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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013, Day 315 - Ordeal

We got up before dawn to get ready for an adventure.  Supposedly we were going to be picked up at six o'clock by the company we booked with and they got off to a rocky start as they were twenty minutes late.  But we were willing to forgive them as this was reputedly a wonderful trip to Sian Ka'an which is a nature preserve and UNESCO site.  As we were being driven to our meeting point our driver informed us it would be a rather large group because all the trips yesterday were cancelled due to suspected bad weather which never materialized.  So today there were going to be two day's worth of people.  Not an auspicious start.

He eventually delivered us to a meeting point and when we arrived there were only four or five other people there.  Maybe it wasn't going to be too bad after all.  Soon more people were arriving and still more as we waited.  Eventually there were probably thirty people waiting and we were starting to dread this trip.  Our guide Gabriel introduced himself and informed us our group would be ten people including him so we would be taking two vehicles and he looked to me and asked if I would drive the second car.  No one else jumped to volunteer so I accepted the responsibility not knowing what to come.  He also said we would leave in ten minutes; then twenty minutes later it was five minutes.  After we had been at our meeting point for over an hour I was assigned a Jeep and couple was assigned to our car as well.

So we set out following our guide with Diana and Alann, a nice couple from France.  We chatted as we drove across the highway and turned south.  For a couple miles we had paved road and then it gave way to dirt but not just dirt, there were massive potholes and huge puddles from the morning rain.  After about forty-five minutes we stopped at a bridge to take in the view and a caravan of an addition dozen vehicles soon joined us.  At this point we were offered a bottle of water and a banana; not much seeing as none of us had eaten breakfast.

A few minutes later we were back on the road and I soon discovered that the battery warning light was illuminated and that after traversing deep puddles the power steering would cease to operate making it a bit more of a chore driving.  But we pressed on for over an hour bumping down the road and trying to strike a balance between speed and smoothness.  Eventually we stopped at a roadside restaurant where we were given a snack of tortilla wedged with salsa and soda.  Diana fought to make sure everyone had enough to eat which I think we all appreciated and ten minutes later we were back on the road.

It wasn't far to the docks where we parked the Jeeps as it started to rain.  We grabbed some of our stuff, left the rest in the cars, and climbed aboard our assigned boat and took off.  Minutes later we were idling in our own fumes trying to vie for a better view of a sea turtle.  All I could think about was the exhaust and what kind of lungful the turtle would get with three boats hovering around him.  We eventually saw him and pressed the guide to allow us to leave him in peace.

Then we went to see the mangrove forest which we passed at a high enough rate of speed that we weren't afforded the opportunity to take pictures.  I was disappointed and just about ready to jump out of the boat but I decided that would only cause additional delay.  From there we were shown trees with resting cormorants and frigate birds.  Those too we only slowed down as we passed.

Eventually we it out to open water where we discovered three dolphins frolicking.  I suspect they were playing doctor as their little game seemed less-than-innocent.  Here we stayed for about ten minutes to try to get some pictures with the sun glaring off the water.  When the guide thought we had enough we were then taken to a spot on the reef where we were allowed to kind of snorkel as we were required to keep our lifejackets on.  It was still overcast though no longer raining and visibility wasn't great.  There were some nice fish but when our allotted ten minutes was up we were recalled to the boat where they took us to a shallow area to "swim" even though we had been swimming moments before and in an area with something to see.

And that marked the end of our boat trip so our captains took us back to the docks where we climbed back into the Jeeps to return to the roadside restaurant for lunch.  It was waiting for us and was already getting cold when we sat down.  It was probably average at best but we were starving so it didn't really matter.

For the trip back to our original meeting point Alann offered to drive and I was happy to let him as it was starting to get dark.  The five of us grumbled all the way back, which seemed to last an eternity.  Fortunately Diana and Alann proved to be wonderful traveling buddies and by the time our skeletons were pulverized by the bad roads we were having a good time commiserating.  When we arrived back at our initial meeting point we had agreed to have dinner together and had the tour company deliver us into Playa del Carmen proper.

