The Mesoamerican Context for Chaco Astronomy — Gambler’s House

Today is the summer solstice, so I thought I’d pop back in to do a post about archaeoastronomy, as is my wont. This time it isn’t about the archaeoastronomy of Chaco Canyon per se, but the larger context in which it would have developed, namely that of the civilizations of Mesoamerica to the south. I’ve […]

via The Mesoamerican Context for Chaco Astronomy — Gambler’s House

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Penguins and Paddleboards

When traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, there are always a number of daily activities you can choose from. Being ship-based, these include snorkeling, scuba-diving (for certified divers), swimming, kayaking (which I’m pretty bad at), and stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP). This is the first expedition I’d taken since they added SUP as a choice and, never having tried it, you know that I had to when we reached Takume Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Here’s another of my infamous foot pictures! You might be asking what’s with the small stuffed penguin – I think it’s been a while since #PenguinAboutTown has made an appearance in my blog. Paddleboard3 He’s a King Penguin that was an impulse buy from a little green-roofed gift shop in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, on my to Antarctica. He’s since traveled with me to several states, Europe and Africa. (He was quite pleased when he realized his dream of being a #PenguinOfMadagascar.) He’s even found himself in the jaws of a T-Rex skeleton. I didn’t intend for him to be a traveling companion, but on my Baja expedition I discovered a couple from WSU carrying their stuffed Cougar mascot and a young woman from Malaysia carrying a stuffed elephant, all for photo ops. I realized this is a thing, so now #PenguinAboutTown climbs into my camera bag whenever I start packing.

Paddleboard2

You might surmise from my lack of kayaking skill, I wasn’t all that great at SUP either. (I really need to work on more upper body strength.)  One of my very first acts was to have to throw myself off the board backward in a vain attempt to not run over a snorkeler. I was really at the mercy of the winds and currents, and kept ending up going in directions I didn’t want to. (This should sound familiar to Sandy, my Antarctic kayaking partner.) I even ended up stuck on a sand bar. If I remember correctly, it was Expedition Leader Adam Cropp who helped me off that and directed me into a more sheltered area within the lagoon.

Here’s my wonderful friend, Bobbie Prees, Paddleboard_Bobbieutilizing the wiser method of kneeling on the paddle board. I tried that too, but it just wasn’t as fun as falling off, getting wet, climbing back on, repeat. Even my iPhone took a brief dunk in the lagoon while tucked inside my life vest (it survived). The only thing that stayed dry the entire time? The Penguin.

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Sharks and puppies

No, nobody was feeding any puppies (or other cute little baby animals) to sharks. (I was, however, tempted to title this blog posting as “Pippin! Pippin!” to see if anyone picked up on the reference.)

Doug_puppyThis little guy here being held by Doug Gualtieri, a Lindblad naturalist taking a break from his usual work on their Alaska expeditions, was the culprit who tried to run off with my socks that rainy day on the atoll of Fakarava. The girl in the wheelchair is a local resident in the atoll’s main village of Rotoava. The puppy may have belonged to her, but many of the dogs were “community” pets taken care of by everyone.

After my long photo walk with photographer Chris, I luckily happened upon this small stretch of beach where a local man had befriended a couple of nurse sharks. We’d been told we might have a chance to watch him feed the sharks, and possibly pet them as well. So I pulled off my footwear, stuffing my socks into my hiking shoes. Unknown to me, as I waded out into the water to wait for one of the sharks to approach me, the puppy decided my socks made great toys and pulled them out of my shoes. Doug intercepted. (Thanks, Doug, for saving my socks!) And he loves dogs anyway, so he was quite happy to have a puppy to play with.

Alas, the sharks did not like me and wouldn’t approach. (I really wanted to be able to say I had petted a shark. Dang it.) But a couple others in the group did get lucky, including Marc, my drinking buddy. (The middle two bar stools at the bar in the lounge aboard the Nat Geo Orion became “ours.”) I didn’t time my photo right, so you don’t get to see him actually petting the shark – sorry.  Marc_shark

 

Flowers of Fakarava

On our first day at the lovely atoll of Fakarava, some of us went on a photo walk with Nat Geo photographer Chris Ranier. (Interesting fact: Chris was Ansel Adams’ last assistant before he passed away.) Chris’ focus (no pun intended) is in telling the stories of cultures through photography which can include even the tiniest of details in the surrounding environment. He highlighted many things on our walk, from the people, their homes, their brand new trucks and SUVs, their puppies (like the one who tried to run off with my socks – but that’s another story), and their vegetable and flower gardens.

