nature

Exploring North Vietnam: HaLong Bay—a Seaplane Ride, Cruise, Cave, and Pearl Farm

Our last stop in Vietnam was HaLong Bay—a fairyland of 1,600 odd-shaped, karst limestone mini-mountains rising out of the sea. It was first recorded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and in 2000, the bay, with its significant geomorphic features, was recognized for the second time as a billion-year-old living proof of Earth’s formation.

HaLong means “descending dragon.” In myth, the bay was created by a dragon that thrashed around the land on the edge of the ocean, breaking it up and creating the bay’s islands. According to geology, at the end of the last ice age when the glaciers melted, the sea level rose, inundating the area and turning hills into islands

To really experience this famous place, we booked a 3-day cruise with Paradise Cruises, but our first adventure when arriving was a seaplane ride over the bay with Hai Au Aviation out of Tuan Chau Marina. The views were magnificent. That night, we stayed in Paradise’s hotel on shore and enjoyed the music of musicians playing traditional Vietnamese instruments.

By the next morning, I had fallen sick again with what appeared to be a bad cold, but I knew if I could just make it to the ship, I could get to our stateroom with my last few ounces of energy. There I stayed for the 3 days, mostly bundled up and relaxing on the balcony, enjoying the scenery, and chatting with a lovely young Vietnamese woman who brought me B,L, and D (she said she was looking for a Caucasian husband like “Sir”—which is what she called Jerry—) while Jerry went off on the excursions and took lots of great photos.

The first excursion was to Sung Sot Cave—the largest and most spectacular grotto/cave in Vietnam. Discovered by the French in 1901 (when France controlled Vietnam as part of French Indochina) and originally named “Grotte des Surprises,” it’s approximately 25m (and 50 steps) above sea level, and 10,000 square meters large, comprising two chambers. The second chamber can hold a thousand people at one time.

Jerry also climbed the 400 steps to the observation deck at the summit of Ti Top Island, named after a visit by famous Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. He was the second person to orbit the earth and first to spend an entire day in space. His statue is on the island.

One of our ship’s tenders took Jerry to a pearl farm to see how pearls are grown, and he also went by rowboat to a floating fishing village, Cua Van, which is comprised of 100 households and 733 people. Every day, locals roam around the village by boat to collect garbage and floating waste to reduce the risk of water pollution.

Actually, when we pulled into the Tuan Chau Marina, I was sad to leave such a beautiful place. A pre-arranged car took us back to Hanoi to a tiny hotel Jerry had found near the airport. Cost: $14/night, and that included a lavish breakfast and that delicious Vietnamese egg coffee. It was a memorable 3-week visit to N. Vietnam, during which we gained some understanding of this country and its friendly people. It was also another reminder that people all over the world are the same underneath skin color and customs.

Click on a photo, then arrow to move back and forth. Enjoy.

 

Categories: Asia, cruises, culture, nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring North Vietnam: Ninh Binh—Three Caves, a River, and an Animal Sanctuary

On this two-day trip out of Hanoi, we passed trucks loaded with pigs, and dozens of duck farms, all supplying restaurants in Hanoi. At the Cuc Phuong National Park’s conservation center, we were hoping to spot a pangolin (a rare, scaled animal that, in photos, reminded me of an armadillo), but they were only on view at certain times of day, so we missed them. We did visit the monkey and turtle sections though. After a night in our Ninh Binh hotel, we visited a temple and then boarded a small, flat-bottomed boat for another river trip where all the rowers used their legs and feet at the oars. Dozens of tourist-filled boats joined us as we made our way down the river, past even more spectacular scenery, and through three low-hanging caves. I was sure we would have to duck or bump our heads, but the rowers knew the safest channel to take. Outside the caves we encountered a floating market of sorts. Several sellers in boats tried to entice us to buy their wares, imploring us to at least buy food for our rower.

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Architecture, Art, Asia, Birds, culture, environment, flowers, History, nature, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Vietnam: Yen River & Pagoda

On a day trip from Hanoi, we headed southwest, ostensibly to visit the Perfume Pagoda in a Huong Son mountain cave. The only way to get there, following a 2-hour drive, is a boat ride along the Yen River, then a cable car up to the cave—a pilgrimage site to which thousands go during the religious Tet festival in March and April.

The drive out of Hanoi showcased Vietnam’s watery countryside. When we arrived at the river, the tiny boat was big enough for us, our guide, and the boat’s rower, and the one-hour trip upriver proved serene and scenic. We passed watery fields of pink lotus blossoms (which apparently start closing at noon), travelers in other boats, a red foot bridge high above the river, and kingfisher birds clinging to branches, before arriving at the elaborate Thien Tru Pagoda temple complex. Fortunately, we were there in November, and the place was almost deserted—a situation that was perfect for exploring and photography but posed some problems: The Ladies restroom was locked, so I had to use the Men’s, while our guide stood guard outside. Also, we were told that the cable car was not running (not enough people, I suppose), so we couldn’t go up to the Perfume Pagoda. After a bountiful lunch, we explored the extensive temple complex, then rejoined our boat and rower for the trip back down the river. By this time, all the lotus blossoms had closed, but the scenery was still spectacular.

Please enjoy!  Just click on a photo to enlarge, then arrow back and forth.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, Birds, culture, environment, flowers, nature, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Hawaiian Cotton Helped save the U.S. Cotton Industry

Hawaiian cotton flower

Circa 1892, a small beetle native to Central or South America made its way across the Mexican border in the vicinity of Brownsville, Texas and spread rapidly across cotton-growing regions. By the 1920s, Anthonomus grandis, the boll weevil, was causing more economic damage than any agricultural pest in U.S. history.

The boll weevil feeds on cotton pollen, but does its damage by laying eggs on cotton flower buds called “squares,” or on the young developing cotton boll, which provides the beetle with a platform for its “home.” The infected bud or boll stops developing and often falls off as the beetle larvae eat it. The destruction spread from Texas across the South and Southwest, so that by the Great Depression, cotton farmers had already suffered from many years of devastatingly poor harvests. Eventually, it found its way to California cotton fields as well.

The first pesticide used on infested cotton crops was arsenic, but the boll weevil developed a tolerance for it. Another pesticide, DDT, was tried in the mid-twentieth century, but, once again, the pests developed a resistance to it. Plus, the heavy application of pesticides killed a wide spectrum of beneficial insects, allowing other pests to increase their numbers and damage cotton and other crops. And there was a danger of polluted adjacent food crops, water supplies and consequential ecological damage.

But humans are adaptable, too. A variety of strategies—started in the 1970s—such as pheromone traps in the spring, hand picking infected cotton buds during the growing season, plowing under the cotton stalks after harvest, and low levels of pesticides when the insect is short of food in the fall, all helped to stem the destructive tide of boll weevil devastation.

An important ingredient in the mix was Hawaiian cotton. When ma’o is crossed with other cotton strains, the resulting commercial hybrids are less attractive to insect pests that destroy cotton crops. Ma’o lacks the flavor lactones within the nectar which would otherwise attract insects to commercial cotton.

Now, in most states, the boll weevil and other cotton pests have left and are unlikely to return. But in Enterprise, Alabama, the city has erected a statue to the boll weevil because, they say, there is a great deal we can learn from an invasive bug, even as we show it the door.

Perhaps they should erect a statue to Ma’o, the Hawaiian cotton plant, too.

p.s. visitors to Oahu, Hawaii, can find ma’o growing wild along the dry slopes at the Makapu’u scenic lookout.

Categories: Agriculture, environment, flowers, gardens, Hawaii, History, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

George Patton once dropped bombs on our Hawaii volcano to stop a lava flow

http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/05/the-time-they-bombed-mauna-loa-and-other-lava-stopping-schemes/

Categories: environment, Hawaii, History, nature, Photography, travel Hawaii, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Golden Sunrise

Spectacular sunrise at Kahala, Oahu, Hawaii

Beautiful nature to brighten up the day

Categories: Art, environment, Hawaii, nature, Photography, Signs, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sunflowers in Hawaii

 

a lovely bunch of sunflowers It used to be a secret. Each year around October / November I’d hear through the grapevine about sunflower fields popping up on Oahu’s North Shore and camera-toting enthusiasts venturing illegally onto private property to capture the beautiful blooms.

“So we decided, since people were determined to visit the fields, we’d open them up to the public,” says Derek, one of several DuPont employees minding the fields on Saturday, November 22, when I arrived toting my camera.

