Wednesday, November 15, 2017

South Carolina Solar Eclipse 2017

Driving down to South Carolina off I-95 one drives to several small towns in several stages of decay, once vibrant because of small industries and agricultural enterprises.  It appears to me that the downfall of tobacco has an impact on the communities and younger people moving away.  Still small businesses still barely survive as Melvin’s in Elizabethtown. Drove by the big sign on the main road several times and decided to take the right turn in the main street and tried.  It is on the main shopping strip, narrow as a shotgun style home.  It was busy…good sign.  They only serve hamburgers and hot dogs; that is it.  The hamburgers come with a few condiment choices.  The hamburgers were fine but the T-shirts more tasteful…I mean colorful.

I always happen to go by Myrtle Beach by-pass Rt. 17 on my way to Huntington State Park driving by the Broadway at the Beach amusement park.  Most of these places have an entrance fee, but here it is open and you pay for the amenities you use.  The King Kong climbing the Empire State is the most impressive; the Ferris wheel is big and the upside down WonderWorks building the most unusual and is actually a science museum.  The park is arranged around a lake where there are various boat rides and colorful large inflated wheels.  Numerous shops mostly selling candies and knick-knacks, restaurants, fortune tellers and a couple losing their pants.

Huntington State Park is a small nature reserve with a causeway leading to the barrier island also off Rt. 17 going south. I have visited here for more than 40 years because the ease of photographing wildlife and the variety.  There is a big colony of wood storks that also nest in the area; this is probably the ugliest bird in North America and they feed in groups. 

The black-crowned night heron is also a year round resident; the image below was posterized to give it an artistic look.  I ran into a group of American egrets that were feeding at low tide who were fighting to steal the catch from each and a tricolor heron running to get into the action.   I leave the area with a flower image.

Went to Sumter to watch the eclipse and while there toured the area.  As in many southern towns, it went into a period of decay but now is undergoing a downtown revival. Some buildings have been restored and due to the eclipse, downtown was busy with tourists.  Visited an old printing shop but the old equipment is not used since everything is done now by computers.  The printing press dates back to the 1890’s.

Lunch at the Cut Rate Drugs and Coffee Shop, an old surviving drug store claiming “best chicken salad sandwiches”.  These were scarce in salad and served in large buns…nothing to brag about. The menu was decorated with ads of old medications such as one promising the enlargement of bust by ingestion or cream application…it was not in stock at the drug counter.

Swan Lake is a very attractive park which is basically a swamp with a large number swans and ducks.  There are trails around as well as an interpretation center; it is a worthwhile visit.  The second black and white image shows the patterns of the duckweeds formed in the surface…the waters appeared a bit polluted and overgrown with underwater grasses; these were being removed by crew when I was visiting.

 I have an affinity for eclipses and the first total eclipse that I photographed was in Pungo, an area in Virginia Beach, back in March 7, 1970.  I was there with past acquaintances, some of whom still visit my blog occasionally.  With one of those, I continued to travel for several years in the early 1990’s chasing eclipses all over the world.  The most thrilling was the one in Potosi, Bolivia, in 1994. Being in the Andes, we were high providing a choice location and we selected a spot off the road in a small farm. As the light began to dim, the noisy chickens ran to their coops in desperation as well as the cows mooing to the barns and then total silence.  The dogs started barking but as darkness increased they also quieted down.  When totality passed and the light emerged, the animals started to come out of their residences cautiously until regular life was restored. I hope to be around to photograph the next eclipse in Chile in 2019, also in the Andes.  The simple black and white image below is at the beginning of the eclipse as the moon starts to move in front of the sun.  

 The following image is at totality and it would originally be in white and black because of the solar filter I used that allowed me to take the photos; otherwise the intensity of the light would have not allowed the sensor of my camera to record images.  All the following photos were taken using HDR.  This is a technique by which several images taken at different exposures are stacked together allowing the capture of a larger range of colors and details than just by using a single image.
 Below are various versions of the diamond ring effect at the end of totality. The red flames seen flaring from the edge are called prominences and the glare around the disk is the corona.  There are 3 versions below of the same image below.  The last one was an inversion of colors making the brighter areas look dark.

While in South Carolina, visited a plantation where the 111 year old owner was celebrating her birthday.  Still of clear mind and spirited and full of stories as to things has changed. She is the oldest resident in the state and 19th in line for the entire USA.

