The heavy baggage of some international travelers

The heavy baggage we’re talking about is not a suitcase. THAT we could do something about.

The heavy baggage we’re talking about is not a suitcase. THAT we could do something about.

No, the heavy baggage we carry on international trips is our embarrassment at so many of the policies of our country. When we travel abroad and people discover we are from the U.S., how do we get them to understand we do not support so many of our country’s policies?

Of course, this goes beyond being a U.S. problem. How do travelers from the U.K., Turkey or Egypt let it be known that they, too, may not support the policies of their own countries?

Huntington Gardens

Don’t even begin to think this is a new problem caused by the new administration. We remember keeping a low profile as Americans for most of our traveling lives. (Most people mistook us for Northern European in 1986.) It’s just that now, it’s become ever so much worse.

A few months ago we met a lovely person in Argentina, a bird guide, and we started talking about travel. (This was during the Obama administration.)

“Have you been to the US?” we asked naively.

“Oh, I would really like to but it’s very hard to visit the US,” he replied. “To get a visa I would be required to fly down to the capital city, Buenos Aires, for an interview at the US Embassy. If approved, then I would have to pay $160 for a visa. Paying for a flight and hotel for the interview trip to the capital, as well as the visa fee, would make a trip to the US very expensive.”

We couldn’t believe it was true. After all, we never had to go to Washington, DC to meet with anyone from the Embassy of Argentina for an interview with Argentina officials to decide if we were qualified to receive a visa to tour their country.

We couldn’t believe it was true. After all, we never had to go to Washington, DC to meet with anyone from the Embassy of Argentina for an interview with Argentina officials to decide if we were qualified to receive a visa to tour their country.

We were left speechless. And we were left embarrassed.

We wish our friend could have visited the US. He wanted to see our National Parks. He wanted to look at birds he’ll never be able to see in Argentina. (Will he ever see this bird, a rock ptarmigan, which we saw in Olympia National Park in Washington?)

We wish our friend could have visited the US. He wanted to see our National Parks. He wanted to look at birds he’ll never be able to see in Argentina. (Will he ever see this bird, a rock ptarmigan, which we saw in Olympia National Park in Washington?)

Traveling expands understanding and knowledge. We wish more visitors from around the world were free to travel to the US. One bit of knowledge visitors to the US would learn is that in a democracy there are many points of view and government policies do not always represent the diverse views of the people.

And in turn, we (and other Americans) should continue to travel around the globe. The perspectives we have gained have surprised us, informed us, and made us better citizens for our new knowledge and understanding.

The world needs travelers now more than ever. We all have a lot to learn and the best way to do that is to get out there and visit foreign countries, meet new people, listen, and see how things work in other places.

If you want to travel, don’t just stay home because “the climate isn’t right” for crossing international borders. Now is the time to go. (Photo: rice terraces in Ping’An, China)

If you want to travel, don’t just stay home because “the climate isn’t right” for crossing international borders. Now is the time to go. (Photo: rice terraces in Ping’An, China)

As Americans, we’ll just have to be ready to explain the unexplainable: just what IS going on in the U.S.?

 

February 2017

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Trying out new settings

Don’t get in a rut, we told ourselves, but it was too late. It’s been almost 2 years since we got our camera and the setting rarely has moved from manual. So, Beth moved the switch off manual, and we headed out with new friends, Marlee and Kenton, to photograph outdoor sculpture.

Marlee and Joe seem oblivious to the giant tortoise “roaming” in the desert nearby.

Marlee and Joe seem oblivious to the giant tortoise “roaming” in the desert nearby.

Some of the animals, like this Merriam's tapir, were placed in natural settings, and from a distance appeared ready to spring into life, even though this long-ago extinct tapir lived in North America during the Pleistocene era.

Some of the animals, like this Merriam’s tapir, were placed in natural settings, and from a distance appeared ready to spring into life, even though this long-ago, extinct tapir lived in North America during the Pleistocene era.

What is real and what isn’t? How about the cactus in the middle of the photo?

What is real and what isn’t? How about the cactus in the middle of the photo?

