Traveling with a Plan

Oct. 5, 2014. 006We have been in Paris more than a month now. This is the first blog I’ve written and it’s not about Paris. It’s about traveling to southern Germany and what we have discovered about ourselves and travel.

This may sound like a travel-log, but for us, it was following -or perhaps leading- in the footsteps of the main characters in our novel-in-progress. We know we most enjoy traveling when we have a goal for the travel. Our rally through Africa (May, 2014) was like that and so was this trip. We went with a purpose, to experience several different settings for our story.

We took the train to Munich. Arriving during October Fest, 006which for us was only an inconvenience. We rented a car and proceeded to our first stop, Wernberg, Germany near the Czech border (that’s significant to the book.)

014We picked a castle hotel, Hotel Berg Wernberg which dates from 1280. This castle had been a hotel for only 16 years and before that was privately owned. 015Imagine that. We ate our first 2-Michelin Star meal. Once we had selected our meal, we were presented with our personal menu, signed by the chef. 005Our characters, Sam and Renate, spend a weekend here and we came away with many details to add to our book.

The stop in Wernberg actually was planned for another reason. Much of the novel takes place on the U.S. Army base in 1952 in Grafenwoehr some 15 miles from Wernberg. Ed was stationed here for air observer school in 1957-58, and Sam was in 1952. We wanted to get on the base to refresh Ed’s memory (I’m sure Sam remembers it all). 019No more grass airstrip and enlarged barracks houses Germany military as well as U.S. troops.

Mr. Franz Zeilman, from the office of public affairs was our enthusiastic host. He spent much of the day showing us around the base and making sure we had the opportunity to visit the air field and all the areas we wanted to see. The only disappointment was discovering that there is no longer an 033043 Officer’s Club (which does play a role in our book) . The building is there and it is now the (water) Tower View restaurant.  We made one 056more stop in Vilseck.

Next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where Sam and Renate spend a winter weekend and rode the cog train to the top of the Zugspitze. 032We had been here before and it is unchanged. Still a beautiful Alpine village. We walked the same streets, crossing the Loisach river just 040as Sam and Renate did. It’s hard to imagine that this town looks any different now than it did in 1952.

Last stop was Berchtesgaden and the 013Obersalzberg. We really wished we had planned more time for this stop. Since our story involves people who lived here during Hitler’s conversion of the  Obersalzberg into his second seat of power, this was an important stop. It is hard to imagine this 024beautiful, peaceful area as the headquarters for the most horrific regime in modern times. Yet this is the setting his propaganda machine used to portray him as “a friend of the children, close to the people, and a good neighbor”. (by the way, he took over the land and bought out or drove out the owners of the houses for his own purpose.)

Then back to Munich and a train back to Paris. Our on-the-ground research was done. We saw picturesque villages, spectacular 051mountains and met friendly, helpful people. We learned much that will make changes and additions to our novel. And we learned our travels are more meaningful when we have a specific reason for the trip. Guess we’ll just have to continue to write in exotic settings.


Jan and Ed


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Africa Safari rally is offically over

August 11, 2014. 004Stewball is back. Complete with lots of African dust and dirt, 025but also the 004



Cuban cigars Marco gave Ed on the rally. Doesn’t look like customs touched anything. Maybe the dirt served a purpose. Today we  left Daytona Beach, Florida where we had spent a week on our sailboat, mostly sweating and sometimes writing. We  received word last Wednesday that Stewball had finally arrived at the warehouse in Port Wentworth, Georgia.

003He left Cape Town, South Africa a few days after we finished our rally through five countries in the south of Africa. Details are available on earlier blogs from May, 2014.

His journey was much longer than our was. He returned via Singapore, through the Panama canal and then up the East coast of the U.S. to arrive in Georgia. He was gone so long we were really beginning to wonder if he decided he liked the wander-life and would ever return.

