Group Art Show at CVA

Alberto Soriano and Evelyn Johnson looking at a painting from Evelyn’s new music series.

For the month of November, Evelyn was invited to participate in a group show of 8 artists at one of Cuenca’s newest fine arts galleries, Cuenca Visual Arts (CVA) that opened early 2018. Garry Kaulitz and Janda Grove created the gallery, and have been putting on a new show monthly.

There is a  variety of art styles ranging from Realism, Expressionism, Impressionism to Abstract. All eight artists have a different style and work in different mediums from oil paintings, acrylic abstracts, print making and more.

Other artists in the group show included Patricia Daugherty, Linda Wooten-Green, Garry Kaulitz, Boris Ordoñez, Alberto Soriano, Maité Eusebio, and Janda Grove.

New England 3 – Boston

We had originally planned on “chasing the Fall Colors.”  However, we were lucky enough to hit “Peak Color” in Vermont, and everything after that failed to live up to to our entry to Fall, so we decided to change plans.

We therefore wound up our New England travels with a week in Boston.  Evelyn loved this town when she visited for work several times in the 1980s, and Burt had never been there before.  If you look on TripAdvisor, you are told that the #1 thing to do in Boston is to visit the Fine Art Museum, so of course we did that first, as seen in the top two rows of the photo block above. The center image is from an “infinity display” where a couple dozen glass vessels were placed in front of a mirror, making it appear as though the bottles went on forever. Of course, Evelyn had to see  the works of some of her favorite painters: John Singer Sargent, Monet, Picasso, and other renown masters.  There was also a section devoted to historic musical instruments (lower-left), which we enjoyed.

Another attraction was the Museum of Science, which drew Burt’s attention. We arrived just as a demo was being given on electricity and lightning (lower-right).  This is an excellent place to take kids, with all the interactive displays showing how to think analytically.

Just as we thought we had seen it all and were ready to leave, we heard an 8 year-old kid talk to his mother excitedly about the dinosaur exhibit.  How could we leave and not see the dinosaurs?!  We made a point of going there to finish off the science museum (bottom-center).

Another TripAdvisor recommendation is the aquarium.  We usually go to the major aquariums in cities when we have the time, so did so here too.  It was a well done aquarium, and well worth a trip with the kids.  It is pretty hard to compete with the likes of the Monterey Bay  Aquarium in California though, and this comes up just a little short in that comparison.

In recent years, we have become fans of the “free walking tours” in major cities, where a local expert takes you around and shows the significant sites for no up-front fee. You tip the guide as you see fit at the end.  Most of these have been quite good, with only a couple (Venice comes to mind…) where we left early and chose not to tip at all.

We started at Boston Common along the Freedom Trail, that took us along a 1-mile section of the route marked by the city as having Revolutionary War significance, which included Faneuil Hall, which unfortunately has transformed into a touristy, shopping center.

The guide (upper-right) was very entertaining, though his over-the-top exuberance did wear on us rather quickly.

We also decided to take the free “Beacon Hill Crime Tour.” This guide (upper-left) was quite entertaining, and kept us wanting to hear more stories.  We walked through our neighborhood and learned of the horrific crimes that have occurred over the centuries here.  Rather appropriate, since we were only a couple days ahead of Halloween.

One thing we noticed is that the homes on Beacon Hills really seem to get into the spirit of Halloween. We saw more ghosts and goblins on doors and window sills than we can remember anywhere else. We were told that Halloween is quite an adult event here, and if you bring your wine glass, you not only get wine, but a tour of the mansions.

After the guided walks, we did some exploring on our own. Very near our apartment is the Tadpole playground at the Boston Public Garden, which was drained for the off-season.  There are rather cute frog statues around the park (upper-left and upper-right), including one wearing the Boston Red Sox outfit (upper-left).  The carousel horses (bottom-left) were carelessly stacked in a corner, making me wonder how well they will weather the Boston Winter to come.

Naively, we had not realized that the World Series was in town, and wondered why it was hard for us to find hotel rooms that week. As night approached, I went to the rooftop of our rented room to capture some Blue Hour images of the city (lower-middle and lower-right).

