All posts by Hula Betty

Chippewa Harbor Sunrise

Dreaming of the Road Less Traveled

west 96 696 highway signsSometimes the desire to take the road less traveled comes in a moment when you can’t take the road at all.  Your only option is to imagine the trip for another day. This morning was one such occasion. The day was perfect for a road trip. It was not too hot or too cold. It was not too bright or too cloudy, and everything in view seemed as if it were as it was meant to be. I was traveling east on I-96 at dawn in Michigan heading toward Detroit when the desire to just keep on driving washed over me. I get it. I was already driving, so…?

To me, there is driving and there is driving. We drive to get where we need to go. That’s driving. Then we drive for the sake of the act of driving, for the sake of the road, and for the sake of what is possible when we are on the road. That was the kind of driving urge that hit me. I started to think of the highways that triangulate the state of Michigan and how in a relatively short amount of time I could take them all. Then I started to feel light and free. As the notion of the route unfolded in my mind, I realized the very real therapeutic value of such a trip and it became more than an urge. It became a need; a bonafied desire to hit the road.

Michigan has a relatively uncomplicated highway system that has a deliberate design toward getting goods and people from one end to the other efficiently. It starts with I-96, which stretches from Muskegon to Detroit, passing my neighborhood at its midpoint. Moving eastward, I-96 becomes one of my favorite roads, I-696. A cement royo cut through the base of the northern suburbs of Detroit, 696 is like a raceway for drivers who love a fast ride through a four-lane cement tunnel of over passes and narrow on and off ramps that look like stairwells designed to dispense new obstacles in the paths of the drivers already on board.truck on m-53 highway

I remember the day that I-696 opened. I was so excited for it that I scheduled a meeting in Sterling Heights that day so I could be one of the first to drive it. I got up early and left at 6 a.m. It was a clear sunny day and when I hit 696, there was no one in front of me. It was just me and that beautiful new 4 lane track tunneling through SE Michigan. Acutely aware of its raceway design, I abandon all concern for the number of police cars that might be strategically hidden on those narrow merge ramp-wells and opened up. By the time I hit the first Dequindre Rd. exit sign, I was cursing at 120 mph with no one in front of me and no one in my rearview mirror. I chalked that drive up as one of the best days ever. It was beautiful. I am an hour and 5 minutes into my trip.

Where I-696 meets I-75 it becomes the bottom left angle of this equilateral triangle route I was dreaming of. I-75, is the grandfather of highways in Michigan; making I-94 the great and decrepit uncle. I-94 being too far south from my goal, was not a part of this open road fantasy, but I-75 was elemental with its Bi-polar attitude towards drivers and its role in moving traffic through Michigan. At this point, I-75 is narrow-minded and unforgiving. He is begrudging in his willingness to let vehicles pass along his corridors. Unpleasant and congested he dares one to mount his pavement and accept the challenge of navigating him. It is a challenge worth taking. The prize is reaching the point at which he opens up smooth, wide and passable, where the air changes north of Flint and you sense that you’ve just progressed across a new parallel where the air is clearer and cleaner and the views immensely more scenic. I-75 ends at the Mackinaw Bridge 4 hours north, where the apex of the triangle can be found. I stop and take in the view of the straights and recall the countless trips my gram and grandpa took us on across to Mackinaw Island when we were kids contemplating my route west to where 31 leads down the beautiful west side of Michigan. I won’t follow 31 immediately though because there is a better way.bridge Niles Michigan

There is M-119, arguably the most beautiful highway in the state. For a moment, I drop down I-75 south toward 127; the highway that dissects the state and the triangle of my route splitting it in two equal parts, until I pick up Levering Rd. to M119, the Tunnel of Trees. M 119 winds narrowly and delicately for more than 20 miles along the north east shore of Lake Michigan through Harbor Springs, around Little Travers Bay and into Petoskey where it meets 31. I am 7 hours into my trip, only because I stopped for lunch in Mackinaw City, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, or Petoskey to relax, refresh and watch the water for a moment while I stretch my legs. Along M-119 the curve are as succulent as a young woman’s body draped in a thin veil of leafy lace. Around which one is most likely to confront a cyclist, motorcycle, or narrow hidden drive.

