Thailand Travels

Thailand Travels
Elephant Ride in Thailand

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Eve Misery

I'm not sure if I was nine or ten. I do know Christmas was always a big thing at our house. Spices, spruce and bayberry bombarded my senses for weeks prior to the big event. All this pre-holiday preparation led to my most miserable Christmas Eve.

As the days leading up to the 'big one' shortened, my agony grew more intense. The aroma of my mother's baking crept into the seams of the wallpaper. Filled tins were stashed in secret places with the intention of warding off all attacks by my two brothers, my Dad and myself.

My brothers, being six and eight years older delighted in teasing me about what I might or might not receive on Christmas. My father annually repeated the same story about one of his sisters who had received real coal in her stocking. He never actually said it might be my fate, but the message was clear.

Hushed voices behind closed doors after shopping trips intensified the drama. Hiding places eluded me on those times I felt brave enough for clandestine snooping. There was an element of danger of being caught, but one I was willing to risk. After all, there's just so much suspense a child can take without bursting.

On that fateful Christmas Eve things began as usual. Somehow, while the family was at church, the presents miraculously appeared under, on or near the tree. We could only look at the packages. No touching, shaking, lifting or nudging was allowed. Clearly my parents did not understand the torture they were inflicting.

As usual, this night I was shooed to bed at the appointed time with a warning not to arise before I could see daylight. Only after alerting all family members could I race to the treasure trove beneath the bedazzeled spruce.

Going to bed was one thing, sleeping entirely another. I lay tense and wakeful, hearing all household noises until they at last ceased. Only the mantle clock in the living room could be heard above my fathers' snoring.

Now I was safe. I could satisfy my hunger for 'just one peek'. I rationalized that one peek would cure my curiosity and allow sleep to come.

Surveying the piles under, around and near the tree, my eyes attention was caught by a particulary small package hanging on the tree. It was properly addressed to me. I clearly intended to satisfy my curiosity with this brightly adorned titbit.

My fingers lifted the lid to reveal the most perfect ruby ring I'd ever seen. Yes, it fit...with just a little push. Just then a terrible sound met my ears. My brother's car pulled into the drive. My immediate thought was of the coal that surely I'd earned with this transgression. Survival instinct kicked in and I dove under the sofa just as the front door opened.

I was certain that the thumping of my heart would give me away. I tried to take quiet shallow breaths. My brother actually came over and sat on the sofa and did what I didn't know. I was too busy trying to get the ring off and return it to its' box.

The ring would not budge! The more I pulled, the more firmly it stayed on my hand. Such agony was overwhelming. Tears actually started to form.

Still my brother sat there. I remained right under him, his unknown prisoner. The mantle clock reminded him of the lateness of the hour. Finally the lights went out and I could escape from my prison for the safety of bed.

Some soap from the kitchen sink released my ill-gotten treasure and I was able to restore it to its perch.
Christmas morning came with its usual brightness that year to all except one very much wiser little girl who always viewed her new jewelery with bittersweet memories.


I remember hopscotch blocks drawn in wavy lines on the sidewalk, easily skipped by me.
Where did I put my car keys?
I remember a squinchy feeling in my gut as the ferris wheel bumped to a stop at the top.
Did I take my pills this morning?
I remember secret hiding spots for treasures found on beach walks when I was eight.
Where is that early birthday present I bought for my grandchild?
I remember at five years old how awful I felt to wait forever for Christmas morning.
Did I mail that check to the doctor?
I remember sharing secrets with my very best friend as we slowly strolled home from school.
Where did I leave my glasses?
I remember a special birthday when led blindfolded, to find a puppy waiting in the garage.
Did I put two teaspoons of vanilla in the cookie recipe?
I remember how proud I was of the special handmade picture I gave my dad on father's day.
Where did I park my car at the mall?
I remember how good I felt being all dressed up and ready to go out on my first boy/girl party.
Did I return the call on my answering machine?
I remember the very first dance recital, seeing the smiles of my proud parents in the first row.
Where did that book I was reading get to?
I remember places and faces and things that meant a lot to me from some days worth remembering.

