Thursday, December 7, 2017

Texotic Farms vs. Harvey the Hurricane

Texotic Farms vs. Harvey the Hurricane

VRA is based in the Gulf Coast Hurricane Bowl….Houston, TX.  It is also located in the middle of a llama farm.  Llamas that come from Peru in the Andes Mountains do not appreciate
the incumbent hurricane season at sea level in Houston.  Give them cold weather and snow and they are happy.  This season, instead of just a hurricane with 150 mph winds and 15 inches of rain, we dealt with 52 inches of rain in three days, leading to a massive flood.  Harvey arrived in full force and the corrals filled with water, topping the four-foot wooden fences and the bellies of the llama herd. Rudy, the infamous husband, refused to go out and move them to higher ground and they refused to leave their stalls. 

With boots and rain gear, I struggled into the waist deep muddy water with ropes. “You can’t move those 400-lb animals unless they are ready to swim out,” he yelled as he stood on the house porch.  “Does it look like they are going to swim?”  I replied in a huff as I trudged through the current.  The llamas were in a tight circle with a wall of rain and wind engulfing them in their shelters.

Leo, the golden farm stud, was bewildered at why I had joined them in their wet conclave.  He was not the only one bewildered.  I had to be crazy to attempt to rope the alpha llama and herd two miniature horses to move the herd to higher ground.  With the rope around Leo’s thick neck, he agreed to take a few muddy steps and slowly the rest started to follow.  All but “Crooked Nose”, and he wasn’t going to move one inch from his stall.  He was always as dumb as an armadillo and about as ugly as his name implies.

As I made it to the high ground near the house, it was clear the flooding was going to get a lot worse.  “Rudy, you need to move the truck out of the garage so I can move the llamas in.”  Relaxing in his favorite chair he continued to watch the action from the back porch.  “I’m not moving my truck for those damn llamas.”  “Fine,” I replied, “I bringing them into the garage anyway.”

Saying what you are going to do and then actually convincing a group of head strong llamas of your intentions is like dealing with a head strong spouse. There was no way they were going into an area where something as large as a big black truck was parked. Clearly, they did not know how determined I was to get them in there.  With Rudy pulling on Leo’s rope and me pushing his rump, while being kicked, we finally got him into the enclosure, but the fun wasn’t over.  (Note:  Llamas front feet kick like a cow and their back like a horse.)

Noodle, the miniature “blind” pony, became confused and could not find her way to the house and was panicking as water was up to her neck.  Back I went into the storm to retrieve her.  In the meantime, the rest of the herd decided to go into the garage nearly trampling the husband.  Noodle’s stall mate, a miniature stallion named Cheyanne, had been her companion for many years.  He was smart enough to leave the corral as soon as the gate was opened.  He did not realize he had left her behind.  When he heard her braying for help, and me struggling to get to her, he ran back into the water and swam her out.  As for “Crooked Nose”,  he elected to literally drown in his stall.

With the water within 2 inches of the house’s foundation, and approaching the garage, I went to bed dreading what I’d find come daylight.  At 4 a.m., I woke and rushed straight to the garage prepared to bring the animal kingdom into the house.  The water had suddenly receded six feet.  There was my precious herd, totally content feasting on fresh hay.  Alas, there was horse dung and llama droppings on the floor and the truck.  The odor smelled like “Corral #5”, but the gang was just fine. The same could not be said for Rudy’s truck...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Highlights of the Gaubert's 2016

