Chile 3 – Easter Island 2

Sunrise July 10, 2019 at Ahu Tongariki

We went out for a sunrise shoot again this morning. Kim did some modeling for us at one site (lower-left), and as we were leaving the crater, Marc (our guide) posed for a quick shot (lower-right). This was another morning where we were lucky to get some color in the sky (top-middle and top-right). Also, a bit later, I looked up and saw my first “sunbow” where a rainbow completely circles the sun (upper-left).

Men as they come into the harbor after fishing all night at sea

The next morning we went down to two wharfs at sunrise, in search of the fishermen. Instead of always focusing on the statues, we opted this morning to focus on the people, which is what we usually remember the most after trips like this. These workers leave in the early evening, in the small boats seen on the top row here. They then fish by hand and poles in small vessels about 23 feet long (artisanal) where no nets are allowed, all night long. They don’t return until the early morning, shortly after dawn. We were told that the fish used to be found only 10 minutes out from shore. They now have to fish hours away from shore. Congril (moray eels, second row-right) and octopus are regular catches every morning.

The result of that long night’s work is typically two or three bins, holding no more than 150 medium sized fish. However, one morning, when we were photographing moai at sunrise, our guide got an excited phone call from his father-in-law. He had just landed a 95Kg (210 pound) tuna! That was worth as much as a week’s haul of the fish we saw come in this morning.

Sunset on the coast of Rapa Nui

On our last night in Easter Island, we walked down the coast to a restaurant that had been recommended. Along the way, we stopped to photograph the sunset. We rarely get in front of the camera ourselves, but Marc did shoot this one image of us overlooking the Orongo crater (upper-left).

Orongo Crater on Easter Island

The Orongo crater itself was rather hard to photograph in a light that really showed the size and shape of the volcano caldera. This one panorama was as close as we could come. This really called or a drone to give an aerial view, but alas, this is another location that the Rapi Nui have outlawed drones in recent years.

Milky Way at Anakena Beach

We tried on several nights to capture the Milky Way over the moai. Unfortunately, almost every night was either raining or cloud-covered. This one shoot was the only time we had clear skies… and then only for about 10 minutes before it clouded over again.

We have mixed feelings about the weather in Easter Island. We can count on the weather changing every hour, so we were warned to always wear layers and to be patient. We would wait for the right forecast for clear night only to get clouded over a half hour later, then a howling wind would start or a squall would past over. Such is the beauty and mystery surrounding Rapa Nui.

The people were genuinely nice, speaking a blend of Spanish and Polynesian language, and always with a friendly tone ready to help at any time. People are always smiling. Businesses open after 10 AM, take off during lunch, then reopen after 3 PM. Eating out is expensive here, since everything is shipped from the mainland, yet we found some favorite restaurants — Mamma Nui for pizza and Tataku Vave for seafood. We loved staying for a week in our cabin by the sea, listening to the waves crashing every night, watching the skies change every hour. The cabin was constructed for little people, as Burt hit is head on the beams every night, yet the location was easily walkable into town.

A little known factoid: Easter Island is called that because a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, encountered it on Easter Sunday (April 5) in 1722.The island is called Isla de Pascua in Spanish and Rapa Nui by the Polynesians.

Chile 2 – Easter Island 1

Individual Moai at the Quarry at Rano Raraku

After viewing the total solar eclipse last week, we decided to spend a week on Easter Island, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Since this island is owned by Chile, it is considered a domestic flight, despite taking 5 hours to reach this Polynesian island. Chile is the nearest landmass, but at 3526 km (2191 miles) away, Easter Island is the most remote populated land mass in the world.

We spent the entire week with Marc Ross Shields from Green Island Tours, going out at least once per day (other than the day we were rained out). Marc was easy going, relaxed, and made the entire week feel like we were visiting a long-time friend who lived on the island and knew his way around. If you visit Easter Island, we recommend using his tour company, which also specializes in star gazing. Marc is a photographer who has published two books on the island.

The island is most famous for the numerous stone statues (moai) carved by the Rapa Nui people that appear mysteriously over the entire landscape. The Moai are stone statues that represent the spirits of chieftains or high-ranking male ancestors, with most being placed facing inland with their backs to the sea. The official count is 887 moai, though we were told that the historian who established that number has since revised it to over 1100. with scores of them still located at the quarry. Many of the moai are broken, fallen over, underwater, or in hard to reach places though, so the typical tourist probably sees closer to 100 or so.

