Old Baldy

After spending all day Tuesday driving home from New Jersey, we went with a group from our Del Webb community to Bald Head Island on Wednesday. Bald Head is a small barrier island about a 45 minute drive from Wilmington, NC and is accessible only by passenger ferry. Other than a few commercial vehicles, transportation is only by golf cart, bicycle, or foot. We took the 30 minute ferry ride to the island and then had a two hour guided history tour by golf cart.

The early history of Bald Head Island relates to its proximity to the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the only river in the state that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently it was an important transportation link with the rest of the world. It made Wilmington the largest city in the state until other means of transportation became prevalent. Bald Head Island became home to three different lighthouses in an attempt to help ships avoid Frying Pan Shoals (also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic) near the river mouth. At low tide, it is possible to walk several thousand feet into the ocean with water only reaching your ankles.

The first light house was built on the river side of Bald Head and soon had to be torn down due to erosion from the river. The second light house was built further inland in 1817 to avoid erosion problems. It is still standing today as the oldest lighthouse in the state and is known affectionately as Old Baldy. Unfortunately, it was too low and it’s light was not bright enough to provide full protection from Frying Pan Shoals. Therefore, it had to be supplemented by a lighthouse boat to provide full protection.

The taller and brighter Cape Fear lighthouse was commissioned in 1903. Unfortunately, it was built of cast iron which quickly rusted in the salt air. It had to be torn down in 1958 for safety reasons. Old Baldy was decommissioned in 1959 and both were replaced with the Oak Island lighthouse, the newest lighthouse in the state.

Looking across the marsh at Old Baldy. If you look closely, the light on top is not centered. This is because a used replacement lens was installed that had to be placed off center to keep from blocking access to the light.
Old Baldy is no longer painted, so all the previous repairs can be seen. We climbed the 108 steps for the view from the top.
Unfortunately, you could not go outside at the top, so it was very hot and the pictures have some reflections from the glass. Still, if you love marshes as much as I do, it is hard to beat this view.
Looking toward the harbor area and ferry terminal.

The development of Bald Head Island began about 40 years ago under the direction of the man who invented fracking. While you may think fracking is not environmentally friendly, he did give a lot of consideration to the environment in the development. The development was planned at about 2000 home sites with the rest of the land given to the Bald Head Island Conservancy. Many property owners have deeded their land to the Conservancy, so at this time development is limited to about 1800 homes of which about 1200 have been built. The permanent population of the island is about 230. The houses are generally built in the woods rather than tearing down all the trees to make construction easier.

The harbor area.
The dunes are wide and natural.
These cabins are among the most popular on the island for their commanding view of the dunes and ocean. They were formerly used by the keepers of the third lighthouse.
The harbor and restaurant with Old Baldy in the background, You can clearly see the light is off center,

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Bald Head Island and are already talking about visiting it again as there is much more to explore.

The Other Wilmington

After staying home most of the year, we headed to New Jersey this week to visit with friends and family. On the way, we made a one day stop in Wilmington, Delaware to see what the other Wilmington was like. Our main destination was the Nemours Estate, site of the mansion built by Alfred DuPont for his second wife, Alicia. The mansion was built in the late 18th century French style that Alicia adored and was named Nemours after the French town that his great-great-grandfather represented in the French Estates General. The estate contains the largest formal French gardens in North America.

The fountain near the entrance gate to the mansion with a combination water tower and clock tower in the background.
These 18th century English gates were once used at Wimbledon Manor outside of London. The weather was even more beautiful than it looks with low humidity, temperature in the mid 70’s, and a breeze.
The front of the mansion.
Unfortunately, the second floor was closed due to COVID, but the chandelier was very nice.
I particularly liked the woodwork over this fireplace.
The dining room. The chandelier came from Shonnbrun Palace in Vienna, Austria
The music room. Alfred loved to compose and play music. He played five different instruments including the violin (his favorite), piano, and the lyre guitar seen in the corner. Unfortunately, he lost his hearing by the time he reached 40, so he could no longer play and enjoy music
We both agreed we would spend most of our day in the garden room – bright and great views of the gardens. There were no birds in the two large birdcages.
The formal garden.
Elk statues were at the top of the Long Walk from the front of the mansion to the Temple of Love at the end.
The reflecting pool with the Colonnade in the background
Looking back up The Long Walk to the mansion.
One of the statues at the reflecting pool.
The maze garden is below the reflecting pool.
The colonnade is a tribute to Alfred’s great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather.
The Sunken Garden is below the Colonnade. The Long Way reminded us of both St Petersburg and Versailles.

