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Road Trip day 3: Nashville to Mammoth Cave Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, Monday, 18 July 2016 10:08pm

Pulled pork on pancakes. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but overall? Pretty good. It was sweet potato pancakes with pan fried apples, topped with an egg over easy, which added in some sweetness and moisture to what would otherwise have been overly dry.

Those of you who avidly follow my online journal (ha) may have noticed that I haven't posted anything about this road trip so far. That's because my laptop has been non-functional. It would get partway through the login process, fail a filesystem check, and crash. Of course this happened just after we left, rather than just before... So we took a couple of hours to go to a mall, take it to the Apple Store, have them try to fix it, give up, and erase the disk. I should be able to restore it from a backup when I get back, but for now I've installed just the essentials.

Back in downtown Nashville, we stopped in at the Frist Center which has an interesting exhibition on right now of post-war Italian cars (and a few motorcycles) The exhibition starts with some Fiat prototypes that showed how the designers and mechanics adapted what they learned from building airplanes for the war effort, and traced those design ideas through the 1970s. There were some fantastic Maseratis and Ferraris, but my favorites were a Lamborghini and a Bizzarrini.

We had a tasty lunch at a BBQ place in what looks to be a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in East Nashville. There were two craft breweries and a taproom/beer shop within a half block, and we passed an organic restaurant, a juice bar, and a high end butcher before making our way back to the road. We passed through more farmland, and made our way to Kentucky, where the major activity on a Monday afternoon seems to be mowing lawns. There was a truly staggering number of enormous (acres), very well kept lawns, and a corresponding number of people out on riding mowers keeping them.

We're at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, in preparation for our Intro to Caving tour tomorrow morning. There are lots of not-at-all-skittish deer here, along with lightning bugs and bats.

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Road Trip day 2: Hot Springs to Nashville Nashville, TN, Sunday, 17 July 2016 11:59pm

We'd hoped to visit the Buckstaff baths today, the sole remaining traditional bathhouse on Bathhouse Row, but I failed to notice that they were closed on Sundays.

Instead, we did a short hike up to the observation tower at the top of a hill in the National Park, and took the elevator up for a very pretty view. It was a little hazy out, so I'm not sure we could see Texas.

On our hike back down, an obliging raptor (a falcon?) gave us an opportunity to use Adrienne's early birthday binoculars. She was perched at the top of a dead tree and calling often enough for us to easily spot her. There was a little bird who kept dive-bombing her and being ignored.

On our return to our hotel, we remembered that the hotel itself, though not actually on bathhouse row, also had a traditional bath area. We got them to delay our checkout for an hour and treated ourselves to whirlpool baths, saunas, hot wraps, and needle showers.

We stopped at the Park Headquarters to peek in at the spectacular stained glass and disturbing bathing apparatuses in the Fordyce bathhouse and to pick up a National Parks Pass. We filled our bottles with spring water at one of the jug fountains and hit the road.

The Arkansas state highway map is kind enough to mark which roads are "scenic", so we took Highway 70 for much of the way, and I-40 when that got a little too slow (though the Interstate was marked as scenic by that point as well). We passed a lot of farmland, including corn and soybeans. There were also a lot of fields full of standing water that seemed too deep to be for rice. I wonder what they were.

We arrived in Nashville in time for a late-ish dinner. When setting up the route on my GPS, I noticed that our hotel is the closest one to what it considers the very center of Nashville to be. It turned out the restaurant we'd picked was (literally) right around the corner. It had the charming name of "Skull's Rainbow Room", and was apparently a landmark of Printer's Alley until Skull died. It's recently been reopened, and is serving creative cocktails and delicious food.

We took a stroll along Broadway after dinner, pausing to see if we heard any particularly good live music. Adrienne picked a place with pair of singers/guitarists who were doing requests. They did a lovely rendition of "Jolene" for her.

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Road Trip day 1: Austin to Hot Springs Hot Springs, AR, Saturday, 16 July 2016 10:09pm

It's a long drive to get out of Texas. We took a fairly scenic route out, until we got to Texarkana, then took the interstate until the turnoff for Hot Springs. That put us back on a lovely country highway into the Ouatcita mountains.

Our hotel is a historic building with lots of early 20th century charm. We had dinner and a "Beer Bath" tasting flight of 18 different beers at a historic converted bathhouse. There were several good ones, but both of us agreed that our favorite was "Pretty Fly For a White Rye".

First wildlife: white tailed deer

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Home Again Austin, TX, Sunday, 10 January 2016 10:30pm

Back in Austin. It was a long day of travel, but not actually as long as we'd been expecting. Our flights were changed so that our 7 hour layover in Puerto Rico was only 4 hours (lucky that we looked at our boarding passes!). Bug and Em were kind enough to pick us up at the Austin Airport.