Actually, I had tried in years past but could never find the fields. “We moved them around from year to year,” says Derek, pointing to a brown patch of earth, which had once been a sunflower field further down the valley, “so they were in different places.”

Derek also mentioned that DuPont grew the fields for scientific purposes, testing growth rates of different seeds. Now, he says, computers can take over that job, so this might be the sunflower fields’ last year.

That is, unless DuPont decides to keep planting the fields as a community service. “We’re giving back to the community,” says Derek. “Your parking fee ($5) and profits from anything you buy here (t-shirts, souvenirs, food) go to support our local high school’s activities. By the way,” he adds, “the pineapple/guava lemonade is really good.”

Indeed it was.
amid the sunflowers

sunflower 2

sunflower backlit

Categories: flowers, gardens, Hawaii, nature, Photography | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

Kauai: Hawaii’s Garden Isle

Every February-March, my editor asks if I can once again update the Destination Hyatt books for the Maui, Kauai and Waikiki resorts. I look forward to this assignment because I’m a wordsmith, and it’s a chance for me to get creative, writing new sidebars, little-known facts, and intros for each of the resorts and the islands they inhabit. And that means I have to come up with new themes and ideas each year.

A few years ago, I wrote this one for Kauai. And since I just returned from six days on the Garden Isle, now seems like the perfect time to put words and photos together for a blog post. My husband calls this “flowery” writing, but I call it fitting for a garden island.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any Kauai experiences, do tell.

A father takes a photo of his five children at sunset on Brennecke’s beach, Kauai.

Kauai: The Magician

Abracadabra! Endless stretches of powdery-sand beaches strung together like jewels glittering gold in the sunlight. Throngs of red-footed boobies and other acrobatic sea birds soaring gracefully above the cliffs and lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. An impregnable mountain fortress known as Na Pali flaunting its steepled spires, sea arches, and isolated, idyllic pillows of sand.

When it comes to sleight of hand, Kauai is a master, transforming the raw lava of a once barren volcano into an emerald-robed Garden of Eden complete with groves of coconut palms and a smorgasbord of fruits: papaya, banana, breadfruit, guava, lychee, mango, passion fruit, and the tempting mountain apple.

Like pulling a rabbit out of its hat, the island reveals hidden gardens filled with colorful tropical flowers, the languid Wailua River and its ethereal Fern Grotto, waterfalls galore, a replica Grand Canyon known as Waimea, and towering Mount Wai‘ale‘ale—the wettest place on earth.

Once Kauai has mesmerized, resistance is futile. You’ll find yourself playing 18 holes on a world-class, cliff-top golf course, hiking into Waimea Canyon’s wilderness of pastel reds and yellows or along Na Pali’s carved-into-the-cliffside footpath, kayaking a rainforest river, sipping coffee made from the island’s homegrown beans, relaxing in a rejuvenating spa, visiting locations where movies such as Jurassic Park and South Pacific were filmed, exploring by horseback or astride an ATV, stretching out on a beach in the company of a Hawaiian monk seal or green sea turtle.

Kauai waves its magic wand and you gladly fall under its spell.

Categories: flowers, Hawaii, nature, Photography, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Golden Sunset

Golden Sunset

glittering gold sunset near Waikiki

Sharing this sunset from a few nights ago.

I’m standing on the rocks below Diamond Head, and the structure you can see on the hill at right is the Diamond Head Lighthouse. Most people view it from above, when they climb to the top of Diamond Head Crater on a hiking trail and look down from the pinnacle.

In the 1800s, with so many ships running aground on reefs and shoals during the night, something had to be done, and in 1878 a lookout station was built. Its first attendant, John Peterson (from Sweden), known as “Lighthouse Charlie,” was on duty seventeen hours a day, watching through his telescope for incoming vessels. He lived in a small cottage nearby and was paid $50 a month.

When a steamship ran aground in 1897, a stone tower topped by a fixed white light was built. In 1918, after Hawaii was annexed as a territory, the federal government built the current lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It stands 55 feet tall, 147 feet above sea level, and its 1,000-watt electric light magnified by a 7,300-candlepower lens can be seen 18 nautical miles away.

Categories: environment, Hawaii, History, nature, Photography, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Travel theme: Animals

October 4 celebrated the Feast of St. Assisi, the patron saint of animals. It has also been designated World Animal day, so this is perfect timing, says Where’s my backpack? to share our animal photos. Perfect timing for me, too, since I’ve recently returned from a visit to the San Diego Zoo, where my camera caught many animals just hanging around and being their charming selves.

gorilla mother and youngster

Ok, ok. You can have a Twinkie, but you’d better be hungry for dinner.

Just click on any of the photos to access larger images in the photo gallery. (My apologies for some of the incorrect designations [gazelle, not antelope; bonobo, not orangutang; etc.] I’m trying out the gallery style and still have a few kinks to work out)

Categories: Animals, nature, Photography, Stock Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Reflections

Alaska mountains lake reflections

Misty snow-capped mountains reflect in a mirror lake, Alaska

fall colors, Olympic Peninsula

Beginnings of fall colors, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

sunset reflections, Olympic Peninsula

Sunset at Second Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Tivoli Gardens reflections, Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

duck reflection, Cartagena

Does this water make my face look fat? Mandarin duck, Cartagena, Spain

Istanbul, Galata reflections

Colorful boat-restaurant reflections in Istanbul, Turkey

lake reflections, Olympic Peninsula

Where sky, earth and water meet. Olympic Peninsula, Washington

ducks and fall colors reflections

Ducks glide through fall-colors reflections, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

sun reflections Nice

Sunset rays off the coast of Nice, France

Categories: Birds, environment, nature, Photography, Reflections, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Hummingbirds

hummingbirds

Face-off

Fascinating hummingbirds. They’re the tiniest birds in the world, weighing between 2 and 20 grams (a penny weighs 2.5 grams). They can see and hear better than humans. They can even see ultraviolet light. Yet they have no sense of smell. Their hearts beat about 250 times per minute at rest and up to 1,260 times a minute while flying. Their wings beat about 70 times per second, but up to 200 times per second when diving. Their metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant.

I’ve never seen a hummingbird here in Hawaii, so on a recent visit to San Diego, I was delighted to find a colony of them hovering around my house-host’s feeder. I could have watched them all day, but time did not permit. Here are just a few shots from my short time with these captivating creatures. And some more hummingbird facts that might surprise you.

Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards. They can hover in midair, fly sideways and even upside down. They can fly at an average speed of 25-30 miles per hour but can dive up to 60 mph.

hummingbird flying

A hummingbird’s wings will rotate in a full circle.

Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Females do all the nest building, and males do not help raise the young. Baby hummingbirds cannot fly and remain the nest for 3 weeks. A hummingbird’s average life span is 5 years, but some can live for more than 10 years.

hummingbird perched

Hummingbirds can flash bright colors (I saw red, green and blue on the head), or hide them. The colors come from iridescence similar to that on a soap bubble or prism. Females find these iridescent feathers attractive.

A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.

 

 

 

Hummingbirds are very smart, and they can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill.

A hummingbird does not drink through its beak like a straw. It uses its tongue, which is grooved in the shape of a W and has tiny hairs on its tip, to lap up nectar from flowers and feeders.

hummingbird perching

Hummingbirds spend most of their life perching. They have weak feet and can barely walk, preferring to fly. Their body temperature is around 107 degrees F.

An average sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers.

30% of a hummingbird’s weight consists of flight muscles. In comparison, human pectoral muscles are about 6% of body weight.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been known to travel 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds. The trip takes an estimated 20 hours. Some hummingbirds will travel over 2,000 miles, twice a year, during migrations.

Contrary to popular misconception, hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of geese. Geese fly on different migration paths or fly zones than hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds (so I have to ask myself, how does a hummingbird make it 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico?), and will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for nectar, lapping it up at a rate of about 13 licks per second. They also eat small soft bugs for protein.

To sleep, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor to conserve energy. When in torpor, they appear dead and have occasionally been found hanging upside down. It takes up to an hour to fully recover from torpor.

hummingbird flying

Male hummingbirds are very aggressive and will chase other males out of their territories.

Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.

There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds.

A hummingbird’s favorite color is red. They pollinate flowers by rubbing their forehead and face in the flower as they get nectar.

Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds flying jewels. Can’t argue with that.

Categories: Birds, environment, nature, Photography, Stock Photography | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

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