HAIL TO THE GOAT
In mid-August of each year, in the little hillside village of Killorglin, overlooking the river Laune in County Kerry, Ireland, a wild male mountain goat (called a "puck"), his horns tied with ribbons, is paraded by truck through town to the central square, where he is crowned king of the Puck Fair. King Puck, hoisted in a cage to the top of a high platform, reigns there for three days and two nights over Ireland's largest fair, attended by tens of thousands annually from around the world. While the centerpiece of the event is a livestock auction of horses, sheep and cattle, most celebrants come for the 72 hours of revelry -- drinking, dancing, music and entertainment.
Legends abound as to how the regal role of the puck originated. The most common is that in the days of Oliver Cromwell, a male goat held off a group of English soldiers who had been plotting to attack the town. Another says a goat warned the town of an impending attack in the 4th century. The tradition of hoisting the goat, in any event, has remained the same for centuries. On the fair's final day, King Puck (who, by the way, is well fed and sheltered during his reign) is paraded back toward the hills and released to roam wild again. DOORWAY TO HEAVEN
Pere Lachaise -- the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris -- is the final resting place of a number of immortals: Edith Piaf and Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, Abelard and Heloise. But for devotees of '60s music, the true lure is the grave of Jim Morrison, onetime lead singer of the Doors, king of orgasmic rock, brooding sex symbol, poet, iconoclast.
Since his death reportedly of a heart attack in a Paris bathtub in 1971, Morrison's grave has frequently been defiled and/or decorated with graffiti, banners and wine bottles filled with flowers. And he has achieved a kind of immortality shared only by such co-icons as Elvis and James Dean: His fans won't let him die. Is Jim really buried in Pere Lachaise, or -- as persistent legend insists -- is he alive and somewhere humming, "Come on, baby, light my fire"? (One recent sighting had him working as a clerk at Blue Meannie Records in El Cajon, Calif.)
You can form your own conclusions by digging the vibes at Pere Lachaise, in the 20th arrondissement (Metro stop: Pere Lachaise). THE ANSWER IS DELPHI
On the slopes of Mount Parnassus, overlooking olive groves and the distant Gulf of Corinth, lie the ruins of Delphi -- site of the legendary Delphic oracle, the most famous and prestigious of classical Greece. Sacred to the sun god Apollo, the oracle (which spoke through a succession of aging priestesses in strange, trance-like utterances) dispensed advice and prophecies to the mighty and humble alike.
What remains of ancient Delphi? One of the most spectacular archaeological settings imaginable. Wander among the ruins of the temple of Apollo, watch an ancient Greek tragedy performed at a 4th-century B.C. outdoor theater, enjoy the dramatic view from the stadium that hosted the quadrennial Pythian games, gaze at the Phaedriades (the cliff from which the fabulist Aesop was hurled to his death by the Delphines). You can visit Delphi in a long day trip from Athens (it's about 100 miles to the northwest), via car, public bus or one of many motorcoach tours. GO WITH THE FLOW
Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, is both creator and destroyer: builder of mountains and burner of lands, forests and rocks. According to legend -- and on the Big Island of Hawaii, where lava from the Kilauea volcano continues to flow and destroy, the Pele legend is still taken seriously indeed -- she is said to appear among mortals either as a beautiful young temptress or a wrathful old hag. You mess with Pele only at great peril to yourself. (Current legend has it that Pele, through Kilauea, is now showing her displeasure with geothermal-energy prospecting on the Big Island.) You can visit her domain at the Halemaumau Crater in the Kilauea Caldera, which is situated within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about 30 miles south of Hilo via Highway 11.
Follow the 11-mile Crater Rim Road around the caldera. One overlook, about a 10-minute hike from the road, peeks directly into the Halemaumau Crater, where sulfurous steam rises from Pele's chimney. Or you can hike three miles to the crater from the park's Visitor Center. But don't pick up any souvenir lava: Taking pieces of Pele's home is said to bring bad luck to the transgressor. The center is open daily from 7:45 a.m to 5 p.m. For the latest information on volcanic eruptions, call (808) 967-7977 anytime. SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK
Everyone remembers the great Washington Irving tales "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle": how Ichabod Crane, the stork-legged superstitious schoolteacher, was frightened into fleeing Sleepy Hollow by a rival who posed as the headless horseman; and how Rip, a resident of a small village in the Catskills while New York was still an English colony, unwittingly had a drink with the ghosts of Henry Hudson's crew and slept for 20 years, right through the Revolutionary War.
You can start your Irving legends tour at the village of Tarry- town north of New York City along the Hudson River. Tarrytown, just two miles from Ichabod's Sleepy Hollow, is the site of Sunnyside, Washington Irving's Dutch cottage on Sunnyside Lane. Sunnyside is filled with Dutch period furniture and Irving memorabilia; costumed guides lead tours daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is $5.
Continue north to Kingston, gateway to the Catskill Mountains, where you can either set off on a scenic drive around Rip Van Winkle country, or board the 500-passenger river vessel Rip Van Winkle for a Hudson River cruise. The boat leaves from the Kingston waterfront (call 914-255-6515 for schedule and prices).
To truly get into the Rip Van Winkle spirit, however, you will want to sleep. The Ramada Inn (914-339-3900) on the outskirts of Kingston has some good deals on long-term rates; you can stay there for 20 years for approximately $284,700 (tax not included) -- but by the time you wake up that will be the equivalent of only a few hundred dollars at today's prices. ODYSSEUS, COME HOME
Odysseus, the wily king of Ithaca in ancient Greece, spent 20 years away from home: 10 years fighting the Trojan War (where he devised the winning stratagem of the Trojan horse) and 10 years trying to find his way home again. Or so wrote Homer in his epic poem "The Odyssey."
You can re-create your own version of Odysseus's voyage home in much less than 10 years, provided you don't linger for seven years (as did our legendary hero) with the sea nymph Calypso. In fact, assuming you don't run into any one-eyed giants or sea monsters, you should be able to complete the trip in a few weeks.
Start your journey at the ruins of ancient Troy, near the Dardanelles on the Aegean coast of Turkey, 40 miles southwest of Canakkale. Guided tours are available from Canakkale, or you can see it on your own for $2.60 (open daily 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.).
A windstorm drove Odysseus's boat across the sea to the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, generally believed to be Libya. You may wish to skip this experience. If so, catch a ferry directly for the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, legendary home of Calypso and site of some nice beaches where the occasional nymph still lurks offshore.
A must stop is Mount Etna in Sicily, traditionally believed to be the home of the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, who held Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he's called in Italy) and his men captive in his cave. Etna, at 10,900 feet Europe's highest active volcano, is near the bustling city of Catania.
Continue to the dwelling places of that notorious fun couple, Scylla and Charybdis. Cross over by ferry from Sicily to mainland Italy via the Strait of Messina, generally believed to be the site of the whirlpool of the monster Charybdis. In mainland Calabria, visit the picturesque fishing village of Scilla, supposed abode of the six-headed monster Scylla.
Now proceed to Greece and the island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, where Odysseus was shipwrecked and rescued by a kindly princess. Corfu is lovely and a great place to get shipwrecked, if you can arrange it. From there it's a ferry ride south to the island of Ithaca, journey's end for both Odysseus and you. Odysseus then had to slay 100 suitors who were after his wife, but that part of the tour is optional. GREAT STEPS
Although giants are typically not the most beloved of legendary figures, the 3rd-century Ulster
giant Finn MacCool was a heroic warrior and star of an entire cycle of Irish legends. MacCool is credited with building the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland -- a spectacular formation of basalt columns that stretches toward the sea for 11 miles along the coast of the North Channel. Its 38,000 multi-sided symmetrical pillars, some as tall as 36 feet, form intricate patterns dubbed such names as the Giant's Organ, the Giant's Coffin, the Wishing Chair and the Ladies Fan.
According to legend, MacCool originally built the causeway across the North Channel to serve as stepping stones to Scotland. But a rival Scottish giant, Finn Gall, crossed over them to Ireland with the intent of doing in MacCool. Gall stalked MacCool while the Irish giant slept, only to be intercepted by MacCool's wife, who convinced the Scot that the snoring giant was actually their infant son. Not eager to confront the father of such a baby, Gall hightailed it back to Scotland, knocking over the stepping stones as he fled.
Actually (if one is to believe modern science), the columns were formed by the slow, irregular cooling of lava spilled from an ancient volcano 60 million years ago. You can judge for yourself during a posted three-mile geological walk around the site. There's also a visitor center and tea room. The Giant's Causeway can be reached on Highway B146 in County Antrim nine miles east of Portrush. BASIC BLACKBEARD
Capt. Edward Teach became a legend in his own time and ours by exploiting a gimmick that helped complement his natural cruelty. Teach -- better known as Blackbeard -- braided his bushy black beard, tied it with ribbons and, the story goes, even set it on fire to terrify his enemies. Blackbeard became the most infamous and feared pirate of his era, plundering and pillaging in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda and along the Carolina coast in the early 1700s.