Full Map

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Last Day Toucari, Dominica, Saturday, 09 January 2016 9:31pm

For our last day, we decided to explore the top end of the island. We drove from our hotel along the northern coast, but when we would usually cut across the island to go to Portsmouth, we stuck to the coast. It was a nice drive, over some suspiciously well-maintained roads (the Prime Minister represents Vieille Case). From the top of the hills we could see the islands of Guadeloupe (France) in the distance.

After lunch, we hiked around the Cabrits National Park a bit and managed to see all of the common animals: tree and ground lizards, hermit and black crabs (though the latter only as corpses scattered across the trail by some ferocious crab predator), the red-necked pigeon, and the grove snake ("Elegant and harmless"). We also found a tree near Fort Shirley that was apparently irresistible to both the Bananaquit and Antillean Crested Hummingbird.

Then we headed up to the northernmost village in this part of the island and reached the end of the road. Finally, we stopped in Toucari Bay to do one last bit of snorkeling. It was pretty murky because of the recent weather, but we did get to see some nice schools of fish and some decent corals and sponges. We also saw the largest Bearded Fire Worm I've ever seen. Usually they're a few inches long, but this one was as long as my forearm. There was also a starfish, which is the first one I've noticed this trip.

On our way back, we got stuck in a traffic jam. People tend to park wherever they feel like, and the town of Wesley was apparently very popular on this Saturday night. The parking in one area blocked enough traffic that there was no way for cars to make progress in either direction. Eventually some traffic wranglers got enough cars to move to loosen the jam.

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Rough Roads Scott's Head, Dominica, Friday, 08 January 2016 9:22pm

We started off the day with a driving adventure. There's a rum factory on the west coast, and we figured we could take one of the other roads that we haven't already seen. That road turned out to be more of a dirt track in places, and we got lost a few times because the course has changed due to washouts. Part of the road was along the Layou river, which was running pretty high, and it was easy to see how those washouts could have happened. Our trusty 4x4 handled it with aplomb, under Adrienne's ever-more-expert control.

The Shillingford Estate/Macoucherie Rum factory was a really neat place to visit. The estate was founded in the 1770s, and slave labor produced the rum until the British abolition of slavery in the 1830s. The cane-crusher is powered by a water wheel (one of only two remaining water-powered cane-crushers still in use), driven by an aqueduct. The distillation process is done with steam generated from a wood-fired boiler using a column still. Unfortunately, the factory was badly damaged in Tropical Storm Erika. Large portions of the estate were flooded and some of the equipment and rum was washed out to sea, so the rum is not currently being produced. Hopefully they'll get the repairs done soon.

We'd hoped to have lunch in the area, but discovered that we were out of cash, and all of the restaurants along the beach nearby seemed to be cash only. So we headed into Roseau to stop by a bank and get some lunch. This proved to be another kind of driving adventure, as schools had just let out and the city was one big traffic jam. We ended up crossing the river three times, over three different bridges because of one way streets.

After lunch, traffic had died down considerably, and it was looking fairly clear in the southwest part of the island, so we drove down to Scott's Head. The promontory there overlooks Soufriere Bay, where we did some of our dives, and provides a great view of the island. We could even see Martinique off in the distance.

After hiking down from the top (barely a stroll, after some of our recent hikes), we did some snorkeling in the bay. We saw a small hawksbill turtle, a mutton snapper, and a fair sampling of the fish we might see on a dive. There's a sharp drop-off in about 30 feet of water, so we could free-dive down to where it starts getting deep and have a look before coming back up.

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Birding Syndicate, Dominica, Thursday, 07 January 2016 9:45pm

Our plan for today was to look for the elusive parrots in the Morne Diablotin National Park. Birdwatching got off to a strange start as we were getting into our rental SUV: a hummingbird flew right into the open passenger door and ran into the seat. It sat on the ground looking stunned for about a minute, giving us a good look at its iridescent green feathers, and then hummed off.

On the drive over to the Syndicate Nature trail, we also saw a number of banded-tailed raptors, that we think are the Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus).

Seeing the actual parrots on the trail was significantly more difficult. It's hard to track anything in the rainforest canopy, and while you can hear birds, it's hard to see just where they are. We did see a Brown Trembler (Cinclocerthia ruficauda) in one of the lower branches, though. Its name is surprisingly apt.

There's an overlook point where you can sit and see across the river, which afforded a view of the treetops on the other side. We ended up sitting there for about half of the time we were in the park, hoping to spot some parrots. We did see three parrot-like birds, two of which we believed were Jaco parrots (Amazona arausiaca), due to their coloring, and the third of which we are almost positive was a Sisserou parrot (Amazona imperialis), due to its ungainly flight.