Many of the moai at the quarry show only the exposed heads, with the torso still unexcavated below the surface. When we asked how a massive stone statue could be half buried, we were told that the sculptors would carve the head, then dig a hole next to it. They would then tip the massive piece of stone into the hole, giving them access to carve the back of the statue, before rolling it down the hill to its final location, where it was to guard the village. The statues range from 13′ in height, to the largest of over 30′ weighing more than 80 tons each.

Groups of Moai at the Quarry at Rano Raraku

Rano Raraku volcano is the quarry where the moai were produced, being carved out of the hillside from Lapilli tuff (a solidified volcanic ash). The monolithic statues were all carved between 1100 and 1500AD, though it appears that several dozen were being made at a single time when all production suddenly stopped. Those are the ones scattered in various states of completion here at the quarry. In 1862, large numbers of Rapa Nui males were captured by Peruvian slave traders. The dozen that managed to return to the island brought smallpox, which dramatically reduced the remaining island population. Between 1774 and 1830, most of the moai had been toppled, possibly due to internal tribal warfare. Many of those were restored in the 20th century by European archeologists.

There are also many wild horses on the island. As we left the quarry late in the afternoon, we came across a small group of them backlit by the setting sun (lower-right).

Sunrise with the moai

We got up several mornings before sunrise to capture the morning light behind the moai. Our first sunrise was at Ahu Tongariki, where we saw 15 statues lined up, with the sunrise colors a phenomenal bright orange. We had overcast weather for most of the week, and only got “fire in the sky” colors a couple of times. Fortunately, sunrise occurs pretty late here, due to some timezone gerrymandering to keep Easter Island only two hours apart from the mainland (to make business between the island and mainland easier). Thus, sunrise occurs at a leisurely 8AM or later.

Aerial views from a drone

We brought along our drone for some aerial views of the island. The Rapa Nui (local ancestral tribe) that rule the island have recently forbidden drones over most of the landscape, though they had been allowed a few years ago. The flight above was made over a part of the island rarely visited by tourists, and is one of the few legal places to fly.

Watching the sunset

Most days we also went to view the sunset at Ahu Tahai, Anakena Beach or along the Polycarpo Toro road on the island, usually with moai in the foreground. We had some settings to ourselves, but the more popular locations were shared with others there for the same reason (top row).

Kari Kari dance

We have found the “local traditional dance” shows to be hit-or-miss. Some are tired and purely tourist come-ons. But then, there are some that we have enjoyed, such as the one on Sri Lanka, and the one we saw tonight in Hanga Roa on Easter Island. There are several such shows here, but we were told that Kari Kari cultural ballet was the most authentic, and that the dancers appeared to be quite spirited. They were right, and the show was quite enjoyable.

Chile 1 – Total Solar Eclipse 2019

Total Solar Eclipse Sequence in Vicuña, Chile, July 2, 2019

We have both experienced partial solar eclipses a few times when they happened to occur where we lived. This year we decided to “chase” an eclipse, and traveled to Vicuña, Chile to experience our first Total Solar Eclipse. To do so, we joined an exploratory trip being set up by Loren Fisher — the tour leader we used to show us the Fall Colors of New England last year. The long range forecast was for 60% chance of cloudy skies during the winter in this location. We got lucky though, and had 100% clear skies that day.

The sequence above is a composite of images we captured during this event, from normal sun on the right, through occlusion by the moon, until totality is almost reached and the “diamond ring” effect appears for a brief moment. Totality is then reached, where only the outer corona is visible — a period that lasted 2-1/2 minutes at ground zero, where we were. In the middle of totality, I shot 15 images with a 30 f-stop exposure range, from which I created the detailed coronal image in the center (and shown again in more detail at the end of this post). As the moon passed, the entire process was repeated until we had the full sun again. (Actually, that last image is a bit of a cheat, since the sun had actually set behind the hills at that point, so I substituted an earlier full sun to complete the sequence.)

There are many technical aspects to photographing an eclipse. First you have to find the proper location to see the entire sequence from C1 to C5. Special filters must be made to protect the camera sensors, and another set to protect your eyes. Then you must learn the correct speed and aperture settings for the proper exposures. The 30-stop HDR is particularly tricky. Timing is difficult to capture Baily’s beads (third from center on entering and leaving totality above). The filter must also be removed from the camera at just the right time, and then replaced at a specific time too. Finally, there is a lot of specific task-learning to process the sequence in Photoshop (which took three days to complete).

