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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Since I last visited Lorraine and John in Djibouti in 2004, they had downsized their living space. The boys had gone off to college and now live in the US. Sadie, the only child left at home, attends school at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya and wasn’t home when we visited. Although the family has a three bedroom house, John uses one bedroom as his office, which leaves only one for guests. And there were four of us.

A few blocks away is an apartment leased by a non-governmental organization. The Nordmeyers rent a room there when they need a “guest house.” We decided that Sue and Nita, who were new to Djibouti, would stay at the Nordmeyers, and Jen and I, who had visited before, would sleep at the guest house.

The apartment is on the second floor in a building with three other units. There is an office used by the NGO staff and three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a tiny kitchen. The dining area in the hallway outside the kitchen has a table that seats no more than four people. Lorraine had furnished us with breakfast items, but we ate most meals at her house.

View from the back window of the guest house. Note the contrast between opulence and poverty.

Behind the guest house are empty lots surrounded by walls with gates. There may have been buildings here at one time that have been taken down. Two or three men have shelters in the lots. I don’t know whether they live there by permission or are squatting. One morning I watched a man get up, fold his bedding, and prepare to go to work.

Besides use of the kitchen, we had the master bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom has a double bed and a single. The double is so tall one almost needs a stepstool to climb on it. The single bed is a wooden frame with ropes to support a foam mattress. Jen didn’t want to climb, so she chose the single bed and assured me it was quite comfortable.

The frame of the single bed.

Closeup detail.

The master bathroom has a built-in tub with sides two feet high. Why so high, we never learned. The other bathroom has a shower. Few people in Djibouti, other than VIPs from other countries, have water heaters. The city water doesn’t run all the time. When it does, the household fills a large tank out in the yard. While the water sits in the tank, it warms to the ambient temperature. Since it was winter, the water wasn’t very warm. For this reason, neither of us cared to soak in that deep tub.

The water tank is shaded by bougainvillea to keep the water “cool” in the summer.

To take a shower with cold water is akin to immersing oneself in a Florida spring (72 degrees year round). Either ease into the water and wait for your nerve endings to go numb one by one, or take the plunge and get it over with. I prefer the slow option. Turn the water on, slowly let one part of your body adjust to the temperature, then expose another, until you can stand it well enough to get clean.

The water is also brackish, so everyone buys drinking water. I used tap water to brush my teeth as well as for washing, with no ill effects. But the salt is hard on plumbing. When we first arrived, a dish had been set under the toilet connection to catch water dripping from a small leak. I’d empty the dish when it got full. A few days later, the dish was no longer adequate to hold the leaking water, so I replaced it with a cooking pot and asked John to notify the landlord. Before he replaced the connection, the pot became inadequate and we’d come home to a wet bathroom floor. The floor in the other bathroom was frequently wet as well. At first we didn’t understand why. It turned out to be another leak.

I must mention the toilet. Because of the inadequacy of the plumbing, one did not put toilet paper in the commode. There was a waste basket beside it for the used toilet paper. It was the maid’s responsibility to empty it. I felt sorry for her but was glad I didn’t have to do it.

Air-conditioning was available, for an extra fee, so we didn’t use it. We opened windows for a cross breeze. Since it seldom rains in Djibouti, I didn’t worry about rain coming through the windows, but sometimes we’d come back to find the windows closed and the apartment stuffy.

Only a few times did we have contact with the people who used the office. We were usually out and about during the day when they were there. Although the cleaning girl came in sporadically, I saw her only once. The place didn’t get very dirty. Sometimes she did laundry and dried it on racks in a vacant room. People who came in during the day often left dirty dishes that seldom got washed unless we did them.

The maid came in one morning before we left, with a baguette and an orange soda. She said something about “Coke,” but she knew little more English than we did Somali. Finally, I figured out that she wanted to eat her breakfast before working, which she did. Bread and soda. I hope she had more nourishing meals later in the day.

We had little contact with other inhabitants of the apartment building, other than the watchman. Every gated compound has a watchman who lives on the property in a roofed shelter. His job, besides keeping an eye on things, is to open and close the gates. When residents get ready to leave in their car, he’ll open and close the gate for them. When they drive home, they toot the horn and he’ll open the gate. There is a small gate for pedestrians, which we generally used since Lorraine’s house was within walking distance. A few times the latch got messed up, and the watchman came to our rescue.