We had a very pleasant lunch on the sidewalk in an older section of town where the streets were lined with row houses. We had smoked salmon on a bagel. Yum!

Our second stop was the Delaware Art Museum. We particularly liked the Chihuly glass in this window.
The museum had a contemporary sculpture garden where our favorite was this modern take on The Thinker.

We had dinner at a seafood restaurant on the water front. While this Wilmington had the better mansion and art museum, our Wilmington has the better waterfront. I can’t say enough about how nice the weather was!

It’s Not So Wide Right Now

When we created this blog, we intended to write posts to describe our travels around the world to let our friends know where we are and to document the travels to help our senior minds remember. I make a book of all the blogs each year to facilitate the remembering. Unfortunately, the book is going to be awfully thin this year.

While we presently don’t believe international travel is realistic until we have a vaccine, we grew tired of seeing only Wilmington after over four months. Not only were we limited to Wilmington, we were limited to small parts of Wilmington such as Aldis, Lowes, and Home Depot. The highlight of those four months was a 45 minute drive to a nursery for some plants. We finally decided to try visiting some places in the Carolinas. This blog is about our brief trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

After visiting our son and his family in Matthews for one night, we headed to the mountains. Our first stop was Bridges Barbecue in Shelby. When we lived in Charlotte, I always stopped at Bridges whenever we went to the mountains. This was my first visit since we moved out of Charlotte. We ate at an outside picnic table. You have to love those hush puppies!

We drove about forty miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountain laurel and the white rhododendrons were blooming. While there were a lot of cars on the Parkway, social distancing was no problem at the overlooks.
We stayed at the Pisgah Inn on the Parkway. The restaurant served only guests in three seatings, so social distancing was very easy. In our two nights there, we enjoyed brook trout, meat loaf, and ribs. All very good. This picture was taken behind the restaurant.
The view from our room.
We found an overlook to enjoy the sunset.
We did a short hike to a waterfall at the Graveyard Fields overlook.
This waterfall was our destination. There is a swimming hole at the base which some of the younger hikers were enjoying. The temperatures were delightful – mid 70’s. We wore a light jacket in the evenings.
A lake in Sapphire, NC.
We enjoyed a nice visit with our friends from the Viking World Cruise, Bonnie and Dick.

While it was only a three night trip, it was wonderful seeing family, friends, and new scenery. Thanks for traveling along with us. While it is not as exciting as going to a place like Bhutan, it was still great getting out and seeing something different. Every place we went seemed to be very conscious of sanitation and social distancing, so we never felt unsafe. Hopefully, we will still feel that way in 14 days. We would enjoy hearing about any safe travel plans you have for this year. Stay safe!

Home Sweet Home

After a little over six weeks in Mexico, we flew home on Saturday. The last two days in Merida, we spent a lot of time relaxing at the hotel pool and the nearby Progreso Beach.

Progreso was less than an hour bus ride from Merida. It is a little hard to tell from the picture, but that is the longest pier in the world from the left side of the ocean. It is nearly four miles long. The white building in the top center is the cruise ship terminal. It was a nice beach with very calm water. The only problem was the constant stream of vendors,

On Valentine’s Day we attended a performance by Orquestra Sinfonica de Yucatan. They performed Beethoven’s 7th and Ravel. They were as good as the Charlotte and North Carolina Symphony Orchestras.

This is the grand staircase entrance to the theater. The flowers are real – you can see a man watering the top bunch.

The theater was a classic European style theater. We waited until too late in the week to get our tickets, so we were in the top level of boxes on the side. Our tickets were $7.50 each. The most expensive tickets were $25.