31 is the left angle of the triangle. It too is lovely in the way it weaves through countless small, quaint northern Michigan harbor towns. This is the toughest part of the trip as it is nearly impossible not to stop at every single one or stop at an intriguing road side stand filled with pies, jams, or organic produce or bitter cherries in between. Like M-119, 31 is a narrow two lane highway that requires deft attention to the wheel and the road when the desire is to watch the view all the way to Muskegon, where I-96 meets me again. There are no 120 mph stretches here. I am now 11 hours in to my dive.

mackinac bridge michiganAt 7:00 p.m. I arrive home, only because I stopped for a half an hour to pick up dinner. By now I have taken I-96 from end-to-end, and I have consumed the majority of the lengths, if not all of the lengths of the others as well.  I have seen every corner of the state, save the southern border and traveled more than 600 miles. I’ve crossed the Zilwakee Bridge and seen the waters of the great lakes, but mostly, I drove. As I enter my home, no one the wiser, I imagine my family asking how my day was. I imagine myself smiling and telling them, “It was perfect.”

Tomorrow, I ride.

ireland coast road

Ireland by Road

Ireland road signs bikeThere is one thing that can be said about traveling across Ireland. It is that everyone should do it at least once. Even for the faint of heart traveler, this road trip can be accomplished in so many ways; there is no excuse not to. For me, part of the adventure is driving myself. There is something particularly fulfilling about having driven 600 miles on the “wrong side of the road” in the passenger seat. To me the only thing wrong with Ireland is that it’s not just off the coast of the U.S. and I can’t go there several times a year. That aside is it perfect, if you like lush, green, ocean views, friendly enough people, good food, historic sites, easy access to comfortable places to stay for any price range, and natural beauty. I digress into sounding like a travel agent but, it’s hard not to. Ireland is just that easy, or hard if you choose.

On this trip we drove. Our vehicle was one step up from the two door spec. This, to me was the especially thrilling part of the trip. Especially when reeling 60 KM per hour around a blind hairpin curve on a tight two lane road that might be 15 feet wide with a semi, tour bus or enormous farm tractor coming at you from the other way. Did I mention that there is no shy space or shoulder on either side of the road?

Close your eyes and picture this. You’re in the smallest vehicle imaginable north of a motorcycle, sitting on the wrong side of the front seat, driving on what physically feels like the wrong side of the road and in “your” lane, the lane you are naturally inclined to desire to drive on from behind a blind curve in comes an giant vehicle that consumes 2/3 of the road. Just inches from the passenger seat is a stone wall 4 feet high. Springing out from that wall are the fingers of age old vines and new spring growth that threaten to streak along the quarter and side panels of your car but not soften the blow if you sideswipe the wall. The suggested speed is far faster than common sense dictates and you’re going that fast. So is the oncoming vehicle that visually feels as if it is coming at you head on. It appears. You suck in an instant tense breath and shut your eyes for a split second, and grip the wheel a little tighter to stay your course, assuming that this time it is really going to hurt. By the time you release said breath, you’ve passed the aggressing vehicle unscathed and are rounding the next curve. Now repeat this over and over and over for 100 miles a day. It is no wonder the crotch of skin between my thumb and index finger was chaffed. Even for the most seasoned driver, it can be a gripping (pun intended) experience.2 trucks passing ireland road

For the faint of heart there are several other ways to make the trek. Most noticeably in some parts of the country was travel by tour bus, privately hired buss, or van. Frankly, I don’t advise any mode of travel that doesn’t allow for a change of plans on a whim. There are too many opportunities to turn left when you’d originally planned to go right and see something you hadn’t anticipated. On this trip to Ireland, that was the plan. Just go. We’d decide in the morning what we were doing that day with an end point in mind and in ten days followed our plan to the letter never. We might chat with someone at breakfast or lunch and learn of a must do detour and do it, or see a road sign that lured us in and veer off course again. There isn’t a wrong way on this island. The only limitations when driving are water; you have to stop or go around it, too many opportunities to take a different path, and the date one must arrive at the airport to return home. There just isn’t enough time to take every opportunity, meaning, it will be a requirement to on ireland country road

For someone who likes to take the road less traveled a little slower there are always the bike and foot trails. Cyclists and hikers were prevalent, particularly in the south west region running north and south of Kilarney. The coast reaching all of the way north to Galway is in some places alluring and in others, breathtaking. I am an experienced road cyclist. Those I ride with are even more experienced. We agreed that biking (meaning bicycling) on these narrow curvy roads through the steep climbs of the Rhododendron forest on Highway Vee, around the curving stretches of the Dingle peninsula, Ring of Kerry, or along the cliffs of Mohr would be a thrill of its own kind. One borne of trust, as one would have to trust all other modes to not only be on the lookout but, many times to determine that you are more important that the paint job on the side panels of their car or the rims which hold their wheels.

ireland country roadHiking is also an option. We saw many walking these fine roads. The trick would be to have your dive style perfected before you go. When coming upon packers and even those strolling along the roadway near their homes, my first thought was always, I wonder how many times they’ve had to dive over a hedgerow wall to avoid getting smeared right into it? Apparently for hikers and bikers, not many as we often ran into the familiar forms we’d passed earlier in the day once we settled in a town and began exploring on foot.

