Stories by Day
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Robert W. Bone is a writer, author, editor and photographer. Since 1957, he has lived in a half dozen different countries and traveled to nearly 100. (All content is copyrighted.)
Text and photos by Robert W. Bone
PELELIU, Palau — We fought our way up a difficult jungle rise, grabbing at wet tropical foliage that seemed to grab back at us, slapping at bare legs and faces as we tried to move forward.
The day was unusually dark. It had been raining off and on, and now it was on again. But Tangie Hesus, our diminutive and indefatigable Palauan guide, urged our little group onward, explaining there would be shelter ahead.
Our uphill struggle was nothing compared to the travails of Americans and Japanese more than a half-century earlier. We were exploring the South Pacific island of Peleliu, the scene of one of the bloodiest and perhaps most useless battles of World War II.
The tiny island of Peleliu is today one of the states of Palau, a recently independent nation of islands in the Caroline group. Palau is largely unknown to Americans today, except for avid scuba divers. For them, it offers perhaps the clearest and cleanest waters and the richest collection of colorful ocean fish in the world.
But the atmosphere at Peleliu, a 20-minute light plane ride from Palau’s capital of Koror, is different. Here, thousands died violently or miserably between Sept. 15 and Nov. 25, 1944. Estimates put the toll at nearly 2,000 American soldiers and Marines plus 11,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders.
As we grappled our own way up the hill, I thought about the stories I had read: Allied commanders, flushed with recent victories, thought Peleliu would be a two-day cakewalk. They also thought the island would be flat.
Advance intelligence had failed to discover that it was full of rugged hills and ridges into which the Japanese had bored an elaborate system of virtually impenetrable caves and tunnels. At this stage in the war, they were no longer trying to beat back Allied forces on the beaches. Instead, they now relied on heavy firepower from camouflaged and well-protected interior positions.
Moreover, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had just met and decided that the assault on the Philippines was to begin immediately, and further island conquests en route were unnecessary. But the wheels of fate were already in motion. The Peleliu operation was not turned back.
Thunder was echoing off the hills. The rain came down harder, and I remembered reading that GIs had come across similar weather a few days into the invasion. Then I moved over a last muddy rise and suddenly found myself staring into the mouth of one of the meanest, greenest, heavy gun barrels I had ever seen, its rifling still apparent after more than 50 years. Except for the moss on its metal surface, it looked ready to fire.
With the accompanying thunder, lightning, and the torrential downpour, the sight was one of the most startling experiences I had had since we began exploring the island. Sure enough, we found shelter behind the gun, which was mounted at the mouth of one of the thousands of caves still present on the island.
We explored a few tunnels, and after the rain let up, we made our way past the old cannon and down the hill to return to Tangie’s van. He took us to other remnants of war — ruins of burned-out block houses, wrecks of tanks and planes, the painfully sharp coral-strewn invasion beaches, and to various lonely shrines erected by Americans and Japanese in the years following the war.
Finally we went to a one-room museum where Tangie had gathered a collection of war’s detritus — hand grenades, bayonets, Coke and sake bottles, and some poignant reminders of the personal nature of war.
There was an optimistic letter from an American private on Peleliu to his sister, telling her he was in fine health and “not to worry about me,” four days before he was killed. And there was a Japanese flag with hand-scrawled characters on it. Tangie translated them for us: “We’re just a bunch of boys who know we’re going to die, and we miss our mothers.”
As we returned to the airstrip, Tangie apologized because the bad weather had kept us from some of the more elaborate caves and tunnels. These included one that had housed more than 1,000 Japanese, until they were finally killed by a new and more powerful flame thrower that had just entered into the war.
We were glad we came, and the rain certainly suited the mood of the place. But we were also glad to leave Peleliu and fly back to Koror and the cheerful and sunny Palau of today.
SAN FRANCISCO – Three accomplished and well-recognized travel writers recently were tossing around an idea: How good travel writing might employ a new medium here in the Bay Area – personal readings before a live audience. In the words of Lavinia Spalding, “Weekday Wanderlust is the result of many champagne-fueled lunches shared by Kimberley Lovato, Don George and me.”
