stop the bears from eating trash, everyone installed “bear-proof bins” and now lock their dumpsters, so, the bears have no choice now, but to go into houses looking for food. And it is getting worse every year.

Bears are now a regular fixture in neighborhoods – strolling down the street, thru yards, and along fences. Once I watched a mother and her 2 cubs climb on top of a wooden fence and walk along the top like a tightrope! They are smart and very agile. They open home, garage and car doors, and can navigate refrigerators quite well.

OK, dog seems to be safely behind glass door...

The new millennium bear diet – fat & sugar – just like humans! The bear in our house ate a jar of honey, then put the jar in the sink, with the lid back on it!! It took the lid off of the ceramic butter dish, ate the butter, without harming the dish. It opened the freezer and ate frozen organic blueberries, but left a whole container of fresh blueberries on the counter! (Apparently they only know human food, and no longer recognize fresh berries?) He also enjoyed avocados, and my precious farmer’s market peaches. At least he left the wild prawns I had marinating in the fridge for dinner! He left us his calling card – a large pile of poop in the living room – before the neighbors dog “got wind of him” and went crazy. Maybe “scared the crap” outta the bear?

Mom never said it'd be this tough getting food from houses!

The number of home invasions by bears in the Tahoe Basin is increasing every year, and the bears get smarter, and bolder all the time. Lucky for us, they are California Brown Bears (not Grizzlies) so they tend to avoid confrontation with humans. The best tip I was given to avoid tangling with a bear, was “once they have your food, it is theirs, so don’t even think about trying to get it back!” Mark had one drag a 5lb bag of dog food out of his garage, dump it on the lawn in a neat pile, where he sat, legs spread around the pile of food, and chowed down, while the dogs were going crazy in the house! Another bear climbed into a car, the car door closed on him, and in his panic to get out, the bear totaled the inside. The car had to be towed away – steering wheel & stick shift bent, windows broken.

We live in such a small, safe community, is it really a big lifestyle change for me to remember to lock all of the doors and windows when we go out, but I guess I am going to have to get better about that. (The bear slid the bedroom screen door open, cruised through the downstairs and went up the stairs to the kitchen. We arrived home just as he was exiting the same way. If we had come home 2 minutes sooner, we would have been face to face with him in the stairwell! Not a good situation.

I guess if we all lock down our garbage, houses and cars, eventually they will be reconditioned to live in the forest and eat bugs?? Or will they just get more and more aggressive about getting into homes? I don’t know what the solution is. It seems the more we deprive them of the food they have now become accustomed to, the more they break into homes. Quite a conundrum… as much as I love seeing them around, I hope we can find a way to get them ‘back to nature’, otherwise many more will be tagged as “repeat offenders” and could be killed. A sad state of affairs.


Drought driving wildlife into residential areas, from NY Times, Sept 2012

Mountain Lion in downtown Reno!

St Lucia…full circle and full sail!

Steve, Juls & Mark, on "Orient Express" 1992

I had already booked our sailing trip to the West Indies for May, when I suddenly realized that it was exactly TWENTY years ago that we filmed the pilot episode of Passport to Adventure, “Sailing the Grenadine Islands” on this very same route. A stroke of serendipity, as our fourth season of programs had just been completed and distributed to the PBS system. This would be an apropos anniversary celebration for me!

And away we go!

I had been to the island twice, once in 1984, and again for our shoot in 1992, so I was curious to see what had changed. Four of our seven-person sailing crew arrived together into Hewanorra airport in the south end of the island, which meant we would get to see half the island in route to Marigot Bay, and the Moorings base, on the west side. Our Moorings-arranged taxi driver welcomed us in style, with cold Piton lagers – we were on vacation!

no spilling our beers on these roads!

I had memories of bumping along winding, one-lane roads on my previous visits, so the first change I noticed was the improved infrastructure. Apparently the caldera we filmed is now a major tourist attraction, there are many new resorts, and more sailors means more stores for provisioning, but the countryside was as lush, mountainous, and scenic as I remembered.

Sunset at Marigot Beach Club

We arrived in Marigot just in time for sunset cocktails and getting to know the rest of our sailing “mates” over dinner at a casual, open-air restaurant.

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

Next day was busy – after a morning briefing at the Moorings offices, and a run to a very well-stocked grocery store for provisions, we sailed off into the

sunset, and our first anchorage, protected by St Lucia’s majestic Pitons.

A perfect evening sail to the Pitons.


Next leg of the journey… St Vincent and the Grenadines!

First stop, Miami!

We have cleared the Mouse Hole! Once thru the tunnel, I leave the “to do” lists behind and enter travel mode. I am in the moment, finally relaxed, even enjoying being up before dawn, mesmerized by the puffs of fog that hover over the road, occasionally enveloping us, then clinging to the hillside as we pass through the mountains and down to Reno.  All focus now is on making our flight.

