Mary Clark, Traveler

On Jordan’s Roads and Highways

Bedoin Tents

Jordan is a small country carved out of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference after World War I.  The current King Abdullah, of the Hashemite family,  is a descendent of King Abdullah who first ruled the new country.  It is still proud of its Bedouin heritage – those tribes that roamed the deserts and fought fiercely.  While most of its people live in Amman and other cities, Jordan’s countryside reveals a bygone time as well as the country’s emerging economy.

We crossed from Israel at the Allenby/King Hussein bridge, a tedious procedure through seven checkpoints that cost two hours going and three hours back. When we finally got on the road to Petra, our driver, Moreed, maneuvered the back roads along the Jordan river. Tents of modern day Bedouins still dotted the landscape but were now also made of canvas, thatched grass, cardboard, plastic sheets and newspaper as well as the traditional woven goat’s hair.  Rock cairns marked a shepherd’s grazing field.    In May, the tribes load their pick-ups and move to the cooler high altitudes in the near-by mountains.  Camels are still raised for meat, not travel.  Our driver insisted their meat had medicinal value as Bedouins didn’t have cancer! When we stopped to photograph the sheep and goats, a shepherd in modern day pants and jacket asked if he could brew us some tea from the makings in his pack.  We reluctantly declined.

Also in the lower elevation were irrigated  fields of vegetables and fruits.  At the end of a row, the neighboring dry desert land lay fallow.  Further down the highway were orchards of medicinal herbs and aromatic plants that provide two per cent of  Jordan’s exports.  The Hawthorne tree is one example whose products are reported to reduce blood pressure and treat heart ailments.

Dead Sea on Jordan side

Soon, the Dead Sea approached with its deep blue-green colors and white salt crystal beaches.  Jordan has a major development of high-end hotels along these waters. Marriott, Crowne Plaza, and even the Holiday Inn are just some of the chains that have built large facilities with beaches, pools, spas, and restaurants.  The Dead Sea water is buoyant enough to sit up and even read a newspaper.  ts minerals make the water silky and the temperature is perfect for a refreshing float. Jordan is far ahead of Israel in promoting the Dead Sea as a resort destination. At the end of the Dead Sea,  factories mine potash and salt from the water – all for export.

One of many pictures of
King Abdulla

Turning east, we began the climb through a moonscape of dry mountains with our lone road providing the only color contrast.  At the top of the ridge, an outpost straight out of Star Wars sported a photo of King Abdullah, rug covered benches, and the head of a gazelle. A  turbaned Arab in his jallabiya robe, offered drinks as he lounged on his black leather couch under the thatched porch.  Only the TV dish and refrigerator betrayed the scene as current.

Crusade Castle at Kerak

We soon turned onto The King’s Highway, one of Jordan’s two north-south corridors.  The road dates back to Biblical times when Moses lead his people to first see the promised land at Mt. Nebo.  If accompanied on this highway by a Bible, Koran,  history book, and a good archeologist, one could check off Biblical sites, Roman fortresses, the massive Crusader castle at Kerak, fine Christian mosaics, a 1918  battle site for Arab Independence at Al Tafilah, early Islamic towns, a Shia holy shrine and the Nabataean capital of Petra.  Add in the geological wonder of the Wadi Mujib, Jordan’s Grand Canyon, and your Jordan bucket list just got smaller.

Water pipes being installed

Coming off the central mountain ridge, we joined the Desert Highway, the primary four-lane, commercial freeway from Amman to Aqaba at the Red Sea.  Immediately, we were surrounded by trucks moving freight to and from the port.  Signs for Iraq and Saudi Arabia reminded us of their proximity.    Despite the barren land, efforts were being made to beautify the road with patches of newly planted bushes, watered by small, elevated tanks.  Alongside the road was an incongruent scene of large pipes being buried to transfer sweet, subterranean water from the desert to Amman.

We passed several security checks for drivers’ licenses, an opportunity for the policemen to rib our driver about being with three women.   Bedecked Bedouin drivers passed us in their pickups talking on their cell phones, a notable change from camels of the past.    Yet we were still advised to watch for the “ships of the desert” on the road.  And signs of the past included a decaying Turkish fort and an army base made sparse by the abolition of the draft in 1978.

During our four short days on the road, Jordan’s past and present were on display. From the busy Red Sea port of Aqaba through the historical Wadi Rum desert of Lawrence of Arabia fame, to the pink carved sandstone of Petra, the small country is capitalizing on its beauty, history, and geography.  Its economy benefits from the trucks and the tour buses – an alliance that serves this petroleum absent country well and tourists most.

United Travel Agency (UTA)  is a good, long serving company for your travel needs.  United Travel Agency Jordan  Ask for Moreed as your driver.


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Israel – Tourists Welcome as Life Goes On

“Israel and Jordan” I would reply to inquiries of my next trip.  What followed were wide eyes, momentary silence, and the following “Aren’t you afraid?”.  The last question is a product of our instant, sensational news programming.  Statistically, I was in no more danger traveling to Israel than a quick trip to Dallas.  Other than references to Foreign Terrorists Organizations and sudden Israeli crack-downs in the West Bank, the U.S. State Department could only warn travelers to Israel about car break-ins and an occasional purse snatching. And, despite the Middle East turmoil, the State Department warnings haven’t changed since last year. Yet,  many visitors still hesitate to come.

