Vacationing in New York City-Part One


Earlier in June, my daughter, grandson, and I went to NYC for ten days.  We had no particular plans, stayed about three blocks from the East River in Midtown, conveniently only a couple of blocks from the subway so going up and down Manhattan was easy.  We did not do a lot of the usual touristy things.  Mostly we wandered around, exploring.

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This is a view from the hotel room on the 18th floor.  Yes, there are people living in some of these buildings, complete with patios, patio furniture, and in some cases plants.

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The first evening we traveled way downtown, got off the subway at Spring Street, and walked to a soba noodle place which had many vegetarian options–my grandson is vegetarian. We liked it so much we intended to go back but somehow never accomplished that. I would recommend this place for those who like Korean, Japanese, etc. food.  Sadly, I do not recall the name.

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The next day we went downtown again and did something touristy, had lunch in Little Italy.  We had no idea which restaurant to pick so picked this one:  Caffe Napoli.  My grandson liked their cheese ravioli with marinara sauce so much, he ate two entire platefuls.  I had the beet salad.  I am not a bread eater normally but liked theirs so much with the olive oil and herbs that I could not stop eating it. This place was a hit for us so we went back in the evening several days later.

After lunch we took a very long walk through Soho over to Washington Square Park. We spent quite a lot of time there people watching.

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If you have heard of the college, New York University (NYU), and have never been there, you might be surprised to discover it does not have a campus in the usual sense.  Its “campus” is comprised of buildings around and near this park.

Twice we ate at a place close to the hotel:  Clinton Hall at 230 East 51st Street.  They have good veggie burgers and a giant salad served in a huge beer stein, among a variety of options.  They also provide all sorts of games you can play while waiting on food, etc. I would not recommend this place near or on the weekend, however, unless you like loud.  It is a very popular hangout for young, professional people and was so noisy then that we could not even talk to each other without shouting.

One touristy thing we did was take the subway uptown to Central Park and eat lunch at Tavern On the Green.  The salmon patty was excellent.  It was a sunny day, the guests seemed happy except for one man who demanded to be seated in a part of the restaurant that was closed.  He did not succeed. The meal was good, the atmosphere sunny and pleasant. It was relaxing and fun.

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Three times we went uptown to the Barnes and Nobles on 86th Street. We also visited the one at 555 Fifth Avenue.  We are book people, and it seems we end up at book stores everywhere we travel.  My grandson had to stop buying books because of concerns about luggage being over the weight limit. The most unique bookstore we visited is Kinokuniya just across from Bryant Park.  I highly recommend this place.  Not only do they have all sorts of books both in English and Japanese, but they also sell various Japanese art items some of which are very beautiful.  I had to seriously restrain myself. My daughter and I sat in their cafe, I drank matcha latte, and we watched the activities across the street in Bryant Park while grandson explored the huge graphic novel area.

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Missouri Roadtrip—the Missouri River Bottom


My mother grew up in Fortesque, Missouri, a once thriving town which now contains 32 inhabitants. Mom’s dad owned a farm right on the Missouri River near the Rulo, Nebraska bridge. Then eventually, it was my grandmother’s and then belonged to Mom and her two siblings. We went to visit and found the river really high.

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For years we crossed the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge and came to a restaurant at this site to eat catfish, carp, and all the trimmings.  A few years ago a really large flood destroyed it. This is the new building but obviously it is closed because of high water.

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Back on the Missouri side looking across the soybean fields.  Strange sight to see irrigation proceeding at the same time the river is high.  The Corp of Engineers is releasing  water upstream where the river is really high. The bluffs in the distance are across the river in Kansas.

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Several times in my life I have seen water at least 15 feet deep from bluff to bluff.  A few years back I knew people who lived inside a big levee and for nearly three months had to go to and from their house in a boat.  Needless to say, that year no one raised a crop of anything.

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Without levees, the river would be over all the fields now.

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I walked down the main levee and took this photo under the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge.

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While in the river bottom we decided to take the loop drive through the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.  The last time I was here five years ago, there was more water and fewer lilies.  The smell of their blooms permeated the air.

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Apparently, this is bull frog heaven because they were certainly actively croaking. In October and November approximately 400,000 geese and ducks migrate through here.

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At the north end of the drive through the refugee this beautiful sight occurs.

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The tunnel between the trees continues for several miles.

Later when we drove back to St. Joseph, we drove down to the nature center and the river’s edge there.

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No swimming in the Missouri River.  They warn people every year, but alas, people still try and drown.  The river moves fast and the undertow will pull even strong swimmers under.

