Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Found Land!

Newfoundland native Alfred with the gigantic iceberg we
saw in Trinity Harbour, Newfoundland.
(click on any image to see a larger version)

Thursday, July 7, 2008 L'Anse aux Meadows, NFLD

Today dawned beautiful and sunny, the third in a row after many days of rain, and the first without high winds. We took advantage of the break in the weather to book ourselves on an iceberg, whale and birdwatching cruise out of St. Anthony, high on the west side of Newfoundland. The icebergs were easy--there were two just outside the harbor. We were impressed, although our guides told us that a couple of weeks ago they were 8 times as large. The ones were were looking at now had been on their way for up to three years, and would be history in another month. In the meantime the water (we tasted a chip) and oxygen they contain had been frozen for 1000 years and was the purest on earth.

We had just about given up on sighting a whale and were returning to port when one blew about 1/4 mile away. We gave chase, and the whale obliged us with several flipper waves and a full broach before we had to turn away. Unfortunately the boat was gyrating so much to keep in touch with the whale and to give everyone of the 50 of us aboard a view that we were unable to get any really good photos.

Cape Bonavista Harbour with a replica of the ship Mathew that
John Cabot (an Italian, real name Giovanni Caboto, Angie points out) landed from in 1497 (the first European to set foot on the American continent since the Vikings).

There have been quite a few surprises in Newfoundland. For one thing, where we expected to see weathered shingle sided buildings such as are common in Maine and New Brunswick, here on the western side of the island all of the houses were neat, mostly white, vinyl sided bungalows.
Wood and paint do not stand up well to the weather here, and for the last 30 years (shortly after the first highway connected all of the fishing villages), all the the new houses have been built with vinyl siding and most of the old ones have been resided.

The highway has brought another interesting feature. In most places, the soil is too thin over the rock to allow cultivation. So people plant gardens along side the road, where the ground was broken up to create the roadbed. They stake out their rectangle (it's Queen's land, we were told, but she doesn't seem to mind), build a fence to keep out the moose and caribou, and plant their potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and cabbages. Also along the highways we saw huge stacks of firewood. Men go into the bush in the winter time, cut their wood and haul it to the side of the road on sleds pulled by snowmobiles. Each stack is marked with the owner's permit number--and nobody bothers it.

Tickle Cove (A tickle is a narrow entrance to a cove or harbor where
the rocks are said to tickle the keel of the boats as they come in).
Be sure to click on this image to see the full panorama!

July 10, 2008 Twillingate, Newfoundland "Death of an Iceberg"

Highway 1 stretches from Port aux Basques, on the southwest corner of the island, 550 miles to St John's, on the far east end. It is the aorta from which secondary arteries stretch out to the southern coast and north up the peninsulas that reach out toward Labrador and the Atlantic Ocean. In Twillingate, an archipelago of islands jutting into the Atlantic from one of these peninsulas, we get directions to the town dump. We follow the pavement almost to the end, then turn down a gravel road that winds through rocky crags with glimpses of the ocean in the background. What a place for a dump! "It looks like Corsica," Francoise had told us at the campground. (Francoise, petite, 60 years old with jet black hair, had hitched here from Quebec City carrying her 35 pound pack.) Acrid smoke from an incinerator and a congregation of gulls told us we had arrived at the dump, and we pulled La Gitana off to the side of the road and followed a path over the rocky hillocks toward the ocean. Suddenly we saw it, looking something like the turret and superstructure of a dazzling white submarine that had somehow drifted into the bay and foundered.
Rockscape at the dump, Twillingate, NFLD

The iceberg began its journey in Greenland maybe three years ago, splitting off a sea level glacier that had already spent a thousand years working its way down to the sea. The water frozen into the ice and the air bubbles trapped in it are the purest on earth, uncontaminated by polymers and preservatives. You can buy the water in local shops for a couple of bucks a bottle. After breaking off from the glacier, the iceberg drifted across the sea and down the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, until it was pushed by wind and tide into this bay. While we are watching and photographing it, we hear a tremendous crack, then another. The iceberg is beginning to break apart. One end seems to be rising and falling with the waves, independently of the other. It is obviously aground. The next morning we think the iceberg has disappeared; we don't see it until we are at the edge of the cliffs. What is left of it has been pushed up into the point of the bay. Pieces of it dot the harbor. In a few days it will be gone completely.

