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.

Egypt 2 – Luxor

Above is another of those “happy accidents” where we made a mistake while making a photograph of the “Sound & Light” show (see below) at the Karnak Temple.  Never just delete an image because “you goofed.”  Some of our more memorable images were the result of such goofs… 

Our second full day in Egypt had us driving from Aswan to Luxor. We first went to Kom Ombo to see another temple that made us wonder if this was real or not (it was real!). The carvings on the wall are so clear that anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of ancient Egyptian could easily read them. They write from left-to-right or right-to-left, or even vertically, and sometimes all three in a single narrative. The snake and crocodile (right-column) points the direction of the beginning of the text. Sounds facetious, but our guide, Ismael, actually has a degree in Egyptology, and could read them easily! 

That night we went to the “Sound and Light” show at the Karnak Temple.  It was a fascinating walk through the temples illuminated at night. We would hear a booming voice telling us what we were looking at, as the lights illuminated various areas. Then we would walk on to the next lit area.

We next explored the Valley of the Kings.  This was a huge valley with more than 62 tombs, but only three of which we could enter, as shown above. You do not appreciate the findings of Howard Carter until you visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The story is that Carter had spent 5 years unsuccessfully excavating. Two days before he was about to give up, he uncovered King Tut’s Tomb in this valley, which was one of the greatest finds in the history of archeology.

As we continued our drive, our guide Maru (top-center) asked if we wanted to stop and see where intricate tile carvings were made. We jumped at the chance, and ended up at the pottery shop shown above. 

We also stopped at the temple of Amenophis III, then proceed to the Valley of the Queens, and the Temple of Hatshepsut.  Much of this site was destroyed by an angry nephew, who sought to destroy any vestige of his aunt’s identity.

We ended the Luxor portion of our tour by seeing the Luxor Illuminated Show, just before we caught the overnight train to Cairo. Because of the dry heat of the desert, most of these “ruins” have been amazingly well preserved.

Egypt 1 – Aswan

Getting from Israel to Egypt is surprisingly arduous. Because they are neighbors, we naively expected to be able to drive from one to the other. Nope. Had to fly from Tel Aviv to Athens, and then on to Cairo.  Politics once again gets in the way of common sense and creates unnecessary complications for the citizens…

After 10 hours in transit from Tel Aviv to Cairo, we only had 3 hours in a hotel bed before going to the airport for another flight, this one to Aswan.  Because we landed in Aswan so early, the hotel was not ready and we headed off to a full day of touring.

Once in Aswan, we drove to the Aswan High Dam for a quick look at the second largest dam in the world (it was the largest until China built the Three Gorges Dam in 2012).  Then on the road again, this time to catch a boat to the Philae temple.  This is one of the hundreds of temples that was moved in 1964 to save them from being flooded and lost forever under the new lake being formed by the Aswan dam.

This was our first exposure to the Egyptian temples, and it was simply mind-blowing. It was hard to shake the feeling that we were in Disneyland rather than really in the midst of human history dating back as far as 4600 years. The bas relief was so vivid and clear that it looked like a reproduction rather than “the real thing.”

We next went to the Abu Simbel temples, with their massive stone temples carved into the mountainside. This is the largest complex that was moved stone-by-stone from the valley floor to avoid loss from the Aswan dam flooding. The Arab man (upper-right) helps to give some idea of just how massive these statues are.

More statues were inside the temples.  These are all over 30 feet (10 meters) tall.

The hieroglyphs inside the temple look like they could have been made in the last decade, as they were clear and mostly free of defacing. This temple was mostly buried in sand by the 6th century, and then lost to memory until the 19th century, when it was discovered in 1813 by a Swiss explorer. Being buried and forgotten saved the temple from the Christians who defaced many temples during the Middle Ages.

The hieroglyphs in this temple were mostly open and available to touch, unlike many of the later temples we visited. The long chamber in the lower-left image leads to a chamber where a golden statue of Ramses (the god being honored by this particular temple) existed when the temple was being actively used.


I found Israel unpleasant and unwelcoming, and expect to never return.  I have never had this reaction in any of the other 81 countries we have visited.  To be fair, we were only in the country for three days, and one of those days was misspent with two abhorrent excuses for humanity posing as tour guides.  This pair definitely colored our experience and left us with a bad taste in our mouths. There, I have said it.   

Now let’s try to show the part of the country that was more pleasant.

In 1980, we lived in Beaverton, Oregon when Mt St Helens erupted, which destroyed the High Tech industry of the area. Intel then offered Evelyn a chance to relocate to California to be the engineer in charge of planning for three international  projects. One of these was a semiconductor wafer fabrication plant in Haifa, Israel.  On our first day in Israel, we drove past the plants that she helped build 30 years ago, and snapped some photos, one of which is shown above.

We also drove up the Mediterranean coast of Israel and found that the landscape is surprisingly lush and green. We stopped at Rosh HaNikra, where we explored the geographic formations with white chalk cliff faces opening into beautiful grottos.

We entered one castle in Acre, the largest Crusader city in the country. This was interesting to see, even after all the castles and temples and churches we have seen over the past couple months. The interior included some well done animated wall projection illustrations (right column) that helped bring the old museum to life.

On the second day, we toured Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Unfortunately this was where we had two absolutely disgusting racist, money-grubbing, kickback-lusting tour guides who completely turned me off to Israel.

(Their sins fell far beyond just grubbing for kick-backs, but in trying to keep this upbeat as best as I can, I will not go into details. I initially went on a rant about these two, but have deleted that portion of the post, preferring to concentrate on the more positive aspects of the country.)

First thing in Jerusalem, we were told to wait in a line for “something fun!” After 80 minutes, where a priest kept yelling “no talking” any time a whispered conversation started up, we were finally allowed into a tiny room. There we saw the small, plain, 14-point star shown above, as a priest yelled “No photos! Keep Moving!” and rushed us out in less than 5 seconds. (Not being one to let small time dictators tell me what to do, I grabbed this as I went by, to show just how “exciting” the view was after more than an hour of wasting our time…)

We had a brief overview of the city of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, as shown above.

In Jerusalem, we also stopped by the Church of the Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb and resurrection shown above.

We took a few interesting photos of people. However, every one of the above photos was a “secret photo” in which the person did not realize he was being photographed.  Every single time a person saw the camera, he would angrily yell at us “no photos!”  It has been years since we met so many angry local people, and is in shocking contrast to our reception in Iran and other countries on this trip.

Our very last day was in Tel Aviv, and we had some free time to walk along the beach. Suddenly, we were met with real human beings who seemed to be enjoying life.  I only wish we had more of this time and experience.

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 Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iran, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. You can see all our favorite images from our 2019 travel here: