Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, Day 365 - Adieu

Tonight we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome 2014.  I can only hope that next year is as good to me as this year has been.  My business grew, the health of my friends and family was generally good, I got to travel, my dogs have mostly avoided unexpected vet visits, and life has been good.  So I will celebrate the generosity of the past year and give a warm welcome to the next.  I wish all of you health and happiness as you pursue your dreams and ambitions!

Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, 1/2 sec @ 200 ISO

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013, Day 364 - Camo fail

I love animals of all sorts but when I travel I find that I get rather obsessed with insects and reptiles.  It seems a shame that we are not awash with lizard in the Pacific Northwest and with all the spiders and abundant insect life here it seems ideally suited for them but alas it is not to be.  So I have to get my fix when I travel to the tropics and Mexico, especially the Yucatan, is just alive with lizards.  We saw monsters six feet long and tiny babies only a couple inches long.  They were everywhere and some even posed for us, this guy we found in the ruins at Coba and he was quite content to sit while we took turns taking his picture.  What a handsome little devil!

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/40 sec @ 400 ISO

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013, Day 363 - Gliding

On a stormy afternoon while visiting the Yucatan we went to Puerto Morelos.  It is a small town whose major draw is scuba diving but the weather wasn't really conducive to diving so we walked along the beach.  There were a lot of bird on the two small docks and the high winds allowed them to merely spread their wings and be whipped into the air.  It was a lot of fun to watch and we spent a good half hour observing the birds take off and land.  After a while it was so windy that it didn't feel safe to be out on the dock so we retreated to have a little dinner.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4, 1/1600 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013, Day 362 - Washing

I took this picture when we visited Sian Ka'an.  It is a UNSECO World Heritage site and an area of enormous biodiversity.  Many threatened and endangered species, both local and migratory, use this area and their continued survival depends on the preservation of Sian Ka'an.  On this particular day we had been out to see dolphins and do a little snorkeling but the light clouds of the morning soon began to darken and as they blotted out the sun we decided head back into town before the rain started.  Unfortunately we got caught on the rutted and muddy dirt roads after dark which made the trip longer but in the end it was a fun adventure.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, 13 sec @ 200 ISO

2013, Day 361 - Counting

Apparently I am off by at least a day on my numbering for the purposes of my blog.  I should really pay more attention but I often blog in the evening and I admit that there are often distractions keeping me from really focusing on the task at hand.  Nevertheless, I don't think I've missed a day this year but that too might need to be checked but it should probably wait until it isn't late and when I am a little more lucid.

Until then I share with you a starry picture of the beach at Playa del Carmen.  The moon caused a bit of flare but I like the effect and I don't find it distracting; to my eye it is a little detail that is easily missed but that rewards the careful viewer.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f2.8, 30 sec @ 400 ISO

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013, Day 359 - Architectural snowflake

When I was in Mexico visiting Xochicalco they had a nice little museum which I visited after the site itself.  The day was getting hot and it was nice to be inside as the sun reached its zenith.  Inside I found this ceiling and loved the geometric simplicity.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 500 ISO

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013, Day 358 - Iconic ice

Even though there have been a number of shots of Multnomah Falls in the winter I am sharing my version.  It was cold and beautiful and there was almost no one there so it rather nice even though my fingers were getting chilled.  There are so many good vantage points but I think I like this view the best of all of them.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
35mm, f11, HDR of 1/5, 0.4, 0.8, 1.6, and 3.2 sec @ 100 ISO

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013, Day 357 - Clear coat

This evening I am dreaming of a white Christmas and am revisiting my trip out to Ruckle Creek a few weeks ago when we had a really good cold spell.  The flowing water froze to the landscape and it became an icy shell encasing the creek.  It was quite magical and I think I am ready for some more true winter weather.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, merged layers of 1.3, 2.5, 5, and 10 sec @ 100 ISO

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013, Day 356 - Concentrating

Today I got to catch up with my brother and my nephew Orion.  The best part about being an uncle is getting the kids to do all the things their parents hate, teaching them nonsense, and making them pose for pictures.  I am sure that in the near future he will be much more reluctant to be my photographic subject but while he is willing I intend to take advantage of it and I suspect my brother and sister-in-law appreciate the efforts.

My sister Laura helped me to get Orion to follow directions.  I wanted him to make funny faces and he struggled initially but soon Laura was behind me modeling the faces and he mimicked her.  After he went to play quieting and I pursued with my camera but he didn't mind.  Below is one of him sitting quietly looking for the right toy to play with and below is an animated GIF of him being goofy.

Canon 1D X, Canon 50/f1.2L
50mm, f1.4, 1/250 sec @ 2500 ISO

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013, Day 355 - Gradual descent

I was on the road today, with the holidays almost here it is time to visit the family.  When I left Portland it was dark and hours later it was still dark, I guess that's to be expected on the second shortest day of the year.  As I crossed the border into California the skies were dark but soon the temperatures started to climb and at one point it was seventy five degrees; that's not what I consider appropriate weather for the holidays.  In fact there was almost no snow on the ground and I don't think there is going to be any in the near future.  While that's good news for travel it is bad news for my holiday spirit.  I suppose I will just have to soak up the warm weather while I can.

Canon EOS M, Canon 22/f2 STM
22mm, f5.6, 1/1000 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013, Day 354 - Sneaky guide

When we visited Teotihuacan we were the first people to arrive.  It is always nice to beat the crowd and when we got out of the car this little man was waiting for us.  He was all smiles and kept bouncing in circles around us as we walked eager to have friends visit.  While touring the first part of the archeological site he followed us, ran ahead of us, climbed pyramids with us, and kept checking to make sure we were coming.  He was such a happy guy and I like this picture of him, his spots blending in with all the little rocks set in the mortar by archeologists to show that they have already investigated and restores those areas.  After being gone for a couple weeks it was nice to have a dog friend even if it was just for the morning.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
34mm, f4, 1/320 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013, Day 353 - Subterranean shortcut

While visiting Guanajuato we went on a walking tour and along the way we had to walk through a couple different tunnels.  The city is built between a series of large hills and given its mining past, and present as well, the shortest and easiest way to connect the city as it grew was through the use of tunnels.  They were designed for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic and because the ground is stone the stonework employed is quite impressive.  As you can see here, there are stairs leading in and out so that people on foot don't have to go too far out of their way when they employ these subterranean shortcuts.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
35mm, f4, merged layers of 1/125 and 1/30 sec @ 250 ISO

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013, Day 352 - Lonely

I've been enjoying all of the winter weather at home that I've been neglecting the photos from my recent travels.  This is one of the side streets in Guanajuato.  It wasn't as deserted as this photo would have you believe, I just waited until there were no pedestrians to take my shot.  Despite the foot traffic is was rather peaceful although you could hear the lively chatter of people eating dinner only a couple streets away.  I found Guanajuato utterly charming and wished that we had a solid week to spend exploring and photographs like this reinforce my desire to go back and do just that.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, merged layers of 0.8, 1.6, 3.2, and 6 sec @ 200 ISO

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013, Day 351 - Vestiges

Although it is still technically fall it has seemed a lot like winter.  Unfortunately I missed the color again this year but it was a fair trade to be able to travel.  Still, when I see a little bit of color holding on I want to capture it, preserve it for just a little bit longer, to make up for what I missed.

