December 31, 2011. Travels in 2011.
From L to R
1. 16 week baby bump: V @Charlotte, NC, Nov 2011
2. Sandhill crane: @Bosque NWR, Jan 2011
3. Great Horned Owl @Carlina Raptor Center, NC, Nov 2011
4. Tulip Festival @Holland, MI, May 2011
5. 23 weeks baby bump, V @ Mahogany Bay Beach, Roatan, Honduras, Dec 2011
6. Flamingo @ NC Zoo, Asheboro, NC, Nov 2011
7. La Cabeza @Uptown Charlotte, NC. Moving into Charlotte from Rockford, IL, Aug 2011
8. Great Smoky Mountain Railroad @ Bryson City, NC, Nov 2011
9. Sunset @Santa Monica Beach, CA, March 2011
10. Sunset @Peoria, IL, April 2011
11. Golden Gate Bridge @San Francisco, Ca, July 2011
12. M/S Ryndam docking @Cozumel, Mexico, Dec 2011
13. V atop Mayan temple @Altun Ha, Belize, Dec 2011
14. Pelican @Kure Beach, NC, Nov 2011
15. Crown Fountain @Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, June 2011
16. Palm Trees at sunset @Everglades NP, FL Dec 2011
A very happy 2012 to all my fellow smugmuggers!!
December 30, 2011 - Butterfly at Oasis Visitor Center, Everglades National Park, FL. ID, papa ?
Back to Charlotte tomorrow ! A very Happy New Year to all my friends and family ! It's been a good year :), thank you for all the wonderful smugmug comments and sharing your shots !
December 28, 2011 - Silhouettes in Islamorada bridge, FL - mostly cormorants on the wire, with a pelican in flight
We attempted to drive all the way to Key West, reached Islamorada when the sun set. Unfortunately, we couldn't then find a place a stay, no reservations beforehand, all of the Keys had 'no vacancy boards' all over ! had to return back to mainland :(..
My D700's focus button, to change from single focus, continuous focus or manual focus also broke, it just slides thru, and only single auto-focuses now :(, so I'm shooting predominantly with the backup D300s ! can't shoot birds in action or in flight well without continuous focus tracking .. I wonder if it's a sign to switch to the D3 series but K disagrees !!
December 27, 2011 - the Cormorant - close-up ! on the Anahinga trail at Everglades National Park, FL
still not up to date on my dailies, but trying to catch up by adding 2-3 photos a day !Still in Florida, taking lots of bird and sunset shots :) thanks for your wonderful comments on my dailies, much appreciated !
December 23, 2011 - 23 week pregnant V at Mahogany Bay Beach, Roatan, Honduras. We are expecting a baby boy in April 2012 !
Ryndam docked at the beautiful pier of Roatan at 7am. However, it started pouring pretty soon. We disembarked, ran into our tiny tourbus, more like a motorcoach actually, and our guide Carol got us on a tour called "The Far Far Away".
This tour is a bit of a scam. There's really not much to Roatan except the beach that is right beside the docks. So the far, far away is just a hotel on the opposite end of the island, accessible via a long stretch of unpaved potholed road. Carol had memorized long snippets and delivered them in a disinterested monotone. She is a plump, jolly Jamaican , out to have a good time, and tour guide was just a routine gig for her. Apparently Honduras has mandatory bilingual education ( English plus Spanish ), most of Roatan is owned by the Jackson Family, who descended from pirates. Again, free education, healthcare etc, though the place is really poor and roads are liberally littered with plastic. Very narrow curvy roads with no speed limit, so Roatan drivers are very careful so they don't drive off a cliff. The island itself is sitting pretty in the middle of the Pacific. Very green and mountainous.
After a few hours we arrived at Mahogany beach resort on the other end of the island. We drifted off in separate groups at the beach. Very pretty sandy nude beach. This picture is taken at Mahogany beach. Earlier in the trip, Vandana got a coconut wrist band and turtle shell earrings from local Roatan artisans, which she's wearing here. We saw a lot of senior citizen cellulite on the beach! Then, a bunch of "modern tribals", ie. tribal kids wearing jeans and carrying cellphones, performed a tribal dance. Mostly butt wiggling. They seem to have gotten most of the moves from Shakira! Vandana joined in, and its a rather hilarious dance I will upload at some later date. Returned to Roatan pier via the same long bumpy road.
The beach near Roatan pier is very pretty and has "flying beach chairs". You sit on the chair and you get an aerial view of the entire beach as you coast over trees. Quite amazing, and we flew down from the pier to the beach on those chairs. The beach is very popular with the tourist crowd and definitely a must-see. Around noon, we flew back on our beach chairs to the pier, where Vandana purchased 4 duty-free watches,with red, pink, green & yellow straps!
