Monday, December 5, 2016

THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS: Guest Post by Scott Chandler

Blue-footed Booby, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
For two weeks in September, Art’s colleague Scott Chandler and his wife Sonja traveled to South America, visiting sites in Peru and in the Galapagos in Ecuador. Scott is an excellent photographer and has graciously given me permission to share some of his photos. Scott's photos were taken with an Olympus digital camera. For more of his photos of this trip and of his other adventures, you can go to his website: www.shcphotography.com/Landscapes . His report on the Peru half of his South American trip posted last week. Here is his report on the Galapagos.
Cruise ship Isabella II, anchored in the Galapagos
From Peru our trip went to Ecuador and to the Galapagos. We visited probably six islands. We were on a yacht/ship that held 40 people. We would sail during the night to different islands and disembark to visit each island during the morning; the day would also include snorkeling. We would have breakfast around 6:30 in the morning; then, on small zodiac boats which held ten people, we would go onto the island for a hike with fantastic naturalists.
Iguana
It's amazing how close and personal you can get with these animals. They have accommodated to our presence. We would come back to the ship in the late morning and basically put our wetsuits on and go back out in the zodiac to go deep water snorkeling.
Deep water snorkeling
Some of us had underwater cameras like I did and were able to capture the beauty of he planet underneath. This was the first time I ever really saw what it looks like to see underwater since I wear glasses and never had a prescription mask, which I did this time. Then we would come back for a fabulous buffet lunch and chat with all the other people about our experience during the day.
Young fur seal
Then, after some resting, there were a number of options in the afternoon: we could go back snorkeling sometimes, or take late afternoon hikes in different parts of the island. Because of the popularity of the Galapagos islands the Park service is tightly regulating where ships can set their anchor and how many people are allowed to be on any particular island at a time.
View from an island
Because of this strict policy, when you go on the island you feel like there's nobody there but your small group. Since we had a total of 36 on our tour we had approximately three zodiac boats which would disembark on the island at any one time. However, each naturalist would take the group in a different direction so you felt like you were in a small party of 10 or 12. We spent six nights on the boat. Then, when it was over, we went back to Guayaquil for a last night dinner and then everybody was off of their own to get back home. We were gone a total of 15 days in Peru and Ecuador.
Yellow Warbler
We went on this trip with the tour company Tauck. It is fair to say the trip was totally fantastic. I would love to do it again. I think both of us enjoyed the Galapagos part even more than the Machu Picchu part of the trip.
Sunset in the Galapagos

Monday, November 28, 2016

PERU: Lima, Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Guest Post by Scott Chandler

Machu Picchu, Peru
For two weeks in September, Art’s colleague Scott Chandler and his wife Sonja traveled to South America, visiting sites in Peru and in the Galapagos in Ecuador. Scott is an excellent photographer and has graciously given me permission to share some of his photos. Scott's photos were taken with an Olympus digital camera. For more of his photos of this trip and of his other adventures, you can go to his website: www.shcphotography.com/Landscapes . Here is his report on the Peru half of his South America trip. The Galapagos report will post next week.
The Andes
We went to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos September 6 through the 22nd of this year, spending our first week in Peru. We started in Lima then went high up in the Andes where we visited the Sacred Valley.
Machu Picchu
Then we spent a day or so overnight at Machu Picchu and stayed in the famous sanctuary lodge which is fabulous and across the street from the entrance to the ruins.
Cuzco, Plaza de Armas
From there we went to Cuzco, the capital of the Inca empire. We visited numerous archaeological sites and were schooled on how precise they built their structures.
Cuzco at night: Fountain in front of the  Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús
We went on this trip with the tour company Tauck. First part of the trip was on land and we had excellent accommodations and food; the Galapagos part was on a yacht/ship that held 40 people. We would sail during the night to different islands and disembark to visit each island during the morning; the day would also include snorkeling. It is fair to say the trip was totally fantastic. I would love to do it again.
Hats for Sale

Monday, November 21, 2016

SPAIN: Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 2, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Two cyclists and one weary pilgrim
My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle (above on the left), is an avid and accomplished cyclist. Here is the conclusion to her report of her trip she made with a group of other cyclists along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. 

Walking through the woods
The Camino sometimes parallels main roads and quiet roads, other times veers off into the woods or hills. One morning a few of us chose to walk 12 km up through the woods, rather than cycle the steep road.  Walking offers a more meditative pace than cycling for those who travel the Camino with a personal or spiritual goal. One young Australian had quit his career and was hiking the five hundred miles to figure out his future.  When we met him he had been walking for three weeks, with one week to go. He hadn’t found the answer yet.
Baroque interior of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compstela
Finally we reached Santiago, a city filled with pilgrims, tourists, and university students. No one does Baroque like the Spanish and the Cathedral, home of the famous bones, is an exuberant example. 

