Colorful Curacao

Usually my headlines are written just for the alliteration but this one really is true.  We thought things were pretty colorful the day before in Bonaire, but Curacao really takes the colorful cake. It appears that this town loves color. We took a short tour on the town’s trolley and our guide told us the real reason that Curacao’s capital Willemstad has so many colorful buildings is that about 100 years ago, the governor of the island decreed that houses could no longer be white. That they had to be painted one of a set number of colors. After he left office it was found that not only was he the governor but he was also part owner of the only paint supplier on the island 😂.

But it has served Curacao well as you will see from my photos. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Besides all the colorful buildings my photos benefited from one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.

But before I show you the photos I want to tell you what we did to tour. First, when the ship arrived there was quite a bit of discussion between the ship and the port. It went on for a while. So long that many people were waiting for the Captain to announce we were going to have to skip the port. But finally, almost an hour later, the port allowed us to disembark. There was one big change though. We were originally scheduled not to leave the port until 11;00 pm but because Willemstad had a 9:00 pm curfew for everyone in the town they moved up our all-aboard time to match up with the curfew and let us off.

Our included (in our Have It All promotion) shore excursion for this port was the aforementioned Old Town Trolley Tour. We were actually picked up by taxis (vans) and driven across the Queen Juliana Bridge to meet up with the trolley and our guide in downtown. Our tour was in a three car trolley pulled by a gas-powered engine that looked like a train engine (bell included). We saw lots of colorful architecture on our about 90 minute tour which started and ended at the old town fort. Our guide was good, the driver a great guy but I can’t recommend this tour. The fumes from the engine were horrible. By about halfway through we were either nauseous or getting there or we had a horrible headache. This trolley engine needs a tune up or a replacement before anyone should try and take that tour again. But it was interesting (when you could breathe). What we saw is in the photo captions. Funny but it was one of the few times we were thrilled to be wearing masks. Can’t imagine how bad it would have been without them.

After we were done they gave us the option of either walking back to the ship or taking the taxi back. Kathleen had a bad headache from the fumes so she headed back. I wanted to take more pics of downtown so I elected to stay and walk back across the fabulous floating bridge.

So here’s the pics that explain everything else. Remember, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That was about it for downtown Willemstad. From the bridge it was about a ten minute walk back to the ship, back aboard and after a nice evening (more about entertainment and food coming soon) we went to bed and woke up sailing into Oranjestad, Aruba. More about that tomorrow.

What makes things memorable is that they are meaningful, significant, colorful.   —Joshua Foer

Beautiful Bonaire—I’m impressed

Yesterday (Friday January 28th) we were in beautiful Bonaire. One of the three ABC islands, the island is predominately known for its diving—both scuba and snorkeling. I could go on and on about their politics, their industry and the rest of it but if you really want to know—click here—for a link to the Wikipedia page for Bonaire.

What I will tell you about is the two (yes 2) excursions we took and how impressed I am with the island. First let me say that we are NOT divers of any kind. We leave that to our friends Mike and Cathy. They do the snorkel thing and the scuba thing. They live in Florida so they have warm water. We live in Washington where if you go in the water, you freeze to death in less time than you can say, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

So we started off the morning with a ship’s excursion called “The Best of Bonaire.” There were three groups of about 12 people in three different vans. We had settled into one of the vans when the head of shore excursions asked for volunteers to move to another van because they had miscalculated the numbers on ours. We were in the front so we said we would switch. Best decision of the day. I have nothing against the guide and driver on the original van but the new van had a guide that made our day—Gladys. Now we really doubt Gladys is her real name because she acted like it was a joke all day long but if you are in Bonaire doing this tour, get Gladys. The woman is a HOOT! Not to mention an excellent guide and you could tell how much she loves her adopted island—Bonaire. She is originally from Wisconsin but has been on Bonaire off and on since 1963 so she knows her stuff. Her driver was a guy she called Cheech because of his past life as a cop confiscating marijuana and being in charge of burning it after the perpetrators were caught.