We wandered to a favorite establishment of our new friends and had a nice dinner and did some people watching.  It turned out to be fun in spite of the rather painful and disappointing tour.  Before we parted ways we all exchanged information and I hope that we get to see them during our future travels because they seem like kindred spirits.

It is now twenty hours since I got up and all I can think of is getting some sleep.  Below is one of the pictures I took while snorkeling.  I need to work on it a bit but I was happy to get anything halfway decent under those poor conditions.

Nikon 1 AW1, Nikkor AW 11-27.5/f3.5-5.6
11mm, f3.5, 1/640 sec @ 560 ISO

Monday, November 11, 2013

2013, Day 314 - Spotlight

This morning I awoke to the sound of rain falling heavily.  It was coming down in sheet and because it was starting to get light I took that to mean that it was time to get up.  I wasn't up for very long before Francene joined me and after booking some additional activities we decided to go to the massive pool for a morning swim.

When we arrived there was no one in the pool and only one person sitting by the pool reading.  Once we staked out our chairs we hopped in and found the water to be slightly chilly but in no time it was quite comfortable.  As we swam in laps around the massive landscaped pool area we discovered a massive grasshopper in the water.  A carefully placed poke with a stick revealed it was still alive to I took an ashtray that has been rinsed out by the rain from the seating area and scooped him out of the water.  I would conservatively say this grasshopper was six inches long.

Having started a trend Francene and I found a stick and used it to rescue may insects.  Mostly bees and ants but there was the occasional small beetle struggling in the chlorinated water praying for escape.  I should backtrack a little, Francene and I left a note for Evi that we were going down to the pool, and after we completed our tenth lap we started to wonder if she was still sleeping.  As the morning was getting on we decided to go back to our room and check in on her.

When we arrived back it was ten thirty and there was still no sign of Evi but within a few minutes she emerged.  She had to get up at two o'clock in the morning yesterday to head to the airport for her flight and we had no idea when we went to bed at midnight that she had been up for twenty-two hours.  I think she deserved her late morning.  None of us had eaten and Francene had been pressured to attend a meeting about the state of the time share industry this morning and the trap had been baited with the promise of a free meal.

So we went to the meeting where we were checked in and then escorted to another building.  Here we were met by another gentleman who proceeded to take our information, well Francene's information really, after which he escorted us to the breakfast buffet.  We had a nice meal and afterward started the pitch.

Although the tried to disguise it we were roped into a sales meeting.  We were shown the timeshare units and then came the price.  It started at almost $180,000 for four week, then it was pared down to $70,000 for a week in a room not unlike the one we are staying in right now.  He continued to offer incentives until the price was whittled down to $20,000.  No, we still weren't interested.  Then we were passed to another guy who quickly became annoyed with us and walked off.  After that yet another guy to check to see if we have been offered all the incentives.  Yes, and we still weren't interested.  Then they tell us we need to check out and we meet with yet another gentleman, this time employed by the owners of the development and not the marketing company.  He offered to make the sale with the marketing company's share cut out, that meant half the last price offered.  Still not interesting.  He finally called over another woman who basically offered us the deal for what she said was free.  We know better than that and we still weren't interested.  Okay, they took no for an answer, finally.

Then the sent us back to the lobby of their sales office to collect our gifts.  So we stood in line for half an hour commiserating with all the other people tricked in to attending.  Some had been there for almost five hours so our two hours looked like nothing in the end.  Eventually they gave us five hundred pesos of credit at the resort, ten percent off all our food purchases, and a week stay at any one of their resorts over the next eighteen months.  Plus a free breakfast.  This was my first time share sale pitch and although it wasn't worthwhile the incentives are actually decent and saying no isn't nearly as hard as some people make it sound.

All during our pitch as they moved us around I wandered off or stopped to take pictures.  A pretty flower, a backlit leaf, an anole, a gecko, an iguana, a spider, some ants, I was like a child and I was constantly having to catch up.  Not that I cared, the pitch wasn't focused on me and I got some great pictures.

By this time it was early afternoon so we decided to wander.  Eventually we found our way to the beach and soon we were collecting shells, coral, rocks, all kinds of great ocean debris.  It wasn't long before our hands were full and we decided to go back to the room to admire our new treasures.  So we headed back to our room on the other side of the massive two hundred acre resort.

We relaxed in the air conditioning, caught up on emails, chatted and had a generally pleasant afternoon.  As the sky started to darken we decided to find dinner at one of the on site restaurant.  First Francene and Evi indulged me by stopping off at the beach again for a few pictures.  It was a beautiful evening and I got even more fun pictures.  We even ignored the barrier at the pier and took some photos there was well.

Once my fix has been satisfied we found a bustling little restaurant for dinner.  The food was better than I expected and in no time we were heading back to our room for an early night.  Tomorrow we're going to be getting up before the sun rises so I think it is time for a quick shower and a good night's sleep.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f2.8, 25 sec @ 400 ISO

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013, Day 313 - Moving

We got up after a rather restless night in Mexico City and decided a bit of a wander was in order.  Since we arrived late and were well fed last night we didn't really venture out so this morning our plan was to make up for it as much as one can with such limited time so we got dressed and ventured out.

The city was still waking up and the churches were just throwing open their doors as we meandered down the street.  Araceli found a map and was in the lead with the eventual goal of Sanborns at la Casa de los Azulejos.  Originally built in the 18th century by the Count del Valle de Orizaba as his personal residence the name comes from delicate and expensive blue and white tiles that adorn the exterior.  It was purchased in the 20th century by the Sanborn brothers who made it their flagship soda fountain and drug store.  Today there are a number of cafes on different levels in the old palace and the Sanborns chain is now owned by billionaire businessman Carlos Slim.

After we at in such luxurious surroundings we stopped by a few churches and continued to wander the increasingly bustling streets of Mexico City.  Sadly this was our last morning with Araceli as our traveling buddy so we eventually wandered back to the hotel so she could finish packing and take a taxi to the airport.

Francene and I stayed until right before our one o'clock checkout time and then we too went to the airport.  Our flight wasn't until six o'clock but when we booked it we thought we might be coming form Puerto Vallarta and it would connect in Mexico City on the way to Cancun.  Well, we skipped the first leg and even though the airline assured us that they would honor the second leg of our flight without completing the first we found this claim somewhat dubious.

As it turns out they were being completely honest with us and it was no trouble at all.  Oh well, better to be safe even if it means a rather long wait at the airport.  Fortunately we found a place to have lunch, connected to the internet, and did a little catching up with the rest of the world.  Eventually our flight was assigned a departure gate and we hopped on our plane with no trouble at all.

It was a short flight to Cancun and after picking up our bags we met Evi at the airport and the three of us headed to our new hotel in Playa del Carmen.  It is one of the sprawling fancy resorts that it both nice and awful at the same time.  It will serve as base camp for the next few days so we can finally settle in a bit.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f4, 1/250 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013, Day 312 - Mountain fortress

This morning we got up, gathered our things, and went to take advantage of our free breakfast at our fancy hotel in Cuernavaca.  We went down and took a seat by the pool, all of the dining area is pool adjacent, and were presented with menus.  It was suggested that we order things that were quick for the kitchen to prepare as we only had twenty minutes before Monica was supposed to pick us up.  So it was granola with fruit and toast for me and I must grudgingly admit it was tasty.  While waiting we noticed that the white one white decor made it look like someone was getting ready for a wedding reception; nice but a little sterile feeling.