All three are prize-winning travel authors and editors, and all three came to the conclusion that well-crafted words about travel that normally appear silently in print or on the web, are simply not enough. They should be spoken aloud, preferably by their authors, in person, and before an appreciative segment of San Franciscans. If they built it, perhaps an audience would come.
I saw this opinion validated in spades on a Monday in September, 2012. With little advance notice, an enthusiastic audience of about 75 showed up in the Salon room of the venerable Rex Hotel, a Sutter Street institution long favored by the literati. The Salon room is decorated by charcoal caricatures of several famous authors. Light refreshments and a cash bar also helped during a get-acquainted period before the program.
Ambitiously enough, it was announced that the Weekday Wanderlust will henceforth be held on a weekday evening every month, probably at the Rex. Organizer Lovato said the project would now be “a reading series that included not only the great writers in our region, but new budding writers who are looking for a safe and supportive environment.”
The first evening’s readers, however, were a quartet of well-known editors, and all four strived to set a high editorial standard with their firm command of experiential travel writing. They were Julia Cosgrove, editor of AFAR, the SF-headquartered national travel magazine, Spud Hilton, travel editor of the SF Chronicle, Don George, Global Travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications, and Larry Habegger, Executive Editor of Travelers’ Tales Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of Triporati, an on-line travel planning company.
Writers, readers, and listeners can keep track of this inspiring new project through its Facebook page, “Weekday Wanderlust” and Twitter handle @sfwanderlusters. Let’s hope this feature will continue indefinitely.
As a travel writer and a veteran of dozens of ocean cruises, I usually don’t get overly excited about another one. But this cruise was different.
The Aegean Odyssey, the only ship operated by a three-year-old company called Voyages to Antiquity, is a relatively small vessel, and that’s part of its charm. It carries a maximum of about 340 guests, in contrast to the industry trend which keeps launching massive ships carrying thousands.
The ship began life as a ferry back in the 70s. It has been successfully converted to a modern though modest cruise ship catering especially to us history nuts who find ourselves living in the 21st century, whether we like it or not.
(Read the rest of the story on the All Things Cruise website by clicking here.)
Or read the complete day-to-day blog, in correct chronological order, by clicking here.
Never mind. Judging by the smiling and earnest expressions of both nationalities at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel this week, the Canadian Tourism Commission again did itself proud with this year’s Canada Media Marketplace.
It was my first time at this lavish annual affair wherein dozens of representatives of travel enterprises north of the border lay it on thick to present their vacation attractions to American writers, editors, photographers, and both working and wannabe working travel journalists.
In theory, any number of these might be persuaded to explore the attractions of Canada’s ten provinces and thee territories over the next 12 months and then present their findings in attractive photos and inviting prose luring potential travelers from the 50 states across the 49th parallel.
This year there were desperate overtones in hosts and guests which reflect both (a) today’s difficult economic situation in general, and (b) the shrinking number of outlets for the efforts of both promoters and those whose attentions they seek. Among the invited guests, the majority were more dedicated to convincing the presenters and themselves that they could somehow find an outlet for their documented experiences in print, on the air, or on the web. In many cases this means a plea for an outright subsidy – or an exotic media trip to Canada – A?
(April 3, 2012.)
I went to the show on Sunday (2/19), and here are four of the famous or interesting personalities I saw there.
Photographer Ralph Velasco, left, who lectured on travel photography (the overhead lighting was certainly no help to his images), then Ranger Dana Dierkes, from Sequoia National Park, who explained what a “scat tray” is to fascinated youngsters, next, author Rick Steves, who was trying to remember something, apparently, and prize-winning photographer Bob Holmes, peering through his bifocals while shooting the show with his smart phone camera.
If you don’t know what a scat tray is, you can click the second image to enlarge it. That might help.
Far left: Odysseus’ dilemma crossing the Strait of Messina. Left: Cruisers on the Nieuw Amsterdam in the strait take it all in stride.
Friends know that Sara and I often travel on and write about cruise ships, and occasionally we’re asked if we are at all nervous while doing this job.
For three days on the Queen Elizabeth 2 in the fall of 1986, we probably should have been concerned. Instead, we rolled with the punches as that mighty vessel fought through a gale and heavy seas with a broken stabilizer. That’s another story — and probably a good one for a later edition of BoneVoyage.us (this blog).