One of Blackbeard's favorite haunts was the Cayman Islands, now renowned for their beaches, scuba diving and banks. Start your tour at the Pirate Caves in Bod-den Town, near the capital of George Town, said to have provided shelter to Blackbeard as he looted passing turtle boats. The partially underground caves contain natural formations and, according to local legend (possibly originated by the ticket sellers), may harbor buried treasure. Back at the Cayman Maritime and Treasure Museum on the George Town waterfront, you can listen to an animated figure of Blackbeard spin pirate legends. And if you time your visit for late October, you may witness the annual Cayman Islands' Pirates Week, when costumed residents reenact pirate tales, brandishing cutlasses and "capturing" the islands' governor. Having paid homage to Blackbeard and his fellow brigands, you can proceed to the beach with a clear conscience. ALL THIS AND LAWRENCE WELK TOO
Tales of Paul Bunyan, the legendary giant of a lumberjack, still echo through the north woods. Yet, ironically, he may have achieved his greatest feat in North Dakota, a state better known for prairie dogs than pine cones. Bunyan, it seems, once received an urgent request from the King of Sweden to clear-cut all of North Dakota in one month, to provide a place for immigrant Swedes to plant crops. Tall Paul set up the world's biggest lumber camp, and, with the help of Babe the Blue Ox and the Seven Axemen (all named Frank), completed the job on time -- despite working in fog so thick the Axemen had to chop a tunnel through it. But that still left the tree stumps. So Bunyan flooded the land with water, knowing that the massive Babe, who hated to get his feet wet, would keep dry by stepping on all the stumps, thus driving them six feet into the ground. And that's why it's said there isn't so much as a stump of a tree left in North Dakota.
Which raises the question: What is there to see in all those treeless stretches? "Of course, Medora's number one," a spokeswoman for North Dakota Tourism Promotion told us. Medora? It's a Wild West cow town once frequented by Teddy Roosevelt, who has a nearby national park named after him. And beyond Medora there are Indian villages, forts, the Badlands, Custer's house . . . plus these extra-special attractions:
The World's Largest Buffalo -- a 60-ton statue in Jamestown visible from Interstate 94.
Bismarck's Folkfest, an annual fall event high- lighted by the "Gitchee Gumee Innertube Race" across the Missouri River, which the tourism department describes as "ex- traordinarily silly."
And the newly restored Lawrence Welk family homestead near Strasburg, where the Champagne Music Man himself was born in 1903. Just ask anyone in town for directions, and don't forget the bubbly.
With all this, who needs trees? Call 1-800-437-2077 for a complete North Dakota vacation planner. A ROOM WITH A GHOST
What is it about the English that they can't seem to fully depart this mortal coil? According to legend, at least, no self-respecting English castle or manor house is complete without at least one ghost. King Henry VIII seems to bear considerable responsibility. At Windsor Castle near the Thames west of London in Royal Berkshire, you may hear the heavy breathing of the many-wived man himself, who is said to endlessly trudge the corridors, possibly suffering from a bad case of ghostly gout.
As might be expected, the tormented spirits of Henry's ex-wives are ubiquitous. Listen for the ghostly wails of Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, at Hampton Court in East Moseley, Middlesex. Catherine had been consigned to her room at Hampton Court awaiting execution following a marital infidelity. She escaped down the hallways to try to beg her husband's forgiveness, only to be intercepted, screaming, by guards; her cries supposedly still haunt the palace. The ghost of another wife beheaded by the jealous monarch, Anne Boleyn, is said to arrive annually at Blickling Hall in Norfolk, in a carriage complete with four horses and coachman. All are headless.
Finally, at Woburn Abbey, the famous stately home in Bedfordshire open to the public, ask to see the Duke of Bedford's former television room, where, much to the duke's consternation, the spirit of a man once mur- dered at the abbey persisted in flipping channels -- no doubt in search of a miniseries about a certain frequently married ex-king. IN SEARCH OF BAT MAN
While vampire legends have developed in many regions of the world, no area is so closely associated with the blood-sucking night crawlers as the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, thanks to the setting of Bram Stoker's famed 1897 novel Dracula (and dozens of movies since). Stoker modeled his Count Dracula after a real person, the notorious 15th-century Prince Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, and, even in his own day, as Dracula ("son of the Dragon" or "son of the Devil"). Prince Vlad came by his nicknames honestly: He is said to have liked to impale, boil, scalp and decapitate his enemies (and, when the mood struck, his friends). It's only fitting that folklore elevated Dracula to full vampire status.
The Romanians have re- stored the 14th-century Bran Castle, or "Castle Dracula," at Poiana Brasov, 20 miles from the picturesque medieval Transylvanian town of Brasov in the Carpathians. Chances are Dracula (who wasn't even Transylvanian) didn't really live there; it's more likely he was simply a guest. (His actual castle, Poenari, near Fagaras in the Arges Valley, is a ruin reached only by 1,440 steps.) Most visitors don't care because Bran Castle looks like the real thing: winding stairs, romantic views and secret escape routes.
