Thrill of a Lifetime: How Novice Kayakers Navigate the Mangrove Tunnel of Doom

Kayakers Achieve Instant Expert Status Upon Successful Exit

It was the perfect day to earn our Kayaking Certificate of Achievement. The weather at Cocoa Beach in March is ideal for kayaking and seeing wildlife. Taliah and her mother, Carmen, grandmother, Janice and I celebrated Taliah’s twelfth birthday with a manatee-dolphin party in the mangroves of the Banana River.

Banana River Kayaking

We paddled along the Banana River with our guide on a balmy 70-degree day hoping to catch a glimpse of some dolphins out fishing. Our guide first spotted a lazy manatee cruising along in the canal through a housing area hoping to find some friendly humans.

Meeting Mr. Man-T

Manatees have a terrible habit of approaching boats and befriending people even if the people come via propeller boats. Their backs bear the scars of such friendships.

Today, Mr. Man-T discovered a kindred spirit in Taliah. When she tickled the water with her fingers, he maneuvered himself in place saddling up to her kayak. Somehow he knew she would pet him. You can see his white propeller scars on his back to the right of Taliah’s hand.

If Carmen moved the boat, Mr. Man-T moved too. Finally, our guide had to tear us away from Mr. Man-T to get into the open waters to see dolphins like the ads promised.

Following the Private-Eye Birds

These birds did not read their pelican briefs and led us astray on our first quest to see dolphins. But other birds ran their operation with more precision. Soon we spotted two dolphins on a fishing expedition.

Banana River Kayaking

The result was that during our two-hour tour, we saw the most dolphins our guide had spotted in his thirty years of dolphin  tours. Once we got on the high seas, there were many more dolphins, but they were farther away and harder to photograph.

While that may be a slight exaggeration, I don’t apologize because he had his “best show in thirty-years” attitude, even if it was just an attitude.

Every time he spotted a group of birds sitting on the dock inspecting the water below his enthusiasm exploded. He would lead us through the water towards the next school of dolphins. We paddled towards them as quickly as we could gliding in gentle circles and S-curves through the water.

Entering the Mangrove Tunnel of Doom

Nearing the two-hour mark, our guide thought he could lose us in the Tunnel. Leading us in single file, we battled the barnacle-covered mangroves slathered with barnacles. In spite of a few false starts and nearly losing a paddle or two to the aggressive water trees, we emerged unscathed.

Exiting the Banana River

By the end of the second hour, my wrists hurt, but my heart was full. Our guide started speeding towards our landing spot just as the sky let loose of the future waters of Banana River.

Banana River Kayaking

Weighed down by all the water, it was all I could do to emerge ungracefully from the kayak without going for a swim in the brackish water. Carmen tried to lend me a hand. After nearly pulling her in, I decided to turn and push myself out using the boat as a solid surface. (That’s funny, by the way!)

No picture (hahaha).

By that time it did not matter how wet I got. If the river below hadn’t soaked me, the river above our heads did an excellent job.

Banana River KayakingWhat fabulous activities on one of your trips gave you the thrill of a lifetime?

Though this isn’t a walk, it is a journey. For more walks/journeys check out:

 

 

Biltmore House a 175,00 Square Foot Home

Imagine living in a house with 65 fireplaces.

One of the largest mansions in California, Hearst Castle at 70,000 square feet, is a pittance of the size of the Biltmore House in Ashville, NC.

Biltmore frontVince and I are grateful to our fun Diamond Resorts hostess, Chastity, for the opportunity to see this magnificent home which is still owned by the descendants of George Vanderbilt.

Neither of us had seen snow for a while, so getting up in Gatlinburg, TN to heavy flurries excited us until the cold wind hit.

Gatlinburg

It didn’t bother any of the stylishly dressed mannequins inside the Biltmore Estate. Scattered among the antiques which are original to the home, each room on the main floors is “hosted” by models wearing clothing from the movie, “Titanic.”

Biltmore

As part of our special Diamond Resorts Events package, we also got to go behind the scenes at the Estate. All of us on the tour opted to stay off the roof, which was the tour our hosts had planned for us. Our guide, Ruth Ann, gave us a choice and showed us behind the scenes in the guest bedrooms, storage rooms and staff quarters instead.

BiltmoreIf you are wondering, the cylindrical item on the table is a vacuum cleaner.

In the George Vanderbilt’s era, the women’s guest rooms did not have access to a sink in the bathroom. Would you like to know why?

Of course, you would.