Fujifilm X-E2, Fuji 18-55/f2.8-4R OIS
55m, f4, 1/1200 sec @ 200 ISO

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013, Day 350 - Early bird

Last week as the Pacific NW was in the fading grip of the freezing weather system that passed through I made a morning excursion into the Columbia River Gorge.  My starting point was Vista House as the previous morning we had been treated to the most spectacular sunrise.  Unfortunately the event was not repeated but I did get a nice sunrise over one of my recent favorite starry night locations.  So this evening I share with you a different take on Vista House.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, merged layers of 0.3, 1.3, and 5 sec @ 320 ISO

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013, Day 349 - Departed

A couple days ago I was headed from one appointment to another and because I was running early I decided to stop off at Lone Fir Cemetery.  It is a 19th century cemetery that is on that National Register of Historic Places.  There are over 25,000 graves in Lone Fir but the occupants of over 10,000 are unknown due to poor record keeping and a lack of maintenance over the years.  Many notable people are buried here, the doctor who is the namesake of Hawthorne Street, multiple mayors of Portland, governors, court justices, US representatives, and a number of notable artists.  Today it is a beautiful place and because it is open to the public many people stroll the paths and use the cemetery as a shortcut.  Fortunately most people are respectful and vandalism isn't a big problem, I would hate to see access limited in the future.

Fujifilm X-E2, Fuji 35/f1.4R
35mm, f1.4, 1/280 sec @ 200 ISO

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013, Day 348 - Bunny

More photos from last week's play day at my friend Karen's house.  It was a cold day, the temperatures never got above freezing, and Frankie refused to leave his warm spot to go play after his morning walk so I went by myself.  Fortunately Frankie's brother Sand was happy to be my date so I didn't feel like a third wheel.  And I got to play with puppies, five month old little-man puppies, but they're still a lot of fun.  Pictured is Jaeger being chased by his brother Kenichi and their friend, and Frankie's niece, Solo swooping in from the side.  Jaeger and Kenichi are such funny boy, they play loud and cuddle well; I can't wait to see how they turn out when they're all grown up because they're showing a whole lot of potential.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f5.6, 1/800 sec @ 320 ISO

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013, Day 347 - Feathers of water

This is from my visit to Panther Creek with Nicole and Nicci a little over a week ago.  After photographing the falls from the ice-covered moss I explored the other views.  There is a secondary lower waterfall that I hadn't investigated previously and I wasn't about to attempt to get down to the bottom given the rather slippery purchase but I liked the little evergreen on the downed log and the frosty branches as a contrast so this is what I came away with.  The dusting of snow on the trees, the greens of the mosses not encased in a glittering prison and the feathered look of the water as it hits the pool at the bottom of the falls.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f7.1, merged layers of 1.6, 3.2, and 6 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, December 13, 2013

2013, Day 346 - Fling

Puerto Vallarta was a boring place.  I don't travel to sit on the beach drinking all day and that is the primary reason people go there.  It didn't help that it was the only place I was served bad food that made me sick for days.  The best part of our visit was the morning we saw a small fishing boat in the bay surrounded by pelicans.  We made our way down to the beach and onto the stone breakwater close to where the pelicans were congregating and stayed until our obligations in town took us away.  They are so beautiful while flying and hunting but rather awkward when they have their feet on the ground.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4, 1/2000 sec @ 400 ISO

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013, Day 345 - Obstacle

Sometimes things don't go as planned.  This photo was taken with Brian, Nicole, and Brian as we tried to find a waterfall we had heard about.  Unfortunately bad directions left us off course so we made the best of the scenery at hand.  When I first looked at this tributary I almost didn't take the picture because I didn't like the bridge but the more I looked at it the more I liked the juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial.  There isn't a lot of color, it is subtle but I like the mellow red tones in the trees and the vibrance of the moss with the cool silky blue of the alpine waters.

Fujifilm X-E1, Fuji 14/f2.8R
14mm, f8, 26 sec @ 200 ISO

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013, Day 344 - Breaking

This was the beach just outside La Libertad, El Tunco to be exact, where we stopped to have breakfast during our trip to El Salvador.  It had been a stormy morning and we were hoping that the rain would stop so we could enjoy our day at the beach.  Things weren't looking especially promising but after I ordered my food I grabbed my tripod and wandered down to the beach for a better view.  The waves were erratic, many small but some quite big and when combined with a long exposure it gave the ocean an interesting smokey view.  Amongst the debris washed onto the black sand beach was this piece of wood worn down by the sand and water which became the foreground focal point and the iconic rock formation is the background is used to anchor the upper portion of the composition.  I can still feel the warm water washing over my feet as a light rain fell on my face.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
30mm, f2.8, 10 sec @ 200 ISO

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013, Day 343 - Crisp

As a continuation from yesterday's post, this is the wide shot of Ruckle Creek yesterday morning.  The ice is thick with just a dusting of snow across the top but the mosses and ferns are still bright and green under that layer of frozen spray.  It was beautiful, tranquil, and I ended up staying for an hour despite the biting winter winds.  This kind of magic doesn't last long but it is worth the effort.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, merged layers of 1, 2, 4, and 8 sec @ 100 ISO

Monday, December 9, 2013

2013, Day 342 - Translucent lace

Sometimes it is worth pushing yourself.  I woke up this morning at five o'clock warm in my bed with two of the four dogs snuggled tight against me and I asked myself "Do I really want to get up and brave the freezing weather for a few pictures?"  But the freeze is supposed to be coming to an end and I hate having regrets so I got up to take the dogs for a walk before heading out the door.

I drove out to Vista House first.  Lately I seem to be stopping there a lot but we had a dazzling sunrise yesterday and I was hoping for a repeat performance.  It didn't happen.  But I did get some nice pictures and caught the sunrise.

Then I drove out to Latourell Falls where I slid on some hidden ice but got some great views as well.  There were a number of other places to stop but I headed straight for Multnomah Falls.  When I got there I encountered a few other people, almost all with cameras and tripod, and one guy told me he went yesterday morning but it was so packed with people (again, mostly photographers) that he left and returned today.  It was beautiful and the ice buildup was quite impressive.

When I returned to my car it was time for a tough decision, wether or not to go out to Ruckle Creek.  It is a bit of a hike in and the area is so sheltered it might not be that great.  Still, it was only a fifteen minute drive away and another ten minute walk to so I decided to make the most of the morning.  When I arrived I stopped dead in my tracks.

I had been visiting some of the biggest and most spectacular waterfalls in the gorge this morning and Ruckle Creek was by far the most beautiful.  The problem with being so impressive is the volume and velocity of the water disrupts a lot of the ice buildup and the little streams lack the flow to keep them from freezing entirely.  But Ruckle Creek has about the perfect balance of grandeur and with slow enough water movement to have really good accumulation.  I spent over an hour moving around and taking pictures from different angles; each was so different.  Then I had to switch lenses and focus more on the details.  I was wet and cold but completely entranced by the beautiful that I didn't care.

The ice took on a lacy quality.  Thin and going from opaque to translucent, it has so much delicate texture and detail to enjoy.  I love that the rocks were incased in ice and I can't tell if there is more ice forming or if the existing ice was melting but it was beautiful and I am so happy that I decided to leave the comfort of my warm bed and cuddle dogs for a little winter adventure this morning.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
35mm, f5.6, 1/2 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013, Day 341 - Inquisitive

This sweet face belongs to Kenichi.  He is five months old and can hardly sit still.  Everything he sees needs to be investigated and, if possible, tasted.  His brother Jaeger is quite a different pup.  Where Kenichi is confident and adventurous Jaeger is cautious and thinks before he acts but he is willing to follow his brother anywhere and derives confidence his brother's complete assurance that the world belongs to him.  They are joined at the hip and when they play you can hear them from a mile away trying to sound tough.  But at the end of the day they love a lap to cuddle in and are complete sweetness.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
70mm, f4.5, 1/800 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2013, Day 340 - Demonic view

This is the view from Puerto del Diablo, the Devil's Door.  The legend says that when the daughter of a noble family started fell in love with an evil spirit her father discovered the relationship.  He set out after the spirit and the agent of evil in turn split that enormous rock formation and descended safely into the underworld.

