Photo of the Day: Iguazu Falls—a Natural Wonder

Iguazu Falls, the Iguazu River and San Martin Island I’ll never forget the jolt of amazement when I rounded a bend on the elevated walkway and saw this view. To capture the breadth and the feeling of power emanating from such close proximity to the rushing water and billowing spray, I took four images, from side to side, and later stitched them together in Photoshop, creating this stunning panorama, which includes the Iguazu River and San Martin island.

Categories: Argentina, environment, nature, Photography, Photoshop, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Spying on Southern Right Whales

Welcome to Puerto PiramidesIt’s early afternoon in Argentina’s Patagonia, and on Peninsula Valdes, the seaside town of Puerto Piramides is throbbing with tourists lining up to pay for their whale-watching tours. The little hamlet has grown up around these tours, with lodging, restaurants, souvenir shops and a tourist information bureau all catering to the trade and brimming with business.

Beyond the last restaurant, on an ultra-wide beach fronting a horseshoe bay, there are no boat ramps. Instead, tractors—like monstrous crabs—chug across the sand, pushing and pulling tour boats into and out of the ocean with the aid of long metal arms. Ignoring the vehicles, groups of sunbathers and daytrippers dot the sandy expanse. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

Tractors haul boats in and out of the ocean

From the ticket office, we march in line to the beach after donning our bulky orange life jackets. Across the sand we go, up the metal steps to the boat’s deck in search of a good seat. During a lengthy orientation in both Spanish and English (mostly Spanish), a tractor pushes us into the sea, and at the proper depth, we float off the trailer and are on our way to see the whales.

It’s speculated that right whales, both Northern (Pacific and Atlantic) and Southern, got their name because whalers declared them the “right” whales to kill. Preferring shallow coastal waters, they swim slowly, passing close to ports and lingering on the surface. All of which made them easy to harpoon. And once killed, they conveniently floated thanks to their thick blubber layer, which was rendered into oil.

Eventually, they became even more prized for their baleen—a tough yet flexible material that forms a giant sieve in each side of the whale’s mouth, allowing it to strain flea-sized copepods (tiny crustaceans) and krill from the water for food. An adult whale must eat a billion copepods a day to supply the minimum 400,000 calories it needs. Polite society, however, decided that baleen was more useful as corset stays, stiffeners in fashionable gowns, umbrella ribs and horsewhips (hence the phrase, “He whaled on me.”)

A Southern Right Whale has no dorsal fin

Even though no longer harpooned for their blubber and baleen, right whales are still fighting for their lives. All are endangered, but the eastern North Pacific population, numbering less than 50 animals, is critically endangered, while the eastern North Atlantic population may be considered functionally extinct, with only ten or so individuals left. Leading causes of death include collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, but in Patagonia there is a lesser-known problem: seagulls.

Kelp gulls might be responsible for hundreds of southern right whale deaths—especially calves—near Peninsula Valdes. They land on the whales, pecking at them to tear off chunks of skin and blubber for food. The hours of harassment and extensive wounds cause stress and weaken the whales at a time when mothers are fasting and expending energy to feed their young. Since this is a recent discovery, no solutions have been found.

Right whales can weigh up to 90 tons, and an adult female can grow to 49 feet long. The male’s testicles weigh around 1,100 pounds each—the largest of any animal and easily surpassing the larger blue-whale’s 120-pound testes.

On this day, no males are available for corroboration, but before long, we spot a mother and calf. They venture close to our small boat, a mass of black skin and white tubercles or callosities that look like clinging barnacles. The callosities appear white thanks to large colonies of cyamids (whale lice).

Seagull and Whale

The whales bob up and down on the water’s surface, checking us out, the mother positioning herself between the boat and her calf. Familiar with barnacle-clad humpbacks that spy hop, I strain to see the right-whale’s eye watching us, but it’s nowhere to be found. I learn that it’s halfway down the massive head, near the corner of the mouth—a curved, plunging line that separates a voluminous lower law from a long, thin upper jaw that reminds me of a safe-deposit box lid with a low hinge, or a trap door leading to a storage cellar.

Perhaps because of the odd mouth and lack of a dorsal fin, it seems like the whale is swimming upside down. I’ve heard that these animals can dive to 600 feet, sometimes flipping over and brushing their flat heads along the seafloor, waiting for the currents to sweep food into their cavernous mouths.

On occasion, I can see the mother’s blowhole. It looks oddly like the thick-lipped mouth on the Dairy Queen commercial, opening wide to suck in air or blow out a water spray, then closing tight before a dive.

Other curious mother-calf pairs check us out, too, but finally we head for shore, passing various sea birds and a colony of seals. The crab tractors are waiting for us when we arrive at the beach.

You can check out Jerry’s video here: 

Categories: Animals, Argentina, environment, nature, Photography, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Futbol, Art and Tango in Buenos Aires

3-D Artwork in La Boca's Caminito

We were warned: Watch your wallets and purses if you go to La Boca, Buenos Aires’ rough-and-tumble barrio located at the mouth (boca, in Spanish) of the Riachuelo river along the city’s southern border.

During the day, however, the most clear and present danger to your cash lies with the hawkers and hustlers in La Boca’s Caminito—a colorful tourist trap lined with artists’ studios, trinket shops, cafés, musicians and tango dancers. If you like, you can have your photo taken with the dancers—for a price, of course.

As always, my focus was on photography. In particular, I wanted to capture the bright red, blue and yellow dwellings constructed mainly of planks, sheet metal and corrugated iron—cast-off ship building materials left over from the days when the neighborhood was lined with shipyards. Early dockworkers—settlers from Genoa, Italy—built the makeshift houses. Other Europeans followed. Today, many La Boca residents are of mixed European descent: Italian, Spanish, German, French, Arab and Basque.

Drab and dreary at their inception, Caminito’s houses were painted in 1960 by local artist Benito Quinquela Martin, who also erected a makeshift stage for performances. Now each café has its own narrow stage where singers, musicians and tango dancers perform for your pesos. The many hawkers can be annoying, but it’s a poor neighborhood and they’re just trying to make a living.

Not too far from Caminito, La Boca’s futbol (soccer) stadium rises from the narrow streets like a modern-day Roman Colosseum. Instead of gladiators and lions, however, the stadium—named La Bombonera (the candy box)—is home to Argentina’s most famous soccer team, the Boca Juniors, but rivalries with other teams—especially their sworn enemies, River Plate—are, it seems, just as fierce. When full of screaming, chanting, weeping, frenzied fans, the blue-and-yellow stadium, it’s said, shakes as if an earthquake is underfoot.

La Boca has a third claim to fame. In 1882, after a lengthy general strike, it seceded from Argentina—or tried to. Rebels raised the Genoese flag, which was immediately removed personally by then President Julio Argentino Roca.

Categories: Argentina, Art, Photography, Shopping, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Don’t Eat the Salt

Yours truly on Argentina's Salinas Grandes (salt flats)

The salt in Argentina’s Salinas Grande is not for eating. It’s mined for industrial sodium and potassium, which, in turn, is used for making soap, oven cleaners, drain openers and other products. But recently the mining emphasis in Argentina’s salt flats has shifted to another element that lies beneath the salt—lithium.

Not to get too technical, but the average concentration of lithium in mines worldwide is 1,100 ppm (parts per million). In Salinas Grandes, it’s up to 1,600 ppm.

And there’s a lot of it—about 20 million tons of the ore, from which can be extracted about 300,000 tons of pure lithium. Think about that the next time you buy a pack of lithium batteries (lithium is also used in ceramics and glass, electronics, lubricating greases, metallurgy, pyrotechnics, air purification, optics, and on and on).

But that’s not why I was there. I just wanted to see it—2,300 square miles of white stretching toward distant mountains. I had seen photos of people at these and other salt flats; they were doing fun things like jumping, lying down, and using the absence of scale to take photos—one appearing to stand in the hand of another. I wanted to do that, too, but by the time we got there, I had altitude sickness and could barely walk.

Because these salt flats are at an elevation of about 11,000 feet.

“You don’t have enough oxygen in your blood,” our guide told me as I wobbled out of the van complaining of nausea and dizziness. Before leaving the town of Salta that morning, he had stopped at a convenience store and instructed us to buy a bag of coca leaves (yes, THOSE coca leaves), a bunch of which we were to stick between our teeth and gums, swallowing the juices—a blood-oxygenating remedy for altitude sickness. I can’t say if I would have been worse off without the leaves, but I can tell you they are bitter, they poke the insides of your mouth, and I couldn’t wait to spit them out. (Coca tea, I found out later, is a much more pleasant alternative).

Actually, the salt flats weren’t exactly white because they were covered with layers of dust, which washes off with the summer rains. Good thing, too, because I lacked sunglasses and even the dingy saltscape was bright enough to make me squint.

You might be wondering how the salt comes to be there. We were actually standing on a lake covered with about twelve inches of hard-packed salt. Each year, rain in the mountains washes minerals down to this lake, renewing the crusted salt beds. To mine the minerals, workers simply chop out a 3×5-foot-by-six-inch-deep rectangle with a pick ax, then shovel the salt out and pile it next to the cut. Water seeps into the cut, and within six weeks, the sun evaporates the water, and salt fills in the cut as if it had never been made.

The road we had traveled runs through this white sea on its way to Bolivia, and I noticed that a number of black vehicle tires had been placed here and there on the flats adjacent to the road. They’re markers, I was told—a warning to anyone planning to drive onto the expanse of whiteness for a photo op. Like thin ice on a frozen pond. Unwary vehicles have broken through the crust and become stranded. Tractors, bulldozers and backhoes—like salt Zambonis—do venture onto the flats to move and collect the salt, but they know which spots to avoid. At least, I assume they do.

Next to the tourist-van parking lot, I peered in the window of a building and found rows of salt tables—workstations for packing the salt into blocks, perhaps? Outside, some of the 20-somethings in our group gleefully climbed on the mounds of salt, defying a sign that specifically said, in Spanish, do not climb on the salt.

We heard that sometimes you could find a craft market next to the roofless outdoor café—its tables and benches made exclusively from salt bricks. But on the day we visited, the café was deserted, and we found no market—just a shelf containing a few miniature llamas carved from salt.

Categories: Argentina, Photography, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Argentina’s Gauchos

Some say there are no real gauchos in the traditional sense—rebels who never settled down, who defied authority, ignored the law, and were so attached to their horses that when they finally dismounted, they walked with permanent bowed legs. “A man on foot is half a gaucho,” the saying goes, “because the gaucho and his horse are one.” But in Argentina, many proudly consider themselves gauchos and carry on gaucho traditions.

Each year, in early November, the Argentine pampa town of San Antonio de Areco holds a Dia de la Tradicion (day of tradition), which is actually a week-long festival of all things gaucho. We had planned to be there for the festival’s ending—a parade of gauchos—hundreds of them—through town, followed by displays of gaucho horsemanship. To our dismay, the festivities were cancelled at the last minute in response to reports of a gathering storm.

Nobody was happy with that decision, including the gauchos, especially when we arrived at San Antonio de Areco and the weather was picture perfect. So instead of the parade (and the crush of thousands of people that we were doing well to avoid, our tour guide assured us) we would tour the sleepy town itself, with visits to a famous gaucho bar, and shops crafting leather goods, handmade ponchos and silver knives.

Gauchos differ from American cowboys in many respects, including their rejection of guns. Instead, gauchos carry knives—long and sharp, with elaborately carved handles—which they stow at the back of their leather belts and employ for everything: cutting firewood, fixing saddles and lariats, making adobe bricks, skinning cattle, carving off chunks of meat at mealtime, and in the early days, occasionally as a weapon.

After our tour (and the spotting of a few gauchos who flaunted the festival cancellation and rode their horses around the town square anyway), we headed to a nearby estancia (ranch) where the first order of business (after a short trail ride on the ranch’s horses) was lunch. In the cookhouse, a hearty meal was being prepared: meat, meat and more meat—steaks, chicken and sausages—as well as other delectable salad/vegetable dishes and Argentine Malbec wine.

Once satiated, we gathered on the lawn outside the stone portico where lunch had been served to watch a demonstration of the bonding between a gaucho and his horse. Trained with respect and affection, our guide explained, the horse trusts his gaucho completely, and vice versa. The photos tell the story.

At a nearby field, another gaucho demonstrated a technique in which unbridled horses have been trained to shadow a “follow horse” led by the gaucho. It was like watching a school of fish moving as one, twisting and turning whichever way the gaucho led them.

Too soon it was time to start the 90-minute drive back to Buenos Aires.

Note: Yes, we missed the gaucho parade, but that’s not the end of the story. Stay tuned to successive posts, and you’ll find out why.

Categories: Argentina, culture, Photography, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Argentina: The Journey Begins

Our flight path, from Miami to Buenos Aires

Our flight path, from Miami to Buenos Aires

Argentina is a country of contrasts. And it’s BIG. Boarding five internal flights in three weeks, we sampled four different locales: city life in Buenos Aires and a visit to a pampas estancia (ranch) where gauchos rule the range; the big-sky country of Patagonia at Trelew and the Peninsula Valdes area with its southern right whales, elephant seals, dinosaur skeletons, penguin colony at Punta Tombo, and even a Welsh village with tea shops; Iguazu Falls’ rainforest majesty; and Salta’s multi-colored mountains, cactus forests, salt flats, and high desert where I stood next to a llama and hoped it wouldn’t spit on me. It was all quite amazing, and I’ll be posting more about our adventures in this incredible country

But for now, let’s start with a pictorial gallery. Click on any image below the maps to start the slideshow.

Map of Argentina showing (in red)  the four areas we visited.

Map of Argentina showing (in red) the four areas we visited.

Categories: Argentina, Photography, South America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Hawaii by Sea

Two of my Hawaii photos have been selected for magazine covers recently. The voyaging canoe was taken on the North Shore of Oahu, and the sunset at Anaeho’omalu on the Big Island of Hawaii.

palm trees at Anaeho'omalu Bay, Big Island of Hawaii

palm trees at Anaeho’omalu Bay, Big Island of Hawaii

Inside Out cover Jan '14

Categories: culture, Hawaii, Photography, Published Work, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Pa’u Rider: Real Men Wear Lei (and so do their horses)

After

Before

In this image I miraculously transported my pa’u rider from the shade trees of Ala Moana Park to the rugged Ka Iwi coast of Oahu, just past Hanauma Bay. (see previous pa’u rider post)

Categories: culture, Hawaii, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Those Gaudy Greeks

Did the ancient Greeks really paint their statues in gaudy colors and patterns that wore off over time?
http://io9.com/5616498/ultraviolet-light-reveals-how-ancient-greek-statues-really-looked

Categories: Art, culture, History | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Once in a blue moon, and other idioms; what do they really mean?

I’m fascinated by English idioms. Did you know that “sweating like a pig” isn’t referring to an animal but to “pig iron,” an iron ore, as it cools? This Smithsonian article discusses some other idioms, like “once in a blue moon,” but I’d like to know if YOU have the background scoop on any idioms not listed in the article: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/05/once-in-a-blue-moon-and-other-idioms-that-dont-make-scientific-sense/?utm_source=smithsoniantopic&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20130526-Weekender

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

Travel Theme: New—Hawaiian Marriage Proposal

The idea of ‘new’ can mean so many things. In this case, it refers to new beginnings and a new commitment (and lots of new paperwork) when two people who are best friends decide to take that extra step. Thank you, Ailsa at Where’s my backpack?, for such a perfect New Year’s theme.

Jack and Jill by the seaplane

Jack and Jill by the seaplane

Jack and Jill had been a couple for almost seventeen years and had shared many wonderful times—travels to exotic places, sunset walks on the beach, cooking meals and watching football games together, long talks, and even—when Jill could persuade Jack, which was rare—going dancing.