A panorama showing Norris Point on a fjord near Gross Morne National Park, in the west of Newfoundland. (You may have to use your slider to see all of this one!)

July 19, 2008

On our last day in St. John's we went to the top of Signal Hill, the only point from which you can see both the ocean and the city, one of the oldest European settlements on the continent. From here, in the days of sailing ships, merchants' agents were stationed to fly signal flags when a ship bound for that particular merchant was approaching port. A character in a novel (The Navigator from New York) takes her nephew/foster son up signal hill and points out to him the directions of England, Canada, The United States. "They don't know we exist," she tells him. We felt a little the same way. Before coming here, Newfoundland seemed a wild, remote place. Once we arrived we found it full of surprises. For example, where we expected "quaint fishing villages" we found settlements of neatly kept houses.
In this region on the west side of Newfoundland, nearly all of the fishing dories are painted this same orange color. "It's tradition," a fisherman here in Little Cove told us. "It's an easy color to see if the fisherman has trouble at sea and needs to call for help. But the orange paint has become scarce, and now some of the new boats are white or blue."

As you travel from the west, the sparsest settled and most "unspoiled" (if such a term can be applied to Newfoundland) side of the province, the terrain and the nature of the towns change, as do the accents of the people, but one thing that doesn't seem to change is the friendliness and openness of the Newfoundlanders.
When we went down to Dunfield, near Trinity, to see the huge iceberg we had heard was there, we ran into Alfred, who was sitting of a log talking to a couple of other tourists. "Is this your land we're trespassing on to take our photographs?" we asked him. "In Dunfield, you can walk anywhere you like," he replied.

Street in St. John's, Newfoundland

Fish houses and lobster pots. The yellow wildflowers covered the island!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Land of Wonders

On Abraham Lincoln's birthday we crossed the border at Reynosa and McAllen, and after a week in Texas, we passed over into New Mexico and reentered the United States. During all of this time we have been traveling through border country known as "the frontera," a land more Hispanic and Indian than Anglo. It is wonderful country, for its natural beauty as well for its cultural mix and man-made wonders. We can't deny the pleasure of smooth highways and super clean, well stocked (with soap and toilet paper) bathrooms. Not that these things don't exist in Mexico. We are finding them more and more often, especially in the newer Pemex gasoline stations: but you can't count on them. When we pull into a park or campground in Mexico, Angie designates herself as "the bathroom patrol," taking it upon herself to make sure that the facilities are adequately clean and functional.

Today we are poised on the brink of a defunct open pit copper mine in Bisbee, Arizona. You can't believe the impact that seeing this for the first time has on you. It's a mix of the kind of awe one has upon first viewing the Grand Canyon (or the Barrancas de Cobre or Chiricahua Nat'l Monument--see below), and the horror of witnessing the destruction we have wreaked on the environment, all the while knowing that it is our need for and dependence on the earth's resources that has caused this destruction. Bisbee itself is a fascinating town full of artists, colorful people and colorful buildings. We met Allberto Lucero, who calls himself a llanero, part hispanic and part indio, in a parking lot where he was working as an attendant. In his lifetime he has been a soldier (a Viet Nam vet) cowboy, actor, story teller and now author of a book of stories his greargrandmother, who lived to be 102, told him.

We missed a bit of border country drama this morning. On the highway below where we are camped, a white car forced a van off the road. Soon the van was hemmed in by white and green SUV's, the vehicle used by the border patrol, and there were a dozen or so Mexicans sitting along the edge of the road, waiting to be hauled away--victims of a failed attempt to reach the promised land (or as Willie Nelson sings, "the broken promise land.")