While we enjoyed our week in Merida, we are very glad that we didn’t follow our first instinct of spending an entire month there. We definitely prefer San Miguel for the long stays. The restaurants are much better and there is far more variety of entertainment in San Miguel. We also think San Miguel is a cleaner and more attractive city. On the plus side, walking in Mérida is much easier and less hazardous.
You may have noticed that this post has a different look. WordPress has a new interface oriented around adding information in blocks. It appears that I can now add video directly to the blog. There was a link to this video in a previous blog, but I wanted to verify that I can now add video directly to the blog, so this is an experiment for my benefit.

Saturday we flew home to Wilmington. Our flight out of Miami to Charlotte was delayed about an hour leaving us about ten minutes in Charlotte to get from the end of one concourse where our flight arrived to the end of another concourse where our next flight departed. We made it with one minute to spare only to learn that the flight was delayed while they waited for a pilot who turned out to be right behind us. We took off about fifteen minutes later. Thanks to the pilot delay, our luggage also made it to Wilmington.

Once again, we had a very enjoyable six weeks in Mexico despite having less than the ideal weather we have come to expect. Thanks for following along on our journey through the blog and a special thanks to all who have written to us. We always enjoy hearing from you. Our next trip will be to Chautauqua, NY for the week long session on climate change at the end of June. We hope you will join us.

A Hacienda, Uxmal, and a Cenote

Wednesday we went on a guided tour of some sites outside of Mérida. While San Miguel has a lot of Canadians and Americans as well as the occasional Siberian, we have been the only Americans on our two Mérida tours and we have been joined by citizens of Australia, Norway, Spain, Croatia, London, and India.

Our first stop on Wednesday was Yaxcopoil Hacienda which dates back to the seventeenth century. The name is derived from a Mayan word for “the place of the green Alamo trees”. It has seen the prehispanic period, the time of Spanish colonization, and the boom years of Sisal production during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The interior has been restored with all original furnishings and it is presently used as a parador and a museum.It has a Moorish double arch entry gate.The main residence building was a series of long rooms with high ceilings for ventilation.Like many wealthy Spanish people they had their own chapel at the back of the residence building.They even had their own theater in a building behind the house. The roof of the theater collapsed so it is only a facade today.The gardens had a lot of beautiful old trees.The sisal factory was located behind the residence. At one time the hacienda had 22,000 acres of land to grow the sisal agave and raise cows. Today the property is less than 3% of that.This is the machine that extracted the sisal fibers from the leaves.

We had a hard time deciding which Mayan archaeological site to visit: Chichen Itza or Uxmal. The former is far more famous, but in reading reviews everyone said it is overcrowded (think cruise ships in Cancun) and that you are constantly pestered by vendors. Uxmal on the other hand is virtually empty, has zero vendors on the grounds, and is more attractive. In a conversation at the pool, we talked to a man who had seen both and strongly recommended Uxmal. That sealed the decision.Uxmal is a purely Mayan design and construction. Chichen Itza on the other hand has the influence of other cultures. The edges of the pyramid have rounded corners. The Mayans believed the world progressed in 52 year cycles, so every 52 years they built a new pyramid on top of the old pyramid. The site was active for over 250 years, so you can see five layers to the pyramid.The other side of the Pyramid of the Magician faces a courtyard. The stairs lead up to a chapel with a large doorway.This is a close up of that chapel. Notice all the intricate shapes and designs on the blocks that make up the chapel wall.This gives you a good idea how steep those steps are. I was very happy that we weren’t allowed to climb them! Notice the twelve heads that line the edges of the stairs.This is a close up of one of the heads. They have noses shaped like the number 2.There were numerous rooms in the buildings forming the courtyard in front of the temple. All rooms had a ceiling like this one.I found it interesting how the ceiling bricks were shaped with an internal arc so that stones could be placed on the arc to hold the brick in place. Considering how long it has lasted, it seems to work pretty well.