On one side of the Devil's Door is San Salvador and on the other is Panchimalco.  Panchimalco is a small community where the indiginous witch doctors still practice their craft.  It is said that people seek out their services for the casting and removal of curses as well as to aid in unrequited love.  They can cast and remove the evil eye, provide charms to ward off malevolent magic, and one particularly sadistic curse will cause a toad to make its home in the victims stomach where it will grow until they die is agony or another powerful witch doctor is able to counteract the magic.  We had rather hoped to visit the town and investigate the brujos but ended up short on time.

Funny how two places steeped in lore and magic are in such close proximity, I am sure it isn't chance that brought them together.  It is a beautiful location and apparently it is quite a popular place for young couples to do on dates.  I suppose if it ends in heartache you can always head down to Panchimalco.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f5.6, 1/500 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, December 6, 2013

2013, Day 339 - Frosty falls

Panther Creek is a favorite location in part because it is easy to get to the creek and in part because it is beautiful.  Notice I said it is easy to get the the creek?  That's because it takes a bit of climbing to get to the falls and it isn't too bad when the weather is nice but it is a bit more challenging when it is covered in ice and snow.  The descent wasn't too bad but the ascent was particularly difficult because many of the best or easiest hand and foot holds were icy but with a little patience and creativity it wasn't too bad.  The other tricky thing was all the ice surrounding the lower part of the falls thanks to the spray from the falling water.  I was limited to the flat areas because even though they were icy I wasn't going to slide into the frigid water.  Still, it was worth it and I was very careful so there was little chance of falling.  Although it was snowing it wasn't heavy enough to make it through the dense trees down to the falls in most places and I suspect if it was then I wouldn't have been able to get access safely without more equipment.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, merged layers of 1, 2, 4, and 8 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013, Day 338 - Herd

This afternoon we braved the cold and the wind and headed out to the Columbia River Gorge.  Nicole, Nicci, and I were headed to Panther Creek with our fingers crossed that there would be some evidence of winter and we found it.  As we gained elevation there was snow on the ground and frosting the trees and the were icicles hanging from branches and and moss all around the creek.  Again my ambition outweighed my reluctance and I descended to the bottom of the falls for the iconic shots and when we were chilled through we made our way back to the car to return to town.  On the way, just outside Carson, we saw these elk in a field and had to stop to take a few pictures.  They were almost completely unconcerned by our presence and we would have stayed longer is we hadn't pulled halfway onto a non-existent shoulder with hazard lights flashing in the first place.  But we got our pictures and it was a wonderful day out.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 200 ISO

2013, Day 337 - Whipped

This evening Nicole and I went out to dinner with her friend Nicci and afterwards headed out to Vista House.  The temperature was just about freezing but with the wind chill you could easily take ten degrees off so it was frigid on the top of the bluff that overlooks the Columbia River.  Nicole and Nicci quickly gave up, the winds were too bad and there were gusts strong enough to move a loaded tripod.  Still, I am stubborn so I widened the leg spread and kept shooting.  Within ten minutes I was having a  hard time feeling my fingers and I got a couple good shots so I was happy to jump back into the warm cozy car and head back into town.  It was worth the discomfort as we had a new moon a couple days ago and the stars are spectacular!

Canon 1D X, Canon 24/f1.4L Mark II
24mm, f1.4, 15 sec @ 400 ISO

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013, Day 336 - Filtered

My favorite thing to do when I travel anywhere is to go to the market.  This is the Central Market in San Salvador and we had a blast.  I love seeing the variety of food available and when we visited kindly woman making chocolate happily gave us samples.  It was still warm with cinnamon and chile powder; delicious and it was so cheap we had to buy some.  By the time we left we had about forty pounds of food and produce and I think we spent less than fifteen dollars.  And, as a nice surprise, we paid the same prices that locals pay.  I've found that when you travel sometimes the vendors at the markets charge foreigners more but the generous people here didn't seem to know about that custom.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f2.8, 1/400 sec @ 100 ISO

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013, Day 335 - Pure

This is the Iglesia Santa Lucia Suchitoto and the restoration work was completed this past spring.  Although small compared to some of the other churches we saw this one is nicely scaled to the size of the town and to the central plaza which it borders.  They ring the bells to call the city to mass and given that El Salvador is a very observant Catholic country the ringing becomes quite insistent as the time for mass draws closer.  It is a beautiful building and very well maintained although I wonder how long that will last with all the pigeons perched along the facade.

I took this photo the morning we left Suchitoto and it was absolutely beautiful backlit by the clouds and the sun started to crest the horizon.  It it is one of the enduring memories I have of our time in Suchitoto.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, merged layers of 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, and 1/60 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013, Day 334 - Undisturbed

This is another shot from yesterday's failed attempt to follow directions.  Well, that's not entirely true, we followed the directions given it is just that they weren't accurate and given that it was a relatively long drive we didn't feel like continuing aimlessly so we stopped off at the the sites we saw on the way in.  One was a small waterfall that was meandering through lush green moss-covered rocks and surrounded by the delicate fallen leaves.  Although it was small the four of us worked different angles as we crowded in.  Passing cars slowed down to see what all the fuss was about and I suspect they left just as puzzled as when they first noticed us.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves and made the most of our little trip; in the end I think it was worth it.

Fujifilm X-E1, Fuji 35/f1.4R
35mm, f11, merged layers of 1.7, 3.2, and 6.5 sec @ 200 ISO

2013, Day 333 - Stillness

This afternoon I went on an adventure with Brian, Brian, and Nicole.  We set out with a waterfall as our destination but bad directions led us astray but we made the most of the trip and came back with some fun images to share.  As dusk approached we found ourselves at Yale Reservoir and although it wasn't the vantage point we had initially wanted it turned out the be a nice evening.  The clouds were coming in and it was just beginning to sprinkle as we were packing up to leave.  Sometimes when things don't work out the way you planned you can still make the best of it by keeping an open mind.

Fujifilm X-E1, Fuji 14/f2.8R
14mm, f16, merged layers of 5 and 20 sec @ 200 ISO

Friday, November 29, 2013

2013, Day 332 - Frogger

Today was hectic and I didn't even do any Black Friday shopping, although I wouldn't have anyway.  Yesterday my sweet greyhound Hubert spent the day throwing up which meant I spent much of my Thanksgiving cleaning up dog vomit.  This morning I took him straight to the vet where he stayed all day having a barium study done and lots of x-rays.  Apparently he had a really nasty GI inflammation but it looks like the worst is behind us.

After dropping Hubert off at the vet, well, I waited around for over an hour to be seen so it wasn't quite dropping him off, I ran a couple quick errands before going to work.  Fortunately my only task today was showing a house and because it is a small house it didn't take long.  Given that I was already in St. John's I decided to walk the bridge in the haze  morning light.  I think that the St. John's Bridge is my favorite in Portland, it just has so much style.  It involved a little human Frogger waiting for breaks in the traffic to stand on the middle of the bridge to get the right picture but it pays to be patient.

Once I got the pictures I was hoping for I headed home to feed the other dogs.  It didn't seem fair to feed them in front of Hubert if he wasn't going to get anything to eat.  When they had eaten I prepared a little lunch for myself and spent the next few hours working on some odds and ends before heading back to the vet.

I had another long wait but I can't really complain because I didn't have any appointments.  Eventually I talked to the vet to be given her final evaluation.  She suggested a bland diet and a number of small meals for the next few days until Hubert is back to 100%.  So I paid his rather hefty bill (no one gets anything for Christmas this year) and headed home to feed the other dogs again.  Then I went to the grocery store for Hubert food which I prepped before taking the dogs for a walk.

Now it is ten o'clock and I think it is time for some well deserved rest.  Oh but isn't the St. John's Bridge pretty...

Fujifilm X-E2, Fuji 35/f1.4R
35mm, f2, 1/3000 sec @ 200 ISO

Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013, Day 331 - Thanks

On this day it seems appropriate to reflect on our lives and consider all of our good fortune and offer our gratitude for those things.  For myself, today I give thanks for my family, friends, dogs, health, job, and all those little moments of serendipity that are so easy to miss.  It has been a little bit of a roller coaster today because one of the pups is sick, poor Hubert has been throwing up and I have had the dubious honor of being the cleanup crew.  I am so happy that I decided to invest in a small commercial carpet extractor a number of years ago.  While it is probably nearing the end of its life it has been worth every penny, especially on days like today when one of the dogs can't keep anything down.  I suppose I should give thanks for having a great vet who is working normal hours tomorrow so I can get Hubert in first thing in the morning before I too have to go to work.

Below is sweet Johan who has been worrying over Hubert all day.  He is always worried if I or one of the dogs doesn't feel well and I am sure he will worry even more tomorrow when Hubert and I leave together.  Johan isn't the smartest boy but he is very loving which more than makes up for any of his shortcomings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 18-55/f2.8-4R OIS
55mm, f4, 1/10 sec @ 1600 ISO

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2013, Day 330 - Return

After a month on the road this is what I returned home to.  Unfortunately I missed all the best of the fall color again this year.  It makes me a little sad but I wouldn't give up my travels for it, maybe next year I will plan my trip at a different time so I can have my cake and eat it too...

Fujifilm X-E2, Fuji 60/f2.4R
60mm, f4, 1/1100 sec @ 200 ISO

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013, Day 329 - Community

We met this little boy in the town of Cinquera.  It is a small mountain community that was a stronghold of the rebels during the civil war.  Today there are monuments throughout the town that commemorate the fight and lives lost.  In the town square the gardens are fenced in with rusting assault rifles, there is the tail section of a downed helicopter on a pedestal, and there are multiple deactivated bombs in the churchyard.  These are people whose lives were ripped apart by the war and who are careful not to forget the past but the community is also looking to the future.  They have multiple business initiatives that they are working on two of which are solar powered manufacture of dried tropical fruits and the breeding of iguanas.  Thus far they seem unsure what to do with the iguanas but apparent step one is breed iguanas and step two is figure out what to do with all the iguanas.  Still, it is wonderful to see people capitalizing on their resources to build a stronger more stable community.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f5.6, 1/320 sec @ 125 ISO

Monday, November 25, 2013

2013, Day 328 - Defiant

During the civil war in El Salvador the government set fire to almost all the buildings in the rebel held areas, the house pictured below is one of the few still standing.  The plan to displace the rebels with this tactic proved ineffective and the during twelve years of civil war the UN estimates that 75,000 people were killed.  Before hiking through this farm Francene and I enjoyed lunch at a little roadside stand with our guide Robert.  While we were waiting for our food we met a gentleman who had been displaced by the war.  His parents were killed and government soldiers took his and sold him to an American couple under the guide of an "adoption."  After living in the United States for a year his extended family was able to utilize a non-profit to find him and bring him back home.  Now he had children of his own and his experiences are reduced to an anecdote told casually to interested strangers.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, HDR of 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, and 1/15 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013, Day 327 - Dash of color

Suchitoto may be known for its cobblestone roads but what I really enjoyed was the colors and textures displayed on the buildings.  On our first evening in town Francene and I wandered to find a good view of the lake which turned out to be lacking when compared to the view from our balcony.  Along the way I took pictures of windows and doors.  There is such a playful use of color throughout the city and the texture of the walls and the contrast of the prevalent ironwork was really nice.  As we walked we passed children playing, women chatting, old men smoking, and people carrying on with a leisurely evening.  Everyone called out greeting to each other and often to us as well.  I can see why it is a place popular with locals and visitors, the atmosphere evokes a kind of familiar nostalgia for all who spend even a little time in this quaint city.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f5.6, 1/250 sec @ 640 ISO

Saturday, November 23, 2013

2013, Day 326 - Support

Guanajuato is a gem of a city.  While I read about it and even saw pictures I was not at all prepared for the vibrance and character that I found.  Colorful homes, 19th century buildings, winding streets, tunnels for cars and pedestrians alike; it is beautiful and I wish that we had more time there because I kept thinking that someone needs to make a time lapse project of this city.  It is like an termite nest; massively complicated and teaming with all kinds of interesting activity.

This photo features a home that spans the opening of one of the tunnels.  I can't imagine living there is especially peaceful with the traffic noise and automotive fumes but it would be a great vantage to watch the bustling activity of the city.  It is so rich with colors and textures, Guanajuato is a visual feast and a destination I would recommend without hesitation.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f4, HDR of 1/1600, 1/800, 1/400, 1/200, and 1/100 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, November 22, 2013

2013, Day 325 - Sanctuary

One of my favorite things about travel is the new and exciting wildlife and most of my favorites are the small guys.  Lizards and frogs almost always make an appearance, spiders, moths, butterflies, and other insects are almost always present, sometimes there are monkeys and a plethora of birds.  Right now I am missing the birds as most of our are gone or laying low given the cold weather.  Sadly, we rarely have much in the way of lizards to see around here and Mexico had an abundance.  Little anoles were everywhere, geckos haunted jungle but were much better at hiding as most in that area are ambush predators, we found a number of immature and a couple mature basilisks, and of course there were a lot of iguanas.  It is rather exciting to find them perched in plain sight hoping that their camouflage will keep them safe.  This anole was hiding the flowers of a small palm tree and didn't see the need to hide because he was protected by a number of small branches, his own little fort.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/400 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013, Day 324 - Routine

Life is looking almost normal again.  Three our of the four dogs are home now and two even got baths (against their will) and my afternoon nap was more of a puppy cuddling session but it was nice.  Now it is time to get back to work so that I can keep paying my bills.

This is a fisherman we met on the pier at La Libertad.  He and the rest of the crew on this boat are all about the same age, they've probably been fishing together for thirty years.  They laughed and chatted while they worked and all of them gave us big smiles when we asked to take their pictures.  El Salvador is a beautiful country and while it may not be the most exciting destination in that part of the work the people are warm and outgoing which made it a lot of fun.  The most interesting part was that I often felt like people didn't know why tourists visit a lot of places; they understand the appeal of a surfing beach and the volcanos but they're not really sure why we want to visit the fish market or see a farm but they're happy to have us nonetheless.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/160 sec @ 160 ISO

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2013, Day 323 - Friendship

I'm home!  On one hand it is hard to believe that the trip is over and I was gone for a month and on the other it is nice to be home and I am really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again.  I think one of the hardest parts to the transition back to real life is not waking up and talking to the same people every day.  My friends Francene and Araceli are great travel companions and it is be odd not talking to the first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  It's being about to talk about the stupid things that pop into your head or the funny thing you see when you're in the moment.  But there are always more adventures to be had and experiences to be shared.