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I was not happy out here.  Ema, my daughter, insisted.  If a person fell in, there is no hope.  She, however, keep bouncing around and playing on it.

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Even though I grew up in this area, I am always amazed at just how green and wet it is there even when they have a dry spell like now.  Plus the humidity–not like here in the Panhandle of Texas–it does not cool off that much at night in Missouri.

 

 

 

 

Adventure in Argentina–Iguazu Falls, Day One


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We landed at the jungle airport near the down of Iguazu, found a taxi (the taxi to our hotel was only 5 dollars more than the bus), and continued our adventure.  Gaston and I felt lucky; the lady taxi driver gave us excellent service and advice for our three day sojourn at Iguazu.  She suggested we head to the Brazilian side of the falls first because the trails are fewer and it was later in the day.  All you have to do is provide your passport, roll down your window so they can look at your face, and proceed.  At the Brazilian park headquarters everyone has to wait for a bus, which can drop visitors off at various points along hiking trails.  The above was one of my first views of the falls.

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It became clear almost immediately that it would be impossible to see all the falls from any single place; they are immense to the point of unbelievable, overwhelming.  You hear the roar long before you see the cause. At this vantage point, I am standing on Brazilian soil looking across to the Argentinian side.  The center of river which causes the falls provides the boundary between Brazil and Argentina.

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To reach this vantage point, the trail winds down a rather steep incline.  Everything is wet from the mist which is so extensive, it is impossible to be anywhere near and not become somewhat wet. A trail proceeds from here below the falls out over a part of the river where it is like being in your bathroom shower. Gaston took many photos here. The roar of the falls is so loud it is impossible to carry on a conversation.

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Coatimundis are everywhere. On the Brazil side in particular huge signs are posted with a person displaying bleeding, serious injuries inflicted by these seemingly harmless creatures.  The instructions tell visitors not to feed them, try to pet them, anything.  The result may not be good if you do.

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The roar, the immensity, overtakes ones emotions.  The power of water a millionfold, displayed in all its grandeur overwhelms.

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In Brazil looking across to Argentina.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Argentina-Buenos Aires Neighborhoods


Buenos Aires has many neighborhoods, areas with sometimes distinct character.  Our hotel in San Telmo made it easy to see a lot of the city by walking.  Other areas we strolled through include Centro and Recoleta. In the three days we stayed there, we walked 35 miles according to my Fitbit.

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This Starbucks was exactly one block from our hotel.  We went there the first morning for the typical Argentinian breakfast:  coffee and a biscuit (not like the ones here) or a small croissant with some sweet glaze on top.  Starbucks can be found throughout the city.

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Everywhere you see beautiful parks and people use them for strolling, dog walking, jogging, relaxing, picnicking, hanging out–you name it.  Plus the trees–on all major streets, on side streets, everywhere.  Of course, it was the end of summer.  Perhaps parks receive less use in winter.

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Even on main thorough fares, like this one which is claimed to be the longest street in the world, trees reside on the sides, in the middle, everywhere.

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This is a mall, seriously.  We ate a delicious lunch here one day and came back the next day for a drink.  I had coffee; Gaston had a green drink with mint and ginger which was refreshing and delicious.  The ceiling is well–take a look!

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Hard to believe this is a mall.

One day we took the train to its end at the train station. The recently restored train station contains the fanciest Starbucks ever with incredible murals.

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The ceiling is beautiful too.

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From this station it is possible to take a train to various parts of the city but also trains go from here way out into the suburbs.  Reminded me of the subway and train system in New York City and its suburbs where I once lived.

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San Martin, the hero who freed southern South America from Spain, crossed the Andes with mules, not horses–Hugo, Gaston’s dad, gave me lots of history lessons.  However, when I saw this statue, I did not know all the history yet.  This park, filled with huge trees, borders several streets where, like much of Buenos Aires, modern and antique coexist.

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Suddenly we notice men on horseback riding out of a military area next to San Martin Park.  We rushed across the park to watch, hoping they would ride around the park.  They did not; they headed down a street.

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We never discovered the purpose of this little parade of military personnel on horseback.

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The buildings around the park provide a perfect example of the traditional, the centuries old beside the modern.  The traditional building in the middle houses very exclusive apartments.

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The opposite side of the park from the statue of San Martin overlooks the English Tower, given to Argentina by the English before the little war over the Falkland Islands which both countries claimed.  The English won.

A friend told me to take tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel so we headed to Recoleta area.  We strolled around, did not take tea, but we did have lunch in one of the small restaurants inside the hotel area.