One obvious difference between a trip to Dallas and one to Tel Aviv is the lack of an underlying, simmering tension among Israel, the Palestinians, and neighboring states.  Stories that appear in international papers are frightening.  Just two weeks before we were scheduled to depart, an Israeli family in a West Bank settlement was murdered at night in their home. For the first time in four years, a bomb went off at the bus station in Jerusalem and one person killed.  And rocket missiles were once again being fired from Gaza into southern Israel.

I wrote our contacts in Israel, asking if we should be concerned.  Our landlady’s response – “Not at all”, our friend’s answer – “Not enough to cancel”, and our guide’s thoughtful reply “Of course this attack brings back fears but we Israelis try not let  atrocities like this change our lives…  so life pretty much carries on as normal.  Due to the attack, people are being more vigilant and careful and there is heightened security around and one hopes and prays that it is an isolated incident. At this stage, I don’t think you need to change your plans. ”

We didn’t change our plans and arrived at the Ben Gurion airport on a beautiful day in April.    In the next two weeks, we saw much of Israel and in particular, Jerusalem, but few crowds of tourists.  Never did we feel in danger.   If we hadn’t occasionally read the the Jerusalem Post, we would not have been aware that a Gazan missile had killed a child in a school bus.  Nor would we have known that Israel had inaugurated the use of a portable anti-missile machine used to knock down the missiles from Gaza before they landed.  Life simply went on in Israel.  We even had some Israelis confess they didn’t listen to the news at all because it wouldn’t change how they lived their lives and only made them anxious.

Israel is careful.  The country was on high alert for the Easter and Passover holidays.  Threats had been made of planned  kidnaping.  Security was particularly high in Jerusalem.  This meant a pumped-up armed army presence at holy sites, entrances, and bus stations.  Yet the soldiers still posed for pictures with the tourists. I watched one army unit casually eat at a snack bar near a major archeological site.  And on a Saturday night of R&R, a group of uniformed women enlistees walked down the street singing and carrying their fashionable purses.

This determination to continue normal life was most evident one late afternoon.  We had visited the old city of Acre, filled with Crusader churches, views of the Mediterranean  and a living Arab presence.  Fifteen minutes away was the Lebanese  border where a tourist attraction beckoned.   A cable car carried visitors down to the sea to view the beautiful grottos formed at the base of the cliff.  Upon arrival, we spotted Israeli soldiers atop the cliff keeping watch over Israel and Lebanon.  The road literally ended at the cable car parking lot.  Below were farms, homes, and the grotto. We visited with an Israeli family who lived down the road and was just out for the evening. Yet, I had read recently that Hezbollah was accumulating rockets just inside Lebanon to use against Israel, literally a stones throw away.  This fact made little difference on that Saturday outing.  Life went on and so did we.

The turmoil in the Middle East does worry Israelis and hurts business.  Some see it as a good time to solve the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians who are also affected by the drop-off in tourism.  When we visited the Palestinian West Bank city of Bethlehem, we had to take a taxi on the Jerusalem side to the security wall that now separates the two cities.  After clearing security,  a Palestinian taxi driver drove us to the Church of the Nativity.  On a Palm Sunday, when thousands of pilgrims should be gathered outside the church, we walked in the door without waiting.  The slowdown in tourism in the Palestinian areas is attributable to the concern about the Middle East and a hesitancy by visitors to cross the security wall.  Yet the Palestinian police are trained by us!  We were treated well, never felt in danger and wished we could have stayed longer.

Humans have a hard time ignoring sensational news.  One death from a missile in southern Israel is far more intimidating than many deaths from drug related fights in south Los Angeles. Our emotions want to ignore the numbers that prove Israel and the West Bank are as safe as the United States to visit.  Could the Middle East erupt in a war while you visit?  Of course, but what are the chances, really?  The wonderful travel writer, Paul Thereoux, recently wrote a piece in the New York Times called “Why We Travel” .  He has found that in almost every case, the “know-it-all, stay-at-home finger wagger’s” advice  not go to a distant place has been bad advice.  I returned from Israel with a greater understanding of my Christian heritage, the Jewish/Palestinian conflict,  the geography of the Holy Land, and a love of pomegranates.  And, I found one thing  Israelis and Palestinians can agree on- they want the tourists to visit.

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Quebec’s Economuseums – Enlightened Contributions to Cultural Tourism Will Entertain the Family

“We protect the know-how”, our guide explained.  This summed up the goal of Quebec’s  Economuseum system. Begun in 1992, this network safeguards knowledge of ancient trades such as blacksmith forging, bread baking, cheese making, and apple cider production. Today,  51 handicraft and agri-food trade businesses promote the crafts by opening up their work-in-progress to public view and selling the finished  products. Families can easily combine vacation and education by exploring these examples of life in the past.

