Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.
April 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Photo tour of the "Sunshine State": Florida!
In the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, there is a humorous scene at the rim of the Grand Canyon where Chevy Chase impatiently pauses for a few seconds while his family tries to get a good view of the magnificent scenery. In a way, that describes my brief visit to south Florida, which began exactly one month ago today. "OK, great, now let's go!" Florida was the final leg of my big journey to South America, but unlike my visits to Peru and Colombia, I was not constrained by lack of transportation. I rented a car in order to take care of multiple tourist objectives, and I tried to see as much as possible.
As with my previous photo-travelogs to Peru (Feb. 20 - 28) and Colombia (Mar. 1 - 4), this one parallels the birding blog post I did on Florida, so I will try to avoid duplication. The first destination after arriving at Miami International Airport (early afternoon on Sunday, March 5) was Marlins Park, the almost-new (five years old) home of the Miami Marlins baseball team. I just wanted to get some well-lit photos, in case it wasn't as sunny the next day, when I planned to return for a tour. With its massive, hurricane-proof roof fully retracted, it was a pretty impressive sight:
Marlins Park exterior from the northwest. (March 5; Photo spliced together from two separate images.)
Because of heavy traffic and road construction, driving from the stadium through the southern part of Miami took longer than expected, so I didn't arrive at my motel in Florida City until an hour and a half later. After checking in and resting a bit, I drove west about 15 miles, and made it to the Everglades National Park about 5:15, just after the main visitor center had closed. No matter, I got the information I needed and headed into the park for some late-afternoon sightseeing and birding. I was delighted to see so many birds -- and an alligator! -- at Royal Palm, about five miles away. It was the second time in my life that I had been to the Everglades, the first being in December 1985.
Entrance to Everglades National Park: Ernest Coe Visitor Center. Note the Saw Palmetto, seemingly ubiquitous in south Florida. (March 5)
I got up early on Monday morning, and made a point to visit nearly all of the points of interest along the main Everglades highway. My first stop was at a "skeleton forest" of Bald Cypress trees, which shed their needles during the dry months, and grow new needles when the rains resume. Then I stopped at Pahayokee Overlook, a large observation deck accessed via a boardwalk, located at the edge of the vast open area known as the "freshwater marl prairie." (The excellent map of the Everglades given to park visitors describes in great detail the nine different ecosystems, and where they extend.) Then came Mahogany Hammock, where I did a lengthier circuit walk along a boardwalk, marveling at the variety of plant life, especially bromeliads. (There were lots of those in Colombia as well.) At Paurotis Pond, a few miles further south, I saw densely-packed mangrove trees, which only thrive near the coast where the water is salty. Some of the Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills I saw there were building nests in those trees. Finally, I reached the small community of Flamingo, at the end of the road and the tip of the Florida peninsula. There I had a tasty lunch at a casual screened-patio restaurant at which Jimmy Buffet would have fit right in.
Coconut tree at Flamingo, in the Everglades. (March 6)
On the way back from Flamingo, I stopped at both Paurotis Pond and Royal Palm for a second time. But that put me way behind schedule, so I decided to give up on the idea of taking a tour of Marlins Park, set for 2:00. It was probably for the best, as I was able to appreciate the natural wonders of the Everglades just a little more. Indeed, the group of 12 or so alligators I saw at Royal Palm was one of the biggest thrills of the trip. The Everglades are an amazing, unique ecological treasure, and we are fortunate that those in generations past had the wisdom and foresight to preserve it. But in spite of recent big initiatives to mitigate the environmental damage caused by overdevelopment in Florida, there remain serious threats to wildlife there. "More people, more scars upon the land..."
Yours truly, along with some alligators at Royal Palm in the Everglades National Park. I was on an elevated boardwalk, out of harm's way. (March 6)
After leaving the Everglades, I drove through Miami again, taking some late-afternoon photos of Marlins Park, from the east side this time. The stadium occupies land where the famed Orange Bowl once stood, in the predominantly-Cuban "Little Havana" part of the city. So, I photographed some urban scenes in Miami. As night fell, I then drove north toward Pompano Beach, where I had a motel reservation; it's about half way to Palm Beach.