One of our favorite spots here was the town of Truth or Consequences, just because it is so quirky. T or C is little more than a village with two main streets, actually one making a loop, about six blocks long. It was originally called Geronimo Springs but changed its name to satisfy the producder of a radio quiz show about 58 years ago. Well, you'd think a in a town named after a quiz show people would have some answers, but when we asked directions (trying to find an artists' party we had heard about), nobody seemed to know the names of the streets or the location of one of the biggest and most colorful (purple) buildings in town. We found the party, the annual meeting of the local artists' association, and met a lot of interesting people. We concluded that there are two kinds of people--poles apart--in T or C: artists, intellectuals, and bohemian types on one hand, and on the other, people who had just filtered down out of the mountains where they's been holed up for about a hundred years. We camped in a low end trailer park (Angie vetoes the term tr***** tr***) for $16, which included a soak in the naturral hot springs baths and enjoyed it so much that we stayed a second night. But this time, because the winds were so strong that we were afraid to put the top up on La Gitana, we stayed in the Charles Motel and Spa, which also included hot tubs, all for $37.

We could easily spend months exploring the natural wonders of this little section of New Mexico and Arizona, weeks on any one of them. Maybe the most astounding to us were the rock formations and grottoes of Chiricahua National Monument, partly because in this little chain of mountains between two deserts they were so unexpected. We hiked until we were exhausted, shooting endlessly, knowing that in no photo would we be able to capture the impression this rugged and beautiful land was having on us.

After seeing Patagonia and Arivaca, we plan to check out two of the other wonders of this part of the world, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, before heading for Ann Arbor. Hope you are all well and those of you in the northland have been able to dig out from under the latest snowfall.

Love from the Fotogypsies

Oh, the picture at the top? A castoff mannequin from the Queen Copper Mine tour.

The Fotogypsies in Oaxaca

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Falling in Love again with Oaxaca

If you read our report from Oaxaca two years ago, you know how disappointed we were with the changes that were being made in the city. But most important you'll remember that the three Triqui girls that we were helping to go to school had, because of the terrible economic conditions here, dropped school and gone to Mexico City with their family to try to eke out an existance there. Well, they're back! Our first day in the Zocalo, Catalina, the mother, and Angela Flor, the youngest (and our godchild) "discovered" us, Angela Flor, happily shouting "Padrino, Madrina!" We were just as happy to see her as she was to see us, and especially when we learned that she and her older sister Chela were back in school. Meli Erika, the oldest at 14, didn't feel comfortable starting the fifth grade again, but may go to summer school to catch up.

We're getting used to the changes here. The Zocalo, or main plaza, which was ripped up and totally remodeled two years ago, is still one of the prettiest, if not the prettiest, in Mexico, surrounded by cafes where you can sit with a cafecita or a beer and watch the world go by. Cosmetically and hygenically it is improved, though there are some bizarre touches, like the fact that the all of the garden areas, and there are many, are planted with poinsettias in pots. They are pretty, but there are so many beautiful flowering plants in Mexico, that a little variety would be nice. Why pots? Because in a month or so, the will all be pulled, and something else will be planted in their place. All of this would be great, except that we know that what Oaxaca needs more than anything else is a new water system, and also that all of the money that is currently going into beautifying the city is ending up in the pockets of the governor's family and friends. The PRI party, which was ousted nationally when Vincente Fox was elected, still has its grip on Oaxaca, which is what all the ruckus was about in 2006. Unfortunately there is still fear and discontent among the locals here, although the scene is very quiet as far as tourists are concerned.

We've been been haveing a great time connecting up with all of our friends here. Lulu, the singer whom we met at Tres Patios with Memo the piano player 10 years ago, Memo, Pablo, the guitar player pictured in our "La Gente" gallery with Miguel SanPierre, the saxophonist at "El Sol y La Luna." Unfortunately these two jazz clubs don't exist any longer, but we did get to hear Pablo and Miguel in a quartet at a house party.

One of the friends that we admire most here is Andres, the stepgrandfather of our three "ahijadas." The whole family came to Oaxaca after they were driven off their lands in the mountains in a dispute that the government fomented because the land was valuable for coffee plantations. The father of Luis, who is the father of the three girls was shot and killed when he was two. Luis's mother married Andres, who was also shot twice in the back. So Andres is in a wheel chair. But by selling newspapers on the street, then selling merchandise wherever he could, he's managed to acquire a decent house for himself, as well as some property in the barrios on the side of Monte Alban. These would be considered in the slums by any standard, but for Andres, owning them is quite an accomplishment. Fortunately for them, Luis, Catalina, and the children share the house in town with Andres and Marcelina. Andres is one of the cheeriest people we know. He loves to play his guitar (his playing is about two steps above Shakey Jake's), and to practice his English with us. . (English is his third language, after Triqui and Spanish.) His dream has been to drive a car, and this past year he was able to buy one with hand controls. He says "Everyday I wake up and see the sun I thank God to be alive." We try to practice the same attitude!

