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One Happy Island

By Linda Tancs

The southern Caribbean island of Aruba considers itself to be one happy place.  And why not?  With a daily temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, consistently sunny skies, enviable gastronomy, family-friendly fun and some of the world’s top beaches, there’s a lot to smile about. So c’mon, get happy!

Boonie Stomping

By Linda Tancs

Imagine hiking through the untamed wilderness of the western Pacific, devouring sights like a coral table reef, rocky cliff lines, mangroves, lush jungles and scores of waterfalls.  That’s what boonie stomping (better known as hiking to the rest of us) in Guam is all about.  Guam Boonie Stompers offers Saturday hikes for a nominal fee to places including beaches, waterfalls, mountains, caves and World War II sites.  The island is loaded with sawgrass, so wear reinforced gloves on your trek.

Free Haven

By Linda Tancs

Black history abounds in the tiny borough of Lawnside in Camden County, New Jersey.  Both freedman and escaped slaves settled there when Philadelphia abolitionist Ralph Smith purchased land in the 1800s and sold it in lots to blacks at reduced prices, earning the place the moniker Free Haven.  Not surprisingly, the locale was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Later, the hamlet now known as Lawnside became the only black-governed town north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The predominately black community’s heritage is represented on the borough’s seal.

The Most Stolen Artwork in the World

By Linda Tancs

The world’s first major oil painting is Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  Also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, it’s a 15th century early Flemish polyptych panel painting of the history of Christianity located at St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium.  It’s also one of the most stolen pieces of artwork in the world, having been sold various times and looted during both world wars.  In fact, eight of the looted panels were returned to Belgium after World War II thanks to the efforts of the Monuments Men.  Of its twelve panels, only one–the Just Judges–remains lost from an unsolved heist in 1934.  A copy by the Belgian painter and restorer Jef Van der Veken takes its place.

Where Two Deserts Meet

By Linda Tancs

Two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California. Tourists come together there this time of year for the wildflower viewing, so popular that park staff and volunteers compile wildflower viewing reports to aid the curious. A recent report shows the presence of desert globe mallow and mistletoe flowers, star-vine, creosote bush and desert lavender. More blooms will appear in March and April. And, of course, there’s the park’s namesake, the Joshua tree. Its creamy white candle-like blossoms can be seen from February to late March. And how did the tree gets its name? According to legend, Mormon pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure Joshua, believing that its branches resembled the upstretched arms of Joshua leading the Israelites to the promised land.

The Spy House

By Linda Tancs

During the Revolutionary War, Thomas Seabrook spied on British troops from his one-room cabin near Raritan Bay in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, earning it in later years the moniker the “Spy House.”  One of the oldest surviving houses in the bayshore, it began as a small cabin in the 1700s and grew along with the prosperity of its owners, the Seabrooks and the Wilsons.  The Spy House (also known as the Seabrook-Wilson House) is listed on the state and national registers of historic places.  It’s also credited with being one of the most haunted houses in America, boasting up to five active apparitions.  Given that the house remained virtually unscathed despite the ruinous effects of Hurricane Sandy all around it, you might think that its otherworldly visitors have been looking out for the joint.

Empire of the Andes

By Linda Tancs

The Incas believed that Tiwanaku is where the first humans were created.  Located in western Bolivia about 45 miles from La Paz, this ancient site was the capital of an Andean empire that flourished roughly between A.D. 500 and 900.  Its ruins include a pyramid and two symbolic monolithic gateways (Gateway of the Sun and Gateway of the Moon).  South of the main site is another architectural curiosity, Puma Punku.  Its mysterious H-shaped megaliths weigh more than 400 tons.  Take a guided tour for the best learning experience.

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