I don’t spend a lot of time taking flower pictures at home, but I always seem to be doing it on vacation. (It helps when you have a professional photographer pointing out particularly photogenic flowers.) These two shots I think may be my favorite. I’m sure Chris told us the name of these flowers (or perhaps it was Tom Ritchie on a later walk), but as usual I can’t find it in my notes. I just think they’re really pretty. Maybe you recognize them? You might notice it was raining that day.

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Sneak Preview

I know I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Sometimes real life really does get in the way.

Enough of excuses. I’d rather show you some vacation photos from my August trip to the South Pacific. It’s the first time that I’ve ever flown west of California, and long overdue.

It wasn’t the typical tourist lounging in Tahiti or Bora Bora (although I do have a hankering to spend a few days in one of those over-the-water bungalows). We boarded the beautiful National Geographic Orion NG_Orionand set sail for the Tuamotus and the more remote Marquesas. Our days were filled with snorkeling, hiking, meeting the locals, history and cultural lessons, and, of course, zodiac rides (the latter which, by the way, are even more fun at high speed while listening to Hans Zimmer’s “The Barbarian Horde” on your iPod).

Just wanted to share a couple photos to start. Speaking of zodiac rides, life jackets were always required, but where on earth do we park all those things while we’re ashore? The handy, portable, trash cans, of course.lifejackets Believe it or not, pretty much everyone I’ve traveled with has at least one of these photos. It may seem to be a rather mundane photo but it is part of a complete story when one is traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic.

And to give a hint of the unique culture of the Marquesas, here’s a picture of a tiki statue at an ancient religious site. It’s one that’s been moved several times, but it is believed it’s current prone position is the original placement. Behind the tiki is my traveling friend Bobbie. (I think she’s taking a picture of the sign on the other side.) Bobbie_statue

 

 

 

Look at that tail!

Black_White_Lemur2

One of the prettier lemurs, I think, is the Black and White Ruffed Lemur. Like the Gray Bamboo Lemur, we saw only one and only on the Lemur Island sanctuary near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. They are supposed to be quite loud, but unfortunately we didn’t get to hear its call. Or maybe that might be fortunately we didn’t. One of the guidebooks compared this lemur’s calls to “agonized screaming.”  Ha! Black_White_Lemur1

Call of the Indri

IndriiOf the many animals you’ve ever seen or heard in a zoo, you would never forget the Indri. If you could find one in a zoo, that is. They do not survive in captivity and are critically endangered with population numbers estimated to be well under 10,000, possibly as low as 1,000.

We were fortunate to see and hear a handful of these magnificent creatures (largest of the living lemur species) in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. I did not succeed in getting a very good recording of their beautiful, haunting voices, so I’ll link you to a Youtube video posted by Tribes Travel. Just click on the Malagasy name for the Indri, Babakoto, and you’ll be whisked away to the Madagascar rain forest (for a couple minutes anyway).

But today, I wonder how many of those voices have been silenced in the intervening months. This February, Madagascar authorities arrested Jean Yves Ratovoso, one of the leading wildlife officials whose duty it was to protect the Indri. They also seized the carcasses of 11 dead lemurs (10 Indri, 1 Diademed Sifaka). From the description of the location, I don’t believe it was in the exact same part of Andasibe we were in, but was nearby. Our guides names were Jacque and William, so likely we never met Jean Yves Ratovoso.

William_Jacque

Guides Jacque and William

I could sit here in the safety and comfort of my middle-class American existence, and denounce Ratovoso via my keyboard. But can I ever understand what he did? Poverty is rampant in Madagascar, even for those who earn a relatively reliable income from the tourism trade. Their resources are dwindling. Their society is changing, Fady (taboos) against killing or eating lemurs are no longer the deterrent they once were. Organized crime is there. And so, too, are foreigners willing to pay for a chance to eat a “forbidden” delicacy. As the natural habitats suitable for each species of lemurs are increasingly fragmented and encroached upon, their population decreases and their voices fade away. And even those who are sworn to protect them will violate that trust.

If you’re thinking of visiting Madagascar to see the lemurs, you should go soon, before the call of the Babakoto is only a fading echo.