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Guest Blog by Nancy Brown: The Book Passage Travel Writers & Photograpers Conference – A Review.

Friday, August 24th, 2007

“Writing is like love making,” shared author Isabel Allende. “You find a place to do it; on a desk, behind a door.” Playing off her banter, The Great Tree of Avalon author T.A. Baron adds that writing begins with the senses. “Our job as writers is to change the world.”

Allende and Baron were two of the many writers who joined us at the 16th Annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference held August 16-19, 2007 in Corte Madera, California. From sunup to sundown we were writing ledes, creating the perfect nutgraf and searching for a sense of place while dining al fresco on California cuisine.

Morning sessions found us in classroom settings with San Francisco Chronicle Travel Editor John Flinn, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel Travel Editor Thomas Swick and Los Angeles Times Deputy Travel Editor Vani Rangachar or reviewing photos with Robert Holmes among others.

World Hum’s Jim Benning, Vagabonding’s Rolf Potts and LA Times Travel Deal Detective Jen Leo slogged us through the Brave New World of Blogging. And while blogging may be the wave of the future, not everyone’s blog spot will be acquired by The Travel Channel.

One evening a tall thin man addressed our group of travel writers daring us to spin the mystery wheel. Each peg represented one of Jeff Grenwald’s wild adventures. One of the tales he shared was from Burning Man. It involved an unquenchable thirst for ice cold Horchata tea and a long, blue penis. I guess you had to be there.

Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, came in for a touch-and-go landing as he regaled us with airline stories. He noted that we live in a world of citizen journalism.

Conference alum Paola Gianturco delved into the ethics of mindful journalism for the greater global influence and offered her website as a resource.

There were many well known publishers and writers such as Larry Habegger and Amanda Jones and photographers like Mikkel Aaland to rub shoulders with. I hesitate to list them all for fear of name dropping. I will say that Conference Chair Don George has a wicked sense of humor and Book Passage Owner Elaine Petrocelli’s enthusiasm drives this thriving, independent bookstore.

The conference reminded me of my journalism college days when students and faculty engaged in animated conversation about the craft of writing and photo journalism. Afternoon private tutoring sessions were available for the ambitious. And what university experience would be complete without an evening fraternity party with alcohol fueled karaoke?

If you fancy yourself a travel writer or photographer, you’ll want to note next year’s August 14-17, 2008 conference dates. Visit Book Passage for more information.


Guest blogger Nancy Brown of California writes What a Trip for the Lamorinda Sun.

Grandeur of Ethiopia well worth the effort

Friday, July 27th, 2007

World traveler and Moraga resident Margaret Stithem entertained her fellow Planned Parenthood Auxiliary members at a meeting sharing slides from a recent trip to Ethiopia. This African adventure composed of 17 travelers was an Elder Hostel trip planned by Destination Horizons. They took the historic route to the Land of Queen of Sheba, visiting many different sights including churches built down into the rock with gorgeous artwork inside. “I wouldn’t go for the food and the water is a terrible problem,” notes Stithem. Yet she adds that this is a land of beautiful people.

Two times the size of Texas, Ethiopia is composed of seventy ethnic groups where English is widely spoken. The economy is supported largely by agriculture and coffee. The economy is not prosperous and young children can be found herding goats to help support the family. Stithem remarked that they are trying to modernize the cities but the area has been plagued by terrible droughts.

She particularly enjoyed Gonder’s Lake Tana which serves as the headwaters of the Blue Nile and is surrounded by magnificent twelfth century castles. Some structures span 60 feet in height, are carved of granite and are 1,800 years old.

It wasn’t bad water nor did foul weather leave fellow Auxiliary member Lorelee Mogg shanghaied in her Holland America cabin with husband Bob. While sailing the cruise ship to China, Moraga’s Mogg fell captive to the Norwalk Flu. “We had been instructed to report immediately to the staff if we experienced any symptoms,” reflects Mogg. “A nurse came promptly with pills and told us that we would be quarantined for 48 hours so we missed two days in Shanghai.”

Bob had to be quarantined with Lorelee, but did not get the flu. “The ship did everything they could to make our 48 hours comfortable and compensated us financially,” reflects Mogg. And what if the Mogg’s decided to mutiny and leave the cabin? “They could put us off the ship!” exclaims Lorelee. In fact, Mogg tells a similar story of a flu-struck passenger’s wife leaving the cabin on the last day of quarantine to have a drink in the ships bar, as she was healthy and felt it safe to leave her husband. The cruise ship company, who will remain anonymous, withdrew the compensation from their bill.

So how can you minimize your chance of contracting Viral Gastroenteritis, the gastrointestinal illness known as norovirus? According to industry newsletter Cruise Week, cruise any time from June through October. Norovirus is seasonal, and there are very few outbreaks in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Flu season, especially January and February, brings the greatest number of outbreaks. Also consider a small luxury ship. Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea have never had norovirus outbreaks. By contrast, within the past five-plus years (Jan. 2002 through May 2007), there have been 23 outbreaks on Holland America, 18 on Princess, 13 on Carnival, 12 on Royal Caribbean, 11 on Celebrity, 10 on Norwegian Cruise Line, 4 on Cunard, and 1 on Disney in 2002, according to Centers for Disease Control records.

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures closer to home, check out Weekend Sherpa, The weekly e-newsletter gives insiders’ recommendations on the Bay Area’s best outdoor pursuits and little known adventures. Ever slept in a yurt in Big Sur or wanted to volunteer to help Mother Earth? Weekend Sherpa leads the way.

Next month well visit the 49th state admitted to the Union. That’s right, we’re Alaska bound! Where have you been lately? Drop me an e-mail of your travels.

Nancy Brown grew up in Moraga and lives in Lafayette with her husband and children. She looks forward to hearing of your adventures at

Groups travel to touch the lives of others

Thursday, July 12th, 2007
  While Lafayette's Sivesind and Brown family sipped margarita's beachside at Cabo's Royal Solaris, Walnut Lane youth could also be found in Mexico over Spring Break. Among our neighbor's pouring cement and putting up drywall on behalf of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Plenty of beach options closeby

Friday, June 29th, 2007
I walk on the Pajaro Dunes beach as pelicans glide silently overhead. Delighted, I spy sand dollars. These aren't the broken, bleached white ones. These are brown and fuzzy. They are alive. I methodically reach down to "save" each sand ... [Continue reading this entry]

Cultural exchange rewards hosts

Monday, April 30th, 2007
The students were on the plane, headed for New York, when Robin Album got the e-mail asking for help. Seems a volunteer had dropped the ball and some teens, including Sweden's Denise Larsson, needed homes. Robin and Jeff had considered ... [Continue reading this entry]

Carefully planned trip to Africa worth the wait

Friday, March 16th, 2007
 Lion Can you name the big five? No, we're not talking top college or even sports teams; we're talking lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and Cape Buffalos. Oh my! These are the majestic animals one hopes to see ... [Continue reading this entry]

Don’t try out jokes on officials

Friday, February 23rd, 2007
"Why are you here?" asked the Canadian customs officer. "Vacation," I smiled. "And you?" he asked my husband as he inspected his passport. "I'm here to party!" he replied. "Step aside," barked the annoyed officer who proceeded to detain my husband from entering the ... [Continue reading this entry]