It is not just a simple process of aiming a camera lens and shooting.

Ls Serena at Sundown

We arrived early in the region of the eclipse, so that we would have time to scout around for a good location to set up the cameras and relax a bit. We were staying in La Serena (where Loren had booked a condo a year earlier in anticipation of the Eclipse), and decided to photograph the lighthouse one evening before dinner. When we arrived, we discovered there was major re-construction going on, with heavy machinery around the base. Walking around, we found angles that would hide the equipment (lower-left and lower-center).

A bit more exploring found some dilapidated walls nearby that had interesting graffiti and murals on them. As we watched the sun lower, we also realized there were plenty of photographic opportunities in the beach sunset.

Third Millennium Cross (Cruz del Tercer Milenio) and Local Fish Market (Coquimbo)

We continued to explore the area the next day, and visited the “Third Millennium Cross” (upper-left quadrant), which is a cross that was built to commemorate year 2000, which declared the beginning of the third millennium since the birth of Jesus. This location provided a panoramic view of the city, although it was covered in plexiglass, making for poor photography.

We then decided to go down to the wharf in Coquimbo to have lunch. This is a colorful small-town fish market, where three of the vendors are captured above. The vendors enjoyed posing for photographs, and our waitress in the restaurant was singing and dancing with the local musicians while we ate a delicious meal.

Mamalluca Observatory Where Scientists Viewed Eclipse

We had ideally wanted to shoot the eclipse from the Mamalluca Observatory. Discussion on Facebook had indicated that it would be available on a first-come, first-served basis, so we headed there early the day before the actual eclipse. We found an array of scientists and graduate science students set up with advanced equipment on the grounds. We were told that the entire observatory property had been reserved for such scientists, and that we would not be allowed there on eclipse day. Bummer…

As we drove down from the observatory, we passed a small campground with a sandwich board showing food for sale, just yards from the entrance to the observatory. There were no signs indicating it had any available parking spaces nor rooms for rent. What the heck? What have we got to lose? We drove in and asked.

It turned out to be the perfect location for an unobstructed view of the entire Totality phases. Not only did they have parking spaces available for rent, but they had just finished a new cabin that day and had not rented it out, not being sure if it would be ready in time! They started asking $900 for the night… Yeah, a bit steep. Hum, Hah, Well… and the price dropped to $300 with two bottles of wine tossed in. OK. Deal was struck! We would not be camping and using the nearest cactus for a restroom. Instead, we would be in the lap of luxury (well… in a two bedroom basic cabin for four anyway) with lounge chairs, Chilean meals from their restaurant, a refrigerator for cold Coke Zero and beer, plus a flush toilet. We were blessed, and were within a stone’s throw of the observatory we had first wanted.

Starry Night Over Our Cabin in Vicuña, Chile

On the night before the eclipse, we went outside our cabin and attempted to capture the Milky Way. We rarely get a chance to shoot the night sky in a cloud-free dark-sky environment, so we stayed up most of the night photographing what we could. Our cabin can be seen as foreground props in the photos on the bottom row.

Eclipse Day!

Eclipse Day Came! Everyone had two cameras running. I can be seen controlling the long lens camera that created the composite on both top and bottom of this post from the comfort of our cabin (top-middle). Loren is seen setting up one automated camera (lower-left) and manually controlling another (center). Others who gathered at our location to see the event are seen lower-center (taking group photo) and lower-right (using a solar glass to photograph with his point-and-shoot camera).

The Peak Result From Chasing an Eclipse

Some people report “life changing experiences” during solar eclipse totality, though I can’t honestly say I felt that. During the period of totality, the birds did begin acting strangely and the color the sky was quite eerie, not like the colors you see at sunrise nor sunset. It is easy to understand why so many people chase eclipses around the world. We met people who have seen totality nine times, and one couple that has already lined up their hotels for the next five total solar eclipses around the world.

I did take the brief time during totality to do a 15-exposure, 30-stop photographic image of the total eclipse. That was later processed in Photoshop to create this image of the corona of the sun — a scene not normally possible to see because of the extreme brightness of the full sun.