So I want to thank all the people who joined me on my trip.  You all helped to make it memorable and for that I will always be grateful.  Sometimes it is those companionable silences that you miss most, like these two women who were finishing a day of work at San Salvador's Mercado Central.  They look so comfortable with each other and I suspect they are family.  I took this picture because I thought it was sweet and I still do, it makes me smile :)

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f2.8, 1/125 sec @ 200 ISO

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2013, Day 322 - Grazing

This morning Evi left and because she had an early flight and I am a light sleeper I didn't make it back to bed after her departure.  So I spent the wee hours of the morning catching up on world events, the news, and social media.  In the span of a few hours I was pretty caught up and Francene was up so we decided to head out to Akumal.

Akumal is a small beachfront town whose name means "place of the turtles" because it is where the a favorite refuge for green sea turtles.  What makes it such an ideal location is that it is a protected bay so the waters and calm and shallow allowing ample foraging area for the turtles and fresh water meets the ocean here which provides an ideal nursery habitat for young fish.  It was quite early when we arrived and the dive shop that was recommended to us was just beginning to show signs of life.  A nice gentleman greeted us and we inquired about snorkeling.  He told us he could take us immediately and because there was only a couple of other people there and the cashier hadn't arrived we could just pay afterwards.  At this point he introduced himself as Antonio but told us everyone calls his "Cholo" because his mother used to dress him like a cholo when he was a kid.

We were outfitted with mask, snorkel, fins, and life jacket and walked out onto the beach.  It was an easy entry and there is almost no surf so it couldn't have been more simple.  Once in chest deep water Cholo had us gear up and off we went.  The weather has been stormy for most of the last week and today was the best visibility they've had in a couple of weeks.  Here the ocean floor is white sand and the water is a clear rich blue.  Within minutes there were fish surrounding us, darting in and out of the coral, soon after we had our first turtle sighting.  She was grazing contently on the grasses growing on the ocean floor and swam within a few feet of me to surface for air and then dived back down to continue browsing.

In the hour and a half we spent in the water we saw a lot of different animals.  Mostly colorful fish, some sea urchins, a few large rays, a number or turtles, and at the end we even passed through a school of sardine.  It was was a lot of fun and exciting to see the animals up close without causing them any distress.  None of them fled as we approached and once we got close we just floated in the current and watching.  I'm glad we made the time to come, it was a lot of fun and made for a really pleasant morning.

Once we were back on the beach we returned our gear, rinsed ourselves off, paid, and thanked our guide.  Our next stop was breakfast in Playa del Carmen.  We stopped off at a place on the main street because we were told the food was good.  Our breakfast was quite pleasant but I didn't like being on the tourist strip, there are a lot of really pushy people trying to get you to look at what they're selling.  Even if I liked their wares their approach is so unpleasant I probably wouldn't buy anything from them on principal.

After breakfast we stopped by the grocery store to get a few things for dinner.  Francene and I are making a concerted effort to spend as little as possible at the hotel because they gouge you.  We had some leftover fish so we bought some tortillas, cheese, cabbage, avocado, and some hot sauce.  There, dinner is sorted.  With that we headed back to the hotel and by this time it was early afternoon.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing.  We did a little packing to make sure everything would still fit; surprisingly enough we bought very little so everything should be fine.  While we were sitting at our computers we checked in for our flight and tried to secure better seats with mixed success.  And when we finished all that it was time to relax in the pool.  Fortunately there weren't many people and by the time we left it was about time to heat up our dinner.

Now we're double checking everything so that when we leave before dawn almost no thinking will be necessary.  And on that note I am going to start wrapping things up for the evening.  Below is one of the turtles we saw today and on its back is a remora.

Nikon 1 AW1, Nikkor 11-27.5/f3.5-5.6
20.5mm, f9, 1/250 sec @ 160 ISO

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013, Day 321 - Hiding

These sleep-in mornings just aren't working.  I tried my best but I popped up at seven thirty and was ready for action but there wasn't much of a plan.  Evi headed out early to do a little adventuring on her own so Francene and I were sitting here trying to decide what to do.  We had some administrative work to do because we're going to be leaving soon so we have to make sure that everyone gets what they're owed.  I put on my spectacles and my clear green visor and set to work with our pile of receipts.  In short order things were sorted, costs divided, and a sheet outlining who is owed what was completed.  This is where being uptight about details comes in handy.

With our morning chores done Francene and I decided to head into town to wander around.  We're on the far outskirts of Playa del Carmen so we decided instead of taking a cab we would go local and hop on the collectivo, a large van that goes up and down the coastal highway.  While we were waiting on the side of the highway a cab stopped and we tried to wave him on but he rolled down the window and offered us a really cheap fare into town so we accepted.  He was rocking out to dance music the whole time and conversation was difficult but the price was right, the air conditioning was cold, and it was comfortable.

Since we had not yet walked the main tourist streets we headed out.  It is a walking street that is lined with all manner of shops selling things you can find three times on every block; essentially cheap crap that people buy to give their friends and family.  I've long since stopped buying gifts for people because if they don't share your experiences it isn't as meaningful.  Instead I try to include the people I care about by blogging and sharing photos so that maybe they can get a little glimpse of what it is like to be fortunate enough to travel to these great places.  Still, there are a few people that deserve acknowledgment for favors while I've been gone so when we found a tiny shop tucked away with the most amazing detailed art from all over Mexico we knew it was the place we had been looking for.  After a month of traveling and resisting the urge to buy thing we're free to make those purchased and in the end the women running the shop spent twenty minutes wrapping and packing our purchases.

By now it was early afternoon so we took a cab across town to pick up form laundry we had dropped off.  I can't remember the last time I was this happy to see clean underwear.  The last three days of hand washing has been no fun at all.  So we blessed the woman at the laundromat and set off for an excellent seafood place a few blocks away.  With the heat and our hunger it seemed to take forever but we made it and had a delightful lunch.  I had fish with a bunch of little sides and tortillas so quickly turned into fish taco again while Francene got fish stuffed with an assortment of seafood.  We devoured our food with great enthusiasm but still had enough left to be worth taking back to the hotel for this evening.

Right as we were walking out a cab driver was picking up his order of seafood casserole to go so he gave us a ride back to the hotel.  The sun was still beating down on us so we dropped off our leftovers in the kitchen and headed down to the pool.  Because we have had such stormy weather and today was beautiful and sunny most people were out so the pool was relatively unpopulated which suited us just fine.  So we spent a couple bobbing in the pool chatting about nothing in particular and reliving our adventures of the last month.  As it grew later the clouds became colorful so I left Francene at the pool to return to our room to retrieve my camera.

When I got back Francene joined me in a walk down to the beach to watch the sun set.  We took pictures until it got too dark to be worthwhile and the tide started coming in.  Happy with our productive day we wandered slowly back to our room and enjoyed a little snack before looking at the fruits of our sunset photo shoot.

Tomorrow is the last day of our trip and Wednesday we head home so we are faced with a conundrum.  Do we try to squeeze in one last day of adventure or take our time and get ready for the trip home.  I suspect we will decide in the morning.  Below is a picture, one of many, of the anoles native to this region.  These little guys and their larger iguana cousins can be found all over the place and do a wonderful job at pest control.  Unfortunately they are not big on eating mosquitos.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/250 sec @ 1000 ISO

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013, Day 320 - Refreshing

This was the latest of our mornings to meet our guide Rosalia.  She was generous enough to let us sleep in as we weren't meeting up with her until seven o'clock.  Well, really, she is doing as we asked because we wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible and on Sunday's the archeological zones are free to Mexican citizens so they can get quickly become overrun as the day wears on.