“Johnny’s” shoes

Someone who lives in the building has a pair of flip-flops he kept leaving in the hallway or on the stairs, not always in the same place. Jen said her son Johnny leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor, so we began calling them “Johnny’s shoes.” One day, the flip-flops were nowhere to be seen. We wondered what had happened to “Johnny.” To our relief, his flip-flops were back in the hallway the next day.

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It was like a scene out of a movie and had the aura of cloak and dagger. Friday night in the capital city of Djibouti, although it was the Sabbath, the town was lively. Khat dealers, mostly women, sat at their street-side booths, plying their business. Khat is the recreational drug of choice in Djibouti. It’s imported from Ethiopia daily, because it must be fresh. Users, mostly men, chew the leaves for the euphoria it gives them. It’s addictive and, like many addictive drugs, takes a social and financial toll on the family. One would wonder why it was sold so openly—because it’s legal. Not only legal, it’s a lucrative income for those who import and distribute it. The wife of the President of Djibouti is one of the chief importers.

Khat Dealers. These are all men. I didn’t get any pictures of the women.

In 2004, when I visited Djibouti, the airport prominently posted signs saying “No Khat.” While I was waiting for my flight home, a plane landed. I went to the window to see if it was mine. No. It was a cargo plane with a rear-loading ramp. Before it had completely come to a halt, a crowd of people rushed onto the runway toward it. When the back opened and the men began to unload large bales wrapped in burlap, I realized this was the daily khat shipment. (I guess nobody read the signs.)

But we certainly didn’t go downtown for khat. We went to exchange currency.

This was our first day in Djibouti. My sister Lorraine and her husband John had picked us up at the airport and took us to their house, which is just down the street. They served us supper of bean soup and homemade bread. Delicious. Spices are inexpensive in Djibouti and the food is always flavorful. After supper, we unpacked items we’d brought them, things hard to buy in Djibouti, such as vitamins and sewing scissors.

Djibouti Art

Two of us would be staying in the guest house a few blocks away. We took our luggage there, then set out to find the money changers.

 

Djibouti Street

The last time I was in Djibouti, the money changer was a man with an official-looking kiosk, and we had gone in broad daylight to cash my Travelers Checks.

 

This time we carried cash and by now it was dark. John drove us to a less than prosperous part of town where women sat on street corners with bags of currency. We pulled into a side street. A woman came up to us and dealt with us through the car windows.

She didn’t speak English, so Lorraine, who is fluent in Somali, translated for us. The rate of exchange was $200 for 35,000 Djibouti Francs, and of course she charged a fee. One of my sisters had a $50 bill with a tiny rip in it. The woman refused to exchange it. She said the bank wouldn’t take it. We did change some money with her, then went elsewhere. We parked this time and walked to where a pair of women sat on another street corner. They were more personable but still wouldn’t take the “damaged” bill. Yet some of the bills we received from them had tears in them.

Lorraine told them that we were her sisters. Five sisters? People in Djibouti appreciate large families. They thought so many sisters in one family was wonderful and they wanted to know more about our family. When Lorraine told them how many children Jen and Nita have, they were even more impressed. If it weren’t for the language barrier, our conversation might have extended further into the night.

You’d think it would be risky for a woman to be on the street with so much money without an armed guard, but Lorraine said there’s an unwritten understanding that the money changers are not to be molested.

After we finished changing money, we rode around town to look at some of the sights.

Playground

I don’t have any pictures of the money changers. For one thing, the people of Djibouti are sometimes reluctant to have their pictures taken. For another thing, I was taking pictures with my phone and it doesn’t take good night photos.

Mosque

 

Stay tuned for more adventures. I have lots of beautiful daytime pictures of this amazing country.

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Four sisters traveling to Djibouti—just getting there was an adventure! Sue, Nita, and I and converged on Jen’s house to spend the night. We packed her son Johnny’s car with our seven suitcases and several carry-ons. By some miracle there was still room for us. No, we’re not teenagers who need that much luggage. We were taking things to Lorraine and John that can’t be bought in Djibouti.

