Doing Duluth

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Minneapolis

Becky and the grandkids spent an afternoon with us at the zoo.  Giraffes figured prominently…

The conservatory portion is very pretty, but we only saw it from the outside.  Grandkids are more interested in animals… but it did look like Peter would loved to have walked in among the water lilies like the worker was doing.


Our cute grandkids got to feed a giraffe!

Headed North

With all three families together, we loaded up Kevin’s Polaris General, and headed for a rented Lake House, a bit north of Duluth, Minnesota…


Lake Superior Marine Museum & Maritime Visitor Center

The focal point of this museum area in Duluth is the Aerial Lift Bridge.  It is one of only two of this type in the world, the other being in France.  Built in 1905, it originally had a trolley car suspended from the top structure, and would take pedestrians across for a nickel.  Horses and carriages and even some cars made the trip.  With car traffic becoming more common, the bridge was upgraded in 1930 by having a roadway that lifts straight up.  The roadway weighs about 900 tons, but with that same amount of counterweights, it is said it takes very little electricity to open or close it.


A land locked tug:



Island Lake, Minnesota

Our hosts for the beautiful lake house warned us that some phone wires would be too low for the motorhome… but they have done this before and had a special stick made to lift them so we could drive under!


The house was on the shore of Island Lake.  You may notice a few islands!



Sunrise over the lake:



An early morning double rainbow seemed a great omen…






We had several kayaks, a paddle board, a paddle boat, and several tubes.  Time spent playing in and on the water was wonderful!




We also got some fun rides in “The General”… and it’s never really done till you get stuck!

Here is a short video recap of our time on the lake and on the trail…


Split Rock Lighthouse

1905 saw some of the worst storms Lake Superior has ever seen.  29 ships were lost that year in one storm alone.  With Radar and GPS decades away from being invented, during a storm it was very hard for ships to navigate and stay off the very rocky coastlines.  In response to that disastrous year, the Split Rock lighthouse was created.  The 133 foot cliff was a great spot for a light, but there were no roads anywhere near it.  So a derrick was built to lift all the supplies up the steep cliff to build the beacon.  For years it was only accessible by boat, but now the road makes it much easier (and safer) to visit the lighthouse.  While there we were treated to a torrential downpour, complete with extremely close lightning and deafening thunder!  It added to the mystique of the old lighthouse!






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Jogging Through Japan


Sayonara Saipan

So Saturday night was our last night in Saipan.  We were treated to a nice dinner out by the clinic director and his wife.  While we were sad to leave the beautiful beach paradise that is Saipan, we were excited to be headed to our next stop – Japan!

Cherryl and I met in Japan, a few years ago… something like 45!  We thought it would be fun to revisit this fantastic place that we love so much.  We scheduled about 5 days layover on our trip home… and instantly wished we had more time!

Hello Tokyo

We landed in the “new” airport, Narita.  The old airport, Haneda, is still used, I think mostly for domestic flights.  We picked up our Rail Pass and a cute little portable Internet provider… about the size of a pack of gum, it lets all our devices connect without using their cell time or getting a new SIM card. In fact, as I type this, we are on Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train”, doing 168MPH!  Smooth and quiet.  Fantastic! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train” does over 160 mph!

We left half our baggage at the airport (We wouldn’t be needing our SCUBA gear!) and caught the Narita Express, which gets you into downtown Tokyo in less than an hour.  The view from our 14th floor hotel room was great – the lower third of very tall buildings next to us!

Monday morning we headed out again, after deciding we still had too much stuff with us. (The hotel was happy to hold a bag for us.)  So we caught our Shinkansen train for Kyoto. The well over 300 mile trip zooms by at less than 2.5 hours, including a few stops along the way.  All seats have more legroom than first class in a plane, and they actually recline enough you could sleep (and half the people do).

Our hotel in Kyoto was built in a large circle, surrounding a garden area.  A ways out of town, but walking distance from the subway.  We decided it was too late in the day to hit the major tourist spots, so we opted for a traditional Japanese bath house.  Several decades ago, most homes had no bath facilities, so a public bath house was used regularly.  The Japanese are very clean people, and the evening outing to the bath house was also a great way to chat with your neighbors.  Most places have separate men’s/women’s sides. First you get undressed, then you wash thoroughly, sitting on a ridiculously small stool, while pouring small buckets of water all over you.  Only when absolutely clean may you enter the large bath areas.  There you may have a choice of several temperatures and styles… including one they run an electric current through!  I was always taught to avoid crossing electricity with water, but they’ve been doing it here for years.  It feels really strange, like all your muscles want to tighten up a bit at once.  Some think it’s good for you… I think it’s pretty weird!