Love to all from the Fotogypsies!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Halls of Moctezuma and "Ashes and Snow": Two days in Mexico City

The Halls of Moctezuma

We are standing in front of a magnificent building across from the Cathedral in Mexico City, a building we hadn’t really noticed before. The plate next to the portal says this was where Moctezuma (called Montezuma in the US) lived in the sixteenth century when the Spaniards wrested the area form the Aztecs (or according to some, when Moctezuma betrayed them and handed the country over to the enemy.) We can see down the long corridor that runs through the building all of the way to the next block, and realize there are numerous rooms off to each side with interesting architectural details. Over the portal it says Monte de Piedad (mountain—or meadow—of piety). Intrigued, we go inside, and are even more intrigued by what we see there. Some rooms are filled with art objects, a whole room dedicated to the art of Oaxaca, others with showcases of jewelry, one specifically to diamonds. But other rooms are full of people standing in long lines leading to what look like cashiers or ticket windows. And in one room they are sitting in chairs in front of screens like the Arrivals and Departures screens in airports, showing numbers that look like lottery numbers. The walls of all of the rooms are formed of beautiful stone, in various patterns that suggest that they might have been built at different times. Finally, consumed by curiosity, we ask the woman attending the Oaxaca room what is going on. “Empeño”—this is the national pawn shop! Only in Mexico!

“Ashes and Snow”

The Zocalo, or main plaza, of Mexico City, unlike that of Oaxaca and many other cities we have visited, is one big open stoned paved square, surrounded by the Cathedral, the Palacia del Gobierno, and other impressive buildings. A big, totally empty square. Except the day we arrive in Mexico City, it isn’t. Almost half of the plaza, which takes up what would be a very large city block, is occupied by a wondrous building made entirely of bamboo and what look like box car sides. And there are people lined up to get into the building, snaking back and forth, filling the whole rest of the Zocalo and then surrounding the building itself. Even for a Sunday, this is an amazing sight. They are all lined up to get into a photography exhibit by Gregory Colbert, which has been mounted in this magnificent structure called the Nomadic Museum, designed by the Colombian architect Simon Vélez. We can’t begin to adequately describe this exhibit, except to say that the zen like images up to 12 by 20 feet and hung over water in bamboo alcoves in halls that resembled a bamboo cathedral, took our breath away when we saw it the next day. And to judge by what we saw, it had the same effect on the thousands of Mexicans who shared the experience with us. You can see the images at and though it won’t be the same as seeing the images with thousands of others in the bamboo cathedral, you will get the idea. The exhibit is sponsored by Rollex and the Mexican government and free to the public. Only in Mexico!

BTW we first learned of this exhibit through the Ann Arbor Camera Club. We feel incredibly lucky to have been in Mexico City when it was there. It will be in Mexico until the end of April. It’s worth flying down to see it, or if it ever comes to a city near you. . .

Sanctuario El Rosario, Michoacan

ANAYELLI and SOFIA in Maruata, playing in a large clay jar that their mother had made.


We had driven up, up, up over a stone and brick road for 12 miles. Now we were in a large field that serves as a parking lot, facing a steep path lined with wood stalls where women were cooking or arranging souvenirs and memorabilia. As we started up the path, lugging along camera packs and a tripod, an Indian woman with a large bundle of bamboos sticks about four feet long stopped us. "Buy a walking stick," she said. "You'll need it before you reach the top." We were skeptical, but handed over two ten peso coins (about two dollars) and took the sticks. After making it through the rows of booths that traversed the mountain side for about a half mile, slightly out of breath, we reached the entry to the sanctuary, where we paid 35 pesos a piece for entry and were assigned our guide, Jose, a nineteen year old boy. "It's two kilometers from here," he told us, and set off up a series of concrete stairs, broken every dozen or so steps by a rocky path. We were huffing from the altitude and the steepness, so that Jose had to stop often to wait for us. Not too far along, Jim asked him for help carrying the tripod, which he cheerfully agreed to do. After about a half hour climbing the stairs, all 650 of them, Jose turned to us and said, ''This is half way." We could see why the stairs stopped there. From then on the trail was narrow, twisting, and steep. Further on we reached a beautiful open flat spot called the llano de conejos (plain of the rabbits). It was great to catch our breath before we trudged on. Here we started seeing a few Monarchs. Jose pointed out a spot just off the trail where there was a spring. Butterflies carpeted the ground there drinking the water.
We finally made it to the end of the trail, where an area was marked off so that we and other pilgrims could watch the butterflies without doing them too much harm. The monarchs looked like leaves on the surrounding trees, until the sun warms them enough so that the can descend. Soon, with the sun shining through the tall trees, they were fluttering all around us and sometimes landing on us. We watched in wonder at the swarms of color, in awe that it takes 3 or 4 generations for these butterfiles to make the round trip from the Great Lakes and Canada here to Mexico and back.