Jen’s and Nita’s kids came by to see us off. We were flying Emirates Airlines and had reserved seats together. My nephew Teddy looked at the four of us and said he felt sorry for the flight attendants. Someone else said they’d pray for us, then Teddy said, “I’m going to pray for Africa!”

We went to bed at 9:30, got up at 2:30 am, and Johnny drove us to the Orlando Airport, arriving about 4:30. This was during the government shutdown and TSA staff were working without pay. Still, they were courteous. We went through security without a hitch and the two hour flight to JFK was unremarkable.

Airlines care about physical fitness. You fly into one terminal and have to walk to the opposite end of the airport, hauling luggage, for your connecting flight. On the way, we saw Manhattan from the windows.

Grainy picture, but taken through the window.

Security was tighter at JFK and the staff not as friendly. Since we’d already gone through security, I thought we were good for the entire trip. Not so. Apparently we’d passed through a public area and had to go through again. This time we had to take off our shoes and be x-rayed. I left my laptop in its case, as I had in Orlando, and because of that they searched my stuff, and not just the laptop case. They also searched Nita’s luggage because she had a large tube of toothpaste, which they confiscated. She was mad. She’d bought it just for the trip. (Have little old ladies been blowing up airplanes with laptops and toothpaste?)

While still tied up at security, they announced our plane was being boarded. Sue rushed to the gate, put her hands on her hips, and said, “I’m not leaving without my sisters!” They held the plane for us. (Actually, many passengers were delayed at security.)

After the ticket desk, we followed a long hallway to a boarding bridge. However, the entrance was closed off—that was the bridge for first class. It was an Airbus A380, a double-decker, the world’s largest passenger plane. We had to go downstairs for our bridge.

Our plane, with a boarding bridge.

The plane was too big for one photo.

First class bridge is at left.

I swear, every time I fly, they’ve moved the seats closer together. Once you’re tucked in, you can’t move. Men stick their legs out into the aisle because they won’t fit under the seat in front. To get to the restroom, you have to step over their legs. Whoever advises getting up and walking on long flights has never tried it. Inevitably, when you go toward the back of the plane, someone is trying to walk to the front. In order to pass each other, one of you nearly sits on an aisle passenger’s lap to make room for the other to get by.

On the positive side, everyone was polite, especially considering the crowded conditions and the variety of cultures and nationalities on the plane. Several families had children who did remarkably well on the long flight. I got a good impression of Emirates Airlines. Staff was courteous, and I like their uniforms.

Emirates staff. (From Pinterest.)

In the rear, near the bathrooms, was a flight of stairs winding up to first class. I so wanted to go up and just take a peek, but that was forbidden to us peons. Instead, I put one foot on the bottom step to do leg stretches, easier than walking and probably more beneficial. Here’s a video that shows first class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P9a0KfONrU

Lunch was good. I chose the ethnic option: bean salad, palak paneer (curried spinach and cottage cheese), coriander rice, dal Bukhara (black lentils with tomato sauce), and custard mousse with strawberries for dessert. To my surprise, despite the UAE being a Muslim country, they serve alcohol on their planes.

We had the middle four seats in row 73. No windows, but each seat had a screen with several features. Cameras gave us views ahead, behind, and below the plane, as long as there was visibility. I watched a movie but fell asleep and missed much of it.

The map was also in English, but I like the writing.

I enjoyed the map. About 4 pm EST we were over Ireland, 4:39 Britain, 5:20 Germany, 5:53 Czech Republic, 6:45 Hungary, 7:30 Black Sea, 7:48 Turkey, 8:55 Iraq, 9:50 Kuwait, and 10 pm EST the Arabian Gulf. We arrived in Dubai about 8 am local time (midnight EST).

Dubai as seen thought the plane’s camera.

World’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in the distance.

The Dubai airport is huge and spread out. It seemed bigger than JFK, and they’re still building. A guy with a cart picked us up and took us to Departures. He drove fast, tooting his horn when people didn’t get out of his way. It’s a wonder he didn’t run over someone. We had to go through security again, but it was a piece of cake compared to JFK. Then another long walk took us to a bus to our next terminal. I swear the bus circled the airport more than once. It took so long, fellow riders were worried they’d miss their connecting flight. When we finally got there, we had to go through security, again (4th time!). Then another long walk to our gate.