We almost skipped the John F Kennedy library.  One couple on our walking tour told us that the library was the highlight of their trip in Boston.  We therefore decided to see it on our last morning, on our way out of town.

We were so very glad we did.  We are both of the age where we can vaguely remember the events of his presidency, and can both still clearly remember where we were when we heard he had been assassinated.

The museum concentrated on Kennedy’s life up until his nomination by the Democratic Party in 1960.  We learned, for example, that he had been a rather poor student in his early years (second row-left).  We also found that California had voted Republican in the 1960 election, as had almost the entire West Coast (lower-left).

Kennedy first installed the secret tape recording mechanism that later got Nixon into trouble.  This was available and operating during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  A documentary was shown, in which all the words were recordings of Kennedy and his cabinet. We had known that the crisis brought us close to WW III, but the recordings here really drove the point home. While his military advisors were telling him to do an all-out surprise massive strike on Cuba, Kennedy’s response was “That is what the world expects from the Russians. It is not what they expect from America though. We must find a way to solve this that does not escalate to war.”

New England 2 – Jackson, NH and Martha’s Vineyard

While in New Hampshire, we took a one day trip to the north of the state to chase more Fall colors, and stayed overnight at the Christmas Farm Inn and Spa, in Jackson, NH. It turned out that the colors peaked a few days before we arrived.

When we woke the next morning, it was snowing! OK, by New England standards, it was only snow flurries, but to those of us now accustomed to Ecuador weather, it was C-O-L-D!  We went out to photograph the newly dusted landscape.

In sending up the drone, I quickly discovered that the winds were gusting high above the trees, as the drone got blown into a treetop at 120′ in the air. It sounded like a chain saw cutting down a tree, then we watched the drone tumbling to the ground, bouncing off branches as it went.  After I restarted my heart, I realized that the trusty little DJI Phantom 4 Pro had righted itself and avoided calamity, with only the tip of one blade needing to be replaced.

Jackson, NH, is known for their ski resorts, and we had hoped to ride the chair lift up Mt. Washington. Unfortunately, it was closed due to those same high winds.

After a second overnight with our Exeter friends, we headed to Martha’s Vineyard for a few days.  After hearing about this place most of our lives, we wanted to see it for ourselves.  The island is large and you really need a car to get around, so we put our rental car on the ferry and took it with us. The ride was pretty choppy (top), and turned out to be the last of the day — they cancelled all later trips due to rough waters.

Other images above are around the former whaling town of Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. The movie Jaws was filmed there, so there are lots of paraphernalia and factoids from that movie.

When we think of New England, we often think of light houses.  Since the map showed five on the island, we drove out to see them.  As it turned out, one was inaccessible except by four-wheel drive, two were now privately owned and visitors not welcome.  That left two accessible, only one of which was really very photogenic (seen above).

While here, we took a short trip to Chappaquiddick, the island on which Ted Kennedy had the fatal accident in 1969, which derailed his presidential aspirations for good.  To reach the island, you first go on a tiny 2 or 3-car ferry (bottom).  There are no signs nor maps showing the location of the bridge, so you have to do research from old newspapers in advance (upper-left two images). You cannot go further to the light house without a four-wheel drive, with lots of warnings that you WILL get stuck in the sand if you try it in a normal car, and that emergency pull-out is obscenely expensive.

Overall, Martha’s Vineyard was a disappointment. We were there after the end of the season, so many of the stores and restaurants were closed, there were very few people around, and it was cold and very windy (I could not send up the drone anywhere on the island). We expect it would be a different experience during the Summer though.

New England 1 – Vermont and New Hampshire

After we completed Loren’s workshop, we started to explore New England on our own. I did some rudimentary glass blowing as a hobby many decades ago while in high school, so I often like to visit working glass blowing shops when we are in the area. Simon Pearce is a glass factory in Woodstock, Vermont, and though they only had a couple people working, the scene was interesting, especially the waterfall in the back.

While driving through the countryside in Vermont, we passed by a couple of old tractors and other old farm equipment sitting in a small field. They looked intriguing as possible foreground for shooting star trails, as this was a scene we had expected to find more often in New England.  Above are a few images we collected in the short time we stopped here.