Fortunately Monica got stuck in a bit of traffic so we had an extra fifteen minutes to eat and gather our belongings before heading out to Xochicalco, another pre-Columbian ruin.  Xochicalco rose to prominence after the fall of Teotihuacan and some historians have suggested that the two events may have been connected.  There are many similarities in design and they share a similar set of religious iconography.  However, where Teotihuacan was a sprawling site in a valley Xochicalco is compact and safely set upon the peak of a mountain with good lines of sight on all sides.

Another difference is that with no nearby body of water the advanced drainage systems used at Teotihuacan were now used to supply a cistern for the citizenship.  What's more, the buildings used for storing grain were at the pinnacle near where the social elite lived which suggests a firm control over the society's food supply.

In addition to the pyramids, temples, palaces, and housing were ball courts.  Here ritualistic games were played to settle disputes or appeal to the gods and the losers were sacrificed.  There might be something to that idea, it would make professional athletes earn their absurd salaries.  So important were these contests that there were three fields set up at the north, south, and east ends of the complex.

There is also an observatory, something we didn't see at Teotihuacan.  It was really more of a system of caves and in one chamber there is a stone chimney that bores through the ceiling.  At certain times of the year a shaft of light will come straight down to penetrate the inner chamber.  It is thought that there would have been a large basin of water in which to observe the reflections and therein preserve your eyes and allow for multiple observers.  The precision of this measurement of days allowed the priests to tell the peasants when to plant, when to harvest, and to direct other seasonal activities with what appeared to be otherworldly precision.

It was a really interesting tour and because we got an early start and thanks to Monica's planning we managed to avoid other visitors almost entirely.  We did run into a few European tourists and two local couples but we pretty much had the pyramids to ourselves and it was great.  Even the weather was on our side, it was a little bit hot but there was a nice breeze and Monica made good use of the sparse shade provided by the occasional tree.

As we crept into afternoon we retreated to the visitor's center and the adjoining museum.  Here we were treated to some well preserved pottery and stone carvings.  Many of the designs and materials would have been foreign to Xochicalco and this is an illustration of their power and influence that they traded for and had knowledge of a great many things beyond their community with a reach as far as the oceans hundreds of miles away.

After we finish in the museum it was time to find a late lunch.  After inspecting one place and announcing that it wouldn't meet our needs Monica took us to a little local outdoor buffet.  We had a tasty lunch, if a little bit basic, for almost nothing and could eat until it came out our noses.  I think perhaps we overindulged but we left happy and slightly sleepy for the ride into Mexico City.  Fortunately Monica chatted happily with us, told us about other places in Mexico to see and visit and by the time we arrived our heads were spinning with all kinds of ideas.

We arrived at our odd little hotel in downtown Mexico City as the sun was setting.  It is a big room although that is about the best that you can say as it is a little old, a little tired, and a little noisy.  Still, it is cheap, clean, safe, and has reliable internet access so we're happy.  Once we completed a quick trip to the convenience store we retired to our computers to do a little planning and catch up with the world.

Below is a picture of the remains of one of the housing areas in the elite part of Xochicalco.  This is on the north side of the complex and has amazing views of the valley below.  Both here and at Teotihuacan the homes had doors but no windows and the floors tend to slope gently towards the doorways.

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 8, 2013

2013, Day 311 - Humping hoppers

We had a sleep in day this morning which means we didn't get out of bed until seven thirty!  I guess we're on our schedule and it is hard to break the habit of getting up early.  Today we're traveling from Teotihuacan to Cuernavaca to be closer to the ruins at Xochicalco which we are visiting tomorrow.  So we took our time and when a knock came at the door we didn't know what to expect.  As it happens the proprietor of our hotel was coming to tell us that she was making us a complimentary breakfast.  That meant getting out of bed and putting getting dressed; food is a great motivator.

She fed us well, huevos Mexicana with fresh baked bread, a side of beans, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a massive pitcher of coffee.  It was more food that I could eat although my traveling companions decided to make me look bad by cleaning their plates.  I just have to remember, it's not a competition.

