Flying Down to Ecuador

Our trusty airport limo driver was outside our door this morning at 4:00AM sharp.  Oh well, I’m already up and showered, so no need to curse him for being prompt at that hour…

The American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Miami was one of the roughest commercial flights I can remember. I got a couple hours sleep. but was jostled awake repeatedly from severe turbulence over both the Sierras and Rockies.  

The flight was a completely full narrow-body plane, and the guy in the middle seat should have bought two seats, but that seems to be more common these days, making flying akin to a trip to the casino — who will squeeze between us this time?  To help make the trip more pleasant, the plane had a single movie playing on a tiny monitor several rows forward of our seat.  Of course they help to minimize the screen problem by only showing a movie I would never want to watch anyway…

In Miami, I approached a person at the American Airlines counter, and asked if there was a meal on the flight from Miami to Guayaquil (Ecuador).  He checked the roster, then said “Yes, but it is airline food, so don’t get too excited about it.”

Nice to hear an employee give an honest response occasionally! (and yes, the food was terrible — worst international flight food I can remember having)

The flight from Miami to Ecuador was another full narrow-body plane.  This time we were pleasantly surprised to find a very nice (and thin) man sitting between us.  His wife was one row back.

David Linn told us he is moving to Salinas, Ecuador for a year, or possibly more. I knew from prior research that Salinas is an up-and-coming beach resort town on the North Coast of Ecuador.  Warm days laying on the beach.  Sounds like a nice vacation, but I have a hard time envisioning retiring there.  I’m pretty sure I would get bored before very long.

David runs a printing company in Colorado Springs though ( TOPS printing — www.TopStops.net ), with employees back in Colorado that can run most of the business.  He says he can do his part over the Internet.  Now, that sounds like a life I could enjoy — sit on the beach and do my work in shorts under a thatch-roofed section of beach.

When we arrived in Guayaquil, we stayed at the Hotel St Rafael — a little hole-in-the-wall downtown.  Pleasant enough, and in a good part of town, for $42 per night (after taxes), so I would give a qualified recommendation for them to anyone else coming down this way.

We walked around the neighborhood, but only found one restaurant open at 10:30PM, so went in.  We paid $10 for a pollo (chicken) dinner.  Food was OK, but not great.  Certainly filling enough though.  Walked back to the hotel, and hit the sack, since we have a 7AM flight to Cuenca.

[Brag] Photos win Best of Year Awards at N4C

Our Berkekely Camera Club (BCC) belongs to a larger federation of photo clubs.  The regional level is N4C, which covers Northern California clubs.  Tonight we found out the winners for the 2011 Annual competition at N4C.  To my delight, three of my images won places this year.

To be eligable for any N4C award, the image must have already placed in competition at the local level, so all of these images have already won placement in 2011 BCC competitions.

My image titled “Peering Into The Future” won 2nd place in the Advanced Creative division:

 

“Preparing Breakfast” received an Honorable Mention in Advanced Creative:

 

Finally, “Eye Drops to Change the Color of Your Eyes” also won Honorable Mention in Advanced Creative:

New Years Eve With Champagne & Ribs in Antelope Canyon & Zion

We started News Years Eve day with a tour of Antelope Slot Canyon, which is something I have wanted to see for several years.  We really wanted to go on the longer Photography Extended Tour, but they don’t give that on holiday weekends, so we had to settle for the shorter standard tour.  Since the late 1990’s, people are only allowed in the canyon when part of a Navajo guided tour, and nobody is allowed in the canyon for more than 2 hours at a time, which is their way of keeping the crowd sizes controlled.

The magical light beams do not penetrate to the canyon floor during the winter, leaving the canyon suffused with a palette of pinks.  The canyons are every bit as beautiful as I expected, but the crowds were a bit difficult to contend with, making it hard to get the photographs I had hoped for.

After our all-too-brief Antelope Canyon tour, we headed off to Zion National Park, arriving around noon.  Zion has some spectacular scenery of multi-colored mountain faces, but they were surprisingly difficult to photograph well.  The afternoon did produce a few nice images though.

At one point, we came across a family of big horn sheep, which garnered the expected cluster of tourist cars, each of which attracted others to see what was being watched.