So we dragged ourselves out of bed yet again and hurried out to door.  Rosalia greeted us with her customary smile and we set off south to Tulum.  On the way there was a partial road closure for the cycling leg of a triathlon but it did little to slow our progress.  Tulum was a major trading center and reached the height of influence from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.  Built at the top of a oceanside cliff, the rest of the city is encompassed by defensive walls.  The god most favored here is the descending god and he is featured more prominently in Tulum than anywhere else.  Scholars have pointed out the architectural similarities to Chichen Itza though this is a much smaller site and as such is scaled down appropriately.

We spent a nice morning wandering the manicured grounds.  It is so tidy it has the look of a golf course but with the remains of an impressive Mayan city on the green.  There are iguanas everywhere and they were basking in the warmth of the early morning light.  I, of course, recruited them into my army to overthrow the dictatorial management of our hotel and when the cause was explained they readily agreed to help.  There really are some beautiful vistas at Tulum and we got to enjoy most of them before too many people arrived.  There are also two beaches that are part of the grounds but only one is accessible and only by a long winding set of stairs.  The other beach is closed to the public as it is a favorite nesting site of sea turtles and, to preserve the integrity of their nests, it is off limits.

By the time we were gearing up to leave hordes of people we pouring through the entrance.  It was like an infestation, swarms of visitors descending on the grounds and the four of us fled.  Once back to the car we started out to visit another cenote.  There are countless cenotes that dot the Yucatan peninsula and they are connected by an underground river system.  Explores have been able to swim from the ocean back to the ocean although there are many that are branches off the main waterway and hence only partially connected.  Our destination was Cueva Blanca, part of the Sac Ac Tun cenote system.

We left the highway and pulled into a paved parking area which Rosalia drove through at a controlled access point.  From there it was a bouncing ride down an unimproved road for fifteen to twenty minutes.  Along the way was passed signs for a number of other cenotes but we kept on going.  Finally, at the end of the road, there was a small parking lot in a verdant section of jungle where we stopped.  We put our belongings away, grabbed a mask and life jacket, and started a short walk into the trees.  Soon we cam upon what looked like a hole in the ground about the size of a well and a ladder going almost straight down.  Without hesitating we made the descent and emerged in a large cave with a wooden dock from which to make out entry into the clear turquoise water.

It was, initially, rather chilly in the water but we quickly acclimated and it went from cold to comfortable very quickly.  There was a nice relaxing drip drip drip of water as it fell from the stalactites and the high pitched twitter of bats darting through the air to eat the odd insect.  We even saw a few swallows skimming over the water and making the small fish scatter as they passed.  It was much more lively than I had expected.

So we floated around, I didn't wear my life jacket but used it occasionally to steady myself to take a few pictures.  It must has been close to an hour relaxing and exploring the cenote.  Eventually we started swimming through the low areas and followed it for quite a way until we emerged in a little lagoon with a bit of jungle within the cenote and another dock to extricate ourselves from this sliver of subterranean paradise.

When we dried off it dawned on us that we had eaten almost nothing all day so Rosalia suggested a place that is known for the fish tacos.  Those two magic words were enough for me and I jumped in the car eager with anticipation.  It was a small place right on the highway and they had a big bar of condiments, a indisputably good sign.  We placed our orders and I had to order a little bit of everything including fish tacos and a chile stuffed with fish, battered, fried, and served on a couple of tortillas.  When our food arrived it was off to the condiment bar for shredded cabbage and carrots, avocado habanero sauce, and some fresh onions.  The food was great and the pile of fish and tortillas slowly dwindled as time passed.  It was a perfect way to end our travels with Rosalia as we have seen the sites most important and distant from us.

With our plated cleaned we started our return trip to our hotel.  It took about an hour and was mid-afternoon when we arrived.  Fortunately Rosalia hadn't left yet when we discovered we were locked out of our room.  Francene had to book a week at a time and today was the expiration of our first week so the staff kept thinking we were checking out.  Although we made a point to talk to them yesterday afternoon and again last night they still changed the lock on our room so Francene and Evi went to the lobby with Rosalia's assistance to get new keys.  Apparently it wasn't a problem because they quickly returned and we returned to our air conditioned sanctuary.

The last few days have been very full and we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing, reading, and chatting.  We are here for a couple more days and we don't have much by way of plans for the remainder of our stay.  I think perhaps we should consider this the vacation portion of our adventure and take it easy so we don't get home overtired and cranky as sometimes happens.  Below is a picture of our starting point at Cueva Blanca, if you've never been it might not look inviting but knowing what a relaxing place it is I am already yearning to return.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, HDR of 0.8, 1.6, 3.2, 6, and 13 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, November 16, 2013

2013, Day 319 - Divine

We got up before dawn as planned and put ourselves together so we could meet Rosalia at six o'clock.  Even though we had a bit of a day off yesterday I think all of us are starting to feel the cumulative effects of these early days.  But we were all very excited because today we get to see two of exceptional archeological sites, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.  So with great anticipation we piled into the car and, as our drowsiness overpowered our excitement, intermittently nodded off on the almost three hour drive.

Despite our sleepiness we all saw quite a bit of the countryside and were able to get a feeling for what a typical Mayan village looks like.  They are small communities for the most part and many are composed of a single street along which there are homes and a few businesses.  Most of the Mayans seem to be subsistence farmers though many produce handicrafts that they offer for sale along the highway.

Finally we arrived at Chichen Itza, a sprawling site with a series of immense structures.  Between AD 600 and 1200 Chichen Itza was the nexus of power in the Mayan lowlands.  The diversity of styles is due in large part to the influence of the peoples of central Mexico who are thought to have conquered an existing Mayan community over which they built the city as we see it today; one of the largest cities the Mayans built it was a hub for trade from all over the empire which helped to maintain its influence for centuries.

Although we arrived early there were still a lot of people there when we arrived.  Thanks for Rosalia's experience and quick thinking we were able to slip ahead of most.  She walked and talked us through the public areas starting with the central pyramid.  Here she explained that it is a representation of the Mayan calendar and explained about their separation of days, months, years, and seasons.  It was quite interesting and, as we moved on, we saw the Temple of the Warriors which was flanked by dozens of thick columns that not only survived mostly intact but almost all were upright when discovered.  That is quite a feat of engineering.  Then we saw a couple temples and platforms before visiting the Sacred Cenote, a natural freshwater well connected by a subterranean river that spans much of the peninsula.  We ended our tour at the ball court which had its own temple as well as royal boxes.

With our tour of Chichen Itza finished we retreated to the car to go off in search of lunch.  We had a simple meal at one of the nearby cocinas economica.  It wasn't spectacular but it was a good meal with generous portions and was exactly what we needed before heading off to our next destination, Ek Balam.

A forty-five minute drive away was the city of Ek Balam.  It is a walled city with no direct approach and was at its apogee from AD 770 to 840.  What makes it significant is the wealth of information it has provided about the Mayan culture at the time.  Many of the other cities, like Coba, are in relatively poor condition and what much can be inferred there remains a gap in information.

Once we passed the defensive perimeter we came to the the Oval Palace which is adjacent to two temples that mirror each other.  At the top of the palace we had a great view of the temple at the top and the cloudy sky beyond which you can see in the picture below.  Opposite the temples are a few platforms whose purpose is not yet clear but they are in good condition and I expect they will be mined for more information at a later date.  Across from the Oval Palace is a temple referred to as The Throne and it is here that it is believed the ruler of Ek Balam was buried.

