Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This week: Albany to Denver

When things go right

Nobody ever talks about when good things happen at the airport. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a bad airport story. Stranded in Green Bay with the internet down. Stuck on the runway on a hot Phoenix day for two hours. Caribbean airport food that causes one to go through three air sickness bags. Yeah, we’ve been there.  The airport gods rarely smile on anyone and when they do, they can easily take it away. Hence, we all try to top each other with stories about the bad, but never, ever do we speak of the good, when things go right when they should spiral completely out of control. Well, I dare to talk about the best possible experience we could have had while flying.

We had just spent a wonderful week in upstate New York to celebrate my husband’s cousin’s wedding. The whole thing was beautiful. The outdoor wedding was bathed in sunlight under a clear blue sky. The children blew bubbles around the happy couple. The bride was gorgeous, the groom funny, the cake too pretty to eat. Alas, the whole fairytale had to come to an end and my husband’s mother drove us to the airport in Albany where we would begin the long journey back to Denver via Washington DC. The trouble began at check-in.

Unbeknownst to us as we feted, there had been a terrible afternoon storm front that ran all the way from New York City to Atlanta and our flight was unable to get to Albany. It would arrive well after our connection in DC left for Denver. The ticket agent said he would reroute us and began looking up other flights…all of them in and around Baltimore and DC, where it was still raining. All of them involved an overnight stay.

“Wait a minute,” my husband said. “Why do we have to go through DC? This is United. Why can’t we go through Chicago?”

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t even think of that,” said the agent. My inner voice screamed so loud at that comment I'm pretty sure the agent heard it. 

It took only a few key strokes to find the solution. A plane was flying was to Chicago and from there we had a choice of three connecting flights to Denver. However, the Albany flight was going to start boarding in 20 minutes and we still had to go through security. As we took our tickets and gathered our bags the agent said he would call the gate to let them know we were coming, but we ran to security anyway and then afterward on to the gate in case that call didn’t get made. Fortunately, we only had carry-ons.

The flight to Chicago had just starting the boarding process as we arrived so we made it onto the flight and it left without incident.

We arrived in Chicago completely unprepared for the chaos that was happening. The violent rainstorm on the East Coast had wreaked havoc on flights across the country and it seemed to me that the entire flying public was stranded at O’Hare. From the moment we emerged from the plane’s walkway the gate was packed with people. As we wove our way from the gate to head down the terminal to our connecting flight, we could see lines everywhere, at the gates, at pay phones, at the ticket counters, at the food counters. An endless sea of people and bags and cell phone charger cords to trip over. As we half walked, half jogged to our next gate we could hear people yelling in the distance over the steady drone of hundreds, maybe thousands of people talking to each other and to their cell phones.

We arrived at the gate of our Denver flight, which was at the end of the terminal where several gates came together. The place was packed. People filled the seats and spilled onto the floor or stood around the perimeter. Just then two people got up from a row of seats right next to us and left. We took their spots. Finally able to relax, my husband took the tickets out from his jacket pocket to examine them. He looked at the tickets, then at his watch and then at me.

“It says on the tickets that the flight to Denver lands at 9:30.” He paused a moment and looked at the tickets again. “That is a whole hour earlier than our original flight from DC would have been.”

I looked around at the crowd of people around me, all of whom were wearing weary scowls on their faces. 

“Don’t say another word,” I told my husband. “You don’t want to jinx this.” He nodded and put the tickets away. We sat silently for the next 30 minutes; my husband checked his emails while I read a magazine. Finally, our flight was called. I don’t think I exhaled until the plane was in the air.

The flight was uneventful, just how I like them. We landed in Denver at 9:30 PM, right on time. We were home in time to see SportCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. We have never spoken of this flight since. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

This week: Geneva, NE

The best and worst interviews ever

What seems like 100 years ago, but has really only been 23, I worked for a small county newspaper in the middle of south-central Nebraska. The town:  Geneva. The Paper:  The Nebraska Signal. Geneva is about one hour south of York on Highway 81 in Fillmore County. I was hired as a typesetter, one of only seven employees, but with a degree from the University of Nebraska, I was soon reporting and writing stories. During my year writing about the people and places in this slice of small town Americana, I met many interesting people and learned a lot about public service and community. It was also during this single year that I had the best interview I’ve ever had and a few weeks later quite possibly the worst interview ever.