Dubai is a global crossroad: Arabs, Indians, Sikhs, Africans, and Europeans were waiting for planes. Some Muslim women were fully covered. I was impressed by the tolerance of other cultures people exhibited.

On the plane to Djibouti, Sue struck up a conversation with a blonde, blue-eyed young man from Utah, one of a group of students from NY University who were studying refugee issues. They were headed to a Yemini refugee camp in Djibouti. Here was another culturally mixed group, including a Pakistani girl who spoke perfect English and wore a hajib.

First view of Djibouti. (I don’t know where the water came from.)

We arrived in Djibouti about 3 pm local time (7 am EST). I still wore winter clothes and couldn’t wait to get out of them. Visas cost $150 (cash). The police spoke just enough English to confuse us. We waited in line, then spoke to an officer who took our pictures and directed us across the lobby to another line. The girl behind me was from Beijing. She’d come here to work as an accountant. Finally, another officer took our money, photographed us again, and issued Visas.

Then the baggage claim. A group of guys had all our luggage together and demanded to be paid. A French woman said we shouldn’t pay them up front and suggested we give them 12 Djibouti Francs for the four of us. The bags had to go through security again, and a woman opened and rifled through some of them. What did she think we were smuggling into Djibouti? I bet she just wanted to see our stuff.

Once through Immigration, we paid our porters. One accepted the money, then the others held their hands out. Lorraine to the rescue. She told them in Somali they needed to share the money.

At last, we loaded our luggage on a truck John had borrowed and went to their house where supper was awaited.

Stay tuned.

 

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In January, three of my sisters and I traveled to Djibouti where our sister Lorraine and her husband John live. If you got past the title (What’s a Djibouti?) you know it is a place. The next question, “Where in the world is Djibouti?”

Djibouti is a tiny country of fewer than one million people in the horn of Africa. The horn is that part of East Africa that juts out into the Arabian Sea and looks like a rhinoceros horn. Djibouti is about the size of New Jersey in area and is sandwiched among Eritrea on the north, Ethiopia on the west, and Somalia on the south. To the east is the Gulf of Aden and to the northeast is the Red Sea. Across the Bal el Mandeb (Strait of Aden), Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, points right at Djibouti.

See the “horn” just south of Djibouti?

Why would anyone go to Djibouti? A good reason is to visit family, if you’re lucky enough to have relatives there. Another reason is that Djibouti is an amazing place. In 2004, I spent three weeks there and fell in love with the country. However, my first impression, coming from a land of green forests, was that Djibouti is drab, ugly. The landscape was predominately brown and black, very little color and almost no vegetation. After all, it’s a desert.

Not a good first impression, it it?

It didn’t take long, however, for the dust to clear from my eyes and I could see the beauty of the desert, the blue seas, the volcanoes, and the breathtaking mountains. I looked forward to another visit.

This is much better..

Back then, Lorraine had three boys in school and a baby daughter, so she didn’t work outside the home. Most days were centered around domestic life, which in Djibouti is an adventure in itself. I accompanied Lorraine to the market and we visited her friends. Somali ladies invited us to a dinner of ethnic food and an Ethiopian friend showed us how she made injera, flatbread baked on a griddle like a pancake. Days that John didn’t have to work, we went sightseeing.

This time, with the boys grown and out of the house and Sadie at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, we got out and mingled more with the populace. I learned to appreciate the people of Djibouti. Getting to know its people is the best way to explore a country. It’s not easy when you don’t understand the language and few people speak English. Fortunately, Lorraine is fluent in several languages, including two of Djibouti’s official languages, French and Somali. (The other two are Afar and Arabian.)

Modern Djibouti

Djibouti is as old as Africa, but in modern terms it’s a very young country, having gained independence in 1977. In the distant past, the area we call Djibouti was part of ancient empires and sultanates. In the 1800’s, Europeans invaded most of the Middle East and Africa and carved out colonies without regard to cultures or tribal territories. I suspect that most of the unrest in this part of the world today could have been avoided if the Europeans had respected these boundaries and not split up ethnic groups into different political entities. But they didn’t ask me.