We park and hop in a taxi for the short drive to the airport. The driver is friendly, asks where we are going, then tells us he has never been out of the country, but he is OK with that, “because people outside the U.S. hate Americans”.  I am sad, and a little surprised, that this myth persists.  Then he tells us that he loves to cook, and shares his insights on Italian culture – that they eat more slowly, enjoying the meal,  instead of wolfing down their food on-the-run like Americans. At least he watches a few travel programs in between the “news”!

South Beach Miami sunset

Arrived just in time for sunset!

To get to the Caribbean from the West Coast, one must either fly a red eye, or over-night somewhere along the way.  Having enjoyed my share of nights on the floors of airports, my dues had been paid. For this trip, I opted to blow a handsome sum on one night out in SoBe – South Beach Miami. Though I will never recommend this sort of travel (one night in a city), the splurge was worth it, this time (to avoid a 6 hour layover in Atlanta).

Ocean Drive is the main drag facing the beach, but dunes obstruct the view of the water from street level. One side is lined with restaurants and sidewalk tables, the other is a walking/bike path between the busy street and the sand.

The “block party” atmosphere goes on all night, so if you like to be right in the thick of things, then stay on Ocean, if not, get a hotel on Collins or Washington.

Mojitos in Miami

A good way to start an evening in SoBe!

Eating is one of the main reasons to go to Miami. Ocean Drive is over-the-top touristy, and not the place to look for great food, but as virgin visitors with only 12 hours, we made the requisite lap through the chaos. Amazingly, we stumbled upon a good Cuban restaurant – Larios. A bit too touristy for me for dinner, but to sit at the bar for a bite, it was perfect – appetizers were very tasty, reasonably priced, and according to the Cuban couple sitting next to us, authentic! They also make great Mojitos, that were fairly priced.

Ocean Drive Miami

CO2 buzz included with drinks!

That is NOT necessarily the case at other restaurants – a note of caution – some Ocean Drive bars like to serve ALL drinks in monster size goblets or hurricane glasses, and charge accordingly. If you want a regular rum and coke, in a normal glass, at a normal price, you better specify, otherwise you’ll get a $20. cocktail that takes 4 people to drink! My favorite thing about Ocean Drive was all of the live music – flamenco & latin jazz, that I’m guessing goes away after midnight when the techno and DJ’s take over?? Oh, and of course, the art deco architecture always gives you something colorful and interesting to admire.

Cool buildings, and cars, everywhere!

Escaping the clamor of Ocean, we wandered into one of those chic, celebrity-chef-owned spots that I typically avoid in favor of more down-to-earth options, but the menu was right up our ally, the staff was welcoming, the ambiance relaxing, and the food was outstanding. AND, major draw, they served Jamon Iberico!!

A little escape from the chaos, Hotel Impala.

For accommodations… The town was pretty booked, so I had to spend quite a bit of time online searching.  The Hotel Impala had availability, I am guessing due to some bad reviews in 2011, but noticing they had just completed a remodeled, I took a chance. The risk paid off – the rooms are beautiful and the location is perfect – near the action, but set back with a quiet courtyard. My favorite feature was the Nespresso machine in every room! Being able to make a yummy latte in the room made the early morning rush to the airport much more pleasant!

Next Leg of the journey: St Lucia!

Cool? Or Creepy?

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

So, first morning in St Lucia, I log onto my computer, and have an email from Trip Advisor suggesting best stuff to do in Soufriere St Lucia. Huh? How the heck does Trip Advisor know that I am in Soufriere, St Lucia?

So far, I have not joined the ranks of those worried about our online privacy. I thought it would be a good thing for Google to track our internet searches, I figured every time I search, it’d be like casting a vote for more intelligent media, for products and websites that are a force for good in the world. I still hope that is the case, but I am also seeing the downside more clearly now, and it is getting a little creepy.

Like when I did some research on latex mattresses. We bought one 15 years ago, and we love it, but now apparently they are all the rage and shopping for them is so excruciatingly complex, I just decided to keep the old one!

After a few searches, every website I looked at for the next 2 weeks had the same ads for latex mattresses! It was pretty funny. As sophisticated as they are at Google, once you see what they are doing, it gets a little silly and you tune out the ads.

IMHO, Travel research and booking online is also becoming a major waste of time. There is just too much noise out there. Too many reviews to read. Too many FAKE reviews to weed through. Too many opinions. Too many “experts”. Too many “best of” lists. Too many “must do” lists. I think if we calculated how many hours we spend doing online research to plan our next vacation, we’d be able to take a whole extra week OFF every year if we just called a trusted travel agent or tour operator and let them do their job!

The thing that concerns me the most, is the “bubble” the internet is creating around all of us. Feeding us only what it knows we like, reaffirming what we already know, and insulating us from any differing views. THAT, I think, is a huge problem for our society, and I do not know how we fix it. Maybe it will just play itself out? People will become more savvy, turn away from the internet, and go back to shopping at their corner store, and using a good ol’ travel agent to book their trips?