Most are in Quebec province.  To be a member, the artisan must use traditional methods but be open to new and creative uses of the craft.   Those who qualify proudly display the “Economusee” designation on their signs – in French, of course.

The economuseums vary greatly in size and offerings. Many charge for an informative tour and demonstration.   On the lovely Ile d’Orleans, near Quebec City, La Forge a Pique-Assaut is a blacksmith shop open for touring and viewing.  Using the same techniques that originally produced tools, horseshoes, and machines, Guy Bell and his assistant now create an array of beautiful wrought iron work for the home – furnishings, stair railings, and decorative pieces.

On the opposite side of the island, a wonderful Creme de Cassis is produced by the Monna family using local black currants.  The liqueur is mixed with white wine or champagne for the traditional French Kir apertif.  Recipes are provided to allow experimentation, including a Cassis Margarita – a new and creative use of an old craft.

Down the road in Charlevoix,  artistic heart of Quebec Province, papermakers at Papeterie Saint-Gilles stay busy dipping, pressing, separating, and drying sheets of cotton paper for elegant stationery.  Across the St. Lawrence River, at Les Moulins de L’isle Aux-Coudres, wheat is ground by a watermill fed by an old-fashioned mill pond.  We learned the success of this operation depended on a perfectly set and scraped 2,000 pound grindstone as well as the right direction and amount of wind.  If all is lined up properly, 450 pounds of flour can be ground in one hour.  Children will enjoy exploring the grounds of the mill.    Flour and breads are available for purchase.

The largest Economusee we visited was the Laterie Charlevoix where dairy products have been produced since 1948 by the Labbe family.  Traditional and experimental cheeses are now the emphasis.  All stages of cheesemaking are on view with a tour as well as a sampling of the products. The cheddar curds are used in ‘potin’, a Quebecan concoction of  french fries topped with cheddar curds and gravy.  With great names such as  L’Hercule de Charlevoix, their cheeses are sold onsite and sell out everyday.

A “traditional”  museum on the grounds gives a fine history of milk production and its delivery system.  The collection of 600 different  milk bottles is small by American standards but still impressive. On a busy summer day, 2000 tourists will visit the Laterie, including many families.

We were only able to sample a few of the economuseums but it was enough to appreciate the effort being made to protect ancient arts and trades.  Blacksmith shops, cheese creameries and paper mills are now inter-active museums as well as studios for production of traditional trades.    The result has been good for creativity, protection of ancient crafts, education of students, and for family tourism.

Maybe Northeast Texas could explore this new idea of what a museum should look like.  We have dairies, blacksmiths, winemakers, coffee roasters, quiltmakers, and other ancient trades still being practiced here.  It would be a great regional project and families would appreciate the opportunity to have fun while learning a thing or two.

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Forget the Hotel – Rent An Apartment

Apartment in Paris

Europeans have long known the secret to economic lodging and a solution to small hotel rooms – rent an apartment.  That’s not a surprise since many workers on the Continent have the month of August to vacation and a hotel room would be quite small for all those many days. Americans are more familiar with buying timeshares for extended stays of a week.  But with timeshares, you are limited to using them in the building where purchased or at other facilities in the network.  An apartment rental is basically an “out of network” approach to lodging.  The question is when and how to use this method.

I first experienced apartment letting on the Island of Sicily in Siracusa. My husband and I were traveling with a close couple friend and planned to remain in one location for several days. The island is relatively small and many day trips  available – a perfect opportunity to rent a flat.

View from Balcony at Siracusa Apartment

It all began with a google search “weekly apartment rental in Siracusa, Italy”.  What appeared were both companies that manage apartments for many owners and individual owners who want to have direct contact with their renters.,, are some of the bigger companies. The two bedroom apartment we rented advertised on several web sites.  Today, that apartment rents for an average of $135 per night.  Divide that by two couples and each pair pays $62.50 per night for two bedrooms, bath,  kitchen, dining room, and large living area complete with balcony.  That, my friends,  is a deal.  We were able to cook breakfast each morning and occasionally bring in picnic material from the nearby market.  An added bonus was dinner with the owners who had only recently renovated our apartment.  Over a meal of camponata, four kinds of scacciato (an Italian meat pie), and homemade grappa, we visited, using six languages, Sicilian, Italian, French, English, German and Spanish.  No hotel can offer an experience like that.

Front of our apartment building in Paris

For a rather spontaneous week-long visit to Paris, France, my girlfriends and I wanted to try an apartment.  The same companies used in Sicily also had options but there were more sites such as and  The latter is a U.S. company that even provides you with keys before you leave.  They offer a range of lodging from studios for $99 per night to a floor in a mansion for $690/ night.  After a lot of searching, we found a two bedroom apartment in the Marais  area near the Pompidou museum and a metro stop.  Fortunately, it had a (very) small elevator as we were on the top floor.  The ceiling slanted on the edges so we hung out in the middle of the living area.  For two evenings, we did take-out from nearby restaurants and we were able to entertain an old family friend with wine and cheese.  This cost $1,000 for the week, divided by three people, divided by seven days or $47/night per person.  That, my friends, is a deal.