These two took us all over the island and while Gladys regaled us with stories, history, geography, science, nature and local customs, Cheech kept a VERY sharp eye out for the best flora and fauna he could find. And find it he did, time and time again. Check out my pics to see what I mean. He found parrots, parrot fish (he was good at parrot stuff 😜), lizards and all kinds of other stuff. Then he would slow down or stop so that us photographers could get the pics we were after. (BTW: I am so sorry I did not get a photo of Gladys or Cheech—my bad.)

We were out touring with Gladys and Cheech for 3.5 hours and other than my knees giving me problems from sitting for so long we had a great time and saw a bunch of great stuff as you will see in the photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our second excursion a little later in the day was a short but very nice trip on a glass-bottom boat. Having never been on a glass-bottom boat before I thought maybe I could get some great underwater photos without going underwater. And our guide and skipper Kim took us out to the coral reef around a large island called Little Bonaire that is just off the main port. While we were able to see some very pretty fish, the only photo I could even slightly make work is the one of the turtle you see below. The other pics are from the boat ride but just not the underwater parts.

To sum all this up, I would say the one thing that most impressed me about Bonaire is that they have not succumbed to the usual cruise-type shops. No Diamonds International, etc. Also, both guides we had were so in love with their island and the things their government (which is funded and supervised by Amsterdam—Bonaire being a Dutch protectorate) is doing for their people, their environment and the flora and fauna of the island. It I also impressive that 70% of the island’s power (even powering their desalinization plants) is from wind. And they hope to be 100% renewable within 5 years. Not only that but everyone there has health care, an education, a guaranteed retirement…all things that every human should have a right to.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.  —Anthony Carmona

Puerto Plata…was really hotta and other things

Can’t remember the last time I wrote two posts in one day but I thought that since we are on a sea day (for the non-cruisers that means no stops today) and have three ports in the next three days (Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba), I would get yesterday’s stop out of the way today, while I have some time to write. But I don’t want to overload you so I will post it tomorrow (which for you might be today).

Yesterday we were in beautiful Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic (DR). Kathleen and I have always been under the impression that we had been to the DR two other times because we had stopped at a small port called Labadie while on a Celebrity ship. Turns out we had the island (Hispaniola) right but the country wrong. Labadie is in Haiti so this was our second visit to the DR. But we had never been to this side of the country before.

The ship actually docks at Amber Cove which is just 13 kilometers west of the city of Puerto Plata. Amber Cove is a port developed by the Carnival Corp for all the ships under that umbrella to dock for this city. Imagine if Disney created the Caribbean without rides…you get Amber Cove. Lots of shops, pretty grass, clean and spic and span surroundings.

We were only in Amber Cove long enough to jump on a bus with our guide Rrrrafael 😜. He really, really rolled that first R. We were doing a tour (along with the Sail with Seth crowd) called “Flavors and Traditions of Puerto Plata: In partnership with Food and Wine magazine.” I am not sure why it has this title because we saw no one or heard nothing from Food and Wine magazine. What we did do was:

  1. Took the bus into Puerto Plata while Rrrrafel told us all about the city and the Dominican Republic.
  2. Stopped at the town square and walked around while Rrrrafel told us about the buildings and traditions of Puerto Plata.
  3. Went to a cigar factory/showroom where I was told that one person got to roll and smoke his own cigar. Being highly allergic to cigar and cigarette smoke/smell, I (and the rest of our pod of four) stayed outside while this part of the tour took place so I can’t say for certain that’s what happened.
  4. Went to a chocolate factory to see how chocolate was made and taste hot chocolate (like we were cold 😜) and a tiny brownie. Personally I consumed neither. Not a big chocolate guy. But I was told both were great.
  5. Had lunch at an outdoor restaurant where they had set up a buffet of rice, beans, chicken, tortilla chips, salad and your choice of water or soft drink. It was very “nice.” Not bad, not great. just “nice.”
  6. Toured the grounds of the restaurant where there were koi ponds, artwork and a variety of flora including orchids.
  7. Went to a rum distillery where we saw a film about how rum is made and how great that distillery is and then we got to taste some rum. Eight different kinds but if you poured them all in the same glass, you might have an ounce.

