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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cross Country USA 2017

This was my third cross country trip with a journey covering 6,000 miles crossing 13 states from Virginia to California. The major goal was to go to National Parks along those states next to the Canadian border to include North Dakota, completing my goal of visiting all the states in the USA, and then going southwest from Idaho. Started in Virginia and ending in Fresno, California. Traveled almost non-stop the first 24 hours, just stopping for meals and gas until arriving at Bismarck, N.D. The route took us mostly via I-64, 95, 270, 70, 76, 80, 94, to Billings, Montana.  From there State Routes 72, 120 and 20 to Yellowstone. Passed Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon via Rts 20, Rt. 33 and into I-84 to Boise that was used as a base to explore the Snake River Basin. Then back-tracked via I-84 to Twin Falls heading south on Rt.93 in Nevada to Ely where junctioned Rt. 6 heading to Death Valley.  From Death Valley headed to Bakersfield via I-40 and then south in I-5 to Rts 106 and 101 ending in Solvang; actually the official end of the trip where I visited a fellow adventurer.  From there drove via Rts.101, 46 and 41 to Fresno from to fly home.
 The Belvidere Oasis in the Illinois Tollway has been redone since the last time I was there when it was all run-down and dirty. It is built as on a bridge over the Interstate. Stopped here at McD for a Mocha Frappe @ 2 AM on 6/17/17. Encountered severe weather several times mostly crossing Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 One of the rewards of travel is encountering history that I was not aware of such as the trails described in the image below.  These trails were used between 1820 and 1870’s connecting Canada to the Mississippi River and connected the Red River Colony to the world. The colony had a complicated history with no time to elaborate on it here. But the Trails were influential in the development of the central states bordering Canada. Leaving this site behind, arrived in Fargo, N. Dakota; a city made famous by the movie of the same name.  The mental image I had of the city because of the movie did not match its actual looks.

 The first stop was at Bismarck to visit a friend met during the Missouri River Lewis and Clark trek of 2013. Always been intrigued with this area because of its association with the Lewis and Clark Trail expedition that wintered nearby during 1804-05 with the Mandan Indians. I visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center in Washburn that focuses on the history of the winter that they spent in the area.  The monument is located at the entrance of the museum which is rich in artifacts and houses a complete collection of Carl Bodmer’s prints. Carl Bodmer was the Swiss illustrator who accompanied the expedition of the German Prince Maximilian Expedition of 1833 up the Missouri River for about 2,500 miles by steam and keelboats. Below is a Bodmer work depicting Maximillian in green coat at Fort Clark followed by a model of the housing used by the Mandan Indians.

 Nearby is Fort Mandan, a replica of the winter quarters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  They wintered here during 1804-1805 and where Sakakawea first met with Clark and who was instrumental in the successful completion of the expedition.

 Spent two nights in Dickinson, N. Dakota from where I visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Theodore came originally to this area to hunt bison and fell in love with it and eventually started the Elkhorn Ranch. The park is part of the Badlands with interesting geological formations among them, the Cannonball Concretions below that I found most interesting.

 Painted Canyon is photographically challenging due the numerous color and erosional patterns making it difficult to select what to photograph, not just due to the diversity but also to the changing illumination during the day.  Notice the wooden snake.

 When it comes to wildlife one runs into a few itinerant humans but bison and wild horses are the most predominant. Are the horses wild or just feral?  I propose that they are feral since they are really escaped and are descendants from those brought to America by the Spanish Conquistadores. The horses radically changed the plains Indians way of life and without them the western culture would have not happened and Custer may have not been killed at the Little Big Horn. Now the horses are “managed” as are the bison; anything wild left? Time to depart leaving the flowers behind.

 Below is Theodore’s Maltese Cross Cabin where he first arrived in the area to hunt buffalo; this cabin has been moved several times for exhibitions at places as the St. Louis World’s Fair and the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905 in Portland Oregon, in 1910 to West Fargo and then to the State Capitol till 1959 before moved to its present site in the southern part of the park.  He used it only between 1883 and 84.  
 Driving West in I-94 saw a sign for Pompey’s Pillar National Monument which I never heard about or rather did not recollect. Just out of curiosity decided to stop…what a reward.  It turned out that it is a 150 feet tall rock formation visited by William Clark in 1806 who inscribed his name on it. He may or may have not the first to deface the rock with his signature.  The rock is protected now so additional carvings are difficult; but I scented it instead.  The pillar was named by Clark for Sacagawea’s son who he named “Pompy” whose real name was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whose father was a French-Canadian explorer and member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  There is a visitor’s center that was built in 2006 again covering the Lewis and Clark Expedition with various exhibits and collections of artifacts.