Maybe the things I don't remember aren't so important after all!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alaska - Beauty and the Beasts

Traveling the Inland Passage as well as the panoramic views on a train afforded the opportunity to experience this land at its best. It's hard not to use superlatives when describing all there was to offer around us.
Whether it was the roar of calving glaciers, cries of kittewakes from their rocky nests or the splash of killer whales, Glacier Bay held our attention. With the engines shut, our ship became a floating observatory for our senses. Brilliant shades of blue mixed with pristine white and dull gray all combined in this slow moving behemoth.
Watching out the train window, the distant sight of Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) kept us glued for what lay ahead. The bus ride through Denali provided us with an 'up close and personal' encounter with some of its four-footed inhabitants. At one spot we had a 360 degree sighting of caribou, dall sheep, grizzly and moose. The grizzly put on a show as he dug the burrow of a ground squirrel, perhaps for an afternoon snack. Three swipes of his fearsome claws and he was shoulder deep. Later, as we crested a hill, we worried that the cyclist headed down the hill could pedal faster than the sow gizzly and her cubs awaiting him could run.
Taking a helecopter to the Taku Glacier brought a new perspective of the untouched beauty of the land. One chose not to venture too close to the crevasse, not wishing to become a statistic.  Watching a bush pilot touch down and take off in minimal spaces only reinforced the skill needed in this wilderness where roads are few and far between.  
We witnessed a natural phenomenon from our train window as a bore tide kept pace with our travels. The incoming tide and the outgoing river challenge each other. Our tide only reached three feet high, but they are known to reach heights of nearly ten feet.
At a camp we marveled at the close affinity between the sled dogs and their mushers. The dogs eagerly awaited the chance to harness up and take off down the trail. One bit of wisdom from the musher; 'if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes'. Maybe there is a life lesson there.
Other side adventures included tackling a giant burger (fit for three) at the Red Dog Saloon and watching my partner being put in a traveling jail in Fairbanks. A small contribution freed him before our ship sailed.
Be it by ship, train, helecopter, bus or whitewater raft, we saw much of the best the 49th state had to offer. The diverse enviornment of pristine scenery, amazing wildlife and friendly people made this truly a 'go to' spot.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Costa Rican Encounters

     Costa Rica is one of those special places where you can come 'up close and personal' with nature in all its diversity. It didn't take long while walking a path through the rainforest to see the reality of this in an unbelievable experience.
     Looking down at our feet we discovered leaf-cutter ants. Our approach did not divert their determined journey. They pretty much all kept pace with the rest of the group. Their green burden far out measured their minature size. We had obviously violated their territory and so we were careful where we stepped.
     Our senses were heightened with the smell of flowers and abundance of orchids so suited to this climate. Tropical birds were heard but not seen in the canopy overhead. Most amazing were the butterflies. It is recorded that there are more species of them than any other creature about. You couldn't help but be stunned by them. The blue morpho butterfly can reach a size of seven and a half inches. Spread your fingers far apart and you get a good idea of their size. The color was spectacular. The brilliant blue could not be matched by anything else in nature.
     The Sarapiqui river is a draw for whitewater rafters, but we took the slower paced route. This afforded us the opportunity to encounter these creatures around us on their terms. This river is the habitat of crocodiles, iguanas, caymans and even hummingbirds. However, two of its more notable inhabitants are the howler monkeys and the Jesus Christ lizard. The endangered howler monkeys are 'tree huggers', spending their days in the safety of the trees. Because their territory is limited, their numbers are threatened. The male is in charge of keeping the distance between troops by his very loud call that can be heard as far away as four miles. He let us know he was in charge.
     The Jesus Christ lizard (formally called a baslisk) only measures about a foot long. To flee from predators it has been given the ability to 'walk on water', hence its name. This iguana-like companion scooted in front of our boat, tacking a path to the opposite shore. Perhaps it was acting as an early warning system for the others in the area.
     The cayman lazing on the bank of the river paid no mind to our passing. One sleepy eye must have surmised that there was no food worth moving for. On the other hand, parrots and other tropical birds fluttered and kept up a symphony in the canopy overhead. They were well aware of our presence.
     The river trip left little to be experienced for our senses. Unforgettable sights and sounds still remain in memory. I can almost hear those howler monkeys calling me back for another visit to their home.

