Sunrise Sunset

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Friend’s Birthday

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Goats and Glaciers viewpoint.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lovely couple.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo not know what happened here!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASupporting a fellow rider up a challenging slope.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe is his own man,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut I am not sure what he is doing here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey both have one foot in the Banff National Park and the other in the Jasper National Park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe explorer on Parker RidgeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAprobably looking at Saskatchewan Glacier (not in the picture) in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe gives a friendly wave as we head out to our stop for the evening at The Crossing Resort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe was the first to venture into the glacier fed waters of Waterfowl lake.  It was cold!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere he is returning from an exploration in the vicinity of Bow Summit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe friendly wave.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Happy birthday and happy trails, my friend!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serene

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack 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.DSC00838The awakening birds flew low over the waters of the lake as we looked out over it.  It was very peaceful.DSC00821At 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.IMG_20171108_175132120_HDRIn 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.DSC00983We 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.DSC01058We 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.DSC01055Our hacienda on a mountainside near Patate was also located in very serene surroundings. The view included the Tungurahua volcano in the distance.IMG_20171112_062806676_HDRIMG_20171112_053700918

In the Shadow of Imbabura in Ecuador

We stayed one night at a place called Cabanas Del Lago located on the shores of Lake San Pablo, in the shadow of the Imbabura volcano.  This place is near the city of Otavalo.DSC00770It was a beautiful location.IMG_20171108_061947842_HDRThis was the view across the lake in the morning. The mountain behind is the Mojanda volcano.  It is inactive and there are actually lakes at the top.IMG_20171108_074607827The Imbabura volcano is behind the village.Imbabura volcanoWe were introduced to some Quechua culture that evening, and the next morning, as we were leaving, we were entertained by a couple of Quechuan ladies singing some of their folk songs.DSC00849Teresa captured their singing.

 

A Picture of Quito, Ecuador

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.DSC00626

An Encounter on North Seymour Island in the Galápagos

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.DSC00295DSC00298DSC00302DSC00310It 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.DSC00396It did not take much to wake up the pup and to have it come out of hiding.DSC00398The 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.DSC00402The 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.DSC00401DSC00408Nothing 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.DSC00414Soto 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.

Galápagos

The visit to Galápagos Islands and the rest of Ecuador was a great experience overall, but it did not go off too well from a perspective of my ability to take pictures during the trip.  My DSLR camera which had been showing signs of some mechanical distress (a problem exacerbated by software in the device that I think could have been better designed to compensate for the situation)  finally gave up the ghost on the islands.  Fortunately, we had bought a point-and-shoot camera with an extended zoom as a backup.  I had to quickly learn how to use it properly.  This plan worked decently for a couple of days until I found out the deficiencies of the new camera.  It was chewing up battery power at an unimaginable rate whenever I tried to use its zoom capability!   You would think that the fact that the camera used standard AA batteries would be a plus in this situation, but the problem was that we were traveling in areas where availability of such batteries was limited.  Indeed, the only batteries I was able to find in some of the places were of dubious quality, some with a local brand name,  and some others with a date of expiry that had long passed.  I did try out some of these batteries and they failed in the camera within no time.  My last line of defense was the camera on the smart phone, a device that produced pictures of marginal quality.  Anyway, I managed to get some pictures during the trip using both the smart phone and the point-and-shoot camera, the latter in a somewhat more judicious manner than I would have done otherwise.

Galápagos is an amazing place!  The government of Ecuador has shown great foresight in establishing more than 90 percent of the land on the over hundred and twenty islands (of which only five are inhabited) as an ecological preserve.  They have taken significant steps to make sure that the flora and fauna are not contaminated from the mainland these days.  Although the ecology of these volcanic islands has developed in isolation for thousands of years producing unique species of flora and fauna (a circumstance that allowed Darwin to work on the theory of natural selection), the coming of man in recent years had begun to contaminate and change the place.  Indeed, some of the islands have changed significantly because of human habitation (including the effects of cultivation and meat consumption, and the impact of the non-native flora and fauna that have been introduced on purpose or inadvertently), but amazingly there still are places you can see nature in its purest form, places where the birds and the animals are still not afraid of the humans.  Visits to such places are managed carefully with a goal of preserving the local flora and fauna and their ecosystems.  Where indigenous animal and bird populations have been depleted because of human encroachments, there are attempts at recovery.  The giant tortoises of the Galapagos are making a comeback with help from the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island.  There are regular attempts to eradicate the rats and other pests that have been introduced on some of the islands, pests that are killing off the local species slowly.  Some local species have disappeared completely over the years but there is still hope for many others.

Here are just a few of the pictures I took during during our visit.  (More will be posted in a regular photo gallery elsewhere.)

We stayed at the Finch Bay Resort near the main town of Puerta Ayora on Santa Cruz Island for three nights.

 

We visited a few places on the island to see the local flora and fauna.

DSC00148
A Sea Lion on a beach
DSC00159
A Marine Iguana
DSC00171
Close to a Marine Iguana
DSC00229
Baby Galápagos Giant Tortoises being raised in the Charles Darwin Research Station
DSC00444
Sally Lightfoot Crabs next to the sea
DSC00448
Flamingos in a lagoon near the sea

We took a boat ride to North Seymour Island to see the birds and the animals that even to this day have not developed a fear of human beings. Here are some pictures.

The pictures below are of frigatebirds nesting.DSC00375DSC00329DSC00330DSC00334

DSC00336
Immature Great Frigatebird

Here are some frigatebirds in action.

DSC00324
A courting male Magnificent Frigatebird
DSC00321
Feeding its young one

Other creatures on the island.

A blue-footed boobie
Blue-footed Booby
DSC00350
A Land Iguana
DSC00387
Closeup of a Land Iguana