That was the tour folks. To me it was a typical overview of a city tour, Rrrrafel did a great job and because we were with Seth, we had some good old fashioned fun. And I loved it because I got to do my second favorite kind of photography (after general travel photo), street photography. I love taking pictures of interesting people with interesting faces or doing interesting things. I think I like to do this because I spent more than 50 years doing high school and college yearbooks as a student, a teacher and a rep for Jostens Yearbooks. I can’t sell them or use the ones I take in any commercial way because I would need a release from the people I shot. Still, I love taking them. My daughter tells me, “Dad, when you die I will look at these and wonder who the heck they are and should I save them because they might be family?” So I also take them to bamboozle her.

Here are some quick examples of what I mean. The captions will tell you a little more about street photography.  Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

After people see my street photography stuff, they often ask if I ask permission before I take the picture. I don’t. Mostly because they have no idea I took their photo. In all the pics above I was more than 100 feet away using a very long (300mm) zoom lens so they had no clue I was taking any photos of them. I do have a rule that if there are street performers and I shoot their picture, I always tip them. It’s the right thing to do. If I don’t have money for tips, I don’t take the picture.

Here are the rest of my Puerto Plata pics. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

When you see a panoramic photo in my shots, it is actually not done with my iPhone set on Pano. I take these with my Nikon. When I say I take “them” with my Nikon, the photo above that shows two ships (Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam) on opposite sides of the pier is actually made up of 26 individual photos I took while standing in the same spot and turning my body almost 360 degrees. The two ships were actually parked at the pier right next to each other like you can see in the next shot. Then I open those 26 pictures (most of my panos are much less photos–the last one only has 16 photos) in Photoshop and merge them together. They create huge pictures that I could print up to billboard size. I have always loved taking them.

PS: Sorry about the headline. I couldn’t resist.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.  —Dorothea Lange

 

Surprising Grand Turk and some other stuff

After missing our first port (which should have been HAL’s private island, Half Moon Cay) due to weather conditions and not COVID, our first stop became Grand Turk Island. Grand Turk is the Turk part of Turks and Caicos. This was our first time on this island so we had no clue what we were in for.

On past cruises we hardly ever do ship’s shore excursions but using HAL’s Have It All program, we not only received a drinks package, two nights in specialty restaurants and complimentary Wifi but we were able to sign up for some HAL shore excursions for free. With that said, we chose “Charming Grand Turk by Open Air Tram.” This was just one of those overview tours where we would see the island and hear from a guide who would tell us a little about the island, their country and its history.

Sometimes things go wrong on a cruise and you just hope it’s not a big deal. This turned out to be one of those times. We had arrived at the correct time for the afternoon tram ride and after they signed us in they told us that the morning tram group had not come back yet and we would have to wait 15 minutes. No biggie. But the 15 minutes turned into 30 and then almost an hour. The shore excursion team offered us a full refund or we could wait another 15 minutes. In fact the tram never showed up (they might still be there 😜). Some people chose to take refunds and headed back to the ship. We had decided to wait the full hour and then take the refund.

But when an open air bus (not our tram) came in after their second tour, the HAL shore excursion people asked the guide if he would take us. We were totally impressed with their efforts and he agreed to tour us around. We were thrilled because he had a higher and larger open air bus than the tram would have been, which made it much easier for me to get the photos I ended up with (that I am thrilled about). The shore excursion manager did her job that day, totally coming through for us. Not only that, when we got back to the ship and checked our accounts we found that she had reimbursed us for the entire tour because it was late and we handled it so well. Going above and beyond—HAL’s service is blowing us away.

Once we got out on the road with our guide Nate we knew we were in a very fun tour. He was hilarious. He had two teenage girls working with him and they took great care of us as we drove all over the island. We learned a lot about Grand Turk and its history (for instance, did you know this where John Glenn landed after his first orbit of the earth?). Nate was also great about stopping for photos. I am going to tell you a little more about Grand Turk in the captions of the photos below. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my pictures on a phone. Please…

Not sure what more I can tell you about Grand Turk but I will say that this cruise is almost making me like the Caribbean. (For those new to this blog, this has NEVER been one of my favorite places—too warm, not a beach person, etc.) We loved Grand Turk, we had a great day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic yesterday that I will write about later this afternoon or later this week and the weather has been near perfect. Yes, it has been hot when we are out and about and I think wearing a mask makes it about 10 degrees warmer but I am writing this on a sea day, sitting outside on our verandah. The temperature is 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the seas are flat as a lake and the breeze is awesome. I could get real used to this, really fast. We are already talking with our buddy Seth about doing another Sail with Seth in a warm climate. We will keep you updated in case you want to join us.

One more thing to mention about the Sail with Seth part of our cruise. This morning he arranged a special Coffee with the Captain just for the group and the captain verified that there are 895 passengers on board and a little more than 800 crew members. That means we have almost one crew member per passenger. No wonder the service is so awesome!

There’s definitely healing properties to being in proximity to the ocean and that breeze. There’s something about that Caribbean climate and humidity.   —Johnny Depp

On Board the Nieuw Statendam…it’s AWESOME!

Yesterday (it’s Monday right now and will probably be Tuesday before I finish this), we sailed on Holland America’s (HAL) Nieuw Statendam from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Florida. After two really great nights in our FLL AirBnB we got to board in the first group. We had heard that HAL was being really being a stickler about boarding times due to the pandemic and we were no exception. Our time said noon and at 11:15 I dropped Kathleen, Steve and Jamie off at the port and took our rental car back to the airport. A quick cab ride back and we were ready to board right on time.

BTW: Before we went I did an early morning photowalk around Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk and here’s some pics from that morning. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our home for the next 10 days

Check-in took less than 15 minutes and would have been faster if you took out all the COVID stuff. As soon as we got on board our rooms were available so we went to drop off our carry on luggage and to unpack those. I am not sure if I mentioned this but originally we had a verandah stateroom on deck six. About two weeks before the cruise we got an e-mail asking if we wanted to upgrade to a Neptune Suite. Neptune Suites are the second highest level of suites on the ship and the cost to upgrade was amazingly reasonable so we grabbed it. The suite is AMAZING! More than 350 square feet (which is big for a cruise ship stateroom, with a monster bathroom and a huge living space. Here’s some pics to show you what we are living in for the next ten (now nine) days and…don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

You always hear folks say, “I don’t need big room or a verandah because I am never it in.” This is true until you get a stateroom/suite like this. Then you are in it because you have everything you need. And on this cruise (and others for awhile) this is the only place we can walk around without our masks on. And because it’s just awesome!

I will drop some photos in my next post of the rest of the ship. Here are some facts about this particular cruise. First, due to COVID there are fewer than 750 cruisers on board. This is on a ship built to hold 3,214 passengers when at full capacity so to say that things feel empty is an understatement. I will say that there are some events (the Blues Club we were in last night) that can get crowded but we are doing our best to stay in our little pod of four.

We were supposed to have six ports of call on this cruise but that got tossed out the window yesterday when we could not land at Half Moon Cay, (HAL’s private island). This was NOT due to COVID but to high winds. Half Moon Cay is a tender port (that means they drop life boats and ferry you in from the ship) and the winds and seas were just too high to put those in the water safely, so we skipped that port. I will give the activity staff high marks because they quickly adjusted and found lots of things for people to do. BTW: If you are a trivia buff, this cruise is for you. I think there is trivia scheduled about every three hours along with lots of other activities.

Still have five ports scheduled and as I type this we are tied up at the pier in Grand Turk. We (the four of us) are going off around noon to do a HAL shore excursion. We got two free with our cruise and this is one of those. Grand Turk will allow us to get off and just wander around.

Tomorrow we are in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, then a sea day, then we hit Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba in that order, on successive days. Then it’s two sea days and we are back in Fort Lauderdale. So far, everything is going great. More on the ship, the activities and the food in my next post.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.   —Dalai Lama

2021 Top Ten (could be anything)

Over the last few days I have written about my five best food experiences of 2021, my 10 best photos I took in 2021 and my five biggest downers of 2021 so today, let’s get to the good stuff to close out the year. So here are the 10 best things I loved in 2021. BTW: Unlike my photos which I numbered, this group is in no particular order (except the NUMBER ONE which is down at the bottom).

