Tuesday, August 5, 2014

 Through Our Lenses, China and India: Home to Over 1/3 of the World's People

Opening August 27 and continuing until October 12, 2014, Through Our Lenses, China and India: Home to Over 1/3 of the World's People features six of Santa Cruz County's finest travel photographers. The exhibit offers a glimpse into the culture and lives of the people in these diverse countries. With a combination of over eighty years of photographing India and China, the artists offer an historical perspective as to how these two countries rose to become the industrialized and powerful nations they are today.

Mary Altier and Carol Trengove, co-curators of the exhibit, have chosen fellow photographers Elyse Destout, Shmuel Thaler, Paul Titangos, and Mark Wainer to round out the exhibit with a special selection of color, black and white, digital, as well as traditional gelatin silver prints. 

At the Pajaro Valley Arts Council/Gallery, 37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, California.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rapa Nui Rap, a Visit to Easter Island

Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is one of the most remote locations on earth. It is about the same distance from the coast of Chile (which designated it a “special territory” sometime after annexing the island in 1888) as Hawaii is from the coast of California. That would be 2,300 miles, about a five-hour flight on LAN from the continent, the only airline to fly there from Santiago, Chile, or Papeete, Tahiti.

The people, who are Polynesian, apparently arrived by boat between 450 and 800 A.D. Some time after that, and experts vary in their opinion as to why, they began to carve giant heads, called moai, from the side of one of the volcanoes. Today there are close to 900 of them, from 15 to 70 feet tall and weighing from 10 to 270 tons.

Once the moai were moved to their permanent location (and how they did that still remains a matter of speculation) the massive statues were placed on ceremonial platforms, called ahu. One of the most dramatic sites on the island is the quarry where the moai were carved (Rano Raraku) where you can see several hundred of them in various positions.

Sometime in the turbulent history of clan warfare, the moai were all toppled. The ones that are standing today have been repositioned. Ahu Tangariki is the largest platform on the island with 15 moai, all of which were put back in their original position nearly 50 years ago.

Many moai are wearing their topknots or hats (pukao,) which were carved of red rock from a different quarry at Puna Pau.

The major landforms of the small island (approximately 15 miles at the longest point and 8 miles at the widest) are the three extinct volcanoes that form a triangle. The only town is Hanga Roa, where the Catholic Church is the dominant institution. We got to attend a lively mass and join in the singing of hymns in the language of Rapa Nui, which lives today.

One of the highlights of our visit to Rapa Nui was the cultural performance by the award winning group, Matato'a. This energetic and professional troop of musicians and dancers puts on one of the most spirited shows I have ever experienced.
None of the impressive sights of the island are far from the center Hanga Roa. They may be accessed by foot, organized tours, rental cars or motorbikes, or by arranging to ride some of the chestnut colored horses which graze all over the verdant island.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Revisiting Australia with Bill Bryson

Last month I recommended Bill Bryson's funny yet educational book on Australia, "In a Sunburned Country," to my wonderful book group. I had first read it seven years ago when my husband John and I drove down the east coast of Australia, from north of Cairns to Sydney. There we had turned in the rental car and taken buses and ferries around this magnificent city while John worked there for two weeks. We both thought Australia was nearly perfect, much like we had found California when we settled there in the 1970s. We were surprised to find that Bryson had similar feelings to ours about this iconoclastic island country/continent.
Recommending the book to my book group last month, I figured, would nudge me to focus on what Bryson wrote about the parts of this vast country that I had not visited in 2002, but which I did visit in March and April of 2009, when I succumbed to Quantas' inexpensive airfares. My friend Annette and I planned a month's trip which involved landing in Melbourne after a non-stop flight from Los Angeles, then flying to Perth, Uluru, Darwin, and Sydney, our departure city.

Melbourne inspired us as the country's cultural capital, a place where art and the buildings that house it are held in high esteem. The National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Museum, and the Ian Potter Museum are all well maintained and full of excellent work. I was amazed at the number of theaters with their big productions, including a fantastic version of Billy Elliot I caught one evening.

The effiicient tourist information office in Federation Square offers tours of just about any place anyone would want to see and learn more about. On the tour of Victoria Market we not only saw some of the most beautiful food I could imagine, we got to taste it as well. We sampled enough we were able to skip lunch.
Our bus trip down the Great Ocean Road yielded spectacular coastal views but involved too much driving for one day. It would have been better divided into a two-day trip.
Flying internally with Quantas was always a pleasure, with a far more relaxed feel in the Australian airports than we find in the United States. Our flight to Perth, on Australia's west coast, was over five hours long, but very pleasant.
The region actually includes two cities, Perth and Freemantle. I fell in love with the area's casual feel and beautiful beaches. We stayed in a time share I had traded ours for in the Swan River Valley, north of the urban areas. Kangaroos entertained us daily as we ate our breakfasts, romping on the golf course outside the glass doors to our condo.
The area's highlight was an excursion by local ferry to Rottnest Island (aka Rotto) where we rented bikes and rode around the approximately 11 by 5 kilometer island. Another transportation option, since visitors aren't allowed to bring cars, is to take the bus which circumnavigates the island, stopping at all of the beaches. (One is pictured above.)
We also visited the famous wine growing region near the town of Margaret River, about 150 miles south of Perth. It is lovely and tranquil, known for producing many of the country's premium wines. There were some pretty nice beaches in that area too, like the one above.