After breakfast we continued to kill time as we couldn't check in to our next hotel until three o'clock.  Bored, I asked Francene if she wanted to look for spiders in the vacant lot next door.  Araceli opted not to join us, she doesn't like creepy crawlies I guess.  There were a number of huge spider which we later discovered were cannibalizing each other and we found a number of butterflies, some more grasshoppers, a couple scary looking wasps, and a caterpillar.  The grasshoppers were still mostly interested in mating which meant they were big and fat and not especially concerned with us as much as finding a partner.  It was a lot of fun but we did tell Araceli we would be right back so after a little while we returned to our hotel and finished our packing.

Burdened with our luggage we set out from our hotel by cab to the closed bus terminal.  There we caught a bus to Mexico City and we made a connection to another bus line on to Cuernavaca.  Had we our own car and no traffic it would have taken about an hour and forty minutes but instead it took about three and a half hours.  Oh well, we got in about as early as we could check in anyway.

Our new hotel is very fancy where the last was quite basic.  We're in the midst of everything which we discovered when we dropped off our bags and went in search of dinner.  Apparently there are all kinds of bars right outside our door and some were already packed at five o'clock.  We skipped all these and found a nice place across the street from the central plaza.  While we ate we watched vendors setting up booths and by the time dinner was over the park was getting crowded.

Ever curious we first wandered past the graduation photos and on through a little market.  Nothing there caught our fancy so we kept walking on to the plaza.  It was obviously an event for the locals, they were setting up a stage at one end where eventually the ballet folklorico dancers would perform, and there were tons of food and snack vendors.  We made the rounds, found a bunch of mariachi groups, none performing, and when we looped around the dancing had started.  It was a very energetic performance and we stayed for about half an hour before returning to the hotel.

On the way we stopped for ice cream, tonight I had pineapple with chile.  It was spicy, sweet, and refreshing!  We arrived back at our luxurious hotel for the night and got cleaned up.  Tomorrow it is on to Xochicalco for more ruins!

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/500 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013, Day 310 - Gods of water

This morning we awoke to quite a chilly day.  We all broke out our warmest clothes which weren't really all that warm and layered up as much as possible.  When we left our room to meet up with our guide we could see the white plumes of our breath in the crisp air.

Monica, our guide, was only a few minutes later than we agreed and given that she had almost an hour drive I think we can forgive her for that.  She spirited us away and in moments we were pulling into the parking lot at the citadel, the first stop on our visit to Teotihuacan.  Within moments of stepping out of the car we had a white and black dog come bounding up to us with great excitement.  He had no tail but his whole butt was wiggling with joy at meeting new friends.  We decided to call him Spot and he followed us around with his friend for over an hour.

As we walked to the first pyramid Spot and his buddy followed, playing and wrestling the whole way.  There are two pyramids in the citadel complex, the earlier is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl and bears his image and that of the Tlaloc, the god of water.  The second was meant to replace the first is called the Adosada platform.  The platform is open to the public and as we climbed and descended Spot continued to follow, urging us to pet him when we were standing still and getting information from Monica.

When we left the citadel other visitors were beginning to arrive and Spot stay behind with his friend in their home range.  From there we got back into the car and drove nearer the site of the Temple of the Sun.  It is the largest of the temples at Teotihuacan although its ultimate elevation is the same as the Temple of the Moon because of the latter's higher elevation.   Undeterred by the height we ascended the pyramid which offers an exceptional view of the entire complex.

Once we descended it was back into the car to drive closer to the Temple of the Moon.  Here we were able to see some of the preserved paintings with all kinds of iconography intact.  We also had a display of how the red dye was collected that the residents used to adorn the stucco that covered all the structures.  It is extracted by grinding the eggs of an insect that nests on the cactus paddles and is then set using the liquid extracted from the same cactus.  The intensity of the color and the amount produced by a tiny collection of eggs was staggering.  At the Temple of the Moon we were only permitted to climb to the top of the first platform but the cloudy morning made for a spectacular view of the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in the distance.