Gretchen's Camino passport, stamped along the way
Then it was time to redeem our reward. Our group of fourteen enthusiastically embraced the tradition of Camino passports. At every café, hotel, chapel, and cathedral we visited, we rushed to get a stamp to prove our legitimacy as pilgrims. In Santiago we showed out passports and got a personalized certificate – in Latin!

Two routes out of town
My friend, Alice Burston, and I spent two more days in the city. We traveled (by bus) to Finisterre, where the Camino meets the Atlantic. We visited three wonderful museums in Santiago – ethnography, contemporary art, and a history of pilgrimage. In the latter, we saw images of James and his pilgrims through the centuries. (James morphed from a pilgrim to a Crusader warrior as the centuries passed.) 


Statue of 17th Century pilgrim
One sculpture struck my fancy: a German pilgrim adorned with 17th century bling – golden scallops adorning hand, hat, and cape.  Today’s 21st century cyclists in lycra and hikers with ergonomic backpacks sport different gear, but continue the ancient tradition. ¡Buen Camino!

For more information on the history and geography of the Camino de Santiago, see http://santiago-compostela.net
I booked my cycling trip with Exodus Travel: https://www.exodustravels.com/usa


Monday, November 14, 2016

SPAIN: Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 1, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Signpost to Santiago de Campostela, Spain
My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle, is an avid and accomplished cyclist. Here is her report of her recent bicycle trip in Spain following the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The second half of her report will post next week. 

Back around 840 CE, a bishop reported that a pile of bones had washed up in a stone boat on the northeast coast of Spain. He claimed they belonged to St. James the apostle.  How James, beheaded in Jerusalem, got to Spain is unclear. Some say transported by angels. In any case, by the 11th century, the bones and their many attributed miracles brought a stream of pilgrims from all over Europe to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. This stream shows no sign of drying up.
A welcome coffee break along the way
Today tens of thousands of people make their way to Santiago from France, Portugal, and northern Spain. In the past, most walked while the rich rode on horseback or in carriages. Today most still walk and some ride bicycles. I was one of the cyclists this past September. 
The scallop shell is the Camino's logo and can be seen everywhere along the route
Our group began in Leon, 340km (211 miles) from Santiago and cycled for six days. All day long we passed backpacking pilgrims and exchanged greetings: “¡Buen Camino!” Many hikers stay in spartan hostel or monastery dormitories.  We stayed in hotels with hot showers. We met two older couples who walked all day, but hired a taxi to take their backpacks from inn to inn.
A bicyclist's view of Galicia
The Camino grew steeper and more scenic as we entered Galicia with wooded mountains, streams, rivers, and ancient villages – and its own language. Restaurants offered reasonably-priced “pilgrim’s dinners” which included good local wines. We saw the Camino logo, a scallop shell, everywhere – on doors, gates, and signposts, in gift shops, and tied to walkers’ backpacks.
Gaudi palace in Astorga
In Astorga we had a view from our balcony of the Bishop’s Palace, designed by Gaudi. In Molinoseca, a small village, we cooled off in the Meruelo River.
O Cebreiro bagpipe band
A stroke of serendipity found us in the hilltop village of O Cebreiro on the feast day of the Virgin Mary. Dozens of vendors selling cakes, honey, cheese, garlic, and other regional specialties joined thousands of people who had come to celebrate. The small church, lit by hundreds of votive candles, echoed with medieval organ music. Outside, a bagpipe ensemble harkened back to Galicia’s Celtic roots.
Tympanum of San Xoan, Portomarin
The Romanesque church in Portomarin drew me to its unadorned elegance. In the 1960s, it and the entire town were relocated stone by stone from a nearby valley when a huge hydroelectric dam was built. Rambling through the cobblestone streets, I couldn’t imagine the effort that went into such a project.

Look for Part 2 and the completion of Gretchen's bicycle pilgrimage next week, November 21, 2016

For more information on the history and geography of the Camino de Santiago, see http://santiago-compostela.net
I booked my cycling trip with Exodus Travel: https://www.exodustravels.com/usa


Monday, November 7, 2016

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK: Fall Weekend

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park in California is perhaps the most spectacular of all our nation’s parks and one of my favorites. With its massive rock formations, rushing rivers, tumbling waterfalls, and thick forests, it is hard to beat. I have been there numerous times, and it never fails to amaze and inspire.

