United States of America

A Taste of the Old South in Charleston & Savannah

§  On our tour of Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, June and I recall the fun, interesting things, following memories and comments, in no particular order:

§  Visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Hospital and seeing sick turtles being nurtured back to health by Vets and caregiver assistants, and seeing a newly arrived Snapping turtle with medical problems being operated on by that Vet and his assistants. Priceless.

§  Seeing an assistant caressing and holding the leg and foot of that Snapping turtle with her hand as the Vet worked on it. Priceless.

§  Sitting on the front porch of Jekyll Island Club Hotel, watching 6 men and women play croquet on the hotel’s perfectly manicured lawn. The hotel is an old time southern resort that set the mood of this Charleston and Savannah Tauck World Discovery tour.

§  Riding the tram around Jekyll Island with Phyllis and hearing all her stories of the old days when the Rockefellers and other oil rich millionaires came to the island in January, February and March to hunt, fish and party.

§  Learning that the beautiful Spanish moss that hangs out of the trees is not a safe decoration or stuffing because the moss is loaded with bugs, parasites and other dangerous things.

§  Learning that Jekyll Island is now a state park and the land is leased for 99 years to the homeowners who are not allowed to own the land under their home.

§  Learning that the area’s Hercules Corp., one of the largest corporations of its kind in the world, extracts products of all kinds from pine trees.

§  Seeing, feeling and learning that the ballast rocks that ships carried to the Savannah port were used to “pave” the streets of Savannah.

§  Hearing from a city guide that 46% of the USA’s peanuts are grown in Georgia.

§  Seeing and learning about the 2 kinds of iron fences in Savannah-wrought iron and cast iron, and that New Orleans and Savannah have the most of both.

§  Learning that Savannah has 2.2 miles of ironwork on the homes and in the yards.

§  Discovering that the Girl Scouts of America began in Savannah March 12, 1912 and that the lady who started it, Juliette Gordon Low “Daisy” was born and lived in Savannah.

§  Knowing what caused Low to seek new directions in her life was being divorced by her husband, William Mackie Low, who considered her below his level.

§  Learning that this tour of Savannah-Charleston was the #888th for Tauck World Discovery.

§  Learning about tabby-sand, lime, oyster shell and water- construction and seeing several buildings made that way.

§  Learning about and seeing the Ha-Ha, a moat like trench built around a plantation or estate to keep the animals from escaping. It was named Ha-Ha because of the element of surprise when it was encountered.

§  Learning that the Georgia peach originated from China and that it is related to the almond, plum and cherry, and that Georgia is the third biggest producer of peaches in the USA.

§  Seeing how Oglethorpe originally laid out Savannah into planned squares pattern. The first planned city in the USA had 24 squares surrounded by homes.

§  Seeing the remaining beautiful 22 squares with fountains or sculptures and trees, blooming shrubs and benches.

§  Knowing that the Girl Scouts founder-Juliette Low-had ear and hearing problems that nearly left her deaf, and that she was an accomplished artist which was frowned on in her time.

§  Meeting magnetic Robert Baden Powell at a London luncheon in 1945 that she didn’t want to attend because she thought it would be boring, caused Low to found the Girl Scouts.

§  Learning that Johnny Mercer who wrote and sang “Moon River” lived in Savannah and that he had an affair with Judy Garland and was a founder of Capital Records.

§  Learning that Low was serious about making her Girl Scouts a success because all girls were invited to join.  And in 3 weeks there were 102 Girl Scouts. And by the time she died at age 66 of breast cancer, there were 165,000 Girl Scouts. Today there are 59 million Girl Scouts.

§  Enjoying the expert and excellent leadership of Tauck World Discovery’s tour director Andrea Rovito, who LOVED the South’s Savannah and Charleston, and had us loving them from the beginning.

§  Seeing the intricately custom built model ships in the Ships of Sea Museum that were used in the early years of Savannah, many which were built by the same man over 15 years.

§  Taking the free trolley tour and free ferry tour of the Savannah River

§  Seeing Chippewa Square, where Tom Hanks sat on that bench in “Forest Gump” movie, and knowing that 1 of 3 of the benches used is in the Savannah History Museum.