Inside Guanajuato Apartment

The most recent use of this type of lodging was a trip to Guanajuato, Mexico.  The first apartment we tried to rent had a great web name – and was an example of an owner advertising directly on the web.  Unfortunately, the best Mexican home was not available.  We used, Vacation Rentals by Owner, to snag an absolutely beautiful, recently renovated, three bedroom apartment.


roof top terrace in Guanajuato

Tiled floors, front balconies, roof top terrace, full kitchen, washer/dryer, and a collection of books were included.  All major attractions were within walking distance and strolling troubadours serenaded us at night.  The cost? Five hundred dollars divided by four people divided by seven nights – $18 per night per person.  In a recent web search, I noticed this gem had gone up to $700 for a week but my friends, that’s still a deal.

I haven’t tried renting an apartment in the United States but will definitely consider it the next time we visit my sister-in-law in New York City.  Nyloftvacationrental had a large one bedroom for $225 per night, offered a one bedroom for $190 per night and craigs list had a 3 bedroom for $170 per night or a one BR in Greenwich Village for only $50/ night. has offerings all around the country, even including cabins and lakefront property in East Texas.  Using the large companies does give protection from scams but the best prices are those with direct contact with the owner.

For an extended stay in a location, renting an apartment is easily the most comfortable and economical.  For shorter stays, the benefits are somewhat diminished as there is usually a cleaning fee.  But for a “real” experience of life in Paris, France,  New York, or Pittsburg, Texas, an apartment wins.

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Ojo Caliente Spa – Still Funky Despite Upgrade

Entry to Ojo Caliente

I’m not generally a spa person although I like the acronym, “Salus per Aquas” or health through water.  They’re usually too intimidating and rich for my taste.  But trust New Mexico to blend the funky with the fabulous at Ojo Caliente, a resort/spa 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe.

This is an old place.  Hundreds of years ago, the ancestors of the Tewa tribe lived near the hot waters in the thousands, building pueblos nearby. In the 1500’s,  Spaniards passed through and named the hot springs “Ojo Caliente” or“hot eye”.  They were impressed with the powerful chemicals contained in the waters and valued by the natives.  Today, those minerals of lithium, iron, soda, and arsenic are still believed to rejuvenate and refresh the bathers.

Porch on Historic Hotel

Ojo claims to be America’s oldest health spa.  In 1868,  Antonio Joseph, New Mexico’s first territorial representative to Congress, opened a spa here with overnight lodging.  Known for its curing of invalids, the sanatarium attracted the ill from around the country. The current hotel, built in 1916, is creeping up on its 100th birthday.  Traces of its earlier days remain with real room keys, creaky, wooden hallways, transom windows above the doors, quilt covered beds, and small baths without showers.  One is required to shower in the new facilities close to the hot waters.  With no TV or radio, reading is encouraged in the room’s  rocking chair.

One of the new additions

When Ojo Caliente was renovated and changed into a “luxury” spa, regular clients were worried about the upgrade.  Hippies from the hills loved this place.  I had visited once before the 2005-2010 changes and found it very laid back.  There was a turnstile in the dusty welcoming booth with a small gift store nearby containing primarily t-shirts and soaps.  Staying the night was more an afterthought than a treasured part of the experience.  Today, in addition to the historic hotel, new rooms have been added in front of the cliff with various amenities.  Most are appropriate for families but a few seemed X-rated with private hot tubs on the back porch!

The hot springs area has been significantly upgraded although two pools are holdovers – the Iron Pool to prevent fatigue, and the indoor Soda Pool, to aid digestion. The swimming pool is greatly improved with the coolest of the waters.  Temperatures for the pools range from 95 to 111 degrees.  Forty licensed massage therapists (LMTs) stay busy with the Earthkeeper’s Hot Stone Massage being the favorite.  Gratefully, the old-fashioned, deep tubs in the bath house are still available for soaking in the natural light above.

The owners are serious about preserving a tranquility appropriate for a relaxation spa.  A sign at the Iron Pool advises all that only whispers are allowed.  Upon entering the hallway in the historic hotel, a Quiet Zone sign greets you..  And cell phones are only permitted in the lodging units and large parking lots, a rule I particularly appreciated.  Yet, we found it easy to meet other guests in some of the pools and in the restaurant lobby.  A raw food enthusiast shared her raw grain cereal with us as we discussed New Mexico art and we chatted easily with two girlfriends from Colorado in the Arsenic pool.

Restaurant Lobby in Historic Hotel

The greatest surprise was the restaurant.  Three meals – three wonderful experiences.  Thank you Chef Neil Stuart.  I’m hooked on chile rellenos and will even take notes on what can be stuffed in them. The roasted vegetable, sweet pepper and goat cheese relleno for an appetizer in the evening rated an entry and I was tempted by the buffalo sausage and polenta breakfast relleno.  All courses had options with New Mexico twists such as blue corn meal pancakes and pumpkin tamales. Vegetarians will be very happy at the choices as will the carnivores.

The trick to making the visit here more economical is to arrive during the week as prices escalate for the week-end.  Historic hotel rooms are still a bargain and all stays include unlimited use of the hot pools from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m..  A several day stay has more to offer than one would expect with nearby hiking  trails and easy day trips to Taos and Santa Fe.