Friday, July 22, 2011

England - The ABC tour

   My first thoughts when told we would be staying in a stable, next to a graveyard left me more than a little dubious about this trip to 'Jolly Old England'. The reality proved to be far better than I could have hoped for. No animals to share space with, picturesque views of the garden and yes, a quaint historic graveyard. The best part was the short walk through the cemetery to the 'local'. Despite England's less than gourmet reputation, the ploughman's lunches at this pub were outstanding. The cheese, fresh bread and beer needed no apologies.
   Now to explain my husband's designation as the 'ABC' tour. Under the guidance of our relative/tour guide we visited 'Another Bloody Castle'. There was Hever, Sissinghurst, Penshurst and Leeds (referred to as 'the loveliest castle in all the world'. Knole was one more 'castle-like' stop on the tour.
   What seemed common to all were the spectacular gardens, roaming wildlife and birds. Peacocks, guinea hens, swans and ducks took residence everywhere, even when no moat was available. Two other noteworthy places were Chartwell (Winston Churchhills' home) and Batemans (Rudyard Kiplings' abode). Chartwell had an amazing rose garden and Batemans was impressive for the leather-bound walls in the author's study.
   A day trip by train into London proper took us to all the obligatory tourist 'must sees'. Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Victoria and Albert museum, Trafalgar Square and of course, Harrod's were all on the list. Those dead hanging creatures in Harrod's food court did dull one's appetite but not enough to forgo a spot of cream tea and accompaning scones. Of course, speaking of hanging we had to include The Tower. Under the tutelage of our Beefeater, we learned all about the role played by the wing-clipped ravens and their surrounding legend. Supposedly, if these birds leave, England will fall. No worry, these birds are taken good care of by the ravenmaster. Fresh meat and posing for photos ensure that the five on duty will always have good reason to stay.
   A side trip to Cantebury added one more notch in our literary belts. The cathedral was beyond impressive with its multitude of statues and heraldic shields. The pilgrims must have been taken aback by the grandeur. Murder aside, it was well worth the visit.
   Although I don't think we missed much along the way, two stops did not make the list. A. the dog collar museum and B. getting to toss sticks off Christopher Robin's bridge in the Hundred Acre Wood. Sorry, Winnie the Pooh, maybe next time. As for the dog collars, I apologized to our dog for missing it. I could have taken pictures.
   My version of the ABC tour will remain as "Always Beautiful Countryside". I guess its all in the eye of the beholder.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Motel From Hell

Friday the 13th should have been our first clue as to what lay ahead. Ten hours driving in torrential rain should have sufficed as the prelude to our journey. There were many clues that awaited us as we arrived at our motel. It was late, and although our approach to our lodgings were less than auspicious we failed to heed the signs. Letters missing from the sign out front, crumbling steps leading up to the rooms and a note sending us down the road to a restaurant for our check in. Sustenance became our first priority, so we took time to partake of some reasonably good food.
Returing to our motel, we at first could not believe what awaited when we opened the door. Sparse came to mind. O.K. we were going to be 'out and about' for the next two days, so that we could handle. But what we could not handle was the total lack of cleanliness. The bathroom was dirty, a large bug (found out to be a bee) had taken up residence, there were footprints in the bathtub. No electrical outlet in the room,the only option was to unplug the television in the bedroom. By this time darkness was falling and we discovered no lighting outside the motel. What was discovered was the only other patron sitting on the front porch trying to get cell phone service, in her underwear. There was none of course and no phone in the room. This place was beginning to feel more like the 'Bates Motel' by the moment. We had noticed an A frame chalet that was directly behind the motel up a disused footpath. Two eerily shining lights  were all that could be seen. Now we were bringing to mind 'Freddy Kruger'.
Turning down the bed linens led to the disgusting fact that the sheets had not been changed. Someone shared the bed first. Off came the bedspread, blanket and sheets. Turning over the bottom sheet, we failed to notice the fecal material. A blanket from the car sufficed as a covering. The only thing missing was the presence of bed bugs. Guess they knew better! Lucky us! It was too late to search out another place to stay so a restless night ensued. Because of our uneasy feeling a suitcase was jammed under the double locked door.
Morning arrived none too soon. A trip back to the restaurant (sheet in tow), we hoped to meet with our errant innkeeper, but of course that was not possible. Besides, wine awaited us. Who should we find at our first wine tour stop but the man himself. He readily agreed to refund the second night's stay and didn't want the sheet we'd brought with us. "Poor cleaning help" was the only explanation he made. He was happy to see us on our way and not looking for the nearest lawyer. If Keuka Lake is ever on your tour destination, be warned, the Keuka Lake Motel is one to totally avoid.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day Musings