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Next to this restaurant resides a tea store, Tealosophy,  where they sell nothing but tea.  I quit counting at fifty different blends.  In Argentina International Women’s Day was highly celebrated. This tea shop created a special blend just for that event, Mujeres Power.  I bought some; it smells heavenly but have not tried it yet.

We walked down to another park near the famous cemetery where all the national heroes and important people have been buried for centuries.  Nearby we saw the largest tree I have ever seen.

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The branches, which were impossible to photo in one picture, extend far and are so heavy they are supported by cement or metal columns.

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The tree is to the left in this photo.  The walk leads to a monastery and the cemetery.

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The cemetery was full of people.

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The artwork here speaks for itself.

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As we walked back we circled this famous piece–a tulip that opens and closes.

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Then farther down the street which is close to the port–we could hear ship sounds, etc.–we saw this living wall.

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Yes, this wall is made of living plants.  I could not help but stop and stare.

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The building which holds their equivalent of the US Congress.  I continue to wonder how I managed to walk past the Pink House–like US White House–several times and never take a photo.  Perhaps I was distracted by the protesters.  Argentina is used to protests which appear to be legally protected.  In the one we saw one evening, the protestors carried banners of Che Guevara.

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And finally some typical views, this one along a side street.

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Adventure in Argentina–Buenos Aires


On March 4, a little before noon, I arrived in Buenos Aires EZE airport.  Customs was relatively organized, straight forward, and simple.  Once I acquired my luggage, I headed out.  There stood Gaston waiting for me, the reverse of when he came to live with me a little more than eight years ago and I waited for him at the Amarillo airport. One thing remained the same–hugs.  We hailed a cab, loaded my luggage, and headed for the hotel which his dad, Hugo, had arranged.  In spite of the fact that neither of us had managed much sleep the night before (mine was sleep on a ten hour red eye flight and his was a night in the bus from Cordoba), we headed out to find some lunch and explore.

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After a long walk (I have a Fitbit and we walked 35 miles in 2 1/2 days before we left Buenos Aires), we arrived here at this very modern business district on the right.  The tall building in the distance is a Chinese bank.

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To the left are many old warehouses which have been converted into apartment buildings, restaurants, and shops.  It has become a fashionable place to live.  Several of these sailing vessels floated in the water.  Some could be boarded for a tour.  We just strolled around and enjoyed the views, the weather.

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We crossed the bridge and explored a rather exclusive area.  Buenos Aries is an old city which combines the old and the new.  Many of the sidewalks and streets have not changed in hundreds of years–the original cut stones remain.

We did have to laugh at our first lunch experience.  Although the restaurant appeared to be quite traditional and Argentinian on the outside, the menu was mostly Tex-Mex food.

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One of the longest streets in the world, this one goes from one end of the city to the other.  Note the trees!  Every city I visited contained an astonishing amount of trees.  Except for the most narrow streets, trees lined them.  Later I learned about an Argentinian saying:  there are three things you must do in life, plant a tree, write a book, have a child.  I feel grateful because I have done all three.

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Parks, parks, and more parks–they are everywhere and people use them–children playing, dog walkers, runners exercising, people relaxing on park benches, chatting.

Hugo had given Gaston a list of some places to visit, one of which is an old area with colorful buildings, traditional dancing, e.g. tango, and lots of tourists.  Many of the restaurants this time year–end of summer there–are open air, filled with people enjoying summer’s end.

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We had a coffee (we drank quite a lot of coffee–for breakfast and after dinner almost every day), watched tango and traditional country dancers.  Tango is a Buenos Aires dance tradition.  People in other parts of the country dance the traditional dances, not tango.  We watched while a woman in her 80s left her table and danced perfectly with a young man dressed in traditional clothes–everyone cheered.  People there eat dinner late, 9-10 at night.  One day in Buenos Aires we somehow sort of forgot lunch and were hungry so we went to this special restaurant (they have a very unique way of making a potato dish which Gaston likes) about eight.  The waiters looked at us as if we were crazy.  No one else arrived at the restaurant before nine and most even later.  This suited me fine.  I much rather eat late than early.

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Trip to Honey Island Swamp


On our third day in New Orleans, we headed to Slidell, LA, to visit the swamp.  Many swamp tours exist in the area and some in Lafayette as well.  After reading extensively online about the various tours, I decided to take Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island tour early in the morning.  Depending on traffic, it is about a 3/4 to one hour drive from downtown New Orleans.  For at least half this time, you are driving on a bridge across Lake Pontchartrain.