We continued through the park, until we found a location that looked promising for sunset images.

We then went to our hotel, only to discover there was no room for us!  We had reserved a room the night before using Expedia, but the hotel said they never received the reservation, and they were fully booked.  Oops…

The hotel desk clerk (whom I am pretty sure was also the owner) was very helpful though, and called around town to find us another room.  We ended up with a very nice room about a block away, and at a lower rate than we had originally expected to pay.  The night was saved – I was not looking forward to spending New Years Eve driving around looking for a vacancy!

We had asked the original desk clerk where a good place for dinner was, and she instantly suggested Oscar’s in town.  When we checked into our subsequent hotel, we asked there too.  That clerk gave three possibilities, with Oscars again heading the list, so Oscars it was.

As we were loading our luggage from the car to our room, a local came over and told us there would be a fireworks display at 7:00 at the local school ball field.  We set up our nightly photograph download to the computer, and headed out to see the display.  We got there just as the first fireworks went into the sky.  The display lasted 10 minutes, and was better than we usually see in such small towns.  We had decided not to bring tripods and large cameras, so Evelyn experimented with her handheld point-and-shoot that we always carry as backup.

We then headed over to Oscar’s for dinner, hoping to beat the crowds that would likely head over from the fireworks too.  We found a tiny restaurant with only 11 tables, completely filled with a short line outside.  We were right about the rush, as the line grew to a couple dozen people within 10 minutes of our arrival.  Evelyn had baby-back ribs that were fabulous (some of the best we have ever had), and I had the Murder Burger – “a burger good enough to kill for” according to the menu.  And it almost was, at that.

Utah is a state that strictly regulates liquor, so it can only be purchased in state owned stores.  It also turns out they are not allowed to sell any liquor chilled if over 5%, so we picked up a bottle of champagne warm off the shelves.  We had never tried “chardonnay champagne”, so decided to give that a try.  We put it in the fridge in our room, and waited till midnight to open it.

We don’t recommend it though… The “chardonnay” tasted more like apple cider, and not particularly good cider at that.  Evelyn got a headache from the “cheap champagne” and we tossed out half the bottle.

Oh well, bad champagne, but a warm room and an excellent dinner in exotic mountain surroundings.  Over all, not a bad score for ending 2011.  If we can score that well in 2012, we will be very happy with the year. 🙂

Happy News Years Everyone!

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To be content with little is difficult.  To be content with much is impossible.

Old Friends in Sedona

We drove into Sedona yesterday afternoon, an “artist community” in the Arizona mountains that Evelyn has wanted to visit for years.  We arrived early in the afternoon, allowing plenty of time to peruse the art galleries.  First stop was lunch at a small deli recommended by a timeshare salesman at an info booth.  The sandwich was fairly good, but they only had one choice – tuna salad.  Literally everything else was sold out, including only one bread choice remaining…

Wandering town, we felt like we were in a resort town with the cruise ships having just docked.  Tons of tourists, and most of the shops were T-Shirts and cheap native pottery crafts.  We finally spotted a “real art gallery” across the street, only to find it boarded up and out of business.  This was a major letdown, since we were expecting something more akin to Carmel.

We headed out in search of some good sunset photographs.  The first possibility we had heard of was a local park, which turned out to want $9 to enter for the last half hour before sunset.  Given that the lot was crammed with cars, we decided to pass and went to the other sunset location we had heard about, up near the airport.  We did get some reasonable landscape photographs on the drive around that area though.

 

This gave us a vantage point overlooking the city and a nice mountain range.  Unfortunately, low shrubs were overgrown and blocking the view, and a couple hundred other tourists (most with point-and-shoot cameras they clearly did not know how to use) crammed into the site too.  We got a couple interesting photos, but nothing to hang on the wall.

After sunset we called Cathy and “Stedy” – two friends we have known since the 80’s from Oregon that moved to Sedona to retire 15 years ago.  They suggested we get together for dinner at the airport restaurant, since we were already just a few blocks from there.  It turns out the Sedona local airport built a new restaurant just a few months ago, and the food was excellent, as was the reacquaintance of old friends.

Cathy invited us to her home for breakfast the next morning.  Driving to their home, we realized there was a lot more to Sedona than the tourist section, and the town began to appear more livable.