The year 2016 was not one of our more exciting travel years because of "Coco". So who is "Coco"? Our newest addition to Texotic Farms - a baby llama. Aspen, the mother, gave birth to him in January, right smack in the corral's mud puddle inside the pen. It was the coldest and rainiest day of the year here in Houston.
Aspen took one look at her mud-smeared cria (baby llama) and decided she wasn't going to mess around with this guy. Rudy, on the other hand, retrieved the little bundle, still in his birth sack, and came in to the house and announced, "We have a problem!"
I took one look at it and replied, "No problem, this cria is dead." Wrong answer.
Rudy washed the mud off the llama's limp little body, dried him off, wrapped him in towels and placed him on a heating pad in the middle of my kitchen counter. "Go find me a bottle and the multi-species powder milk replacer." Doesn't everyone have a container of that hanging around in their kitchen? Well, we do.
By evening, there was no movement but there was a heartbeat. I, once again, announced, "This guy is not going to make it through the night so let's go to bed."
Morning came, and like a Santa's reindeer Rudy flew down the stairs (not the chimney) to check on his new project. I moseyed down and to my surprise the cria had his eyes open. "Now we've really got a problem," I explained. That was an understatement. 
It took 10 days to get this 20 pounds of llama on his feet, and endless persuading to get him to take two ounces of a special formula. The entire time he was becoming a house llama. (Don't even ask how we handled that.)
Rudy, now Mr. Mom, fed Coco four times a day. Three months pass and still he was in the house, watching TV with Babe (the Rottweiler), Gypsy Rose (the Yorky) and Shaka (the parrot). Something about TV fascinates llamas. Coco was 50 pounds and slowly pushing towards his maximum weight of 400 pounds.
Clearly we could not venture out to some wild and crazy third world country for a holiday. I wanted to go to Papua New Guinea, but that was not to be. After all, Rudy was committed to this darn llama.
At five months, enough was enough. Out into the pen Coco went with the rest of the herd. Aspen took one sniff and was not impressed with her child's new household odor. Living outdoors did not stop the bottle feedings, though. Coco is now nearly a year old, and while he is theatrically weaned, we have not gotten Rudy weaned. He still goes out every morning, bottle in hand, and feeds the now 150 pound llama.
Coco is the most lovable guy in the herd, giving all visitors a big fat kiss if you stop to say hello. He is totally a humanized llama. Aspen is about to pop out another cria. Let us hope she wants to be a mother this time. If not, Rudy will be relocated to the barn.
Around August we went off to Norway. We landed in Bergen and then traveled up the coast, crossing the Arctic Circle and skirting the Russian border (2,630 NM). While the landscape and fjords were fantastic, it was the Sami Indians with their bright red decorative hats and their herds of reindeer (1,000/family) that were captivating. Everything would have been more stunning if it hadn't rained nearly non-stop.
Vesta Rea & Associates is now in its 26th year. (No, I'm not planning to retire.) Our beautiful boat, the Sapa Inca, sprung a major fuel leak (700 gallons worth) and replacing the four fuel tanks was over the top so we sold her. I cried for a month. Our favorite Rottweiler, Babe, died at 8 years old. The llamas, parrots and miniature horses are multiplying, so Texotic Farms is alive and well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Norway: Gateway to the Arctic

Bergen, Norway

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 

There is a seven hour difference from Houston to where we are now, not to mention we’ve lost a day.  KLM is now one hour out from Amsterdam where we will change planes and head to Bergen, Norway.  The flight from Houston to Amsterdam is 8.5 hours and provides two meals, plenty of leg space and opportunities for some interesting people watching.  It takes 1.5 hours to get from Amsterdam to Bergen.

Old men, more than women, are up and walking around the plane about every two or three hours to keep their legs from forming blood clots (something Rudy is very acquainted with from our 14-hour flight from China back to the US).  I, likewise, walk and talk to the attendants, and eat.  Mothers with babies stroll the aisles, soothing their young ones that refuse to sleep.  The plane is only about half full with passengers.  Many are obviously old road warriors like us.

Overseas airlines always serve two meals (lukewarm), and by the time you get off the plane all you want to do is find the hotel and sleep.  Jet lag is a “bitch.” By the time we landed in Bergen at 10:30 a.m., I was not feeling well – either  from lack of sleep or too much food.  However, it was an easy overnight flight from Houston to Bergen, lasting 15 hours.

The first impression of Norway is how clean it is, the second is how long the highway tunnels are that skirt under the mountains leading into Bergen, located 15 miles away from the airport, and the third is how very tall Norwegians are; tall, fair, blonde and handsome.  Tall in this case is approaching, or over, 6 feet – male  or female.

Bergen, Norway is a beautiful 11th century Bryggen fishing village that turned into a breathtaking city with 200,000 residents in a country that only has 4.5 million.  The waterfront is a work of art with its brightly colored wooden structures, fish market, museums, shops and endless fjords (bay/harbour).

The first day we are staying in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel. We’re asleep by 1 p.m. and up again at 7 p.m.  We rise to bright, sunny weather (surprise) and daylight that lasts until 10 p.m.

It is a beautiful old city with beautiful people.  It hosts romantic bays and interesting scenery as the city is surrounded by seven mountains.  Bergen means “the plains between the mountains” in Norwegian.  The language is Germanic-sounding, much like what the Dutch speak.

We are back in bed by 11 p.m. and by 4 a.m. it is light again.  The time change can drive you nuts and really screw up your day.  I awoke at 1:30 p.m., nearly blowing the entire day.  But, alas, all was not lost, except the weather.

The rain had arrived, not a surprise since the country is known to have 84 continuous days of rain.  The rain is soft, not the down pours like we have in Houston, but it is still wet.  We troupe outside, buy an umbrella, and catch a double-decker site-seeing bus.  After experiencing the history up close we disembark into the fish market, which is overwhelming with its displays of lobster, king crab, dried cod, salmon and caviar, and every other kind of fish you would expect to find in very cold water.  Bergen is at the same longitude as Anchorage, Alaska.  

A late lunch from the fish market puts us back in the Bryggen area where the old timber fish warehouses, now turned into shops, grace the north side of the Bergen harbor in bright colors with the Hanseatic League trading company buildings.  The Hanseatic were Germans that settled the area and controlled commerce for over 400 years.

Walking through the narrow streets/allies brings us to the Forsvaret Church.

This original Lutheran Church (the official religion of the country) dates back to the 15th century and, on this particular evening, there was a concert of Chamber Music by the local music corp.  I drug Rudy to the event, which fortunately lasted only an hour or I’d have to carry him out asleep.  The upside was when we got out the sun was shining at 8:30 p.m., which was not night at all but bright daylight.

Cruising the Fjords of Norway

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Norway is the largest country in Europe – 1,012 miles long and can be as narrow as six miles wide in some parts.  It is bordered by Sweden, Finland and Russia.

 It is known for its magnificent fjords.  So what is a fjord?  Geologically, a fjord or fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion. There are many fjords on the coasts of Alaska, British Columbia, Chile, Greenland, Iceland, the Kerguelen Islands, New Zealand, Norway, Labrador, Nunavut, Newfoundland, and Washington State.  So one could say that it is not a big deal to go visit fjords, but Norway is exceptional in this type of geography.   This cruise has a reputation of being “the most beautiful ocean cruise in the world”.   We are about to find out and, besides, this is Rudy’s trip and I’m just along for the ride.

Waiting to board the MS Kong Harold (King Harold), we visited the Hanseatic Museum, which took us back to the fish trading houses that were established in 1306 and controlled by the Germans for 400 years.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  By far more interesting is the Norwegian Fisheries Museum (one year old) and a tour of the old warehouses that originally sat out from shore in the water whereby they were protected from the many local fires.

Bergen and its wooden structures were always catching on fire, and the fishery warehouses were built in the water in hopes of saving the industry within the area.

Before leaving Bergen I made a quick stop at a fur shop where fox and mink garments were displayed.  I walked out with a beautiful cashmere shawl trimmed in red fox.  Rudy just rolled his eyes.  Never has the man refused me anything.

By 5 p.m. we had checked out of the Radisson Blu Royal and were on the MS Kong Harold.  It was an old ship, over 1,010 feet long and had a capacity of 500 passengers and 100 crew.  Only about 400 were on this trip.

The ship had recently been restored, but it was hardly the style we were accustomed to traveling in.  Our stateroom was 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, with a head the size of a very small closet.  Alas, that is travel in Norway – things  are a great deal simpler and very expensive.

Leaving the Bergen Harbour was spectacular with the setting sun sparkling off the fjord, surrounded by the seven mountains and the city.

Friday, August 26 – Day 1

We cruised all night and by morning we were in the Geiranger Fjord; we disembarked in the town by the same name and loaded onto buses.  From there, we drove south on the Atlantic Road headed toward the Golden Route of Norway.  Along this route were literally dozens of waterfalls cascading down tall rugged terrain as if being poured from buckets over the mountains that climbed to 4,800 feet high.  The bus traveled upward on roads so narrow that they should have been one way.  Everyone that attempted to pass us put themselves in jeopardy – it  was a tight squeeze.

We turned north and crossed the fjord via ferry to Valldal onto what is known as the “Troll’s Path.”  What is a troll?  It is a mystical character so ugly, short and fat that it makes one wonder why this thing, and its fairy tale stories, were ever invented by both Icelanders and the Norwegians.

A troll can bring luck, make life miserable or be mischievous.  It originates from the mountain rocks and timber forest in the country and there are plenty of both to have a large population of these trolls.

On the eastern side of Troll Valley is the 5,800-foot sheer cliff of a mountain called Trolltindane.  The “Troll Path,” which we are driving, consists of 11 hairpin turns on a road so narrow and with such a vertical drop that the passengers keep their eyes shut and prepare for the worst.  Two breathtaking waterfalls grace the route, Stigfossen and Tverrdalsfossen.  Of course, only our guide “Eric” can pronounce these Norwegian words, and he is Swiss.

The weather play-by-play for the entire day is: rain, fog, more rain, a brief moment of sun (very brief around 5 p.m.) and more rain.  After driving 8.5 hours, we had reached Molde (population 26,000) and the chemical technical center for much of the suppliers for the North Sea exploration drilling industry.

We had dinner at the Alexandria Hotel and waited for the Kong Herald to catch up with us.  It arrived at 10 p.m. and, finally, our very wet day was complete and we cruised further north.

Saturday, August 27 – Day 2

Today the sea was so bad that the boat could not dock at Trondheim (the Royal City) till 11 a.m., which meant we missed out on the shore excursions and our kayaking trip.  Waiting for the boat to dock caused us to also oversleep, which didn’t make the situation any better.  As it turned out, the boat was only in this royal city approximately two hours before it was off again heading north towards the Arctic Circle.  Generally speaking, the weather was better (there is always rain) but the scenery along the shores of Norway was beautiful.

The mountains, or more correctly the vertical cliffs, are slabs of smooth glacier rock as hard as granite in colors of black, pale copper and tan.   These pinnacles are outlined at the top in what appears from water-level to be lush green foliage.  Small fishing boats with wide beams, bows that curve upward, and a stern that is squared off putts along at 5-6 knots.  There is an enclosed pilot house for the captain’s protection from the elements.

Night comes around 10 p.m. with the sun always coming out just before it finally sets.  Strange that you don’t see it all day because of a thick layer of gray wet clouds, but right at semi-dusk it peeks out from under its blanket and suddenly you witness the “mid-night sun” of Norway.

Sunday, August 28 – Day 3

Crossing the Arctic Circle
Early this day the Kong Herald crosses the Arctic Circle and we move into northern Norway and Svalbard.  The sun is shining….surprise, surprise.  Blue skies and silver fluffy clouds start the day off, and with smoked salmon for breakfast it just can’t get any better.

The ship often stops at the villages en route to drop off cargo.  The stops are brief (15 minutes), so few passengers disembark.  If you miss the departure, you miss the boat.  They do not wait on you.

The Kong Herald is primarily a cargo ship servicing the “outback” of northern Norway’s hundreds of islands with fishing villages from Oslo to Kirkenes.  In the Caribbean we would call this the mail boat, but these are cargo/passenger ships.

We docked at Bodo, just north of the Arctic Circle, exited the ship and walked over to where the “rib” was waiting.  What is a “rib”? The rib is a large dingy that holds 12 people and one crew member, and flies across the water at 35 knots.  In other words, you fly like a bird and stop like a rock.

Prior to boarding this jet mobile, we had to dress like one preparing to build an inculpable snowman in sub-zero temperatures.  While it is 58 degrees, the weather protection cold water suite, thicker than a deep winter comforter, was hot while standing on the dock along with a hood, glasses and life preserver vest.  Being hot did not last long.

When that boat moved, it really moved, and the wind was really cold.  In nothing flat we were out in the Bobo Bay viewing three large eagles feeding.  Then it was off around the next island and speeding into the world’s fastest ocean current of whirlpools moving thousands of gallons of water between two points of land.  It was so fast and dangerous that several Norwegians were on the shore observing the thrill. It was Sunday and what else would they have to do in this remote northern locale than take bets on whether the inflatable would capsize.  Fortunately, there was no mishap.

Large salmon farms raising over 600,000 fish per year for the market were situated in one of the bays.

Returning to the Kong Harold still docked at Bobo, we sailed away to our next stop, Stamsund, located on a remote outer island.  Actually, everything in northern Norway is remote.   Twenty-four of us boarded a bus to travel inland through the mountains to view and dine at the largest Viking chief house (reconstructed) and have a typical Viking dinner and entertainment.

By now the beautiful and unusual sunny day had drifted into an overcast evening, giving the topography an appearance of northern Scotland.  I did learn a bit about Norway Vikings, who traveled from this area westward to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, and established settlements in or round 1030 AD.

Did you know that the Vikings started out as raiders and smugglers and fearless fighters? They came from Norway, Sweden and Demark.  While the Norway bandits sailed west, the Swedish and Danish Vikings raided what is now Russia and Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey.  

After spending 1.5 hours at the Viking event, we traveled over land to catch up with our Hurtigruten ship at Snolvaer, located three islands over from where we started.

Large modern bridges connect many of these islands in the north, where the south uses ferries.  Their infrastructure is amazing, particularly in such severe weather conditions whereby they can only construct roads two or three months out of the year.  The average snow fall is around 15 feet with sub-zero temperatures occurring during the remaining months of the year.

Around 11 p.m. I felt like I was falling off the bed - I started getting vertigo.  What was going on?  It occurred to me that either the boat’s stabilizers were not acting right and the vessel was leaning to starboard (i.e., this was why I felt like I was falling off the bed), or the boat was taking on water.  Neither option was a plus for this voyage; just my luck that I’d be on another trip where the boat sunk.

Monday, August 29 – Day 4

At about the time I woke up, we had a cargo stop at Finnenes (these appear to be regular and short – 15 minutes). The boat had just departed for open water when I heard the all too familiar sound of the engines reversing and then the ship stopping.

A boring day was about to happen….it sounded like engine problems on the ship, and we were now down to one engine moving along at the speed equivalent to a snail.  It turned out that it was a transmission problem on one engine.

This just goes to prove that it doesn’t matter whether it is a 44-foot trawler called the Sapa Inca or a cruise ship called the Kong Harold, boats are boats and problems follow them wherever they go; or is it wherever we go?

2:00 p.m. - It took the crew two hours to announce this little problem to the passengers, but any idiot knew something wasn’t right if you’re moving at 5 knots in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.  It would also delay our arrival at Thomos.

Did I care?  I had slept till 10:30 a.m., had a late lunch, and was now enjoying the gray scenery with the low rainy clouds and high rocky mountains from the ship’s 7th floor sun deck (minus the sun) along with other bored passengers! What a thrill!

I’ve yet to see Rudy today but assume he has not jumped ship.  There are only so many places he can be on this small vessel.

By 4:30 p.m. we had docked at Thomso where the passengers were anxiously waiting to disembark and enjoy the land cruises they had booked.  Unfortunately, most of them were cancelled because of our late arrival. (Note:  No one in northern Norway appears to work past 5 p.m., so don’t expect to do any shopping or anything else after that hour if you are on shore.  However, the bars are open.)

The town of 26,000 is located 186 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  Thomso is known as the “Paris of the North,” but I decided this title had to be a joke.  It also has the title of “Gateway to the Arctic.”  There is nothing remotely similar to Paris, particularly at 4:30 p.m. when all the shops were closed.

We strolled around the main square and stopped at a bar for a martini.  That is when I found out that any drink with more than 20% alcohol was restricted to half a shot of liquor in Norway.  It was the smallest martini I’d ever been served, but the three olives were really large and the price was high!  

The center of the town contained a church that dated back to the late 1800s and was the only thing left standing with any history.  Germany bombed the city flat in 1944.  Hitler believed that the Allies would make their European landing in this area during World War II, not in Normandy, France.

Thomso is more known for its polar expeditions to the north pole than the fact that it dates back to Viking times, 1250 AD.

Tuesday, August 30 – Day 5

THE SUN IS SHINING.  Hammerfest, Norway (population 2,500) is the gateway to the North Cape.  This is the farthest north one can go in Europe, but not the coldest.

We disembarked the ship, along with 300 others, and boarded a bus for a 30-minute drive to North Cape (Nordkapp) and the 1,014 sheer cliff drop-off situated in a landscape barren of any trees or foliage, but with plenty of rocks.

Surrounding us was the Arctic Ocean, a body of water that is ice cold with a wind that blows constantly.

During our drive upward, we viewed reindeer herds grazing on a gray moss-type of foliage.  Shocking to me was the different colors of the reindeer…brown, tan and some solid white.  I never thought about Santa having white reindeer, but anything is possible.

The deer are large with horns that are three to four feet across.  They are also very nervous and quick to bolt.  In the summer, they graze at the North Cape under the watchful eyes of the Sami Indian Tribe. (Ironically, the tribal head dress is similar to the hats worn by Santa’s elves, with four points and bright green or red.)  Each tribal family owns approximately 1,000 reindeer.  They are sold for the fur, meat and horns. The Sami are small, less that 5’4”, with Alaskan Eskimo features and coloring.

Come fall, the over-grazed, healthy, but fat deer are herded by the Sami out of North Cape via snow mobile to their winter grazing grounds, some 250 miles south. The trip requires the deer to swim across large spans of water.  While the North Cape is very cold, the snow is also wet and heavy, and the area is not cold enough for the deer.  Come winter, they migrate inland where the snow is deeper and not as wet.  In the spring, because they are not as strong, the deer and the Sami are loaded onto ships and brought back to the North Cape for calving and summer grazing.

By 2:50 p.m. we are back on the Kong Harold traveling east towards another 15-minute cargo stop at Kjellefjord.  From there, our next stop is Mehamn.

Kirkenes, Norway

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 

By 9 a.m. we had docked at Kirkenes, just a few miles from the Russian border, and over half of the passengers unloaded onto buses to head for the local airport.  The cruise was over.  Our next destination would be Oslo, and then on to Bergen, then to Amsterdam, and finally back home.

My departing memory was the bright-colored houses tucked along the rocks and the mountains, facing the Arctic Ocean where the population’s survival was the fishing industry and little else.  The landscape was desolate, the ocean rough and the village clean.

Interesting Fact:
In southern Norway, older quaint farm cottages have roofs of sod, seeded with weeds and grass, which serves as insulation, over layers of birch bark.  In the summer, the grass grows into a lawn.  To keep it short, the farmer makes steps along the side of his house whereby goats climb on the roof and “mow” it down.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Emily the Elephant-One Day in Africa

Emily the Elephant

From deep in the heart of South Africa, October 2014: By 9 am this morning I find myself rocking and rolling on top of a huge elephant named “Emily”.  Emily, over 1,000 pounds of her, is in motion along with 7 others.  Snuggled up beside her is “Alana” a 1 year old baby who nurses every time we stop or when Emily wants to eat, which is often. Following is her two year old baby with a trainer sitting on her back.

Rudy and I are perched (literally) in a saddle high up on her back.  Her skin is like the toughest leather you can imagine, caked with mud from her river bath and silver gray in color.  In front of us is Emily’s driver trying to keep her under control. 

Elephants I soon find have a mind of their own and go when they want to go, eat when they want to eat and take off in a strange kind of gallop through the bush when frightened.  My big issue with Emily is when she walks she has a rolling action that is exactly like being in a high sea.  Well, you probably guessed it….after about 30 minutes of this I had sea sickness but in this case it was motion sickness.  I struggled to not throw up down the back of our driver's shirt who sat on Emily’s neck in front of me.  We still had a ways to go and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. 

Finally I said, “I’ve got to get off of Emily, I’m sick.”  Our driver looked at me thinking I was nuts.  Here we are out in the bush, 10 feet up in the air with no platform to dismount.  Did I care, I was going to bale!  He yelled to bring water.  I didn’t need water I needed to get off of this 1,000 pound hunk of animal. Rudy was oblivious to my sinking condition, no surprise!