Djibouti is fortunate to have peace among its peoples. The southern part of the country is mostly Somali and speaks that language. The northern part is Afar, and there are also many Ethiopians who call Djibouti home. Because of the troubles in the surrounding countries, Djibouti is a haven for refugees. The civil war in Yemen has driven thousands to tiny Djibouti. Many of these live in a refugee camp in the northern part of the country, but others have settled in the city.

In a country that is mostly desert, what do people do for a living? Djibouti has a port, which is the major employer. Landlocked Ethiopia depends on this port for most of its imports and exports.

The Port

The next largest source of jobs is the military. Not Djibouti’s, although they have one. France, Italy, China, Japan, and the US all have military bases. I have no pictures of these bases. We were cautioned not to try to photograph them. The Chinese have more than a military presence here. They built a railway from the Djibouti city to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. At their railway station, we asked at the gate if we could take pictures and the guard said no. I don’t understand the reason for this. Do they think that little old ladies from America are in cahoots with terrorists?

We had a little excitement when John took us around town and drove by the American Embassy. Nita took a picture of it. Why not? It’s our embassy. Before we’d circled half the block, we were surrounded by police cars! It was forbidden to photograph the embassy. One officer demanded our cameras and deleted the offending pictures from Nita’s. I hadn’t taken a picture, but I let him see my camera anyway. The last photo I’d taken was of a garbage truck. I’ll never forget the puzzled look on his face.

American Embassy in Djibouti.

We didn’t take this picture. I found it on the internet. Go Figure!

Djibouti has another, very ancient industry, probably the only natural resource—salt. Lac Assal, the salt lake, is some 500 feet below sea level, the lowest point in Africa. The lake was formed by volcanic eruptions which cut off its outlet to the sea. The salinity is ten times that of the ocean and the salt is up to 200 feet deep. For centuries, the Afar people have mined this salt and exported it by caravans.

In 2004, when we visited Lac Assal, we innocently began to harvest salt. Several Afar men approached us. We didn’t speak Afar, but they spoke enough French for Lorraine to figure out why they were upset. They had the concession on the salt and wanted us to pay for what we were taking. Their price was negligible, so to keep the peace, we paid. Today, the Chinese have an arrangement with the Djibouti government to mine and export salt. For my part, I’d rather see the profit go to the Afars.

Chinese salt works

I’ve been amazed at the number of people who live in the desert. In the middle of nowhere, you’ll come across a herd of goats, and camels have free range. What do these animals eat? Thorn trees and other desert flora. Little else grows here.

Camel eating leaves of a thorn tree,

Stay tuned. In the following weeks, I’ll chronicle our adventures and misadventures in this fascinating country.

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On my way to Arkansas for Thanksgiving, I drove through Albany, Georgia, which lay in the path Hurricane Michael had taken only a few weeks before. Although Albany is a hundred miles inland, I saw fallen trees, blue tarps on roofs, and mobile homes that had been destroyed. This is pecan country, and many orchards had lost trees, especially the more mature ones.

When I reached my brother’s home in Alabama, I told him what I’d observed. A pecan farmer himself, he was aware of the destruction. He said that some orchards were so badly damaged, they would not be replanted. Pecan trees take years to mature enough to be productive. Many of the farmers are up in age and have no heirs who are interested in farming.

I thought of the orange groves in Florida. At one time, Highway 27, which takes you through the middle of the peninsula, was a picturesque drive through mile after mile of orange groves. Then came the freeze of 1988 which brought arctic air down into tropical South Florida. Orange trees can’t take such temperatures. All that was left were hills covered with brown stumps. Most groves were not replanted. The scenic countryside was carved up into housing developments, acre after acre of concrete block, cookie cutter homes. I’m sure this brought instant wealth to the former grove owners, but the beautiful scenery had been spoiled. If the orange trees had been replanted, they would have been producing for many years by now.

Chipola River Park, November 2017

After Thanksgiving, I took a more southerly route home, following Route 20 through the forests of Florida’s panhandle. My first clue that I was approaching Michael’s wake was road crews cutting up and removing tree trunks alongside the road. Then I entered Bay County, which had been hit directly by the Category 4 storm.

I had seen pictures of Michael’s destruction: debris everywhere, houses leveled, people left homeless and destitute, but I didn’t take the coastal route to witness this for myself. For one thing, I was anxious to get home. For another, curiosity seekers only get in the way of recovery efforts. Twenty or so miles inland, there was more than enough for me to see.

