Three years in Madagascar have given me many images to remember: picturesque grassy mountains scarred with huge red crevasses; lush rainforests full of unique wildlife; miles and miles of geometric rice paddies; muddy roads full of bikes, ox-carts and cars, all waiting for a herd of cattle to pass; rocky outcrops populated by ring-tailed lemurs; beachside sunrises over the Indian Ocean on the east coast and beachside sunsets over the Mozambique Channel on the west.
Hilton Head & Bluffton Lifestyle
Hilton Head Island resident John Rumsey is understandably proud of the many sailing achievements he’s accomplished in his 64 years on the water.
But he may be proudest of his most recent adventure: an offshore race from California to Hawaii.
The race was called the Transpac, short for Transpacific Yacht Race. It takes place on odd years and covers 2,225 nautical miles from San Pedro (near Los Angeles) to Diamond Head Lighthouse in Honolulu. It’s one of sailing’s premier events, and it draws teams from all over the world.
For Rumsey, it’s old hat.
Mackenzie Russell is one well-rounded animal lover.
It’s been a busy few months for Russell, a Hilton Head Island native and incoming sophomore at the College of Charleston. First and foremost, she recently won the Individual Walk-Trot-Canter Equitation On The Flat, an equestrian event at the IHSA National Championships in Lexington, Ky.
In doing so, Russell beat 17 others from a pool of elite equestrian athletes culled from 400 or so participating schools across the country. In such a competition you draw a number to find out what horse you’ll be riding, then you have about 20 seconds to get acquainted with your draw before the competition starts.
“The idea is to test that you’re competent to ride any horse, any personality, anytime,” Russell said.
Bob Story, College of Charleston’s equestrian coach, said Russell had the perfect draw that day — and the perfect ride.
“I was standing down at the end gate and I really didn’t talk to her the whole ride,” Story said. “Normally I’m runnin’ my mouth a mile a minute when they’re in the ring. But she was just in this zone and I didn’t want to break that. When she finished I turned to whoever was standing next to me and said, ‘I think Kenzi might win this.’ ”
Russell knew she’d had a good run but that feeling was cemented when she heard Story’s reaction.
“I walked by my coach when I got off, and my coach is a man of few words, so when he’s happy it’s a big deal,” she said. “I’m pretty sure he just said, ‘Perfect.’ ”
That weekend was full of big deals for Russell. While she was accepting the Jon Conyers Memorial Trophy and an expensive collegiate saddle for her win at nationals, back in Charleston the short film she’d made for a class, “Birds of Prey,” was debuting at the Charleston Film Festival. The nine-minute documentary on the Center for Birds of Prey in Charleston was created to promote conservation, something Russell says is close to her heart.
“I’ve always been into conservation,” said Russell, who is majoring in psychology with an animal training concentration, and pursuing a double minor in biology and environmental science. “I have a drive to protect our earth ... and all the animals we should be sharing it with.”
The self-described “beach hippie” is the daughter of Gregg and Lindy Russell. She comes by her love of animals and ocean life honestly, having been raised near and on the ocean. A certified diver, avid surfer and kayaker, Russell says her love of animals naturally migrated from land to sea over the years.
“First I wanted to be a veterinarian, then I wanted to train race horses, then train jumpers, and now I want to train marine mammals,” she said. “But it’s not that big of a jump (from land mammals to marine mammals). The ocean is, I don’t know, my other half.”
Which brings us to the third animal habitat in which Russell is gaining experience. This summer, she’s working as an educational intern at Sea World Orlando, helping to lead children’s educational day camps about marine animals. For someone whose dream is to be an animal trainer at Sea World, this season spent working with sea lions, dolphins and plenty more marine mammals is in itself a dream come true.
“I absolutely love it,” she said. “The jobs in the field I’m trying to get into are all about experience. So this is my start.”
Russell knows it may seem odd for such a strong proponent of conservation to want to train marine mammals for people’s entertainment. But there’s a deeper reasoning there, she says.
“Sure there’s a few dolphins that aren’t in the wild, but we have thousands of people that come through our park every day that haven’t seen a dolphin before. And how can you care about something you don’t know anything about?” she said.
“We teach people to care about these animals so they’ll protect them, they’ll want to protect them. It can be a very positive thing.”
Building robots, solving murders, composing music — it’s all in a day’s work for Abi Fidler. As the technology coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island, Fidler, 26, is helping fuel the imaginations of hundreds of children every day in the club’s computer lab.
“The most rewarding thing is to see a member find something they are really passionate about doing,” says Fidler. “So many of our kids don’t have access to computers at home and rarely get the opportunity to create content such as music or movies. My favorite part of the job is when someone tells me ‘I never knew we could do this!’ and asks to learn more about it.”
Fidler has turned the lab into a place where kids learn complex math concepts by building robots or working with software based on “CSI.” But creative pursuits are represented as well; Fidler says kids can animate movies, compose music, learn to play instruments, design fashions and, in one case, dance along with Beyonce.
Savannah is better known for its antebellum townhomes and moss-draped oaks than its role in the American Revolution or the golden age of railroading, but two relatively new attractions on the town’s western fringes aim to balance those perceptions.
The Georgia State Railroad Museum (601 W. Harris St., 912-651-6823) is a delight for train fans of all ages. It’s got a restored roundhouse featuring engines and coaches, and offers short locomotive rides that give visitors an overview of the old Central of Georgia, which in the early 1900s was Savannah’s largest employer. Rides on the open-air passenger car, which are narrated by a guide, begin with the car being slowly rotated on a giant turntable once used to direct railroad cars into the repair bays arranged around the semicircular roundhouse.
