Friday, July 13, 2012

Newfoundland, June 2012

Newfoundland is a land of rugged beauty and a hardy, fun-loving people.  It’s 4 1/2 time zones away, nearer to Ireland than California, and didn’t even join Canada until after World War II.  But it’s wonderfully North American with charming fishing villages, varied-color row houses (called jellybean rows) in its capital St. John’s, its own unique blue-bottled Quidi Vidi beer, and food to die for: cod tongues and pastries bristling with partridgeberries (we call them lingonberries) and bakeapple berries (like orange-colored raspberries).  Moose roam the island and whales encircle it.  Cod was king until overfishing forced an economy-crippling moratorium.  Now many former fishermen find employ in Alberta’s oil fields or aboard offshore oil rigs.  Notwithstanding their many challenges--including forced resettlements--Newfoundlanders (sometimes called “Newfies”) survive in good humor buoyed everywhere by the exuberant strains of arresting celtic folkmusic.  What a blast!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Visiting Creole and Cajun Country, April 2012

Garden District, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery

Garden District


On the way to site of Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812

Water snake, Honey Island swamp

Shotgun house, Lower 9th Ward

Bourbon Street, New Orleans

Bourbon Street

Street festival

Avery Island, New Iberia

Roseate Spoonbill, Lake Martin rookery

Louisiana Bald Cypress swamp

Oak Alley Plantation (view from mansion entrance)

Oak Alley mansion

Oak Alley classic view
OK, this place is really different: different food, different architecture, different music, different cemeteries, even different people.  Actually, its uniqueness stems mainly from the diverse cultures which settled along the warm, storm-plagued southern terminus of the Mississippi River.  The Creoles and Cajuns brought to southern Louisiana from the Caribbean, Europe and Nova Scotia an overlay appealing to all senses: their own fragrant and spicy foods, toe-tapping music, eye-catching architecture, and lyric accents.  There were the plantations reminiscent of Tara in “Gone With the Wind,” the oddly shaped shotgun houses, the cemeteries with above-ground vaults marked with scores of names, the Katrina-devastated communities undergoing imaginative rebuilding, the beignets (deep fried dough balls), po-boys and crawfish kickers emblematic of the cultures from which they’re drawn, and humid swamps with Spanish moss garlanding Louisiana Bald Cypresses.  What fun!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Route of the Maya, February 2012

Temple of the Great Jaguar, Tikal
Harnessed up for zip-line
Scarlet Macaws
Our minibus
Copan ruins, Honduras
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lamanai ruins, Belize
Howler monkey
Typical cemetery, Guatemala
Restored image, Lamanai
Cathedral, San Salvador
Our search for the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal and Copan took us to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.  Our group of 16 weathered rough roads, a humid climate, malarial swamplands, and a risky water supply...but the remarkable Mayan ruins and our zip-lining experience made it all seem worth it.  Zip-lining begins by donning a harness and climbing to a point high enough to let gravity do its work.  It’s really not done for the scenery; you’re moving too fast and are too intent on applying the brakes.  But what an experience!  The horseback ride to a Mayan village was memorable as was a visit to a local school and a home dining experience.  But when we look back on this trip in the future, we’re sure to remember most the grandeur of the Temple of the Great Jaguar at Tikal and the excitement of zip-lining. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Antarctica, December 1-15, 2011

When we saw restraining straps on our beds in the vessel taking us to Antarctica we realized this trip would be different.  This came soon after learning that, for many of our fellow travelers, this was their second, third, even fourth bid at launching this trip (mechanical difficulties or damage occurring during crossings are not uncommon).  But we were lucky.  Not only did we embark on schedule but our ear patches successfully prevented sea sickness during the notoriously rough two-day crossing of the Drake Passage.  Nine landings featured penguins by the thousands, fur seals, an abandoned whaling enterprise and a British research station.  Typically, once a scout boat could assure that an avenue to a landing point could be found through icy seas, zodiac boats would ferry us ashore eight at a time.  We were briefed to allow penguins to approach us, but not approach them or use their pathways.  Our visits were almost surreal.  Surrounded by icebergs and a forbidding landscape, we walked the rock and ice-strewn habitat of creatures not seen elsewhere on earth, or we visited the ruins of abandoned human efforts to capitalize on this unique setting.  We took many pictures, but share the belief that no camera can faithfully capture the fierce, epic grandeur of an Antarctic summer experience.