Picnic area

 

 

Hurricanes being circular, their winds can come from any direction depending on where you are in relation to the eye. The west side of the storm is the worst. Winds up to 155 mph had slammed into the woodlands from the north, laying trees down in a southerly direction. Entire stands of forest were leveled, trees broken off or uprooted. I can only imagine the condition of the highway immediately after the storm. Weeks later it was still lined with piles of wood and branches, twisted pieces of metal roofing, mangled insulation, and other barely recognizable wreckage. How much time and effort went into clearing the roadway so help could come to survivors?

It was like this everywhere.

Some houses were damaged beyond hope. Many were roofed with blue tarps. A few homeowners had brought in sheds to use as temporary residences. Too many people had been displaced. They had nowhere else to go.

New home for Hurricane Michael victims.

As I approached the Chipola River, the destruction became personal. On the bank is a wayside park with a boat ramp. Whenever I travel this route, I stop to use the restroom and stretch my legs. I’ve walked along the river bank, taking pictures of flowers. In the wetland between the river and the picnic grounds, were ancient trees that I’ve photographed. The park is a friendly place where other travelers stop to rest and fishermen launch their boats. The last time I was there, a family with young children parked next to me after they pulled their boat out of the water.

Chipola River, November 2017

This time I hardly recognized the place. The formerly shady picnic grounds were buried beneath a tangle of ruined trees. The driveway and parking lot had been cleared enough for me to drive in, with caution, but I was the only visitor. The river was high, several feet above the boat ramp, and fishermen couldn’t put in, if indeed they had time to spare from repairing their homes. I couldn’t stroll along the river bank. Instead, I picked my way through the park, mourning the lost trees.

Boat ramp November 2018.

Millions of acres of forest in the Florida Panhandle were seriously damaged by Michael. The economic loss in timber alone is estimated at over a billion dollars. This doesn’t include the loss of jobs, property, and other considerations. Some stands were owned by individuals who were counting on the sale of their timber for retirement. What will they do now?

 

My Garden Club collects loose change at every meeting which we donate to Penny Pines, a project of National Garden Clubs and other organizations. Every $68 we collect is used to replant an area of National Forest that has been destroyed by fire, disease, or other catastrophe. It looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Several miles down the road, I crossed the Apalachicola River into Bristol. Along the way I’d seen signs telling survivors where they could obtain hurricane relief. When I saw crowds in the town’s parking lots, I thought at first that was what they were doing, but as I drove along, it became apparent something else was happening. Families lined the street as though waiting for a parade. A Christmas parade?

Two thoughts crossed my mind. I was glad to get through town before the street was closed. More important, I was touched to see these folks celebrating despite all they had suffered in the past two months. The human spirit is indomitable. Maybe I should have stayed to watch the parade.

Resurrection Fern survives–a sign of hope?

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Many years ago, when my oldest son moved to Raleigh, I began making frequent trips north to visit his family. On my first sojourn, somewhere in South Carolina, I noticed an expanse of roses to my left. It must be a plant nursery, I thought.

Then he relocated to West Virginia and my daughter moved to Virginia. Although I vary my itinerary, I often travel on US 301, which takes me to Orangeburg, SC, where the roses bloom. From there I can take 601 north to Virginia, or branch off onto another highway to other destinations.

I passed by those roses few times before I realized it was not a nursery but a garden, so I stopped to check it out. To my surprise, it was open to the public, with no gates and no admission fee. I pulled into the parking lot and crossed the street to smell the roses.

But there was much more. Wandering about, I found more parkland with ponds, shady acres with azaleas, and a boardwalk through wetlands by the Edisto River.

I had discovered Edisto Memorial Gardens in Orangeburg, SC.

My research tells me that this beautiful garden was once a dump. In the 1920’s, it was converted to a park, with azaleas, and later, roses.

When traveling, I’m always on the lookout for good, safe places to stop and stretch my legs. This has become one of my favorites. I rarely travel through South Carolina without stopping to smell the roses. Last year, this is where I went to watch my first Solar Eclipse, from the Rose Garden, of course.