Note: Video will be added here near the end of July, when I have my video editing capability at home…

Graduates Visit Cuenca

Mark and Kerry, our niece and nephew on Evelyn’s side, both visited us in Cuenca in June. When they graduated from the university, we offered them a trip to South America as a gift. Mark actually graduated with a BS in Biology four years ago (and again with an MBA this month), while Kerry graduated a year ago (and is now a PhD student at University of California at Berkeley — our alma mater, which is also ranked #1 in the world in her field of Chemistry and Organic Chemistry). Busy young lives kept them from accepting our offer until this year, when both asked if they could travel to the Galapagos Islands with us, followed by a couple days in Cuenca. Afterwards, they went onward to Chimborazo, the Quilotoa Crater and the center of the world in Quito. The Galapagos portion of the trip was documented in part one and two, while this shows some highlights of their trip to Cuenca.

They were interested in sampling local Ecuadorean food, so we found a great restaurant in Centro called Guajibamba that delivers fully cooked cuy to your home, so we were able to introduce Mark and Kerry to that local treat (upper right). Evelyn then took them to the Piedra de Agua spa in Bańos to relax in the red and blue mud treatment (lower-left) and steam (lower-right) baths.

Corpus Christi celebrations with Vaca Loco at Parque Calderón

They were fortunate enough to be here during Corpus Christi week, and Parque Calderón (where the main fireworks with “castiles” occur) is only three blocks from our apartment. As such, we went down one night to see them up close and personal (never wear nylon clothing to these events, because “personal” means the fireworks will probably land on your clothes!) Mark has a good eye and shot several photos from the celebrations above.

Celebrating Kerry’s 23rd Birthday and Mark’s Graduation

We rented out the Jazz Society for one night, to throw a surprise party for Mark and Kerry. We invited some of our friends to meet the two graduates, of which about 40 were able to attend. To our delight, we had managed to keep the surprise until the moment they arrived in the room.

This happened to also be Kerry’s 23rd birthday, so we had three reasons to celebrate — two graduations plus a birthday!

Musical Talent in Cuenca, a UNESCO city designated as the cultural capital of the Americas

Jim Gala, owner of the Jazz Society, was gracious and played piano for the first half of the party (lower-left and lower-middle). After that, many of our musically talented friends took over the mic to serenade our visiting nephew and niece. Thanks to Jan Wallace, Rick Berke, Marcos Uyaguari, Estefi Ortiz, and Santiago for providing the music, and Sandy Kraft for organizing the food and decorations.

Galapagos 2

Our 5-day tour of the Galapagos Islands continue (read part 1 here). There are both Blue-Footed and Red-Footed Boobies on the islands, though we only visited islands with the Blue-Footed variety.  From prior trips, we found them the more interesting anyway, and this time we visited shortly after the chicks had hatched (right-middle and left-bottom).

Again, many of the photos on this post were contributed by Mark and Kerry Jones, our nephew and niece who accompanied us on this trip.

Frigates were also in full mating form with their red throat pouches fully inflated (center and lower-middle).  Since the frigate mating cycle does cover several months, there were also some female frigates still sitting on their newly hatched chicks (upper-left), and other chicks recently freed from the nests (upper-center and upper-right).

There were a few types of lizards on the islands (upper-right and lower-left), but the dominant ones were the land iguanas (upper-left and upper-center) and the marine iguanas (center, lower-center and lower-right).

The marine iguanas have the interesting habit of frequently sneezing, with a white substance coming out their noses.  That is actually salt that the iguana is expelling after eating underwater sea plants.

Sally lightfoot crabs have always been a favorite of ours to see and photograph. This time we were able to get video of them too, as they scurried over the rocks.  These are bright red and yellow tiny crabs, anywhere from the size of an American quarter to the diameter of a tennis ball at their largest.  In nature, bright red and bright yellow generally indicates that the individual is poisonous (the poison creating the animal’s color), which keeps predators away.  In the case of the Sally Lightfoot crab, they have mimicked that color, so that they are mostly immune to predators, though they actually carry no poison.

Our boat was a luxury yacht (Grand Queen Beatriz — upper-right) built in 2018 and holding a maximum of 16 passengers and 12 crew. We moved between the anchored boat and land using two Zodiaks (center-left and lower-right).  When on the island walks, Roberto would give nature talks about the biology of the island.

As a lifetime biology teacher turned island guide, he was full of information and always had an upbeat, comical way of presenting the information — which assured that everyone huddled close to hear his latest story.  On one island, some carcasses of animals that had died naturally were laid out for our inspection and education.