Let’s start with the best. In May of 1992, Dr. Charles F. Ashby of Geneva had been practicing medicine in Fillmore County for fifty years. Take that in for a second. FIFTY YEARS. Half a century. The Superbowl hasn’t been around that long. The Nebraska Medical Association was giving him an honor for his 50 years of service and I was scheduled to interview him. We met at his expansive home on the outskirts of town after both of us finished work, a one-story ranch-style home. The home had a large open floor plan with living room, dining room and kitchen all together. At the back were floor to ceiling windows that framed the backyard. A cement patio was there, but I don’t recall seeing any patio furniture, however, the grass beyond the patio was perfectly thick and green and beyond that was a forest of tall trees. Mrs. Ashby welcomed me into the home and invited me to sit at the dining table and look out the window to see if her adopted wild turkeys were roaming the back yard. They were. Dr. Ashby, who wore suspenders with his dress shirt and pants, came into the space and sat at the table with me.

To my total surprise, the first thing Dr. Ashby did was light up a cigarette. I’d never met a doctor who smoked before or since. He caught me staring at the cigarette and told me he started smoking in the Navy and since he wasn’t dead yet, didn’t see a reason to stop. When I asked him how medicine had changed over 50 years, he said the biggest change he saw was something I took for granted; the change in Penicillin. When Dr. Ashby started Penicillin was a dark and unpurified liquid and a lot of it was required to work. Penicillin was only given by injection and had to be injected every hour. Not the drug we know today.

During this interview I had two significant distractions to fight against. The first were the two turkeys in the backyard. Every now and then the male would display his beautiful tail plumage. Not every day you see a live turkey wondering around. 

The other? During the interview, Dr. Ashby held the cigarette in his left hand with his arm resting on the back of the chair. As we talked, the ashes on the end of the cigarette kept getting longer and longer. It got to the point where I was watching the cigarette and not listening to the doctor anymore. I was pretty sure the ashes were going to break off and fall onto the floor. Then his wife came over, grabbed the ashtray off of the dining table and held it under the cigarette. She tapped his hand with her fingers and the ashes fell into the tray. She placed the tray on the table and walked back to the stove where she was cooking dinner. The doctor kept talking without missing a beat. This mini-drama would play out one more time during my visit.

The hour and a half I spent at the Ashby’s was enjoyable. Dr. Ashby told hilarious stories about his mischievous youth growing up in Fairmont (his wife said the town pretty much raised him because his father, also a doctor, was too busy to do it), tales from his time at Delta Upsilon fraternity in Lincoln and tales from the Navy. Most of these stories were “not ready for prime time” if you get my meaning, and didn’t end up in the article, which is too bad, because I felt like I had this wonderful experience that I couldn’t share with any one. Sadly twenty years later, I have forgotten what those stories were; I just remember my stomach hurt when I left because I was laughing so hard. I also remember his wife invited me to stay for dinner. I wish I had.  


A few weeks, maybe a month, later I received a phone call from a woman at the Assembly of God Church in Geneva saying that one of their members had just returned from a missionary trip to Columbia, South America, and had given a presentation of the trip at the church. The member thought that other people might find it interesting and asked if I would interview him. At the time I’d never been out of the country and the thought of traveling on a mission was intriguing. I wanted to know more so we set up an interview.

The gentleman’s name was Chet Frey and he spent 10 days in Palmira, Columbia (Population 400,000). The church sent a group of 11 men who came from various Nebraska towns to Columbia, as I was told by the woman on the phone, “to build a school.”  This was the information on which I based my questions.
We met at the church and the interview was in the office. Frey wore jeans, cowboy boots and a denim shirt to the interview, your basic Fillmore County farm attire. He looked very humble and unassuming. The first few questions I asked were simply fact gathering. Where are you from, what do you do for a living, how long were you there, the usual. Then I asked what Frey did on his trip (these are NOT direct quotes).