§  Learning that Savannah was founded as a colony where slaves, lawyers, Catholics and hard liquor were prohibited.

§  Knowing that Savannah was the first planned city in the USA and was laid out by Oglethorpe, who designed the city with 24 squares. Today there are 22 squares, with 2 made into parking garages.

§  Seeing the beautiful Dogwoods. Azaleas and Indian Hawthorne in full bloom, and then seeing Magnolia trees, Wisteria, and Jasmine, and smelling their wonderful fragrances.

§  Learning that South Carolina was the rice bowl to the world in the 1700’s.

§  Learning that all brick and rock have been brought into Savannah.

§  Seeing the holes blown in the walls of Fort Pulaski by the Union Army with their new rifle barrel machine guns.

§  Hearing that Sherman gave President Lincoln Savannah as a Christmas present, thereby saving Savannah and all the beautiful colonial homes.

§  Seeing the first Black Baptist Church totally built by slaves and the basement used for Underground Railroad activities.

§  Learning that stucco was put on homes for beauty and to keep moisture from penetrating the brick walls of a house.

§  Learning that Savannah was occupied over 2 years by the Union army.

§  Riding the Pedi-cab to and from the Savannah Theatre to see “Southern Nights” and “The Beat Goes On”, both outstanding performances which featured songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and both of which were fun and enjoyable.

§  Enjoying the 18th and 19th Century Savannah homes, in the style of Regency, Federal, Second Empire, Adams and Italian Renaissance.

§  Learning that Savannah has the second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebration in the USA.

§  Learning that the 1886 Cotton Exchange warehouses on River Street by the Savannah River are now tourist shops, bars, restaurants and hotels.

§  Learning that 7 ladies in Savannah got together to stop the destruction of the Davenport House, thus starting the Savannah Historical Society to save the past.

§  Learning that Fort Pulaski was built of 25 million bricks by slaves and area masons at the entrance to Savannah River and that, to this day, there are no cracks in the 7-foot thick walls.

§  Learning that the battle of Fort Pulaski, between the Confederate and Union soldiers lasted only 30 hours and that the Union won.

§  Knowing that the first use of the Union’s rifle cannon that had grooves in the barrel giving a spin to the bullet as it passed faster out of the gun, was the thing that won the battle for the Union.

§  Knowing that the fort was used as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War and that it served as a prison at one time.

§  Visiting Hilton Head Island and seeing that it is 42 square miles.

§  Learning that Hilton Head Island was named for Captain William Hilton who discovered the island during a voyage from England.

§  Sampling Key Lime and Benne flavored Byrd Cookies made daily in Savannah, provided by our tour director Andrea Rovito. Delicious

§  Knowing that Savannah is one of the largest port in the USA and seeing container ship after container ship arriving with thousands of containers per ship.

§  Serving as the Gullah Queen in Aunt Pearlie Sue’s presentation of what it was like to be a slave who spoke the Gullah language. Priceless.

§  Hearing Aunt Pearlie’s Sue closing her presentation with love for all people and sharing it with all people. Priceless

§  Experiencing Antebellum Civil War, Beaufort, South Carolina, that was not destroyed by the Union soldiers in the Civil War.

§  Riding in a carriage pulled by Paul Newman, an 8-year-old Belgium Draft horse bought from the Amish, around Beaufort learning the story of the antebellum homes and Civil War.

§  Seeing the house and other buildings that were the subject of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.

§  Learning how some residents in Beaufort buried their valuables in the ground so the Union couldn’t find it or steal it from them.

§  Getting a CD of Memories of our entire tour from our Tauck World Discovery tour director, Andrea Rovito. Priceless.

§  Touring the Drayton Hall Plantation outside of Charleston, built between 1738-42, that stands alone as the only authentic survivor of the Ashley’s River colonial past, intact and in its original condition and Georgian-Palladian-inspired architecture. Priceless.

§  Learning that Drayton Hall was saved from destruction during the Civil War because it was surrounded by red flags indicating a dangerous disease, serving as a “small pox hospital.”