Walking all year

It’s funny that I am choosing to write about this first. I guess it’s because I haven’t been able to do it for a week (as of today) and that’s killing me. Too much ice and snow outside keeps me indoors. I am going stir-crazy but I know if I slip and fall then I might not be able to walk for weeks. It has been a big part of my life this year. So far in 2021, I have walked 1,466 miles (that’s 2,359 kilometer for our Canadian viewers). If I had just kept going and not come home I could have walked to my childhood home in Palm Springs and then to my brother’s place in San Juan Capistrano. Or I could have walked back and forth to our friends in Chilliwack, BC almost six times. Can you tell I love my walks? (BTW: I know how far I have gone because I use the wonderful app, Map My Walk from Under Armour. )

Going to Southern California twice to see Jamie and Steve

This was supposed to have been the year that the four of us went to Europe (for the third time) together and did a bunch of other stuff. But we “made do” with visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Southern California…twice. Great weather, lots of fun, family, food and superb activities organized by Jamie made these visits at least a good substitute for Europe. Not really, but we did have fun. We even went to the historic Musso and Frank Grille in Hollywood for dinner.

Stopping to see Mike and Meeting Cathy in June

We had so many schedule changes for our Galapagos trip in July that we were thrilled when it all finally worked out and we ended up  flying through South Florida to get to Ecuador. Thrilled because this gave us a chance to add on a couple of days to see one of our best friends and fellow Martini Mate Mike and to meet the new love of his life, Cathy, in person. We had an outstanding time, Mike even got up at 2:00 am to take us all the way to the Miami airport (WHAT A FRIEND!) and we LOVED Cathy. So it really stands out as a highlight for us. Even better, we get to see them again (I really hope) in three weeks.

Getting to go back to Canada in September

Over the last 15 years we have spent a lot of time in British Columbia. Specifically Chilliwack, BC. That’s because that’s where our friends Bob and Judy live. And in case you missed it, since the start of the pandemic, Canada had closed their border. That meant that even though we could FaceTime to talk, we hadn’t seen them in person from the day we got back from our Mardi Gras cruise (March 2o, 2020) until we finally got to get tested, get the Canadian entry app, show our Nexus cards and get in to see them in September. That’s a long time not to see someone you are used to seeing at least every other month. If all works out and it doesn’t snow again, we may go up again next weekend!

Going to Seaside with family in August

Every summer (or at least three of them) we have rented an AirBnB type place with our grandkids (and their parents). This year we went to Seaside, Oregon. I can’t tell you how much I cherish that week with them. We play games, go to the beach, local attractions, make meals together and watch special movies in the evenings (Star Wars!!!). Can’t wait until August 2022 to do this again.

Ted Lasso–forever

I know. It’s a television show. But I love television and it is the best television show ever made—in my somewhat humble opinion 😜. There is not a single episode where I don’t laugh, cry and exult in these glorious characters. I have watched each and every episode at least four times and some even more. We watched their Christmas show on Christmas Eve and will every Christmas Eve from now on. I listen to two podcasts about the show every week during the season. I still listen to Brett Goldstein’s “Films to Be Buried With” podcast every week.  I follow all the actors on Instagram. I have downloaded every song Hannah Waddingham has recorded that wasn’t from a West End musical. I watch every YouTube video about the show that YouTube throws at me—and that’s a lot. I have my Richmond FC scarf and I am ready to root for Ted and the Greyhounds again next summer. I am a total fanboy and completely obsessed. The show just speaks to me. When it comes to Ted Lasso, I am never a goldfish (you only get this if you have seen the show—go watch it!).