In perusing reviews of Ojo Caliente, I found one written before the renovations.   It was described as “the buildings are old and solid, the air is sharp and clear, and you have to hunt to find a phone.”  This description is still good for at least part of the spa.  And the pinon infused air, clear New Mexico blue sky and star studded evenings have not changed.  But with the additions and renovations, a larger clientele can be accommodated without sacrificing the magical setting that has drawn humans for thousands of years.

Hammocks by the swimming pool

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The Journey from Pakistan to Paris, Texas

“I do the thinking part” is how Ayesha Shafiq describes her duties at her husband’s medical clinic in Paris.  The truth is, Ayesha has always done the thinking part.  She grew up in Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan – an area that is best known through the experiences of Greg Mortenson in “Three Cups of Tea”.   She comes from a prominent family that owns M. Hayat & Bros. Ltd., a furniture manufacturing company established in 1870, that lists the Queen of England as a customer.  Besides serving as Chief Secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, her father, Khalid Aziz, is well respected in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.  Americans have become quite familiar with FATA as some Taliban currently hide there.  Pakistan does not have control over FATA even though it is within the borders.  Personal relationships govern this area, not laws.   Because Mr. Aziz is trusted by the tribes in FATA, he is able to get information to and from the tribes as well as the governments of Pakistan and the United States.

Ayesha studied International Relations and wrote for the local paper, The Frontier Post.   In 1999,  her father was arrested and falsely accused by members of then President Musharraf’s government of misconduct in the accountability bureau that he supervised.  Their family home had been the center of many visits by foreign dignitaries.  Ayesha met Princess Diana, answered the phone when the Prime Minister of Ireland called to leave a message, and knew all members of the Bhutto family of Pakistan.  These experiences gave her courage to speak out about her father’s detention.  She wrote an open letter that was published in a Karachi newspaper about her father’s arrest and poor treatment in jail.  The editor of the paper called her one brave girl to speak up.  It would be another three years before her father was released in 2003 but his treatment did improve and he was allowed to attend her wedding. After a four year trial, Mr. Aziz was fully acquitted of all charges in 2006.

Ayesha met her cardiologist husband, Khalid Shafiq, through family members.  He traveled to Pakistan to marry her in 2000. After the wedding, they boarded a plane to begin the 36  hour journey to the United States.  Upon arriving at DFW, her husband drove the final 100 miles to Paris, Texas providing the first view of this country.

Ayesha had to learn to drive. In Pakistan, the driving is hectic with no road signs and all understand this saying – “Every man for himself and God for the rest of us”. PJC said she was too old to take lessons there so Johnny Crawford taught her.  For three years, she wouldn’t drive her new car because she was afraid of “bumping” it.

Khalid Shafiq’s dream of having his own clinic began to take shape in Paris and Ayesha was needed to help run it.  She enrolled at PJC to take some Billing and Coding classes.  She remembers hiding around the corner to learn how students got food and drink from vending machines.  When her grades arrived, she was not sure what she had scored.  But her husband explained that a 4.0 was the best grade, not a bad one.  Ayesha now supervises the 22 employees at the clinic.

In 2006, the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf,  visited Paris to consult with his local cardiologist, Dr. Arjmand Hashmi. Elaborate plans were made among the various levels of law enforcement to safely escort Musharraf here. Dr. Hashmi and Khalid Shafiq are colleagues and share a homeland.  Khalid and Ayesha offered to entertain President Musharraf at their home.  It would be one of the more amazing “small world” experiences.  Ayesha opened her home in Paris, Texas to the former leader of her country whose government was responsible for the imprisonment of her father.  No mention was made of the shared history but pictures in their home of her father’s plight were obvious.  All was cordial and Musharraf and his wife were quite gracious and appreciative of the hospitality.

Even when she was young, Ayesha believed in America.  She liked our way of thinking. According to her, we’re honest and open in how we feel.  After living here for 10 years, her only negative observation is that Americans take all that they have and can have for granted.  If something doesn’t work, we dispose of it.  To survive in Pakistan, one must make things work.  You can’t walk away from a job, a car, your family.  But this is her home now and she has adopted its rhythm.  Her husband and children, Sayek and Layla, are busy and involved in the Paris community.  Thanks to this supportive family, Ayesha awakes every morning with “the spark, energy and zeal” to conquer the world.  Ayesha’s journey to Paris was longer than most but she and her family are happy to be here.

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Images of a Comanche raid on Interstate 35

My husband is from Austin.  We both went to the University of Texas.  Austin holds family and friends and we visit there often.  The question is how to make that tedious five hour trip from Paris more interesting.  I discovered the answer in a recently released book on the Comanche Indians called Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne.

Interstate 35 from San Antonio through Austin, Waco, and into Dallas is a kind of fault line, separating East Texas with its rain and forests from the scrub and dry plains of north and west Texas.  This division also marked the frontier edge of Comanche territory. To the east, sedentary tribes farmed and hunted for game. Nacogdoches was a Caddo Indian village when the Europeans arrived.

On the west side of I-35, the Comanches lived off millions of buffalo who provided food, clothes, tools, and warmth in the winter.  At its height, 20,000 members of the various bands of the tribe rode over 240,000 square miles through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma to trade and to fight.   The Comanches muscled out the Apaches and other Plains tribes and traded with nearby tribes on their own terms.

Driving south on I-35, one encounters Waco, named after the Huaco tribe who had inhabited the area for hundreds of years.  At the Waco village, the tribe had 400 acres under cultivation and grew corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and peach trees.  Modern day Waco was built on the Mexican land grant that surrounded the old Waco village site.  These tribes feared the Comanches as much as early settlers and also tried to avoid them.

The Spaniards never resolved how to conquer the fast moving Indians on their well-trained mustangs who loved to steel horses in Mexico and Texas.  Standing to shoot didn’t work as a Comanche could fling twenty arrows in the time it took one gun slinger to reload.  The war parties attacked at night and would vanish if they encountered resistance.  Their purpose was to keep settlers and Friars out of their hunting territory.  Spanish expeditions simply avoided the vast middle area of Texas and parts north.

But then Texas opened up to settlers with offers of free land.  East Texas filled up first.  When the Parker family from Illinois arrived in 1833, they constructed a fort 30 miles east of Waco, past the then edge of settlements.  On May 19, 1836, Comanches literally rode up to this personal fort and started killing and taking hostages, including the most famous of all, Cynthia Ann Parker.  Take the Highway 164 exit at Waco, and you can visit a replica of this fort in Groesbeck, Texas.   Cynthia Parker later married Pete Nacona, an Indian chief. Her son, Quanah Parker, was the one and only chief of all the Comanches bands. After her “rescue”  many years later, she reluctantly lived in the Tyler area with Parker relatives until her death.

Much of the fighting over the years happened on either side of our highway.  In 1749, priests were killed in a raid on the San Saba mission, near Menard,.  In 1840, a leader, Buffalo Hump, brought 400 warriors down the Balcones Escaprment, along the spring-fed waters of San Marcos in Hays County, on his way to a raid near Victoria, Texas.  Curiously, Hays County is named after John Coffey Hays, who was a savvy Indian hunter and one of the first Texas Rangers.

The last connection to this story on our trip is actually our own Lamar County, named after Mirabeau Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas from 1838-1841.  He followed Sam Houston whom he considered soft on the Indians.  Houston believed in negotiations and wouldn’t authorize frontier forts.  Mirabeau was pro-slavery and felt all Indians should be expunged or killed – “extinction or expulsion”- i.e. no right to any land.  He managed to get rid of the peaceful tribes of East Texas and moved them to Indian Territory or Oklahoma but the Comanches lived on for another 30 years.

The book is well worth reading and fills in the details of the Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker story as well as life with the Comanches.  For the next trip to Austin, I will wonder what it would be like to scan the horizon for a Comanche raid from the west. It’s certainly more romantic than watching out for a highway patrol.

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Tunisia – A Country That Could Work Again

Three years ago, my husband and I visited my cousin who lives in Tunisia.  We were enchanted by this Mediterranean country with beautiful beaches and well-preserved Roman ruins.  Europeans had long discovered the country’s temperate climate and flocked there in droves.  But today as I write, Tunisia is in the midst of a revolution and all are holding their collective breath.

Before going to visit, I read “Tunisia, A Journey Through A Country That Works” by Georgie Anne Geyer, an author that was impressed with the progress this small country had made as a moderate in the Arab world.. After the French left in 1957, Habib Bourghiba became president of the new democracy.  He had strong feelings about moving toward modernity – a kind of Tunisian Ataturk.   Almost immediately, he banned polygamy, introduced judicial divorce for women as well as men, set a minimum age for marriage, gave women the right to vote and run for office, and made education free and compulsory for both sexes.  Thirty percent of the budget was allocated to education.  From this dedication, a large middle class emerged, with many college graduates.  But there was no challenge allowed against  Bourghiba who declared himself president for life in 1974.

In 1984, Tunisia erupted after a drought caused the cost of bread to rise 115% overnight.  The government had too strong a hold on the economy and not enough jobs were being generated for the educated young Muslims.  Islamists were plotting to overthrow the government.  In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Minister of the Interior, obtained a doctor’s letter saying Bourghiba was no longer capable of running the country, and stepped in as president.  He was able to distinguish moderate from radical Islamists and courted the former.  Participatory democracy still wasn’t permitted but the country did develop a National Pact with commitments from individuals, labor unions, schools, etc.  Tunisia would remain a pluralist society with women being totally emancipated.  Islam was the official religion but freedom of religion was assured..  Free political parties were not allowed immediately but were built into the process.

Since Ben Ali became president, poverty dropped by 80%. The percentage of Tunisians owning homes hit 80% at the turn of the century. Tunisians themselves contributed to a fund to be used for low interest loans to start small businesses.  By cultivating tourism, the country could offer low budget/high value trips for Europeans to the beaches of Tunisia – the equivalent to America’s relationship with Cancun and the Mayan Riviera.  Tunisia partnered up with France on commerce and military protection.  All appeared from the outside to be good.  But the drop in the world economy exposed cracks in the system.

