The Lava has come and gone, as it has for millions of years. Some folks are heading back to the mainland or Alaska after losing their homes to the will of Pele, goddess of lava. Many farm families shrug off the inconvenience of access roads to markets that are still blocked by lava. They continue planting and harvesting, bringing papayas and avocados, rambutan and coconuts to the farmer’s markets or commercial merchants in Hilo. Everyone in the farming community hopes the local authorities will rebuild all major roads instead of routing dump-trucks, short-bed trucks and cars along narrow forest tracks better suited for bicycles and pedestrians. Surely, the roads will be repaired as in other disaster areas in the United States. Change is part of life; everyone copes.
People still dream of living on this mostly rural island and they are snapping up property. The Island of Hawai’i attracts newcomers and people from other parts of the state because of its relatively lower cost of living compared to Honolulu and Oahu. Puna, the southern district on Hawai’i Island affected by the 2018 lava flow, is said to be one of the fastest growing area on Big Island. The skies are clear again, the lava gone, quakes finished and the living is easy as long as the creek doesn’t rise or the feral pigs return..
Some families are leaving the island, selling their dream houses and businesses. Others changed their lifestyle and moved closer to Hilo, trading fire ants for fine arts.
One friend is headed back to Europe. She is selling her gorgeous one acre estate with splendid house and many ornamental trees, notably a mature Bismarckia palm.
Bismarckia nobilis is a slow-growing majestic tree named for the first chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck. The is particularly poignant to me because with considerable effort, I dug the hole for my own small Bismarckia palm a few years ago. The space needed for my young palm and its bulbous root system was about 61 cm (24 inches) deep by 61 cm across which I excavated with an oho bar for leverage through dense lava rock from the 1955 lava flow.
Alas, my Bismarckia perished in 2018 because of poisoned air during the lava inundation. Lava didn’t smother or burn it, the noxious VOG , a by-product of the eruption, killed the palms, ornamentals and hundreds of other trees.
The world’s first national rail networks were constructed in Britain, with the first inter-city line connecting the industrial midland city Manchester with the port of Liverpool in 1830.
So, are you wondering, which country forged a national rail network next? France? Sweden, the United States?
It was Egypt. The Egyptian rail system connected ports on the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869. Egypt’s rolling stock is still on track. A recent issue of Future Rail magazine reports on Egypt’s recent purchase of 1,300 new carriages.
Train in Ramses Station, Cairo.
Street vendor near Ramses Station
Pedestrians cross tracks at Ramses Station platform.
All Images byt L. Peat O’Neil
In the 21st century some countries like the United States of America are not keeping up a commitment to passenger rail systems.
That’s a shame because rail travel offers faster, more efficient and ecologically favorable long distance travel than commercial airlines or private vehicles. Assuming, of course, the nation-state or region maintains and supports its railway systems.
A close look at an inventory of Amtrak rolling stock looks like an old used carriage auction block. Check out the fancy Amtrak advertising videos promising sleek, fast locomotives in the northeast corridor of the country, the most reliable profit center. Don’t wait in line or online for a ticket because it’s fantasy at this point. Why aren’t the U.S. leaders embarrassed by their poor showing compared to the lightning speed trains of Japan, France, Germany and other European countries?
Back in the mists of time, the northern states of the U.S. had established a robust network of rail lines that connected with existing waterway transport and ports before the American Civil War. The southern states also built railways, but the lines dead-headed inland rather than featuring radiating lines that used hubs to interconnect with other railways. The absence of a connected rail network in the south was a factor in defeat.
I’ve spent more time and kilometers riding the SNCF railway system in France than any other country. My first rail trip there was in 1966 on the boat-train from Calais (or was it Boulogne?) to Paris. The wider-gauge British trains left passengers at the ferry dock and after the Channel crossing, you’d walk to the French carriages for outward bound destinations. In the past I would ink my train travel routes on a map of France but the lines crossed and recrossed over the years to the point of obliterating the journeys and connections.
France built short rail lines to serve the mining industry. Agricultural communities resisted rail development arguing it would infringe on France’s well-organized transport network of canals and other waterways. Construction of long distance rail systems for commercial and consumer use started after 1842 with a network that could move goods for long distances overland.
Russia, with distances far greater than the U.S., opened a single railway line from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1851. With more land distance than the U.S. to cover, and few or no western and southern ports, Russia understood the value of connecting the capital and to ports in the Far East. Russia opened the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1916, though portions of the railway were functioning as early as 1903.