So, I was told you helped build a school.
Yes, well, it was a church, but there will be school rooms along with it so the kids can go to Sunday school.
Um, OK. Do you have any construction or building experience?
Uh, Ok. How did that work out?
Ok, I guess.
So what did they have you do? Hammer nails, drill holes?
Oh, no I didn’t do any of the construction.
Umm, OK, well then who did?
Oh, they had some locals they hired to build the school.
So, what did you do then?
I led the prayers with the children.
Oh, so you speak Spanish?
No. They had an interpreter who would translate the Lord’s Prayer to the kids.
And what else did you do?
I passed out literature.
Anything else?
Nope, that’s about it.

At this point, I just wrapped up the interview, said thank you and basically tried to get out of there as fast as I could.

In my head I remember this as being one of the shortest articles I wrote for the paper. However, I pulled a copy out of my archives and it is actually much longer than I remember. After re-reading it, I’ve decided I’m a better writer than I thought I was, only because I got a lot of mileage out of very few words, not because the story was any good.

I felt deceived by the woman who called me. I had visions in my head of someone who went to physically build a school. I thought he would be hammering nails into walls and putting in windows and doors, you know, sweat equity. What they were really doing was proselytizing and it made me extremely uncomfortable. The fact that they didn’t speak the native language made the article read like a comic opera. Here is an excerpt:

Frey’s job was to hand out literature and go door to door meeting and talking to people. Not an easy thing when the population speaks Spanish.
“It was frustrating ‘cause I didn’t know any Spanish,” said Frey. “Some of the fellows had taken some Spanish courses and were able to converse with them a little bit, but it was difficult.”

I felt I was fair in what I wrote. I stated the facts and used Frey’s words as much as possible. Unfortunately, this interview and the resulting article have always left a bad taste in my mouth even after all this time. I don’t blame Mr. Frey. I got the impression from his body language he was shy and didn’t want the attention a story would bring. He didn’t want his photo taken either. He was just doing something he believed in and felt he made a difference during his two weeks there. I have no problem with that. My distaste is with the Assembly of God church for sending a group of people to a foreign country simply to increase their congregation’s numbers and the woman, I don’t recall her name, who misled me about the trip’s purpose. There are people in organizations, many with religious affiliations, who are doing extremely hard work building wells, schools and hospitals, and providing medical care, food and education to people in need around the world. This story didn’t do those people justice.

Funny how these two completely different interviews happened in the same year, for the same publication and took place over 20 years ago. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This week: Fraser Valley, CO

I would like to share one of my rare paid writing assignments. I had a feature article about Snow Mountain Ranch in Fraser Valley published in the May/June issue of TravelWorld International. TWI is the magazine of the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) of which I am a member. I didn't get paid much, but this magazine has a lot of reach with professional travel journalists and editors from around the country and I was thrilled to be a part of this issue. The theme for this issue is "family travel" and Snow Mountain Ranch, a part of YMCA of the Rockies, is one of the best places to vacation in the state. The variety of things to do and places to stay is almost overwhelming. You'll see what I mean when you read the article. If you enjoyed reading it, please share with online . Hopefully this article is the beginning of more articles for many magazines and websites to come. 

My article is on Page 41. 

Thank you for you time and happy travels!

Direct link:


Sunday, May 11, 2014

This Week: Gringo Trails (the film)

Watch the thought-provoking documentary film Gringo Trails

Back in 2000, I took my first trip to Maui, Hawaii. It was a dream trip. We snorkeled, drove the Hana Highway, and ate more seafood in one week than I had I my entire life.  However, on the last day of our stay, we met a couple on their honeymoon. They told us about an amazing experience they had that morning. They rode a bike the down Haleakala volcano. Quite animated, the wife told us how they got up at 2 AM for the drive to the mountain, how they watched the sun rise at the top of the volcano and the beautiful scenery of Maui as they lazily coasted down the mountain. The ride finished at a beautiful beach. I was in awe. I decided if I ever returned to Maui, I would have that experience for myself.