The plan for Tuesday was to visit the renowned bird sanctuary at Wakodahatchee, which is basically the regional water supply / waste disposal system, but it was closed. So I went to nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge instead. This federally-protected natural sanctuary covers 221 square miles, most of which is closed to the public. The elevated gravel trails which are accessible to the public (mostly bird-watchers like me) are arranged in rectangular grids composed of marshy ponds inhabited by many birds, some turtles, and a few alligators. There weren't many interesting trees or plants to see, but I did see and photograph two new (to me) butterfly species that I will describe in a future blog post.
Loxahatchee NWR canals; roll mouse over image to a closeup of the alligator and a Common Moorhen/Gallinule, which may have been just a bit too curious. (March 7)
I then made haste north-northeast toward West Palm Beach, where the Washington Nationals were hosting the Boston Red Sox in a spring training game at the Nats' brand-new "Ballpark of the Palm Beaches." (Actually, they share the facility with the Houston Astros.) The intervening distance was about 15 miles, passing through some upscale luxurious neighborhoods, and the unexpectedly-heavy traffic caused me to arrive a few minutes late to the game. It was a windy day, alternating between sun and clouds.
The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from my ideally-located seat behind home plate. (March 7)
After the game, I decided to drive to Palm Beach, about five miles away, and see President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago. Once again, I was astonished by the opulent lifestyle of the local residents. I noticed that most of the homes of wealthy people in Palm Beach are surrounded by tall hedges that often exceed 15 feet in height. Since President Trump has often boasted about how the wall he seeks to build along the border with Mexico will be "beautiful," that gave me an idea for an alternative kind of "wall" -- consisting of greenery! There was no place to stop near the mansion, but I was fortunate to find a small public beach on the causeway between Palm Beach (which occupies a thin strip of land) and the mainland. There I took a quick photo, just as a television news crew finished taping a report, presumably about the President.
Closeup (cropped) view of President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. (March 7)
From Palm Beach, I headed straight west as the sun sank toward the horizon. By the time I passed Lake Okeechobee it was already dark, and I never saw anything of the lake other than some levees along the road. That night I stayed in the town of Immokalee, located about 25 miles southeast of Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast. The town itself was an interesting mixture of cultures, with an economy apparently based on growing oranges and perhaps other citrus fruits. I saw a number of Spanish-speaking people, presumably farm workers. The rural mostly-white populace in the restaurant where I dined (barbecue!) seemed rather familiar to me, as a resident of a mostly-rural southern state.
I woke up before dawn on March 8, wanting to maximize my enjoyment of Florida in the brief time before my airline flight left from Orlando in the afternoon. It took about 15 minutes to drive to next destination: Corkscrew Swamp, and I passed many orange groves along the way. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is owned and operated by the Audubon Society. The land was purchased by the Society in 1954, as part of an emergency effort to thwart logging operations that would have destroyed the last remaining Bald Cypress forest in the United States. I was generally aware of the different habitat zones in the sanctuary, rather like the Everglades in terms of its ecological diversity, but I only gained a full appreciation for the role played by (for example) Bald Cypress trees after returning to Virginia and reading the background information booklet which I purchased at Corkscrew Swamp. It is a truly special place.
Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk passing the majestic pine trees. (March 8)
Corkscrew Swamp pond, with Great Egrets, White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, and perhaps other birds. (March 8)
I gave myself a firm deadline for leaving Corkscrew, to make sure I would get to the airport on time, but it was hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. I hope it's not too long before I can visit there again.