Right next door to the trainyard is Battlefield Park, featuring a recreated earthen fortification that commemorates the valiant but doomed attempt by colonial Americans, Haitians and others to wrest the city back from its British occupiers on Oct. 9, 1779. The battle left some 800 troops killed or wounded — and Savannah in redcoat hands for the duration of the Revolutionary War.
The Coastal Heritage Society is the proprietor of both sites and markets them with the adjacent Savannah Visitors Center/History Museum, housed in a restored railroad passenger terminal. “The whole complex now has a formal name. We call it Tricentennial Park,” said Patricia Guerrero Knight, society spokesperson. (Savannah, founded in 1733, will celebrate its 300th year in 2033.)
Savannah’s railroad shops closed in 1963 after diesel locomotives supplanted the coal-fired steam engines that the local shops were built to handle. The Coastal Heritage Society took over management of the site in 1989, and CHS’s preservation teams have since restored more than 40 railroad cars and other pieces of equipment. Restoration work on other buildings is ongoing, and there are plans to establish a children’s museum on site.
Hot weather advisory: Much of the tour involves walking outside, so take advantage of all the shady spots in the roundhouse for frequent rest and water breaks. Luckily, the luxuries inside the two restored Pullman passenger cars — also a guided tour — include air conditioning.
Meanwhile, the grass-covered earthen fort of the Battlefield Park was recreated with evidence of the real structure, known as the Spring Hill Redoubt, that Coastal Heritage archaeologists found nearby in 2005. It’s easy to see how such redoubts helped British occupiers fend off attackers, who would have first had to cross a deep V-shaped ditch, studded with thick spear-pointed poles, before scaling the steep fort walls.
IF YOU GO
Georgia State Railroad Museum
601 W. Harris St., 912-651-6823
Admission: $10 for adults;
$4 for children 6 and under
Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day)
Corner of Louisville Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 912-651-6825
Admission: Free to individual visitors; fee may apply for guided tours.
Hours: Open daily until dusk.
Directions from South Carolina: Cross into Savannah on the Talmadge Memorial Bridge; turn left on MLK Boulevard. The Railroad Museum and Battlefield Park are a short distance ahead on your right. The most convenient parking is at the parking lot of the Savannah Visitors Center/Savannah History Museum.
It’s not hard to see why Christen Cuevas was chosen as the new face of Coastal Chevrolet in Savannah. Not only is she a knockout, she’s also vivacious, enthusiastic and intelligent. But it’s how she got this gig – and a brand spanking new Chevy Tahoe — that makes her story unusual.
Cuevas, a Hilton Head resident for more than 20 years, started modeling and acting as a child in Washington, D.C. When she turned 16, she decided to give up her career and take up martial arts.
Andy Carpenter remembers visiting the island as a kid with his family and being faced with two options with which to busy himself: play some golf, or go to the beach. “A vacation that does not actually make,” says Carpenter, now a copy editor and page designer at The Island Packet.
Hilton Head has always been big on passive summertime activities, happily bypassing the tacky approach to tourist amusement embraced by, say, Myrtle Beach’s cheesy theme parks and ugly water slides.
Before the pirate tours came along, the legacy of pirates in the Lowcountry had been reduced to caricatures on mini-golf courses and restaurant menus. But were there ever real pirates in the Lowcountry?
The area is full of vibrant lore, the most well-known of which is the legend of Gorez Goz. A bloodthirsty Spanish plunderer, Goz chased a local Indian maiden into a tree but got stuck, with his beard hopelessly ensnared in the tree branches. After he died, his grey beard continued to grow and spread, creating what we now call Spanish Moss.
History points to some real-world tales of piracy too. But, with traditional Lowcountry hospitality, the pirates were embraced at first, according to Beaufort County Public Library documents. For a quarter century after Charleston was founded in 1690, the city mingled eagerly with its pirate visitors, allowing them to booze and spend freely while at port as locals purchased stolen goods from the boats at low prices. Charlestonians saw the trade as good for the economy, but the royal government eventually began a crackdown.
Orchid Paulmeier has a familiar face to anyone who has been around the Hilton Head Island restaurant scene: Her One Hot Mama’s has been a staple since it opened in Bluffton in 2003, and became even more prominent when it moved to the island’s Triangle in 2007.But soon, Orchid’s face could be familiar all over the country, as she’ll be one of 15 finalists on this season of “The Next Food Network Star,” the show that skyrocketed Guy Fieri to fame, when it airs June 5 through Aug. 14.
Paulmeier wasn’t allowed to disclose details of the show, of course, but she could tell us what it’s like to go from girl with a dream and an ice cream scoop to Food Network celebrity.
For Ava Davis, fulfilling a dream led to helping someone else out of a nightmare. In her new book “Nothing Short of Miraculous,” the retired English teacher, who moved to Hilton Head Island from Ohio four years ago, wrote about her experience trying to save the life of an abused heiress she met while on a golfing trip to Pebble Beach. Co-author and friend Lori Queen, also a Hilton Head Islander, recalled the fear of finding out what her friend was up to on all those mysterious trips to the West Coast.
“I knew for months that Ava was going back out to Pebble Beach to visit ‘friends,’ but she never added much detail. When I finally understood the entire situation and began to comprehend how involved she had become, I was terrified for her safety and my husband was absolutely furious with her. There was nothing else we could do but help her,” says Queen, who wrote about her part of the story in the book, published by Barringer Publishing in April.