The Nunnery Quadrangle was named by the Spanish because it reminded them of a convent. It consists of four buildings forming a square surrounding an open courtyard. Each building has numerous small rooms opening to the front. Each building has different decorations.This building had human faces over the doors with a representation of two headed snakes on either side.This building is known as The Palace of the Governors. It is believed to be one of the last buildings constructed on the site (about 987 CE). I did climb the stairs to the platform with the doorways.From the right end of the platform, you have a nice view of the site. From left to right is the House of the Turtles (there are turtle decorations around the top; and, yes, the women heading toward it is Susan), the ball court with the Nunnery Quadrangle behind it. and the Pyramid of the Magician on the right.Behind the Palace of the Governors is The Great Pyramid which has only been partially restored on this one side. You can see vegetation on the top and the other side.We saw numerous iguanas on the site. We were very happy with our decision to visit Uxmal. I would rate it as the top Mayan site I have seen with many unique features compared to the others.

Our final stop was a cenote, a natural pit or sinkhole formed when limestone bedrock collapses exposing the ground water underneath. There are over a thousand of them on the Yucatan Peninsula (including one in the Costco parking lot). Some are in caves and others are open pools.Ours was in a shallow cave with crystal clear water about four to five feet deep. There were a few fish in the water. The water comes from rain draining through the shallow soil and the limestone on the top of the cave. The cool water felt really refreshing after exploring Uxmal in 95 F heat!


Our hotel in Merida is located on the main north south street in town just four blocks from the Plaza Principal, the functional equivalent of the Zócalo in Mexico City or the Jardin in San Miguel. All even numbered streets run north/south and all odd numbered streets run east/west. Thus our hotel is on Calle (street) 60 at Calle 55. Once you get the hang of the system, it is easy to find any other place you want to go and figure how many blocks away it is. The walking tour we took Sunday began in the park right across the street from our hotel and went down Calle 60 to Plaza Principal. Most of the important sites in the city are in that small area.

There is a small and simply decorated church a few doors from our hotel.The most decorated church in the area is this one another block up Calle 60. Note the two white chairs in the top picture that are attached to each other and face each other. These are a symbol of Mérida and are scattered all over the public plazas. They are unique in that a couple can sit in them and look at each other as they talk. I will try to get a picture illustrating this in a future blog.

Finally the Cathedral is four blocks from our hotel. It is also a very simple design inside, but it is distinguished for having the tallest cross inside a building in the world. That is what our guide said and I am sticking to it.

Banamex Bank is notable in Mexico for its efforts to preserve Mexican heritage. As part of their branch on Plaza Principal, they have Casa de Montejo open to the public at no charge. The home was built in the 1540’s. The Montejo’s were the “conquerors of the Yucatan”.The home was furnished with unique accessories.There was also a display of fanciful creatures carved from wood of the copal tree and painted in colorful detail by a family owned workshop in the Yucatan.

There are lots of shops to browse and plenty of Catrina dolls to choose from. The problem is they are very fragile to attempt to bring home.

There are plenty of attractive buildings. This one is presently abandoned.

The Yucatan government building on Plaza Principal featured murals of the history of the peninsula. The central theme was how the Mayans fought valiantly for many years to protect their culture from the better equipped Spanish invaders.

Wednesday we are taking a tour of a Mayan archaeological site.

Of Sisal and Maize

On Monday morning, we strolled the broad boulevard, Paseo de Montejo. It is lined with mansions built on wealth accumulated from the production of sisal from an agave native to the Yucatan peninsula. The fibers from the sisal agave are used to make rope. Who knew there was so much money to be made from something as ordinary as rope.

Many of the buildings could easily pass as French chateaus.I saw someone entering this building, so I went in to check it out. It’s a bank.This home is still privately occupied by an 87 year old woman who lives primarily in Mexico City. She has her home open to visitors to help cover her maintenance costs.The dining room featured Tiffany glass doors and windows. I particularly liked the ornately carved buffet.

