Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rewriting history in Jamestown, Virginia

Visiting the colonial village that birthed America and gave root to our national traditions would be an appropriate way to celebrate this holiday season. But Plimouth Plantation is the wrong destination, according to many in the Commonwealth – the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Guide Joe Dona began his tour at Virginia’s Historic Jamestowne by asking if anyone in the group came from Massachusetts. He tipped his cap to them and their state’s place in colonial history, but promptly cleared up a few common misconceptions.

In 1607 – thirteen years before the Pilgrims arrived off the coast of Cape Cod – Captain John Smith and his cadre of British settlers stepped onto Virginia soil and established Jamestown. Twenty miles up the river from Jamestown, at a settlement known as Berkeley Plantation, a religious ceremony was held for thanks and good fortune in 1619 – two years before the Pilgrims’ famed Thanksgiving feast.

But before controversy and competition pervaded his tour, Dona engaged the entire group by beginning the tale of Jamestown, set amongst the sun-drenched coastline of the James River and the ever-changing grounds of England’s first permanent settlement in America. Jamestown’s story, debated for four hundred years amidst purportedly lost evidence, became fodder for one of America’s most dynamic tourist attractions.

Similar to Massachusetts, the main attractions in this region of Virginia take advantage of the rich history. Within a few minutes drive of Jamestown is Colonial Williamsburg, a Revolutionary America village that recreates the days before independence was declared. Nearby Yorktown is the site of one of George Washington’s most famous battles.

Jamestown differs in that its history is still being written, and rewritten.

There are two main sites to choose from. Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum and settlement recreation, is reminiscent of Plimouth Plantation. It is a family-friendly stop filled with reenactments, demonstrations and recreations of the ships that transported the settlers across the Atlantic.

But it is the adjacent Historic Jamestowne, located on an island at the actual site where the original town and fort stood, that allows visitors to actually watch the unveiling of American history.

Run jointly by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia, Historic Jamestowne is a working archaeological dig site. Archaeologists dig most days, except Sunday. In winter, the park is open but work typically moves inside to examine the multitude of artifacts they continuously pull from Jamestown’s history-rich earth.

In the one-acre the park occupies, archaeologists have discovered more than two million artifacts. And visitors have access to the best of it.

Stroll the grounds here and walk past roped off but easily visible excavated plots where stratified dirt gives way to small purple flags marking recent discoveries. Working archaeologists will engage onlookers, eager to discuss their work.

The site’s archaeology tour, led by experts like Dona, is perhaps the best way to dig down into the fascinating story behind the Jamestown colony. The history of the actual settlement, which includes starvation, war with the native inhabitants and even cannibalism, is one of survival.

Dona’s tour captures it all, stopping at a recreated section of fort wall and barracks, the battlement and a flagpole sunk at the same spot where the original one stood. The tour also makes its way over a graveyard where settlers are still buried. As with many of the finds at Historic Jamestowne, diggers re-covered the graves after research was concluded, reverently marking the dead with simple black crosses. Only one body, a young boy, was exhumed and identified by connecting his arrow wound to seventeenth century documents.

The guide climbed into several active dig sites, including a subterranean cooking area. Here Dona explained several of the artifacts found and did not shy away from the most eerie one: human remains of a young girl that researchers believe was being used as a food source for the starving settlers. The skull and a bone fragment of “Jane,” as they have named her, can be seen in the park’s on-site museum called the Archaearium. A relatively recent discovery, she represents a dark portion of the fort’s past that raised more questions than answers.

Digging was halted at Jamestown for much of the Twentieth Century when experts believed erosion had long since washed away any remnants of John Smith’s original fort. However, as Dona discussed throughout his tour, that all changed when Dr. William M. Kelso took over the site in the early 1990s. Dr. Kelso unearthed a series of postholes that ultimately led to discovering the original fort, debunking the erosion claim and laying the foundation for the ongoing future discoveries, such as “Jane.”
Though the archaeology tour is confined to the original fort, worthwhile sites spread across the entire island.