President Ben Ali never followed through with the plan to allow free political parties and elections.  His family became unseemly wealthy whose wealth was flaunted.  My cousin tells of headline news about the president’s wife opening a Jaguar car dealership!   His son is considered a billionaire.  Freedom of the press was stifled.  Even as the riots started over a month ago, Tunisian television continued to broadcast only the stale programs as usual.  News of the happenings had to be obtained through the internet, twitter, etc.  Over the years, the police became feared as the arm used to suppress opposition and free speech.  As Georgie Ann Geyers now says, “Ben Ali stayed too long.”

Tunisia’s unemployment stands over all at 14% but even higher for the young and college-educated with all of the frustration associated with such  high numbers.  As you probably have read, the final straw came when a young man with a university degree couldn’t get a job and was forced to buy fruits and vegetables to sell from a stand.  The police ‘raided’ his stand because he didn’t have the right papers and took all of his produce.  Depressed, the young man set himself on fire and died.  The lack of jobs is keenly felt here and in other Arab nations.  Ironically, Ben Ali himself said years ago that the greatest challenge to his government and the Arab world was the paucity of jobs for the educated population.  Last week, that problem revisited Tunisia and the government fell again.

It’s a very dicey situation today.  Old and new leaders are struggling to form an interim government that can be maintained until elections are held.  The army, whom the Tunisians trust, is working to keep the peace.   Food is scarce.  A trip out on Monday yielded my cousin’s husband some apples and oranges.  They’ve had to clean out the pantry and freezer.

This is not Egypt nor Saudi Arabia.  Tunisia is filled with educated, middle-class citizens. But the people are demanding the civil rights that Americans have long enjoyed – free political parties and fair elections, freedom of the speech and press.  These are not radical Islamists and we should hope they’re successful in their quest for greater freedom.  Let us also hope when the economy is opened up, jobs will develop, and Tunisia can again show the way to the Arab world.

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Crime In Guanajuato, Mexico reveals Sympathetic Side of the Mexican People

 I have hesitated to write this story about an attempted theft in Mexico.  The last thing I want to do is discourage tourists from going to Mexico.  Most of that country is as safe as ours with the notable exception of northern Mexico.  But the story is really about the response to the crime, not the crime itself.

I was traveling in Guanajuato, Mexico with my friends, Tina Smith and Betty Swasko, as well as Tina’s sister, Lisa Pavel.  This 450 year old world heritage site boasts a great university, colorful homes, and old silver money.  We had just exited a silver jewelry store onto Avenida Juarez when  I heard shouting and sounds of a struggle behind me.  I turned to see Lisa and Tina holding on to Lisa’s purse as a hooded man tried to pull it away.  After several seconds, he gave up and ran down a nearby ramp to the street below.  When he released his hold on the purse, Lisa fell back and hit her head against the jewelry store’s wall, injuring her head.

All around us people stopped to offer help.  A policeman quickly appeared and ran after the thief.  Betty crossed to a store to get tissue for the bleeding. Several bystanders shook their heads and expressed their condolences.   And a young woman offered to walk us to the closest clinic.  In a daze, we followed her for two blocks to Clinica Hospital where a receptionist quickly placed Lisa in an exam room.

As we were filling out the forms, three policemen and a television cameraman arrived in the courtyard.  I guess we weren’t hard to find.  A policeman had caught the robber and they wanted us to come to the police station to identify him.  The cameraman filmed all of the conversation but I don’t know if it was shown on the news that night or not.  The officers agreed to wait.

Lisa’s physician was capable, sympathetic and did the appropriate exam for a head injury.  She needed several stitches which were quickly done.  We were all impressed with Lisa’s toughness and inner fortitude.  Thanks to her long held belief in alternative medicine, she had taken Arnica pills for the pain and cream for her bruises.  Both appeared to work very well.

As we walked out of the clinic, there was one police car and an extra car to take us to the police station.  Lights flashed as we made our way through traffic.  At the station, Lisa and Tina were shown a picture of the alleged thief as well as his hooded jacket.  They recognized both immediately.  We got to meet our hero, Victor, who had caught the man.  He was very familiar with this criminal who was known to have mental problems.

All seemed in order until they advised Lisa and Tina that they would have to return in several months to testify against the man. That was, obviously, not going to happen.   So I went into my attorney mode and questioned why they couldn’t set up a hearing the next week while we were still there.  The man had confessed.   They had eye-witnesses.  Appoint him an attorney and get it moving.  When they realized I was an attorney, all laughed at the head officer and he shook his head.  But I still couldn’t make the hearing happen.

Lisa needed to fill a prescription and get a tetanus shot.  We didn’t know where to go and didn’t have transportation.  The main officer offered a police car escort.  Since it was raining, they backed the officer’s car into the courtyard to get as close as possible to us.  We walked past the station’s  Shrine to the Virgin Mary as we climbed in and with lights flashing,  headed to the Red Cross clinic.. That clinic had no tetanus vaccine.  The trip to a second clinic was successful even though we were joined by a throng of pregnant women.  With lights still flashing, we pulled in front of a pharmacy and had the prescription filled while the officer waited.  The last stop was our apartment.