When we reached a Walmart on the street, we decided we had reached the end of the wealthy section so we headed for our next destination, the Gran Museo de Mundo Maya Merida.The Mayan museum is a very modern structure well outside the historic Centro area of town. Maize, or corn, was the most important part of the Mayan diet. They even believed that they were descended from the pulp of corn. The museum had a section on the milpa system of agriculture developed by the Mayans. After a section of land is cleared for agriculture, a crop of corn, beans, and squash were planted together for two years; and the field was left fallow for the next 8 years before the cycle was repeated. The system requires no pesticides and no fertilizers. From Wikipedia: “The concept of milpa is a sociocultural construct rather than simply a system of agriculture. It involves complex interactions and relationships between farmers, as well as distinct personal relationships with both the crops and land. For example, it has been noted that “the making of milpa is the central, most sacred act, one which binds together the family, the community, the universe…[it] forms the core institution of Indian society in Mesoamerica and its religious and social importance often appear to exceed its nutritional and economic importance“. I have the feeling that the lecturer we heard in San Miguel that was talking about agriculture without fertilizer, pesticides, or plowing would have liked milpa.

Much of the museum was about the integration of the Mayans into modern society. Today, 30% of the people in the Yucatan speak Mayan. The signs were written in Spanish, Mayan, and English.The museum also had many artifacts from the Classic Mayan period.This is a ring from one of the Mayan ball courts. While putting the ball through the ring is clearly the object of the modern game, there is much debate about whether it was the objective of the classic Mayan ball game. I know when I was a docent in the preColumbian collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the curator of the collection firmly believed that it was not the object. The museum visit was preparation for our visit to a Mayan archeological site on Wednesday.

After a day of walking around town and visiting museums, we like to return to our pool in the heat (95 F this week) of the day. The pool is surprisingly cool considering how hot the air is.

In the evening we saw a folkloric ballet with a live orchestra on the street by Plaza Principal. It was a more professional version of what we saw Sunday afternoon.

A Weekend in Merida

Our flights from Puerto Vallarta to Merida we’re relatively uneventful and we arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. There were obvious differences between Mérida and San Miguel. Mérida is warmer, has far fewer gringoes, is much younger, has far fewer English speakers, and has more free entertainment. On Saturday night in Plaza Principal, they play a modern version of the Mayan ball game. We arrived 30 minutes early as recommended, but all the seats were gone and they were standing three deep by then.The games began with a lot of ritual and explanation that was all in Spanish so it meant little to us. While the rules of the game are unclear to me, the main objective is to hit the ball through a hoop using only your hips. It is very difficult to do and was not accomplished that I could see. There seemed to be secondary objectives such as advancing the ball as deep as possible into enemy territory. After playing the game for about twenty minutes, they then set a ball on fire and tossed it around before spiking the ball through the hoop in a classic basketball move. For a brief video of the ball game and the playing with a burning ball, click here.

Sunday morning many of the streets were closed to traffic so bicyclists could take over the streets. We took a free walking tour of the historic area in the morning. I will cover that tour in a future blog. On Saturday night, the area in front of the cathedral was set up for the ball game. On Sunday it was set up as a giant covered food court. We each had two Yucatan style pork tacos and a coke for less than a total of $5. So far we have both survived!We then had Marquesitas, a Mérida street food treat available in sweet and savory versions. We elected for the sweet version. The shell is made in a special griddle over a propane fire.

Once the shell is cooked, Nutella and cheese are added.Despite the fact that the shell is rolled, it is very crisp and really tasty. Of course, you have to like Nutella to like this one. I can’t wait to try the savory version. There are Marquesita street stands all over town.On Sunday afternoon, there was live music and the seniors in town were dancing in the plaza in front of our hotel just as our guide said they would.Meanwhile, in Plaza Principal, the children were being entertained by Superheroes (you can see two of them in the background). The little girl in blue was having a grand time!

After the children, Mayan dancers took to the streets.They twirled and danced with bottles of beer on their heads. They then upped the ante and danced with a trey holding a bottle and several full glasses on their heads.

Just as the tee shirts say, we are definitely on the fun side of the wall now!