     My mother was a person of many adjectives: proud, creative, secretive, generous, a good cook and much much more. She loved arranging flowers, did canning and enjoyed being in the kitchen. She was generous to others but sometimes didn't let her generosity go unnoticed. Her pride got in the way of making peace with one son while favoring the other. She loved to paint (artistically). I remember her sewing much of my wardrobe. Knitted throws still used today and the legacy of her organ playing remain.
     I never understood was she was so opposed to my finding out about my birth mother. She saw herself as a 'peacemaker' between her feuding sisters (seven in all), but actually did take sides on issues. The favoritism of one son over the other lasted a lifetime and resulted in the two never really making peace with one another. She never really got along with my father's family. And of course, she loved to talk.
     It's said that you learn what to do and also what not to do from your parents. Hopefully there are lessons learned by remembering that woman in your life on this the weekend of Mother's Day. Love you Mother (she never wanted to be called 'Mom').

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Visit To Elmwood Cemetery

Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit is one of the most historic venues around. Begun in 1846 it was the first fully integrated cemetery in the Midwest. The grounds were designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted (the designer of Central Park, New York City).
Brought to mind are some thoughts on a walk through this grand area.

The wind sighs through the trees that filter out the rain-washed sky.
White sandstone lambs are encrusted with shades of green and gray moss.
Time and the elements have erased the identity of some here.
One gravestone bears the signature of the interred.
In another place, a note is left. Respect leaves it unread.
A cross fashioned from crossed twigs is another remembrance seen. Not as fancy as the flowers and wreaths, but meaningful to someone.
The words 'sunrise and sunset' appear next to the dates inscribed on yet another place.

One epitatph reads "the Lord watches between me and thee when we are absent from one another".

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Borrowed Thoughts

     On a recent trip west I came across the following text in a publication at the Mission of San Luis Rey. The author was a nun from the 17th century, but I found the text as current as that of any self-help guru today.
     Lord, Thou knowest, better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old.
     Keep Me from getting talkative and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject.
     Release Me from craving to try to straighten out everybody's affairs.
     Make Me Thoughtful, but not moody, helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
     Keep My Mind Free from the recital of endless details, give me wings to get to the point.
     Seal My Lips from my many aches and pains.  They are increasing and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
     I Ask For Grace enough to listen to the tales of other's pains. Help me to endure them with patience.
     Keep Me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are hard to live with; but a sour woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.
     Help Me to extract all possible fun out of life. There are so many funny things around us and I do not want to miss any of them. 

I think that just about says it all, don't you?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Shared Walk

     The woods were empty of anyone except myself. Empty, save for the two deer, assorted birds and a few busy black squirrels. For an hour I engaged in a game of hide and seek with the yearling does.
     Stands of aspen, birch and pine became my shields, allowing me to approach a little closer. Sunlight filtered through the forest floor, casting shadows along the way.
     Tree to tree we moved through the underbrush. We assessed each other with cautious eyes. This was a woodland version of the childhood game of 'statues'. They had more practice at standing still than I.
     A trio of northern black squirrels fielded the middle ground as they scittered from limb to limb above our heads. As watchers, we ignored them, as with tails flicking they mocked our mutual wariness.
     I worked to move with the stealth of an Indian hunter. On taut spindle legs they observed,ears, nose and eyes fixed in my direction. The smallest crack of a betraying twig would send white tail flags and powerful muscles in motion.
     With reluctant patience I'd let them settle in. Eventually they resumed the forage for an acorn morning breakfast. Another interruption came from a tattletale blue jay who persistently spread word of my presence. Aspen leaves rattled noisily overhead in the passing breeze.
     In Nureyve leaps the duo quickly distanced themselves to their perceived 'safe zone'. I envied the nimbleness that came so natural to them. Back and forth our game continued. At times I believed one of the does was deliberately posing. 'See my beauty and grace. Look how clumsy you are", she mocked. I could not disagree. Armed with that immutable truth I left off the foray, leaving them to finish their feed, content to have shared the woods together. Perhaps we will meet again on another day to share another walk in the woods.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mental Over Dental

