Jan 4, 2022

Whether selling socks or fried crickets, third-world entrepreneurs can look to American travelers for help


A few of our Kiva borrowers

Shortly before leaving on a trip to Eastern Europe in 2007, my husband and I did something that would baffle any traveler who’s been approached at a train station in Rome or Paris by women in flowing skirts, cradling babies in their arms and begging for coins.

We loaned money to Gypsies through non-profit start-up called KIVA which was experimenting with taking micro- financing - the making of small loans to entrepreneurs in poor or developing countries - to a new level by using a social networking platform to connect borrowers and lenders in far-away places.

Our new business partners were Diana Beleva, 26, a traveling sock saleswoman; and her brother Todor Belev and his wife, Silvia, who made a living selling firewood in the Balkan mountain town of Sliven, Bulgaria. Our loans of $25 each were "crowdfunded" along with others to produce a pool of money large enough to help Diana buy more socks, and Todor and Silvia to  buy a chain saw to cut more firewood.

After traveling to Sliven an arranging through a Peace Corp volunteer to meet up up with our Bulgarian friends in-person, we continued to make loans through KIVA to people in other countries. Fast-forward to 2022. Our "portfolio" shows how our original two $25 Bulgarian loans, plus four others made over the years  (a total of $150) were paid back and rolled over to fund 63 loans in 16 countries worth a total of $1,575.

Neither Kiva nor lenders like us collect any interest (administration costs are funded by donations). Borrowers pay interest to Kiva’s partners — non-profit micro-financing field partners around the world — who identify entrepreneurs in need. A payment schedule is set up, and once the loan is repaid, the lender can decide to collect the money or use the funds to make another loan.  KIVA estimates its default rate is around 4 percent on the $1.6 billion in loans it has helped fund in 77 countries.

Pictures of borrowers along with descriptions of their businesses appear on Kiva's website. I love looking back on some of the people, and recalling their stories, especially during Covid when memories stand in as a substitute for travel.

Diana Beleva at home in Sliven, Bulgaria 

In their T-shirts and ball caps, our Bulgarian friends looked no different from most Europeans. But they were Roma, an Eastern European ethnic minority commonly known as "Gypsies."  Many settled in towns like Sliven, the sock-manufacturing empire of the Soviet bloc until the communist government fell in 1989 and most of the factories closed.They wanted to work, send their children to school and build a future, but no bank would loan them money at anything close to a reasonable rate. With interest rates between 30 and 40 percent, the alternatives for most Roma were loan sharks charging100 percent or more.

Diana became one of 35 business owners in Slevin — bakers, barbers, musicians and others — to benefit from Kiva loans. Thirty-two lenders in all, including an Oregon author and a Seattle bus driver, chipped in various amounts to help Diana raise $1,000, money she paid back over the next 12-18 months at 10 percent interest to a micro-credit organization funded by Hungarian-American businessman George Soros. She used the money to buy more socks, replace her hand-lettered cardboard sign and buy an awning to replace the plastic tarp she used at outdoor markets when it rained.  

“Here in Bulgaria, you could not find anyone to help you out like this,” she told me when we met.

I don't know what became of Diana or the couple who made a business selling firewood, but their stories were enough to encourage me to continue making loans through KIVA.

I first focused on entrepreneurs in Cambodia where, after taking a "Reality Tour" with the San Francisco-based non-profit Global Exchange,  we felt a bond with people in struggling rural villages.

One of my favorites is a $25 loan to a widow in Siem Reap named Chhit who has a business cooking and selling fried crickets at the local market. Chhit fell behind on her payments during Covid, but is catching up and has now paid back half of her $750 loan. 

I try to look for ways to make loans in other countries where we plan travel. Before visiting Peru in 2018, I found the Los Amigos (Friends) group on KIVA. One of the members, Filipa, 51, was seeking a loan to buy seeds and fertilizers to grow corn and potatoes on a farm in Cusco. She raised $1,850 from 58 lenders and has since paid back the entire amount.

With economic problems fueling immigration from Central America into the U.S., I  shifted my focus to making loans to entrepreneurs in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Many are women who have decided to stay and make it in their own countries. They deserve our support.

