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The Journey Begins: In Search of Paradise

Updated: Mar 28

Guana Island advertises itself as a true paradise, one of the last pristine places in the British Virgin Islands. But getting there from San Jose is not as easy as going to other warm places like Mexico or Costa Rica. It requires flying San Francisco to Charlotte, North Carolina then to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and on to Beef Island, British Virgin Islands, and finally taking a private boat to Guana Island.  Our journey began with a 7:00 AM flight from SFO, a challenge in itself due to weather, an early wakeup, and distance.

For the past few weeks, our mountain weather has been rainy and windy. Branches, rocks, mud, and trees typically fall on the road during the night. CalTrans sends a truck to remove any obstacles in time for the morning commute. Catching a 7:00 AM plane would put us on the road, in the dark, and before the CalTrans cleanup. So we decided to go to SFO the night before and stay at the Grand Hyatt.

The Grand Hyatt in the airport, a convenient stop on the SFO tram. It’s a lovely "newish" hotel, having opened in 2019. It has six stories of rooms, many with a commanding view of the airport, plus a bar, a market, and a restaurant. We had a good meal, went to bed early, woke up at 5:00 AM, and took the tram to Terminal 1. I try not to fly SFO due to its distance from home, but most nonstop cross-country flights and just about all International flights leave from there. Having the option to roll out of bed and into the terminal makes the early morning SFO flights appealing.

It was cold and rainy when the plane took flight, but in the distance I saw the sun streaming through the clouds and illuminating San Francisco Bay. As we climbed to 29,000 feet, we rose above the clouds and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.

The pilot warned us that due to the storms over the Sierra, we might have turbulence. We didn’t, but we did have a beautiful view of new fallen snow.

Those of you who have driven over Mono Pass to the eastern side of the Sierra will recognize Mono Lake. The lake always looks beautiful from high points on the road. It was a welcome site from the plane because it signaled we were definitely out of South Bay and on our way.

The eastern side of the Sierra is one of my favorite places. It has the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wilderness areas, both with amazing trails that connect to the Pacific Crest Trail.

South of our flight path I saw the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, located in the Mojave Desert close to the Nevada border. I’ve seen this while driving to Nevada. The plant has two mirrors that focus solar energy on water tube boilers during the day. It uses night time “preservation” boilers.

Zoomed in, you’ll see the two mirrors and the circular arrangement of solar panels. I had thought the plant was focusing into some sort of liquid metal-salt, so I was surprised to learn that Ivanpah converts solar to steam energy. In the morning the plant burns natural gas to start up. So it is a thermal power station that uses a combination of solar and natural gas. Renewable energy plus fossil fuel. Interesting!

The concentrated sunlight is quite blinding to look at, which is why I snapped a photo. An image is easier on the eyes because the pixels can’t record the true intensity of the sun. The focused rays cause a solar flux that toasts birds who are unfortunate enough to fly in its vicinity. Each year, thousands of bird die from collisions or burning up. (Air temperatures near the focused beams can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.)

After leaving the Sierra, the land starts to flatten out. There are wide valleys surrounded by water-carved hills. I have no idea where this is other than to say east and a bit south of the Mono Lake area. Even though there was some free WiFi available on the plane, I couldn’t receive any satellite signals to fix our location. International flights always have an Infotainment channel that shows the route and current location of the plane. But not domestic.

Flying into to an area gives a different first impression than driving. As we approached the Charlotte airport, I noticed acres and acres of warehouses. There could be crypto currency mines, but I’m not certain if North Carolina has any. Amazon and other online retailers are likely to have distribution centers here.

Unlike many California airports (San Jose, Santa Barbara, LAX, Orange County), the Charlotte airport is well away from the city. But there is a good view of the skyline from the run way.

Most states I’ve flown over in my lifetime have the imprint of humans in some form or another. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California. The seemingly endless fracking sites in Texas. The huge circular farmlands in the midwest. The Charlotte area has the Reedy Creek Quarry, known for production of crushed stone and aggregate materials. It's operated by Martin Marietta.

The McGuire Nuclear Station was quite a sight from the sky. The sun and clouds created an alien-like effect. It is near Lake Norman, a lake created for cooling the two pressurized water reactors. Duke Energy sponsors a performance of the Charlotte Symphony every year at the nuclear station. It's known as the "largest community event in the nuclear industry."

After a brief stop in Charolotte, we were on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico, our destination for today. The sun was starting to set. I imagine the people on Earth who lived under this cloud cover were getting a deeply hued sunset. From the plane, we got to enjoy the scene over and under the clouds.

After an overnight at the Hampton Inn near Luis Munoz airport, we'll board a small plane to Beef Island and then Guana Islan boat.

In case you are wondering, Beef Island is not a place to get prime steaks. It was first named Isla de la Vaca (Island of the Cow) by the Spanish, probably due to the presence of wild cattle when the Spanish settlers arrived. After some time, the English version of the name transformed to Beef Island.

Whether Guana Island is a paradise remains to be seen. After all the wind and rain we've had in the Santa Cruz Mountains, any place with sun and temperatures nearing 80 will certainly feel like paradise!

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