For me mode of travel is as important as the trip itself. I am never happier than when I am behind the wheel, handlebars, leaver, or trail map determining my own destiny. In Ireland, there is not wrong way. Even if Seri disagrees.


chichirivichi venezuela beach

To Venezuela… and Beyond – Part 3 everything’s different here

caracas venezuela lights at night…Our host’s father assured us that we would but first we were going to dinner.

We all piled into the rented car and drove into the mountains that surround Caracas until we came to a beautiful white ranch styled home that looked up the valley in which Caracas is built. From this vantage, we could see the entire expanse of the beautiful city lit in the evening darkness. The view was breathtaking. The inside of the house was completely empty, save for several cardboard boxes that had remained from when the inhabitants had moved out. The back of the house that faced the city was a series of large rooms with sliding glass doors so that from every room one could see the panorama of the city that lay below it. Each door opened to a wide shared patio made of slate where our host’s mother had arranged cardboard boxes into a table and chairs and where she was setting the table with paper plates. Just as she finished, his father came from the back of the house with a boxed pizza they’d had delivered and we all sat down and ate while he explained what this house was. It was theirs. “If this is your house, why do you live in the apartment in the city?” I asked. A look of sadness swept over the faces of the parents. Pride had been abandon. “Our son has bankrupted us.” We looked at our host, me fighting the urge to send him my most cutting ‘how could you’ look. His father went on to explain how it happened and I was reminded of a time when they came to the U.S. to visit us. The father and I had gone for a pleasant walk together. He’d asked me about his son, what he spent on me, what gifts I’d received from him, how he spent his money. My responses didn’t help him as my answers were, nothing, none, and I don’t know. I think the man thought his son was lavishing me with expensive gifts, cars, a place to live perhaps? No. The boy, whose money I thought belonged to him, that he spent on cars, a condo, musical equipment, clothes, and I couldn’t say what else, was spending his father’s money. He’s spent every penny of it.

I had to ask. “Did you pay for our flight here this week?” The parents looked at each other and then at their son. “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.” I hastened to say. To which they responded in unison. “No. You won’t. It is our pleasure to have you here.” They didn’t know their son had paid for our trip. We ate our dinner and chatted on about much more benign things.

It was late when we returned to the apartment in Los Palos Grande. Karon had been patient but it was after ten and she was beginning to feel desperate about calling home and assuring her mother that she was still alive. I was not so concerned. I hadn’t bothered to tell my parents, or anyone else in my family for that matter that I was going. Her anxiety was palatable. Our host’s father suggested that he drop off his family and take us to make our call. We had no idea what he meant.

back alley at nightWe left his wife, teenaged and preschool aged daughters at the door of the apartment building and he instructed his son to drive. Moments later we arrived at the equivalent of the AT&T building in Caracas. “Turn the lights off. Drive around back.” He instructed. “Park here by this door.” We did. We got out in an ally at the back of the large building and he knocked on the door. Karon and I shared uh-oh glances, realizing by now that nothing every goes easily here in this place of rugged terrain and uncertain living. The door opened.

A security guard let us in and led us to a switchboard room. He stopped us in front of a row of switch boards and asked, “Who needs to make a call?” Karon stepped forward. He asked her questions and as she responded, he worked. At last he handed her headphones with a mouth piece and told her, “You have three minutes.” She took the headset. “Hello?” she asked. Her shoulders relaxed and fear and anxiety washed from her brow. She was talking to home, a place I suspected she never appreciated more than she did at that very moment.

When the call ended, she fired me a warning glance. “You’d better call home too. Your parents are freaking out. They called my mom and she told them where we are.” I looked at our host. He nodded to the guard and the call was made. Unlike Karon, my call was much less a relief. I didn’t use my full three minutes. My parents asked if I was ever coming home. I said I was. They hung up on me. It was an easier call than I had anticipated. Note to self, next time call from the Miami airport and have this conversation before you leave.