We were also introduced to an old textile mill that has been converted into offices in Exeter, New Hampshire. It sits on a river that was absolutely clear and mirrored when we arrived. I quickly sent up my drone (which has been getting a lot of use on this trip!), and got images such as the two on the left above.  Upper-right is a photo Evelyn took of the drone collecting still other shots.

The primary target for this trip was to see the Fall Colors in New England, so we kept driving to places where the colors were turning, or preferably at “peak.”  Above are just a few of the random images from that search.

The New Hampshire coastline was a treat, with its wonderful seafood restaurants. A favorite was Petey’s, outside of Portsmouth, with the best haddock and scallop ever. We were staying with friends M and T, whom we met in Ecuador a couple years ago. They made the most scrumptious chuck steak ever grilled over a tile on their barbecue. As much as we searched, we never found anywhere else that made steaks as good as these friends did!

Here is a two minute example of the glass blowing shop that we visited.

Vermont Fall Foliage, Part 2

Despite the pastoral farms and seemingly endless rolling hills, Vermont has several dense, spread out cities and towns, and it is hard to find truly dark skies, as needed for good star photography.  A few feet from where we photographed the light-painted island yesterday, there was a partially shielded area that allowed us to capture this image of the Milky Way.  The light along the horizon is from a city some 50 miles away.

Vermont has many farms sprawling across rolling hills.  In the Fall, after the harvest has been brought in, and before the leaves have left the trees, the scenes are postcard perfect for photographs. Vermont has a lower population density than the all but two states in the US at 68 per square mile.

Many of the roads are lined with trees, and are also splendid in their Fall Colors. Even fog enhances the mood of the fall foliage. We like that Vermont has laws forbidding billboards, so the natural landscapes are preserved.

Be sure to look closer at the details, which are often overlooked when enjoying the wider colorful scenery.

And don’t forget to look up too, for the patterns.

Some scenes are filled with texture, especially after the leaves have dropped. We are amazed at how quickly the peak colors disappear. Within days of Peak Color, leaves drop and the the scenes are muted again. The colors particularly pop whenever the sun shines through on a cloudy day, and you then have only moments to capture that vibrant color.

Photographers come from around the world to capture these scenes. We are fortunate to have been able to capture the fall foliage at its peak this year.  We were surprised just how much we liked Vermont in general. No sales tax meant you actually paid what was marked on the merchandise. The local people often still leave their doors unlocked (something I didn’t know still existed in the States since the 1950s).  Oh, and the food!  We ate at “general stores” for lunch through most of Vermont, and we never had a bad meal. Some were just plain fantastic — such as the burgers at Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock.

Here is a short view of what the Fall Colors looked like from my drone flights during the workshop.

Vermont Fall Foliage, Part 1

Seeing the Fall Colors in New England has been on our travel list for years. We decided to go this year, which was precipitated by my camera falling onto a granite rock during a windstorm in Namibia in July. That required it to be sent to the Sony repair facility (who fixed it under warranty!), but we cannot reliably ship such things to Ecuador.  Coming to New England let us pick up the repaired camera, and experience the Fall foliage at the same time.

Since we were coming here, but did not really know the area, we decided to join a Vermont Fall Color Photography workshop with Loren Fisher. The timing of the Fall colors is always fickle, and you can never really tell just when the leaves will hit peak color.  We were really lucky this year, and the workshop was right during Peak Color in Woodstock, Vermont, giving us ample opportunities to photograph the vivid display all week. Woodstock is considered one of the prettiest towns in the US, with pastoral and scenic photo opportunities everywhere you look.

Loren was a fantastic tour leader, able to answer pretty much all questions, and patient enough to do so. He was also very flexible, both of the vagaries of weather (we did have one nasty day during the week), and do requests from the group. For example, the image on top here is the result of the group asking him to return to this location after dark.  He quickly adjusted plans and brought us back for images like this.  (We will be traveling with Loren again to Chile next year, so this isn’t the last you will hear from us about him.)

Covered bridges are one of the symbols associated with New England. Some of these bridges are hundreds of years old, with the cover intended to protect the wooden timbers from the Winter snow. Most have been renovated several times during their lives, some keeping with the original design closer than others.