Emily decided to eat a passing tree, not a limb but an entire tree, five foot high.  She gets her trunk around it and pulls while giving it a big kick.  Out it comes and she immediately starts stripping the bark off while the tree hangs out of both sides of her mouth.  If she was so darn smart when it came to food why couldn’t she kneel down and let me off her back. 

Fortunately, a disembarking platform appears in the bush and the driver made straight for it.  Two natives come running, climb up the platform and pull me off just in time.  The driver was saved, I was relieved and Rudy was still trying to figure out what the big deal was.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cattle Drive on the "Big Muddy"

The dialog that transpires between me and my illustrious spouse always starts out the same way when I’m announcing that it is time for another adventure.

“You want to do what?!” groans my husband...
“Go to Lake Charles, LA and do a bit of gambling at the L’auberger Casino Resort for my birthday, and I want to do it on our boat.”
“You want to do 16.5 hours of cruising between Houston and Lake Charles, not to mention the fuel required, instead of the drive we could make in 2 hours, is that correct?”
“It’s my birthday and that is what I want, end of story.  I’ll hire a captain!”

We’ve done several boating jaunts with a bunch of our kids which always turns into a big beer drinking event.  Many of these adventures have had moments of sheer fright, including being hit by a tropical storm, sideswiped by another boat at night while anchored and then those navigational errors that have run us aground.  It’s never dull. 

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (conceived back in the 1800s) skirts just north of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, winds slightly inland running from St. Marks, Florida to Brownsville, TX.  It is approximately 125 feet wide and 1300 miles long.  It is referred by those who know it well (mainly commercial barge pilots) as the “Big Ditch” or “Big Muddy.”  Obviously, the water is not clear.  The milky chocolate waterway is a huge economic ribbon of endless shipping traffic. Mud is constantly being stirred up from the bottom to the surface by hundreds of barge propellers carrying, at least along the Texas-Louisiana coast, thousands of gallons of petrochemical products, grain, coal and numerous other commodities; products that keep this country and several others running.

We have cruised “The Ditch” several times in our trawler registered as the “Sapa Inca”, a 46 foot vessel that travels at an astronomical speed of 8 knots.  Yes, it is a slow boat to China but it will get you there with its twin diesel engines, 700 gallons of fuel, 300 gallons of water, an efficient (but small) galley and lots of books to read.

Speed is not why you use this form of transportation, it is what you see along the “Big Muddy” that brings reality to how vast and diverse this country is.  It is also the beauty of a variety of semi-tropical birds, the 39” Great Egret with a wing span of 4-1/2 feet; Whooping Cranes standing a proud  51” with a 7-1/2 feet wingspan; the comical brown Pelican and the 51” Blue Heron with a 6 feet wingspan that barks like a dog when startled.  It is endless entertainment.

However, this birthday trip brought a new twist for the utilization of the Intracoastal. Traveling along the canal in southeast Texas, east of Houston and before we reached Port Arthur, there are several large cattle ranches on each side of the Intracoastal.
Cattle are dumb as posts but they do have two qualities that certain humans emulate…they believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and they will follow the lead bull.

Rudy (the husband and Captain) was at the controls as the saga began to unfold. Cattle were gathered on the south side of the Intracoastal peacefully grazing on tall grasses. There was this one very large bull that was moved to do something a bit different.  He was moseying down to the canals edge to get a drink.  He was not the least bit concerned about the alligator sleeping nearby in the cool water’s edge. Lazily the bull made his way, walking knee deep into the mud until the water splashed against his big belly.  At that point he must of thought, “Why not, it’s hot and I need to cool off?” A thousand pounds of Texas beef started swimming toward the north bank right in front of the “Sapa Inca.”  The bull just knew the “grass was greener on the other side of the “Big Muddy.” The heifers figure if the big bull could take a swim why not them.  Now a herd of fifty gals entered the water heading for those greener pastures.  The only thing between them and that bank was this 46 foot yacht.