Take the Liderezas Group, headed by Clara, 34, who studied 6 years in elementary school. She runs two convenience stores and bakery in Guatemala, and requested a second KIVA loan to buy sugar, flour, pasta, beans, rice and eggs.

She and six other women in the group attend monthly meetings where they gather to make their loan payments and participate in educational training focused on raising their self- esteem.

They recently paid off a $3,300 loan funded by 99 lenders. No wonder they look proud. 

Dec 26, 2021

It's time to require vaccination proof or negative tests for domestic air travel


Only masks are required for domestic air travel

"Biden is right to fight Omicron with travel restrictions. But more must be done."

This was the headline over a recent opinion piece by Dr. Leana S. Wen published recently in the Washington Post.

Wen is a a public health professor at George Washington University who writes regularly on Covid for the Post. Her main point: Now is the time to pull out all the stops when it comes to protecting Americans against Covid. That, in her opinion, includes a long-overdue vaccine requirement for domestic air and interstate train travel. 

As it stands, travelers can feel more confident about avoiding Covid risks on a flight to Paris or Rome than they can flying within the United States to cities where cases are raging.

This is because nearly every country in the world requires international travelers to be either vaccinated, or test negative, quarantine and test again several days after arrival.

The U.S. requires all Americans returning from overseas to show results of a negative test taken within one day of travel. Most foreign travelers are required to do the same, as well as show prooof of vaccination.

Contrast this to boarding a domestic flight where neither the airlines or federal regulators require anyone to have taken a recent test, or show proof of vaccination. Frankly it's safer to eat inside a restaurant in Seattle, where proof of vaccination is mandatory, than it is to board a flight to Boise. 

The Internatonal Air Transport Association brought home this point the other day when David Powell, its medical advisor, told Bloomberg News that the risk of infection from Omicron on planes is assumed to be two or three times greater than it was with Delta.

This was ironic because the ATA, along with other airline trade groups, have lobbied hard to prevent testing or vaccination mandates for domestic flights.

 "Getting vaccinated and boosted is "the greatest protection you can give yourself," Powell  concluded.

He and others went on to recommend other "precautions" such as staying hydrated, sitting in a window seat, cranking up the air vent, and wearing a proper mask (still required on domestic flights).

Unfortunately, as Dr. Wen points out, no one in the government has had the guts to buck the airline industry, and do what really needs to be done to keep travelers safe: Require proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within one to three days of travel. 

In addition to increased protection, it would seem that a vaccine  and/or testing mandate would offer greater peace of mind for consumers, who then might be more eager to book flights.

A study conducted by Atmosphere Research Group found that 14% of airline passengers were not vaccinated, which means they would be unable to fly if vaccination proof were required,

The data intelligence company Morning Consult, reports that when given the choice back in October, 56 percent of adults said they would prefer to fly with an airline that required passengers and employees to be vaccinated. Roughly 1 in 4 (23 percent) said they’d prefer to travel with an airline that does not require anyone to be vaccinated.

“Not only is this an opportunity because people are in support of vaccines for domestic air travel, but it also might help to compel some of those people who are putting off their air travel because they feel uncertain or unsafe, and could give them a level of comfort that they’re not getting right now,” said Lindsey Roeschke, Morning Consult’s travel and hospitality analyst. She advised airlines to adopt vaccine mandates in an Oct. 7 memo. 

Trade associations such as Airlines for America and the U.S. Travel Association oppose vaccine and testing mandates, arguing that the additional checks would have a chilling effect on the industry.

“We think it’s a really dangerous proposition, quite frankly,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at U.S. Travel, said at the time. “The risk of masked passengers contracting an airborne virus like COVID-19 is extremely unlikely.” 

It's time to recognize that much has changed in the past few weeks. And if what the ITA's  Powell says is true, Barnes' assumption no longer holds up. 

As for travel in general, a trip to Ohio for Thanksgiving reminded me it's probably safer to be in some parts of Europe or Asia than in many places in the United States.