Women didn’t turn on their own water. It was work, so female guests had attendants do it for them. Mr. Vanderbilt wanted his female guests to be pampered and have the water brought to their rooms. Male guests had sinks in their bathrooms.

The guest bathrooms did have toilets and large tubs. Some women of that era did not think it was good manners to have a toilet inside the house. Those guests received a chamber pot instead.  We saw where all they stored all the old pots. 🙂

Since the family still owns this home, all the furniture has stayed with the house, and believe it or not, there’s not enough room to display it all. So some of it is kept in the fourth-floor bedrooms. One of the rooms was also used to film  the movie “Private Eyes” starring Don Knotts and Tim Conway.

BiltmoreWe spent time at the grand staircase talking about the chandelier, which is 50 feet tall and weighs 1,700 pounds. One bolt keeps it from tumbling down on your head.  If you zoom in on this picture you can see that the bolt is not on exactly straight on center.

Biltmore

The reason for that is because the Biltmore is on a fault line. In case of an earthquake or another disaster, the chandelier is able to move around on that attachment.

BiltmoreEventually, it will scrape off all the paint up there, so if it looks like you have dandruff when you walk underneath the chandelier, it is probably just flecks of paint. By the way, all the lights are still replaced the same way they did them in 1895. Brave workers use a whatchamacallit to drop the lights in place. They don’t screw into a socket.

Biltmore

Check out the library on the main floor, with 23,000 volumes all handpicked by Mr. Vanderbilt. Private eye, Don Knotts, discovered a few of the books missing when he got to tour the home. Sure enough, the family found those missing books at auctions and repurchased them.

Biltmore

This is Marsha Ingrao reporting as accurately as my brain remembers the fascinating trivia I learned at the Biltmore Estate. I hope that you enjoyed your brief tour.

For more walks check out:

 

readilearn: Writing in the lower primary classroom – a guest post by Marsha Ingrao – Readilearn

My Blogging friend, Norah Colvin invited me to write a guest post for her two education blogs.  What a thrill. Thanks, Norah. via readilearn: Writing in the lower primary classroom – a guest post by Marsha Ingrao – Readilearn

Plan Your Travel Itinerary to Include the California Central Coast

2018 Central Coast trip
Monica and Marsha

Residents of the Central Valley of California, like our friends Monica and Jack, often travel to the Central Coast to escape the heat in the summer and the fog in the winter. January at the Central Coast is the best-kept secret in the world. It was fresh and breezy the day we arrived but calm and close in the 70s the next day.

Here are some spots you might want to check out.

Secret #1 Pacific Plaza Hotel in Oceano

2018 Central Coast tripThese individually owned properties at Pacific Plaza Hotel each have one bedroom, kitchen, living room, dining nook, and bath.  If you don’t want to cook or drive, you can walk to four restaurants within two blocks of the hotel.

2018 Central Coast trip
Manny had a great time at Pacific Plaza. He watched movies all day.

For January, the manager ran a special in which guests paid the last two digits of their birth year as rent for the night.  This resort offers reasonable rates the rest of the year as well. Bordering on Ocean Lagoon Park, which has a wheelchair-accessible fishing overhang, it is only a short walk from the beach.

Across the street friends with an RV can park at the Oceano Campground in Pismo State Beach. I have stayed there as well and loved the walk to the beach.

Secret #2 Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

In the thirty years I have visited the Central Coast, I had never seen the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.  When our friend Scott Wright posted this picture of the butterflies, I knew I had to go there.

A friend asked me why her daughter didn’t see any butterflies in the summer when she was there. It’s closed most of the year because the butterflies are either dead or elsewhere, mostly elsewhere. We learned that summer butterflies hatch, mate and die within about six weeks. Winter butterflies have a much more exciting life.

The Monarch Butterfly Grove is located half a mile south of Pismo Beach just off Hwy 1.  If you want to see Monarchs, the season opened October 28, 2017, and closes February 28, 2018. So get there soon.

Barbara, a retired PE teacher, walked around telling people to watch their steps or they would step on mating butterflies. That was her only job. One couple visiting from Oregon asked her a question. Better than a swarm of butterflies landing on your arm that opened a serendipitous opportunity for the six of us to hear one of the best lecturers not on the lecture circuit.

Barbara told us about butterfly sex and other titillating topics for over forty minutes. In this last six-minute video, you will learn about the female butterfly’s health benefits of having sex. Girls listen up.