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This little swampy area is right next to the small cabin where they sell alligator souvenirs and you pick up your ticket.  This place requires cash.

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After boarding the boat which holds about 20 passengers, we headed down the Pearl River.  This view looks upriver.

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Many expensive houses rise above the river banks.  You can see the for sale sign.  According to the boat captain, the fancier ones cost about one million.  However, for all the elegant houses, there are more just the opposite and close by.

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Like this one which appears boarded up.  Some appeared abandoned, some in decent repair, some recently used.  When we asked how high the water rose during Katrina, we were told that it would be above the roof of a house like this.  The tours were abandoned for over a year after the hurricane except for the occasional hurricane cleanup crew who wanted a tour.

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This is one of the nice houses along the river, modern, large, well kept.

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We saw a large blue heron, wings outstretched, sunning itself on a large tree stump.  When the captain tried to get closer, it slowly lifted off and flew away before I could get a photo.

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We turned to the right off the river and began to see alligators of all sizes.  Because of harvesting for skins, meat, etc., few really large ones remain.  More common is 8-10 footers.

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Even the boat captain was astonished at the number of alligators we saw.  They seemed to be everywhere and one exceedingly large male followed us deeper into the swamp.

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Although the water flows rather rapidly on the river, once in the swamp, the water is very quiet.  Many different types of trees live here including cypress.  Most of the trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the winter.  I was extremely surprised to learn how cold it can get here, below freezing, sometimes even down in the teens.  However, the captain said it always rises above freezing during the day.

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Most of the really large cypress have been cut down in the past for lumber.  Now this is a reserve.  The tree on the left is really large and a lot of moss hangs from it.

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Hogs, like these, are not native anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.  It seems feral hogs can live anywhere.  We also saw raccoons.  The trees and other vegetation are so dense during the summer, wildlife could be a few feet away and remain unseen.

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The swamp possesses a wild, magical beauty.

 

 

 

Spring Break Adventure–5


On the fourth day of the adventure we went to Marfa, Texas.  My friends from college, David and Suzy, had booked a tour of the Chinati Foundation.  No photos of that because none allowed.  This foundation is the dream of its founder, Donald Judd.  His art and almost all the rest of the art housed here is not for display in houses.  All but a few consist of grand studies of space and light. An abandoned, refurbished military base, purchased by Judd, houses most of the exhibits.  Judd’s main interest it seems relates to the relationship between light and space.  First, the tour guide takes you to a couple of large buildings where the only changes made were to install new windows and a ceiling.  These buildings house Judd’s large, polished, stainless steel rectangular boxes.  While this may sound boring, I assure you it is not.  Light reflects off these boxes, makes shadows, etc. in all sorts of ways and the entire effect changes with the angles of the sunlight.

Another quite astonishing display can be seen in a series of U-shaped buildings, painted and repaired, in which eight foot long fluorescent light tubes in four colors, pink, green, yellow, and blue, have been installed in the corners of the U.  Depending on where a person stands, other colors appear, not just the four mentioned.  It became apparent to me that the artist, Dan Flavin, knew every scientific detail of the color spectrum and its effects on the human eye and brain.

I also enjoyed a smaller display by artist and poet, Carl Andre.  Even though his fame rests in sculpture, it is mainly his poetry displayed here.  I wanted to read all of it but everyone else went on so I quit.

There are other exhibits, including a lot of smashed and welded vehicles which I liked the least.  The final exhibit displays giant fabric sheets in black and white in a building specially designed by the artist, Robert Irwin.  If you think this sounds boring, take a trip there and look for yourself.  I assure you it is not.  Irwin actually worked on the exhibit himself at the age of 88.  He lives on now at 89.

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The only photos I managed in the area show the Marfa Courthouse which is, believe it or not, even a brighter pink than this photo and a photo from the vehicle window on the highway to Alpine. The second photo shows a mesa we managed to view on one day or another from nearly all sides.  It looms large in the middle of flat land. Here one of the endless trains slides by.

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On our last day we decided to drive to Presidio and take the river road which goes through Rio Grande Ranch State Park. While the road goes either along or down to the river in a few places (for people to put some sort of water craft into the river or to camp), most of it is way above the river on cliffs.  This landscape is not for the faint of heart.

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US on the right and Mexico on the left.  The fields and pasture in the distance are in Mexico.

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Looking into Mexico.

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Unusual rock formations near one of the small drives down to a campground by the river.

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Cliffs in Mexico.

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Apparently, in my efforts not to fall in the river while taking this, my finger got in the way.

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Yes, the river is down there between those cliffs.