They’d also tackled their share of difficulties, but no matter the circumstances, they’d always been there for each other—as confidante, coach, cheerleader, Florence Nightingale, and general support system.

So in the fall of 2012, Jack planned a surprise for Jill. She plagued him with questions, trying to trick him into revealing even miniscule hints about this surprise, but he was resolute (and, if truth be told, enjoying the game). The only clues he would divulge, which weren’t really clues at all, were that she should take two cameras and that the setting would be outdoors.

At 2:15pm on December 22, they set out, driving west. Just before they reached the Honolulu airport, Jack turned down a road that led to an industrial area by the ocean. This was quite puzzling because Jill knew the area. It was mainly used for airfreight services such as FedEx and UPS. As they passed FedEx on the right, Jack turned into a driveway on the left that Jill had never noticed before. And there it was, adjacent to the ocean—a little office, hidden by a hedge, bearing the sign, Island Seaplane Service.

Now she knew—they were going for a ride on a seaplane. Jill had flown on small planes before but never a seaplane. A new adventure. She was delighted.

Inside the office, Jack checked in, then disappeared for a few minutes. He came back carrying a cardboard box, and Jill could see a bouquet of yellow roses—her favorite—peeking out of the top. How sweet, she thought.

Jill was so surprised and overwhelmed by all this, she barely noticed the three TSA security guards until she was told, “You can’t take your camera bag on the flight.” And there were more rules—cameras were allowed but the straps were not and had to come off. While Jill attended to this task, Jack engaged in a serious, hushed discussion with the three security guards who refused to let him take the box containing the flowers on board.

As it turned out, President Obama was in town (Jill didn’t know because she’d been too busy to watch the news in recent days). That’s why the guards were there. That’s why the heightened security. But roses—a security threat? The guards did eventually relent, and after checking the contents of pockets, plus a thorough pat down and wanding (the zipper on Jill’s cargo pants caused a “beep” and had to be investigated), Jack and Jill were allowed onto the floating dock next to which the seaplane awaited, its pontoons bobbing on the water.

The guards followed them, watching for suspicious activity, Jill suspected. One guard offered to take a photo of them together in front of the plane. Then they climbed aboard, Jack in the back seat with his box and one camera, Jill in the fold-out seat in front of Jack so she could have the flexibility to take photos from either side (Jack’s idea because he was accustomed to Jill’s obsession with photography).

After fastening seat belts, they all donned headsets so that Jack and Jill could hear the pilot talking to them during the tour. It would take about five minutes, he told them, to taxi out to the take-off spot.

And that’s when Jack made his move. Out of the box he took an exquisite lei—a garland of perfumed tuberose interlaced with golden royal ilima flowers—and placed it around Jill’s neck. Then, before Jill knew what was happening, he handed her a letter. It read, in part, “I cannot imagine being without you. I would like to share the rest of my life with you. Jill, will you marry me.”

The headphones made it impossible for Jack and Jill to talk to each other, but she turned around and took his hand, squeezing it and nodding vigorously. But Jack wasn’t done. He reached into the box again and pulled out a necklace—a double strand of deep-green jade stones—and fastened it around her neck. She wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him almost more than she could bear, but again she squeezed his hand and held on tight while the little plane lifted off effortlessly into the Hawaiian sky.

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At first they flew east, the high-rise office buildings of the city glistening below them in the afternoon sun, the deep blue of Honolulu Harbor, the green-roofed Aloha Tower Marketplace sitting aside its namesake ten-story clock tower—once the tallest building in the state and still a beacon welcoming ships into the harbor.

Then came Waikiki. From this vantage point, how azure and enticing the ocean looked as it flowed over coral reefs and onto the most famous strip of beach in the world.

Earlier, the pilot had told them they would circumnavigate Diamond Head for a good view of the storied peak, even though it meant veering slightly off the approved course. But at his attempt, the radio crackled and a voice said, “Are you familiar with the blue line?” meaning, ‘get back on course!’ Air-traffic officials were allowing no deviation today, so the pilot turned around and headed back the way they had come.

Still, there was more to see. Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, its worn volcanic crater rising from the congested city like the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, seemed deserted, although the next day it would be overflowing with a thousand guests—including the President—attending memorial services for the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a decorated WWII veteran and until a week earlier, at his death, a powerful force in Washington and third in line for the Presidency.

When they reached Pearl Harbor, the Arizona Memorial came into view, its white frame spanning the sunken ship below. It, too, was eerily deserted, its flag at half-mast in honor of Senator Inouye.

At Hickam airfield, the pilot pointed out Air Force One on the tarmac. Nearby, an orderly array of eight fighter jets appeared, with space for a ninth. Was one jet in the air at all times? Patrolling the coast while the President was on island? Ready to shoot down any plane, even a tiny seaplane, that veered off course? A chilling thought.

From there, the pilot headed inland, over Oahu’s elevated central plain with its quilted acres of pineapple fields, coffee and cacao plantations, alongside the island’s western mountain range and across a deep rift in the earth known as Kipapa Gulch, to the North Shore, where winter waves can reach heights of 25-plus feet, drawing surfing competitions and crowds that often bring the two-lane shoreline road to a standstill.

At the edge of sunshine, a wind farm appeared, and beyond it, a rain squall. The pilot ventured a little closer to the island’s northwestern tip, edging out to sea to avoid the inclement weather, and then turning back (they couldn’t continue around the island because, with the President in residence at his Kailua vacation compound, a ten-mile, no-fly zone was in effect).

The partnership of sun and rain must have known what this day meant, though, because it conspired to bestow upon Jack and Jill a blessing in the form of a rainbow before whispering farewell.

Too soon the southern shore came into view, and the pilot landed on the tranquil waters of Keehi Lagoon with a gentle rapid-fire series of smacks rather than the usual rubber-wheel-on-concrete thud. The proposal ride was over. The TSA guards said their goodbyes and left.

And Jack revealed to Jill why he’d been allowed to bring the box on board: He’d confided to the guards that he planned to propose, they made the call, and the Secret Service had given its permission.

His high-flying, Secret-Service-approved proposal accepted, Jack got the “yes” hug and kiss he was waiting for.

A spring ceremony is planned.

Categories: Hawaii, Love & Romance, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

North Pole Fun Facts

The sun sets over the Lofoten Islands, northern Norway

The sun sets over the Lofoten Islands, northern Norway

Just in time for Christmas, this is a link to a story in Budget Travel magazine about the most mythical place on earth. Even though I traveled to Norway this past summer and into the Arctic Circle, I didn’t quite make it all the way to the North Pole. Perhaps next time.

Categories: Norway, Photography, Reflections, Scandinavia, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Read any Good Mystery Novels Lately?

Action, adventure and insights into Hawaiian culture. While trying to prove herself as a new detective, Lily Graham is going to learn more about her past and herself than she wants to know.

Following is a possible blurb on the book’s dust jacket. You know—that old-fashioned cover flap you used to read when trying to decide whether to buy the book. I hope you find it intriguing.

HPD Detective Lily Graham discovers long-hidden secrets in an underground lava-tube on Hawaii's Big Island

HPD Detective Lily Graham discovers long-hidden secrets in an underground lava-tube on Hawaii’s Big Island

When the body of socialite Helen Dupree is found dismembered in a shark tank at the Honolulu Aquarium, newly minted HPD homicide detective Lily Graham is assigned to her first murder case.

To complicate matters, someone is stealing from ancient Hawaiian burial sites, and Lily’s Hawaiian ancestors contact her for help. Haunted by visions of rituals and human sacrifice, Lily is guided to the lava fields of Hawaii’s Big Island where she comes face to face with a deadly 700-year-old priest and is led on a hunt for a cunning grave robber who may hold the key to Helen Dupree’s murder.

To solve the case and appease her ancestors, Lily must not only interpret the visions and make sense of obscure clues left behind by Helen Dupree, but also fend off a diabolical killer who stands between her and the truth—a truth that will change her life forever.