I was originally hoping to swing through St. Petersburg on my way to Orlando so as to see Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. But I realized that the distance from Corkscrew to Orlando was greater than I had estimated, and I just didn't have enough time to do that. So instead, I drove almost straight north, mostly along U.S. Route 27. I recall crossing the Caloosahatchee River at the town of LaBelle, but I didn't realize until later that the river (which goes from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers) constitutes a virtual barrier between distinct ecological regions in south Florida. For example, Florida Panthers hardly ever stray north of that river, but some were spotted recently. Later I passed by a highway sign for the oddly-named town of Frostproof. I remember in grade school learning about that town, so named because it was thought that temperatures never went below freezing there, making it safe for orange trees. (There was in fact a deep freeze there in January 2010; see time.com.) As I was driving through downtown Orlando on the way to the airport, I noticed the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic NBA team. Had I realized that it was soon to be the venue for the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, I might have stopped to take a photo.
It's hard to believe I accomplished all that in just three days (including two half days). The complete set of Florida photos can be seen (along with photos from Peru and Colombia) on the Chronological photo gallery (2017) page. They are mostly 600 x 400 pixels in size; ventually I will post double-sized versions (1200 x 800 pixels) of the best ones... I hope you enjoyed this photo tour!
March 29, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Photo tour of my first trip to Colombia
Jacqueline went to Colombia last year to visit her two brothers who live there, and I was so impressed by the photos she took that I decided to follow suit. My original plan was to spend two days at the Rio Claro Nature Reserve, which is about two and a half hours east of Medellin, and then spend two days in Medellin, where her brothers live. The problem was trying to get reliable transportation directly from the airport to Rio Claro while also getting my money changed, and I just couldn't solve the dilemma. It's nearly an hour's drive from the airport to the city, where the bus terminal is located, and I would have had to waste another hour each way, without being sure about changing my dollars into Colombian pesos. (For some reason, currency exchanges are hard to find in Colombia.) So, I ended up spending all four days in and around Medellin. Fortunately, as it turned out, there was plenty to see in that metropolitan area, and I made the most of my time there.
My brother-in-law Ernesto ("Toño") picked me up at the Medellin airport mid-afternoon on March 1, which happened to be Ash Wednesday. It was difficult in a moving vehicle, but I managed to take a few photos on the way down into the city -- wa-a-a-ay down! I had studied up on the geography of the region, and I had a rough idea of the route we were taking, but I wasn't mentally prepared for the drastic changes in altitude in that mountainous country. The views were incredible, and the lush, green landscape was quite a contrast to the deserts of coastal Peru! With an elevation of over 4,000 feet, Medellin -- known as the "City of Eternal Spring" -- can be compared in many ways to Denver, Colorado. With a population of nearly 4 million people, Medellin is the second-largest city in Colombia. (The capital Bogota is the biggest city, of course.) But contrary to the outdated impression held by many Americans, Medellin is no longer plagued by violence, as the drug lords and guerrilla movements have largely been subdued. It is, instead, a rapidly modernizing city full of hope for the future.
Mountain on the east side of Medellin, showing the road from the airport. (March 1)
After spending the rest of that first afternoon relaxing and conversing, I got started with some serious tourism the next morning. Both brothers-in-law (Toño and Oscar) live within a mile or so of downtown, so I did a lot of walking over the next three days, exploring the local sights. Toño and I had breakfast downtown at a mega-store called Éxito (meaning "success"), in a cafeteria with many choices. We then went on a ride on Medellin's superb Metro rail, which began operations in 1996 and is a proud showcase in mass transit for the rest of the continent. We got off at a station roughly two miles north of downtown, and transfered to the Metrocable system, which is like a giant "ski-lift." The first Metrocable line began operations in 2004, and other lines have been built since then. It was designed to reach poor neighborhoods located in steep areas where buses and trains are impractical. Each gondola seats four passengers, and they move along at about 10-15 MPH. (See metrodemedellin.gov.co.) One nice thing that American tourists might notice: Most of the signs in the Metro system are in both Spanish and English!
The views from the Metrocable were unbelievable, marred only by the overcast skies. It was also hard getting good photos through the glare of the windows. We must have climbed the better part of a mile in altitude before we reached a relatively level, rolling area. I didn't even know what the destination was until we arrived at the station, and boy, was I delighted to see the signs for Parque Arvi (Arvi Park)! It is a natural paradise in a cool cloud-forest environment, with many gardens, shops, a visitors center, etc. I was astonished that they don't even charge for admission! Toño and I went hiking for nearly a mile downhill, and then returning back uphill again along the same trail. (More details about that visit were in my blog post on Saturday.)
View of Medellin from the Metrocable, en route to Parque Arvi. You can see all four stations on the "K" Line: Santo Domingo (two sections, just below the trees), Popular, Andalusia, and Acevedo, where one can transfer to the Metro train. Acevedo Station is situated next to the Medellin River, about 1500 feet below, and is long with a green roof, while the three upper stations are roughly square, mostly white structures. (March 2)
The next day Toño and I went downtown, and I saw the famous rotund metal sculptures of Fernando Botero for the first time. Then we took the Metro train to the Medellin Botanical Gardens, about two miles north of downtown. Once again, I was amazed by how much effort and expense had been put into maintaining a natural area. The Colombian people should be saluted for being so conscious of wildlife conservation. It was overcast for most of the day, and after it started to rain and I put on my windbraker, Toño laughed at me. Apparently, people in Medellin are so accustomed to occasional brief showers that they don't even bother to cover themselves or use an umbrella when it rains! The seasons in Colombia vary according to rainfall, not temperature. When I was there, the typical weather alternated between sun and rain.
Montage of flowers at the Medellin Botanical Gardens. (March 3)
After leaving the Botanical Gardens, we returned downtown and visited San Antonio Plaza, the site of a horrific terrorist bombing that took place 22 years ago. Toño told me he was with his family not far away when that bomb went off, and described the panic and confusion that followed. Colombians are greatly relieved that the history of violence seems to be behind them once and for all.
Bird sculptures by Fernando Botero, in San Antonio Plaza, Medellin. The one on the left was destroyed by a terrorist bomb that killed 23 people on June 10, 1995. A plaque below gives the names and ages of the victims, several of whom were children. Botero then crafted a replacement to symbolize resistance to political violence, on the right. (March 3)
Oscar enjoys taking long walks at night through the streets of Medellin, and frankly I wasn't entirely comfortable with that. I know the city is not nearly as violence-prone as in the past, but I would have preferred exploring new neighborhoods in the light of day. On Friday night, I asked if we could stop at a night club where live music was being played, and after looking at several places, we finally found just what I was looking for: a solo guitarist playing folk-pop tunes. It was very enjoyable. Oscar told me that he met Colombian guitarist Carlos Vives a few years ago, and I was very impressed! (I play his song "La Gota Fria.")
On my final full day in Medellin, March 4, Oscar and I walked downtown, and then took a taxi to summit of Cerro Nutibara, a hilltop park about a mile to the south. The sun was out all day, which was great for taking photos, but for the first time it actually felt hot in Medellin. We walked around the "Pueblito Paisa" antique village, which reminds me of the Frontier Culture Museum here in Staunton.
Pueblito Paisa, at the top of Cerro Nutibara. (March 4)
While atop Cerro Nutibara, Oscar and I spent a lot of time surveying the surrounding citiscape. We had an almost 360-degree view of the urbanized valley. He enjoyed being able to see his apartment building (about a mile and a half to the northeast) through my binoculars. Nowadays most middle-class people in Medellin live in high-rise buildings, of which there must be over a hundred across the city. I was dumbfounded not just by the modern urban infrastructure, but also by the density of the population. The city planners must know what they are doing.
Medellin centro (downtown) as seen from Cerro Nutibara. (March 4)
Finally, we walked down the big hill (pausing to photograph the many birds, of course), and then walked a few blocks to the Industriales Metro station on the other side of the Medellin River. Oscar wanted to introduce me to some relatives who live on the north side of the city. While in that neighborhood, I photographed the Biblioteca Española (Spanish Library), a big cultural project that had to be closed last year after it was discovered that the foundations of the two buildings are too weak. Temporary straps (like "girdles") keep the buildings stable, but whether they can be repaired is yet unknown. It's a big scandal.
Looking east along 30th Street in Medellin; the Bancolombia building sits on the other side of the Medellin River. (March 4)
To see the complete set of 60+ photos I took in Colombia, including some panoramic shots, please visit the Chronological Photos (2017) page.
The weather changed again the next morning (Sunday, March 5) as I prepared to leave; It was dreary and rainy during most of our ride up to the Medellin airport. I was surprised to see quite a few bicyclists pedaling their way up the steep mountain highway, in spite of the wet conditions. Even in my heyday as a bicyclist, I was never that fanatic! It's a good indication of how popular bicycling as a serious sport has become in Colombia. My Avianca flight took me to Miami, and south Florida will be the subject of my next and final "chapter" in this "travel-blog" trilogy.
As a reference during my travels, I used the 13th and latest edition (Oct. 2016) of Lonely Planet's South America on a Shoestring book. It's very good and comprehensive, but it's much more "mainstream" of a tourist guide than the 2nd edition (May 1983) which I used for my earlier travels to that continent. (Lonely Planet used to cater to budget-conscious backpackers.) My one complaint is that it lacked a map of the Medellin metropolitan area, so I often had my bearings mixed up. I should have looked for a city map to buy while I was there.
Colombia is the eighth country in Latin America that I have visited, out of 20 altogether. That does not include my visit to Belize (1989), which is not Latin, or the brief airport layovers I had in Panama (1997?) and El Salvador (2017). I would hope to visit Cuba and Ecuador in the next couple years, and perhaps Venezuela once the situation there stabilizes. I had a wonderful time during the four days I spent in Colombia, and there's no question about whether I will go back. In fact, the sooner the better!
March 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]
An avalanche of photos from Peru
I really got carried away with posting over 150 bird photos and nearly 100 scenic photos of Peru over the past few days. (And that's not all: There will be even more photos from Colombia and Florida over the next couple days or so.) The word "avalanche" above alludes to the ongoing natural disaster in which heavy flooding over the past few weeks has caused many landslides and road closures. Indeed, those floods prevented me from traveling east of Lima into the mountain region, as I had hoped to do. (See the next-to-last photo below.) The complete set of photos (including seven panoramic views) can be seen on the Chronological photo galleries (2017) page. As an introduction, I present below some of the highlights.
In my report of birding ventures in Peru yesterday, I described my day-to-day activities, so I won't go into any more detail than necessary in this blog post. On my first day in Ventanilla (a suburb located about 15 miles north of Lima), my brother-in-law Roberto took to the beach in Ventanilla, and on the way, we stopped at the Humedales (Wetlands) de Ventanilla, a wonderful nature preserve.
February 20: Ventanilla Humedales sign.
The next day, Roberto and I hiked to the top of the steep ridge that borders Ventanilla on the south, providing spectacular views of Ventanilla. In this photo, the Jacobs' house is just barely off the left edge toward the bottom.
February 21: Ventanilla soccer stadium from top of ridge.
Two days later, we took a drive across Lima to Roberto's house in the district of Surco, on the southeast side of the city. We stopped at beaches in the upscale districts of Miraflores and Chorrillos, enjoying beautiful scenery.
February 23: Boats, private clubs in Chorrillos.
After another two days, I took a solo bus ride through Lima, passing through the heart of Miraflores, where many embassies (and American fast-food establishments) are located. It's quite a contrast to the shanty towns that continue to spread around the metropolitan area, a reminder of the sharp class divisions that make governing Peru (and similar countries) so challenging.
February 25: Miraflores park, playground.
After spending a day of socializing (it was my sister-in-law Nelly's birthday!), Roberto and I returned to the Pantanos de Villa nature preserve, located south of Chorrillos. It was a very successful visit, bird-wise.
February 27: Pantanos de Villa pond, platform.
On my final day in Lima, February 28, I took care of all the normal tourist destinations, in particular the Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima. On the north side is the Palacio del Gobierno, where the President resides, on the east side is the Lima Cathedral, and on the west side is the Lima Municipal Government building. It is a stunningly beautiful place, and I took advantage of the bright sun and clear blue skies. For the first time, I went to the Palacio Legislativo, and was fortunate to be given a guided tour by a knowledgeable staff person there. I learned a lot about Peruvian history and legislative practices.
February 28: Palacio del Gobierno (Where the President resides.)
February 28: Lima Cathedral, Plaza de Armas
February 28: Palacio Legislativo (Where the Congress convenes.)
While in downtown Lima, Roberto and I walked to the other side of the Rio Rimac, which was a raging torrent. I was amazed to see that the water level in the emergency overflow channel is actually higher than the level of the adjacent highway!
February 28: Rio Rimac (flood stage; water above adjacent highway)
At the end of that busy day, we passed by one of the local secondary schools in Ventanilla, and I was delighted to see that its exterior is decorated with images of the nearby wetlands. It was very reassuring to learn that people in Peru are conscious of the precious heritage of nature with which they are blessed, and of the need to conserve it.
February 28: Victor Andres Belaunde school, in Ventanilla.
February 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Just a (music) blog before I go...
As I prepare to head for the Southern Hemisphere (see the February 15 section below), I thought it would be appropriate to invoke a nice Crosby, Stills, and Nash song that I have not yet learned: "Just a Song Before I Go." Here's a quick summary of the songs I have played at Open Mic Night (held at Queen City Brewing and formerly hosted by the now-disbanded Staunton Music Guild) since the beginning of this year:
- "The Sound of Silence" -- Simon & Garfunkle
- "Desperado" -- Eagles
- "Colorado Song **" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Pink Houses" -- John Cougar Mellencamp
- "Time In a Bottle" -- Jim Croce
- "Only Want To Be With You" -- Hootie & the Blowfish
- "We Can Work It Out" -- Beatles
- "Country Girl **" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Sister Golden Hair" -- America
On the eve of the presidential inauguration, my set list was inspired in part by the troubling times our nation is currently in. The audience was small but we still had a rockin' good time.
- "The Boxer" -- Simon & Garfunkle
- "Love Is Blue" -- Paul Mauriot Orchestra
- "The Last Time" -- Rolling Stones
- "We'll Meet Again" -- Vera Miles
- "Day Tripper" -- Beatles
- "Already Gone" -- Eagles
Once again, my selection of songs was motivated by contemporary world events.
- "Refugee" -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
- "Come Together" -- The Beatles
- "Never Goin' Back Again" -- Fleetwood Mac
- "It Couldn't Be Better" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Standing On the Rock" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "California Dreamin'" -- Mamas & the Papas
Yours truly, playing "Come Together" at Queen City Brewing. (Screen grab from the video taken by Jacqueline.)
- "Rocky Mountain High" -- John Denver
- "Carry On" -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- "The Chain" -- Fleetwood Mac
- "The Ballad of Adlai" -- Andrew Clem
- "Paperback Writer" -- Beatles
- "Sandman" -- America
- "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" * -- Linda Ronstadt
- "New Kid In Town" -- Eagles
- "Peaceful Easy Feeling" * -- Eagles
The themes were Valentine's Day and my impending visit to South America, which is the subject of the wacky song "Southern Cross." For some reason, I kind of messed up on "Eight Miles High," but otherwise the songs went pretty well. You never know.
- "Love Will Keep Us Alive" -- Eagles
- "Camelot" -- Lerner & Lowe / R. Burton
- "Guinnevere" -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- "Southern Cross" -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- "Eight Miles High" -- The Byrds
- "Turn the Page" -- Bob Seger
The Music page has been updated accordingly. Whew!
To see previous blog entries, go to the Culture & Travel archives page.