It is a cold morning here in Gaithersburg, with the wind and the sub-zero temperatures making me glad to be indoors. But I am beginning to feel warmer already. I leave today to the land of my birth, to the place of my childhood. It is a trip that I used to make more often. It is a trip that has been delayed this time more than it should have.
When I step out of the airport in Chennai I will once again absorb the feelings of being in a familiar place. But I also wonder how much the place has changed since I last visited. Will I still experience the familiar chaos, noises and smells? I wonder how much people have changed since I last saw them. People grow older, and perhaps wiser, and sometimes more frail. I wonder how much I have changed.
Winter does not officially start until later this month, but it certainly did not feel that way today. It was quite cold this morning, below freezing, when we went out to Rileys Lock for a Sunday walk. Another sure sign of the coming of winter is the arrival of the kinds of ducks that visit us only during that time of year. The purchase of the new camera was motivation for me to go out looking for these birds once again after many years. I wanted to try the new equipment out. Unfortunately, new and improved equipment does not necessarily make one a better photographer. I got mixed results. One major problem is that the birds are generally quite skittish and move away when they sense that somebody is around. Here is what I managed to see and capture.
Ring necked ducks.Buffleheads.
I believe these are American Wigeons.And we even got some snow today, for the first time this season.
I am looking forward to more experiments with my new camera.
Today is the birthday of an old friend. We go back a long way, all the way back to elementary school. My friend is a remarkable person – full of joy, sweet, smart, kind, curious, adventurous, and always helpful. He is one terrific guy. I went on a bike ride with him this summer in the Rockies in Canada. Here are some pictures from the ride that capture his spirit, including his sometimes playful, dare I say, cheeky nature.
At the start of the ride.At the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint.The lovely couple.Do not know what happened here!Supporting a fellow rider up a challenging slope.He is his own man,but I am not sure what he is doing here.They both have one foot in the Banff National Park and the other in the Jasper National Park.The explorer on Parker Ridgeprobably looking at Saskatchewan Glacier (not in the picture) in the distance.He gives a friendly wave as we head out to our stop for the evening at The Crossing Resort.He was the first to venture into the glacier fed waters of Waterfowl lake. It was cold!Here he is returning from an exploration in the vicinity of Bow Summit.The friendly wave. Happy birthday and happy trails, my friend!
It could be difficult to find conditions that lend themselves to having a feeling of serenity during a somewhat hectic holiday trip, but we did nonetheless experience some such moments during our visit to Ecuador.
We stayed at the Finch Bay Hotel on the island of Santa Cruz while in the Galapagos. We spent our evenings at the hotel while making many day-trips to different places to take in the sights. While at the hotel, you could sit out in the open area next to the swimming pool and look out over the bay. On a clear night, one could see the cruise ships resting in the bay under the peaceful light of the moon.One was also likely to be greeted by the great blue heron (who seemed to have set up residence in the neighborhood) in the quiet early morning, and one could also join it in greeting the dawn of another new day.Back on the mainland, on our way from Quito to Otavalo, we stayed in cabins beside the San Pablo lake. The lake was beautiful in the early morning light. A light mist rose over the quiet waters.The awakening birds flew low over the waters of the lake as we looked out over it. It was very peaceful.At Papallacta, a little village situated in a mountain valley high in the Andes, we could see the the lazy clouds floating across the sky in the evening light, past the snow-capped Antisana volcano, as the sun began to set.In the morning, while we were taking a lazy walk, we saw the cows grazing peacefully on the mountain pastures with not a care in the world.We traveled further east to the Amazon region of the country. In the evening light, under the gently rising clouds, we could see the winding Napo river wend its way towards the Amazon, just as it has been doing for thousands of years. This was the view from our room in the resort where we stayed.We experienced the sunset on the Napo river. The river and its surroundings, and even the repetitive phut-phut sound of the engine on the boat, have a calming effect, as we head back to the resort for an evening of relaxation.Our hacienda on a mountainside near Patate was also located in very serene surroundings. The view included the Tungurahua volcano in the distance.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a wonderful city to visit. It is the second highest capital city in the world, and the one closest to the equator. It has a long history and culture that includes the impact of the indigenous peoples and their one-time Spanish conquerors. The place has a lively spirit and an energy that you see and feel on the streets.
But the one additional element of the city that really stood out in my mind was its location. The city exists on the slopes of the Andes mountains and in the vicinity of volcanoes, some of them still active. It is a vast metropolis of over two million people that is sprawled out over the hillsides all around you and whichever way you turn. Not having experienced cities like this previously, it looks quite amazing to me. I wonder about the infrastructure that can keep a place like this going. Anyway, here is the one picture that captures this particular element of the experience of the city in my mind.
It took some effort for us to get to North Seymour Island from the Finch Bay Hotel where we were staying. We had to first walk to the dock to take a boat to the town of Puerto Ayora. We then got on a bus for a ride from the town (which is towards the south of the Santa Cruz Island) to the north of the island, to the point where one takes the ferry boat to Baltra Island (which used to be called South Seymour Island) to get to the airport. Instead of taking the ferry to Baltra, we transferred to a rubber dinghy, which took us to a yacht that sat out in the middle of the waterway between the two islands. We then took the yacht to get around Baltra Island, heading in a south to north direction. We finally made a landing on the rocks of North Seymour Island from the dinghy after transferring from the yacht. Once on the ground, we followed our guide, Soto, as he took us on a walk along the rocky trail around the island.It was towards the tail end of our walk, when we were getting back to the seashore, that the following scene played out.
Soto had sighted two different kinds of sea lions in close proximity to each other on the rocks next to the ocean. It was apparently something that he did not see that often. Furthermore, he had sighted the pup of the fur sea lion hidden under a rock. It appeared to be resting.It did not take much to wake up the pup and to have it come out of hiding.The pup seemed to be well aware of the people who had stopped to look at it, and it was approaching them while making some sounds, while the parent kept a careful eye on it.The parent would occasionally try to caution the pup about getting too far away by making some sounds, and the little one would respond, not necessarily by turning back, but by making some sounds itself.Nothing seemed to stop the curiosity of the young one. It was also pretty noisy. There was a different kind of sea lion sleeping close by with its young one. The pup that was out-and-about tried to wake the other little one up, but there was no reaction. The parent of this other pup also seemed to be asleep through the whole incident.Soto noted that seeing this episode play out was something very exciting and special even for locals like him. We stood by for a while enjoying the spectacle, and then it was time to move on to our next amazing experience on the trail.
The birds and animals of North Seymour Island have not learned to be afraid of people, and tourism is done in such a manner as to protect the environment of these creatures. The experience that results when you are there is quite unique.