§  Seeing the blue porch ceilings of the old Southern homes because it was believed these kept out ghosts. Ghosts wouldn’t go into BLUE water!

§  Learning that a brick fence with every other brick missing allowed air to pass through the fence.

§  Learning the pineapple was used as a sign of hospitality in colonial America.

§  Seeing that rooms with very small windows in them were to keep ghosts from getting inside.

§  Ordering Colored paint from England that was very expensive if any other paint was desired because the only color available was white.

§  Learning that Beaufort, South Carolina was occupied by then Union and served as the Union’s hospital supply, therefore, saving Beaufort as is.

§  Learning that indigo was a huge cash crop for plantations and that the 5-foot tall plant with dark berries was cut off at the ground and shipped to Europe for dyeing fabrics.         

§  Learning and seeing that there were 11,000 graves in the Charleston National Cemetery due to the Civil War.

§  Attending the Praise Session at the Circular Church of Christ by 3 ladies singing in Gullah and other songs that the plantation slaves sang as they worked the fields of the Old South.

§  Visiting several churches and their graveyards, some dating back to 1695, and hearing the stories of the various ghosts that appeared there.

§  Learning on the Ghost Tour that a tall, pillar-like slender stone in a graveyard indicated a life cut short, such as a child or murder victim.

§  Learning that several gravestones were stacked against the church wall because no one knew where they belonged after Hurricane Hugo removed them from graves.

§  Learning that sweet grass grew in the low land of South Carolina and that very fine, exclusive baskets are made of the grass and are super expensive due to the extremely labor intensive work to yield one.

§  Learning that in the year 2011, 102 cruise ships docked in Charleston harbor for a visit.

§  Learning that the Charleston City Market, now used for shopping on dry land, was built in 1807 and used to be the fish market on the dock where the boats unloaded their day’s catch.

§  Learning that the College of Charleston is now a state university with 12,000 students where women graduates wear all white and carry red roses and the men wear white jackets with a red rose in the lapel, all to receive their diploma.

§  Learning that in 1904, iced tea was served for the first time at the St. Louis World’s Fair

§  Learning that rice, indigo and cotton made Charleston the richest city.

§  Learning that a Charleston law prevents a structure from being demolished that is 75 years old or older.

§  Learning that Charleston’s military academy, The Citadel, has 2,500 students and the freshmen are called “knobs” because they have shaved heads and walk on the street beside the sidewalk. The females have their hair cut short. All have no obligation to go into service for their country.

§  Seeing that a person could get married, pick up their mail, pay their taxes and go to jail, all on the corners of one intersection in Charleston because there is a federal, county, and city office and a church.

§  “The shot heard around the world” that started the Civil War at Ft. Sumter only lasted 30 hours because the Union army didn’t have enough ammunition.

§  Knowing that The Citadel freshmen have to march to football games and then stand at attention while the seniors claim their seats first.

§  Being told that freshmen have to march to meals and eat square meals, i.e. their arms must make a square going up and down to the plate at all times.

§  Learning that the colonial home, kitchen and privy were all separate structures to protest the main house from fires, heat, cold and unpleasant fragrances.

§  Telling that the bricks in the old colonial homes were made by slaves because they had black spots in them.

§  Tasting she crab soup, a signature dish of the area that used to be made only of female crabs. Now, we are told, any old crab is used. It was rich, flavorful, hearty and just perfect soup that was full of crabs.

§  Eating raspberry crème bruleé which was “to die for”, extremely delicious and the best we ever had.

§  Learning that the traditional Charleston garden is shade and winter blooms.

§  Seeing the multi-colored row houses saved on the 1740 waterfront by several ladies and in 1950 were “tarted up”, spruced up and painted those multi-colors.

§  Learning that the AME Baptist Church stood for African Methodist Episcopalian Baptist Church that was formed by the slaves.

§  Learning that South Carolina is gaining a balanced economy with a great ocean front and port that is 5th largest in the US that exports more frozen chickens than any place in the US.

§  Visiting the only tea plantation and factory in the USA.

§  Eating fresh strawberries every day while touring Savannah and Charleston-priceless.