Yes, Omicron is raging there too, but their defenses against the virus are much more robust. They include highly-vaccinated populations, masking requirements and health passes requiring proof of vaccination to get into a restaurant, cafe, museum, hotel or train, or in Italy, to work at most jobs.

Only 58 percent of the population in my hometown of Cincinnati was fully-vaccinated as of Dec. 21, yet hardly anyone there wears masks inside stores or restaurants (there are no mandates), socially distances or takes other standard Covid precautions. 

Contrast this to where I live in Seattle where 87 percent of the residents in King County have had at least two doses of the vaccine. There's a statewide mask mandate for indoor public places, and a county-wide mandate requiring proof of vaccination for dining indoors.

This week, thousands of Americans from the Midwest and East Coast will be heading to Florida for winter vacations. This is an area where there are no statewide Covid travel mandates in place, and the governor has attempted to punish cruise lines, private employers and school districts which attempt to require masks, testing or vaccination.

"Florida breaks another record for COVID-19 cases." read one Christmas Day headline. "COVID-19 outbreaks hit 3 cruise ships as Florida breaks record for new cases," read another 

It's hard to say how this helps rather than hurts tourism. I recently postponed a planned January trip to see relatives until mid-February. Hopefully by then, the headlines will change.

Nov 15, 2021

Seeking the serendipity of foreign travel on a trip closer to home


San Diego's Little Italy

The best foreign travel incorporates adventure. Not knowing everything that lies ahead comes with challenges along with unexpected rewards.

 My husband and I usually use public transportation instead of renting a car, knowing that while we might miss a connection, we're more likely to run into locals ready to share tips about what to see or where to eat as well as tell us where to get off.

We look for lodging in a neighborhood rather than in town centers, usually in a bed and breakfast, small hotel or Airbnb, then scout out a cafe where we'll be recognized as regulars on the second visit. Etched into my memory is the tea shop with a dirt floor in Myanmar where we sat each morning on miniature plastic stools and the lakeside cafe in Bukara, Uzbekistan where students surrounded us each afternoon to practice their English. 

 With Covid temporarily restricting our foreign travels, I've begun to think about how we could seek out that same sense of serendipity closer to home. Our recent five-day getaway to San Diego was the test case.  

Embracing public transportation in Europe or Asia is easy. Buses and trains go everywhere. But how would this work in car-centric Southern California? 

Neighborhood Airbnbs tempted us more than hotels in the downtown Gaslamp Quarter, but without a car, how practical would it be to get around?

Some quick research on San Diego's bus and light rail system showed us that except for using Uber to get to and from the airport, we would be able to go everywhere by downloading the city's digital Pronto app on our phones. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, with  95 bus routes and three light rail lines, operates it entire fleet on electric and natural gas.  With fares capped at $6 per day, all we had to do use our credit card to pre-load money onto the pass, then scan it each time we road. 

Our Airbnb in Bankers Hill

Confident we could get around easily, we settled on a charming garden studio, newly converted from a carriage house, on a quiet residential street in Bankers Hill in the elegant Uptown neighborhood near Balboa Park.

 The Airbnb checked all the boxes for unique accommodations. The owners managed to squeeze a patio, full kitchen, bath and a working fireplace into a tiny amount of space. The secret was a surprisingly comfortable Murphy bed hidden behind a bookshelf which we pulled down following video instructions supplied at check-in.

Research on Tripadvisor.com pointed us in the direction fo Cafe Bassam, two blocks away via the pedestrian Quince Street Bridge, originally built in 1905 to give Uptown residents better access to a trolley line.

The Quince Street footbridge

So far, the neighborhood was living up to our expectations for adventure. The long, narrow footbridge spans Maple Canyon, a park with walking trails leading downhill to Little Italy in Midtown and San Diego's Waterfront Park.

 Cafe Bassam became our regular spot for coffee or a glass of wine sipped at cozy tables surrounded by an assortment of antiques, pharmaceutical jars, vintage hats and bins filled with help-yourself bags of loose tea. 