There were a total of 11 guests on this boat trip, so we were not at full capacity. We were lucky in that everyone was compatible and enjoyable, and all combinations of table seatings produced great conversations. Most of the group can be seen following Roberto from a small lake (lower-right), and half out group on a Zodiak as they prepared to land (upper-left).

We went snorkeling several times, and at one location Kerry had her portrait taken with Galapagos penguins in the background (center).

On our last night on the islands, several of us stood on a hillside at sunrise watching the blue-footed boobies diving for their dinner.  (Kerry is second from the right).

Kerry (our niece who was here celebrating her 23rd birthday and university graduation) bought a new GoPro Black7 for this trip, and took it snorkeling. While in the water, a penguin started to peck on the mask of Mark (her bother).  Watch the video above to see the encounter that followed.  (Note: this video seems to show in higher resolution if you follow the link and watch it on YouTube directly).

Many thanks to both Mark and Kerry for contributing images and videos for this blog, and coming down and spending the week with us.

Galapagos 1

Our niece Kerry, and nephew Mark Jones came to visit us for the past week.  Both are from Evelyn’s sister (Pauline) side of the family.  We told both that we would pay for a trip to South America when they graduated college. Mark actually graduated three years ago, and Kerry one year ago, but young lives and jobs kept them from accepting our offer until this year.

Mark actually just graduated last week with his second degree, an MBA from University of Calif at San Diego, and starts a new job next week as a Production Planner for Thermo Fisher Scientific.  This trip was squeezed between the two events.  Kerry is now in the PhD program at University of Calif at Berkeley (our alma mater). UCB is currently ranked #1 in the world for Chemistry and Organic Chemistry.

Our trip together kicked off with a 5-day cruise through the Galapagos Islands.  Though we (Evelyn and Burt) had been there twice before, this was Kerry and Mark’s first time.  The two of them contributed many of the photos used in the blog posts of today and tomorrow, covering this trip.

We toured 5 islands: Santa Cruz Island, North Seymour/Mosquera Islet, Black Turtle Cove/Dragon Hill, Chinese Hat/Rabida Island, and Baltra.

We started the first day walking around Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Most of the island waterfront consisted of souvenir shops and (expensive!) restaurants. We were directed to the “fish market,” and walked right past it the first afternoon, not seeing anyone or anything of interest.

When we returned the next morning though, we found fishermen selling their fresh catch, by the fish or by the pound in blocks from larger fish. Though on a much smaller scale than most fish markets we have visited, this one was unique in that the pelicans crowded the small area, waiting for pieces of fish dropped or discarded.

While on Santa Cruz island, we visited the Charles Darwin research station. This is where scientists try to rebuild the population of Galapagos animals that are on the brink of extinction, and to also decide how best to deal with non-native animals and plants that are adversely affecting the Galapagos ecosystem.

Darwin Station was famous for many years for housing “Lonesome George,” the last Pinta Island Tortoise known to exist.  We saw that tortoise alive here at this station in 1999 and 2009.  He died in 2012, and his taxidermied body was displayed in a New York museum until suitable quarters could be built for his body at the Darwin Station.  We saw his taxidermy body there in New York in 2016, and now saw it again in its permanent location in a specially constructed building at Darwin Station.

The new tortoise star is Diego (brought from San Diego), who has already fathered more than 800 offspring.

Pelicans were abundant on these islands.  First showing up for us at the fish market (second photo-block on this page), we frequently found them roosting on rocks or bushes, or flying low — often as they were about to swoop down for a fish catch.

Sea lions are on almost every island in the Galapagos.  Though we are asked not to approach any animals closer than 6 feet, the sea lions do not have the same restriction.  One young sea lion decided that Burt’s tripod would be tasty (center  and top-middle), and insisted on trying to take a bite out of it.  Since it is a carbon fiber tripod, the teeth made no mark, but the sea lion didn’t stop trying.  When Burt raised the tripod to move away from this sea lion, the pup then took the leg down his throat!  If the tripod had not been quickly moved out of his reach, the pup would have probably choked on it.

Another young sea lion pup waddled over and started to nibble at Roberto’s leg (our boat biologist / naturalist guide — bottom-middle).  Roberto tried to walk slowly away, but the pup continued to follow and nibble.  One final step and the pup decided to see what we were doing (bottom-right).

As we were ready to call it a day and return to the boat at sunrise, a swarm of several hundred blue footed boobies flew overhead and out to the ocean.  Racing back to the shore, I caught several images of the birds swarming and diving for fish. You can see two birds diving on the right, and another two on the left of this image.