My experience with Mexico’s Railway Network is limited. During the early 1980’s, possibly 1981, my friend Don Tito and I boarded the Mexican railway by taking a Greyhound or Trailways bus from San Diego to El Centro, California and walking across the frontier to a train station in Mexico. I should consult a travel diary from that year to report the distances and ticket cost. I do not recall seeing a border wall at that time. The Pacific and Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California owns carriages and locomotives of the San Diego and Arizona Railway that resemble the historic rolling stock we rode south through Mexico in 1981.
We boarded the Mexican long distance train at a town just steps across the border that took us all the way south to Mazatlan, a gritty seaport opposite the tip of Baja. I do not need to see again. The train ride took two days and nights. Or maybe it just seemed that long. It slowed to a long halt at towns so locals boarded to sell tamales, soft drinks and chiclets out of plastic buckets lined with heated towels to keep the food warm.
Decades later, I lived in Mexico City and wanted to explore the country by train, but during the 1990s, the government had consolidated or terminated most passenger rail systems. Apart from a couple of tourist trains that run limited, scenic routes and a commuter rail system serving the capital city, Mexico’s passenger rail service is a distant memory.
People often ask me about my travels and experiences in remote places. My travels are indeed varied — driving in an ancient Citroen across North Africa, camping out in scrubland or near the sea; climbing volcanos in Sumatra, Lombok, and the Moluccas; trekking in New Zealand; kayaking on Lake Biwa, Japan; and rafting and hiking in Kamchatka.
It all started with a passion for maps.
Some of those adventures became travel articles or were anthologized in travel books. One solo journey is recorded in detail in my book Pyrenees Pilgrimage, published in 2010.
I walked across France alone through the Pyrenees Mts. and foothills from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, a difficult and strengthening experience. I’ve planned other cross-country walking journeys which I plan to do in the coming years.
During the 1970s, I wandered North America extensively on multiple cross country trips by car, train, bus and occasionally, thumb. During one marathon drive, my siblings and father covered more than 9,000 miles in less than 10 days. We must have been driving night and day. I lived briefly in Missoula, MT, and for much longer periods in Santa Cruz, CA, San Francisco, CA and St. Petersburg, FL. During the 1970s and 1980s, I spent time in every lower 48 U.S. state and camped in National or State Parks in many of the central, southern and western states. I also visited Mexico and travelled across Canada by land a couple of times.
It wasn’t until 1992 that I visited Hawai’i and I’ve returned several times. Moloki’i and Big Island are my favorites, and Kaua’i is perfect. In 1993 I traveled along the southern area of Alaska, by sea on the state-run inland passage ferry on my way to Anchorage. On that trip, I was headed for a month- long stay on Kamchatka across the Bering Sea. That was when Alaska Airlines ran regular flights from Anchorage to the Russian Far East.
Other places I visited during the pre Reagan years include Sardinia, Sicily and Elba. With my companion, I traveled by bus or train and camped out on beaches or occasionally stayed in pensions or with friends. We traveled through Costa Rica for 2 months in the winter of 1982 and I visited South West France many times.
After I started working for the Washington Post and began writing travel articles for the paper and other periodicals (and later on, websites), my travel ramped up because a few short trips were at the invitation of foreign governments (such as Yugoslavia before their civil wars) or occasionally, I would have an assignment that included travel expenses paid by magazines.
Though most people assume the bulk of my travel costs were paid for by the Washington Post, that was never the case. I worked for the Post Travel section in a freelance capacity. Freelance writers know that magazines and newspapers usually don’t cover travel expenses.
I arranged my own long adventures with unpaid leaves of absence from work for long Asian trips during the 1980s and 1990s. Just as I had saved for my first solo trip in 1966, I habitually worked at two or three jobs to support my thirst for travel. I explored Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asian on a trek with an outfitter in 1998, rather than going solo.
In all, I’ve spent time in more than 90 countries. I’ve lived (had an address, cooked my own meals, my own library cards and/or driving permits) in China, France, Mexico, Canada and Italy. During the years when I was living in Mexico and China, I was an employee of the US government. I paid for my travel within those countries.
In sum, the travel writer’s lifestyle requires economic prudence and that usually means the writer needs a job. Writing contracts that include travel expenses are infrequent. When the urge to travel is strong, a resourceful individual will find a way.