Let the Sun Shine In

We came to Puerto Vallarta after a month in San Miguel to relax in the warmth and sunshine at the pool. After walking three to five miles in the thin air and hills of San Miguel, it is really nice to have a week of total relaxation.As you can see, it is a beautiful pool surrounded by palms with mountains on one side and ocean on the other side.Unfortunately, this is us on day 1 with everyone wearing a fleece and huddled under a towel for warmth under a totally cloud covered sky. Day 2 was similar with a high probability of rain, which didn’t arrive until after dark. Day 3 was an all day rain. Fortunately, we brought a pirated DVD of Knives Out from Juan’s in SMA for entertainment. Day 4 had a gloomy forecast and the sky looked threatening when we awoke. By the time we finished breakfast, there were patches of blue; so we bravely headed for the pool. The sky cleared, and it was a nice afternoon. Day 5 and 6 were sunny as expected but a little chilly until afternoon. Fortunately, we had our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim to talk to and keep us entertained on the cloudy, rainy days.

Thursday, we went into the nearby town of Bucerías for dinner and to see the chalk art show on the streets. The theme for this year’s Chalk Art Walk 2020 was “One Love – Celebrating Unity Throughout The World.” Each of the 25 participating artists created theme inspired chalk art. Each art piece had to depict a human, animal, and plant all living harmoniously together. I think the bad weather reduced participation, and a couple of the art works were wiped out by the rain and not restored. Following are a few examples:

There was music as well as art.

We enjoyed a seafood dinner on the Bucerías oceanfront.

It was a beautiful sunset with birds flying around.

The. view of Puerto Vallarta from our room. Saturday we fly to Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. This will be a new location for us, so the blogs may be more frequent.

Farewell San Miguel?

Saturday, we bid farewell to San Miguel and headed to Puerto Vallarta to visit our friends Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim for a little pool and sea time. Despite being a little cooler and a little cloudier than usual, we once again thoroughly enjoyed our month in San Miguel. One of the appeals is the variety of good restaurants There is Mexican food of course, but there is also Thai, Peruvian, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, and many others to choose from as well. It appears the restaurant competition is so fierce, that you have to be good to survive. I think every meal we had was in the good to excellent range.

We also enjoy all the shows. It is easily possible to see a different show every night. While we didn’t reach that goal, we certainly saw a show on at least half the nights we were there. Two favorites come to mind. One was a tribute to Canadian song writers such as Neil Young, Ian Tyson (Ian and Sylvia), Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Leonard Cohen. The songs were performed by seven San Miguel singer/guitarists both individually and in groups. The show lasted three hours and included many songs we knew and others that we wish we knew. It was a very enjoyable last night in San Miguel.

Another highlight was this native of Jamaica who now resides in Canada. He had a wonderful smile and engaging personality to go along with his repertoire of Caribbean music. He was joined in the second half by a San Miguel guitar player who had never played with him previously and was not familiar with the music. He plays a nine string guitar. They played together beautifully and both seemed to enjoy playing together. There were also free concerts in a nearby park area . . .. . . as well as in the Jardin.

Another enjoyable activity for the women is shopping, particularly for San Miguel Sandals. I have discussed them previously, but for the newcomers to the blog, they sell for about $35 in San Miguel and cost about $100 more in the US under the name Charleston Shoe Company.There is a very special expression in town that you never see unless that person has just discovered the perfect pair of San Miguel Sandals.

We don’t see a lot of wildlife in town, but we did see this exceptionally large caterpillar on a tree outside our gate.We also had a small dove nesting in this thorny tree on our roof top patio. We were proud grandparents by the time we left.

Walking around town you might find an interesting door or an exterior wall decorated with plants. It pays to look inside any open doors, because you never know what you might find.

Before we left on this trip, we saw a Bloomberg news article about a cartel shooting in a restaurant in San Miguel. We also noted local reaction to the article stating that Bloomberg greatly exaggerated the situation. However, the police presence in town was much more noticeable. We saw police armed with machine guns on several occasions. The consensus of the locals we talked to was that if you didn’t have any business with the cartel and you stayed in the town, you were safe. We continued to walk the town day and night and never had an uncomfortable moment. Still, the changes are concerning. Will we go back? I hope so, but it likely won’t be next year as we already have fall and early spring plans.

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce