On this two-day trip out of Hanoi, we passed trucks loaded with pigs, and dozens of duck farms, all supplying restaurants in Hanoi. At the Cuc Phuong National Park’s conservation center, we were hoping to spot a pangolin (a rare, scaled animal that, in photos, reminded me of an armadillo), but they were only on view at certain times of day, so we missed them. We did visit the monkey and turtle sections though. After a night in our Ninh Binh hotel, we visited a temple and then boarded a small, flat-bottomed boat for another river trip where all the rowers used their legs and feet at the oars. Dozens of tourist-filled boats joined us as we made our way down the river, past even more spectacular scenery, and through three low-hanging caves. I was sure we would have to duck or bump our heads, but the rowers knew the safest channel to take. Outside the caves we encountered a floating market of sorts. Several sellers in boats tried to entice us to buy their wares, imploring us to at least buy food for our rower.
On a day trip from Hanoi, we headed southwest, ostensibly to visit the Perfume Pagoda in a Huong Son mountain cave. The only way to get there, following a 2-hour drive, is a boat ride along the Yen River, then a cable car up to the cave—a pilgrimage site to which thousands go during the religious Tet festival in March and April.
The drive out of Hanoi showcased Vietnam’s watery countryside. When we arrived at the river, the tiny boat was big enough for us, our guide, and the boat’s rower, and the one-hour trip upriver proved serene and scenic. We passed watery fields of pink lotus blossoms (which apparently start closing at noon), travelers in other boats, a red foot bridge high above the river, and kingfisher birds clinging to branches, before arriving at the elaborate Thien Tru Pagoda temple complex. Fortunately, we were there in November, and the place was almost deserted—a situation that was perfect for exploring and photography but posed some problems: The Ladies restroom was locked, so I had to use the Men’s, while our guide stood guard outside. Also, we were told that the cable car was not running (not enough people, I suppose), so we couldn’t go up to the Perfume Pagoda. After a bountiful lunch, we explored the extensive temple complex, then rejoined our boat and rower for the trip back down the river. By this time, all the lotus blossoms had closed, but the scenery was still spectacular.
Please enjoy! Just click on a photo to enlarge, then arrow back and forth.
Circa 1892, a small beetle native to Central or South America made its way across the Mexican border in the vicinity of Brownsville, Texas and spread rapidly across cotton-growing regions. By the 1920s, Anthonomus grandis, the boll weevil, was causing more economic damage than any agricultural pest in U.S. history.
The boll weevil feeds on cotton pollen, but does its damage by laying eggs on cotton flower buds called “squares,” or on the young developing cotton boll, which provides the beetle with a platform for its “home.” The infected bud or boll stops developing and often falls off as the beetle larvae eat it. The destruction spread from Texas across the South and Southwest, so that by the Great Depression, cotton farmers had already suffered from many years of devastatingly poor harvests. Eventually, it found its way to California cotton fields as well.
The first pesticide used on infested cotton crops was arsenic, but the boll weevil developed a tolerance for it. Another pesticide, DDT, was tried in the mid-twentieth century, but, once again, the pests developed a resistance to it. Plus, the heavy application of pesticides killed a wide spectrum of beneficial insects, allowing other pests to increase their numbers and damage cotton and other crops. And there was a danger of polluted adjacent food crops, water supplies and consequential ecological damage.
But humans are adaptable, too. A variety of strategies—started in the 1970s—such as pheromone traps in the spring, hand picking infected cotton buds during the growing season, plowing under the cotton stalks after harvest, and low levels of pesticides when the insect is short of food in the fall, all helped to stem the destructive tide of boll weevil devastation.
An important ingredient in the mix was Hawaiian cotton. When ma’o is crossed with other cotton strains, the resulting commercial hybrids are less attractive to insect pests that destroy cotton crops. Ma’o lacks the flavor lactones within the nectar which would otherwise attract insects to commercial cotton.
Now, in most states, the boll weevil and other cotton pests have left and are unlikely to return. But in Enterprise, Alabama, the city has erected a statue to the boll weevil because, they say, there is a great deal we can learn from an invasive bug, even as we show it the door.
Perhaps they should erect a statue to Ma’o, the Hawaiian cotton plant, too.
p.s. visitors to Oahu, Hawaii, can find ma’o growing wild along the dry slopes at the Makapu’u scenic lookout.
It used to be a secret. Each year around October / November I’d hear through the grapevine about sunflower fields popping up on Oahu’s North Shore and camera-toting enthusiasts venturing illegally onto private property to capture the beautiful blooms.