Evelyn had really wanted to see Cathy’s artwork, since Cathy is an art instructor, and Evelyn has been taking painting classes for the past few years.  I must admit that I was prepared to be polite about Cathy’s artwork, since I had never seen it before, but have been mostly underwhelmed by the “open gallery” artists we periodically tour.  Instead I was blown away by Cathy’s work. 

She seems to have mastered both painting and sculpting, with many dozens of outstanding pieces in her house of both types, in a wide variety of styles.  After leaving, we realized that we had both neglected to photograph any of her work, which would have been a good addition to this blog.  Instead, you will just have to take my word for it, and if you ever see “Cathy Stedman” listed as the artist, grab it up fast.  She is not currently selling her works, but if she ever does, I am convinced she can compete with the best of the artists we see in galleries in Carmel, San Francisco, or similar places.

After a breakfast of gourmet omelets, Cathy took us on a hike around the hills and favorite plenair art spots, along with her dog Asia.

After leaving Cathy and “Stedy” behind, we drove to Page as a stop-over enroute to Zion.  Before leaving, we discovered that Page was the location of famed Antelope Slot Canyon, so one more unplanned stop was added to our trip…

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You can’t change the past by worrying, but you can ruin the present by stewing about the future.

Canyon de Chelly

We got up early this morning to take a full day tour into the canyon.  It seemed a bad sign when we heard that 20 people could be packed into a single truck, but it turned out that everyone else was going on a half-day trip.  The 6 of us met the minimum for the full day trip, and it looked like we would have the truck to ourselves.  One other young couple from Foster City ended up joining us, but there was plenty of room.

The trucks were Korean era troop transports – 6-wheel drive monsters that could go anywhere.  Our Navajo driver introduced himself as Ron, and said that Ron was Navajo for “good driver”, so we knew were in good hands… 🙂  He proceeded to tell us what was coming up during the day.  He warned that we would be crossing many frozen rivers, and that if we got stuck, he had a winch, but we might have to get out and push.  He promised that if it came to that, he would use our cameras to take pictures of us pushing for mementos…

 

We had our choice of covered or open-top trucks.  Since the temperature was below freezing, we opted for the covered vehicle.  We lucked out, and our truck survived the trip. The half-day group’s truck died and they were moved to an open (Summer) truck.  I expect they were all frozen solid by the time they returned!

The first stop was at a petroglyph that dated back about 2000 years (I neglected to note that actual age).  It was surprising how well they were preserved, given the crude corn based ink that was used.

Initially the water we crossed was pretty shallow, and I got quite a few nice ice pattern shots that can later be used as background patterns in photo manipulations.

As we ventured further into the canyon, the water got higher and our truck turned into a virtual icebreaker.  At one point, we did get stuck after crossing a river with a couple feet of water covered by a foot of ice.  The ice got stuck under the wheels, and we just spun our wheels until Ron went back and freed the ice from the tires.  Looking down as we broke through the ice, we could see it piling up on the sides.

We were also shown several cliff dwellings that spanned multiple eras, moving from high up and crude to lower and more sophisticated.

The rock walls rose up on both sides of us, for 1000 feet of sheer vertical cliffs. We were shown where the natives were under siege from Kit Carson and the cavalry for three months before the army gave up and left.  The next year they returned and burned the natives out, killing most of them and marching the rest off to a reservation, where many more died.

The sandstone rock in this area formed seemingly impossible shapes as wind and water have eroded them over millions of years.  Evelyn kept looking up and saying she saw various animal shapes in the rocks.  They were “just rocks” to me, until she made the comment and the shape would suddenly spring to life in my mind.  Here is an “elephant” her mind caught:

We were given the history of the region, including the forcible removal of the Navajo, later repatriation to their land, US government giving each family two sheep in the late 19th century, and later taking back the sheep when the government decided the Navajo were over-grazing the land in the 1930’s.  We saw cattle scattered throughout, and many horses that ran and grazed the snow-covered fields.  We never saw a sheep or goat in the valley, though there were lots of coyote trails.