The experience feeds the stereotypical fear of both traveling and traveling in Mexico.  But I’ve had far worse criminal experiences in the United States.  And the response by the crowd, the clinic, and the police was universally sympathetic and solicitous.  They all hated that this had happened to a tourist in their lovely town which is known to have a low crime rate.  It didn’t slow down our visit as we continued with our itinerary to San Miguel de Allende the next day.  And we all agreed that we would return to Guanajuato –  in a heartbeat.

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Oaxaca, Mexico with a Guide from Paris, Texas

Oaxaca, Mexico has long fascinated Barbara Fendley and many others from Paris.  Its arts and crafts draw in the artistic crowd, a heavy indigenous presence attracts sociology and history majors, while archeological aficionados drool over the nearby Mitla and Monte Alban ruins. On a more personal level, one of its Rotary Clubs is a sister club to our Monday Greater Paris Rotary Club.

Several years ago, Barbara decided to learn Spanish there and soak in the culture at the same time.  She chose Becari Language School  ( for her lessons.   At first she stayed with a local family but now rents her own apartment for two months every summer. Toni Clem and I decided to pay our friend a visit.

Barbara’s most recent apartment on Tinoco y Palacios street sits next to a funeral home whose owner has befriended her.  He easily greets Paris visitors while supervising his supply of caskets on display for passing residents.  His dog knows that Barbara is good for a doggie treat every day.

After spending so much time in Oaxaca each year, Barbara is aware that the church bells ring at 6:45 a.m, the high fog horn comes from the Gas de Oaxaca truck, and that a man calls out every morning selling water.  She knows the hours of restaurants, names of waiters, best prices for handicrafts and souvenirs, where to find quality goods, days that museums close, and who makes the best coffee.   This is all very valuable information.  As guests, our only job was to pick among her daily suggestions and follow.

We began with a cooking lesson at Casa Crespo (  where we sipped coffee around a circular table and discussed the menu.  Oaxaca is known for its subtle and eclectic moles and sauces.   Our chef, Oscar Carissosa, casually threw out suggestions for dishes with complex flavors and an occasional unfamiliar ingredient.  After deciding on the four courses, Oscar grabbed a shopping bag and we quickly moved outside for the short journey to the Pascua market.  Efficiently and expertly, he led us through a colorful maze of fruits and vegetables,  stopping occasionally to explain a new fruit or herb.  Honey bees hovered over the sweet blocks of candy and ants kept the salt dry.

Back at the restaurant, the cooking began.  We moved between the chopping table and kitchen and used blenders, fine knives, and a tortilla press.  Squash blossoms were rolled in a flour tortilla, pineapple, pork, and raisins stuffed into poblano chiles,  and flan whipped and poured into a pressure cooker. Oscar carried all of the recipes in his head  although he sent us the formulas by e-mail.   Lunch was served in courses and we ate for two hours.

Throughout the rest of the week,  Barbara led us easily through the streets of Oaxaca which has a known split personality.  One part is dedicated to the large and profitable tourist industry. The crafts are still the best in the country. Since my last visit there 15 years ago, many of the streets and sidewalks have been repaved and  the numbers and sophistication of restaurants have exploded as have the indoor and outdoor markets.  Barbara introduced us to Casa Oaxaca ( where a Houston trained Oaxacan chef created dishes such as duck tacos and a red snapper with lemon butter and capers served over a bed of tomato marmalade – the best dish I had there.

Oaxaca’s second face is political.  The large, indigenous population  found its voice many years ago and has demanded equal treatment.  A strong teachers union holds annual massive strikes,  sometimes with large demonstrations.  The strike of 2006 caused the number of tourists  to plummet and Oaxaca is just now recovering its previous numbers.  This dichotomy is best represented at the Zocalo, Oaxaca’s central square.  While we were seated at one of the many outdoor restaurants, vendors pleaded with us to buy painted book marks, woven scarves, or handmade backpacks. Across the street, a large painted sign hung between two trees demanding “Justicia para Oaxaca – ahora y siempre” – Justice for Oaxaca, now and forever.  The two worlds of tourism and political activism slow dance together,  trying not to trip the other up. (I hasten to add that we never felt in any danger during our visit.)

We also explored the markets of Benito Juarez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and Artesans de Oaxaca.  Mujeres Artesanas ,(, a co-op store with a quality selection of artistic goods from all over Oaxaca, rated a second stop.  We bought movie CDs at one street fair and bilingual books at another.  With a chocoholic husband, I had to purchase blocks of chocolate from one of the many chocolate stores on Mina street.  For a traveler who prides herself on minimal purchases,  I found the beautiful and magical artistic world of Oaxaca irresistible and returned to Paris with many recuerdos de Mexico.

Oaxaca is an enchanting city made even more accessible by Barbara’s familiarity with its offerings.  It is far removed from the violence of northern Mexico and deserves a greater following from Americans.  We were lucky to have our own personal guide but even more fortunate to explore this world heritage site.

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