By this time it wasn't quite noon but because we had such an early start when Monica suggested we eat we jumped at the suggestion.  She took us to her favorite place where we had nice big breakfasts.  It was so much food that even though we were starving none of us was able to eat all that was set in front of us.

After lunch Monica took us by our hotel to help us arrange to have some laundry done before taking us back to the temple complex.  We continued to explore some of the smaller sites where people made their homes.  While these were small complexes of structures it was here that the best examples of the art was preserved.  We saw jaguars, coyotes, serpents, birds, gods, depictions of paradise, and all kinds of depictions of daily life illustrated on the walls.  It was very interesting and always there were images of the two sacred liquids; water and blood.

At one point I was able to distract Monica into examining some of the large spiders that spin their webs on the cacti.  When we discovered little fat grasshoppers in the tall grass she really started to take note.  Soon we were all looking at the grasshoppers who appeared to be having an orgy of sorts in the grass around the cacti.  It was a fun diversion and I think I got some good pictures.

Soon it was getting late and Monica told us that the archeological site closes at four o'clock.  I couldn't believe the day had gone by so quickly.  Although we got a chilly start it was perfect weather for running around and climbing pyramids.  Fortunately we have already booked her for another archeological site in a couple days, she was definitely worth the expense.

So we headed back to the hotel where we whiled away much of the afternoon reading and playing on the internet.  Although none of us had much of an appetite after our huge meal earlier we decided to go out and find a little something just to be safe.  I guess it is a good thing we only wanted something little because none of the restaurants was open, probably because temple complex closed hours ago.  Oh well, we went back to the bakery we stopped by last night and bought some bread and found some cheese at a little corner store and that was our dinner.  Now we're finishing up the day and getting ready to call it an early night.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
26mm, f5.6, merged layers of 1/800, 1/400, and 1/200 sec @ 100 ISO

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013, Day 309 - Spare a thought

Sadly we left Guanajuato this morning.  It would have been nice to have a few more days to wander the streets, alleys, and tunnels but the temples are calling so we packed our bags.  Once we were more-or-less together we decided to take advantage of the free continental breakfast.  Admittedly it wasn't much but that was fine with me, I didn't want to need the bathroom too urgently on our day of travel.

Initially we were planning on taking a later bus out of town but we were ready so we caught the earlier bus to Mexico City.  It wasn't as luxurious as the last bus we took and it was a lot more crowded but it was a bit cheaper than the last one we took to Guanajuato.

Once in Mexico City we had the option of taking another bus to Teotihuacan or take a taxi.  We opted for the taxi thinking it would be quicker.  That was true and when we arrived in Teotihuacan we discovered that the bus is really just a van and felt a bit of relief that we didn't try that route because it would have been difficult with our bags, especially considering that they were packed in.

After a little confusion our taxi driver found our hotel.  The proprietor wasn't around but they was a group of locals using their common area and one spoke English well enough to help us find a room.  I suppose he will leave a note for the owner to let them know we're here.  We also asked about where to eat and he brought back a nice woman who was cooking for the group who said she would make us dinner for forty-five pesos each (that is less than four dollars).  She even brought a little sample which helped to seal the deal.

Fifteen minutes later we were sitting in the common room sipping glasses of guava juice.  Soon we were presented with plates of rice, a big bowl of beans, a stack of hot tortillas, and I was given a bowl of nice scrambled eggs while Francene and Araceli got beef stew.  To finish it off was a slightly sweet and spicy salsa that was delicious.  It was a lot of food and we pretty much cleared our plates.  All was excellent and very filling; a steal at forty-five pesos.

With dinner completed we went for a walk through the town.  There are metallic buntings that crisscross the streets and in the evening light they sparkled.  I don't know if they were part of their Dia de los Muertos celebration or for something else entirely but I liked the effect.  As we wandered it quickly became obvious that we're the only foreigners around town but it seems safe in a small town way.  We even found a bakery that was still open and bought some pastries for breakfast tomorrow.  Given that it was a long day of travel we headed back to our hotel to play on the slow internet and get ready to turn in early.