German village venezuelaMission accomplished, we paid the guard the equivalent of twenty dollars and slinked back out the employee entrance and home to sleep again in the fire trap, which by now had become much less scary to me. In truth, a fiery death seemed much more palatable than going home.

Early the next morning the cousins from the beach arrived with a plan. We’d drive into the mountains to a German Village (similar to but substantially smaller than Torvar and about 5 hours closer to Caracas) and have dinner. We drove into the mountains about four-and-a-half hours, passing towns and often finding ourselves in a stream of cars also creeping up the thin two-lane mountain road. As we climbed the weather cooled. Karon and I began to feel safe in our assumption that something even as placid as a day trip into the mountains for dinner would go anything like a trip we might embark upon in the U.S. We relaxed into a state of fearless acceptance, understanding that we had no idea what to expect anymore.

It was late in the day when we arrived in the village. Dusk had begun to settle in the sky and the village was shutting down. We passed homes that looked Bavarian with kitchen gardens full of fruitful plants and laundry drying in the evening breeze. We passed blond men, women, and children with blue eyes and traditional German attire, the likes of which one would expect to see on a postcard from the Alps. We parked in the center of the village and walked to a restaurant near the edge of it all and were stopped at the door. “We’re closed.”

tenis courtsHungry and tired from the drive, our spirits sunk. Our host and his cousin begged, explaining who we were and how far we’d come. The result was the suggestion that we come in and eat the one thing they could cook for us in a wood fire stove. Pizza. We cheered. It turned out they were not closed because they wanted to be. They were closed because they could only count on electricity for a few hours a day and wanted to use it in the night for their homes. The restaurant owner’s daughter lit candles and they fired up the oven with fresh wood and served us drinks to bide the time. As the night fell on the little restaurant in the mountains of Germany, oh, no, Venezuela, we talked, laughed and relaxed. The world’s most delicious pizza was served and we ate, talked and laughed more. On the drive home, Karon and I slept peacefully, forgetting that we had only one more day before we were scheduled to fly home.

That final day in Caracas was spent at a country club. This was a stark change in environment from the rest of our trip. Our host’s father knew the manager of the country club where the roster of over 3,000 members came from all over the world. They let us in and ushered us to the pool area. From there we could see the golf course, polo fields, and tennis courts. A waiter brought us what we asked for and we sat in white lawn chairs near the pool relaxing in the sun. From different points around the pool one speaking enough languages could eaves drop on conversations in French, German, Japanese, Spanish and perhaps other languages that my untrained ear couldn’t comprehend. It was opulent compared to the country clubs I’d seen in the U.S. and white. Everything was white. We stayed there, and stayed out of trouble in the clean white peacefulness the entire day. Then we slept one more night in the apartment with the prison cell door.

The next morning we were ready to go. We woke early, packed quickly and presented our host’s parents with gifts we’d acquired in our travels. Karon asked more than once how we were getting to the airport and we learned that the entire family was taking us. Knowing this was a relief. We left early for the airport and got our tickets and our bags checked easily. The family went with us to customs to make sure that there were no issues and at that point we said our good byes. I was suddenly gripped by the finality of this endeavor. I would never see these people again after a very long three year relationship. The idea was overwhelming and I began to cry. We walked toward our gate and the tears continued. I cried until the flight took off and the stewardess took pity on me and offered me a good stiff drink. I took it. I couldn’t decide if the tears belonged to a deep seated love for this family or if they were a physical reaction to the relief I felt for knowing that this period of my life had just ended.

drinks on airplaneKaron and I flew in silent exhaustion until we were almost to Miami. It was late at night and the captain of the plane announced that our landing would be slightly delayed. He would have to navigate us around a tremendous thunder storm to the west of Miami to avoid the turbulence and circle until we could land. We watched out one window of the plane a most spectacular storm and out the other window of the plane a most beautiful star filled night with a brilliant full moon. The striking difference in views was a remarkable parallel to the worlds we had come from and were going to, to the difference between my life before the Venezuelans, during the Venezuelans and what lay after the Venezuelans. I watched in succession between the two windows and smiled. Life was full of calm starry nights and horrendous thunderstorms and each were spectacular.

venezuela beach party

To Venezuela… and Beyond – Part 2 out of the frying pan & into the fire

asleep on the beach…What could go wrong at the beach?