Obligatory cheesy photos taken by our guide.
Ours was among four bikes tours using this roadside turnout. 
In 2013, I got that chance. It was my turn to get up at two in the morning and was picked up by a large van filled with eight other people. We saw an amazing sun rise over the rim of the crater; something we will always remember. The rest of the tour, however, we would like to forget.  There were at least a dozen other tours with eight to ten people also heading down the mountain and there was only one road. Our instructor made us hurry so we’d be the first ones down the hill. I found out why about half way down. We stopped at a park building for a bathroom break and to remove our jackets as the air temperature rose. When we emerged from the building, the parking area was surrounded by bikes, trucks and trailers and a line of people waiting to use the facilities. Then on the ride itself, we had to straddle a fine line between coasting down the hill safely, but not going too slowly because our guide didn’t want us to impede local traffic. We were told the locals who lived on the mountain did not like the continuous lines of bikers riding down the same road they used to get work in the morning. On top of the bike tours, there were many people who rented bikes on their own and road recklessly down the mountain without a guide at breakneck speeds passing those of us in the tours. After the ride was over and we were heading back to the hotel, our guide admitted that these bike tours were a source of contention in the community. It’s a popular activity that draws a large number of tourists so it is a big revenue producer for the island. However, with only one road to ride down, that road is getting increasingly congested with both cars and bikes. There are those who want the activity banned and those who make a living off of it. On our way up the volcano before the ride we received a heavy-handed lecture from our guide about safety. However, our safety wasn’t really his first concern. His concern was if anyone died, the state would step in and shut it down and he would be out of job. And the beautiful scenery the wife mentioned back in 2000? Well, our guide told us not to look at it because if we didn’t pay attention to the road we would crash. It was not my finest travel moment.

I was reminded of this misadventure after watching an incredible film about tourism gone wrong. GringoTrails by Pegi Vail and Melvin Estrella is a new documentary that looks at the travel industry, specifically the backpacking travel industry, and its effects on natural habitats and the native people who live there. It is an eye-opening and thought provoking film.

In one of the film’s most compelling stories, there once was a beach on an island near Thailand that was pristine; A paradise with a mile-long beach, a bay with sky blue water, lush vegetation and not a high rise in sight. Fisherman and their families lived here, just as they had for decades. Then in the late 1970s an American backpacker arrived and stayed for several weeks. He also took some photos. Then he told some other backpacking friends about this amazing beach. So those backpackers went to visit and they told some more backpackers who then told some more and so on. Then in 1984 the man who originally photographed this amazing beach was reading the New York Times and on the back page was photo of that very same beach. Only the photo wasn’t like the ones he took. This photo showed the beach packed with hundreds of people.Flash ahead another 30 years as backpackers arrive on this island in droves. Then mainland Thais arrived to sell things to the foreigners, things like hotel rooms, trinkets, alcohol, drugs and sex. On New Year’s Eve 2010 some 50,000 people packed its shores to party like it was 1999. The scene the next day was of plastic and glass bottles smothering the beach as the tide rolled in while people were passed out on the sand.

The back packer who “discovered” Haad Rin Beach on Koh Phangan island in Thailand was Costas Christ, now Editor at Large for National Geographic Traveler. It was not his intention to overrun that beach with drunk, littering backpackers on a hedonistic New Year’s Eve. Nor was it Yossi Ghinsberg’s intention to send hundreds, even thousands, of backpackers to the jungles of Bolivia when he wrote and published a book about his survival in the Amazon after being swept away from his friends by a flood in 1981. His book, Back from Tuichi, which is a tale of life and death, has since become a Bible for those who wish to follow in his footsteps.
The film looks at how backpackers travel, where they travel and what happens when so many show up in the same place. This look at the downside of backpacking culture is what makes this film especially intriguing. As a travel writer myself, I have read, seen and heard the arguments made by those who lament the luxury travel set as mega-hotels, destination restaurants and golf courses rise up in various unspoiled settings. Never had it occurred to me that those who travel with only a backpack would do so much damage to the places they visit. However, a Bolivian resident in the film makes the point that backpackers can be the worst kind of tourists when it comes to setting up infrastructure, mostly because they are the first to arrive in places that don’t have any tourism infrastructure to begin with. They don’t require luxuries or even everyday comforts which makes it easier to build places for them to stay and eat, infrastructure without codes, environmental standards or any control for growth.

Why does this happen? One of my dearest friends has an environmental studies degree and spent many years working for the National Park Service in the forests surrounding Vail, Colorado. She makes the point that when people go camping [or traveling], they are going to [camp] where it’s easiest for them to do so. People need water so they camp near a river or stream; they need a flat spot for their tent; they collect rocks for a fire pit. The next person who happens that way sees an inviting spot and decides to camp there too; and the next; and the next; and so on.