Over 100 sculptures were placed in the desert at Borrego Springs, CA – a small, “island” town surrounded by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The philanthropist, Dennis Avery and his wife, Sally Tsui Wong-Avery, lived in Borrego Springs for years. He bought property when land prices dropped in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

As heir to the Avery label fortune and a noted philanthropist, Dennis Avery commissioned metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda to be placed on the undeveloped land and called it “Sky Art.”

As heir to the Avery label fortune and a noted philanthropist, Dennis Avery commissioned metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda to be placed on the undeveloped land and called it “Sky Art.”

We’d never heard of the sculptor, Ricardo Breceda. He started as a cowboy boot salesman, and, when his young daughter requested a dinsoaur after seeing “Jurassic Park III,” he welded one for her. His first sculpture, it was 45-ft long (14 meters). Only seven years later, he received his commission from Dennis Avery.

The vast desert expanse was the perfect setting for a sea serpent. Kenton provided human scale for the enormous head rising up from the desert floor. Parts of the body snaked back across the road for 350’.

The vast desert expanse was the perfect setting for a sea serpent. Kenton provided human scale for the enormous head rising up from the desert floor. Parts of the body snaked back across the road for 350’ (107 meters).

Joe posed by one section of the sea serpent’s body.

Joe posed by one section of the sea serpent’s body.

During the photo shoot Beth resisted the temptation to switch back to manual focus even though she could see there was an unusual look to the photos. When we returned and uploaded all the photos, she realized that she’d accidentally left the setting at “toy camera” effect. The manual says this creates “a soft image with shaded corners and reduced sharpness.”

The photo of Marlee illustrated the effect of the “toy camera” setting in the desert landscape. It was definitely a soft, hazy look.

The photo of Marlee illustrated the effect of the “toy camera” setting in the desert landscape. It was definitely a soft, hazy look.

For us – the accidental setting on the camera couldn’t have been better. It gave our photos that day an old-time look with slightly muted colorization. The glare on the desert floor from the sun is still there, as well as the blue sky. What better way to photograph giant creatures in the desert?

Changing camera settings and changing our setting to the desert for viewing giant welded animals lifted us right out of a winter rut.

 

February 2017

 

 

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Expectations when we travel

One reason we travel is to visit a place different from where we have lived. We’re not necessarily looking for “exotic” or “foreign,” though those are welcome, too, but, with time and experience, we’ve learned to appreciate and enjoy beautiful sights, no matter how modest – even ordinary –  they might seem.

OK, the waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs isn’t Niagra or Iguazu but remember this is a waterfall in a desert environment. After hiking up from the hot canyon with our friend, Carlie, we could appreciate how the cool waterfall must have been a special place for the Agua Caliente Indians who have lived here for hundreds of years.

OK, the waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon in Palm Springs isn’t Niagra or Iguazu but remember this is a waterfall in a desert environment. After hiking up from the hot canyon with our friend, Carlie, we could appreciate how the cool waterfall must have been a special place for the Agua Caliente Indians who have lived here for hundreds of years.

The walk in Tahquitz Canyon was a surprisingly monotone range of muted colors in the hot sun. A flash of color appeared.

A man was sitting quietly above us on a rock with a bright blue shirt. The rocky wall behind him was a little redder in the shade.   We called up to him, “Can we take your photo, please?”

A man was sitting quietly above us on a rock with a bright blue shirt. The rocky wall behind him was a little redder in the shade.   We called up to him, “Can we take your photo, please?”

His reply, “Will I make a lot of money?” We all laughed.

Another day, another hike… This time we headed for a palm oasis in the Coachella Nature Preserve.

No matter how many times we visit, this little oasis takes us by surprise with its serene beauty. We looked in the water for any outlying crayfish -- introduced some years ago, they have managed by now to almost wipe out the little fish and frogs native to the water. It was a good sign that no crayfish were spotted. Try as we might, we also didn’t see any fish or hear any frogs.

No matter how many times we visit, this little oasis takes us by surprise with its serene beauty. We looked in the water for any outlying crayfish — introduced some years ago, they have managed by now to almost wipe out the little fish and frogs native to the water. It was a good sign that no crayfish were spotted. Try as we might, we also didn’t see any fish or hear any frogs.