We met a group of kids our age at the beach. In the course of introductions, we learned that two of them were our host’s cousins. We spent the entire day on the beach, swimming, drinking, laughing and dancing into the evening. It was then that we realized the value of sunblock and taking frequent breaks in the shade. As evening turned to night and the day grew darker and the temperature dropped, we realized that my friend and travel companion Karon had been badly sunburned. Chills were setting in and she was getting sick. We all started to wonder if she might need a hospital or if her illness was a combination of alcohol and sun poisoning. We kept her moving and drinking water and we kept her warm until late into the night when we all got tired and fell asleep in makeshift tents. When we woke the next morning, our eyes stuck shut from a wind storm that blew sand into every crevice, she was better. We spit sand and dug it from the corners of our eyes. The ocean water stung our skin as we dipped ourselves in the dusky morning to rinse the sand from our bodies. It had permeated the tents we’d made. It was on and in everything we owned (which was very little). That morning we packed up and went to visit our hosts Uncle and spend the day watching Karon to make sure she didn’t relapse into the shock we realized she was in the night before. The uncle chastised us for not being more careful.

When night came the decision was made to do something calmer. We went to a nearby village to eat, watch people in the square and relax. The village was small and quaint. Whitewashed shops surrounded a small park square with a gazebo at its center. The night air was cool. Children played while mothers talked and men smoked with one foot up on a park bench, shirts buttoned half way exposing tan chests. Our host and I led our little parade clockwise around the exterior of square. Behind us, my sunburned travel companion and our host’s older cousin Chris, behind them the prostituted and our host’s younger cousin Billy. After eating dinner from a street cart on the corner nearest our car, we walked up the short south street of the square to an ice cream cart and got cones. From there we walked the shorter west street licking our ice cream, people watching, and enjoying the peace of the night. At the north corner we turned again and walked, still taking in the view of the center park. It was alive with activity. It was peaceful and calm in its state of happy mania. Calm had fallen on all of us for a moment.

At once I felt our host grip my elbow and whisper. “Don’t look. Just look straight ahead and no matter what, don’t look back.” I fought the urge do the opposite but didn’t. There was urgency in his voice. Moreover, there was fear. I didn’t know what I wasn’t supposed to not look at but I wasn’t going to look. We were approaching a local police post. I glanced over my shoulder at Karon. She looked pale. Worried. Our host squeezed my elbow and I turned forward. We walked in silence and didn’t stop until our entourage came to a stop at the south east corner of the square near our car. It was then that I took inventory of our group. Two were missing. “What just happened?” I asked. Our host responded, “Billy and the prostitute were arrested.”arrested venezuela boys


We stood next to our rented car in a village somewhere near Chichirivichi, somewhere near ‘the beach’, somewhere in Venezuela weighing what had just happened to our host’s other cousin. Chris decided he was going in. He was going to march back to that police post and demand an explanation and the release of his cousin and the prostitute. Our host, Karon, and I watched as he marched directly across the square, through the children and mothers and fathers and grandparents, to the steps of the station where a half dozen policemen lazed observing the scene in the park. Several of them stood as Chris approached them. We could see him speaking to them. Then we saw the men arrest him too. As he disappeared into the station, our host’s chest puffed. That was it. He wasn’t taking any more of this from these degenerate dopes with badges and guns. He was going to go over there and demand the release of our three friends. Karon burst into tears and grabbed his arm with both hands and dug her heels into the pavement. “NO!” she demanded. “If you get arrested we can’t help any of you. We don’t speak the language! We don’t know where we are! We don’t have any money! We can’t even find our way back to your uncles, let alone Caracas! You can’t leave us here!” A vision of the article on the airplane flashed in our minds.

in handcuffsOur host calmed down and it was decided we’d go get the uncle. When we returned to our spot on the south east corner of the square with the uncle in tow, he instructed us to stay in the car and keep it running. When he was done, we were leaving immediately. Just as his son had done, he crossed the center of the square and walked directly to the steps of the station. Just as before, several officers stood, forming a barrier between the station and the uncle. We saw him speak. We saw two or three officers turn away from him and scale the steps of the station disappearing into the station. In moments we saw all three captives escorted out the front door, down the steps and into the custody of the uncle. The four turned and walked calmly, too calmly for my liking, back across the park. In silence all seven of us took seats in the car and no sooner than the doors of the vehicle shut and the car was put in drive did the prostitute begin sobbing uncontrollably and the men begin talking at once with rapid urgency; each illuminating the story of what had occurred from their vantage. I learned that the police, who were nothing more than local derelicts with badges, didn’t like what our friends were wearing. The prostitute was wearing a bikini top and cut off shorts. The cousin was wearing a t-shirt, bathing suit bottoms with a towel wrapped around his waist. That was the reason for their arrest. They’d arrested the second cousin, perhaps hoping to obtain a small ransom for the boys. They released them all when the uncle kindly explained that he and his compatriots owned the land these men’s homes were built upon and said their homes would be burned to the ground before morning if the three prisoners were not released. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore. We dropped the group off, including the prostituted and left that night back to Caracas. The next morning, we told our hosts family of the adventures we’d experienced over the past three days. They were not surprised.