He refused to start and had to be pushed out of the container. (More evidence that he didn’t want to come home?) Ed had this problem the day after the rally in Cape Town. He is convinced the automatic choke isn’t working. He did get the car running that day but even for Ed, Stewball wouldn’t start today. One more possibility. He is out of gas. Shippers require not much more than fumes in the tank when you leave the car to be containerized and Stewball was running on fumes when we drove to the warehouse in Cape Town.  That trip was several miles longer than we anticipated and I was seriously worried that we’d end up pushing him to the dock. Tomorrow we will fill the tank and try to tow start him. Should be interesting. It would be embarrassing to have our Beetle guru tell us the only problem was lack of fuel. After all, we just finished 5,000 miles of driving, you’d think we knew something about what it takes to keep a car running.

So this rally is over. It was a difficult re-entry. This was our most memorial one yet. We made some wonderful new friends 021

and reconnected with some old ones. We saw life as we had never seen and animals that we only knew from zoos.

Africa is a special place and it grows on you with all  0632.jpgexotic animals and landscapes.Vdub and trees




We were not the only ones who felt this way. Other ralliests described the void we felt as well.

We left Africa and this event with a special memory that won’t fade. Our 38th anniversary was the day the rally ended and we were presented with a limited-edition print from Botswana that everyone had signed. It now hangs in a special spot our foyer and we pass it each time we come into the house.Africa_anniversary_38

So what next? Paris is on the docket for September and we will meet up with some of our rally friends there. We have begun to look at other rallies-after saying this would be our last one.The Alpine Trial? Cape Horn? New Zealand? All possibilities if only time will stand still. We’d return to Africa for another rally in a flash. It will be repeated  in 2017. Are we crazy (as in too old) to plan that far ahead?

Don’t answer that question.

Next blogs will be from the sidewalks of Paris,

Jan and Ed

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This Time Zimbabwe

It was Day 11: 010May 12, 2014

Our first night in Zimbabwe would be in a “tented camp” at Matopos National Park  046but before that we had to cross the border at Beitbridge into Zimbabwe. We were warned this  would be a very difficult border crossing. The rally organizers had arranged for us to be met by the Zimbabwe Tourist Authorities on the Zimbabwe side and we were only to answer to them. The crossing was long and tense. No photos here, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is a big border crossing with lots of trucks jamming the parking lot, pedestrians, beggars and con-men offering help-like to watch over your car while you completed the paper work. It was hard to know which was more important, protecting whatever you had with you, which had to include passports and car papers, or to protect whatever you left in the car. All in all it meant long slow lines and constant vigilance. Much more difficult for the open cars than for us. Just one more time we were glad to have our innocuous little Beetle. We all got  through except for our Australian friends who had been left behind with their broken Jag. 025They would cross on their own at 2:00 am , two days later.

Lesson learned. Don’t drive Zimbabwe on your own and never at night. Our friends had now a rental SUV-new and white. It stood out and they were tourists traveling which meant they had money. Zimbabwe has lots of people who look like officials that are not. I’m not sure if this entered into the picture at the border, but it did later. This border crossing is sort of in the middle of nowhere and someone slashed their tire and then followed them on the two lane road leading away from the border. 044We saw mule drawn carts and overloaded buses but in general not much traffic.

Fortunately J &G are experienced travelers and as soon as they were aware of the flat tire, Greg did not stop to change it  but drove back to the police station, riding on the rim and ruining both the tire and the rim. The police said, “Oh, they didn’t shoot the tire, just slashed it?”

Later on the road, they approached one of the many traffic police checks. We all had this experience, but this was not a real police check and when Greg realized it, he ran the check and sped away. Not a good way to be introduced to a new country.

Zimbabwe is not South Africa. The police checks are everywhere and I did not talk to one racer who was not stopped least once. This included us. These stops are set up in the road, usually with barrels that you have to zig-zag through, stopping if they flag you over. We saw the check in the road ahead of us and made two mistakes. We were on our own at this point, none of our cars in sight. We were ready to change drivers. There was a good place to pull over just before the check point. This was our first mistake. Stopping before the check elicited undo attention from the police. As we changed places, I wanted to photograph images along the road. second mistake, don’t take photos in sight of the police 077even of houses or animals.