In a way, this happens with back packing. Back packers in particular have a desire to find a place that no one else has been too, a place where they can raise eyebrows at home with the mere mention of a city (Timbuktu is an example in the film).  A small group of backpackers find such a place and perhaps encounter friendly locals. They tell their friends back home or fellow backpackers they meet on the road. Usually those stories become embellished (who among us hasn’t done that?) and then others want to go. The backpacking community (just like the cruising community or the bird watching community, or the wine lovers looking for that elusive bottle) probably read the same blogs and the same guide books so even more people learn about a place. Eventually it becomes so crowded the location reaches tipping point. But can we return from that tipping point?

The answer is no…and yes. My friend told me that the Park Service actually sections off areas of parks and declares them “sacrificial,” so people are allowed to camp in a specific area and the park service keeps people confined to that spot (through natural barriers, fences and signs), allowing campers to degrade that spot and then close it down for rebuilding the next season. In the film, there is the example of Bhutan. The country, famous for its “Gross National Happiness” measurement, imposes a charge to visitors of $200-250 a day per person (This fee does include accommodations and transfers, but can be complicated. Visit the Bhutan Tourism Council to learn more.). The policy is called “High Value, Low Impact.” This produces a different type of traveler, one who has to really want to be there because it takes extra money to do so. Is that fair? Or is that the price paid to keep us from destroying the places we love?

“No matter how small, every person leaves a footprint wherever they go,” my friend reminded me.

Those of us who travel, whether we backpack or not, need to remember that we are the visitors and that the places we visit do not belong to us. We are only there temporarily, whether it’s for three days or three months, whether it's 30 miles away or 3000. We need to remember that there are people who live there who will continue to need a place to live and work long after we’re gone.  I encourage everyone who has the chance to see this film, which is currently being shown at universities around the world. Follow Gringo Trails on Facebook and Twitter to find cities where screenings will occur or find screenings online. General release will be later this year. My viewing of this film was made possible by Outbounding.org.

This sunrise was worth getting up at 2 AM, but the tour that followed was not. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Week: Maui, HI

For my latest blog post, I'd like to direct you to my new piece on driving in Maui that has been posted to Go World Travel. Based in Colorado this online magazine features some of the best travel writing on the planet. They also pay the writers who contribute to so if you could give them just few minutes of your attention, you'll be helping writers like me continue to do what we love; share our joy of travel with others. Thank you!

Click to view all my posts at Go World Travel.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Week: Singapore

Basset Hound meets Buddha

Moving with a pet can be difficult. Now imagine moving halfway around the world with a dog in tow. Sandra Goodman of Lakewood, CO, found herself in that situation in 2006 when her husband, Bob Schafish, received a 3-year work assignment in the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore. An avid world traveler, Sandra was ready to go, but wouldn’t leave her beloved Basset Hound Emma behind. Getting Emma into the Lion City proved quite a task.

"We learned it's much easier to get a person into Singapore than it is a dog," Sandra laughed. They even hired a ‘pet handler’ to help. Sandra said the foreign community that lived in Singapore was so large, several companies provided relocation services to help navigate the county’s strict laws. These companies helped families get children into schools, leased apartments, and even brought in pets. The company, Pet Hotel, made sure Emma’s medical records and other documents were in order.

Paperwork was one hurdle. Another was the 30-day quarantine enforced by the government’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. The Authority told Sandra that Emma had to arrive on September 5, Labor Day weekend.

"I wasn't happy about that," she said, "but it had to be within 3 days of that date or Emma's paperwork would get put back at the bottom of the pile." Airlines were also an issue. Dogs weren’t allowed on direct flights so they had a stopover in Taipei. Emma was in her crate for almost 24 straight hours. Then came the quarantine, or doggy jail, as Sandra called it. In October 2006, Emma became a free dog in her new country.

According to Sandra, Singapore was dog friendly, but daylight hours proved unbearable for walking to both dog and human because of the overwhelming heat and humidity. Sandra went jogging in the dark of morning and walked Emma late at night. The late walks proved useful because midnight in Singapore was 10 a.m. in the US so Sandra could make her family and business calls. The heat also led to medical issues. Dogs were susceptible to heat rashes and Emma developed several. However, Sandra said Singapore had excellent veterinary care so Emma recovered quickly.