Evelyn said she thought it was the best tour we had taken in a long time, and Trip Advisor now has one more strong recommendation added for this tour.  If you ever go to the Grand Canyon, be sure to set aside time for Canyon de Chelly and take the full day jeep tour.  Seeing the canyon from the bottom is much more impressive than seeing the Grand Canyon from the rim.

(We did drive along the rim the next day though, and Canyon de Chelly isn’t nearly as impressive from the rim.)

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There is no right way to wrong things.

Grand Canyon To Canyon de Chelly

We got up before dawn this morning and headed over to Bright Angel path for sunrise photographs.  We walked partway down the hiking path for a better perspective, with the results still less than stellar.

 

After sunrise, we headed over to the mule enclosure.  I was thinking of maybe doing a series of close-ups of parts of the mules in a montage, but we were almost immediately chased away by the mule keepers… 🙁

On our way out of the Grand  Canyon, we stopped at several lookouts for last views of the canyon.  The ruins have nothing left but a single row of rocks showing where the Indian rooms once stood, and even those rocks were placed there by recent archeologists. Nothing of the original buildings really remain.  The last stop was at Desert View, with the iconic reconstructed tower.

From there it was a straight shot into Canyon de Chelly, a lesser known canyon area controlled by Native Americans 250 miles to the East of Grand Canyon.  The rocks and canyons we drove through were bright and colorful, but we were hoping to reach de Chelly before dark, and didn’t see any good spot to stop and capture the scene, so we drove through.

As we approached the Navajo-owned hotel at twightlight, the road was lined with bare cottonwood and Russian olive trees that looked like ghosts leading into Mordor.  Very eerie…

Upon checking into the hotel, we found that we have “high speed interent” for the first time all week.  Of course, “high speed” is relative, and the measured rate was actually about the same speed as the dial-up modems I used in the late 1970’s, at 1200 baud (seriously!). The only restaurant in the park is a cafeteria, which was out of pretty much all selections except hamburger and fries, and we just finished the worst such combination I can remember in many years.  Tomorrow we will go into town for some better food.

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Kindness is a language everybody understands.

 



Grand Canyon

 Christmas Day (yesterday) was spent on the road.  We left Death Valley behind and drove through the Artists Drive and Artists Palate on the way out.  It was a beautiful canyon of color that would probably look great at sunrise or sundown.  We might try coming back later.

One of our planned excursions at the Grand Canyon was to be the skywalk. We were surprised when the hotel desk told us that was actually 250 miles away, outside the park.  We also heard that many visitors panned it, so we brought up Yelp and discovered it gets a 1.9 rating out of 5 with 29 reviews.  Hmmm… guess we will skip that after all.

We had arrived in the Grand Canyon well after dark, so were not able to scout out any sunrise locations.  I used that excuse to sleep in, though Evelyn got up before dawn anyway and walked to the rim, which is only a 5-minute walk from our room.

I woke to find ice crystals in our window.  Whipping out my camera with my favorite macro lens, I took my first Grand Canyon photo without even leaving the hotel room!

 

 I have been rather disappointed with my shots at the Grand Canyon so far.  Mostly “same as everyone has already shot” stuff.  With our limitations of only being here a day, traveling with friends, not able to go to the North Rim (closed during Winter), and no longer able to hike to the floor, I expect I will just have to make the most of what we can get from the rim with all the other tourists. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have all my Photoshop and other editing tools with me on my travel laptop, so I am just seeing what I can get with some first pass edits.

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Be what your friends see you are, not what your enemies say you are.

Stuck in 4WD Low — Death Valley

We got up before dawn and headed over to Zabriskie Point to catch our first sunrise in Death Valley.  It is a popular point for sunrise, and we got our first indication of how many people are traveling this week.  Christmas Eve morning, and the point had roughly 50 people watching (and photographing) the sunrise.  The shots we got there were OK, but nothing that will make it into competition…

After getting some breakfast, we headed on a day trip around the valley.  First stop was the Devil’s Golf Course, which is a dry lakebed with interesting crystalline growths that make for some nice landscape and macro images.

The road to and from the golf course was extremely rough and icy, so I switched my trusty Ford Explorer into 4WD Low.  When we left the area, I tried to switch out of low gear, only to discover I was stuck in low, no matter what I tried.  I put it in reverse to shock it out. Nope. I revved the engine. Nope.

