Day Trips

By the books: two new tomes to whet your traveler's appetite for adventure

Day Trips

Summer reading might be the best escape from the summer heat now that the creeks have dried up, and the thermometer has topped the century mark. Find a cool place to recline and enjoy these books that will whet your appetite for adventure.

Walking Hill Country Towns: 38 Unique Walks in the Texas Hill Country by Diane Capito (Maverick Publishing Co., $14.95) is one of the best Texas guide books to come down the pike in a while. Useful, informative, and well written, Capito's book has caught the essence of 38 small towns south and west of Austin.

The Texas Hill Country is more than just a pretty face. In order to fully appreciate the beauty of the rolling hills, it helps to know the story behind the rock wall-lined country lanes. About the time Texas became a state in 1846, a group of mostly German settlers was trying to colonize the cedar-covered hills. What they found was a constant struggle to survive on the thin, rocky soil.

Capito's description of Sisterdale is a good example of the colorful history behind the small cluster of buildings on FM 1376 north of Boerne. Settled by German intellectuals, the settlement was supposed to become a utopia of learning and freedom. Every house in the valley was said to have simple furnishings, but a large library.

Walk, bike, or drive Capito's routes to interesting sites beginning with the Sister Creek Winery's tasting room in the 1885 cotton gin. The descriptions are like having a native guide taking you around town.

Not all of the "unique walks" are in ghost towns. Fredericksburg has three walks in the book that take you away from the busy tourist district. New Braunfels has five walks, San Marcos has three, and even tiny Buda has two. Each of the walks is accompanied by a map. The maps are my only complaint about the book -- not all of them are aligned with north toward the top of the page. Rather, the north orientation is inconsistent and often confusing.

What is remarkable about the book is the amount of research that Capito put into the three-year project. Who would have guessed that places like Dripping Springs, Grapetown, and Stonewall had enough real estate, let alone history, to make an interesting tour? But they do.

After organizing walking tours in San Antonio, Capito wrote her first book, San Antonio on Foot. She writes in a lively style that gives the historical information in a succinct and interesting fashion. Put this book together with a Hill Country restaurant guide book, and you have hundreds of weekends planned out for you.

Day Trips

The other book that I just have to tell you about is not a guide book nor is it directly related to Texas, but it is about travel -- by cruise ship. The Ship and the Storm: Hurricane Mitch and the Loss of the Fantome by Jim Carrier (International Marine, $24.95) is a nonfiction adventure story that keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat. Carrier weaves an intricate tale of the final days of the cruise ship Fantome as it sailed into one of the fiercest hurricanes to boil in the Caribbean Sea.

Not unlike The Perfect Storm, The Ship and the Storm takes the reader aboard the Windjammer Barefoot Fun Cruise on its last sailing to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. You meet the crew whose business it was to show vacationers a good time. And then you watch as the weather professionals try to track Mitch, a Category 5 hurricane, as it comes alive and then defies all computer prognostication.

Three years after the event, the facts are pretty bleak. Mitch was the most destructive hurricane in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The dead and missing toll of 18,207 ranked second only to an unnamed storm in 1780. The damage to the landscape and people's lives was devastating as the Central American coast took a beating for 36 hours as the storm stalled.

Carrier takes the reader beyond the facts and into the lives of the 31 men battling the ocean and the weather. We can only imagine the hell the ship went through. The sailors that win the battle embolden future sailors. It is part of the lure of the sea.

As the storm began to churn the ocean waters in the usually placid blue bays, the young skipper dropped his passengers at Belize City. With the passengers safe, he faced the sailors' worst nightmare, trying to figure out what is the best tack -- try to outrun the storm or ride out the heavy seas and winds in port.

Either choice is a gamble. Capt. Guyan March made his best guess based on forecasts and seamanship and lost. "It was as if the storm stalked the ship," said Mike D. Burke, the owner of the cruise line at a press conference announcing the demise of the ship. The 50-year-old ship, built for the Duke of Westminster and once owned by Aristotle Onassis, disappeared on October 1998 without a conclusive clue as to what happened that fateful afternoon.

Written in a fast-moving journalistic style, the book gathers the many straws tossed about by the storm and assembles them into a collage of a fearsome natural disaster that no one could predict and few could escape. It is an exciting story with all of the elements of a good tale -- exciting plot, likable characters, and even suspense. Carrier went to exhaustive lengths to interview hundreds of people affected by the storm. After all, The Ship and the Storm is really a story about human strength at a time of overwhelming odds.

Rather than making one fear cruises in the Caribbean, the book makes them all the more of an adventure. Just don't go during hurricane season.

Coming up ...

Shakespeare at Winedale performed by UT students presents The Comedy of Errors, King Henry V, and All's Well That Ends Well at the historic farm outside of Round Top, Thursday-Sunday with two performances a day on weekends through Aug. 13. 979/278-3530 or www.shakespeare-winedale.org.

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