“So we decided, since people were determined to visit the fields, we’d open them up to the public,” says Derek, one of several DuPont employees minding the fields on Saturday, November 22, when I arrived toting my camera.
Actually, I had tried in years past but could never find the fields. “We moved them around from year to year,” says Derek, pointing to a brown patch of earth, which had once been a sunflower field further down the valley, “so they were in different places.”
Derek also mentioned that DuPont grew the fields for scientific purposes, testing growth rates of different seeds. Now, he says, computers can take over that job, so this might be the sunflower fields’ last year.
That is, unless DuPont decides to keep planting the fields as a community service. “We’re giving back to the community,” says Derek. “Your parking fee ($5) and profits from anything you buy here (t-shirts, souvenirs, food) go to support our local high school’s activities. By the way,” he adds, “the pineapple/guava lemonade is really good.”
Every February-March, my editor asks if I can once again update the Destination Hyatt books for the Maui, Kauai and Waikiki resorts. I look forward to this assignment because I’m a wordsmith, and it’s a chance for me to get creative, writing new sidebars, little-known facts, and intros for each of the resorts and the islands they inhabit. And that means I have to come up with new themes and ideas each year.
A few years ago, I wrote this one for Kauai. And since I just returned from six days on the Garden Isle, now seems like the perfect time to put words and photos together for a blog post. My husband calls this “flowery” writing, but I call it fitting for a garden island.
I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any Kauai experiences, do tell.
Kauai: The Magician
Abracadabra! Endless stretches of powdery-sand beaches strung together like jewels glittering gold in the sunlight. Throngs of red-footed boobies and other acrobatic sea birds soaring gracefully above the cliffs and lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. An impregnable mountain fortress known as Na Pali flaunting its steepled spires, sea arches, and isolated, idyllic pillows of sand.
When it comes to sleight of hand, Kauai is a master, transforming the raw lava of a once barren volcano into an emerald-robed Garden of Eden complete with groves of coconut palms and a smorgasbord of fruits: papaya, banana, breadfruit, guava, lychee, mango, passion fruit, and the tempting mountain apple.
Like pulling a rabbit out of its hat, the island reveals hidden gardens filled with colorful tropical flowers, the languid Wailua River and its ethereal Fern Grotto, waterfalls galore, a replica Grand Canyon known as Waimea, and towering Mount Wai‘ale‘ale—the wettest place on earth.
Once Kauai has mesmerized, resistance is futile. You’ll find yourself playing 18 holes on a world-class, cliff-top golf course, hiking into Waimea Canyon’s wilderness of pastel reds and yellows or along Na Pali’s carved-into-the-cliffside footpath, kayaking a rainforest river, sipping coffee made from the island’s homegrown beans, relaxing in a rejuvenating spa, visiting locations where movies such as Jurassic Park and South Pacific were filmed, exploring by horseback or astride an ATV, stretching out on a beach in the company of a Hawaiian monk seal or green sea turtle.
Kauai waves its magic wand and you gladly fall under its spell.
East of Malaga offers an intriguing challenge for September, and so I again focus my lens on Hawaii, where repetition usually means colorful and fun. Usually….but not always.
My two selected blogs for this theme, I think are clever interpretations and so different—tires and beehive:
While in Europe this summer, our cruise ship stopped at Helsingborg, Sweden, and we spent several hours exploring the town. One must-see on our agenda was The Keep. Once a castle stood on the hill overlooking Helsingborg’s streets, but now the only thing left is The Keep—a walled entrance behind which stands a lone remaining tower. We climbed the steps up to The Keep, and I looked back to capture this image of the town (far) framed by one of the arches (near).
Helsingborg, Sweden is across the narrow Oresund strait from Helsingor, Denmark—a town famed for its Kronborg Castle, which is said to have been the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Turkey is full of surprises. For example, it is commonly believed that tulips originated in Holland. In fact, tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey. It seems that in the 16th century, someone brought them from Turkey to Holland where they became wildly popular.
In Turkey, under the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, the period between 1718 and 1730 became known as the Tulip Era—an era of peace in which handmade textiles, embroidery, carpets, clothing and other objects were adorned with tulip designs and large tulip gardens sprang up around the Golden Horn in Istanbul. When the sultan was dethroned, the Tulip Era came to an end, but tulip gardens can still be found in Istanbul, and the lovely designs still adorn many handmade goods (see photo below).
The botanical name for tulips, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “tulbend,” meaning turban, which the flower resembles. The tulip is considered the king of bulbs and is Turkey’s national flower.