As you turn off 301, at the entrance is the Veterans Memorial Park, honoring local veterans from every war since the American Revolution. Then you pass a beautiful fountain, also dedicated to veterans.

Veteran’s Fountain

I usually park in the shaded parking lot up on the hill and visit the Sensory Garden first. Then I walk through the log cabin which was the original park office. A few years ago I was dismayed to see the rustic building being replaced by a new one. I later learned that the original had caught fire and burned. I’m sure the people of Orangeburg were as devastated by this loss as I was, so they rebuilt it.

Restoration of Original Park Office

From there I descend to the shaded area with banks of azaleas. I haven’t visited when they’re in bloom. Beautiful in any season, they must put on quite a show in early spring.

The Rose Garden is the largest and most impressive I’ve ever seen. The city hosts a Festival of Roses in early May. The roses are at their best in spring and early summer, but something is blooming throughout the year. I can’t resist going from bed to bed, enjoying the scents, and taking more pictures than I can ever use.

Sculpture by Zan Wells

In the Rose Garden, a bronze child hands a flower to a lady. By one of the ponds, three bronze children fish and feed the ducks.

A half mile long boardwalk follows the Edisto River through the Horne Wetlands Park. Shady and peaceful, I’ve never encountered a mosquito problem there. The river is swift and dark. I’ve read that it’s the longest blackwater river in the world. Blackwater rivers flow through forested swamps or wetlands. The water is clear, but the color of tea, stained with tannins from decaying vegetation. These rivers have a certain charm and can be quite lovely.

Edisto River

Nearby is a butterfly garden and open lawns with ponds, one of which sports a fountain. There always seem to be ducks and other bird species which change with the seasons. You’ll find turtles in the waters.

Making Memories by Zan Wells

Depending on how much time I have, I may not walk the entire park, which is about 175 acres. Near the Original Park Office, there is a small Meditation Garden and the Angel Garden, a shrine to deceased children. Beyond that is a sunny area with a fountain, the Centennial Park.

Angel Garden

Although I seldom leave the Sunshine State in winter, I visited Raleigh one December, stopping by the Gardens, of course. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the city offers an impressive display of Christmas lights, the Children’s Garden Christmas. I managed to be in Orangeburg after dark on that trip to enjoy the sight. Thousands of lights line the street through the park, with Santa and his elves, a train, a Nativity Scene, and many other things to delight children. The child in me was enchanted.

I stopped again this summer, as usual. This time, I walked by a date palm I hadn’t noticed before. What caught my eye was the ripe dates, so ripe they were falling from the tree. Apparently other people don’t know they’re edible. They’re delicious. I picked a bowlful to take with me.

Date Palm

Unfortunately, the boardwalk was closed and parts of lower areas were flooded. Mother Nature, usually kind to the Gardens, does not always spare them. Floods, frosts, and hurricanes have taken their toll in recent years. As a gardener, I also see signs of neglect. The Sensory Garden, designed for the blind, has a farm bell and water features for sound. Unfortunately, many of the scented plants have died and not been replaced. I have resisted the urge to pull weeds, as this is not my garden. Or is it? Would anyone object if I claimed temporary ownership when I stop to visit?

When Hurricane Florence threatened the Carolinas in September, I prayed that the Gardens would be protected. I watched the storm track veer a little farther north, where Florence spent most of her fury on other communities. And, I fear, on other gardens.

Then in October, Michael threw a left hook to the same battered states. He spawned three tornadoes in Orangeburg County, but they seem to have spared the Gardens. I can’t wait to get back to see for myself how well the Gardens weathered the storms.

My garden club is planning a city park on not quite so grand a scale. I’m taking lessons on the prospects and pitfalls of a public garden and Edisto has taught me much. Someday our local park may be a haven for weary travelers. I doubt we’ll have roses, at least not as many as Edisto has, but we’ll offer other pleasures to delight the senses.

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You’d be surprised what interesting bits of history you stumble across when you’re trying to avoid the interstates. On one of my trips to Arkansas, traveling on US 84 in rural southwestern Alabama, I crested a hill and encountered a picturesque group of white clapboard buildings.

Masonic Lodge 3

The largest had a historical marker in front. I’d been driving for a while and it was time to stretch my legs, so I slowed down and looked for a good place to pull over. A couple of cars were parked across the road from the building and a small group of people were checking it out—fellow tourists. I parked beside them.