Galleries Ready!

The galleries are now online for our recent trip. All six countries!  Amazingly, we are now completely caught up from a 10-week trip only 5 days after the end of the trip. That has got to be some kind of record for us!

You can see the galleries by choosing “Travel->2019” from the menu at the top of our blog site, or just by clicking here.

Cathedral Domes in Cuenca at Sunset

This is the scene from our living room window at sunset yesterday. After nearly a year of renovation work, the cathedral domes were finally finished while we were traveling the last couple months. I captured this time-lapse last night.

Home After Whirlwind 10 Weeks

We are back home, and loving it! Yes, the travel was fantastic. The places were fantastic. The people were (mostly…) fantastic.  But our own beds and showers are more welcome after a long trip like this.

After 10 weeks covering 6 countries, we did so much that it is hard for it not to start to blur together. We therefore decided to write one last “summary blog”  to bring it all into focus. For this post, we have tried to use all new photos that have not yet been shown.

This was our third time in Thailand. It was initially added to this trip when we discovered that a friend of ours had gotten a short term job in Bangkok and we decided to join her.  We then decided to extend the trip further by joining an “off the beaten track” tour of Thailand, which we enjoyed thoroughly.

Though we went in March, the weather was already hot and humid. Whenever we commented on that fact though, we were told how cool this was in comparison to the months to come! While here, we used almost every form of public transportation the cities have to offer — sky train, tuk-tuks, buses, ferries, long tail canal boats, normal taxis, and pickup truck taxis with bench seats in the back.

We often enjoy watching and meeting the people, and Thailand provided that. We enjoyed the many floating markets, to the dawn markets where monks blessed the vendors in exchange for donations of food, to the multiple night markets. The exotic temples always stimulate our visual senses too. Then the unexpected “elephant buffet” (bottom-left) that we stumbled upon added one more treat.

Thailand is often called “the land of a thousand smiles,” and there is good reason for this.

Sri Lanka was on our list of destinations we wanted to visit, in order to see the “stilt fishermen,” (upper-right and lower-left). This way of earning a living only exists here, and is quickly dying, even more so after the tsunami of 2004 destroyed the fishing, which is only slowly returning.  We also enjoyed seeing the working water buffalos (lower-right). Once Mehmet of Fantastic Photo Tours told us he was setting up a scouting trip, we instantly jumped at the chance — we have gone with him previously to Turkey, Uzbekistan, Armenia and a host of other countries in the past.

Unfortunately, two weeks after we left, terrorists bombed the very hotel and restaurant that we had used for three days. We feel bad for those on the island depending on tourism. It is their livelihood that will most be harmed by these developments.

Iran was by far the biggest surprise for us. We went primarily because Mehmet (the same guide we used in Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uzbekistan, etc) was setting up a trip. We knew he would make it a unique photo tour because he always includes a mix of architecture, landscape and people, and we were completely right in that regard.

However, we went in with preconceptions of the Iranian people. We thought they would be dour, religiously conservative, afraid of foreigners, angry at Americans.  We were wrong on every count.  We were met with open arms everywhere we went. Barely an hour would pass without someone coming up and asking, in broken English, “where you from?”  When we replied “America,” the response was instant and universal — arms would throw wide and with a big grin, the Iranian would shout “welcome!” (usually followed with “you are my first American!“)  Politics only came up in conversations a couple of times, and the people always blamed the Ayatollah and Trump equally, saying things like (one quote) “Americans are good. Iranians are good. All people are good. Ayatollah is bad. Trump is bad. Why won’t governments leave us alone?

The country is photographically rich, and full of ancient history.  This is a place that anyone interested in architecture, history, or just seeing what the “rest of the world” is like, should visit.  We can only hope that “those governments” do not continue to play chicken with this part of the world.  Only the people are hurt by government belligerence on both sides, while the bureaucrats remain mostly insulated from the impacts.

Petra is one of the Wonders of the World (center) and has been on our bucket list for years.  It is massive, well preserved, and looks like a scene directly out of an Indiana Jones movie (where it was actually used as a backdrop in one scene).  The long hikes in, and the treacherous donkey ride we took one day to reach the Monastery will assure that Petra remains in our memory for years to come.