The Throne is huge, it is more than just a temple, it houses its own square and is riddled with interior tunnels.  Archeologists suspect that before it was a tomb it was a sprawling residence for the illustrious king.  Now the complex that is the tomb can be seen quite clearly because it was covered in rock.  Once excavated the carvings were found to be in remarkably good condition.  The room that would have been the burial chamber looks like the enormous open mouth of a predator.  It is an imposing place and I am sure when the city was still inhabited it would have elicited awe and complete religious deference.

We climbed to the top of the temple and had a beautiful view of the jungle and pyramids emerging from the low canopy.  All three of us sat at the top for a while enjoying the cooling breeze and taking in the panoramic vista.  When we descended we stopped at a tree near the foot of the temple that was teaming with insects.  Initially it was the butterflies that caught my attention but there were bees and flies as well as moths flocking to this one tree.  Upon inspection we found them drinking the sweet sap from a few small wounds in the barks.  It was a magical sight in such a beautiful place.

That was the conclusion of our visit to Ek Balam and we slowly made our way back to the parking lot to begin the trip back to modern civilization.  It went rather quickly and we stopped twice along the way; once to buy oranges with chili and then to get a little more gas to make it back to town.  We decided to have Rosalia drop us off in town for dinner because the food is not only cheaper but better than what we can get around the hotel.  Instead of trying something new we went back to the seafood place of a couple nights ago because we all enjoyed it so much the first time.

You have to understand, the food is so good we were worried we might be disappointed if we tried something new so we ordered essentially the same thing.  It was every bit as good as we remembered and once our plates were cleaned we stopped off at a grocery store for a few supplies before hailing a cab back to our hotel.

Tomorrow will be another early morning though not quite as early as today so now that I have finished my blogging and processing of a picture I think it is time to get some sleep.  The adventure continues tomorrow!

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, HDR of 1/5000, 1/2500, 1/1250, 1/640, and 1/320 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, November 15, 2013

2013, Day 318 - Needy

Today was something of a rest day.  We were able to sleep in but really didn't because we've become so accustomed to getting up early.  Most of the morning we talked and, when it was finally working again, played on the internet.  We have a couple days with no plans but the weather has been so wet we're reluctant to try to plan too much at this point.

As the morning crept on we packed our things and left to meet our driver for the day at the front gate.  Antonio was waiting for us and we leapt into his car and were whisked off to Playa del Carmen for breakfast.  He suggested a local place famous for their fruit juices and we all shared a chaya, pineapple, guava, and orange smoothie.  It was a really great combination of flavors and was not too sweet.  We also shared some tacos, enchiladas, and chilaquiles.  All were tasty but my favorite were the grilled vegetable tacos; vegetables as an entree isn't very common here so it was refreshing.

After breakfast we made a quick stop at the beach in Playa del Carmen which we hadn't seen yet and decided we probably weren't missing much.  Beautiful white sand and blue water with tons of hotels and pulsating mass of people.  Yeah, not our crowd at all.  So we returned to Antonio and headed out to Chemuyil, a small town north of Tulum.  Once we got there Antonio turned down a side street and soon the pavement ended and we were taken down a muddy rutted track where we were treated to what Antonio called a "Mayan massage."

It seemed to take forever but we finally found the sign that read "The Jungle Place."  It is the home of a retired German couple Heidi and Joel who moved to Mexico from Texas is 1999.  Shortly after arriving they were approached by someone trying to sell them a baby spider monkey.  They took the obviously sick and injured monkey to the vet and once he was stabilized discovered there was nowhere to take the unfortunate fellow.  So they went through the process of getting licensed by the government to start a sanctuary for this monkey and soon other victims of the pet trade.

Heidi told us that for every baby captured there are at least for monkeys that were killed.  When a baby monkey is threatened the family group will come to its defense and they are killed by the poachers.  Now their colony numbers about sixty and yesterday two more babies were brought in by law enforcement.  Due to their new arrivals we were a little slow to get started.

First we were told a little about what they do at their sanctuary and how they got started.  Then we were told that we would be introduced to some of the monkeys.  Because the males tend to be more protective we would be meeting some of the females; those most outgoing and curious about new people.  Before our introduction we had to remove glasses, jewelry, the contents of our pockets, all manner of things that the monkeys might steal.  Once it was in their possession they wouldn't willingly return anything.  We were also told that we could pet most of them but to be gentle and to remember not to push them away as it is an aggressive gesture.

There is one girl in the group that we were specifically warmed about, Luna.  She is a rather pushy girl but is included in the group because her mother and baby sister love people and enjoy the interaction.  Family groups are never split up, it causes them great distress so Luna gets included but she is really only in it for the treats that we are given to distribute amongst them.  We were told that if Luna wants something it is best just to let her have her way and we were advised that she will touch, sit on, and climb over people but she does not like to be touched.  Okay, it seemed a fair warning and a small price to pay to play with her baby sister Xbaal.

Xbaal is the baby of the group and she ran around, climbed up and down people, dropped down on top of them, and basically clowned around.  Maya is a very sweet girl who moved from lap to lap and eventually decided that Francene had a nice lap to curl up in and nap.  We all had the girls, maybe eight to ten in total, come to inspect us, sit with us, and I think we all had nice little monkey cuddle sessions.  Some of us even got a little monkey pee on us as well.  If getting hit with bird poop is good luck then monkey pee must be the jackpot.  At least there was no poo flinging.

Heidi came by and would give us refills on treats.  We started with biscuits, then were given leafy greens, later we were given cereal, then pecans, and finally raisins.  People quickly became human feeding stations but it was a lot of fun.  We all knew the fun was over when Luna came by, she would tap our hands and demand the contents, not a little bit, all of it.  What princess Luna wants Princess Luna gets.

They allowed us to visit with the monkeys for over an hour and it was a lot of fun.  They are very much like little people although maybe their manners weren't great but they all had a lot of personality.  When we left the enclosure with the girls seemed sad to watch us go but it was getting to their nap time and we didn't want to cause a disruption.  Outside we found baby Santana crying for Joel from his enclosure.  Baby monkeys live on their mothers and since Santana is an orphan he see Joel as his surrogate mother.  Once things settled down Joel went and allowed Santana to climb onto his shoulders and hang onto his hair.  It was very endearing as Santana immediately settled down and was contented.  Unfortunately since two new babies arrived last night he is going to have to share Heidi and Joel with the two newcomers.

We said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts and reunited with Antonio who drove us back into Playa del Carmen.  Although it wasn't very late and we weren't especially hungry Francene and I decided to have an early dinner so that once we were back at the hotel we would be done for the day.  Evi wanted to explore Playa del Carmen a bit more and although it sounded appealing we have an early start again tomorrow so I wanted to get to bed early.  With that being the case we split up.  Francene and I had a nice fish dinner and a little flan for dessert mostly because we haven't had any flan at all and this is Mexico, it would be a shame not to.  Our dinner and dessert was excellent thanks to another great recommendation from Antonio an after we returned to our hotel.

