Monday, January 29, 2018

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

At the entrance to the de Young Museum in San Francisco with an image from the Teotihuacan Exhibit
Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, California, is an amazing display of recent discoveries from the ancient city of Teotihuacan, whose ruins lie just outside the modern metropolis of Mexico City. One of the earliest, largest, and most important cities in the ancient Americas, Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited archaeological site in Mexico.
Detail of fresco mural with animal motifs; colors were made from natural dyes applied directly to the wet plaster.
I first visited Teotihuacan in 1991 on a day trip from Mexico City. (See my post of 11/11/13.) I climbed the steep steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon and toured some of the buildings that once had been workshops and living quarters. I was amazed at the complexity of the sculptures, murals, and other decorative motifs as well as the sheer size of the city. Two years later I returned to research my book, City of the Gods: Mexico’s Ancient City of Teotihuacan. Since my visits in the 1990s many new discoveries have been made. When I heard they were being exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco I made a special point of visiting when I was in the Bay Area in December. (The exhibit goes from September 30, 2017 to February 11, 2018.)
Mosaic figure from Pyramid of the Moon excavations
The exhibition, organized in collaboration with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de AntropologĂ­a e Historia (INAH), features recent, never-before-seen archaeological discoveries and other major loans from Mexican and US cultural institutions. Monumental and ritual objects from Teotihuacan’s three pyramids are shown alongside mural paintings, ceramics, and stone sculptures from the city’s apartment compounds.
Shell necklace beads
From jewelry, masks, small carved figures to large sections of murals and depictions of various deities, the exhibit is a fascinating look at this ancient city and its thriving culture. Here are just a few of some of my favorite items in the exhibit.
Avian effigy vessel, ceramic, shell, greenstone and stucco 
Section of much longer wall fresco decorated with footprints along the bottom
Thousands of tiny clay figures just a few inches high have been found at Teotihuacan. It is believed that they were used as part of daily household rituals.
Brazier supported by the hunched figure of the Old God; it is believed the brazier was used to burn incense and that the eyes carved on the side are symbols of fire.
Quetzal sculpture; the quetzal, a bird native to Central America, was valued for its bright green feathers.
Fresco fragment of bird with shield and spear; the curved lines from the bird's mouth indicate speaking or singing
Teotihuacan was the largest and most important city in Mexico and Central America for more than 800 years. But around 750 C.E., the civilization at Teotihuacan disintegrated and the city fell to ruins. During centuries of disuse, what was left of the buildings gradually fell down and became overgrown with weeds. Only a small portion of what once was the great city of Teotihuacan has been excavated. Continuing research will reveal more about this first great city in the Americas.

Monday, January 22, 2018

KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia, Part 2: Hanson Bay, Seal Bay and Kingscote

Hanson Bay Beach, Kangaroo Island, Australia
Why do people go to Kangaroo Island? For the beaches and outdoor sports, for wildlife viewing and for the delicious locally grown fresh food.
Our fourth day on Kangaroo Island began with a visit to the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to book a guided spotlight tour for that evening. (Most Australian wildlife is nocturnal and best seen at night or at dawn and dusk.) We then proceeded to the turnoff for the dirt road to Hanson Bay, a pristine and beautiful beach that is also the beginning of a walking trail to the Kelly Hill Caves. Almost no one else was there–as was true for other beaches we had visited on Kangaroo Island. I couldn’t pass up the chance to put my feet in the Southern Ocean and found the water pleasantly refreshing–not nearly as cold as the Pacific Ocean on California beaches at home.
The trail at Hanson Beach overlooks the nesting grounds of hooded terns; visitors are cautioned to walk along the wet sand during the nesting season
The sand dunes on the far side of the bay are covered with hardy low growing plants adapted to the wind and arid conditions and where hooded terns build their nests.
Koala joey exploring on its own
That evening, after an early dinner on the veranda of the Wilderness Retreat, our lodging for three nights, we returned to the Wildlife Sanctuary for our nighttime tour. The sun was just setting and the animals were stirring. Dozens of koalas could be seen in the branches of the huge eucalyptus trees planted along the main avenue. We watched a young koala joey scramble down from his mother’s branch and practice climbing on its own. Then we had to jump aside to avoid two adults in a wild chase as one headed for his escape up a nearby tree. Never have I seen koalas move so fast.
The echidna or spiny anteater is one of two egg laying mammals; a baby echidna is called a puggle
As the day grew dark we moved into the fenced area to look for kangaroos, wallabies, possums and echidnas who live inside this huge area safe from foxes and other predators.
Tammar wallaby
When we spotted an animal, the guide and her assistant highlighted it with flashlights. As long as we didn’t get too close, the animals paid little attention to us. At the end of the evening we returned to our hotel under a Southern sky brilliant with stars and unfamiliar constellations.
In the morning we checked out of our hotel and headed back to the east end of the island, stopping again at the Hanson Bay Café to buy a supply of Kangaroo Island honey to take home as souvenirs. The honey, made from eucalyptus flowers, has a unique taste.(Elsewhere on the island one can visit the honey farm.)
Australian sea lions at Seal Bay
Our main stop of the day was at Seal Bay to see the endangered Australian sea lions. Hundreds line the beach. Walkways and platforms allow people to observe the sea lions. We took a guided tour onto the beach but still had to stay a safe distance away from the huge animals, which can move surprisingly quickly on their flippers across the sand.
From Seal Bay we drove to Kingscote, the largest town on Kangaroo Island (population 1,763). It is both the tourist center, with a variety of art galleries, shops, and restaurants along its main street, as well as being the island’s municipal center.
Cormorants roosting for the night at Baudin Beach
From there we continued to our B and B at Baudin Beach near Penneshaw, ending the day with a walk along the path on the bank above the beach. In the morning, we were scheduled for an early trip on the ferry. Our five days on Kangaroo Island had been full and relaxing. It was the perfect kind of vacation!