As we pulled back onto the road and into the check, one of the officers pulled me over and demanded our (international) driver’s licenses. Then another asked me to step out of the car. He wanted to see my camera (by the way, we were told not to declare a camera at the border-just more paper work.) He asked what I was photographing and then told me I didn’t have permission. He said I would have to go to court. I said, okay, give me a court date. This didn’t satisfy him. I think this was the point that I was suppsed to ask what “fine” can I pay (on the spot) to avoid going to court, but I didn’t ask. Finally he took my camera and walked away. I followed him and we finally agreed, after much discussion that I would delete the photos. This had taken up so much time that by now several of our rally cars were at the check point and I think when he realized we were part of a group, he was glad to send me on  my way. An interesting point is that most of these traffic police do not have radios or cars so I really don’t know what they can do if you refuse and simply drive on. I didn’t try it, but others said they did.  In the end, it didn’t cost us anything but time. Most ralliest paid between $20 and $40 US (depending on how many officers it needed to be divided among) and didn’t receive a receipt. Go figure.

049We ended the day at our “luxury tent” site. I think this was a bit of British humor, but get this. We had dinner under a candle-lit tent with white linen table cloths, silver cutlery, china and a good selection of wine which was appreciated since we had such a long, slow day that we had  skipped lunch.062We even had a turn-down service that included very fine chocolates on our pillows and one more surprise. Ed climbed into bed first to discover something warm and fussy at the foot. His first thought was what had climbed in while we were at dinner? He knew it wasn’t me. Our hosts had placed hot water bottles at our feet. This almost made up for getting up in the middle of a very cold night and making my way -by unzipping our tent-to our “en suite” 051toilet. It did have tenting around it, but the roof was stars. I didn’t want to even think what might be sharing my space.

P.S. Neither of us used the shower in the morning. 050Our next stop would be the Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904, in Edwardian style, with its old world charm. That seemed well worth driving without a cold shower.

Janet, Ed and Stewball

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Trouble in Beetle Land

May 31: 002On an earlier post (Driving at Night in Zululand) I had bragged that Stewball was doing fine. Our only problems had been a tire puncture and a hood latch to tighten. Well, that all came to an end.

Day 9: Fuel pump failure. 005We left our most wonderful stop at Sabi Sands just north of the Kruger National Park. We had a day off there and on the safari drives saw and photographed more African animals up close in their own environment than we ever imagined. 049(That’s a blog of its own.) Now about half way through the day, just after fueling, we pulled out into the road and the car stopped. We coasted to the side of the road and Ed began to explore the cause. Shortly Greg and Liz from Australia, in their 1980 Holden, stopped to help.  Coming to the aid of anyone in distress, is part of rallying. We all do it and we had our chance to help others along the way. Diagnosis: failed fuel pump. No problem,  we were carrying a spare. In less than 1/2 hour later, having made new friends, we were back on the road. Sometimes you do have the right spare part.

Day 12: Gear shift linkage failure: 049We had spent the night before in a tent in the Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe. Not an experience we want to repeat but definitely worth writing about. We were now headed to Victoria Falls and a day off. 016Jan was driving. Driving in Zimbabwe is tense (more on that later). It was late in the day and she first thought she was just tired and anxious but she was having problems changing gears. She kept saying, “What am I doing wrong? I can’t find the gear and I’m  not doing anything different from what I always do.” Finally she asked me to drive. It was immediately obvious that the gear shift lever had developed so much free-play that I could barely drive. If this was an internal transmission problem this might put us out of the rally all together. By the time we hit the city, I had no reverse and finding the low gears was a repeated challenge, just as I had to deal with stop signs and turns. We have great backup by the rally mechanics. Andy came the rescue. He is one of the best and ingenious mechanics I have ever known. All the drivers depend on him. I think he can make anything out of nearly nothing for these old cars. Fortunately for us, the problem was external, it was the gear shift linkage and Andy fabricated a bushing from a br003onze sleeve and plastic. We were good to go when the rally started up on the 14th day.