Finally we drove to the local gas station, where we were told there was “sometimes a mechanic.”  People were pumping gas, but there was no attendant to be round.  Didn’t even realize that was legal…? 

Next we tried the local Jeep rental place, and talked to Richard, the owner.  He called his mechanic, who said he would drive in and take a look.  While passing the time with Richard, it came out that I have never put my car into 4WD Low in the 16 years I have owned it.  I use 4WD a lot, but not 4WD Low.  He asked for the keys, went to the car and about 60 seconds later, asked me to try it out…?!  I drove up the road a bit and found it was now working fine. 

Turns out that moving the Explorer from 4WD Low requires a completely different maneuver than going from 4WD to 2WD.  I might have been told that when I bought the car, but sure didn’t remember it now.  The trick was simply that the car could not be moving when I made the change – whereas it must be moving to go from 4WD to 2WD.  About that time Mike, the mechanic, arrived.  Mike refused any money I offered for his time to come down, and Richard refused any money for helping out a bonehead who didn’t know how to drive his own car.  Santa had arrived and Christmas Eve was saved… 🙂

With my pride tucked away safely out of sight, we headed back to Mesquite Flats Dunes for a sunset shot.  We looked at the dune we wanted to shoot, and headed out over the sand.  It was just behind the first dune we saw…  or was it?  Crossed that dune and found our target was behind another dune we hadn’t seen before.  OK… heading further… only to discover it was really behind that dune.  Nope.  The next dune!  Nope again!  On the 4th dune where our target was still in the distance, we gave up and set up tripods on the same.  I had brought my wide angle lens from the car, and now wished I had brought the longest lens I owned.  The resulting shot was OK again, but once more no competition quality images.

After a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner, Mark (our nephew) offered to come with me to shoot some nighttime light painting images I had been waiting for a dark enough place to hoot.  We headed back to Zabriskie Point, where we had shot the sunrise, and set up in the large parking lot.

We first experimented with some strings of battery powered Christmas lights, but those didn’t really work very well.  Switching to colored flashlights, we got some better results.  These are mostly just test shots to see what works – in the future I need to repeat these where I can include some interesting landscape around them, such as tumbleweeds, cactus or similar.

Next were experiments with burning steel wool.  That was why I had come to a large parking lot.  I needed someplace with nothing that could catch fire.  We switched positions, with Mark on the camera as we tossing the fire, since his jacket was nylon and not something to be around fire.  I rather liked the result, though I see things I will change next time we do this.

 

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The only way to keep a friend is to be one.

Wet Burrito and Really Good Jerky – Enroute to Death Valley

We started our drive today, to start a week+ long car trip with Evelyn’s sisters’ family.  First stop: Death Valley. Since we plan on getting some (hopefully) nice photographs along the way, we wanted to start out with arriving in the desert in time for a sunset shot.  Sunset in Death Valley is awfully early this time of year, with the Ephemerus telling us it will come at 4:48PM.  Hmmm…  A 9 hour drive means we need to start at 6AM, and go the ‘fast’ route down Highway 5, instead of the more scenic route over Lake Tahoe and down the Eastern side of the Sierras.

6AM?  Who am I kidding…?  After oversleeping and not getting on the road until 6:45, we thought we still had some time to spare, but would have to go straight to the lookout point we had identified in pre-trip research.

Have you ever driven Highway 5 between San Jose and Los Angeles?  If so, you know that it was built for speed and efficiency.  It looks like a Soviet era architect built it, with no concern for aesthetics, or anything not moving you forward as fast as possible.  This is good and bad – we did want to get there quickly, but at the cost of extreme boredom…

A little North of Bakersfield, we stopped at a sign that promised gas and food, hopefully not together.  Fueled up the car, and then went looking for a place to fuel up ourselves.  Passed by the Denny’s and Burger King’s of the strip, until we hit the end of the business section.  Last choices were a pizza join or a “fast food Mexican” place.  After mentally flipping a coin, we decided on the Mexican. 