One effect this trip had on my travel companion was that it instilled in her an overwhelming appreciation for and desire to call home. Our host’s father assured us he could make that happen but not until evening. We spent the day visiting family members and driving round the city, since we’d rented the car for the week, seeing the sights; Universidad Central, the shopping district, and a crazy night club district where transvestites walk the streets cat calling passersby and passing cars. We laughed, relaxed and returned to the apartment with the prison cell door at dinner time. Karon still antsy about calling home asked again. Our host’s father assured us that we would but first we were going to dinner.… (continued To Venezuela… and Beyond – Part 3 everything’s different here)

caracas venezuela bus station

To Venezuela… and Beyond – Part 1 the getting there

Desde Venezuela reportándose!I am finally ready to talk about Venezuela. This ill-advised road trip took place in March of 1983. It was one of those trips that occurred amid a perfect storm of will, an injection of funds from an outside source, availability of time, and the stupidity of youth. As time passes, the more I think of the good that came from it the more I realize that fate is a wonderful thing.

It was after 11:00 p.m. when the call came. There had been several days of conversation about whether or not I should come to Venezuela. I wanted to go, but not alone. My host wanted me to come. I couldn’t afford it. Neither could my travel companion. The question was how badly did our host want us? At 11:00 p.m. the night before our departure we learned that he wanted us bad enough to pay for our air fare, pick us up and house us even though it was not under the best of circumstances that we were traveling. Me, to have legal documents signed that would negate a partnership. Our host’s motives, I presumed were to try and talk me out of it. For lack of a neutral venue, I went. 21 years old and not very worldly, albeit utterly confident I could navigate any waters the tide brought in.

My best friend and I flew to Miami with a Venezuelan who gave us tips all of the way to the point we separated in the Miami airport about the cultural dos and don’ts we should understand before our arrival, how to get through customs flawlessly, how to greet our elders, how to not stick out like two naive American girls on their first trip abroad; the basics. We listened intently until we boarded our flight to Caracas where our confidence waned and an underpinning of fear for our future set in as we lifted a used newspaper from our assigned seat in the plane and saw the head line that read, “American Woman Held on Drug Trafficking Charges in Venezuelan Prison.” We looked at each other wordlessly trying to assure ourselves that we’d made the right decision 18 hours earlier to take this trip, both knowing that the woman charged in the article was very likely innocent and that it would be months if not years before she was released. My companion broke the silence with an uneasy, “Well, we’re not trafficking drugs, so there’s that.” Our future in the hands of fate, the flight took off over the Caribbean.

caracas venezuela slumWe arrived in the night and were met by our host and a friend who turned out to be our driver. From the airport to Los Palos Grande where we would spend our first nights, we watch the thin outline of the mountains against the night sky dotted beautifully by tiny lights. We commented at how pretty it was. Our comments were greeted by snickers that we didn’t understand and protested, “You don’t think it’s beautiful?” Our host responded that perhaps by night it was but in the light of day it was quite something else and we would see. It was true. By the light of day what looked like rows and rows of prettily lit streets and houses was a settlement of Columbian Indian refuges that’d fled over the mountains and settled by the thousands in makeshift tin and cardboard shacks along the side of the mountains. The Beautiful lights were an irregular confusion of wires tangled together that strung for miles back and forth across the face of the mountain to provide an amount of light and security to the inhabitants beneath them.