Unfortunately, it resides in Jordan, which is a part of the world we have mostly avoided until this year, due to political instability.  While here, we never really experienced any concerns for our safety… except for one brief exiting moment when we visited Petra the last time for a night show, and there was a bomb scare! There was no bomb, and the stories surrounding what really happened are numerous, but how quickly the crowd panicked underscores the tensions of the Middle East. We were very glad we had the chance to visit Jordan during a period of relative calm.

We usually try to avoid holiday peaks in our travels.  With this many countries, and with some fixed on the calendar by tour schedules, we found ourselves in Israel during Holy Week (aka Easter Week).  The crowds may have been a factor, but we were surprised to discover just how unwelcoming a country Israel was for us.  Just as Iran surprised us by being more open than expected, Israel surprised us by being more religiously zealous and unfriendly than we had expected.

Evelyn worked on a project in Haifa (center) in the early 1980’s and was happy to have the chance to see both the finished plant and the city where she had worked remotely. Our biggest memories though, will be the extreme security (more checks of our passport to enter Israel than in any other of the 82 countries we have visited, plus heavily armed military everywhere we turned) and the massively greedy, racist tour guides we had for Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  Unfortunately, this colored our memories of the three days we spent in this country.

Also, within a week of our departure, reports of more than 250 rockets fired into Israel, and the responding airstrikes lead the news. This is not a part of the world we are likely to return to soon.  As one of the Iranians we spoke to said “If there were a god, there would be no Middle East.”  Unfortunately, events almost every day seem to bear out that sentiment…

You have probably seen photographs of the pyramids since you were a kid. National Geographic had them on the cover in February, 1982, burning that image in my mind ever since.  As it turns out, that image was faked…!

Nevertheless, this is a part of the world we have long wanted to see, but have mostly stayed away from due to political instability. This time we found ourselves already close, and flying from Cairo to New York actually saved quite a lot of money.  Case made. Time to visit!

We started in Aswan, in the southern part of Egypt.  We loved the tombs and temples of the area, and gawked as we tried to take in the immensity of the temples and the level of preservation.  The desert had swallowed most of these by the 6th century, and they were not rediscovered by archeologists until the 19th century.  The result was that they were mostly intact, unharmed by centuries of war and religious fervor that often desecrated sites not celebrating the current god being favored. We had the feeling that we were walking through a Disneyland recreation, because it just seemed “too good to be true…”

When we made it to Cairo and the pyramids themselves, it was a bit of a letdown.  Cairo itself was filthy in a way not seen in the south of Egypt, and only expected in the poorest of the third world countries.  Then we were hit with a mild sandstorm that filled the skies with a brown layer looking very much like industrial pollution.  Those skies became our backdrop for the pyramids, making them almost disappear into the backdrop scene.  Fortunately, some later Photoshop work brought them more to life, and to the appearance we had expected and hoped for.

The official trip was over, and we were on our way home.  Sigh.  The long airplane flight from Cairo to New York was going to take a full 24 hours, no matter how we planned it.  The airline schedules just did not line up to make for a shorter journey.  Settle in and accept it — pretty much the only way to survive these trips.

But wait! A friend told us that the Istanbul airport had a fabulous VIP lounge if you flew Business Class (which we did). Checking the various options, it turned out that the 10 hours in Istanbul was barely longer than any other layover… and it was the cheapest route too. Well, gotta go try this new lounge then, don’t we?

Oh my.  What can I say?  Not part of the original plan at all, but was worth being a destination all to itself.  Only open for a month at the new airport in Istanbul, it was fully ready for all services. Want a massage? Free, from a roaming masseur.  Want some gourmet food? Your biggest problem will be deciding which of the dozen chef stations to choose from — each was over-the-top delicious.  Want some liquor or soft drinks?  At least half a dozen fully stocked stations around the lounge, with every kind of hard liquor (which I tend to avoid) and wine (which I tend not to avoid…) you could wish for. Bored and want to race cars on a mini track?  Yep, that was there too.  Want a shower or a bed? Yep, free.  Want to just relax on a recliner listening to world class concerts?  You guessed it, a room for that too.

Then add the fastest internet connection I have ever had (with the single exception of an American Airlines lounge in JFK airport in New York), and I was in heaven.  We were there 10 hours. No sleep for me though. Too much to do. Too much to see. Too many chefs to video (at some point, I’ll tell you about my new video stock sales efforts).  Too much fast internet to… well, not use!  When our flight was called, I seriously wondered if we could just stay here another day and catch the flight tomorrow instead…

When we did make it to New York, we spent a couple days with our friends in New Jersey whom we first met in Russia in 1992.  On our last night, in Manhattan, we saw Hamilton — a well done, high energy musical.  They deserved the standing ovation they received, though I must admit I was left a little surprised that it is still one of the hottest tickets in town (and the price reflected that fact).