Getting fully vaccinated and staying that way with boosters

This isn’t the highlight of the year but it led to everything else we did. Do you remember when the vaccine was first introduced and so many people (like us) were clamoring to get our hands on our first shot…and then our second. We got our first one at the end of January and our second in mid-February. Then in mid-July I was in our local Kaiser (our HMO) clinic and they said they were throwing away vaccine every day because it was defrosted and people weren’t showing up to get it. I just don’t understand the anti-vaccination crowd. We know friends and relatives of friends who are part of that group and they are normally intelligent people. Please explain this because I can’t. I just know that I have had three, full potency shots (I take an injected auto-immune drug weekly so I got a full shot for my third and not a booster) and Kathleen is boosted.

Storyworth–all year long

I think have mentioned Storyworth on this site before but here’s a quick explanation if I haven’t. For Christmas 2020 my daughter gave me a one-year subscription to Storyworth. Since then I get an e-mail every week with a single question about my life. Either my past, my opinions or my relationships. Each week I answer the question and they keep them and at the end of the year (now) I order a pre-paid, printed book of all of the stories so that my grandkids can know about their Grandpa and how he got this way 😜.

I am currently in the process of editing my book (that’s the cover above) and I will order the printed version for myself next week. Once I see my printed copy, I will order two more, one for each of the grandkids. This has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much. Over my lifetime I have been in therapy a quite a few times, but writing these stories had been more therapeutic than any of that. It does get a little dark sometimes but it’s really brought back some good and not-so-good memories. And yes, I guess I am verbose. The average Storyworth book is about 250 pages. I am over 450 at this point. Can you tell I have loved the experience?

Retiring from Jostens Yearbooks after 39 years last June

To be completely honest, this was not supposed to happen until 2022. I love even numbers and I really wanted to get to 40 years with Jostens and my own company, Koobraey Productions. But COVID did this in as well. Yearbooks have been changing every year of those 40 years and I still found things to write and teach about but when the pandemic hit and things were NOTHING like they have ever been before, it was just enough to push me to walk away. Jostens and Koobraey have been a great place to be self-employed for those 39 years and there isn’t much I would trade for the friendships I have made during that time.

It was a career I never expected (I was supposed to be a history teacher) but loved and did quite well with. From the day I started in 1982 until last June 14, I loved a lot of it. The six months since retiring (I am still in my “funtirement” job booking travel with Expedia Cruises) have been so busy I can’t figure out where I used to fit this job into my life.

Going to the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora in July

Being honest, this is number one. I mean not only was it the BEST thing we did in 2021 it may be one of the 10 best experiences I have ever had in my life. It is definitely the best trip/cruise/adventure we have ever done. We loved it so much we are going to do it again in 2024 to see the Inner Loop islands. I find it very hard to put into words what this adventure meant to us. Not only was it the first time we got to really travel after the shutdown, it was so much more than I ever thought it would be.

For me, the biggest excitement was the photography. The Galapagos are a photographer’s heaven. After a year of not shooting much of anything other than grandkids (which I love shooting) it was like I got all caught up in a week. Certainly equal to the photography were the amazing people we met on Celebrity’s Flora. There is no way I would go again and not go aboard that ship. It made the trip so very easy not to mention being the best place ever to come back to at night. Every single crew member we met was amazing. The guides, the crew in the dining room, the chef who made me sango, the officers and we were especially lucky to have been sailing the week that Celebrity’s resident scientist, Ellen Prager was onboard. I was never much for science but going to this incredible place and talking to Ellen and the guides she trains really got me excited about it. I leave you with a special gift to close out 2021, a slide show of my best photos from the islands. Happy New Year!

 

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.

Art Buchwald

My 10 Best Photos of 2021

As promised yesterday, here are my Top Ten Photos that I took in 2021. I have been posting these on Facebook and Instagram for the last few days but if you don’t follow me on either of those platforms, here are my Top Ten.

Number 10: The Wenatchee River in Leavenworth, WA

I decided to start with a photo I took in my old stomping grounds of Leavenworth, Washington. This shot of the Wenatchee River as it flows through the town was what I consider the best of the ones on my early morning photo walk.

Number 9: Blue-footed Booby on Española Island

Number nine in my countdown of my 10 favorite photos I have taken in 2021 is this marvelous blue footed booby I shot on Fernadina Island in the Galapagos. I am doing these in order of how much I love them. As you can expect the majority will come from our trip to the Galapagos.