Sandra also learned about Singapore’s pet culture. Dogs, while loved and adored, were also a status symbol in this wealthy financial capital. The bigger, more foreign the breed, the higher the status. A family with a Siberian husky had a lot of money, she joked, because they could afford to run their air conditioning all day. German Shepherds were also quite popular. However, most families preferred small breeds because they were easier to handle, especially when living in tiny Singapore condos.

Sandra enjoyed taking Emma to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The gardens were shady and large and allowed dogs, even in the outdoor restaurant. They met many new friends there, canine and human, expats from England, South Africa, Australia, and France. Sandra’s only problem was Emma would pilfer the food offerings locals left for their ancestors at the many Buddhist altars around the city. Sandra hoped the ancestors would forgive Emma.

From their new home, Sandra and Bob traveled all over Asia, including China, Thailand and Indonesia. Both experienced SCUBA divers, they enjoyed their free time diving in the beautiful reefs around the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, Emma had to stay behind. Sandra discovered a boarding and dog care facility called Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD). More than just boarding, ASD was a non-profit organization that provided care and adoption services for Singapore’s stray cats and dogs and to help raise funds they boarded dogs for traveling owners.

"It was a wonderful place and Ricky Yeo (ASD Founder and President) was great," Sandra said. They even put photos from one of Emma's stays on the ASD website. She said the ASD had many great stray animal programs and she and Emma were glad to help support a local organization in their adopted new country.

Returning home in February of 2009 was much easier for Sandra and Emma. All Emma needed was proof of her rabies vaccine. Back in Colorado lounging in her favorite chair, 12-year-old Emma was quite content. For Emma, home was wherever Sandra was.


Sandra is a friend of mine and one of my first interviews when I began the International Pet Examiner at Examiner.com. The article was originally printed there, however, this version is a condensed one I used to enter a writing contest. It didn't win, but I still like the story. Sandra also helped me contact Ricky Yeo at ASD for my next IPE story. Those two interviews really established what I wanted to do with the column and made it what it is today. Emma was a wonderful dog. She passed away just over a year ago, but lived a long and content Basset Hound life. I still see Sandra when she gets her weekly coffee next door to the frame shop and she has two new pups, Truman and Toby. Sandra still travels the world to go diving too. The smaller dog in the photo next to Sandra and Emma belongs to a Singapore friend. See more of my work as the International Pet Examiner by using this link:


Singapore Botanic Gardens
Action for Singapore Dogs

Monday, December 23, 2013

This Week: Maui

The totally untrue story of Marilyn Monroe’s Maui House

My husband and I were riding in van, returning from a downhill bike tour of Haleakala Volcano. The tour company, Mountain Riders, picked up seven of us tourists from hotels in Ka’anapali in Western Maui at 2:30 AM and drove us to the 10,000+ foot summit of Haleakala volcano to watch the sunrise. That was 10 hours ago. After the sunrise, we coasted down the mountain on bicycles to the town of Pa’ia some 23 miles away where we had lunch. However, this activity is not the focus of this blog. That’s because I was more intrigued by a story our van driver Duane recounted on the return drive. The van had just dropped off the bike trailer at the Mountain Riders office in Kahului and was now returning us to our hotels, about a 35 minute drive. As we headed out of town on Highway 30, we passed a building so large it could easily be seen from the side of the mountain to the highway a few miles away.

“You see that house up on the hill?” asked Duane as he pointed in its direction. “That was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe’s house.” Even the three women chatting in the back of the van perked up at that statement. With the hook baited, Duane continued his story and it went something like this:

Marilyn Monroe had a house built on Maui with plans to retire in it, wanting to become a recluse like Brigitte Bardot. However, she died before she could move in. According to Duane the house was built, furnished and paid for by Monroe, but she never got to enjoy it. Then the house languished for many decades, but in the 1990s was purchased by a Japanese business man who then expanded the house into a clubhouse and built a private golf course around it.