Red barns, general stores and churches are other symbols that come to mind in New England — sometimes combined, as in middle image adobe.

Not all farm buildings are red though.  In fact, one common sight is unpainted buildings, which are designed to gain a patina from the weathering of the raw wood over time.

Many locations provide numerous chances for different photographs around the property.  One example is Jenne’s Farm.  All the images in the block above are from the same farm.  We were there on the one rainy and foggy day this week. Some day we will likely return there during a sunny day… or a snowy day.  Those would provide entirely different images from the same plot of land.  This is sometimes referred to as “The most photographed farm in America,” having starred in Forest Gump and Funny Farm, plus being on the cover of Time Magazine.

Water is everywhere in Vermont, which means lots of rivers, waterfalls,  ponds and lakes. We learned that the difference between a pond and a lake is that you can see the bottom of a pond.

Lakes are numerous in the area, and many provide photogenic scenes with the Fall Colors surrounding them. Leffert’s Pond was one of our favorites. At one point, we met a woman who teaches yoga on a paddle board, who asked us to photograph her (upper right).

Here is an 80 second view of what it looks like to drive the roads of Vermont during Peak Colors.

Chebeague Island, Maine

We just finished spending several days at a cottage on Chebeague Island, (pronounced Cha-beeg) just off Portland, Maine.  We told some friends in Cuenca that we were going to spend a month in New England chasing the Fall Foliage colors.  They said they had a cottage on this island that was available, and asked if we wanted to use it for a few days. We jumped at the chance to experience this part of New England!

The island is only 1 mile X 3 miles, and is the largest island in Casco Bay not connected to the mainland by bridge (the idea to create a bridge was floated, but soundly voted down in 1970).  The island has an official population in the 2010 census of 340 people — with astounding growth to an estimated 346 by 2014!

The panorama above is shot from the Casco Bay ferry landing, showing the jut of land on which our friend’s cottage sits.  Theirs is a small red building in the middle of that row of half a dozen buildings (can’t be readily seen at this resolution, though it shows up nicely in a full size print).

The cottage appears to be a small unimposing log cabin from the road.  Enter though, and it is spacious and very comfortable, with one of the best views from the island.  Lower-right shows a scene from the sitting area on the harbor side, which was part of a recent remodel.  The cottage is shown in the other photographs, including drone images of the property (upper-right and lower-left).

It is easy to drive the full circumference of the small island in under an hour.  There are two ferry lines that go to the island; the ferries (upper) are lifelines to the mainland, and arrive every few hours all day long.  If you want full groceries (beyond what is available at the small country store on the island), you can order it from Whole Foods on-line, and this ferry will deliver your groceries to the island!

There is only one hotel in town — the Chebeague Inn, shown lower-right.  The food here is extremely good, and we ended up eating there three times in our four days here. The island, along with the hotel, shuts down mid- October, and reopens the following spring.

There are no taxis, so our friends loaned us their “island car”, which has no license plates. Keys were left in the unlocked car at the ferry landing, and the cottage was also left unlocked. We had forgotten that there are places in the world that are safe enough to leave doors unlocked. The gas station is a single unmarked pump at the dock.

There is also a boat dry dock (lower-second-from-left) on the island, where many residents store their boats for the winter.

And, of course, being a small island, water is always a major part of life (bottom-right two images). Chebeague Island has a small town feel, and it is easy to kick back and relax.

We timed this trip to catch the Fall Foliage colors.  We were a bit early on the island, and this time of year tends to have mostly cloudy days. As such, our attempts at nighttime star photography was only marginally successful, The upper and lower-left images show how pervasive the clouds were. The clouds not only block the stars, but they also reflect the light from the nearest city — Portland,Maine in this case.

Here is a short one minute video (sans music) showing the island hotel and activity around the ferry dock.