     A few thoughts after three hours in the dentist chair. Who among you absolutely loves and looks forward to their next trip to the dentist? Ah ha, I thought so. I'm not alone. Let me say first and foremost, I have perfectly wonderful dentists. Just in case he (and she) reads this. I want all my bases covered. No oral retribution, please!
     I do, however, cringe when it comes to my next appointment. Perhaps it goes back to the fact that I've been seeing a dentist on a fairly regular basis since my 'pearly whites' came in. My parents saw to my good dental care. I painfully remember having my teeth straightened (twice!). That was back when braces were not de rigueur. Today they are cool. Brightly colored braces and bands ease what used to be the stigma.
     Not being blessed with rock hard enamel, fillings became a regular thing. I have had 'up close and personal' contact with (a) the dentist (b) the orthodontist (c) endodontist and (d) oral surgeon. I've eluded the periodontist but I know he looms out there somewhere.
     I have more crowns than centuries of the British monarchy. There are more root canals (thanks to the endodontist) than found in Venice. So far, I've not had gold placed on my teeth. To my way of thinking, if I'm wearing gold, I want it around my neck, arm or fingers where I can see and admire it.
     The technology and ambiance in the dental office has evolved dramatically over the years. It's my belief that many magazine publications are only afloat thanks to the waiting rooms out there. I almost want to arrive early so I can keep up with them all. Notice I said 'almost'.
     Regardless of the advances in dentistry there is still the sound of the drill. That high pitched whine is embedded in my subconscious. The simple dental chair has become a plush, multi-function resting spot designed to lull one into submission. It might work except for two things. THE DRILL and THE NEEDLE.
     Some unsolvable mysteries at the dentist's revolves around questions by the professional with his hand in my mouth. Why ask, 'does this hurt, can you feel this, and other such questions that can only be answered by arghh, uh uhn or ehh'. Do you really think he can translate?
     I've thought about 'ending it all' and going to dentures, but the prospect of all those added appointments to reach that stage forces me to keep the choppers I've got. Meanwhile, I'll just live with the 'f' words. Floss, Flouride and Phobia.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Personal Zoo Pt. 6

     At the National Bison Range in Montana we were surrounded by the shaggy critters. And, of course, there was also those humans snapping shots to take home.  They were obviously clueless as to how fast these animals can really move if so motivated. Now that would have been a real picture for the album.
     I'm not sure one can adequately describe the elephants of Thailand. There is nothing quite like sitting atop one as it lumbers down the path ahead. The 'mahoot' or caregiver of his particular elephant scrubs it in the river when they emerge from the jungle each day. To our surprise, our fellow jumped down off the elephant an took off down the path ahead. We wondered who was steering, but as soon as he snapped our picture he was back on board. An elephant related job that I could easily forego was that of the women who stood downstream of the elephant 'carwash' to collect the dung.  Apparently it would be recycled.
     So creatures large and small have entered by life at one time or another. Each one had the ability to educate and amaze. Hopefully my future journeys will afford even more opportunities to add to my 'zoo' list.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My personal zoo pt.5

     On a trail in the rainforest of Costa Rica I saw both the smallest and most beautiful creatures about. Tiny leaf cutter ants carrying burdens many times their size headed across the trail in a single line. They obviously were on their way back to the nest. We carefully avoided disrupting their journey. Crossing our path above was the prettiest butterfly I'd ever seen. This nameless beauty was the size of my hand and the most brilliant blue I'd not even found in a flower.
     The meanest critter of all was the Tasmanian devil. In an enclosed area we witnessed their feeding time and it wasn't pretty. The rabbits on their menu, thankfully no longer alive, were torn apart by rival 'devils' with a ferocity I'd yet to see in nature.
     In contrast, the koalas seemed content to make use of their time munching on bamboo shoots. There were two marsupials on our 'go to' list on the Australian trip. Kangaroos eluded us but their smaller cousins the wallabies put on a show with their bouncing around.
     Alaska's animals were not in short supply. Sadly the only moose we saw lay alongside the train track. Obviously he was the loser in an encounter with the train. We were fortunate enough to stand in one spot in Denali National Park and see grizzly bears, caribou, deer and far above in the distance, dall sheep. The grizzly we watched from the bus was busily digging to reach into the burrow of a ground squirrel. It took only three swipe with its massive claws to be shoulder deep into the burrow. Later we witnessed a sow grizzly with her two cubs along the side of the road. This was at the bottom of a steep hill and we wondered as we watched a cyclist headed in that direction exactly how fast he could pedal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My personal zoo-Pt. 4