You can also visit Dracula's birthplace in the old walled town of Sighisoara, where you can lunch at the Sign of the Dragon restaurant in the house where he was born. Vlad's bust is on the landing, and the food (try anything with garlic) is said to be good to the last bite. STALKING THE WILD BIGFOOT
Unconfirmed sightings of man-like apes have been reported for centuries: the Yeti (Himalayas), Bigfoot and Sasquatch (northern California to British Columbia), the ye ren or Wildman (China). For the truly adventurous, we asked the experts at the International Society of Cryptozoology (which studies such creatures) for a few tips. What are the chances of an actual sighting?
"Very low," acknowledges ISC Secre- tary Richard Greenwell, recently returned from a Wildman expedition to China. "First, they may not exist. If they do, they clearly survive by being elusive. And they live in very rough terrain." So how does one see Bigfoot? "About all you can do is stand out in the wilds and look."
Any practical pointers at all? The Pacific Northwest seems to offer the best chances of success. Greenwell rates the odds of Bigfoot/Sasquatch's existence at 50-50. "There have been 2,500 documented sightings and 1,000 footprints found." He thinks the probability for the Wildman existing is even higher, but central China isn't quite as accessible as Oregon. And the Yeti? Greenwell is dubious. "The Yeti has mystique, but there have been less than a handful of sightings by Westerners." He does offer this note of encouragement: the mountain gorilla, the largest primate of all, wasn't discovered until 1901, and prior to that, it was considered a legendary being.
You can get the latest scoops from the ISC -- four quarterly newsletters and an annual journal -- for a $30 yearly membership (ISC, P.O. Box 43070, Tucson, Ariz. 85733). SINBAD'S REST
If you are lucky enough to arrive in Lamu, a tiny island off the northern coast of Kenya, during the launching of a dhow, you will find yourself trans- ported back to the days of the Arabian Nights. In remote Lamu, one of the last great building sites of traditional Arabic dhows, the launching of such a vessel is a cause for feasting and ceremonial dancing. Men in white robes and tunics strain mightily to drag the boat into the water by hand, while Moslem women dressed in long black bui-buis -- with eyes peeking over their veils -- watch from nearby rooftops.
The dhow could be launched by more modern technological means, but on Lamu, where Swahili culture -- an amalgam of Arabia and black Africa -- is at its purest, tradition is everything. "It is refreshing," wrote one past traveler to Lamu, "to find one place in the world that does not pretend to believe in progress or indeed in motion at all."
Lamu is one of the traditional homes of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor, he of the Seven Voyages recounted in A Thousand and One Nights. Sinbad is said to have lived there a thousand years ago, when the island was an important link in the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. Appropriately, one must still arrive in Lamu by boat, with no cars allowed. The most dependable method is to fly from Malindi on the mainland to nearby Manda Island, then transfer by ferry to Lamu. THE LEGEND THAT ALMOST WASN'T
This is the story of a people who began as a legend and turned out to have actually existed. Aztec and Maya folklore told of flat-nosed, often bearded gods called Olmecs who once reigned over a great civilization in the area that is now central Mexico. Colonial-era Europeans believed these bearded deities were descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, or Vikings, or Irish monks -- anything but native Americans.
But American archaeologist George Vaillant knew that legends often have a historical basis. With only his theories to guide him, Vaillant set out in the 1930s in search of the "legendary" Olmecs. At La Venta in the state of Tabasco near the Gulf of Mexico and at other sites in the region, he discovered proof of their existence: colossal stone sculptures of heads, six feet high and weighing between 20 and 40 tons, that dated from the first millennium B.C. -- hundreds of years before the first Mayas, of whom the Olmecs were probably ancestors.
You can visit a re-creation of the La Venta Olmec settlement in a lovely jungle setting at Villahermosa, the capital of the state of Tabasco. The outdoor Parque Museo La Venta showcases Olmec relics, sculptures (including three of the massive stone heads) and a replica of the original archaeological site, which is in an inaccessible area 84 miles to the west. The park, situated outside Villahermosa on Route 180, is open daily. Admission is 8 cents. THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
Perhaps no Western legend has had such enduring popularity as that of the noble 6th-century Celt, King Arthur. At least 600 separate geographical sites and artifacts in Britain are linked to it, from southern England to Wales to Scotland. Many bear such fanciful names as Arthur's Chair, Arthur's Table (round, of course), and Arthur's Cups and Saucers. Since the historical Arthur (if he existed at all) is shrouded in mystery, any British community with a decent sense of self-promotion can claim a piece of Camelot.