§  Learning that the tea plantation gets 7-10 leaf cuttings between May and September and that tea leaves are insect and disease resistant with no pesticides ever used.

§  Learning that it only takes 20 hours from the time the tea leaf is cut in the field until the tea makes it to your cup. Awesome.

§  Learning that 34 nations grow tea and that the USA buys 50% of its tea from Argentina.

§  Learning that 1 pound of coffee and 1 pound of tea have the same amount of caffeine but tea has less caffeine because it takes less tea to make a cup of tea than it takes to make a cup of coffee.

§  Discovering that first cut tea is the first time a field is cut and is the best.

§  Learning that 5000 pounds of tea leaves yields 1000 pounds of dry tea leaves.

§  Learning that tea leaves are flavored with natural protein of the seed or essence of the oil.

§  Listening to our Tauck World Discovery tour director, Andrea Rovito, telling the complete story of the Civil War during our tour from memory with no notes. Priceless.

§  Learning Middleton Plantation house was saved during the Civil War from destruction because little red flags were placed around it indicating a dangerous infectious disease was there and that all should stay away because of small pox.

§  Seeing that the Middleton Plantation House was Georgian-Palladian design, which was simple, symmetrical, balanced, boxy and beautiful.

§  Learning that the National Trust for Historical Preservation now owns the Middleton Plantation and 19 other properties to preserve not restore.

United States of America

Foot Work at the San Diego ZOO

Three orangutans with toe sacks over their heads, a bear that used to dance, a jaguar wanting meat, and an elephant having a pedicure were part of a unique animal experience Christina and I had on our behind-the-scenes tour of the 94-year-old San Diego Zoo. Stepping into the lives of this menagerie of animals for a few minutes reminded me of my many African safaris. And visiting one of the top zoos in the world for preservation of species and humane treatment of animals was a thrill.

The purpose of my trip to the 100-acre San Diego Zoo was to see the seven elephants in their new multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art Elephant Odyssey and Care Center. As I came upon the center, I was surprised to see that the custom-built treatment enclosures were in full public view.

In one, a huge, 10-foot-tall African elephant had a foot sticking out of a hole in the enclosure. The elephant’s veterinarian was filing its toenails. Having seen hundreds of elephants in zoos and on African safaris, I had never seen anything like this. How such a huge animal could submit and place a foot out of a hole in the fence was beyond my comprehension, even though I had cared for many cows, bulls, and calves on our dairy farm when I was growing up.

I learned it takes months of training to show the elephants how to do the procedure because the San Diego Zoo uses cooperative training where the animals are never forced.  One thing that kept the elephant cooperative was the keeper sitting next to the veterinarian. This keeper was feeding the elephant 18-inch-long lettuce leaves. As the elephant got its pedicure, it would stick its trunk out of another hole in the 15-foot-tall steel fence to grab a lettuce leaf.  It did this every 10 seconds throughout the pedicure. I just couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.

When I watched veterinarians and keepers shining a flashlight into the eyes and ears of another elephant, I asked what was wrong. One veterinarian replied, “She has an infection.” As we watched, they gave the elephant a shot in the hip to cure the infection.

Our next stop on the Zoo tour was a visit with Tanya, the keeper of the Orangutans. It was so funny because it was raining and two orangutans were sitting on a tree branch with a toe sack over their heads to keep dry. Next to them on another branch was another one with a toe sack over its head. Keeper Tanya told us that 39-year-old Clyde, the adult male of the bunch, was in his bedroom because he did not like getting wet. Also with him were Satu, Inda and Janey, who brushes her hair every morning, loves to paint and has sold several of her paintings. Janey is the only Sumatran orangutan in the Zoo. The rest are all from Borneo.

The highlight of this stop was when keeper Tanya went into the orangutan habitat and fed them a morning treat of grapes and other fruits. Two of them stood up on their back legs ready to receive the grapes thrown to them just like humans stand to catch a ball. Tanya told us the orangutan gang loves air-popped popcorn, nutritional biscuits, leaves, fruits, vegetables, termites, honey, and barbecue sauce.

