Journalist for Life

Month: February 2010

When being a teenager is too old

Aboard the Ryndam — This isn’t your grandmother’s Holland America fleet. More hot bars – one featuring a flight of six mini martinis — an Italian specialty restaurant carved from the pool deck’s buffet-line eatery, smart seating in the big theater room. Also, more denim, […]

Who Dat claiming to be me?

Going through the mail recently, an envelope caused me anxiety. The outside merely carried the logo and some ad copy for AT&T, but that’s now a name that grabs my attention, and not in a good way. The telecommunications giant did nothing to harm me. […]

Arkansas’ White River

Arkansas’ White River

Above: Morning mist obscures anglers on the White River, Arkansas.

The late-morning mist is burning off the White River, letting the people in the flat-bottomed boats see where to cast their baited hooks for brown and rainbow trout.

The view for 360 degrees is the definition of outdoor relaxation: The river flows gently by, its water so clear you can see the rocky bottom 4 or 5 feet below, as well as the fish ignoring the night crawlers or plastic doodads. Dense stands of brilliantly green trees line the banks, except when rugged bluffs more than 100 feet high come to the water’s edge.

Floating and fishing on the Buffalo River in Arkansas.
Floating and fishing on the Buffalo River in Arkansas.

The only noises: the occasional comment from one angler to another, the ripple when the river crosses a shallow area, and the bird noises – alternately sweet trilling of small birds or the honking squawks of the numerous gray and blue herons that nest in trees along the shore.

Wes Canady puts a big brown worm on a small, brassy hook and explains to the fisherman in his boat: “You can make fishing as difficult as you want, as challenging as you want, or as relaxing as you want – cast with a fly rod or dangle the bait from a cane pole.”

Canady, 34, has done it all. He grew up here in Arkansas, hunting for deer and the occasional wild pig, but mainly fishing.

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on View a sample at Read more about End Bag here.

Cruise ship Wind Spirit

Uh-oh, there’s trouble in paradise. Barely half an hour into the pool-deck barbecue dinner, while there is still lobster tail on the grill, lots of meat left on the roast pig and jumbo shrimp in the ice bowl, it has begun to rain on the […]


If ever there was a place that made humans earn the right to live amid the natural beauty, it is Newfoundland. Even in late June, a chill wind can blow dense sea fog onto the coast, and thick gray skies hide the sun. Laundry whips […]

Panama Canal, Part One: Mission Impossible

Transiting the Panama Canal is a slow affair. Entering the six chambers of the locks, ships might move just 2 miles per hour, and motoring through the entire 50-mile passage can easily take eight hours.

Guided by a mule, lower left, a cruise ship moves through a lock chamber.
Guided by a mule, lower left, a cruise ship moves through a lock chamber.

Along the way, your ship passes lushly forested hills and plains carpeted by palm trees. All of which belies the intriguing blend of tragedy, scheming and an unimaginable amount of human effort need to create the engineering masterpiece. It is hard to conceive that more than 27,600 men died in constructing the canal, dead from accidents, landslides, malaria and yellow fever.

First the French tried to build a canal, but despite two years of surveying, they foolishly plotted a sea-level path. That’s most likely because overseeing the project was the man who ha also shepherded the successful construction of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps.

He had no experience as an engineer or builder but has been a diplomat who gained the rights form Egypt to build that canal, which was at sea level — with no significant elevation to overcome, so it needed no locks to raise or lower ships.

But the route chosen in Panama was saturated by rainwater – never a problem in the Suez – which caused repeated landslides. Plus, medical science had no realistic ideas about the prevention or cure of malaria and yellow fever.

The French project did not stop after eight years, in 1889, because of all the deaths of more than 22,000 laborers but because the company ran out of money.

About a decade later, the Frenchman who was the company’s chief engineer hired an American lawyer, to influence the U.S. Congress in choosing a path on other Panama land owned by the company. After some outright lies by the lawyer, Congress did choose Panama instead of Nicaragua. When Colombia – which then controlled what is now Panama — rejected the U.S. treaty signed with that French engineer, President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched warships that blocked Colombia from putting down a Panamanian rebellion.

Newly independent Panama quickly granted America the right to build and operate a canal. In May 1904, work began, with the chief engineer selecting a different route – one not at sea level.

The first transit came in August 1914. The same lock chambers used back then are still used, and the 1-millionth transit through them is expected this year. But by 2015, construction should be complete on a new set of locks, to allow much larger vessels to pass.

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on View a sample at Read more about End Bag here.

Panama Canal, Part Two: Watching mules and a laptop

Colon, Panama — Shortly before 3 p.m. on a mid-January day, Eric Hendricks comes aboard the 100-passenger ship Pacific Explorer. He is one of 290 pilots who take control of ships entering the canal. With him are workers who fasten cables to posts at the […]

Yosemite National Park

Built to attract wealthy visitors to Yosemite, The Ahwanee hotel lavishes guests with elegance and eye-popping panoramas. This is what it’s like to be wealthy, the hotel architect wanted you to know. Wealthy, and with a 2,425-foot-tall waterfall in the back yard. End Bag, the […]

Chile’s Lakes Region

The thick clouds drift in from the Pacific, skidding against the cold skies above the eternally snow-capped Andes. It rains 260 days a year here, greening the valleys of Chile’s Lakes region and the lower slopes of the mountains.

“The rain is kind of our life,’ says tourist guide Guillermo Winkler Reinares, born 44 years ago in the busy commercial fishing city of Puerto Montt, at the western edge of the region.

There is no need to check with the Internet or CNN for the weather forecast, he says. Instead, “In the morning, if you can see the mountains, it is going to rain. If you cannot see the mountains, it is raining.’

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on View a sample at Read more about End Bag here.

Size Does Matter

Like marriage, your vacation is often a series of compromises. That is never more certain than when picking a cruise. Will it be a megaship, carrying thousands of passengers but offering a spa, swimming pools and multiple dining choices? Or will it be a cozy […]