Still way behind in my blogs…will I catch up before the end of the year?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Guatemala 2017

I first set foot in this country more than 40 years ago and the changes have been immense as in the rest of my world.  People tend to dream of the past as the better days and in a way this is true. Then the indigenous Mayas, both men and women, dressed in their traditional regional costumes. This has disappeared mostly among the men who now wear Western-style clothing while the women maintained their native dress but with less purity. The people used to be very polite, the food more natural, the Mayan textiles handmade and dyed with natural colors (now a day to find a real hand made textile not made overseas is rare and if found, extremely expensive). Then pottery was the main source of water containers and cooking pots; now they are all plastic or metal imported from you know where. Dollars were worth a lot and the local coins were pure silver; try to find one now.  Poverty was there but I never saw hungry indigenous people in the countryside; this has changed too.  It is better now?  It depends on who you are.

 Going back to food, a mixture of Mayan and Spanish cuisine was dominant 40 years ago with a variety of corn dishes, and lots of fresh vegetable available.  There are still old restaurants in Guatemala City where fresh food can be found.  I had lunch this year at the Altuna Restaurant where the service, ambience and menu still preserves the styles of the past.  I had a bacalao a la vizcaina, a typical Spanish staple that is rarely found in the more eclectic modern eateries.  Of course you can always go McD, Domino’s Pizza or Poyo Campero (a local version of Kentucky Fried Chicken).

 Most of the images in this blog were taken with an iPhone, as I am getting tired of carrying the big cameras; for the purpose of a blog, digital phone images are adequate. Graffiti is endemic everywhere one goes now a days and I am a fan of those street artists (vandals to others) and what they can create with spray cans.  So bear with me and observe the treasures I found in the streets of the Capital City. Here the local government has embraced the wall defacers and established zones where graffiti is promoted and protected.  
 If the one below would have been an oil or watercolor paint, it probably would have been on exhibit at the MOMA or for sale at Sotheby’s in NYC. And the next two with Indian styles could have been found in the streets of Delhi.

 The samples below may have come from the minds of extra-terrestrials or extreme re-incarnations of Van Gogh and Jeronimo Bosch.   I got hundreds of graffiti images to be added to my world collection but will not bore you with more.

 Guatemala City is rich in art and architectural styles with hidden treasures in private homes in the forms of interior designs as well as decorations.  An example of a modern home interior below but the original colonial homes are also real amazing.  Find a friend with local connections there that could open those doors for you.  And of course, you can always find the weird in the streets as the statue to Santa Apolonia, the patroness of the dentists. By the way dental work by highly skilled dentists can be obtained there for a fraction of the cost of that available in the USA; the savings may pay for a whole trip there.

 The ancient capital of Antigua was destroyed by earthquakes several times. When I was first there, the streets were safe, devoid of automotive traffic; the restaurants and accommodations were few, and the locals were friendly but not all spoke Spanish and wore their traditional outfits.  What were then private homes are now tourist traps. Even the recent rage of microbreweries has arrived. And the roof of these and some restaurants were modified to accommodate the clientele. Of course they warn you of the hazards of drinking alcohol…but if you are a woman, would you not like to like look her?

 Although Guatemala is not known for its wines, its bodegas are full of it with signs attesting to its medicinal virtues.  The sign on the wall’s veracity is proven by the happy winos across the street.  Better than snake oil.

 Back then the old ruined churches, monasteries and convents were just that, and I wandered all over them; this is no longer possible.  Some have been converted into fancy resorts or with controlled access with chains and signs mandating “DO NOT CROSS”, DO NOT CLIMB, PRIVATE PROPERTY…the fun is gone. There are also signs warning you as to the perils of tourism such as assaults and robberies. I had local photographer friends that lost their gear in plain daylight…another advantage of carrying a iPhone, but these are at risk too.  Fancy boutiques are protected and to access some, you have to go across a cage before inspecting the goodies. The mountain in the image below, behind C’SANTOS, is the Volcan del Agua- seldom seen since is mostly covered by clouds.

 As I mentioned before, one of the former monasteries has been restored into a 5-star convention/museum hotel complex. A textile exhibit by the artist David Ordonez, who uses textiles as the medium was on display.  Below is an example of his work mounted in a frame; the image you see is that of a tri-dimensional cloth bundle; I marked the KNOT so you can get a reference as to the topography of the object.  Below is a photo of a wall with climbing flowers inside the complex.

 Wandering the streets of Antigua is rewarding since it has preserved at least the external colonial styles with wonderful window decorations and doors, some more than 500 years old.  Some of these properties are still under the ownership of the descendants of the original Spanish Conquistadores who built them and not converted into tourist traps…yet.

 Before leaving this historical place, despite having been there several times, there is always something new to discover walking the streets as the hermita below. And something old, the communal laundry that during my first visit was busy with the local ladies in their traditional outfits doing the laundry under the arches, and the kids bathing in the adjacent pool. But I missed the vendor of the green cart who only sells flavors but no colors.