Cafe Bassam

We felt as if we had wandered into a cafe in Cairo or Paris. That's because before Cafe Bassam was a cafe, it was an antique shop where customers enjoyed free coffee brewed by owner Shamma Bassam. They loved the coffee and the antique atmosphere so much, he decided to combine both into a cafe with a European vibe unique to Southern California. 

We latched onto other neighborhood spots in the coming days, including a few in nearby Hillcrest, the center of San Diego's LQBTQ scene, and our favorite, Jimmy Carter's, a bright yellow and red Mexican cantina named not for the former president but for the building's original owner. Dinner our first night was not in crowded Little Italy, but at Mia Trattoria, a family-owned Italian restaurant a few blocks from our Airbnb.

Just as we do when we're in another country, we didn't pay much attention to how long it would take us to get around, either by walking or riding the bus.

The museums and gardens of Balboa Park were just a mile away via the Cabrillo Bridge, built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition to provide access to the park from Uptown.

Getting to other parts of the city might have been faster by car, but riding the buses and light rail (called the trolley) was more relaxing. It never took more than one transfer to get where we were going, including across town to Mission Beach for a bike ride, and to Old Town, the location of the first European settlement in California and the terminus for several bus lines. 

Freeway murals in Barrio Logan

In pre-Covid times, we might have used the light rail to cross the Mexican border at San Ysidro. Instead, we swapped out a visit to Barrio Logan, a lively Latino community where the local brewery turns out a Horchata golden stout, and street artists have painted the concrete freeway underpasses with dozens of colorful murals.

Closer to Bankers Hill, via the walking path though Maple Canyon, was Little Italy, touristy yes, but still authentic and fun.

 When we found the front doors locked at Our Lady of the Rosary church, a caretaker let us in a side entrance to view the murals painted by Italian artist Fausto Tasca. We found my favorite Sicilian lemon soda in an Italian grocery store, and tried the beet and sweet potato hash browns and pumpkin pancakes at Harbor Breakfast.

Morning meal at Harbor Breakfast

 In nearby Amici Park, men raked the bocce ball courts next to the Little Italy Dog Park. My regret now is that we didn't accept their offer to join in a game. Had we been in Italy, we would have done so. But as sometimes happens when traveling in familiar surroundings, it's easy to let the serendipity slip by. Lesson for next time: Never turn down an invitation. 


Nov 1, 2021

Park the car, explore Seattle's oldest neighborhood by boat, bus and on foot


The King County water taxi at Seacrest dock

Glide across Elliott Bay on the top deck of a high-speed catamaran to a scenic peninsula isolated by water on three sides.

Pick up a free shuttle to a funky neighborhood shopping hub lined with cafes, antique shops, two bakeries and a destination deli. Then stroll downhill to a paved waterside path dotted with pocket parks and pebbled beaches.

Where are you? 

If you didn't guess West Seattle, then you are in for a treat. With bridge access closed to most car traffic since March after cracks were discovered, Seattle's oldest neighborhood would not seem to fit the description for a hassle-free day trip.

Leave the car at home, however, and you've got the makings for a delightful Covid-friendly fall getaway.

All aboard the water taxi

Think of this trip as a throw-back to a time when crossing Elliott Bay by boat was the only way to get to and from the neighborhood where Seattle's first European settlers landed in 1851.  

Passage in those days was aboard a steam-powered side-wheeler. Today, the best way to avoid the bridge closure hassles is by walking on the King County Water Taxi traveling between Pier 50 on the Seattle waterfront and Seacrest Park in West Seattle.

Grab a seat on the top deck for views of the Seattle skyline and the big container ships parked in Elliott Bay. The 15-minute crossing is a bargain at $5 each way (discounts for seniors and youths). Racks accommodate "fat tire" and electric bikes, and to ease traffic congestion while the bridge is being repaired, winter service has been extended to include weekends and more mid-day sailings. 

Shuttle to the Junction

The first ferry commuters rode up the hill to the developing Admiral District in a cable car. Today, free DART minibuses meet the water taxi and shuttle passengers between Seacrest and the West Seattle Junction shopping district. 