Below is another one of the baby sea turtles we released in La Libertad.  These little guys are so cute and I keep hoping that they all made it safely past the predators to the open ocean.  That is probably as close as I will ever come to praying.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f5.6, 1/500 sec @ 100 ISO

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2013, Day 308 - Hills of Frogs

Today was our full day in Guanajuato and I can already say that it isn't enough.  This city is amazing and beautiful, the people are friendly, and the food has been fantastic.  We started the day with a light breakfast of fruit, toast, and cereal and then got ourselves ready to meet with our guide.

Alex met us in the lobby of our hotel early and we set off on our walking tour.  The first stop was the basilica across the street.  Guanajuato has no cathedral, he explained, because there isn't a bishopric in this city.  That is not to say it isn't an important religious site, Pope Benedict visited a few years ago and stayed about a block away from our hotel.  He then took us to the university which was founded by Jesuits in the 16th century and after that he talked at length about the school's recent history and my mind started to wander.  I did get to wondering if we should redirect him towards the topics that hold interested to us but it was hard to find an opening.

Alex told us about the mineral wealth, mostly gold and silver, and how this was the jewel of the Spanish empire in Mexico.  The name Guanajuato is derived from the native words for "hills of frogs" because of the shape and color of the mountains surrounding the city.  I suppose it is a trait that could have be observed in the past but it isn't obvious now.  Sadly there is no connection to real frogs but the climate is probably too dry for that even if there used to be natural rivers cutting through the settlement.

We explored some of the tunnels, saw the museum to Cervantes and the statutes of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  In October they have a three week festival dedicated to Cervantes which we just missed but which was described as rather overwhelming.  Apparently Guanajuato's sister city is Ashland, Oregon where they have the Shakespeare festival for ten months out of the year.

Finally we circled around to see Guanajuato's mummies.  The high mineral content in the water here coupled with the used of catacombs due to the rocky soil has led to natural mummification.  A tax on burial plots has forced the eviction of some tenants and of those a fraction have been put on display in their museum.  It is a rather macabre collection of people with a fairly mixed representation.  There is a man who died of a stab wound where you can see the wound and the staining of the tissue surrounding, a woman who died with her unborn child both displayed together, a number of people of European descent, a Chinese woman, and a number of children and infants, one of which looks as though it was autopsied.  I may share a few pictures eventually but they might be rather disturbing for most.  Although one young boy who couldn't have been much more than three years old excitedly pointed out all the babies to his family so I guess it isn't upsetting for everyone.

It was getting into the afternoon and we decided lunch was in order.  We looked at a couple menus and when I found one with something acceptable I was ready regardless of the quality.  Fortunately the food turned out to be excellent, I had the fish tacos and I don't think it is the hunger speaking we I say they were the best I've ever tasted.  Once we paid our bill Francene did a little shopping and then we stopped off for gelato at a different place where it was not only cheaper but better too!

We then retired to our hotel for a little relaxation before heading out again to take the funicular to the best viewpoint in the city.  It was raining but by the time we got to the top the thunder had stopped and the rain lightened to a mist.  Once we had taken our pictures we were ready for a light dinner but there wasn't must to speak of by way of food up there so we walked down the steep winding stairs into town and one of the first places we came to was a well-review Italian restaurant.  I had the pizza because I have had a little too much fish recently and it was quite tasty.  Francene and Araceli both raved about their food; I think it was polenta and enchiladas respectively.

Full again we stopped off for some Mexican candies, some bottled water, and just a little more gelato before retiring for the night.  Tomorrow we are on the road again; although I generally prefer to stay put a bit this has been a lot of fun so far, I am just so happy to be away from Puerto Vallarta, it is not my kind of travel at all.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
20mm, f8, merged layers of 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, and 1/8 sec @ 100 ISO

Monday, November 4, 2013

2013, Day 307 - Holiest

This morning we had a mysterious start to our day because our hotel room has no exterior facing windows so it was difficult to just what time it was without checking the clock.  Finally I got up to use the bathroom just before seven and in the process spurred everyone into action.  We got dressed and walked into town to look at all the Dia de los Muertos decorations without the crowds, check out the historic buildings, and get a little site seeing in before we leave in a few hours.