Ginkaku-ji is commonly called the Temple of the Silver Pavilion.   Build in the late 1400’s, it was the life work of a Shogun to be his retirement home.  It has one of the most beautiful moss gardens in Japan.  The original plan was to cover the building with silver, like the Gold Pavilion is in gold (more on that in a minute), but that never happened. It has always been called the Silver Pavilion anyway.  (I always planned on buying Hearst Castle, but it’s never happened.  Think they will call it McArthur Castle anyway?)

Getting there fairly early was a great thing – not crowded, and plenty of time to savor the fantastic gardens.


















No, this isn’t a monument to a chicken… that’s a Phoenix!



Lots of flowers in front of shops.



We saw lots of gals in Kimonos, and some guys in their Yukatas as well.



We trekked from Kyoto to Osaka, (13 minutes on Shinkansen) to try and find the school where we taught and first met.  We found the SDA Osaka Center on the map, and were very proud of our ability to navigate the subway system all the way there.  Except the building was not the same one we taught in… They moved from the old building years ago.  The new one is beautiful, and includes the church and a language school, as did the old one. The receptionist at the school said her mother worked in the school when we were there – turns out we’d known her!  She pointed out the location of the old building, but when we got there, we found a totally different structure; I’m sure the old one was torn down.

Travel by public transportation is fun and efficient in Japan, but involves more stairs than I can describe. We walked our feet off!  When we finally finished the day’s adventures, our Apple gear said we’d done over 18,000 steps and 11.8 miles!  (That doesn’t include the previous day’s experiment… Walking the length of the train at 168mph got me 3 miles of walking!) Turns out we’d walk like that every day! We travelled by Shinkansen, express trains, local trains, subways, busses and even the Tokyo Monorail.

Below is a non-crowded train.  Subways have seats along the sides instead of in rows.


There is no way to show how many people are on the move in the railways/subways, but here is my short attempt…




This was my favorite temple decades ago.  Created in 778 AD, it is a stunning wooden structure built into the side of a mountain, with a deck jutting out into space.  

This is what I remembered and was looking forward to seeing:


But unfortunately, it is now being restored… so this is what we saw:




Scaffolding over the whole structure!  Sigh… we could still go inside, and see the fascinating pattern of wooden beams and beautiful lanterns from inside.



Below is a set of fountains, where people treat the water as if it has special powers.  When I was first here, people would drink from water they’d catch from the fountain in long handled  wooden dippers.  Today they have metal dippers that they can supposedly sanitize with an ultraviolet light between uses, and most didn’t drink but just got their hands in it or maybe splashed it on their faces.




There are pagodas on either side of the entrance…




Prayers can be written on paper, and tied onto special racks, or maybe even printed on a wooden card and hung up.



It used to be common to leave food for the images, and of course they would need a bib.  We saw more bibs than food.  Just getting ready for the feast to come!



By far the most visitors were Japanese.







Known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it was also built as a Shogun’s home, complete with fabulous gardens and Gold Leaf over much of the structure.  The original was built in 1397.   In 1950 it burned down, thanks to a careless monk.  Rebuilt in 1955, it is covered with even thicker gold leaf than it was originally.




Lots of girls in pretty Kimonos…



Everywhere are cute little shops with cute little ladies selling…



Japan is all about clean!

Streets, shops, homes, parks, even public bathrooms are very clean.  In the temple pavilions there were people sweeping the moss!



High Tech Toilets

In the old days, Japanese toilets were all the “Squat Pots”; just a ceramic slot in the tile floor that you squatted over and did whatever you came in there to do.  But they have not only adopted the western style toilet, but modernized it dramatically! Heated seats, auto flushing, and soft closing lids.oSome will shoot jets of water to wash you and heated air to dry you off.  I’m told there are some available that will do urinalysis too… but we didn’t meet any of those in our hotels.


Interesting Signs

They are everywhere… I was amused by “During Cleaning” on a non-accessible train door, and “Mildly Air-Conditioned Car”… until I walked the length of one train and noticed one car (the one we got on) was defiantly hotter than all the others.  I guess some like it hot…


Subway tickets are magnetic and you place them in the gate, it opens, and spits your ticket out the other side in a split second.  For the rail passes we had to show our passes to a staff person… and I guess here the staff is stuffed!


People apparently go to the grocery store meet section to meat other non-vegetarian people…



The food is beautifully presented, unless you are at a buffet and have to do it yourself.  One hotel had an included breakfast, served at an Italian restaurant.  So the first time I’ve had spaghetti, scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast!




This is a poster with a futuristic dental theme, but I have no idea what they are selling.