If you're here on a Sunday, check out the year-round West Seattle Farmers Market at California Ave SW & SW Alaska. Otherwise, spend an hour or two exploring both sides of California Avenue SW. 

Vintage vinyl for sale at Easy Street Records

Pop into Easy Street Records for coffee and Brandi Carlile's new album on vinyl, or browse the shelves at Pegasus Book Exchange where 90 percent of the stock is used books. 

Whatever the time of day, stop for ice cream at Husky Deli, in business since 1932. Order a scoop of Mexican horchata or Swiss chocolate-orange, and take a seat along a wooden counter facing shelves lined with gourmet mustards, coffee and spaghetti sauce. 

Relaxing at the Husky Deli

Do take time to peak at the backsides of buildings covered with murals depicting scenes from West Seattle's past, commissioned in 1989 as a community project led by civic leader Earl Cruzen. 

The Hi-Yu Parade Mosquito Boat Landing murals

Find a list of locations and descriptions at https://fotoeins.com/2020/09/21/my-seattle-murals-westseattle. Notable are the “The Hi Yu Parade” by Lanny Little, on the back wall of the post office;  the “Mosquito Boat Landing”, by Susan Tooke,  at 4554 California Ave SW; and "Mural Alley,"  a passageway between Northwest Art and Frame and the Puerto Vallarta restaurant, repurposed as a showcase for community art. 

Beach walking

Leave the Junction for a fall beach walk, starting by following Erskine Way SW at the intersection of California and SW Edmunds Street, then walking downhill for about a mile towards the water along SW Hudson Street to SW Jacobsen Road and Beach Drive SW. 

From here, it's about a 1.5-mile stroll along a waterside path to the closest shuttle stop (DART bus 775)  back to the Seacrest dock, or a total of 3.3 miles if you walk the whole way along the Alki beachfront. Rental scooters are available at various points along the way.

Pocket parks

Stroll along Beach Drive, and explore a few of the city pocket parks with benches, scenic overlooks and beach access at low tide.

The first is Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook, donated to the city in 1945 by Emma Schmitz "for a park and ... no other purpose whatsoever."

Further north is Cormorant Cove, named for cormorant birds that can sometimes be spotted. There's access for non-motorized boats and accessible viewing platforms.

Running parallel to Beach Drive, from 63rd Ave. SW to Alki Point, is the Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint that includes  Constellation Park and a marine reserve. 

Cormorant Cove pocket park 

Check out the tiled interpretive wall with text in Spanish and English. Its illustrations of flora and fauna include species found on local beaches. This is one of the best spots in Seattle to see whales and other marine life. 

From here, make your way back to Seacrest dock, either by shuttle, scooter, rental bike or on foot along a paved path running the length of Alki Beach

Cocktails at Marination Ma Kai

If the next water taxi is due in soon, consider catching a later boat, and stopping for a cocktail or late lunch on the patio of Marination Ma Kai, a Hawaiian-Korean snack bar. 

Transport yourself to the tropics with a Mai Tai sipped under a red umbrella, and relax, knowing you won't be stuck in traffic on the way back to town.

This article appeared in the Seattle Times on Nov. 1

Sep 22, 2021

Vaccinations, testing needed to inspire confidence in domestic air travel


Idaho has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S.

Soon the U.S. government will hold in-coming foreign air travelers to higher Covid safety standards than people flying to Seattle or New York from Idaho, Wyoming, Georgia and other states where vaccination rates are below 50 percent, no one wears masks and hospitals are filled with unvaccinated Covid patients. 

With more countries requiring vaccination for entry, the U.S. is right to do the same when it opens its borders to air travelers from 33 countries sometime in November. 

Americans traveling from abroad who are not vaccinated also will face tougher rules than vaccinated citizens, including needing to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel and proof of purchasing a viral test to be taken after arrival.

With the U.S. ranking 39th in the world when it comes to the percentage of the population fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times, why wouldn't it makes sense to boost confidence in air travel by assuring passengers that the person in the next seat has been vaccinated, or recently tested negative? Yet the U.S. travel industry continues to lobby against such a rule for domestic flights, while at the same time expressing dismay that Covid fears have put a damper on air travel.