The churches were massive and quite spectacular, the photo below is from the Catedral de Guadalajara.  Boy does God ever have a bunch of nice homes, I suppose it vindicates my career, invest in real estate!  Since it was early the only things we could get into were the churches but that was fun and we felt a little less cheated that we were spending so little time in that most interesting of cities.

We returned to our hotel to clean up and get our packing done before finding breakfast.  My slightly dodgy belly is still a little bit of a concern though much improved so I had fruit and yogurt while Francene ate a mountain of eggs and Araceli had a pile of chilaquiles.  Although I was a little jealous I was concerned about the upcoming four hour journey.

This time we decided against hiring a private car not only because of the expense but we knew that realistically we wouldn't be stopping on the way.  Therefore we opted to take the bus.  Now I know the idea of taking a four hour bus ride in Mexico sounds scary but for forty dollars you get a new luxury touring bus with recliners, massive leg room, onboard individual entertaining, free wireless internet and a snack.  It felt like a bargain to us and the suspension was so smooth that it was like being on a cruise ship.

When we stopped in Guanajuato it didn't look that exciting but it was only the bus terminal.  Once we collected our bags and found a cab we wended our way into town.  First we went through new construction with lots of big box type shops until we passed through a small tunnel and it got less commercial.  After another tunnel the roads narrowed and the traffic increased.  Though another tunnel and the streets became cobblestones and the buildings we looming above us.  It is so European here!  The city limits signage so it doesn't distract from the architecture.  There are churches and theaters all over the town and each is an impressive monument.  We were and still are so excited to be here.

Our hotel is right in the middle of everything in the historic district and the rooftop patio had wonderful views.  There is no air conditioning in our building but the high today was seventy-five degrees and the low tonight is supposed to be fifty-five with almost no humidity.  It is such a welcome relief!

So after soaking in our new accomodations we headed into town.  First we wandered aimlessly and kept finding all kinds of little gems of buildings, streets, and alleys.  Then we decided to find dinner and between a guidebook in Francene's bag and Araceli's sharp eyes we found a little place at the top of a lot of narrow winding steps.  It was a house that was converted to a restaurant and we didn't really know what kind of food to expect but the view was amazing and we were hungry.  When it turned out to be Italian we were all find with that and happily ate our various pasta dishes.  It was delicious and we had an ideal vantage point from which to watch the sun set over the city.

After dinner we wandered some more, explored and took pictures.  There was a candy shop we passed earlier and a walk down an alley deposited us right at its doors so we went in.  It's like the Mexican version of Willy Wonka's factory.  They offered us samples of so many little treats it was had to decide what to buy.  Of course we say we're buying for our friends and family back home but they may end up with the stuff we didn't like so much.  It will still be good and they will be none the wiser.

Even though we sampled a bit of candy we also wanted ice cream so that was our next mission.  We found a little helado shop and both Araceli and I wanted the same flavor, pinon, pine nut.  It was in a fruit base and was delicious.  All this time we continued to wander and after a series of turns came to a tunnel.  When I asked my companions if we should take the obvious alley back to the hotel or explore the tunnel the latter was the resounding choice.  It is crazy, there are intersections in the tunnel!  After quite a bit of walking we came out the other side and it was only another five minutes to get back to the hotel.

There was no fighting for the shower, we're quite civilized about that, and soon we were all clean, well-fed, and generally content.  So I loaded the day's pictures and sat down to share all of our adventures.  Tomorrow we explore more of the city and I am like a kid before Christmas!

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f2.8, 1/60 @ 2500 ISO