Our next flight took us to Uluru, formerly known as Ayres Rock. I had wanted to visit this mythical region for years, so for me this was a dream come true. It is a sandstone rock formation that stands 1,142 feet high and changes colors in various lighting conditions. According to tradition, the best way to see it is at dawn, when there are a whole lot of other folks there. It's also the coolest time of the day, and the heat in the region is legendary.
Uluru is in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park along with another impressive rock formation, Kata Tjuta (aka The Olgas) about 16 miles from Uluru. I found these rocks to be a pleasant surprise, since most of what we read about the region focuses on Uluru, often used as the symbol of Australia. Both sites are very important to the culture of the local Aboriginal people.
On an early morning bus ride to Kings Canyon, part of the Watarrka National Park, we saw wild horses (brumbies), wild camels (introduced from Afghanistan to help build the railroads,) kangaroos, rabbits, and even the illusive echidna, which, along with the platypus, are the world's only egg-laying mammals. When we got there, we took the 3-4 hour Kings Canyon Rim Walk which traces the top of the canyon. There we saw spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape.

The shortest flight we took was to Darwin, in the far reaches of the Northern Territory. Darwin struck us as a place for independent-minded folks due to the remote location and the inclement climate. It seems to be hot year round, during both the "wet" and the "dry" and have a plethora of dangerous critters like the mythical salt water crocodiles. The city had to be rebuilt twice: after Japanese attacks during WWII and after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

The highlignt of our visit was an overnight stay at Kakadu National Park, where we saw a lot of wildlife and a brilliant array of aboriginal rock art.

Another long flight took us to Sydney. Although it had been seven years since my last visit (a beautifully orchestrated Olympics had taken place since then) I felt completely at home there. My choice of public transportation is the ferries, which get you where you want to go while giving you fantastic photo opportunities along the way. The photos above and below this paragraph were both taken from the ferry on the night before our departure on a comfortable Quantas non-stop flight to California.

We had a fantastic month exploring Australia. And thanks to my book group and Bill Bryson's account of his travels there, I was able to live it all over again last month when I reread his "In a Sunburned Country."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back to Sea Level: Peru's Jungle and its Capital, Lima

After a short flight (or a very long bus ride) from the chilly arid city of Cuzco, you can be in the hot and humid jungle, part of the Amazon Basin. About half an hour after our departure from Cuzco's airport, we arrived in the frontier town of Puerto Maldonado, at the confluence of the Tambopata and the Madre de Dios Rivers. The Madre de Dios is a tributary of the Amazon. The town is only about 30 miles from Bolivia and should soon be linked to Brazil through the Trans-oceanic highway, now under construction, and a new bridge. The town is known for eco-tourism and the collection of delicious Brazil Nuts.

We shed outer layers of clothes and settled in for the relaxing one and a half hour motorized canoe ride to our lodge, the EcoAmazonia. When we arrived we were shown to our airy, spacious screened-in cabins with private baths, and ceiling fans, functional only in the evening hours when the generator was operating.

After a tasty lunch in the large dining room, we donned ill-fitting rubber boots for a short boat ride to a place called Monkey Island where monkeys who need to be reacquainted with the wild had been sent. We soon found that the rehabilitation process had been less than complete. Despite the guide's warning that all water bottles should be stowed, one of the young women in our group had hers visible. In what seemed to be a split second, a large black monkey swooped down, wrapped his arms around her legs, grabbed her bottle and draining it. The young woman shrieked in terror, and developed a migraine headache that lasted the rest of the day.

Another afternoon we fished with bamboo poles from the side of the boat, and some of us (not me!) went flying through the air, Tarzan-like, at the end of a robe overhanging the muddy river. During a night outing we spotted the glaring eyes of caiman (the same as alligators) and the brilliance and clarity of stars only that clearly visible in an environment with so little ambient light. After a short hike to a small pool during the day, several caiman surfaced, drawn by bait furnished by our guide.

After being in Puerto Maldonado, we had to reeducate ourselves once we arrived in Lima, about the dangers of traffic. The chaos was enhanced by the fact that it was raining. This might not seem so strange to most of us, but Lima averages just 7.5 inches of rain a year, so it was quite an event.

One of our Lima stops was a visit to Larco Mar, a modern shopping center actually in the trendy suburb of Miraflores. Most of the merchandise in the expensive tourist shops was from the Cuzco area, as were two indigenous weavers doing a demonstration in this iconoclastic setting.

At the coast below the shopping center, we noticed the prestigious restaurant, La Rosa Nautica. We ate there many years ago, just before it got blown up by the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) during one of Peru's turbulent periods.

At the Museo de la Nacion, in fact, we saw a remarkable photography exhibit commemorating that period of Peru's history. "Yuyanapaq To remember 1980 to 2000" was dramatic, and really huge. We highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of Latin America.

The museum had many other components to interest the visitor. We spent several hours there, and enjoyed a guided tour with a university student giving us a lot of insights into the history, art, and culture of Peru.