     Dogs. Yes, they figured in my travels as well.  Underfed, not happy looking ones roamed the streets of Playa de Carmen in Mexico.  One of my fellow travelers had brought dog food along with her on the plane and did her part for the many that naturally followed us down the streets. Other street dogs in Bangkok, Thailand seemed to have an easier lot. These staked out territories on the street awaiting their meal from people who lived in the properties along the way. It seemed the the dogs and the people had an ongoing arrangement.
     The most well-trained and intelligent of the canine kingdom I ever saw was in Ireland. These border collies seemed eager to perform their tasks for their owners. It was amazing to witness that with the wave of a hand or pitched whistle, they could herd the sheep exactly where they were wanted by their master. Years of training went into the preparation for the tasks given. Other dogs that eagerly went about their business were the sled dogs in Alaska. Even in summer weather they happily awaited being hooked up and given full rein to run. One gem of wisdom from the musher was, 'if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes'.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Personal zoo-pt.3

     What I would call 'Mexican squirrels' were the many iguanas that appeared everywhere we went there. Most were content to simply 'chill out' in the sunshine. Quite a different reptile was the 'Jesus Christ lizard' in Costa Rica. The name rightly comes from its ability to walk on water.  Actually, they ran at a fast pace ahead of our boat, perhaps leading the way downriver. Maybe they were simply trying to escape the cayman that lounged on the nearby riverbank. Geckos skittered along walls and floors of an outdoor restaurant in Maui, Hawaii. The largest cockroaches I'd ever seen made their appearance too. Do geckos eat cockroaches? And what was that stuff in our salad?
     Dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, seals and a barracuda all made their presence known for the camera. My most memorable dolphin encounter happened when one followed alongside our boat back to shore after I had descended from a trip aloft while parasailing in Mexico. Other dolphins were found both off the Southern California coast and in Mexican waters. A barracuda was a scary surprise as I was finishing snorkeling on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It was less interested in me than I was of him. I made a hasty retreat to the nearby dock. Killer whales followed our cruise ship on the Inland Passage of Alaska. Seals lounged the beaches of California as well as the area of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
     One of the more fascinating 'critters' on our travels was the Magellanic penguin of Puerto Arenas, Argentina.  We were able to observe them at very close range. Nicknamed the 'Jackass penguin' because of their constant braying, they made their presence known with gusto.  We watched them digging out their underground nests, waddling under the boardwalk where we stood and going for a swim in the chilly waters. Their small size was in no way diminished by their raucous calls to one another.
     Fish of every size and color paraded before me while snorkeling in Hawaii. My best fish story ever (I have the pictures to prove it) was the fifty (yes 50) pound catfish I caught while traveling near Bangkok, Thailand. Admittedly, this was in an enclosed area, but still, fifty pounds! In Alaska it was possible to actually walk across the backs of spawning salmon in the shallow streams. With their bright red color, they were easily spotted by dining bears and eagles.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Personal Zoo pt.II

     What l would call 'beggar birds' were the pigeons of St. Mark's Square in Venice. Quite at home with the photo-taking tourists, much like the incoming tide, they flood the area looking for an easy meal. I was told that at night, nets are used to capture some of the scavengers in an effort to keep the population down. They are definitely not an endangered species.
     When it comes to birds, Costa Rica boasts of having more species than anywhere else in the world. We witnessed the Oronoco bird working on  its nest high in the trees. The interesting thing about them is that the nests hang from the branches, swaying in the breeze, looking much like purses that have been flung on high.  Heard, but not see up close were the parrots that darted about in the canopy overhead.
     We observed the ravens who are the legendary birds of London's White Tower. There are always six 'on duty' so as the centuries old myth goes, they keep the tower from crumbling to the ground.  With wings clipped by the ravenmaster, they are well fed and not perturbed at all by the stream of visitors to the tower.
     White peacocks and pheasants were seen in the gardens of Isola Madre, an island off the northern coast of Italy. Again, more peacocks along with swans and guinea hens roamed the gardens of Leeds castle in Kent, England. Peacocks seem to be 'the bird of choice' among the landed gentry worldwide.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My personal zoo