Masonic Lodge 2

I had come across the little town of Purdue Hill. The two story building that caught my eye was the Masonic Lodge, the “oldest building in Monroe County.” It was built in 1824 in nearby Claiborne and moved here sixty years later. Like many buildings in small communities at the time, it served more than one purpose. It was once the Monroe County Courthouse and also used as a town hall, school, and a Baptist Church. The Masons met on the second floor until 1919. Famous people connected with the building were William Barret Travis and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Masonic Lodge sign

Purdue Hill is located at the junction of US 84 and County Road 1. It boasts of a gas station and a post office, but it seems to have always been a modest community. According to the 1880 Census, it had a population of 110. Ten years later the number had risen to 282. That was the last census recorded. It probably has fewer people now.

The Masonic Lodge is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. I walked around the building and peeked in the windows, but it wasn’t open, so I couldn’t go inside.

This website has pictures of the interior as well as additional information on the Lodge and Purdue Hill:

https://www.ruralswalabama.org/attraction/masonic-lodge-3-at-perdue-hill-al-built-1824/

William B. Travis is famous for dying at the Alamo with Davy Crockett. He was born in South Carolina in 1809 and his family moved to Alabama when he was eight. As a young man, he “read law” under a Claiborne attorney and practiced law in the courtroom of the Lodge. He was also a Mason. He taught in a local school and married one of his students in 1828.

Wm Travis Home

Next to the Lodge is a tidy little cottage in which the young couple lived. The house was originally built in Claiborne in the early 1820’s and moved to Purdue Hill in the 1980’s. In 1831, for reasons lost to history, William Travis left his wife and children and moved to Texas. There he practiced law and became involved in politics and, ultimately, the rebellion against Mexico, which cost him his life.

Travis home

You can read more about William Travis and his house at:

http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/travishome.html

Travis home sign

Lafayette was the French hero of the Revolutionary War, who convinced France to ally with the United States against England. In the 1820’s, he returned to the US on a tour of all the states. On April 6, 1825, among much fanfare, he gave a speech to the people of Claiborne at the Lodge.

Old school 4

I wandered around the grounds and looked at the other buildings. One appeared to have once been a schoolhouse with two classrooms, but I have been unable to find any information about it. Down the road is a charming little church, Purdue Hill Union Church which was built before the 1880’s. I don’t have any photos of it, but the church and the old store sit in their original locations.

Old store 6

The. W. S. Moore Store was built around 1875 as a doctor’s office, and presumably his home. In the 1920’s, it was enlarged and became a general store.

Outhouse

Behind the store is this outhouse.

Inside outhouse

After spending a pleasant time photographing the buildings and reading the information on them, I got back on the road and headed west.

Just down the hill I spied another historical sign and stopped. This was the site of the Purdue Hill Industrial School, which educated African American children from 1918 until it was closed in 1964. All that remains is an open field and the sign, which says the school grew from a one room schoolhouse with 11 students to a 12 room institution with 250. students and 10 teachers. It probably served all the black children in the area before integration.

Site of African Am school

I continued my journey and crossed the Alabama River. I must have passed through Claiborne, which is on the map, but I don’t remember seeing a town. I wondered why the Lodge and the Travis house, two historically significant buildings, had been moved to Purdue Hill. And what about Claiborne itself? After researching it, I learned that Claiborne is a ghost town.

Ghost town? My kind of place! Ft. Claiborne was established in 1816 during the Creek War. Afterward, it grew into a bustling frontier community. It was situated on the Federal Road and was served by steamboats and a ferry on the Alabama River. When General Lafayette visited and gave his speech at the courthouse, the town had 2500 inhabitants. Later it doubled in size and became the first county seat of Monroe County. The county seat was moved to Monroeville in 1832. Later, outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera began the town’s demise. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Federal troops and looted. By 1872, population dwindled to 350. When bypassed by the railroad, its fate was sealed. The historical buildings were moved to Purdue Hill to preserve them.

According to my research, all that remains of Claiborne is one antebellum home built in 1835, three historical cemeteries, and historical markers. This summer, I plan to visit Purdue Hill again and locate Claiborne. Ghost towns can be fun.

 

 

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