What's behind the opposition to a policy that even White House chief medical officer Anthony Fauci says he supports?  

"Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine," the U.S.Travel Association's Tori Emerson Barnes said in prepared comments recently.  Airlines argue it would be time-consuming to enforce.

Both are bogus arguments. Children will soon be eligible for vaccines, and exemptions could be made for those who are not. Vaccine information and/or test results could be entered into an app (Airlines are working on these now), with the information required to be entered before boarding passes are issued.

Surveys how that vaccine requirements enjoy strong support among North American travelers, according to a study by flight analytics company OAG.

The study surveyed 1,811 respondents in the U.S., Canada and Mexico during July and August.The results showed that 68% were interested in or wanted domestic vaccine passports, including 42% who felt strongly that domestic vaccine passports should be required. Seventy percent said vaccine passports should be required for international travel. 

Bottom line: A federal a requirement that passengers show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for domestic air travel is likely coming. Until domestic travel is subject to the same Covid safety rules as international travel, it will be safer to fly to Italy or France than anywhere in the U.S. where the only requirement is that passengers wear masks when not eating or drinking.

Pioneer Square D&E in Seattle

In the meantime, I was happy to be asked for the first time to show my vaccine credentials in a Seattle restaurant, Pioneer Square D&E (Drinks and Eats). More than 150 Seattle restaurants now require vaccination verification or proof of a recent negative test. As of late October, the broader King County will mandate one or the other to eat inside at a restaurant, see a movie or work out in a gym. 

The requirements mirror those set in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Washington’s professional and college teams announced that fans would be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend home games.

Meanwhile unvaccinated Covid patients from Idaho are overwhelming Washington hospitals as well as their own at the same time their governor threatens to sue the Biden Administration over the federal employee vaccine mandate. 

Guess who won't be vacationing in a neighboring state anytime soon?

Sep 2, 2021

Can't make it to Europe? Take a fall drive through the Skagit Valley instead


The Breadfarm opens early in Edison

Roadside farm stands brim with blueberries, corn, potatoes and fresh flowers. A sign near a seafood shack selling fresh oysters alerts passersby to "Meadow Larks singing."  

With a little imagination, a harvest time drive in Washington State's Skagit Valley can feel like romp through the French countryside.  

Just 75 miles north of Seattle, it's an area rich in agriculture and wildlife with a long history of family farming. 

An annual spring tulip festival draws thousands, but for those looking for a less crowded Covid-friendly adventure, fall is the time to visit. 

It would take days to explore everything there is to see and do in a valley with more than 90,000 acres of active farmland.  With their restaurants, shops, art galleries and bakeries, destinations communities such as La Conner and Edison are easily worth a morning or afternoon.  

Best advice: Map out a day trip that hits some of the highlights, then make a note on where you'd like to return to explore more in-depth.

Here's a suggested route. Go mid-week, and you'll have the towns and trails to yourself. Weekends tend to be more crowded but also more lively.

 9:30 a.m.

Breakfast from the Breadfarm

Get an early start by heading north from Seattle on Interstate 5, to WA-11 towards Chuckanut Drive, a cliff-hugging mountain bypass ending in Fairhaven near Bellingham. 

Edison Station Coffee

Save that scenic drive for another time, perhaps paired with stops at Bow Hill Blueberries and Samish Bay Cheese.  Instead, head west on Bow Hill Road, stopping first for a latte at Edison Station Coffee, and then at the Breadfarm situated along a tidewater slough in the village of Edison. 

If you happen to be here later in the day or on a weekend, build in time to visit the art galleries, brewery and restaurants along Edison's main street. Otherwise, put together a breakfast picnic from the Breadfarm's menu of rustic French pastries and naturally-leavened breads.

They don't actually grow bread, of course, but local farms supply most of their ingredients including flour, potatoes, eggs and herbs. 

Breadfarm's Renée Bourgault at the take-out window

"The idea was to have a community bakery like the kind you find in Europe," says owner Renée Bourgault  who founded the Breadfarm in 2003 with her husband Scott Mangold.