     I have been fortunate enough in my lifetime to encounter on various trips in many places the creatures in the nature of God's creation.  From the smallest leafcutter ant in the rainforest of Costa Rica to the magnificent elephants in Chiang Mai Thailand I've seen  a wide variety of wildlife. I'm not referring to what is found in a zoo but rather mostly in natural habitats. Photos and occasional notes have kept those creatures fresh in my memory.
     A river trip in Costa Rica brought us 'up close and personal' with howler monkeys. Yes, they do rightly earn their name. Lounging lazily in the surrounding trees, they commented loudly on our passing. In Thailand, small monkeys gathered round us near a Wat (temple) in their role as professional beggars. We were warned not to feed or encourage them, as biting was high in their bag of tricks.
     There is nothing quite so amazing as the albatross and its life at sea.  Standing on the deck of the cruise ship, we watched them sail along, taking advantage of the wind currents, all the while many miles from shore. Their trips to land were infrequent, as the sea was their home. We did however see a colony of royal albatross in New Zealand.
     Also in New Zealand, seen in a darkened area was the elusive kiwi bird. Nocturnal by nature, the only way to actually view them is in such an enclosed setting.  They sleep twenty hours a day. By contrast, the rhea, as a flightless bird seemed to roam the area of Patagonia at will. Large in size, they are actually a close cousin to the ostrich and emu. They are quite capable of outrunning most predators.
     The bald eagle of Alaska soars above, searching out their next meal. At home in both the salmon filled rivers and open ranges, they seemed relentless in their quest.  The wide wingspan allows them freedom to hunt the air currents at will. The Inside Passage of Alaska was awash with birds nesting along the banks that could only be called 'precarious'.  Kittiwaits and gulls put out a cacophony of sound occasionally topped by the crash of ice calving from the glaciers.  Condors with their enormous six-foot wingspan sailed over the plains of Patagonia.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

'Crafty in Ireland'

2011 is 'The Year of the Craft' in Ireland.  Festivals and events are taking place throughout the Emerald Isle.  Breathtaking scenery, a country steeped in history and the worlds' most friendly people remain ones' first impression of this land. The history buff and hiker are welcome. For now, crafts rule.
Crafts cover a wide spectrum of interests ranging from commercial ventures to local entrepreneurs. On a large scale are the stunning pieces of crystal from the Waterford factory. Skilled craftsmen work with precision in the blasting heat of their furnaces. Tours are given. It must be noted, there are no 'seconds'. Imperfections are tossed.
Two other commercial ventures requiring the skill of a craftsman are the beer and whiskey facilities. Tastings are more than welcome. Both Guiness and Jameson give tours as well. Lace making from the local to the commercial appear everywhere. Hand knit sweaters and wide variety of uses for the mountains of sheared wool abound. Crafted jewelry featuring Celtic designs temp the traveler. Claddagh rings and the ubiquitous shamrock-inspired pieces can be purchased.
Traveling to Ireland can involve everything from individual itineraries to guided tours Unless one is proficient in driving 'on the wrong side of the road', a tour guide could be the most expeditious way to go.
No matter how much or how little you immerse yourself in this culture it will hands down likely be that you will come away enriched by this 'crafty' experience

Monday, March 7, 2011

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Travels of Dee Prom

How do you describe the elephants of Thailand? They are revered by the Thai people and their images appear everywhere. The experience of riding atop one of these magnificent creatures down a jungle path goes beyond adequate description. The mahoot (caregiver of the elephant)works one on one with his particular animal. He even scrubs the elephant in the river before the day's journey begins. A surprising aside the ride involves the mahoot leaping from his perch atop the elephant, jogging down the path to photograph his passengers. There is a 'green' aspect to the elephants that comes with the recycling of their dung. While the mahoot is washing the elephant there are women with large baskets standing downriver of this 'carwash' to gather the remains for future use. Everything from picture frames to writing paper are made use of. Another talent of the elephants that have been trained was their ability to play soccer or paint a picture for the visitors to the reserve.