This wasn’t our first indication that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. When we’d arrived the night before we were taken to an apartment building where our host family lived in a two bedroom apartment. The front door of which was a steel cage, the equivalent of a cell door in a prison. Inside of the first door a second flat steel door shut out the world. Both opened and closed through the sole use of a key. That first night as everyone slept more than thirteen floors up, I lay thinking, if there is a fire, who will find that key and let us out? It doesn’t matter. There is no way this building is to code. We’re all dead. I didn’t want to be rude to my gracious hosts but I needed to get out of this death trap.

caracas venezuela roadDuring the course of our first day my business of dissolving our partnership had been completed. Surprisingly with little resistance, which I attributed to the family of our host, who unanimously agreed with me it was for the best. This left an entire week ahead and us looking stupidly at one another wondering what next. My travel companion suggested we rent a car and tour the country. Having come from the land of free to move about as you please, it never occurred to us that what we suggested was easier said than done. We’d seen a car rental shop in the storefronts that lined the first floor of our building; we knew how to read a map. I spoke a fair amount of Spanish. How hard could it be? Judging by the scuttle our suggestion caused, very hard. It was clear that there was no way our host’s family was going to let two young American girls travel unchaperoned around the hazardous and wild roads of Venezuela. Our host was volunteered to ride with us. For my travel companion and I this was less desirable, given that it was his irresponsible nature that had brought us to Caracas to begin with.

Regardless, if I was to escape sleeping another night in a prison cell awaiting sure death by fire, he would have to accompany. We acquiesced. It was decided that we’d head to the coast and Tucacas and Chichirivichi and beaches there. If we couldn’t find a place to stay, we’d sleep on the beach. We were off.

No sooner had we left the metropolitan area on the road west of Caracas than we were met by wobbling buses full of workers and passed women awaiting these buses on the side of the road with livestock. We passed small banana stands and stands with other fruits. Within an hour, we passed kids our age hitch hiking; two boys and a girl. Our host stopped. I looked at my friend and she looked at me. We looked at our host. “We’re not picking them up?” We were. They piled in and we learned that the two boys were friends. They were headed to a parent’s condo near the beach and for a ride we could stay the night. As for the girl, they didn’t really know her. They’d picked her up along the way. Given her dress and deportment, she forever became known to Karon and me as the prostitute. We never did know her name.

It was evening when we arrived at the condo of the boys. We’d driven through villages were pigs wallowed in mud in the streets and rooted for food and where chickens scratched freely in the dirt. The roads narrow one lane dirt tracts that no municipal branch maintains. We’d passed dense jungle swaths dotted with leafy shacks along the roads, and perhaps many others hidden by the flora. We arrived almost suddenly in an community of well-groomed newly built structures that were clean and landscaped, where the roads were paved and wide enough for two lanes and for cars to park at the curb. The difference in scenery so sudden, it was confusing. We ate, laughed, drank, and danced until late in the night and then we slept in comfortable beds with fresh clean linens and our host’s final glance at us was a knowing, ‘told you so’ look that implied this was how it was done. That is until the next morning when we awoke to shrieks.

The hitchhiking boy’s parents had arrived to find a house full of strangers and a floor three inches deep in water. Someone had turned on a faucet and never turned it off. The rapport of angry Spanish fired at the boy in the next bedroom was indecipherable and was our cue to leave. We ran. The three of us ran without good-bye to the boy or his family, and we took the prostitute too. It was ten minutes of driving before we even bothered to ask where we were going. Our host answered, “The beach.” We relaxed. What could go wrong at the beach… (continued “To Venezuela… and Beyond – Part 2 out of the frying pan & into the fire“)

three college friends in car road trip

Petey, The Other “Man” In My Life.

A car is more than just a mode of transportation. It is your sanctuary, your vehicle to escape the outside world. I have a greater relationship with my car than I might like to admit.

I came to this conclusion recently while running errands. Before I had a car, who I call Petey, I felt trapped. I hated not having the freedom to just get up and go somewhere, whenever I wanted. I didn’t like relying on other people to take me places.

Besides the rewarding independence owning a car gives us, I think it’s the things we do inside our automobiles that really says something about our connection to them. For example, I love singing when I’m alone. But this is difficult to do when you’re living in a dorm or a sorority house. Now that I have Petey at college, I make sure to listen to my “Sing Along” playlist every single time I’m in my car because I know it might be a week until I have that alone time again. A fifteen minute drive to the grocery store where I have my own little private concert is a simple pleasure that often gets taken for granted, but when gone without, leaves a huge hole in my life.

Cars are our little safety blankets where we can truly be ourselves without the outside world seeing. We can pretend to be Adele, explore our deepest thoughts, practice what we’re going to say to the person we’re driving to meet.

Once we get to our destination, it’s back to the real world. So never take for granted the time you spend in your car.