Excellent choice it turned out.  We saw “wet burrito” on the menu.  Since we had never had that, we decided to try it.  Best Burrito In Town should have been on the restaurant masthead.  We loved it.  Of course, we were about an hour out of town before thinking we should maybe note down the name so we could stop there later if we come this way.  Seems our minds had been numbed by the drive too much to think.  All we remember was that it was on Olive Drive, off Highway 99, just North of Highway 50.  Some day we may stumble on it again…

 

Soon we found ourselves driving over the Tehachapi pass, with the wind farms.  Mostly the small, older turbines, but one monster turbine was on the hill, easily 10 times as large as any of the others.  This was probably the type we recently read about that will be replacing the older style.  More efficient, turn more slowly, needs fewer of them, so fewer birds killed.  We reminisced about flying over the pass in the 80’s in any of our four airplanes, when we would look down at the ants on the path, and realized we were now one of those ants as a plane flew overhead.

Turning north after the pass, we went through Red Rock Canyon.  It looked like it would probably be spectacular at sunrise, but the light was far too harsh now to make a good photograph, so we continued in our race to the desert.

30 miles out, we started seeing billboards for Gus’ “Really Good Jerky.”  Billboards continued for the duration, until we just had to stop and buy some.  Point 1: advertising apparently works.  Point 2:  It really was “really good jerky.” 🙂

As we entered the Death Valley park, we saw two things – there was an obnoxious cloud just over the mountain that the sun was going to set behind, and it was setting way too fast.  Turns out the 4:48PM assumed a flat horizon, but there are mountains surrounding the desert, so the sun really went down around 4:15, which means it lopped another half hour off our time.  As we arrived at Mesquite Flat Dunes, we saw that the cloud meant there was no real sunset illumination anyway, and sunset was a total bust.  Coulda slept in a bit more before leaving home…

Arrived at the hotel and checked in, only to discover that Internet connection would cost an additional $25 for a very slow connection.  Decided we could do without, and will instead post when we next find a decent connection.  Cell phone coverage is very spotty too, with only Edge connection on AT&T and 1-2 bars, so using the cell phone as a backup isn’t going to work. [Note: We are finally posting this on Dec 29 when in Sedona)

Met up with Pauline (Evelyn’s sister) and family, had dinner and hit the hay early after a very long day with nothing to show for it other than arriving at our first destination.  G’night all!

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If you get a good idea, it won’t work unless you work at it.

[BRAG] Tonight’s Winners at BCC

Tonight was another competition night at the Berkeley Camera Club.  This competition allowed us to enter one image in Travel category and two in Journalism.  I was rather surprised a couple months ago to find that I had been promoted to the Masters category for Travel (the highest of 4 levels of competition), though I am still at the Intermediate level for Journalism (the second of 4 levels) — I have never done all that well in the Journalism category.

It seems the club has promoted too many people to the Masters level of Travel, since there were as many images there as combined in all three other levels.  The competition was tough, as always at the Masters level, but I am proud (and a bit surprised) to say that I was awarded First Place tonight for a photo I took in South Vietnam in October of two women in a local fish market:

As I said, Journalism has never been my strong suit, but both of my images placed tonight in that category too (in Intermediate — second of 4 levels).  Both of these were shot in Cambodia on the same trip as the above Vietnam photo.

Second place was a bike stuck in the mud with a load of piglets.  The commentator noted that the bike rider seemed to be smiling, and she thought he should have been cursing.  That really was the case throughout Cambodia though.  These people were dirt poor, and were suffering the worse flooding in 60 years, yet we constantly saw people smiling and couples laughing as they wound through the flooded streets and muddy roads.  It helped put in perspective the grousing in America by people with more wealth than these people will ever see in their lifetimes…

I also received 4th place for another photo shot the very next day at a local lake village.  The commentator loved the composition and colors, but said she would have thought it was just a lake village and not realized it was a flood other than the title.  She obviously didn’t notice the rooftops behind the boat, which are at the lake water level.  Normally those are normal 10 foot roofs above their floors, which are in turn normally several feet above the lake on stilts.  The lake was 15 feet above the normal high water mark. The home floors were designed to be raised, but were now so high that the occupants had to crawl under the roof to have any cover from the weather at all.  We had planned for a lunch in a floating restaurant, but the kitchen was fully flooded and we had to go elsewhere:

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Life is too darned short to sit around being bored. (Dorothy Galyean)

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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