Pastry bakers start at 5 p.m. Take your chances on the croissants and cinnamon snails not being sold out, or go online before leaving home, and place an order for pick-up when you arrive.  

10:30 a.m.

Padilla Bay Shore Trail

Walk off the calories with a hike along the flat bike and pedestrian Padilla Bay Shore Trail on Padilla Bay, an estuary in Puget Sound at the saltwater edge of the Skagit River delta. 

Pick up a map at the Breazeale Interpretive Center where there are exhibits, an aquarium and a new touch tank filled with purple sea stars. 

Bikers and walkers use the Padilla Bay Shore Trail

Start at either the north end (large parking lot) or the south entrance (less parking) and walk all or part of a  2.25-mile gravel dike trail that wends through the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve where eelgrass meadows provide a habitat for waterfowl and marine birds. Look for peregrine falcons, blue herons, and other types of birds, but beware of duck hunters October-January. 

 According to the Washington Trails Association, the old barn close to the south end is a remnant of one of the so called ‘stump farms’, land purchased cheaply after the area was logged in the early 1900s then converted to farming.

Bring a Washington State Discover Pass if you want to visit nearby Bay View State Park

1 p.m.

Lunch in La Conner

A 15-minute drive south, the waterside community of La Conner draws crowds during the tulip festival and on summer weekends, but when my husband and I visited on a recent Wednesday afternoon, there was hardly anyone else around.

Once the terminus for river steamers bringing timber and lumber down from the upper Skagit, the town has a history of attracting a mix fishermen, farmers and artists. Today's it's mostly artists who sell everything from wood carvings to yard sculptures and one-of-a-kind clothing at the shops along First Street.

La Conner's boardwalk

First-time visitors might get so caught up shopping they might not realize there's an extensive board walk running along the Swinomish Channel behind the storefront entrances. 

Lunch with a view is always tempting (nearly all the restaurants have outdoor tables on the boardwalk), but we were in the mood for something other than seafood, so we veered off the main drag, and came upon Coa, Spanish for the spade used to harvest agave plants in Mexico. No views, but there's an excellent tequila bar, two patio areas and gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian twists on traditional dishes from the owners' hometown of Durango.  

2:30 p.m.

Kukutali Preserve

Take a 20-minute detour away from La Conner across the channel to Fidalgo Island and this unique park co-owned and managed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Views from Kiket Island in the Kukutali Preserve

From the small parking area (Discover Pass required) follow a gravel trail as it crosses a sand spit to Kiket Island (inaccessible at high tide, so plan accordingly).

Choose one of three short trails to the west end of the island. At the high point, a meadow overlook provides views of the Deception Pass Bridge that connects Fidalgo and Whidbey islands. 

4 p.m.

Snow Goose Produce 

Ice cream is the draw at Snow Goose Produce, a large country market six miles from La Conner on Fir Island Road. For sale is smoked seafood, fresh produce, artisan cheeses, gourds and colorful African baskets, but most visitors stop for what the Rust family calls  its "Immodest ice cream cones."

Eduardo and Angelica Interiano of Mt.Vernon enjoy Snow Goose cones

Choose from 48 flavors made by either Lopez Island Creamery or Cascade Glacier in Eugene, Oregon. Order a "single dip" the size of a small grapefruit balanced atop a homemade waffle cone, and you won't need dinner on the way home.

The article appeared in The Seattle Times on Sept. 4, 2021

If you go: Tourism and trail information

Tip: Check opening hours before heading out. Some shops, restaurants and museums may be closed on certain weekdays or have reduced hours.  

Aug 23, 2021

United States should follow the lead of foreign governments on Covid travel

Checking a digital health pass in a French cafe

It's time for the U.S. federal government, U.S. airlines and the CDC to get serious about making travel safer for Americans during Covid.

Chances are if you board an international flight from the U.S., the passengers and crew will have been vaccinated and/or have tested negative for Covid no more than 72 hours before. 

That's the rule for U.S. visitors entering most countries. Once you arrive in France, Italy and a growing number of other destinations, you won't be able to enter a cafe, restaurant, local train, museum, hotel or department store without showing proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.

As a traveler, chances are that most everyone with whom you'll come in contact, with the exception of those on public transport or gathering outdoors, will have been vaccinated. 

It's time for the U.S. to step up and offer Americans traveling domestically the same assurances. 

Like Canada, which will apply a vaccination requirement to air traffic controllers as well as airline pilots, cabin crew, mechanics, and most commercial passengers traveling by air, rail or ship, the U.S. Department of Transportation has full authority to make similar rules covering U.S. airports and airlines. 

It took a step in the right direction when it recently extended an order for mandatory mask-wearing in all federal government buildings, on public transport and inside airports and on planes.

Here's what needs to happen next:

*The DOT needs to issue an emergency mandate directing airlines to require passengers and crews to either offer proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. Those who take precautions and/or children too young to be vaccinated should not be forced to sit for hours unsure about the status of their seat mates or flight attendants. 

U.S. airline executives have argued that additional Covid restrictions for domestic flyers would be bad for business, resulting in fewer people willing to fly, and ultimately putting jobs at risk. This is the argument they used against banning smoking, a move that probably encouraged rather than discouraged more people to fly.

In Canada, Air Canada supports the new mandate, saying it is in line with science-based procedures for safe travel.

"It is a welcome step forward in the evolving measures to protect the health and safety of airline employees, customers and all Canadians," the airline said.

*The DOT needs to apply the same rules to anyone working inside an airport. This includes anyone working for private vendors and TSA officials who come in contact with thousands of travelers daily. There's more chance of catching Covid in a crowded airport than there is on a plane, so we need to minimize that risk as well. 

France's digital health pass

*The federal government should offer an internationally-recognized smart phone app that would allow Americans to download their vaccination and testing information in digital form (ie: The French health pass) that could be used anywhere proof of vaccination is required. 

The International Air Transport Association has urged countries around the world to adopt the European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate as the global standard for vaccine certification.

IATA said the EU's digital certificate is particularly effective because it’s available in paper and digital form, with a QR code that can be read in both, and features a gateway for the distribution of encrypted data that can extended to issuers from outside the EU.

More than  60 countries are looking to use the DCC specification for their own certification, in addition to the 27 EU members and states with reciprocal agreements, including Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine. There's no excuse for the U.S. not being on this list?

*The CDC needs to revamp its rating system for which countries pose the most risk to travelers. 

As of this week, the CDC rated 75 countries as Level 4- Very High Risk - with a recommendation that Americans avoid travel to those places.

Under this system, France is in the same risk bucket as French Guiana, Rwanda, Cuba and Myanmar, with no accounting for differences in vaccination rates, health care facilities or Covid precautions. If Texas and Florida were countries, they'd be rated very high-risk, but the CDC offers no advice about traveling to various parts of the U.S. 

* Airlines need to commit to continuing to allow passengers to change or cancel their tickets without penalties so that no one feels compelled to fly sick. 

In the meantime, the same general advice for traveling during Covid still applies while the Delta variant is spreading.

*Don't pay for anything that's non-refundable or can't be cancelled or changed without a penalty. That goes for tours, Airbnbs, hotels, cruises and airline tickets. 

*Stay flexible. Come up with alternatives for getting away if the trip you planned no longer makes sense. I'll likely swap a planned 10 days in Iceland for a few days in San Diego this fall, but I won't make final plans until closer to the date. 

*Don't rely on travel insurance to protect you should you decide not to travel. Canceling for fear of Covid is not covered under traditional comprehensive policies. Expensive cancel for Any Reason policies might cover cancellation, but some plans exclude pandemics and do not provide coverage for related issues. 

Check state requirements on masking

*Choose destinations where the vaccination rate is high and people wear masks indoors. I've wanted to visit Boise, Idaho, for instance, but I'll stay away for now since the statewide vaccination rate is just 50 percent, and the rise in hospitalizations among unvaccinated is so severe, the governor has called in the National Guard to deal with the surge.

Worth checking before you decide to visit anywhere in the U.S. is an AARP list on what various states require.