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In case you wonder why the Rio Grande seems so small here, consider that by the time it gets here, 95% of the water has been removed for irrigation and other purposes.

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We drove back through Terlingua to Alpine.  Not much exists in Terlingua except a rather pathetic supposed ghost town area.  The river road is not conducive to speed; we were hungry and stopped for a very late lunch.  It was St. Patrick’s Day and many of the clientele had a good start on the festivities.  On Saturday I learned that Terlingua is a famous biker town.  However, apparently not that day.

Ethiopian Journey–From Addis Ababa to Debre Birhan


Addis is the second highest capital in the world.  Only La Paz, Bolivia, is higher.  To a large extent, altitude determines climate in Ethiopia.  Addis and the surrounding area, much of which is high altitude farmland, receives a lot of rain this time of year and looks totally unlike what a lot of people think of when they hear the word Ethiopia–not desert but rather miles and miles of green.

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We had not driven far from Addis when we crossed a river, an area of which is considered healing.  Many people had come for priests to bless them and to experience the healing power of the water.

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I saw only three tractors in ten days of criss crossing farmland.  Why so few?  One reason is rocks.  Many of the fields remain rather full of rocks in spite of many having been removed.

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Therefore, they farm the “old fashioned” way; horses or cattle pulling plows with a human behind.

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Houses in the villages in the farming areas demonstrate old ways alongside new.

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Winnowing the way we did in the USA a century ago.

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Much of the farmland is a picturesque patchwork quilt of browns and greens.

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Before dropping down to lower country, we drove by Menelik’s Window.   The drop off here is steep and far.  I did not go near it–I had not yet become used to the endless drop-offs or even realized that I would need to do so.  This is one of four places in Ethiopian where you can see gelada baboons.  They are extinct elsewhere. Menelik was an Ethiopian emperor.  This “window” allows one to look from the high country for miles and miles to the landscape beyond.

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The large tufts of grass provide food for the gelada which are grass eating herbivores, the last of the grass eating primates.  All others are extinct.  This same grass is used by the locals for roofing material so boys stay in these areas all day chasing off the baboons.

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To keep themselves busy they weave woolen baskets and hats to sell which they display in the grass.

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This ten year old boy happily donned the hat he had made.  I bought it for my grandson who was the same age when I took the trip.

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Except for the different vegetation, driving down the mountain looked a lot like driving through Colorado.

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Down from the mountain the landscape appears quite different and considerably drier.  We drove through several smaller towns on our way to Debre Birhan where we stayed the first night.

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Driving in Ethiopia requires navigating around animals.  Everyone drives their cattle, camels, horses, all livestock down the road whenever possible.  The roads are generally very good.  Many, built by the Italians, have stood the test of decades.

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Along the road we saw many of these “apples”.  My friend told us how they played with them as a child.  However, the adults all warned the children not to touch their eyes when they did–it will make you blind.  They are called Apples of Sodom–so many things in Ethiopia have symbolic meaning.

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These fruit could be seen all along the road and even on the road.  After driving through this drier area we rose above a huge valley with miles and miles of grass.

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A semi-nomadic group brings their immense herds of cattle here in the rainy season to graze.  When we drove further on above the valley, I saw the first tractor working a field as big as this grazing land.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Journey–The Beginning


Two years ago today, two friends and I flew from here to Dallas to Dubai.  The final destination:  Ethiopia, where I spent nearly three weeks with them and my friends’s family plus a road trip through the north.  Ethiopia was nothing like what one sees in the news, in famine photographs, nothing like the image most people in the USA have of it.  My main goal when I returned home was to show people photos and inform them what it really looks like, how incredibly beautiful it is there.  This mission continues two years hence.  For the next several weeks I plan to relive this journey and share it on my blog here.

It is a short trip from Amarillo to Dallas via air.  In order to carry the baggage allowed on Emirate Airlines, we first flew via Southwest to Love Field, then took a taxi to Dallas International.  If you plan to fly long distances, I highly recommend Emirates Airlines.  Compared with all the others I have experienced even coach class is wonderful:  bigger seat room, more than a hundred movies to watch, good food, an area where you can help yourself to fruit and snacks, unlimited wine and beer, and an international group of flight attendants.

From Dallas to Dubai is fifteen hours of flying.

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People wonder why they fly over Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe to get to Dubai.  Do not look at a flat map.  Get a globe and trace the route.  It is the shortest way to go.  Dubai is not like many think here.  No, I did not see endless lines of Lamborghinis and Ferraris.  In fact, I do not recall seeing any at all.  Tomorrow, photos of Dubai before heading on to Addis.