Back to Ryndam & we set sail at 4pm. Costa Maya tomorrow!
December 22, 2011 - Mayan Temples of Altun-Ha, Belize.
Surrounded by coral reefs, Belize is a tender port. So we were assigned seating based on the excursion group, and our tender arrived around 7am. Essentially, the ship docks 1-2 miles away from the port of Belize, in the ocean safe from the reefs, and the passengers disembark onto tenders ( smaller boats ) which ferry you to the port of Belize City.
Upon arrival, we boarded a tour bus led by guide Marcos, who was a large jolly Creole guy. He gave us a lot of made-up facts ( like "7 Belize women per Belize man - so you let your imagination go wild !! ". In reality its a 1-1 ). There was a sizeable contingent of senior citizens apparently keen on retiring in Belize - so the history of Belize section got replaced by Belize economics. One woman in particular continously badgered poor Marcos with American concepts like minimum wage, property tax, inflation, how does government pay for healthcare, how are schools free, income tax & sales tax, gasoline price, black market rates etc...the poor fellow obviously didn't know what things like "welfare checks" meant, and said that if you don't work you go hungry! Given that 1 in 5 Belizeans is out of work, that was unsettling to the audience. I gathered the crowd expected an upscale island in the middle of the Pacific. But Belize is rather impoverished and decrepit. Its living primarily on handouts - Marcos pointed to several bridges & overpasses built by funds from Canada, US etc. While things like education & healthcare are free, Belize is essentially a poor island. A lot of what we saw reminded me of the India of the 1980s. Buildings falling apart, thatched huts, huge hand-painted billboards, very narrow unpaved roads, things like that. I think by the end of the busride the woman keen on retiring in Belize had done a complete 180 on her plans.
At Altun-Ha, there are these giant Mayan temples - tombs of high priests, found with lots of jade and Mayan scripture. There is absolutely no jade to be seen now even in museums in Belize, and Marcos said the archaeologists had robbed the tombs. The Mayan books were in some library in Chicago, so the people of Belize have access to neither their history nor their jewelry. The temples are labelled A1, A2, B1 etc, and you can climb on their 60+ steps all the way to the very top. This picture was taken from atop one such temple. We spent a few hours gazing at these Mayan temples, then purchased a wooden Toucan & a mask of a Mayan king from local artisans of Belize. Along the way back to the terminal, we learnt that Hindi is spoken in Belize, that Marcos likes samosas and that he once passed through Charlotte! Marcos dropped us off at a 4-star hotel where we ordered some seafood which arrived after precisely 1 hour! Not much of a service culture. Vandana was quite furious & yelled at the waitress!! Marcos said Belize had tons of holidays & essentially treated life as one big party, so it wasn't a big surprise.
We rather liked Belize.
December 21, 2011 - 8am. Docked at Cozumel, Mexico.
Our second "foreign country" in the past 15 years ( Costa Rica was our first) . The major cruise lines dock at Cozumel - Holland America, Carnival, Royal Carribean etc. To disembark from the Ryndam, lots of frantic preparations were made. we had to wake up real early at 6am, then get to the Lido for our 6:30 coffee and breakfast, get a quick shower and assemble on Deck 3, where the authorities took our pictures, asked us to use plenty of Purell and avoid the water, and sent us on our way.
BTW, this is our first picture of M/S Ryndam from the docks. We walked down the long pier and there were a bunch of tour guides standing under their names in large yellow banners. Our tour guide Jesus collected the largest contingent, keen on checking out the San Gervasio Archaeological Center. We trooped behind Jesus single file and he led us to a tour bus. There are plenty of funky transportation options in Cozumel - crazy looking motorized tricycles, jeeps, scooters, bikes - definitely a mecca for DIYers looking for a more personal experience.
Jesus was a nonstop one-act comedy persona. He cracked jokes about the colossal American ignorance & stereotyping of Mexicans, Tequila, Taco Bell, the water in Mexico, human sacrifices among the Maya, on and on until the entire bus was filled with laughter. Amazing tour guide. Did you know that cops don't chase robbers in Cozumel ? Since Cozumel is an island, and there's only one gas station, the robbers escape on their vehicles, but where do they go on an island, and what do they do when they run out of fuel ? So the cops simply wait at the gas station for the poor robbers to show up!
Cozumel supposedly has no drug problems that plague the Baja peninsula, no crime, but no industry either, with everything centered around the Mayan tourism industry.