Continuing West the next overnight stay was at Cody, Wyoming.  The panorama below was taken in the Bureau of Lands just north of the city.  What a spectacular view; went there looking for horses at sunset but none were seen. Next morning entered Yellowstone overcrowded by tourists; lucky to find a room in Cooke City, and old stomping ground visited several times in the winter trying to photograph wolves. Second image is the creek feeding Trout Lake where I went looking for river otters but none seen. The flowers are from around the lakeshore. During previous trip I was very successful photographing them fishing. My lifetime biggest photo equipment loss occurred at the parking lot when the tripod failed and the lens and camera were damaged beyond use for the rest of the trip; fortunately I always carry back-ups.  The gear was repaired but not to their original performance…Thank You Canon.

The typical fauna was seen such as the goats, pronghorns and bears but in this occasion had the opportunity to observe a red fox hunting ground squirrels.  It was easy pickings for the fox; some of the squirrels just froze when they saw the fox and did not run away.  In about 10 minutes it captured 5 squirrels, swallowed them whole and then took a mid-day siesta.

Bison as always were everywhere but I observed that in Mammoth Hot Springs they wander around the staff housing and are using the yard irrigation system to take showers and take turns moving on when finished.  In the Lamar Valley the tourist wolf watchers were anxiously looking for the elusive predators that are mostly seen as small spots moving across the valley even with powerful scopes. I have gotten to know some of the professional wolf spotters who are perennial fixtures and are incredibly knowledgeable; they know the wolves in such detail that they could create the of their families without the need for DNA samples.

Craters of the Moon in Idaho was another photogenic jewel not well known and worth a more extended visit.  I was lucky to be there at the peak of the flower blooming period, protruding from the dark granular lava sands. There is some volcanic activity as shown below by the image of a tufa pipe opening. 

Stayed in Boise to visit the Snake River Basin; had no idea of the vastness of the river and the majestic landscapes as well as the history.  What originally took me there was to photograph the large migration of raptors found in the area.  But the river basin was most attractive.  Below there is a panoramic photo (created from the merging of the 3 following images) to show the expanse of the area. For more details go to

The Swan Falls Hydroelectric Dam was built in built in 1910 to provide electricity to nearby mines and modernized 80 years later.  Along with other dams they impede the total migration of the anadromous fish up the river. There is a recreational area with weird signs prohibiting the burn of pallets?  Still scratching my head of why?  

Another interesting structure nearby is the Guffey Bridge; details are below.  Traveling along the farm roads several cattle were seen with huge piles of manure as well as agricultural farms using large irrigation systems.  As from the farmer’s homes seen, these must be the richest farmers I had seen in my travels around the country based in the size of the homes and the numbers of mobiles homes parked alongside. Based on the size of the RV’s, I guess that during the winter they close the farms and become snow birds. Torrential storms accompanied by hail were a daily occurrence when cruising around this area.

Next stop was Ely, Nevada, where the Ramada Inn was the overnight oasis.  A very peculiar one since all the rooms opened to the inside court where the Copper Queen Casino is located.  You could hear the clicking of the coin machines and the expressions of joy when a gambler hit the jackpot inside the room.  Interesting all the noise was gone by 10 PM; most gamblers must have been drunk by then.  Ely was an important railroad town and where the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is located with hosts dressed in the proper style. Nearby are the Ward Charcoal Ovens used during 1876-79 and built by Italian carbonari. The charcoal was used for smelting silver at the Ward silver mine. Last year I was in southern France and the stonework is very similar at that used in medieval cone shaped homes in the towns of that area; see the third image below.

Entering Death Valley under record high temperatures with warning signs along the roads…Why would they want one to stop to enjoy such heat?  Photographed there late on the day and early in the morning to get the cooler temperatures and best light. I had not been here in more than 30 years and noticed not much change other than more park buildings, people and restrictions; a sign of the times all over the world. Notice the “NO” drone sign.

Next was just a straight drive to Solvang to visit my friend Richard, a companion of many adventures around the world. Visited here about 30 years ago and has grown becoming a tourist trap; what is called progress. Danes established a colony here in 1911 and while there during my previous visit the bakers could be heard speaking in Danish but that parlance is now gone but the tasty pastries remain. The Spanish mission of Santa Ines built in 1804 looks the same but for the huge parking lot in front of it. This was the last stop of the trip from where I drove to Fresno to fly home. Had a lunch there at a Mexican restaurant and saw a different Michelada; go and figure how to drink the bottle of beer.

Took sometime time to put this long blog together due to the number of photos taken and busy gone most of the summer. Will try to catch up with the other places visited before the end of the year but don’t hold your breath.

About the images, these were processed some as regular, HDRs, and posterized and taken with a digital full frame camera or iPhones. Also the quality is not the best because some of my images have been stolen and sold unauthorized.