Once back I washed off the monkey pee and spent the evening looking over my pictures and catching up on the day's events.  As I said before, we have an early start tomorrow so I am going to sign off.  Below is a picture of Santana pining for Joel.  He looks so sad but he was soon a very happy camper.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f2.8, 1/125 sec @ 16000 ISO

Thursday, November 14, 2013

2013, Day 317 - Recruiting

This morning we woke up early to rendezvous with our new guide Rosalia.  Although we woke up with plenty of time she was on time and we were late but it wasn't our fault.  The grounds of this hotel are huge and they have little shuttles to run you all over the place however the management is composed of jerks.  Rosalia is a licensed guide but they won't let her on to the property because we didn't book our activities through the hotel.  Fine, that is a cheap and obvious ploy to get us to use their  services so they can make more money off us but we can live with that.  So we asked them to take us to the entrance, they refused.  If we are using a service not booked through them then we have to walk to the entrance and it is raining.  They said it was all in the name of security.  Seriously?  She is a licensed guide and we're already on the property; they almost caused a security incident by refusing a series of simple requests.

So we walked in the rain and met with Rosalia.  She explained that this piece of fascist manufactured paradise is infamous for that practice.  Nevertheless we thwarted their nefarious plan and set off with Rosalia to visit Coba, the ruins of a sprawling Mayan community that covered some eighty square kilometers.  On the way she explained that the wet season started early this year and has been exceptionally prolonged.  When we arrived the parking lot was flooded and apparently has been for some time.  Not inches of water, it was many feet deep and totally unusable so we had to park on higher ground and do a little walking.

As we entered the site we saw little frogs everywhere.  All the standing water has allow for the frog population to boom and as we walked little waves of frogs would jump out of our way.  The lake that is the parking lot is filled with tadpoles and I expect soon ruins will be overrun.  As we explored I started recruiting frog soldiers to overthrow the management at our hotel.  Once inside we rented bicycles so as to cover ground more quickly and off we rode.

The gravel paths are well maintained and the breeze from riding was quite refreshing.  We biked a couple kilometers to the far side of the area open to the public and when we stopped I began sweating immediately.  Our first stop was at the Nohoch Mul pyramid.  It is one of the few Mayan pyramids that you can climb in the Yucatan and we made the ascent, one hundred and twenty steep slippery steps.  The view from the top was quite nice and it proved that Rosalia was telling us, the landscape is completely flat and the trees are relatively short because there is only a thin layer of soil covering the rocky earth beneath.

Next we made our way to what people tend to call the observatory, a large rounded mound of stone construction.  Rosalia said that it was really more of a marker to let travels on the ancient stone road know that they were approaching the pyramid that we just left.  Given the protracted periods of rain the Mayans build stone roads that were raised so that seasonal flooding wouldn't impede travel.  In some places these roads are nine foot high causeways.

We then moved on to a ball court.  It was much smaller than those we saw in Xochicalco but it had the same general layout.  There is a central aisle and angled ramps at the top of which was a stone ring on either side.  The contests held were not for entertainment purposes but rather were rituals with religious significance and the current thought it that it might play some role in a fertility rite.  We also found a large group of caterpillars munching on tree bark that I thought I would used as my air force once their metamorphosis is complete.  I also found a small basilisk eating a spider that would make a good general and more frogs to use as navy seals.

Our final stop as at the church, another smaller pyramid near the entrance to the archeological zone.  It was much like the larger Nohoch Mul pyramid but on a smaller scale.  By this time there were more tourists arriving and we moved a little more quickly through the press to see what we could and move on.  I recruited another larger basilisk to be a general in my army and we made our way out to where we parked so we could find some lunch.

Our meal was rather simple but tasty affair at a cocina economica, an economical kitchen, with a relatively limited menu.  Francene and I shared a number of appetizers and all were delicious but there might have been a little too much cheese for my tastes.  I guess I will have some odd dreams tonight.

Once we had eaten our fill it was back into the car and off to Punta Laguna nature reserve.  Here we had a Mayan guide who walked us through the jungle in the hopes of finding some monkeys.  I was looking forward to this because I need an admiral for my army and a monkey would be an ideal candidate.  Within five minutes he stopped two and I quickly recruited them into my army.  Holy war will be coming to the Grand Mayan Hotel!

Unfortunately it started raining pretty heavily so we took shelter as a wooden tower overlooking the lake.  We all climbed to the top and waiting out the worst of the weather.  It was a very pleasant way to spend fifteen minutes and we were soon making our way to a cenote.  The opening was a small crack in the earth with barely enough room to squeeze through as we were lowered in a harness on a winch.  Once through the aperture it opened up significantly and we were able to swim in the clean refreshing water.  It was quite dark and we could see bats flitting past us but I think we all found it relaxing and refreshing.  After a quick conference with the bats the agreed to anchor the moths in my air force.

By this time my army to overthrow the hotel management was quite large and satisfied with my progress we ascended the rope ladder one by one until we emerged from our little refuge.  It was well into the afternoon so we all changed into dry clothes and got back into the car to the drive back to Playa del Carmen.  On the was we decided to ask Rosalia for a restaurant recommendation explaining that if she dropped us off we would take a cab back to the hotel.  After some thought she had a place in mind and after the relatively an hour and a half she was leaving us at a local seafood place.  I had a filet of fish a la Mexicana and Francene and Evi split a seafood casserole.  My fish was amazing, cooked perfectly and well spiced.  It was probably may favorite meal in Mexico and we've already talked about going back for another excellent meal in the coming days.

Stuffed, we were able to hail a cab in the rain and came back to the room at our bastard hotel.  With our early start we've all looked at our pictures from today, showered, and a getting ready for a good night's sleep.

Below is a picture of one of my new basilisk generals having a Shelob-snack.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/160 sec @ 640 ISO

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013, Day 316 - Gusts

Given our long grueling day yesterday and our late night getting cleaned up we all slept in relatively late today.  I was the first up a eight o'clock and used that time to catch up on email and world news.  As I sat with my computer on my lap the sky opened up and it began dumping rain.  When we left almost three hours later to get something to eat it had eased up to a light sprinkle.

We ate a quick lunch, having skipped breakfast, and wandered around the grounds a bit taking pictures.  There are lizards all over the place and we found a couple nice spiders hiding in plain sight.  It was a nice low-key kind of morning.  We soon returned to our room to plan for the afternoon.

Unfortunately it started raining again so we decided that if it stopped we would head out to Puerto Morelos.  It is the biggest shipping port in the state but the population there is small as it is caught between the ocean and a mangrove swamp.  What the community is best known for is the reef about three hundred feet from the shore where there is abundant sea life and as such has been designated a marine park.

Sadly for us the weather was not conducive to being out in the ocean.  Still, the rain eventually let up and we went to check it out.  Along the beach the winds had picked up and the ocean was getting choppy.  There are a couple docks that serve the community, one public and one private.  The private dock has a gate to keep non-members out but when we saw all the birds lined up we wandered out.  When we approached the more skittish birds simply opened their wings and allow the wind to carry them gracefully into the air.  Most merely landed ten feet further away but it was pretty to watch.

We also some a couple cormorants, some frigates who look beautiful airborne but rather ungainly perched, a number of sandpipers, and come hunting pelicans.  The latter would fly along the shore and when they saw a potential meal would dive straight down into the water.  It was fascinating to watch but rather difficult to photograph as they were generally too far from the shore.

As the tide started to come in we decided to wander back into the town and explore a little more.  There wasn't much to see; a few shops and some restaurants.  By the time we completed the circuit we were getting hungry and decided to stop off for some dinner.  All the places serve fish and seafood so we shared a variety of fish tacos, a torta, and some pasta.  It was all delicious and once we cleaned our plates we went in search of a taxi.

Tomorrow we are going to visit more ruins and will be having an early start so it is time to get some sleep.  Below is one of the many shorts of birds in flight.  I keep marveling at their beautiful streamlined shape and their effortless flight.  Maybe tonight I will have one of the flying dreams....

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4.5, 1/400 sec @ 100 ISO