Driving by cars on Intersate 5 to seattle

Hula Betty vs. I5

night traffic“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” -Greg Anderson

I don’t know who Greg Anderson is but he could not be more wrong.

When I’m moving at 5mph on I-5 North through Portland, just ten miles away from the bridge that will get me to my home state, there is absolutely no joy in focusing on the journey. There is road rage, but not joy.

Maybe I don’t like focusing on the journey because it is too predictable. I know the drive from the University of Oregon campus to my house in Poulsbo, Washington like the back of my hand. I know how long it should take me to get to certain landmarks along the way, I know the top speeds I can get away with driving at, & I know that the destination of home is much better than this 5 hour journey.

I’ve done this same back and forth drive up and down I-5 for three years now and it doesn’t get better. The most pleasure I get out of it is when I break a personal record in the amount of time it takes me to get from school to home or vice versa.

(I’ve made it in five hours flat, my goal is to shave twenty minutes off of that time.)

Another game I like to play is testing how successful I am at weaving through traffic, changing lanes at the right time to pass a certain car/truck I’ve picked out of the crowd. This is my entertainment, my distraction from thinking about the journey.

I know this blog is about road trips- great ones, last ones- so me bitching about least favorite ones seems a little pointless, right? I am not writing this to deter you from taking future road trips. I am writing this to encourage your automotive travels. Even though I hate the drive from college to home to college, I still do it as often as I can.

Why put myself through this? Because the destination is worth it, and much better than the journey.

Road trips can be a lot of fun and you can learn a lot from them. But the next time you are stuck in traffic, angry at the world, remember this: Focus on the destination, not the journey. It’s worth the cramped legs and expensive gas prices.

woman tattoo artist at work

The Continuing Adventures Of Hula Betty

hula betty looking outYes, every woman in this website is referred to as Hula Betty…  She is an independent spirit.  A woman who knows what she wants and has the drive to reach out and take it.  Hula Betty is a way of life that embraces adventure.  More than a name, more than a pretty face, Hula Betty is a way of life and a sense of self.  Which brings us to this adventure.

Leaving your parents’ home and going out on your own is the ultimate adventure.  Its the big adventure every parent looks forward to watching with pride and dreads with all their heart.  You hope that when they leave, they take with them the knowledge you’ve tried to impart, a strong identity of who they are and a compass in their soul that will always guide them home if needed.seattle street

Hula Betty has that and more.  And she wanted to make sure she never forgets her roots.  Her idea was to combine flesh and ink to create a permanent reminder of all those temporary feelings of her youth.

We set out for the city on a day painted with sunshine as the ferry boat pulled out into the sound.  Leaving the sleepy little poulsbo behind, the Seattle skyline grew closer as we talked about things to come and what led Hula Betty to her decision.  Two adults discussing rack

One thing about the ferry schedule…  you are either an hour early…  or hour late…  the boat never seems to line up with the time you planed.  But an early arrival gave us time to walk around, taking in the sites and the smells of Pikes Place.  We stopped to enjoy a little people watching from the calm of a barista’s paradise, and even managed to explore the world from the pages of a map as we chatted about the places that remained to be explored.  Today’s destination was a little closer…  but no less exotic.

seattle sky line tattooMadam Lazong’s was where I first had my adventures etched into flesh and I was proud to be asked to accompany Hula Betty as she marked her adventure.  She had spent considerable time contemplating designs, placement, and the emotions this marking would evoke for her.  She was ready but Steph was running late and you could tell Hula Betty was getting a little nervous as the realities of the needles sunk in.  But she is nothing, if not strong in her convictions, she knew the butterflies would pass.

Some times its the little things that have the most meaning in our lives.  For me it as a day spent with Hula Betty.  For her it was the elegant simplicity of the Seattle skyline to reminder of home.

holly names prom girls

Hula Betty Goes To Prom

holly names prom dates fj cruiserI’ll be the first to admit…  We are not high on the cool scale of 18 year old seniors. But when prom rolls around…  the laws of physics and high school insecurities are suspended.

Turns out that even the lines of limos didn’t draw as many looks or photo ops as our FJ Cruiser.  Of course after you’ve seen 10 stretch hummers…  you’ve seen them all…  But the Blue Bunny… There is only ONE.

So to all the kings and queens of the prom we hope you have a great time and stay safe.  As you graduate and venture out into the world, heading for college, work or military service remember…  The world is yours and it will become what you make it.  We hope you make it better than you found it and your life is filled with adventures just as special as Prom.