Monday, January 15, 2018

KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia, Part 1: Penneshaw, American River, Flinders Chase

Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
For many years, people have told us--if you like watching wildlife and spending time outdoors, you should go to Kangaroo Island. So we did. And we were rewarded with plenty of bird and animal sightings plus opportunities to hike and explore the many trails and beaches, taking hundreds of photographs along the way. Located a short distance (a 45 minute ferry ride) off the Australian coast south of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island stretches more than 100 miles from end to end. It is the third largest island in Australia (after Tasmania and Melville Island in the Northern Territory) and more than a third of it is dedicated to parks and wilderness protection areas.
We arrived in December at the beginning of the Australian summer, but before the busy holiday season, so at many of the places we visited we saw few other people. We spent five nights on the island, two at the east end, making our base near Penneshaw, and three nights at the west end, staying at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat, close to the entrance to Flinders Chase National Park.
Galahs, a kind of cockatoo, are common in Australia and often considered to be pests
After getting off at the ferry landing we stopped in Penneshaw at the Kangaroo Island Visitor Information Center, which is packed with brochures, maps, and helpful people at the desk. Our first and last nights were at the Figtree B and B at Baudin Beach a few miles up the road. After dinner that night at the Penneshaw Hotel in town, we came back to find cockatoos roosting on the wire overhead and a kangaroo calmly munching plants right in front of our porch. (Kangaroos are found all over the island, but seen mainly at dusk and dawn.)
Beginning of Beach and Bush trail in American River decorated with feathers found by hikers
On our second day we headed for American River to take a walk through the forest in search of endangered black cockatoos (which we never found) although we did spot a variety of water birds along the beach, including a flock of black swans. When we got back to our car we noticed a koala taking a nap in the eucalyptus tree right over the parking lot. 
Oysters and King George Whiting fish sandwiches for lunch in American River
For lunch we had fish and oysters, farmed locally. Throughout our stay in Kangaroo Island the food was fresh and delicious.
Displays in the Flinders Chase Park Headquarters tell about fossils of prehistoric marsupials found in the park. On the patio outside the visitor center kids can dig for "fossils" in a large sand pit.
After lunch it took most of the rest of the afternoon to drive to the other end of the island, where, after checking into our hotel, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat,  we went to the Flinders Chase park headquarters to get maps, a parking permit, and advice on hiking and sightseeing in the park.
Numerous burrow entrances can be seen around the edge of the platypus pool--but no platypuses.
The next morning we took the trail from the park headquarters to the platypus pools. It is almost impossible to see platypuses in the wild–they are nocturnal and spend most of their time under water. (The best place to see a platypus is in a zoo, which I have done.)
Rosenberg goanna. It can grow to be a meter long.
But, even though we didn’t see any platypuses, we spotted numerous birds along the trail and had a surprise encounter with a very large lizard (a Rosenberg goanna) hunting for birds and small animals in the underbrush.
Cape de Couedic Lighthouse
In the late afternoon we headed for Cape de Couedic and Remarkable Rocks, arriving as the sun was sending golden beams across the landscape. From the lighthouse at the top of the point we followed a long walkway down the cliff to Admirals Arch, a natural opening in the rocks framing the beach on the other side. Below the path we could see and smell hundreds of fur seals jousting with one another at the edge of the waves.
Fur seals at Cape de Couedic
On our flight to Australia we had watched a film called December Boys, about four orphans from the outback having a summer holiday at the beach. It was filmed mostly on Kangaroo Island and was the perfect preparation for our trip. A key part of the story takes place at Remarkable Rocks.
At Remarkable Rocks at sunset
After visiting Cape de Couedic went back to the turnoff for Remarkable Rocks, drove the short distance to the parking area, and took the path to this amazing natural phenomenon. The giant rocks are  perched on a natural platform above the ocean, as if placed by giant hands. We were buffeted by a warm summer wind, but it was not hard to imagine how harsher winds, rain, and sand had sculpted these fantastic shapes over time. It was the perfect ending to our third day on Kangaroo Island.
Part 2 of our stay on Kangaroo Island to be posted next week.