Day 14: Total failure of service brakes. We crossed the border into Botswana. No problem  there, then the brakes seemed soft. First I added brake fluid. Yes, I carried some. But then they failed completely. I drove the rest of the day using the hand-brake. Fortunately, the V-Dub has great hand-brakes that work off the back drive wheels. It’s a bit tricky, but safe if you’re careful. Fortunately this day was  on mostly flat roads. Turned out the brake failure was my fault. On the return from Alaska, the trucker placed the tie-down over the brake line. When I repaired it, I routed the hydraulic tube too close to the shock absorber and it had rubbed through causing all the brake fluid to run out. 024

Andy to the rescue again. He fabricated a part, replaced the tube and we were good to go. From this point on, we had no further problems. Unlike some of the other cars. Four cars were unable to finish the rally and one had dropped out for most of two days getting the front axle welded.

Day 26: Driving to the warehouse. Stewball was difficult to start and running rough. I think it may be the automatic choke. He needs a good rest, lots of TLC and a complete going over by our VW service expert. He deserves it. This rally alone has covered over 5,000  miles and the gravel and dirt roads throughout Namibia have taken their toll 003

and I admit, I did the very minimum of maintenance. I only changed the oil-bath air cleaner once. 

025The engine is VERY dirty and is the inside and out of the car. 032He can rest on his ocean voyage and when we pick him up from the port in Savannah, we will drive directly to Bob Hicks, VW service in Durham.

Ed, Jan and Stewball

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Bond of Brothers- and Sisters

May 29, 2014: 024We’re back in North Carolina and I feel empty inside. For me, it started three days before we flew home from Cape Town, parting from this group of men and women  that we shared so much hardship and beauty with. 026

Among the participants, there was a very competitive group who wanted to win, but there was not one person who would not stop beside the long rough road to help a car in distress. And there was distress. By the end, five cars had dropped out for more  than a day and four were unable to finish. There were tire and wheel problems, 027

a broken front axle, 071engine failures, running out of fuel and more. Some of the bonds that were created will never be broken. Bonds that only come from shared hardships. People from all over the world.

We have been home less than 24 hours and already the e-mails have begun describing emptiness and depression. This morning for the first time there was no alarm clock, no start time. I kept looking at my watch but there was no reason, no concern with fuel supplies, tire condition, oil level. Empty, empty, empty.

Many of these people rally together often. But I may not. Eighty is approaching and already Jan is picking up more of the slack, especially at the end of long days. One participant, a year younger than me said it was his last one. I have not quite said that. Not quite.

021We will not see some of these people again. But some we will. We will be in Paris for September and October, and we are planning contacts. My eyes are wet.


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Driving at Night in Zulu Land

May 12:001 Don’t watch the movie Zulu if you might be driving alone at night in Swaziland. We were warned and we didn’t intend for it to happen. It is to be a long day, 342 miles. Our rally organizers warned us to get to the hotel in Mbabane, the capitol of Swaziland before dark because ‘lighting is very bad in Swaziland.” Meaning what?

Fate conspired against us from the beginning. The rally cars were lined up at the first fuel stop. We were the third car in and the last car out. I am polite. Then our hood latch wouldn’t latch and, not wanting it to blow open and over the top of our car, I had to tie it down. More delay.

023We had started the day in South Africa and it was election day, which increased the number of  children, adults, cows and sheep to be in the middle of the road. The border crossing into Swaziland went as expected. Lines on both sides of the border, but no real problems, just delays.

Some relevant stats on my driving at night here: My eyes are 79 years old, my car 48, horsepower 50, mountains up to 6000 feet and the car loaded heavily with repair parts and luggage.