Last year, I might have been a little apprehensive as my ship, the 86,000-ton Nieuw Amsterdam aproached the Strait of Messina. That’s the narrow strip of water between the toe of Italy’s boot and the large Mafia-legendary island of Sicily.
That narrow gap was where Odysseus, that ancient mariner of the Mediterranean, was forced to navigate carefully between Scylla and Charybdis. If you remember your Odyssey, Scylla was a six-headed creature who occupied a cliff on one side of the two-mile-wide channel and Charybdis was a monstrous whirlpool stirring up trouble along the opposite bank.
According to Homer, Odysseus’ ship managed to skirt Charybdis and then scoot through the channel intact. Never mind that he lost a half-dozen members of his crew in the process — one sailor each to feed the six mouths of Scylla.
Our own passage through the strait was smooth and uneventful. No monster appeared, and although there is indeed a large whirlpool still indicated on modern sea charts, the stately flagship of the Holland-America Line was up to the task.
All of our 2000 passengers and 1000 crew members, and the beautiful, black-hulled ship itself, survived intact.
From 1971 until 2008 my family and I made our home in Hawaii. While living in Honolulu, I visited and revisited all the islands of the state many times, and turned out hundreds of travel articles for newspapers and magazines, many of them on Hawaiian subjects.
I also wrote four travel books including the award-winning Maverick Guide to Hawaii. The book was first published in 1977 and then revised annually for 25 years.The last edition was in 2002, after which it finally succumbed to the juggernaut of the internet.
This month I’m making a return visit to Honolulu in an effort to keep up on tourism-related changes, research a couple of brand new stories, and to visit many good friends.
The gradually expanding links here on this post will reprise a former column on the Islands. It will consist of several short articles about the Aloha State.
Monday, Dec. 5 – I am enjoying life aboard the Carnival cruise ship Liberty, which docked this morning for a few hours at the popular Mexican island of Cozumel.
Cruise ships are sometimes criticized for fostering the impression among their guests that they are still in the U.S., and not in some foreign land where the language, food, money, laws, and customs are different than at home. Here on the Liberty, most of us feel as “free” we do at home.
Waiting in the breakfast line on the Lido deck, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was traveling with her father: “My husband is at home,” she said. “He works for the Federal government, so he can’t be here.
“He’s forbidden to set foot in Mexico,” she said.
It was a surprise to me, and now I wonder how many Americans are not free to visit certain countries – even countries with which we have diplomatic relations.
Even on a ship named Liberty
On the eve of the November debut of the film, the “Rum Diary,” the TV3 network in New Zealand asked me to talk about my early friendship with Hunter Thompson. Then they ended up switching the mood entirely, using brief portions of the 15-minute interview to lead into coverage of the opening events of the annual meeting of The Society of American Travel Writers, held in Wellington. (I’ve been a member of that prestigious organization since the 1970′s.)
Later, NZ3 included both the short and the long version of the interview on its website. These may or may not be available indefinitely, of course. In any case, I have permanently preserved the air check video made by my brother-in law, Eric Cameron, in Rotorua. It can be seen by clicking here. (Give it a few seconds to load.)
I suggest not selecting the longer, perhaps more boring version of the interview, which is the second of two choices on the page, at least it is as long as this URL remains valid:
SAN FRANCISCO –Myself and about 49 other fortunate souls had a delicious time on a cool Friday night in November, 2011, learning to eat Hawaiian style here in Fog City.
It was called the “Taste Hawai’i Tour,” mainly featuring the creative talents of Alan Wong. In case you missed it Wong is perhaps the most famous of the high-profile celebrity chefs who have been performing culinary miracles for the cognoscenti in the Aloha State over the past few years.
This was the first of six similar events in San Francisco celebrating Hawaiian food and farms as well as inovative Hawaiian gourmet cooking. It also featured a brief explanation by Arnold Hiura, a Hawaiian food historian, plus some members of the Hawaiian farming community who believe that diversified agriculture and sophisticated tastes have grown far beyond former island staples such as pineapple, sticky rice, and Spam. According to some, Hawaii with its long subtropical growing season is destined to become known for specialized food production tomorrow as it is for sea-sand-and-surf today.
Not that the traditional pineapple is to be sneezed at. As a matter of fact, Continue reading ‘The Wong way is the right way for Hawaiian food’