Monday, January 8, 2018


Koala joey at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Kangaroo Island, Australia
I love going to Australia. Since my first trip in 1983, I have been back five times, including my recent trip in December. Here are some of the things that tell me I have arrived in the land Down Under.
Clocks are five hours earlier and I have lost a day! (In the southern hemisphere winter, the time difference between California and Sydney is seven hours.) The trip across the Pacific crosses the International Date Line. On the way home, we gain a day.
Summer flowers at the Coriole winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia
The seasons are switched. When we arrive in December it is summer Down Under. Flowers are blooming and the temperature is warm.
At noon our shadows point south. While the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, it arcs to the north in the southern hemisphere.
Late afternoon, looking east toward Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island
At night the stars are upside down. Orion is standing on his head and there is no North Star. Instead, the Southern Cross points to the southern pole star.
Traffic is on the left and drivers sit on the right.  Each time I step off the curb I have to remind myself to look to the right for oncoming traffic.
It helps to be reminded to drive on the left in areas popular with tourists
Kangaroo crossing signs. Yellow signs warning drivers to watch out for wildlife (kangaroos, koalas, wombats and more) are common along highways.
Koala, kangaroo, Cape Barren goose and echidna signs--Kangaroo Island
In our rental car our luggage goes in the boot (trunk) and we fill the gas tank with petrol (gas). Although the language in Australia is English, it is full of British terms that take getting used to, not to mention expressions that are uniquely Australian (such as "putting a shrimp on the barbie.")
Everything is metric–road signs are in kilometers, petrol and milk sold in liters, and meat at the supermarket is in kilograms.
No pennies. It took me a while to remember that when getting change from a purchase, there are no pennies. Although items are sold for 99 cents and other odd amounts, the total is rounded off to the nearest five cents. Pennies were abolished a number of years ago. Over time, the difference evens out.
Electricity is 220. The electric kettle in our hotel room boils water almost instantly. And, all electric outlets have an on/off switch and need an adapter to use the American plugs on our phones, computers, etc.
The first floor of our hotel is actually the second floor, while what we consider the first floor in the U.S. is the ground floor. To get to our room on the 37th floor we take the lift (elevator).
View from our balcony at the Meriton Suites Hotel, Sydney, Australia
No tipping. Restaurant workers are paid good wages and, unlike in the U.S., tipping is not expected. If one does tip, it is typically a small amount.
Our delicious rhubarb meringue dessert at Coriole Winery Restaurant
And as everyone cheerfully says in response to any concern--
No worries!

Monday, January 1, 2018

South Australia: Wine Country, Victor Harbor, Cape Jervis

Kangaroo signs are common along highways throughout Australia, as are eucalyptus trees
In early December, the beginning of the southern hemisphere summer, we spent two weeks in Australia, first in Sydney and Melbourne and then in South Australia. To get to our vacation destination of Kangaroo Island, located off the coast of South Australia, we flew to Adelaide. From there we drove south in our rented car, taking a detour along the way through  the beautiful wine country of McClaren Vale and then to our overnight stay in the beach town of Victor Harbor. The next morning we continued to Cape Jervis where we caught the 45 minute car ferry to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island.
Coriole Vinyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia
The rolling hills of South Australia are covered with vineyards, well-known for their excellent wines. We stopped for a tasting at the Coriole Vineyards and a walk through their gardens, which were bursting with early summer blooms.
Artichoke blossom
In the kitchen garden behind the restaurant the artichokes had flowered and were crawling with bees collecting nectar.
On our return trip, we went back to Coriole for a delicious lunch on their patio.

Hay bales outside Victor Harbor
From McClaren Vale to Victor Harbor we drove past spacious farms before descending to the coast. Our lodging for the night, Austiny Bed and Breakfast, was just out of town. A sign near the entrance warned to watch out for kangaroos, and that evening, as we returned from dinner in town at the Anchorage Hotel, we spotted a mother kangaroo and her joey grazing along the side of the road.The next morning they hopped by the patio of our B and B as we were eating our breakfast.
Sulphur crested cockatoos are typically seen in large groups. This one perched briefly on a branch before joining the rest of the flock.
The spacious gardens around the Austiny were filled with birds--tiny superb wrens, sulphur crested cockatoos, magpies and more--which we enjoyed watching from the porch of our comfortable room.
Petrel Beach near Victor Harbor
The next morning we drove to the bluff overlooking the bay of Victor Harbor and then took a walk on Petrel Beach, totally deserted except for us, before setting off for Cape Jervis, about an hour's drive away.
Beginning of the Heysen Trail. South Australia’s 1,200km Heysen Trail extends from Cape Jervis, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, to Parachilna Gorge, in the Flinders Ranges, traversing coastal areas, native bushland, rugged gorges, pine forests, vineyards, rich farmland and historic towns.
We were early for the ferry to Kangaroo Island, so we parked and took a walk on the Heysen Trail, a path along the ocean through fields of early summer wildflowers.
View of Kangaroo Island from the Heysen Trail at Cape Jervis
Across the water we could see Kangaroo Island, our destination for our week's vacation. 
Car ferry to Kangaroo Island from Cape Jervis
Then, we lined up with the other cars until our turn came to board the ferry and we were off to our week on Kangaroo Island.