So we arrive at San Gervasio ruins. These are quite underwhelming, frankly. There are limestone roads and small limestone pillars and so on, but no giant structures. No Mayan temples here. But Jesus was a treasure trove on the Mayans, being a Mayan himself. Well, he was a half-Mayan half-Mestizo, and spoke Mayan, Spanish & English quite fluently. We learnt about the Mayan number system. Unlike our own ( the decimal aka Base-10 system using just the fingers), they have a Base-20 system using both their fingers and toes to count, so they get upto and beyond the millions and billions using far fewer digits than we do. We go 10, 100, 1000 and so on, but in 10 steps the Mayan get to a trillion! ( 20,400,8000, 160k, 3.2m, 64m, 1.28b, 25.6b, 512b, 1.024 T) Jesus got four volunteers to line up and we counted various numerals in Mayan by prompting them to extend their fingers. I was quite impressed by his mathematical facility, and the group as a whole became thoroughly competent in Mayan counting by the end of the tour.
The Mayans had four different calendars, and the Mayan Solar Calendar is the most accurate known to man. Our own calendar based on the Gregorian system, is inaccurate by a full 6 hours every year, so once in four years we lose 24 hours, and we allocate a leap year to fix this loss and catch up. The Mayans lose only a few seconds every year! So for them to hit a reset button takes a very, very long time. And that's what's going to happen on Dec 21, 2012, the end of the world. The Mayan calendar is simply going to reset on that day. The millions of Mayans in Cozumel & the rest of Mexico, Honduras & Belize will have lots of tequila to celebrate the calendar resetting, and then carry on as if nothing happened.
From San Gervasio, we went to a beach resort & had mango smoothies & cheese quesadillas, while Jesus fed the seagulls some bread. Then it was back to the bus and the long ride to the ship. We all rated Jesus a 10 on 10, and one of us actually indicated he must be made the Governor of Cozumel! He richly deserves the honor. Certainly knows more about Cozumel than anyone on the planet. The pier had gotten very hot, humid & touristy, with several hundred cruise ship passengers shopping for knick-knacks. The Ryndam left the shores of Cozumel around 5pm, and we charted a course towards Belize.
December 20, 2011 - Another lazy day on the Ryndam. Woke up late, a little seasick & had some dramamine. Then off to the Lido to sample the salads, smoked fish and cakes. Lots of ice cream too. Spent most of the day hanging around the swimming pool atop the 12th floor, where a poolside DJ provided musical accompaniments.
Also checked out the gym near the 11th floor Spa. The Spa will have to wait for next week, but we did use the elliptical for an hour. Lots of fitness classes were provided for the younger crowd - Core Body conditioning, Pilates, Yoga & the like. But most of the older crowd opted for "Introduction to Windows 7" and "Photoshop basics" by the resident techxpert. There was a resident doctor, resident diamond purchasing expert, resident cook and they made sure we didn't miss out on acquiring arcane bits of info in our free time. Morover, the captain would butt in from time to time on the P/A system with info on "What is a bridge" and "Stern vs Port vs Starboard" and other mariner minutiae.
December 19, 2011 - Arriving at Key West, Fl
"Day At Sea". That means M/S Ryndam never docked, and we spent the entire day at sea. Ocean, actually. Well, what happened was, the Ryndam arrived close to Key West pier around noon, but we couldn't dock. It was supposedly quite windy...some 20 knots or so, instead of the expected 10 knots. So the captain tried a couple of tricks to dock, and we all watched excitedly from the deck. But after an hour, he gave up and announced on the P/A system that Sorry, its too windy, we can't dock in Key West, so we set sail right away to Cozumel, Mexico. But no worries, the cruise director will come up with a full day's worth of exciting activities to keep us amused!
After some 10 minutes, the cruise entertainment director read out a bunch of very entertaining ideas, like "Boys vs Girls bingo" !!! Had we docked, we would now be on a "Glass Bottom Boat tour" of the coral reefs at Key West, but here we were stuck with the bingo crowd. We spent the rest of the day checking out the ship, lying on the deck chairs on the rooftop deck , while the ship's DJ belted out some rocking numbers from the 70s.
We sampled ice creams from the Lido, pizzas from the Terrace Grill, went to the art gallery, and capped out the night with a viewing of the very tragic british drama "One Day", playing at the Wajang Theater on the 7th floor of the Ryndam. Nice, completely unexpected, lazy day.
December 18, 2011 - Boarded the M/S Ryndam: Holland America cruise to Mexico, Belize & Honduras.
Woke up at the "Bay View Resort", somewhere in Tampa. It has neither a bay nor a view and is certainly no resort! Spotted this egret on our doorstep. Slightly cold breezy day in Tampa. Bought some travel toothpaste at the Publix & headed off to the Tampa Airport, to return our rental car at noon. We then took a taxi to our cruise ship M/S Ryndam at Tampa port, Terminal 6.