A few days later we found a hiking trail new to us. Or maybe we should have said we followed others up a trail we had never hiked. It was a perfect day for a walk, and, before we knew it, we were on a trail. Someone stopped to let us pass and told us it was still quite a ways till we reached the waterfall. Really? We had no idea that’s where we were headed!

No matter. It was an especially scenic trail for anyone who loves cactus.

No matter. It was an especially scenic trail for anyone who loves cactus.

Many varieties of cactus appeared and it looked strange to see them surrounded by lush green grass from the rains.

Many varieties of cactus appeared and it looked strange to see them surrounded by lush green grass from the rains.

We do a weekly walk at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, north of Palm Springs. Ahead of us a group had gathered, bent over to look at something on the ground.

This was the last thing we expected to see at a higher elevation in the arid desert. The temperature had dropped down to almost freezing the night before. We’d never seen anything quite this shape and weren’t sure if it was even a mushroom.

This was the last thing we expected to see at a higher elevation in the arid desert. The temperature had dropped down to almost freezing the night before. We’d never seen anything quite this shape and size – and weren’t sure if it was even a mushroom.

The walk at Morongo is to look at birds. Usually we looked in the sky, at the top of trees, on distant bushes.

It took us by surprise when a California scrub-jay flew in and landed on a branch only a few feet away from us. Then it sat and posed obligingly for a photo.

It took us by surprise when a California scrub-jay flew in and landed on a branch only a few feet away from us. Then it sat and posed obligingly for a photo.

Our trip to hike the desert around Palm Springs was filled with many little different wonders.   The whole trip was definitely greater than the sum of all those little sightings. When you take a trip to see that one great site, remember to look for all the little sights as well.

 

January 2017

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Not expected, but dealing with it

For travelers who check weather conditions, southern California can generally be counted on for dry and sunny weather at this time of year. On our drive from the Bay Area down to the desert, we passed through high wind, threatening rain, and an area damaged by a recent forest fire.

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The skeleton trees stood out in a landscape almost disappeared by low clouds.

Well, we reminded ourselves, the weather would be sunny and dry when we reached the desert.

The scene from the door of our rental in Palm Springs. Instead of blue skies we had gray. Instead of clear skies we had clouds.

The scene from the door of our rental in Palm Springs. Instead of blue skies we had gray. Instead of clear skies we had clouds.

A few days of heavy rain followed. What has happened to our dry, arid desert?   On the first good day after the rains, we ventured out for a walk at Araby wash. A wash is an area where water spills down from the mountains and rushes through the low desert. We headed for a trail on the levee built to hold back the floodwaters crossing Araby Road when it rains heavily. The many times we’ve walked on this trail, the desert has been bone-dry, and we’ve enjoyed seeing birds or spotting rabbits in the wash, not water.

Up until now, we’ve never seen even a drop of rain in the wash. Now the water was flowing.

Up until now, we’ve never seen even a drop of rain in the wash. Now the water was flowing.

The glorious mountains ahead vied for our attentions. As we walked further and looked down at the wash, we were surprised when the water seemed to have disappeared.

The glorious mountains ahead vied for our attentions. As we walked further and looked down at the wash, we were surprised when the water seemed to have disappeared.

We climbed down from the levee and walked into the wash. There were so many birds we just stood still and put up our binoculars: American kestrel, white-crowned sparrows, Say’s phoebes, Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds, cactus wren.  

We climbed down from the levee and walked into the wash. There were so many birds we just stood still and put up our binoculars: American kestrel, white-crowned sparrows, Say’s phoebes, Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds, cactus wren.

We finally walked across the wash to discover that fast-moving water at the base of the mountain rushed by on the far side of the wash, not visible from the levee.

When we climbed back up on to the levee, the view north showed what had happened to all that rain in the high mountains: snow!

When we climbed back up on to the levee, the view north showed what had happened to all that rain in the high mountains: snow!

A day or two later more snow and rain came. The desert is greener than we’ve ever seen it, but the price to pay for us is that the warm sun has stayed hidden for more days than we’d like. Ah, well, a small price to pay to pull California out of its critical drought condition.