Picnic area at Wawona near the Pioneer Yosemite History Center
Two weeks ago, Art and I were there for the weekend, spending most of our time at Wawona, near the southern entrance to the park. We did not go down into Yosemite Valley, which is always the most crowded place in the park.  The weather was warm and sunny and the leaves on the aspens and oaks had turned yellow, perfect for sightseeing along Glacier Point Road, with its views into Yosemite Valley and of Half Dome, and for hiking along the Merced River at Wawona.
View of Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls from Washburn Point on the Glacier Point Road
On Saturday we started with a picnic lunch overlooking the South Fork of the Merced River near the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. We then continued down Highway 41 to Glacier Point road, a twisty mountain road that dead ends at Glacier Point. We had to wait about twenty minutes to get to the parking lot, but the wait was worth it.
Map of trails and viewing areas at Glacier Point
From the viewing area we gazed at Half Dome and the peaks of the Sierras beyond, peered over the railing to see tiny cars and buildings in the valley below, and read about the giant glaciers that carved the valley in the geology exhibit. That evening we ate dinner at the historic Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel).
Chilnualna Falls
The next morning we returned to Wawona from our bed and breakfast in Oaklhurst and drove to the parking area for Chilnualna Falls where we followed the path for the short hike to the bottom of the falls. After returning to the main path, we continued to the Swinging Bridge, a half-hour walk through a forested valley to a narrow footbridge over the North Fork of the Merced River. Although we encountered a few other hikers along the way, most of the time we were alone with nature.
Swinging bridge over the North Fork of the Merced River
Our last stop after leaving the park and eating lunch at the Tenaya Lodge Resort in Fish Camp, was at the Sugar Pine Railroad, where there is a small but interesting museum focusing on the days when the train was used to transport lumber.
The purpose of our trip to Yosemite was to make preparations for a family reunion we plan to have there next June staying at The Redwoods in Yosemite. We look forward to our return!
Turnoff for Chilnualna Falls from Highway 41


For the weekend we stayed at the Hounds Tooth Inn, a bed and breakfast in Oakhurst, 22 miles from the the park, about a forty minute drive to Wawona.

For information about visiting Yosemite National Park, go to the park website

Note: The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Wawona entrance to Yosemite is currently closed for restoration. It is expected to reopen by early summer 2017.

Monday, October 31, 2016

BENICIA, CA: Art, History, and Small Town Charm on the Carquinez Strait

Benicia, California. Former Rail Ferry Depot
Recently, on a sunny afternoon in late August, I drove with friends from our house in Oakland for an afternoon visit to the small town of Benicia, California, located on the Carquinez Strait at the north end of San Francisco Bay. Once a military outpost, and for a brief time the capitol of California, the town is now known for its arts community and for its restaurants and antique shops.
Looking east from the parking area toward Mount Diablo (elevation 3948 feet)
The motivation for our trip was an event called “Paint Out”, a community art celebration and competition for plein air (open air) painters.
Plein Air painting by Susan Street
During the day the artists spread out around town with their paints and easels and set themselves at work depicting various local scenes. We spotted one artist painting a floral scene after we parked our car near the bayside park and later saw others painting views of the water and bridge. Then at 3:00 all the artists brought their work to a central gallery, where the art was exhibited, judges awarded prizes and refreshments were available to everybody.
Blown glass vase at Lindsay Art Glass
While we waited for the exhibit to open, we wandered along First Street, browsing in some of the many antique and gift shops and visiting an amazing blown glass gallery, Lindsay Art Glass.
Looking west from Benicia toward the 101 Bridge and San Francisco Bay
Although I had passed the exit for Benicia from the 101 Freeway many times, this was my first visit. I remember reading about the Carquinez Strait (which connects San Francisco Bay with the Sacramento River delta) in 1985, when a young grey whale swam into San Francisco Bay on his annual migration up the coast, and mistakenly headed inland instead of back out to sea. Dubbed “Humphrey the Wrong-Way Whale” his journey was watched by millions both in person and on television until he finally turned around and safely made it back to the Pacific.
The Arsenal
For many years Benicia was a U.S. Army post. The beautiful Arsenal building from the former Army Base is now offices and art galleries. Benicia also still has some elegant Victorian homes from its early days. A trip to Benicia is a pleasant day's outing from Oakland or San Francisco and a nice escape from the hurly burly of city life. I plan to go back!