Three of the 600 sites, however, are obligatory stops on any Arthur tour. One is Tintagel, the ruins of a 13th-century castle on the rocky coast of Cornwall said to be the king's birthplace. Even though that's a clear anachronism, Tintagel's romantic cliffside setting conjures up all the right Arthurian images. Another is Cadbury Castle in Somerset, traditionally regarded as the site of Camelot. The third is nearby Glastonbury, commonly associated with the misty Isle of Avalon, Arthur's reputed burial place. This may be academic, though, since, according to Welsh legend, Arthur and his knights are merely resting in enchanted sleep, someday to awaken and lead the Celts to the NBA title -- er, to recapture their homeland.
Washington-based Storyfest Journeys offers annual Arthur tours to Tintagel, Glastonbury and other sites. Call (202) 364-6143 for details. Gothic Image Tours of Glastonbury (represented in the United States by Wilson and Lake International, 1-800-545-5228) leads similar trips hosted by top Arthurian experts. THESE TALES WERE MADE FOR WALKING
Some legends are best followed on foot. Here's a selection of walking tours, and don't forget the sensible shoes:
Follow Jack the Ripper's trail of terror down the "dark alleyways and dimly lit streets" of London's Whitechapel district, and learn his secret identity. Or retrace the London footsteps of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, "pitting your wits against dastardly criminals." (City Walks and Tours, 9/11 Kensington High St., London W8 5HP; 937-4281.)
Tour the cave near Naples, called the Grotta della Sibilla, that the ancient Romans believed served as the entrance to the underworld via the River Styx. One-hour guided tours are led deep into the cave, past the Styx -- but only for the living. Open weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; tip the guide.
Take a 10-day journey following the historic path of the Canterbury pilgrims from London to Canterbury, as guides recount stories from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and traditional English folk tales. Modern transportation supplements walking segments. (Storyfest Journeys, 202-364-6143.)
Arrange your own customized walking tours -- what legend would you like to follow? Elegant Ambles of San Diego will try to set up a trip for groups of two or more, for between $150 and $450 per person per day, including accommodations, local transport, most meals and guide services, but not airfare; specialties are England, Scotland, Switzerland, New England and California. (Elegant Ambles, P.O. Box 91254, San Diego, Calif. 92169; 619-488-2118 or 619-222-2224.) DESIGNING WOMEN
Although the legend of the Amazons -- a tribe of brave, all-women warriors reputed to occupy some exotic land -- dates from classical Greece, it captivated the imaginations of the Spanish who explored the New World. No one knows for certain whether the many tales of Amazon sightings in Central and South America actually had some basis in fact or were more the product of European wishful thinking built from hearsay and folklore. But dramatic tales they were, of a tall, fair-skinned tribe ruled by a great priestess, living in splendor amid much gold and silver. To reproduce themselves, the Amazons were said to kidnap men from nearby tribes for stud work, kill the ones who didn't perform to their satisfaction and return the ones who did. They would then keep the female offspring and either kill the boys or return them to their fathers.
You can ponder the legend of the Amazons -- and perhaps try to glimpse one or two -- during your own journey down the river that was named for them. A variety of agencies offer a wide range of Amazon River trips. Among them are Wilderness Travel, 1-800-247-6700; Sobek, 1-800-777-7939; Mountain Travel, 1-800-227-2384; and Grand Circle Travel, 1-800-221-2610. WILD ABOUT WYATT
Those of us who grew up on '50s TV Westerns will remember Wyatt Earp, marshal of Dodge City and Tombstone, as a clean-cut lawman who stood for justice and decency. That was a legend. In real life, the line between Wyatt Earp and the "bad guys" wasn't quite as clear as that depicted on the tube.
Tiny Tombstone, Ariz., is the site of Earp's most legendary exploit: the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Tombstone, 70 miles southeast of Tucson, was one of the wildest towns of the Wild West, replete with saloons, bordellos and public hangings. Today it's a National Historic Landmark, devoted to roping the wild tourist. Avoid the obvious traps and mosey over to the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt, his brothers Virgil and Morgan and compatriots Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday battled the outlaw Clanton Gang in October 1881. The Earps and company prevailed -- killing three Clantons, making Earp a hero and providing eventual employment for Hugh O'Brian. As the shootout was portrayed in the climactic episodes of the TV series, Earp tried to prevent bloodshed; in actuality, there is considerable suspicion he provoked it. Costumed performers reenact the gunfight each Sunday, giving Earp the benefit of the doubt.