 

January 2017

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Palm Springs

Oh, to be in Palm Springs! Warm sun, relaxed, a feeling of being removed from the cares of the world….still, important things have to be done: we joined in solidarity with many others around the world on January 21st to let our sentiments be known in the Women’s March in Palm Springs

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has…” Margaret Mead

The day was supposed to have been rainy, but a warm sun shone on the crowd gathered in a Palm Springs park. Many more gathered than we expected to see – young and old – waving creative signs. We were cheered knowing that other people gathered all over the world that day.

After that beautiful day, we returned to days in Palm Springs filled with long, quiet walks rather than crowds marching down the main street.

We passed Union Bank and wondered how we could have missed the two carved murals at the entrance. They provide an historical record of the city and the Western-themed block was one of our favorites.

We passed Union Bank and wondered how we could have missed the two carved murals at the entrance. They provide an historical record of the city and the Western-themed block was one of our favorites.

Our walks every Thursday include a visit to the Art Museum of Palm Springs and a stroll through the night market in town.

The Western theme continued with a great exhibit of work from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Wyoming.  https://centerofthewest.org

The Western theme continued with a great exhibit of work from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Wyoming.

Our daily strolls in nearby neighborhoods sometimes yield small surprises. With the first, were we just looking for more Western artwork?

On a private lane we saw this little horse’s head tucked between two rocks at the base of a palm tree. It really looked like it belonged there.

On a private lane we saw this little horse’s head tucked between two rocks at the base of a palm tree. It really looked like it belonged there.

Another surprise showed up when photographing this streetscape.

We’ve always admired the wonderful colors of buildings and walls in the desert. Now, with so many plantings lush with the heavy rains, the brick-red walls provided a great backdrop to the orange hued-red flowers.

We’ve always admired the wonderful colors of buildings and walls in the desert. Now, with so many plantings lush with the heavy rains, the brick-red walls provided a great backdrop to the orange hued-red flowers.

It was only after looking at the photo on the computer that we saw this little Costa’s hummingbird posing at the top of the ocotillo plant.

It was only after looking at the photo on the computer that we saw this little Costa’s hummingbird posing at the top of the ocotillo plant.

January is a glorious time for walking in Palm Springs. Don’t the photos tell it all?

 

January 2017

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Enjoy your inheritance

An inheritance can be a wonderful thing – as well as a burden. We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy it and accept (what seems to us) the minor burdens that come with such a great gift. Our inheritance is a shared gift: the US National Parks.

Huntington Gardens

We appreciate the beauty and the unique qualities of each park. Our collective burden is to support the continued preservation of the parks so that future generations will also be able to share in their inheritance. (Photo is Big Bend National Park, Texas, established in 1944.)

In the US, we were surprised to learn that President Ulysses S. Grant created the first National Park in the US, by law in 1872: Yellowstone National Park, now in the state of Wyoming. Some sources list Mongolia’s Bogd Khan Uul National Park created in 1783 as the first National Park in the world. These two parks were followed by Royal National Park, Australia (1879), Banff National Park, Canada (1885), Yoho National Park, Canada (1886) and Tongariro National Park, New Zealand (1887).

We’ve now visited 26 of the 62 National Parks in the US, including Olympic National Park with our son, Joshua (photo) in Washington, established in 1938. This year we plan to visit 4 more in the US, and one in Canada.

We’ve now visited 26 of the 62 National Parks in the US, including Olympic National Park with our son, Joshua (photo) in Washington, established in 1938. This year we plan to visit 4 more in the US, and one in Canada.

We’ve visited National Parks in at least 8 other countries. Abel Tasman National Park, established in New Zealand in 1942, had excellent hiking trails and beautiful beaches, like the one at Torrant Bay.

We’ve visited National Parks in at least 8 other countries. Abel Tasman National Park, established in New Zealand in 1942, had excellent hiking trails and beautiful beaches, like the one at Torrant Bay.

Some National Parks, like the Channel Islands in California, established in 1980, had been on our wish list for many years before we were able to visit.

Some National Parks, like the Channel Islands in California, established in 1980, had been on our wish list for many years before we were able to visit.