Ecuador-Devil’s Workshop and Swing at End of the World

How do you like my new profile image? My mother often described me this way when I was younger. Seriously… I’m thinking about using it…

The day after we attended the Mama Negra festival  in Latacunga, we headed towards Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador. Enroute we stopped at a taller (workshop) specializing in making paper mâché masks for the annual devil’s parade in January.  We didn’t really expect to be too excited about Yet-Another-Mask, but these really caught both our fancies. We ended up buying three of them!  Esteban Arevalo struck gold again, by taking us to a place we would not have even visited on our own — and that we fell in love with!

The workshop, Máscaras de la Diablada Pillareña Velasco, is rather small, but filled with the most amazing devil / demon masks you can imagine. Luis is the master craftsman behind all of them, which has been part of a family tradition.  All the masks are made of paper mâché, with authentic and elaborate horns, feel quite durable and ready to stand up to extended dancing at the parade.

Ours will find places on our walls, with two to be brought down annually for Halloween parties.  We finally have a mask suitable for such occasions!

The shop has more varieties of devils, demons, and even leprechauns. Yes, there are tales of leprechauns in Ecuador. To top it off, Luis will customize any mask for you, sized for your face (or wall) and with any design or color variation you want within two weeks of your order.

After leaving the shop, we went to Baños and checked into our hotel. We then quickly made a bee-line to the swings at “Casa de los Árboles” (Tree House). We took turns swinging over the abyss below, and of course, throwing our arms wide to demonstrate our hands-free balance. I was practicing videoing Esteban with my drone (center photo). There was one young girl also giving it a try, and always looking back to her father for a cell phone photo op (lower-right).

At one point, the unofficial “aerodynamic engineer” (a staff member)  provided some extreme and fanciful assists to help us swing higher (upper right).  He became a sight to watch all by himself.

After we caught our collective breaths and teetered down the path to the car, we headed towards the Pailon del Diablo waterfall (Devil’s Cauldron).  There are stairs that lead down to the base of the stairs from two directions, and never the twain shall meet. Turns out each is owned by a different owner and they are feuding, so the two stairs do not meet.  The most elaborate and famous is the one seen in the upper-right and lower-right images.  I flew the drone here for half an hour (one battery charge), then we headed back to Cuenca.

On the way home though, we saw that the Chimborazo volcano was clear of clouds.  That is very unusual, since the mountain is usually completely shrouded.  We pulled over to the side, where Evelyn shot the image on the left above (my camera is seen mounted on the tripod, creating a time lapse of Chimborazo).

To cross the chasm to the lookout where I flew the drone to video the waterfall, we had to go over a wooden suspension bridge. Here Evelyn is crossing the river.

Here is the result of the time-lapse created from 900 images shot over the space of an hour.

Ecuador – Latacunga Mama Negra Festival

We have heard of the famous Mama Negra festival in Latacunga for years.  This year Esteban Arevalo was setting up a trip to visit, so we jumped at the chance. As it turned out, we were the only two taking him up on the trip. Esteban took just the two of us as a result, and we ended up with a private guided tour.  This turned out to be perfect, as we were able to stop for photographs whenever we wanted, and Esteban gave us far more background information on what was going on, and where, than we could have possibly gotten on our own.  If you ever want to go to some authentic local festival in Ecuador (and beyond, it turns out), then we highly recommend contacting him to see what he can organize for you.  Use this link for his email address.

The history of the Mama Negra festival is actually rather complex and fascinating.  Rather than my explaining it all here, I strongly recommend you look at the Wikipedia page for the details.  The brief story though, is that Cotopaxi (the nearby volcano) was erupting in 1742 and threatened the town.  One black slave went to the mountain and prayed for salvation of the town.  When the volcano eruptions ceased, the black slave became celebrated as the Black Mama.  …or at least that is one of three competing origin stories for this festival.  It happens to be the one I like best… 

The festival is actually celebrated on three different dates in Latacunga. Don’t ask. Too complicated to get into, but the Wikipedia is a start if you really want to know why. We went to the September 24th celebration, which is the first for the year.  In this celebration, there are “many Black Mamas” (three for this parade) and they wear masks, as seen above.  Each is the Black Mama for a different neighborhood, and their accompanying marching group.

This festival continues for two days.  The parade starts at 9AM on September 24th.  At 1PM, everyone stops and goes to lunch.  At 4PM, they return to wherever they were at 1PM and start again!  This goes on well into the evening, by which time many in the audience are totally drunk, as this seems to be an excuse for the whole town to party…  It then starts again the next day.