Secret #3 Drive South on 101

Los Olivos

Los Olivos may be the cutest, cleanest town in California. They usually get lots of traffic from Los Angeles. Unfortunately, because of the heart-breaking fire and mudslides in Montecito this year, their tourism business is suffering.

2018 Central Coast trip
Monica and Jack ready to enjoy a cup of coffee.

We had the fortune to run into the Santa Ynez Chamber of Commerce President. She served as our YELP. There are twenty-three wineries along the promenade, but only two coffee shops. We weren’ ready for wine at 9:00 am.

  • Corner House Coffee shop – The coffee was decent, and the decor was great.2018 Central Coast trip
  • When we arrived at the coffee shop Stafford’s Chocolates next door was closed, but Monica noticed an open door when we finished and charged over. In the process of learning about the adorable shop, we found the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted. The excellent news is that the chocolates are made in Porterville, which is in Tulare County where we live! I’ll tell you more about this fabulous place, and it’s owner Amy Freedman later. I took a great video and some mouth-watering photos.2018 Central Coast trip
  • Oak Hill Farm Local Olive Oil Tasting. We tried basil and blood orange olive oil. They are great for salads as well as cooking.

Santa Ynez

2018 Central Coast trip

Santa Ynez is cowboyish while Los Olivos is more the Old West revival, according to my real estate husband.  There is so much to see here that we only scratched the surface – food.

  • 2018 Central Coast trip
    Matt Nichols

    Laura, from the Santa Ynez Chamber of Commerce, sent us to the Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn owned by Matt and Jeff Nichols. It was spotless and had the best food ever. I had fried calamari and a chicken sandwich.

After that huge meal, we ambled next door to a dress shop but felt too fat and happy to buy anything.

Santa Barbara

Father Junipero Sera founded the iconic Old Mission of Santa Barbara, the heart of today’s city of Santa Barbara, in 1786.  Do you know how the mission got its name?2018 Central Coast tripMore important to my husband was to visit the Porsche dealer to unearth a good deal on a used Porsche. Thankfully, the Porsche stayed parked in Santa Barbara.2018 Central Coast trip

The last tour of the Mission started at 1:00, and we arrived at 4:30. Except for the gift shop and the entry information, the Mission was closed. We enjoyed the beautiful weather and the golden hour made it the perfect time to capture some photos. You’ve probably seen pictures of this glorious mission, but seeing it in person adds a new dimension. I’ll write more about it in a future post.

Secret #4 The Five Cities Area

Winery Tours are popular just on the outskirts of Pismo Beach to the east. We stopped in to see the Old Edna Townsite. We were thrilled to see our friend Pattea Torrence, who continues to restore the old townsite to its former glory. The day we visited she was busy remodeling this perfect new home for an antique store, or maybe chocolates. mmm2018 Central Coast trip

You can find vacation rentals as well as wine tasting. The wine tasting, owned by a separate company, Sextant Wines, disappointed me but I like sweet wines.

Secret #5 Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden

We were on our way home from our short Central Coast trip, and Jack said, “I want to take you to Sculpterra Winery. We wondered why in the world he would be so insistent that we go there. Jack doesn’t usually drink wine.

But wineries on the Central Coast are more than wineries, each one vying for the most unique, most beautiful spot in paradise. I put one picture on Facebook, and the comments started rolling in. You will soon learn why.

If my pictures don’t do this winery justice, and they don’t, you’ll have to go for yourself. Inside we found more treasures, not the least of which was Darren Brown, the photographer-narrator of this YouTube Video. I’ll write more about this fabulous experience in a later post as well.

Hope you enjoyed this quick drive to the beautiful Central California Coast.  In the next few weeks, I’ll highlight some of the most enjoyable, unique spots in their own posts.

Have you been to the Central California Coast? Tell me about your experiences.

More Exciting Road or Walking Trips

 

8 BENEFITS TO BECOMING A TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER

Dennis Scott Carruthers contacted me by email asking to do a guest post on Always Write. I checked out his website, http://www.carruthersphoto.com/. Even though I’m a bit envious, I loved his work. See if you feel the same way.

travel photography

8 BENEFITS TO BECOMING A TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE AN AMATEUR

by D. Scott Carruthers

DO YOU LOVE TAKING PICTURES?

Becoming a travel photographer is one of the most exciting career paths any budding photographer can take. As commercial flights get cheaper and traveling is more emphasized as a hobby rather than a luxury, more photographers find themselves wanting to pursue their passion for images and explore unknown parts of the world.

In this post, we will be discovering the eight benefits of becoming a travel photographer. Read more at https://marshajustwrites.com/travel-photography/