Amusingly, on the drive out of the national park, we saw more birds in a few minutes than we'd seen on the drive in, including a pair of Jacos.

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West Side Trafalgar, Dominica, Wednesday, 06 January 2016 9:10pm

We got up early today to drive over to Portsmouth and do a couple more Scuba dives. They were pretty good dives, and we finally saw a spotted eagle ray, which we'd been watching out for since we started diving here. We definitely preferred the dive sites in the south, and also the dive folks at Dive Dominica (both crew and divers).

After stopping for lunch at a food-stall area in Picard (where Adrienne got some Mexican food), we headed down the coast. We'd been weighing two options for the afternoon: Trafalgar Falls or Scott's Head. Since it looked rainy on the south side of the island, we decided to go to the Falls.

They were great. As we were arriving, bus after tour bus was pulling out of the parking lot, and during the time we were there, we only saw a couple other groups. There's an easy walk to a viewing platform, where you can see both of the falls. Most people (and all of the other visitors while we were there) stop there. We decided to press on to the base of the "Mother" Fall, which is less tall, but has more water flow. It was a scramble in the rain over wet, slippery boulders, with no clear path. Fun! I got to put some of my bouldering technique to use. There's a nice pool at the base of the falls, and we swam there for a bit.

We stopped by a sulphur spa in Wotten Waven to soak for a bit and work out the last of the soreness from the Boiling Lake hike. We timed that pretty well too: there were a bunch of people when we arrived, but they drifted out over the course of our soak.

Dinner was at the Old Stone Bar & Grill in Roseau, where we'd tried to go on the first Sunday after our arrival, and then again on New Year's Day. The third time's the charm: they were actually open this time! We had one of the best island-style food meals we've had.

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East Side Concord, Dominica, Tuesday, 05 January 2016 7:20pm

Our plan for today was to drive down the east coast, around the south end of the island and out to Scott's Head, a promontory that we did some dives around.

We started out with a visit to the Kalinago Barana Autê, a set of structures that show how the Kalinago people lived in pre-Columbian times. We took a short walking tour with a guide who showed us various alimentary and medicinal plants they used, and got to see cassava bread being made. It's pretty tasty, particularly with coconut mixed in, so we got a round of it to snack on throughout the day.

The next stop was the Emerald Pool, which is the most touristy place we've seen on the island outside of the cruise ship docks. There's a nice stroll through the rainforest to a waterfall cascading into a pool full of green water and tourists.

The road to the south became rougher and rougher, and we had to stop briefly near the Boetica Gorge where earthmovers were working on the approach to a bridge. After a turn, we saw a minibus sitting right in the center of the road, and got out to take a look. It turned out that the next section of road had been destroyed in Tropical Storm Erika in August, and there's currently no way to drive around the island that way.

I just made my first edit to OpenStreetMap to mark that. Garmin (the company that makes my GPS) doesn't sell a map for Dominica, but OSM makes their data available in the right format, which has been really handy.

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North Side Portsmouth, Dominica, Monday, 04 January 2016 9:21pm

We had a relatively relaxed day today to recover from our hike yesterday. Our lodge arrange for a cute little rental 4x4 to be brought around in the morning. After a quick stop at the airport to pick up driving permits, we spent most of the day tooling around the north side of the island.

Adrienne checked off a lot of boxes today: first time driving on the wrong side, first time off-roading on the wrong side, learning to navigate the hairpin turns and blind curves, and how to signal instead of turning on the windshield wipers, and vice versa (they're on the other side of the wheel than in a left hand drive car).

We found a well-reviewed restaurant in Portsmouth, in the northwest, so we drove there. Unsurprisingly, it was closed for no apparent reason, so we had a shawarma instead. A nice change of pace from the island food we've been eating since we've been here.

We walked over to the local dive shop... or tried. Their website described signs that we were pretty sure should have been where we were looking, but we just couldn't find them. Finally, we went to where Foursquare (which is more consistently right than any other point-of-interest database I've found) said the dive operator was and asked at the cafe there. It turns out the signs were gone because the dive operation was permanently closed because the owner passed away last month (not diving-related).

We headed to the other local dive shop, which is in the Cabrits National Park, but it turned out to be closed on Mondays.

Heading back through Portsmouth, we stopped for a boat tour of the Indian River. It's a pretty trip in a rowboat, with the guide pointing out various plants (mangroves, coconut palms, wild sugar cane, ginger) and birds (moorhens, egrets, herons, and a kingfisher).

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