I just thought this was fun – the old guy in a suit, with his mask on, riding a bike, swerved over to say Hi and chat with the cab driver…



Ok, not all the food is displayed beautifully… The cream puffs seem to be barfing green tea or vanilla filling, and the breadsticks look… well, unusual. (But the vanilla cream puffs were great!)


And a quite energized salesperson…




Soaring Over Saipan

The Grotto

The Grotto is maybe the most famous spot in Saipan.  A deep hole in the volcanic rock, with a steep 110 step staircase down to the water level.  Here the water surges, with several caves opening to the sea.  Everyone has to see this place, crowd onto the rock in the middle of the opening, and take pictures of themselves and their fancy outfits. Divers seem to think exploring the caves underwater is more than exciting, it’s almost a right of passage.


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Tanks in the water

Beach Road runs along a lot of the western coast.  This is the beach where the Americans landed when taking the island from the Japanese in WWII.  On June 15, 1944, hundreds of  amphibious vehicles and tanks were launched on the edge of the reef, and then they drove over a relatively shallow reef to the shore.  A few didn’t make it, and are still there.  We swam out to a couple of tanks, proving their amphibiosity by staying in the water for 27,301 days as of today. (exactly 3 months shy of 75 years)


Tank Beach

On the eastern shore of the island is Tank Beach.  I’m not sure why it’s called that, because there are no tanks there, like there are on the western shore.  The beach is beautiful, the waves severe, and even now you can see the evidence of war.


The Black Ninja

While we were on the path along Beach Road, flying the drone and trying to shoot pictures of terns, a young man, all in black, stopped his northward trek and motioned that he’d like me to take his picture with his phone.  I think he was Japanese, but he only communicated by gestures.  I said he was all in black, and I mean it… Black clothes, hat, backpack, and face mask!  He struck a funny pose, I suppose like a Ninja shooting pistols, had me take a few, then he moved to a spot 20 feet away and started over.  So I took a few more… then he moved again and wanted more! All this time I have my drone hovering 40 feet above us just waiting for me, and I’m very nervous not paying attention to it.  Very bizarre.  So when I landed the drone, we caught up with him and indicated I wanted pictures of him.  This is what he gave me:



Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel and Casino

We decided we had to step inside the extravagant unfinished mostly bankrupt casino.  Very glitzy, mostly empty.  Most folks here call it a joke or an eyesore.





Soaring over Saipan

Here is a little “Overview” of Saipan… From above the tallest mountain in the world, Mt Tapochau… (If you include from the base of the Mariana’s Trench this mountain is over 36,000 feet tall!  And we climbed it!! If Mt Everest were placed at the bottom of the trench, it would have over a mile of water covering it!)

The video shows some other sights around the island, like the city of Garapan with its partially finished casino, Bird Island, and a nice shot of what looks like a beautiful yacht.  The yacht belongs to the bankrupting casino, and the Mega Typhoon Yutu last fall tore her from her dock and dumped her in the middle of a coral reef.  Rumor has it she has a big hole in her hull, and is just sitting on the shallow bottom until someone (with lots of money) can figure out how to get her off the reef.


A New Day

Saipan is “Where America’s Day Begins”, and here is a shot of that beginning this morning…



Fairy Terns

 By Cherryl…

My favorite thing about Saipan is the beautiful white birds that fly around me while I am walking on the path by the beach. They are nearly see-thru when the sun is on them and I am looking up at them flying by. The front edge of the wing has bones I feel like I can see, while the rest is beautiful shiny white feathers. They have very black eyes and the rest of the bird is very white.

The wings are swept back like a fighter plane, thin, aerodynamic, fast looking.


There are often groups of 3 or 4 flashing around the trees or above the ocean. At different angles they disappear and reappear in silver flashes. 

A friend in Tinian said he likes these birds, he called them fish birds, because when he goes out fishing he watches where they are and finds schools of fish there. 

These terns are related to Fairy Terns in New Zealand, but those have dark heads sometimes.  Maybe these are Saipan Fairy Terns.

When Bruce and I went out to get pictures of these birds he flew the drone. The Fairy Terns did NOT like the drone at a specific altitude. Down low near the ground was ok, up high, like 300 ft, was ok. But about tree top level was not ok. I read that they lay their eggs in the crook of the tree – no nest. And they protect their young vigorously. When the drone was at that altitude 15 or 20 birds would suddenly appear flying around the drone and dive bombing it!


Here is a link to an article about these Terns. CNMI stands for Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. It is the islands north of Guam.



Managaha is a small island a few minutes off Saipan by boat.  It’s uninhabited… at night… but a very popular playground during the day.


Tourists come for the sun, and then hide from it.  Or they come to play in the beautiful water, but most of them crowd into a small area roped off for some reason.