Next to the original fort are a series of building remains running in rows. Well-placed information placards tell the story of how Jamestown survived near extinction to grow into a bustling river port.

A five-mile Island Loop Drive curves through forest and over marshland. The island even has its own working glasshouse, built in the style of the seventeenth century, near the ruins of an old glass furnace. Artisans in era garb demonstrate their craft for modern visitors, creating glass pieces reminiscent of those made 400 years ago.

The sites in and around Jamestown have evolved right along with their ever-changing history. Like its fellow early colonial settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Jamestown works daily to keep history alive and well.

But while some in the two Commonwealths still debate which colonial settlement holds more historical significance, Dona made sure to end his tour with one final fact. The body of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, a Jamestown settler who explored the Atlantic seaboard, was recently discovered at Historic Jamestowne. On his explorations, Gosnold gave Cape Cod its name and dubbed the island off its coast Martha’s Vineyard, after his own daughter Martha.

As Dona said, “you can’t get away from Virginia, folks.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Peru: Much more the Machu (Guest Blog)

The following is a guest blog from avid traveler, writer and down-home Southern girl, Kelly Cheeseman. Quite frankly, one of the coolest, most adventurous people I know, Kelly's indelible spark for life translates into her storytelling. After hearing about her recent trip to Peru, I asked if she was willing to put together a guest blog for Wherever It Takes to talk about this amazing destination. Kelly, of course, did not disappoint. Check out these great photos and her unforgettable experience in the mountains and jungle of Peru. Thanks Kelly!

By Kelly Cheeseman

Everyone goes to Peru to see Machu Pichu – and rightfully so. This lost Incan city sits among the clouds and tallest peaks in the Andes Mountains and offers some of the most breathtaking views your eyes will ever behold. But the most shocking part of my nine day Peruvian adventure wasn’t the beauty of Machu Pichu: It was how amazing the less-travelled parts of Peru were. So let me sell you on the less-than-glamorous locations that became the highlights of my trip in the hopes that if YOU ever make it there, you’ll peruse (see what I did there) more than just the touristy parts. But first, some general Peruvian advice:

•  Toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet. If you accidentally drop it in there, cross your fingers as you flush, and stealthily exit like you weren’t just caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

•  You can buy any part of an animal in a Peruvian market. Heads, hooves, fetuses. Peru is not for the faint of heart…or stomach.

•  Ignore any fashion sense you may have. You will be either hot (jungle) or cold (Lima) and dirty in Peru. Your luggage will probably be lost at one point during your trip. If you can’t roll with the punches, you won’t enjoy this awesome country. 

When Lima gives you lemons, make a pisco sour.
Lima is home to more than two-thirds of Peru’s population. It’s a bustling city with a business-focused feel and a heavy catholic influence. It’s also a city that most travelers to Peru never explore. When my three friends and I were planning our trip, our first big decision was whether or not to spend any time in Lima. Those who have been to Peru will tell you mixed things. For many, Lima is just an overnight stop on their way to Cuzco -- a temporary launching pad to the real start of their trip. We decided that Lima was worth two days and were pleasantly surprised at what there was to do there. 

1. See the churches. You don’t have to go into every church to get a feel for their beauty, but pop into two or three and be awed at their extravagance. We strolled around different neighborhoods and saw a monastery and the cathedral in the main square. They rivaled those in Europe, and in my opinion, surpassed them.

2. Take an afternoon to drink pisco sours on a balcony. Just off the Plaza San Martin, we took a break from the overcast, chilly weather to drink Pisco sours at the Hotel Bolivar. The Peruvian pisco sour is made by mixing Peruvian pisco with lime or lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. It’s one of those drinks that you sniff and feel drunk. In other words, it’s amazing. 

3. Catch the changing of the guard at the main square. My friends and I just happened to be walking by as it was going on. No offense England, but Peru’s changing of the guard was way better.