Just as Tony Hillerman’s Native American mysteries unveil the Navajo culture and the rugged landscape of the American Southwest, The Shark God’s Keeper reveals the hidden culture of Native Hawaiians and showcases the mysterious, volcanic landscape of the world’s most remote archipelago.

Jennifer Crites is the co-author of Sharks and Rays of Hawaii (Mutual Publishing 2002), a nature book, which includes a chapter detailing the significance of sharks in Hawaiian culture. She’s written extensively about many aspects of Native Hawaiian culture as managing editor of ALOHA magazine and as a freelance writer for a number of local, national, and international publications.

Categories: Books, culture, Hawaii, History, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Norway: Viking Churches? Not

It’s an ironic story line—after raiding and pillaging towns and villages in countries throughout the north Atlantic, Vikings returned home and went to church.

Perhaps they did, but if so, they didn’t attend services in a stave church—so named for its interior, weight-bearing pillars, or staves. There may be dragons on the roof, but stave churches weren’t built until after the Viking Age ended. That date is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempt by Norwegian King Harald III, who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066. Ireland and Scotland note their own dates, predicated on victories against Vikings.

stave church, Borgund, Norway

stave church, Borgund, Norway

At one time there were more than a thousand stave churches throughout Europe. Most were built between circa 1130 and 1350 AD. Construction stopped when the Black Death started to spread through Europe, and congregating in small spaces became life threatening.

And the stave church is indeed a small space. So small, in fact, that most of its congregation had to stand—men and boys on the right, women and girls on the left. The elderly and sick could sit on benches along the walls.

Today only 28 stave churches survive, and all are in Norway where there is a long tradition of building in wood (remember those sturdy Viking ships). Earlier churches were built on often-soggy ground and succumbed to wood rot. Lesson learned. Stone foundations solved that problem.

stave church interior, Oslo, Norway

Stave church interior, Oslo, Norway

While visiting the stave church in Borgund, I was surprised to see that it—like other stave churches—had no windows. The only light entered through a few small portholes high up on the walls. The altarpiece depicts Christ’s crucifixion. Animal masks adorn the south door, and serpents and dragon-like creatures decorate the main-door side panels and lintel. On the roof turrets, Christian crosses and dragonheads keep each other company. Old legends die hard I guess, and it seems that the parishioners were hedging their bets—honoring old gods and new.

I found it interesting that the timber used in construction of the church was most likely seasoned on the root, strategic cuts drawing the tar to the surface before the tree was felled. After construction and during renovations, additional tar was applied to protect the wood.

carved doorway, stave church

carved doorway, stave church

It was common to bury the dead under the church floor, but that practice stopped at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to the unpleasant smell. However, stillborn infants and babies who died before being baptized could not be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Tiny coffins were placed under the floor, even in recent times. It seems odd to me that the ground around the church was considered consecrated, but the ground under the church was not.

If you stand inside the church and look up, you’ll see that the roof above the nave looks like an inverted boat with ribs. Hmmmmm! I wonder what inspired that design.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Norway, Photography, Scandinavia, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Travel Theme: Liquid

According to one definition, a liquid is a sample of matter that conforms to the shape of its container, and which acquires a defined surface in the presence of gravity. Another calls it a substance that exhibits a characteristic readiness to flow, little or no tendency to disperse, and relatively high incompressibility. In other words, you would be hard pressed to compress it. Ever tried compressing water? I haven’t, but I feel sure it would be impossible. Squeeze it one way and it squirts out another.

But I digress. A liquid could be many things, but I choose my favorite liquid—water. How much of the human body is water? A Google search supplies conflicting answers, but I rather like this breakdown: the body is more than 60% water, blood is 92% water, the brain and muscles are 75% water, and bones—yes, even bones—are about 22% water. Now I’m definitely getting off track, so to get back on, I’ll take a pictorial look at water as found on the Garden Isle of Kauai. In addition to keeping our bodies hydrated at an optimum level, water can do all the following and more.

Entry to a great photo challenge by Where’s My Backpack?

Categories: Hawaii, nature, Photography, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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