A very large contingent of excited cruise goers. Mostly retired senior couples, but lots of young kids too. Long immigration lines at the port. We filled out some forms saying we had no GI disorders. Turns out that in the previous trip, half a dozen passengers got very sick due to GI infection. So nobody could board the ship this time until they thoroughly fumigated the ship. Of course, none of this information was disclosed to us! Instead, all the passengers were discreetly routed onto several tour buses which took us back to, guess where, Tampa airport!
We were of course quite amused to be back in Tampa airport twice in a day, this time with several hundred cruise ship passengers who, like us, had no idea what they were doing at the airport instead of on the ship. Everybody asked everybody else and gradually we learnt the Ryndam had a major GI infection case on the previous trip with several sick passengers, hence nobody could board it this time until it was disinfected. So we joshed around on the fourth floor of the Marriott at Tampa Airport. It was very, very hot and there was no place to sit for the hundreds of angry passengers, who were getting more pissed off by the minute. The cruise ship should have left Tampa at 4pm. Instead, here we were at the Airport!
Around 6pm, the cruise ship staff received word that Ryndam was now disinfected. So we were grouped into Tour buses again and driven back to the Ryndam. After the ordeal, we were too exhausted and hungry, so nobody complained. Our tired mugs were captured by the cruise photographers, then we boarded the Ryndam and set sail.
At 8pm, we showed up at the Rotterdam, a giant, posh dining room, on the 8th floor of the Ryndam, for our first and only "reserved seating" dinner. Very stuffy atmosphere, with extremely well dressed elegant couples in tuxedos and evening wear, served by equally formal waiters from a menu with hoity-toity french cuisine whose names we couldn't pronounce. Felt very out of place, in our tees and shorts. We were seated opposite a chatty ex-Navy great-grand-dad & his wife, who told us all about his triple bypass surgery, and V decided we couldn't take anymore of this chatter in this stuffy atmosphere. So we never went back to the Rotterdam again, despite having paid a princely sum for a full week's reserved seating! Instead, we joined the commoners every night for a free-for-all seating at the Lido, the 11th floor restaurant with down-to-earth items like simple salads & smoked snappers.
That night, we slept like a baby.
December 16, 2011 - Elephants at sunset
A composite image made from multiple elephant shots taken at the African Safari section of NC zoo, merged onto a sunset from New Mexico. This is the last of my fantasy compositions for now!, enuf of photoshop..now to shoot some real wildlife ! Flying to Tampa, FL in the next few hours( Saturday), then a Western Caribbean cruise starts Sunday !! We wanted to see some Mayan ruins before the world ends in 2012 ! If I have wireless, will connect with you all soon !
December 14, 2011 - A tribute to 1Q84 - 1Q84 is a novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, recently published in the US in translation in Oct 2011. It is considered by many as one of the best books of 2011. I spent the month of Nov'11 in the strange world of 1Q84 and its 900+ pages. 1Q84, a modern take of Orwell's 1984 is a love story between 2 childhood friends, Tengo and Aomame who can meet again only in the parallel universe of 1Q84. The world in 1Q84 has two moons, 'Little People' often about 6 of them who appear at night to make a 'Air Chrysalis' - a web/virtual womb from which a shadowy self can emerge which can give strange powers to their 'leader'.. for more, you'll have read the 900+ pages !! but the 2 moons, air chrysalis and little people are what are represented here .. this image is a composite of 5 different photographs of mine.
December 13, 2011 - Shy
thanks for the comments on my giant flower shot from yesterday ! My original idea had been for myself to climb a beanstalk and water the flowers, but it turned out to be difficult ! but watch out, there could be a lion in your backyard, you never know !
December 12, 2011 - A rare glimpse into the world in 2084. The world as we know it has remarkably changed. Humankind has left the earth and settled down in the red planet. Earth now is full of giant trees and flowers and constant stormy weather. Bees and butterflies have disappeared. It is the great blue herons who have evolved to pollinate the giant flowers. Life goes on..
thanks for your comments on my giraffe silhouette shot yesterday. Much appreciated, made my day ! I am attempting a series of altered reality/composites/fantasy images this week !
November 30, 2011. Canada geese in flight.
At the zoo, there's a largish watering hole to be shared by the rhino and the elephant. A large fleet of Canada geese have instead taken charge of that hole. They swim about in the water and fly back and forth when the larger mammals approach.
edit: this is taken with Nikkor 70-200mm VR lens + 1.4x TC, nikon D 700.
November 16, 2011. V (17 weeks pregnant) looking out towards Pleasure Island, @Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area, NC.
pic by k. Right after k took this picture, he crouched down for a better viewpoint, slipped on the wet, mossy rocks and fell with a solid thud! Mild lacerations, no fracture etc. An old couple walking with a cane spotted k's fall from afar and came rushing down to his aid! It was quite a scene.