4. Go to the Barrancas neighborhood. Dip your toes in the Pacific. Find a restaurant along the coast to eat dinner. After your trip is complete, you’ll realize that the best food on your entire trip was the food you had in Lima. 

We left Lima after two days to do the whole Cuzco/Sacred Valley/Machu Pichu thing. Yes, it was awesome and yes, we pet a lot of llamas, and yes, you can probably read 1,000 other blog posts from people who did the same sacred valley tour as ours. So let’s just skip that and move on to what was by far the best part of the trip – three days and two nights in the jungle. As four ladies who had conquered the concrete jungles of New York and Chicago, we were ready to try our hand at the real thing. And to convince ourselves that we could still be outdoorsy without hiking the Inca trail. And to feel like badasses. 

Welcome to the Jungle.
We hopped a flight from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado. To say that Puerto Maldonado had an “airport” was a stretch (though at the time I didn’t realize that the single runway would be the last bit of pavement we would see for days). It was basically a small stretch of decaying roadway and an open air “terminal” with alerts posted of what the warning signs for malaria were.

Which brings me to the only rule in the jungle – don’t die. To do my best to follow that rule, I had to get inoculated from every disease you can think of that could cause a terrible 19th century-style death. Typhoid – check. Tetanus – ouch, but check! Hepatitis alphabet (A, B, etc) and yellow fever – check! Malaria pills (causing symptoms like hallucinations and intense paranoia) – yup, I took those too.

At the airport, we were met by representatives of our lodge – Posada Amazonas. We were told that we could take only what we could carry and that the rest of our luggage would be stored at a safe location to be claimed after the three days were up. Armed with DEET and light-weight clothing, we boarded the bus for a 40 minute ride on dirt roads to catch our boat to the lodge. Oh, didn’t I mention that the lodge was only accessible by boat? Yup, after the bus ride we had a 45 minute boat ride on the Madre de Rios where we were given lunch…inside a banana leaf. 

We pulled up to a sandbar (because there are no such things as docks in Puerto Maldonado) and had a 15 minute hike uphill to our lodge. It wasn’t until we reached the “lobby” of our lodge that I realized how far away we were from what I considered civilization. The entire lodge was open air – there was a roof to keep the rain off, but no walls in the main areas. Our rooms were also missing something important – a 4th wall! Yup, each room was completely open to the jungle. The rooms were equipped with whistles in case any wild animals wandered inside during the night (though my face would have likely been ripped off before I found the whistle in the dark).

All power was run through a generator that only worked from 8-9am and 5-9pm. After that, it was all candles and flashlights. While we all grumbled a bit about not being able to charge our phones/cameras/kindles whenever we wanted to, not having power ended up being the best thing for all of us. We really got to know the other travelers at the lodge. There was nothing to do in your room except sleep, so any free time was spent in the cafeteria/bar/lounge area drinking the way-too-strong drinks and telling travel stories by candle light, listening to the crazy animal sounds and trying to decipher if the sounds were from animals mating or sacrificing. (In my opinion, always animal sacrifice.) 

We had our choice of activities – from piranha fishing to jungle hikes to visiting a shaman to jumping into the Rio Madre de Dios and praying we weren’t bitten by leeches – and everything was awesome. All in all, my jungle experience was a perfect escape from my hyper-connected, technology-driven lifestyle. I went into it with no expectations and checked reality at the door cloth acting like a door. To all those looking for an adventure to tack on to your Machu Pichu trip, go to the jungle and keep the following in mind:

•  Drink what the shaman gives you. I explained in broken Spanish that I thought I was cursed, and I don’t know what was in the three shots I drank, but I do know that my life has been pretty awesome since then.

•  Be ok with the fact that you might accidentally touch a tarantula, snake, caiman, or bullet ant.  That’s what a medicine man is for, right?

•  It’s ok to be disgusting. It’s the jungle. You’re going to sweat. A lot. 

•  Do something simply because you might never have the chance to do it again – believe that the parachute will open. Because if you do, the view will be amazing.