As I sat in the van listening to this story, I thought how sad. I only knew the bare minimum about Marilyn Monroe, sex symbol, film star, multiple marriages, and tragic death by drug overdose. Monroe seemed to have a lot of demons and to hear she wanted to get away to a beautiful island paradise and retire would have been a happier end to her life. Brigitte Bardot is still alive today, age 79, and is a renowned animal welfare activist. What would Monroe be doing today?

This story so intrigued me that every time we drove by the house on Waikapu as we traveled around Maui, I would take photos. Mostly I wondered how different history and Maui would be if Monroe had succeeded in retiring to Maui. How would Maui with change with Monroe in residence and how would Monroe change after living on Maui?

A few weeks after returning home, I wanted to learn more about Monroe’s Maui house. I logged onto my computer and began a Bing search for “Marilyn Monroe Maui house” just to see what would come up. Sure enough, a few titles popped up, including a website for the golf course, called King Kamehameha Golf Club. I was on the right track. Frank Lloyd Wright’s name also appeared in some of the links, something Duane didn’t mention, along with photos of the building. I clicked on an architecture blog called “The Well Designed Life” by Ginger Brewton and learned that everything that Duane had told us in the van was completely wrong. Well, almost completely wrong. He was correct that a Japanese business man owns the property today, but that’s about it. So here, as paraphrased from the King Kamehameha Golf Course website and several other places, is the true story of the house on the hill in Maui.

In 1949 a wealthy Texas couple commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house. His plans were quite extensive and called for 8,000 square feet, but for some reason, the couple never had it built. Wright filed the plans away. Then in 1952 the Mexican consulate to the US and his wife commissioned Wright to build them a home in Acapulco Bay. After a visit to the site, Wright pulled his Texas design and added to it increasing the building’s size to 10,000 sq. ft. However, the consulate’s son died suddenly and the building was scrapped. Wright put the plans away. Then in 1957 Marilyn Monroe and her third husband Arthur Miller called on Wright to design a cozy hideaway for the couple in a beautifully natural hillside setting. That setting…Roxbury, Connecticut, about as far from Maui as one could possibly get. The couple also had a few requests for the new home, a movie theater, a swimming pool and a nursery. Wright showed Monroe the plans he already had and she agreed to use them. The size of the house then grew to a whopping 14,000 sq. ft. In 1958 Monroe and Miller divorced and canceled the construction and Wright passed away about a year later. His plans were put away at his design firm, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The home was NEVER built, on Maui or anywhere else.

Jump ahead to 1988 when Hawaiian business investor Howard Hamamoto and his partners were touring Taliesin West in hopes of finding plans for a golf course clubhouse. There were few clubhouse plans in the Wright archives, but he was shown the plans for the “Marilyn House” and between the plans and Monroe’s attachment to them, he was hooked. The plans were expanded to 74,000 sq. ft, however, most of the new space was put below ground, while Wright’s original plans were used for what people see above ground. It opened in 1993. The group sold the course a few short years later.     

This private members-only golf course was used mostly by rich Japanese men and when the Japanese economy tanked in 1999, the course was closed down and abandoned. Then Tokyo investor and part-time Maui resident Makoto Kaneko bought the property in 2004 for only $12.5 million. He and his investors poured another $40 million in renovations including design elements that emphasized Maui’s history and reopened the course in 2006.They also made an effort to include Maui’s residents to be a part of the course with a museum and other events as well as a men’s and women’s day spa that anyone can use. Today the clubhouse is an excellent example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Many Wright devotees come to tour the building and a portrait of Wright hangs in the clubhouse, The property, which hosts many weddings,  is also known for stunning views Haleakala volcano to the east and both Ma’alaea Bay to the south and Kahului Bay to north as it sits on the isthmus between Maui’s ancient volcanoes.

So this interesting, yet minor story in the lives of both Marilyn Monroe and Frank Lloyd Wright have been brought to my attention because of an incorrect tale told by a bike tour guide. What should I make of Duane? It’s an interesting question because he also told us a house high on a hilltop near Lahaina belonged to Tom Cruise. I attempted to look that up online as well. I found out Mr. Cruise is an investor in a resort property on the neighboring island of Lanai, but could not find anything about a house in Maui. However, I don’t think Duane was intentionally lying. I sure he believed what he was saying. Or maybe he was telling us what we wanted to hear.