Some come to take glamorous pictures of themselves… as they like to do all over Saipan.


We came to chase fish!


There are a few remnants of the war here, above the water and under it.  Can’t get away from that on Saipan!




Touring Tinian

We had the privilege of a personalized Tour of Tinian this week.  The pastor of the SDA church on Tinian met us at the airport after our probably 7 minute flight, and showed us all the sights on the island.

Tinian was severely hit by Typhoon Yuto last fall, one of the strongest ever to hit a US property.  Winds from 180 – 190 MPH! Saipan was hit very hard too, but more on that in a later blog.

There is nothing funny about people whose homes were destroyed, or people living in tents donated by FEMA (They were VERY helpful here, donating housing materials, tents, and even generators), but I did find humor in some power lines…

Tinian is well known as the site the Atomic Bombs were flown from, on the way to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We saw what’s left of the airfield and some Japanese buildings from when they used the airfields.

The Atomic Bombs, nicknamed “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” were loaded from pits in the ground up into the bombers.  They have now placed protective glass covers over these pits.

Here are some models of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”- they were on mounts, but  Typhoon Yutu blew them away!

Evidence of Japanese shrines:

Here is my video Tribute to Tinian:



Saipan Shots

We haven’t spent much time on the beach yet… but we did drive to the south of the island and check out a couple of beaches.

Ladder Beach is reached by a long stairway that reaches almost to the sand… the southern part of the island is what was hit the hardest in the huge hurricane last fall, and I’m told it altered the landing area of this stairway.  But no matter, the beach is still beautiful, with huge boulders on the western side that make for fun exploring and awesome views.



Fairly common beach attire… wouldn’t want to get too much sun!


Obyan Beach (pronounced Ob-John) is a bit farther east, and quite a bit more popular.


Still beautiful after hurricane damage

Alongside the parking area are many trees that have been blown over, and are now just sticking their roots helplessly in the air…


ATV tours are available, and we ran into one leaving the beach.  The whole herd seemed to be having fun.


There was a uniformed guard at the parking area when we arrived, and he asked us if we would be getting in the water.  He advised that because of a strong rip current, we should not go past the breakers.  So we had fun in only about three feet of water.  The rocks weren’t too exciting, but it was good to be in the clear water and I had fun chasing fish…


Most of the tourists in Saipan are from China or Korea, with Japan a distant third.  I don’t think American tourists get here too often.  One thing that amuses me about the tourists, is the love of Pink Mustang convertibles.  They are extremely popular, and you see dozens of them driving around.  The coolest ones have had the doors modified, so they swing up like they belong on a Lamborghini.  These Pseudo Lambo drivers pose for glamour shots all over the island, usually just the pretty girl, but sometimes a couple.  You occasionally see red Mustangs, or even Yellow Camaros, but the pink prevails.




The World War II battle for Saipan was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific.  The Japanese figured this island was their last line of defense, because if the Americans took Saipan, they would be within bomber range of the Japanese mainland.  So they fought ferociously to keep it.

The American invasion was incredibly strong, and the Japanese were overpowered.  The last stronghold was towards the north of the island, in a system of caves reinforced with concrete.  Much of the fortress still exists, and there are many military relics around to add to the sobering atmosphere.




The caves are now mostly guarded by spiders

Near the shore are many shrines commemorating the lost…


A gorgeous sunset seems to represent closure of a sad time for both sides…




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Finding Our Way in Saipan

My plan was to have a cool history of this amazing island called Saipan in this week’s blog.  But I have been reminded how seldom things go like one plans…  I’ve learned a lot of fascinating things about this special island, but they will get shared another day.


When I was here 5 or 6 years ago, just for a visit, I ran every morning along Beach road. I’m excited to resume that practice now, and have watched the creation of each new day while running on a sidewalk along the beach.




There are plenty of nice white beaches and fantastic shades of blue in the waters.



Just around the bend in the picture above we ran across these war relics.  There are remnants of tank-like treads behind this front axle, telling me that this must have been a “half-track”.  Can’t tell which side it belonged to.





Lest you think life is all beaches and exploration, I must admit that I’ve spent most of my time in the clinic.  I’m learning their systems and workflow, and even getting some dentistry done!

That is not a huge poster welcoming us, but a nice sign on the glass in front of an operatory. They had those nice welcoming signs all over!


Here is a short video of a couple of beaches and a couple of resorts – one beautiful and one amazingly tacky.  It is a gold encrusted eyesore that started out as a casino, and is trying to expand into a huge hotel/resort. Rumor has it that they are bankrupt and will never be able to complete it.  It is very tall – dominating the skyline, and drawing scorn from most of the locals.  Especially the workers that aren’t getting paid!



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