Tanya explained that the Zoo has a glass wall to separate the public from the orangutans because “they don’t have immune systems like we do so they easily catch human diseases.” The final fact we learned was why the concrete viewing area floor was covered with shredded rubber tires. I thought it would be to keep my feet and legs from hurting after standing for so long enjoying the antics of the orangutans. But no, that was not the reason. It was because the orangutan’s bedroom was right under the viewing area and the rubber “rug” would keep the bedroom quiet while the orangutans rested!

Our next stop was to see a Sloth Bear. Now, I had never heard of a Sloth Bear until the keeper told us it used to be known as the dancing bear that performed in circuses and animal shows. It would “dance” like a ballerina with skirt and all. Ken was the cutest bear, with long fluffy fur and long, long claws just like a sloth has. But the highlight of visiting Ken was when the keeper fed him a bottle of water and honey with a straw. A Sloth Bear’s lips are flap-like, enabling it to suck food and water. Watching Ken form those long lips tightly around the straw made us laugh out loud for several minutes. Even funnier, while he was noisily sucking the water and honey, Ken was sitting on his behind with his legs straight out front. Oh, he was so cute.

Next stop was a visit with Orson, a velvety and beautiful black Jaguar. The entire time we visited Orson, he enjoyed five pounds of ground beef. His keeper explained that Orson weighed around 150 pounds and that a female jaguar is gold with black spots and half Orson’s size. Jaguars come from Central and South America, and have huge feet and a head full of muscles that can bite through a skull.

The Zoo is a breeding ground for many species, and one is the California condor, which has the longest wing span of any bird. Thanks to the Zoo, there are now 400 California Condors in the world. The experts at the San Diego Zoo work with other zoos and animal research centers around the world, helping them with their animal challenges in nutrition, diseases, medical needs, and habitats.

Experiencing the San Diego Zoo on a behind-the-scenes tour gave us the total animal encounter, with surprises all along the way and an education too. Watching the elephant get a pedicure while eating long-leaf lettuce has to rank as one of my most wonderful unexpected sights to behold. If only I could have told that elephant how beautiful it looks with its new pedicure!

United States of America

Swirls, Light and Slot Canyon

In an old beat-up dented 15 year-old red Ford F150 pickup, Christina and I and 10 others crammed in the front and back of a Navajo style 4WD ride. The driver-guide was Vera “pure Navajo through and through from head to toe in every sense of the word” the Navajo said. She rocked and rolled and rattled and spun us for 2 miles all the way down hot and sandy Antelope Canyon to the entrance of the Upper Antelope Canyon or Slot Canyon, all a part of the Navajo Nation land near Page, Arizona and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, USA.

We had to have a Navajo guide with us at all times because Upper Antelope Canyon is an active flood area at any time when rain occurs even miles away from the canyon. And the Navajo have the experience and the communication system to know when flood waters will hit Antelope Canyon and especially Slot Canyon. When the raging force of flash flood water enters Slot Canyon, it can fill this canyon up to 60 feet high with such great force that people have died. Knowing the weather was agreeable, we entered Upper Antelope Slot Canyon, the most visited slot canyon in the Southwest because all conditions here are ideal.

And what an entrance it was. It was at least 20 degrees cooler inside and the walls were 60 feet tall and the slot at the top ranged from 3-12 feet wide.  They were carved, scared and twisted in such beautiful formations it was just shocking that this was a natural creation. The red-orange sandstone walls had been shaped for thousands of years by winds and powerful floods through the skinny canyon. And the twisted and swirled red-orange sandstone walls the length of a football field were the result.

Another highlight of the visit came from the sun. The prime time to visit Slot Canyon is 10 am to noon because of the angle of the sun into the canyon. All of a sudden, through one area of the canyon’s slot ceiling, the sun shone a foot-wide beam of white light down to the sandy floor. It was such a mystical magical event and created a feeling of heavenly euphoria. We didn’t want to leave.

But, too soon, the magical walk through the canyon ended and it was time to get back into the old dented F150 Ford Pickup and rock and roll back to the main Navajo tourist office and our Tauck World Discovery tour coach, thus ending a one-of-a-kind walk through Navajo candy-looking corkscrew canyon land.