Those people accompanying the Black Mamas, as well as those with the ashangueros (more on them later) have only the lower portion of their faces painted black.  They often also have other gold adornments in the paint, as seen above.  When we asked why that was, we were told that painting the entire face black was too much work.  I think they might have been pulling our leg though, since it was so universal and consistent.  If anyone knows the actual symbolism here, I would love to hear about it.

The Virgen de las Mercedes (Virgin of Mercedes) represents the saint that was prayed to for salvation from the volcano in 1742.  It is featured prominently in church displays (top half images above), at the local mercado, and with the faithful carrying their own versions in the procession (lower-right).  There are also plenty of black dolls representing the black slave that the faithful believe saved the town through her prayers (lower-left and lower-center).

The ashanguero are the standouts of this parade.  Only the strongest men need apply, since they must carry a full pig, adorned with all the extras needed for a feast at the end of the celebration.  That means strings of fruit, plus several cuy (guinea pigs), and up to ten bottles of liquor. The upper-right image shows the ashanguero’s friends helping him adjust the straps on this load that can weigh between 250 and 300 pounds.  There is always someone following close behind with a short table that the ashanguero can use to rest his load on.  Every few blocks, the honor of carrying the load shifts to another person in the team, so one person is not carrying the load the entire time. At the end of the parade is a feast for the parade participants.

We also saw two little boys in the parade acting as ashanguero by carrying foam rubber pigs (bottom-center). While the parade is going on, with the pigs being carried down the streets, there were plenty of pigs already cooked and being eaten by the audience (lower-right).

Another important character in this celebration is the Huaco, or sorcerer.  They wear paper mâché masks with horizontal colors over them, and carry similarly colored sticks, as seen above.  They roam the parade route, picking out audience members to be cleansed of their evil spirits.  Once singled out, 3 or 4 Huacos swarm over the the audience member, waving their sticks and mumbling incantations (center).  When complete (takes about 10 seconds), the person is cleansed of all evil spirits… and of course is expected to tip the Huacos for the service they have performed…  

This is a festival that primarily involves adults. However, there were a few children involved too. The center image above shows one Angel de la Estrella, representing the Archangel Gabriel. When he reaches a concentration of people, it is his responsibility to recite “praise the virgin.”  Each collective group with a ashanguero will also have an angel.  We found it surprising how many of the children here were covering their ears because of the high volume of the constant music and rockets.

Music and dancing always play a large role in any festival or parade in Ecuador, and this was no exception.  Each group had their own band, and their own dancers.  I found it interesting though that every group played the exact same tune in this parade.  If you stood with the leaving group on your right and the arriving group on your left, it seemed you could hear the music in stereo!

There were several other standard characters in the parade too, each having their place in the religious story of the festival.  “The Shirt” (lower-right) is a man dressed in drag, who carries candy to give to the children.  “The Clown” (lower-center) waves a flag ahead of the dancers, and his role is to attract attention to the group following. “The Captain” (center) is elegantly garbed with a sword in one hand, and is presented with fealty by each of the groups throughout the celebration.  I never did find who the people in pointed white hats (bottom-left) were supposed to represent, and there was only one group of them in the entire parade line.

Many of the parade members wore transparent white(ish) masks (top-right and bottom-right).  We were told that they represent the white slave-owners.  When I asked why they would be celebrated, I was told it was a farce, making fun of those owners, but also allowing the parade member to do whatever he wanted, without repercussions — just as the white overlords were able to do in the 18th century.  (I am not quite sure if I buy that explanation, but it is the best I could find in my research)

As with every celebration in Ecuador, there were rockets being fired at frequent intervals.  Here is one man who lit off a dozen in as many minutes.  He had a small tube with base that he put his rockets in.  He then lit the fuse with a cigarette (left).  Once it caught, he turned and walked slowly away (middle).  The rocket would fire (right), explode in the air, and the process would start again.

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The most recent galleries include our recent trips to India, Dubai, Botswana and Namibia. You can see all our favorite images from our 2018 travel here:

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