And now… we are back home in Cuenca.  One more trip behind us.  One more set of memories to fix into our history as we complete these blog posts, and then add the photo gallery images.  And yes, we are already deep into planning our next trip, to start in just over a month. Stay tuned…!

Egypt 3 – Cairo

After riding the jarring overnight train from Luxor to Cairo, we were handed off to another guide, Hesham. He took us over to the site of the famous pyramids of Giza. At first blush, we were rather disappointed. The high local winds often blow the fine desert sand into the sky, creating a scene similar to intense pollution. Because of the dusty skies, the pyramids were nearly invisible, and appeared to be no more than a tourist trap with people selling horse carriage and camel rides. We were inundated with people wanting “money”, whether for souvenirs or rides. We were also disappointed that Cairo was filthy wherever we looked, with piles of trash on the sides of the roads, and the canals clogged with still more trash.

Fortunately a bit of Photoshop helps clean up these images, so that they look better than they did when facing them.  Looking here, the sphinx comes to life more as we had expected to see that day.

Photoshop continued to also make the pyramids more like what we had imagined. Remember that these were built starting 4,500 years ago, making them the oldest remaining relics of human history, created long before any mechanical assistance was available.  They are the last remaining of the original Wonders of the World. The largest pyramid consists of over 2.5 million huge blocks of stone, and took over 20 years to build.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a “must see” destination, to appreciate the findings of Howard Carter when he uncovered King Tut’s Tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Only about 25% of the objects are on display, while the rest of the contents from the tombs are still in storage. The huge volume on display boggles the mind at what was originally found intact. This was the largest Egyptian tomb ever found that had not first been invaded by grave robbers.

On our last day in Cairo, we visited the Citadel of Salah el-Din aka the Citadel Mosque of Mohammed Ali, part of a Unesco World Heritage site. Now that we were away from the tourist sites, we found the local Egyptians far more pleasant, willing to talk when English was available, and were not aggressive money grubbers.

On our last evening in Cairo, we signed up to see our final Sound and Light Show at the Egyptian Pyramids. Adding this night show really helped us appreciate the history and value of the pyramids and the sphinx. Seeing this only by day would have been rather of a disappointment, particularly given the poor skies and weather we were experiencing.

We like to always finish a country sequence with a series of photos of the people we met.  As it happens, in Egypt, those people were almost entirely found in the local souk in Old Cairo, the Khan el Khalili bazaar. This bazaar was full of tiny alleys, with hundreds of vendors, where you could explore for hours. As with the mosque, once we were away from the standard tourist traps of pyramids and temples, the local people came alive and became our fast friends.

Being an ancient bazaar, it was also loaded with an amazing assortment of stuff for sale.  One vendor was selling antique cameras (upper-left) and video projectors (center).  I was tempted to buy “the original Aladdin’s Lamp” (as the vendor jokingly referred to it — top-right), but I was pretty sure the three wishes were already used up… ☺ 

One vendor was selling animal furs as rugs, and had a stuffed fox on hand to emphasize the quality of the fur (center-left).  There was plenty of gold jewelry for sale (center-right and lower-right), and one man had a strange set of flasks coming out of a brass tube (lower-left) that was somehow related to making jewelry.  Though the vendor was pleasant, he did not speak enough English to explain its operation to us.

At the local cafes, you can still hear musicians, as they’re sipping tea or coffee (lower-left and lower-center). People here are going about their daily business, selling to each other, and not searching for the next tourist.  As Americans, we find it amazing how often people carry their bundles on their heads, as seen in the top two rows above.  Note the man in the lower-right is the jewelry maker with his bizarre flask / bronze tube contraption.  This was one of those times I wish I had allowed a local guide to tag along as a translator.  How the devil does that thing work???

The bazaar created a very pleasant way to end both our Egyptian tour, and the last ten weeks traveling through six countries.  While there were times we wondered if we were crazy to cram so much in, it was days like this that made us happy that we never skimped or missed the days of meeting the people residing in each country.

Photo Galleries

At the top of this page is a menu that will take you to a variety of galleries showing our favorite images.

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

Travel->2018/

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