“Look at that,” the Captain yelled as the cows started across. 
“It’s not every day you find yourself cruising and doing a cattle drive, I commented.  “You better make a decision on how we should proceed or we are going to be surrounded by a heck of a lot of Texas beef.”
“Cows may be dumb but they won’t ram the boat.”  These were words from a man who had no clue about cattle.
“If they are that darn smart why have they decided to take a swim and leave perfectly good pastures?  If they find us in their path we will end up making hamburger out of one of them with the boats props.”
“Give me a break,” he yelled over the engines, as he tried to maneuver the craft around a hell bent cow determined to keep up with the big bull, but too dumb to know which way to go.

By this time the engines were in neutral and we were surrounded by a herd of heifers. To add a bit more excitement to the situation in the distance we could see a 1,000 foot long barge (three wide) heading towards us. “Now the fun begins,” as I pointed to the east watching the barge move closer. “If these babies get scattered between two vessels we are going to have cow hides hanging from our bow.”

What’s the ole’ saying, “all’s well that ends well.”  The barge slowed up, the Sapa crawled forward maneuvering through heads, horns and hooves, while the cows made a bee line for those greener pastures on the other side of the “Big Muddy.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If You Hate Change

Being in the aviation industry it seems I spend way too much time at conferences, seminars, forums, etc., all in an attempt to learn the latest and greatest on airport development. To keep from falling asleep in hard chairs and stuffy rooms I look for interesting humor in the proposed presenters.  They don’t consider themselves humorous, but then they are not on the receiving end of their subject.

Please tell me why PowerPoint presentations are full of too much text and minuscule fonts that make your eyes water?  Why do speakers often say, “Now while I know this slide is hard to read let me explain it?”  If you need to explain it why put it up? 

At a recent Airport Planning Design & Construction Symposium I elected to venture into a session called, “Young Professionals Innovation Competition.”  God knows we need young professionals in the industry as most of us are older than dirt and have been involved in nearly every major new airport development in the last three decades.  However, when I hear the words “young” and “innovation” used in the same sentence I see technology double talk all over the performance.  I was not disappointed; confused yes, but not surprised.

Three bright brained late twenty something wonders were up on the podium ready to woo us with their expertise and brilliance on the social media world… Facebook, Twitter, Apps and the rest of the whiz bang of the technology world.  I must admit that it is impressive how youth that are less than 10 years out of college, and have minimal aviation knowledge, have become all knowing.  I’m sure not one of these guys even had a pilot’s license (not that the skill of flying a plane is necessary to design and build an airport).  We see that regularly when we have to go to catch a delayed flight in a 20th Century terminal.

The issue is what do young titans really know?  It is impossible to translate because when they get in that IT mode their mouth runs faster than a Texas roadrunner on a dusty desert, their vocabulary is a scoured foreign language of unidentified origin. 

The audience is made up primarily of over 55 year old gray hairs that have been dealing with airport and aviation issues longer than these kids have been on earth.  Most of us came to the session thinking “I’m open to learning something here (if I can just understand what is being said).”  Maybe their hearing aids are turned down, or they haven’t admitted they need them, but this group looks like a herd of deer staring into headlights.

After an exhausting hour of more types of innovative dialect the session is opened up for questions and answers.  A lady who is a bit over 70, still running a successful runway electrical design company, spoke up.  “My mind cannot compute all your ideas because your mouth runs too fast.”  It’s true, they had given us about 500 pounds of information in 60 minutes, but it appeared difficult for them to provide a distinct cohesive thought.  After several more questions from the audience I finally stood up.

The moderator looked my way and said, “Now we will have a generational question.”  If I hadn't known her since she was a kid in diapers I would have probably been offended.  Looking at the three young men I asked, “Could you please dumb down your topic so that those of us in the room that just happen to run airports, consult to airports, and build them understand?” 

The response was instant and poignant.  It immediately sat me back in my chair and spun by head around.  “Lady, if you hate change you are going to hate being irrelevant!” Touché

Vesta Rea & Associates L.L.C. (VRA) is a national communication, marketing and political consultant  firm within the transportation/aviation industry (highways, airports, seaports, and transit) based in Houston, Texas.  VRA is certified as a woman-owned small business (DBE) in over 30 public agencies in the U.S.  Visit our website: