Saturday, March 26, 2011

Limited Time Only

Check out The cover of the current on-line issue, free, shows a huge field of poppies in front of a motorhome. The location is the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, Lancaster, Calif. The motorhome is mine, and the photo is my work. On page 14 is my story on wildflower locations in the southwest. This isn't looking like a great wildflower year in AZ or the desert region of S. Calif as there hasn't been much rain. The photos are from previous years, naturally to meet editors time tables. Last year was a pretty good year. Some of those photos, plus additional ones are on my blog of April 13, 2010. Hoping wildflowers may be better further north where there has been ample rain.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pi Day

On 3-14 at 1:59 pm I celebrated Pi Day by eating a home baked peach, cranberry and walnut pie.

Mark your calendars for 3.14159 in 2012 and use the date to indulge a bit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Journey to Ecuador

In mid-January I headed to Ecuador. It is a beautiful country, has great diversity of landscape, cultures, wildlife, and lifestyles. A half dozen or so blog postings follow this one highlighting some of the areas I visited in Ecuador. They include photos and some text on the ancient Inca and Canari ruins at Ingapirca to the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, from the indigenous cultures and crafts of Otavalo to the hummingbirds and butterflies of the Mindo rain forest, from the bustling modern metropolis of Quito to the quieter streets of Cuenca and small towns, and from hot springs to Panama Hats, to the people of the country.

So, why Ecuador? Besides the fact I hadn't traveled in South America before, the specific reason for Ecuador at this point, was an invitation from fellow Yellowstone employees Ana Maria Castro and Ted Wacker. This wonderful couple, one from Ecuador, one from Oregon, met and married in Yellowstone. I met Ted first, during driver training in 2008. I could go on to tell you that Ted and I shared a cabin during training. In actuality he and Don shared a room, I had the room next door but we shared the shower facility.

I was invited to Ted and Ana Maria's wedding, but had to drive that day. But at the end of my tour, before refueling the bus, I drove by the Lake Lodge where the reception was winding down on the front porch.

Ana Maria and Ted met me at the airport in Quito and drove me to their condo overlooking the city. That was my base for my three-and-a-half week stay. Most often we traveled together. Occasionally I took off on my own while they had other plans. I was included in family gatherings and some of Ana Maria's many mini-reunions. It gave me a closer look at life in modern Ecuador than I would have had as a tourist.

So, here are some photos, a little text, and a lead into all the other postings which follow. The photo at the top is of Quito in the evening. Dusk comes slowly and is accompanied by lights coming on. We sat on the balcony of a small restaurant, sipping hot chocolate with cheese. Chunks of cheese are added to the hot chocolate. Sounds strange, but it is tasty, although Ana Maria said the cheese the restaurant used wasn't soft enough to melt properly. can enlarge photos by clicking on the one you want to see enlarged. And when you get to the bottom of the page, you can go to the earlier page to see the other Ecuador postings.

Birthday party for Ted (end of table) and Elsie (far left) who is Ana Maria's sister. Other faces that show are sister Susy and son Francisco. His wife of whom only the shiny black hair shows is expecting Ana Maria's first grandson in April.

The birthday party included the 4 sisters and their adult children, spouses and some girlfriend\boyfriends. Javier, standing, is Ana Maria's son. Jose, seated, hopes to work in Yellowstone this summer.

Ana Maria worked for many years at the US Embassy in Quito. This was a gathering of some of the women she worked with. The setting for both parties was Achiote Restaurant, which belongs to her sister Lucy and her husband and sons. Great family, great restaurant. I had several occassions to converse with the sons on topics ranging from photography to education to food. Ana Maria also worked in the Peace Corp headquarters in Ecuador. We had a gathering of some of the former Peace Corp volunteers who married and stayed in the country. Fun, interesting groups of people.

Scenes around the city. There are plenty of open squares and parks where people gather. The large billboards in the scene above relate to the recent declaration of Quito as a World Heritage site. There are taxis everywhere, streets are narrow, and pedestrians must use caution as they do not have the right of way as I am used to. The building above the cabs was once the home of Ana Maria's great-grandparents. The statue is the Winged Virgin which overlooks the city. You can also see it in the dusk shot of Quito that begins this blog posting.

This view is from Javier's apartment. (The family calls him Javi). Like San Francisco, Quito is built on hills, with plenty of steep, winding roads, staircases, and traffic congestion. Families enjoy one of the squares on the way home from school.

Below, some of the people around town.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rural views and small towns

Above is the small town of Ingapirca. I am standing at the ruins of the Canari Temple of the Moon and looking toward the town.

Elderly woman on a rural road

My hosts extraordinaire, Ana Maria and Ted

Ted, holding up the street sign. We were visiting some of the smaller towns around Otavalo. This is typical of the older cities and towns, cobblestone streets, colonial buildings, attractive places to walk, pleasant town squares and plazas, often in front of cathedrals and churches.

Today this hacienda is a bed and breakfast style inn. At one time it belonged to AnaMaria's maternal grandparents. We stopped just for a walk around. This is in the northern part of the Ecuadorian highlands, not far from Ibarra.

Rural area with llama. It was the wet season while I was there. We didn't have much rain, but often had clouds, fog, and sprinkles.

Roads are often cobblestone. This is true not just in rural areas like this, but in the older parts of the cities.

Peeking through the open door of a convent.

AnaMaria's second cousin and her sons own this farm. Today the main crop is roses for export to Russia. They are also raising some race horses. Veba fixed lunch for us, knowing we were stopping on our way to one of our explorations. Chino took Ted and me on a tour of the farm.

This is one of the small towns near Otovalo and is famous for its weavings.

Tile rooftop with agricultural fields in the distance. Crops are grown on steep hillsides....these are mild compared to many I saw.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cuenca Street Scenes

Cuenca is a beautiful, colonial city in the southern highlands of Ecuador. Smaller than the capitol of Quito, it does not have the high rises or the fast pace of the big city. Quito is a modern, active city and lots of fun. But Cuenca is more laid back and it is not hard to see why it has become popular with ex-pats. I didn't have a lot of time there, and one day was taken with the trip to Ingapirca, but I enjoyed strolling the streets in the central part of town. I was a bit taken aback however, when police cars with lights flashing and army trucks came rushing through. I was even more alarmed when I saw men in fatigues, carrying weapons, jump from one of the trucks. I don't speak Spanish, and the woman in the shop door spoke no English, but she sensed my alarm. "El Presidente" she said, and smiled. And just then, a cavalcade came around the corner, and I waved and made eye contact with the President. But I failed to take a photo. Guess I was surprised to have him so close. I had a similar experience, years ago, in Mexico, with my cousin Bonnie. We had spent the day in Tlaquepaque and were returning to Guadalajara only to be met on every corner by armed soldiers. It was a meeting of the the governors of the states of Mexico. I've seen the security in the US for leaders, but somehow it is always a bit scarier in other countries, where you are not familiar with customs and language to see such activity. But only for a couple minutes. As soon as I realized all the people on the streets were calm, I knew I needed be alarmed. Street markets are the norm.

This is an inside food market. The stalls have the same umbrellas one expects on the streets, but the entire area in covered with a plexiglass type dome.

Huge tile mirror on government building which depicts the live, crops, crafts of the region

note the baby on the back who has grabbed the scarve of the woman who is not the one carrying it.
cell phones are ubiquitous. Never do we get away from the ringing, the conversations. Guess I sound like an old geezer, but there was a time when you left home or the office, you could actually get away and have some peace and quiet. I still have it at Yellowstone, but cell phone service is coming to the Lake area. AGH!