Most of the parks in the US were destinations for us. We tent-camped under the stars and spent our days hiking, at places like Guadaloupe Mountains National Park in Texas, established in 1966.

Most of the parks in the US were destinations for us. We tent-camped under the moon and stars and spent our days hiking, at places like Guadaloupe Mountains National Park in Texas, established in 1966.

An important mission of the National Parks we’ve visited in other countries is wildlife conservation.

Jozani National Park was established in 2004 to protect "the largest remaining stand of near-natural forest on Zanzibar" and the endemic Zanzibar red colobus monkey.  

Jozani National Park was established in 2004 to protect “the largest remaining stand of near-natural forest on Zanzibar” and the endemic Zanzibar red colobus monkey.

How many fewer elephants and other wildlife would there be if not for the large expanses of National Parks throughout southern Africa? We photographed this elephant in Tarangire National Park, in Tanzania, established in 1970.

How many fewer elephants and other wildlife would there be if not for the large expanses of National Parks throughout southern Africa? We photographed this elephant in Tarangire National Park, in Tanzania, established in 1970.

Everglades National Park in Florida, established in 1947, is well-known for its alligators.

Everglades National Park in Florida, established in 1947, is well-known for its alligators.

We have enjoyed our inheritance over the years and hope to see national parks here and around the world well maintained, increased, and valued for their beauty and natural landscape. They’re one of the best travel destinations, so consider adding some to your bucket list.

 

January 2017

 

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Have your camera handy

Why is it that so many people rarely have their cameras ready to capture an image? We carry our cameras all the time (and maybe you do, too, if your camera is your cellphone). The difference may be that we actually use ours – often, almost every day. When you see a flower in perfect bloom, unusual clouds fanned across the sky, a quirky sign in a window, are you ready to click?

We’re staying in Palm Springs, CA and enjoying time to catch up. We spent an afternoon looking back through photos of the last few months and noticed that we have a collection of photos that required a second look. Are the subjects really what they first seemed?

We walked down the street in Buenos Aires and saw a rather unusual scene. Our heads turned as we tried to understand what we were seeing. We finally realized the angel was outside the Recoleta Cemetery and the pedestrian was being thanked silently for dropping a contribution in the angel’s pitcher. We pulled out our cameras to capture the scene.

We walked down the street in Buenos Aires and saw a rather unusual scene. Our heads turned as we tried to understand what we were seeing. We finally realized the angel was outside the Recoleta Cemetery and the pedestrian was being thanked silently for dropping a contribution in the angel’s pitcher. We pulled out our cameras to capture the scene.

Another day and in another neighborhood of Buenos Aires, we walked down a street closed for a street fair. Maybe this group was gathered before their performance? We thought it made for a fun photo.

Another day and in another neighborhood of Buenos Aires, we walked down a street closed for a street fair. Maybe this group was gathered before their performance? We thought it made for a fun photo.

We’ve noticed that the more photos we take, the more attuned we are to looking at our surroundings in a different way. It’s not seeing every object or scene as a potential photo. It’s realizing a potential for capturing a certain essence in the subject. And sometimes when we’re lucky, a photo can convey its own story that intrigues the viewer as much as the photographer.

Our last day in Buenos Aires we took a long walk before heading for the airport. The pedestrian ahead of us was casually carrying a mannequin. Really?

Our last day in Buenos Aires we took a long walk before heading for the airport. The pedestrian ahead of us was casually carrying a mannequin. Really?

On that same walk, we saw this striking mural on the side of a building. As we studied the artwork, 2 doors appeared within the painting.

On that same walk, we saw this striking mural on the side of a building. As we studied the artwork, 2 doors appeared within the painting.

We strolled through Eastern Market in Washington, DC a few days later and saw this “brain.” Could it really be? No, just a pumpkin it seems.

We strolled through Eastern Market in Washington, DC a few days later and saw this “brain.” Could it really be? No, just a pumpkin it seems.

Developing an eye for what is going on around us  – and then pulling out the camera and capturing some magical images – is one of the joys of our traveling life. We feel there are three important aspects of travel: planning the trip, taking the trip, and remembering the trip. Our photos provide a rich memory book that stretches our trip for years after.

 

 

January 2017

 

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