002So, now we are in Swaziland, slowly climbing mountains in the setting sun. Thinking we were the last car, we see friends Jenny and Greg from Australia beside the road in their broken Jag. (which they found on the internet and purchased in South Africa for the rally, pretty gutsy!) They wave us past meaning they can fix their problem. Now it is dark. Very dark. The Jag pulls in behind us. They do not pass so I think they are trying to help the old folks out. We stop at a fuel station and they pull in behind us. Jenny runs over, rally book in hand. “Where the hell are we?” she asks. Their rally computer has quit and the rally instructions totally depend on it. So they follow us. The blind leading the halt.

They finally get their smart phone to substitute for their computer and kindly take the lead. We are entering the large capital city and I am totally worn out and the headlights of the oncoming cars are blinding me and make it difficult to see the pedestrians in the road025.

The Jag and the VW make it in very late. Dinner has been postponed since so many cars were late. We don’t wait to eat but order room service and go straight to bed.

For me, this was the most exhausting day and I am very glad to have help from our good friends. This is what rallying is about, just like sailing. Stewball continues to be more reliable than I am. But it’s not fast climbing mountains. All of the rally cars are taking a beating from the rough roads and high speeds.  022

There are many repairs to be done at night. Our VW is earning the reputation for reliability. One tire puncture, one hood latch to tighten. For an engine that has been around the world, crossed the US four times and driven from NY to the Arctic Circle, I don’t think I could ask for better.

Keep your fingers crossed, I shouldn’t brag quite yet.


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Catching up

Day 10:043 May 11: Mother’s Day in the U.S. and here I am in South Africa very far away from my kids and grandkids. In fact we are at the Mapungubwe Game Reserve. On the drive in, I photographed a zebra and a giraffe. But this paled compared to the photos I took on the Safari drives in Sabi Sands 049Game Reserve. It is hard to describe the experience of seeing lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and leopards, just to name a few, in their own environment, just living out their lives. I will never forget it. Then there are the birds, too many unusual ones to name here and I admit I’m not a bird person. My primary interest is the big animals and we have seen many.019

We have seen so much of Africa and so far that only includes South Africa and one day in Swaziland. I will continue to post, but internet and time have been the problems. We have stayed at places that have either poor connections or none at all, like tonight. I will copy and post this as soon as possible but that might be in Victoria Falls since tomorrow night we spend in “luxury tents” in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe and that doesn’t sound like an internet destination.

The geography here is as varied as the people. We have driven through lush farmland, nearly desert like plains, mountains and towns, both large and small. One thing seems clear, there are still a lot of poor people in South Africa and it appears to be along racial lines. Still much to be done in this regard.

006We thought the main problem for us driving these countries would be getting used to driving on the left side of the road. Actually we acclimated to that quite easily. The real problem turns out to be the number of people who walk the roads. There are buses of sorts in some areas, but mostly there is an informal pick-up service in which cars and pick-up trucks stop and people just climb on. These are black Africans. We have not seen any white Africans walking in the roads. Women carry almost anything on their heads, including tubs of laundry, firewood and suitcases. The most interesting one was a woman carrying a hatchet on her head. Many have children strapped on their backs. 052

To note, I have never seen a man doing this work. We spend a lot of time dodging pedestrians, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys on the main roads and in towns. Then there are the more exotic animals. 052Today we were stopped by a group of baboons. Twice monkeys scampered across the road in front of our car. In Kruger Park, with it’s magnificent Mopane trees, 006 we had to stop for elephants. It is driving that keeps you alert. Our greatest concern are the children. They are curious about our old cars and run directly into the road to wave and simply follow the cars. It is scary.

The roads and distance has taken their tolls on the cars. Shocks, hoses, clutches have been problem for various cars. One of the old Porsches ran into a ditch rounding a corner too fast. Only minor damage done. Just yesterday Ed with the help of a fellow ralliest, had to put in a new fuel pump on the side of the road. The jag has some major oil pressure problem and did not make it in last night. We have been told they have to pull the engine to fix the problem. We all hope they catch up by tonight since tomorrow we cross the border to Zimbabwe and know this is a difficult border crossing. This rally has never gone into Zimbabwe so that is a new experience for all.

These are just my thoughts tonight. More later,

Jan, Ed and Stewball

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