Two hours later, down at the bottom, we saw the woman selling cane walking sticks. "You were right," we said."We needed them." Coming down we saw many climbers who had only made it half way and gave up. We were proud and thrilled to have witnessed this spectacular scene. Angie had the bright idea to ask the stick woman if she would buy our sticks back for half price. She seemed stunned--no one had ever asked her that before--but then agreed and gave us 10 pesos for the two sticks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Paradise on the Pacific: 2008 edition

"Maruata: Paradise on the Pacific"

On January 6, The Day of the Kings in Mexico (El Dia de los Reyes) and the last day of Navidad, we sat eating fish with Warry (see the archive from 2006) under our awning decorated with the green battery operated Christmas lights that Mary, our friend, house sitter and cat nanny, gifted us with before we left Ann Arbor. We were listening to the PKO Ensemble playing Christmas music through the iPod and van radio. The frequency the transmitter chose to broadcast on was 89.1 fm, WEMU! (Sherry was off seeing ex-officio daughter-in-law and grandson off on a plane from Guadalajara.)

We are camped underneath an almond tree, and every once in a while one of the fruits, a little bigger than a golf ball, will hit the ground or bounce off the roof of the van and startle us. Good thing they're not coconuts! We are surrounded by four huge coco trees, which give us lots of shade and keep La Gitana cool. Earlier this year Warry paid some of the local kids fifty pesos (about five bucks) to scale the trees and knock down all of the coconuts that might be a problem. They didn't get them all, but the van is parked so hopefully any that fall won't hit us.

Maruata's "resort area" is a collection of slab-sided cabañas and palm thatched palapas scattered along three beaches and connected by a meandering maze of trails and dirt two tracks. A creek which at this time of the year can be easily forded, separates the beach area from the main village, which is made up of similar huts and outbuildings with a few cement block tiendas arranged around the town plaza and extending up to the highway. Thirty years aso there was no highway here, and electricity only arrived 12 years ago.

Horses, burros, chickens, and pigs wander more or less freely around the village, along with the buzzards, egrets and other exotic fauna. A few years ago the "presidente" of the village decreed that the pigs were a nuisance and stay on the village side of the creek, but evidently someone forgot to tell the pigs.

Don Elodio, our host, is 89 years old. His horse died, so he no longer mounts ever day to go manage his herd of a dozen or so cattle. In fact, Warry says he does almost nothing, but he guesses when he gets to be 89 he probably won't do much either. As it is, Warry, former commercial fisnerman, steelworker, restauranteur, with one armed paralyzed, goes fishing every day, with mask, snorkel and wet suit, often far out to sea, and almost always returns with two or more fish. He gives most of it away to the villagers, and in return they stop by with baked goods and other local commodities. Warry came in two days ago with a giant Dorado, one of the biggest he's ever gotten. The local kids call him Neptuno.

Another resident of our campsite.

Maruata is considered a "special spot" by Mexican hippies and new agers. One night we climbed "sunset rock" to see the sunset, and were lucky enough to see a whale lleisurely swimming by, obviously feeding because he was blowing and trumpeting frequently, all the while accompanied by this flute player.

Every time we visit Maruata, we stay a little longer and it's a little harder to leave. If we ever drop entirely out of sight, you will know where to look for us.

El Dedo of Dios (The finger, or as Warry claims, the toe, of God).

Love to you all from the Fotogypsies!