Number 8: A foggy field in Redmond, Washington

Number eight of my top ten photos of 2021 is the only one I took with my iPhone 12. I was out taking my daily walk when I saw this scene early on what would become a very warm day. The last vestiges of moisture were hanging low over this field and rapidly disappearing in the rising sun. I realize it’s not much a travel photo as I was about three miles from our home…but hey, I was traveling.

Number 7: A Galapagos Tortoise on Santa Cruz Island

My choice for my seventh favorite photo I took in 2021 is this old guy I snapped while we were on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. He saw me and decided he was going to see just what the heck I was doing with that big, ugly camera. I love the look on his face.

Number 6: Heron Reflection in Olympia, Washington

Number six on my top ten photos I took in 2021 is this heron I shot on an early morning photowalk in Olympia, Washington. It’s all about the reflection as far as I am concerned. The state capital of Washington was just a really nice bonus as the reflection.

Number 5: Blowhole landscape on Española Island

My Galapagos photos are mostly flora and fauna but this shot I took on EspañolaIsland is my favorite landscape from the trip. The water you are seeing is from a blowhole in the rocks that shot huge amounts of water up into the sky whenever a wave came in. Between that water, the incredible sky and the clear and clean air, I just love this shot.

Number 4: Two Pelicans over Santa Cruz Island

Number four in my Top Ten Photos I took in 2021 is one that I did not like when I first saw it. In fact my appreciation of it grows every day. Kathleen talked me into keeping it because I was going to throw it away. I didn’t like because of the way the pelican on the left is cut off. But I did like the contrast between the birds and the sky and the incredible sharpness I got by using a 1250th of a second shutter speed and a 16 f-stop. The birds were fast but every part of my shooting was faster except me. I just couldn’t turn quick enough. BTW: 2021 is the year I learned to back-focus on my Nikon and I will never go back. What a difference.

Number 3: Galápagos Sea Lion on Española Island

My number three choice is the best portrait I took this year. If you go to the Galapagos probably the MOST amazing thing is that all the animals will let you get within feet of them. This shot was not a telephoto or zoomed. I was about five feet away. I chose it as much for the clarity and photo quality as for the awesome subject that I hope to shoot again one day…and the look on his face.

Number 2: Mount Rainier from Olympia, Washington

I got this shot on another of my pre-dawn photo walks. We were staying in Olympia at an AirBnB so we could have the grandkids all to ourselves. Had the best time ever. I got up and went to do an Olympia, Washington photo walk. And lo and behold, the first thing I saw was Washington’s unofficial state symbol—Mt. Rainier. I guess the mountain is almost the official symbol—it is on our license plates and you can just about see it from every part of the state. That morning, as you can see, the sky was on fire. No retouching here, this was straight out of my Nikon.

Number 1: A flamingo coming in for a landing on Isabella Island in the Galapagos

Did you know that when flamingo’s land, they walk on the water as they come down? Neither did I. But this shot from a morning walk on the Galapagos Isabela Island is what I consider my best nature shot ever. I am so glad I did a lot of research into shooting wildlife before we went as it is not something I have done a lot of except in zoos. Learning to use back focus and shooting at 2000th of a second has enabled me to up my wildlife game. When I took this shot and the thousand others I took in the Galapagos I felt like I have made up for a complete pandemic worth of non-travel shooting in seven days. How much do I love this photo? I believe it is the second best shot I have ever taken…or maybe my third.

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

Ernst Haas

 

Day 7–Santa Cruz and the Giant Tortoises

Our last full day in the Galapagos found us on Santa Cruz Island. This was a very different day as there were no choices to be made about where to go today. Everyone on the ship was going to the same place…to drive across Santa Cruz Island. One thing that was different on this day were that we were all asked to wear masks for the first time off the ship in the week. This was because we would be meeting others who were outside our ship’s safety bubble.

After our Zodiac ride to the northernmost point on the island we hopped on busses to drive the entire length of the island to the Charles Darwin Research Center. But on the way an amazing thing happened. You see, so far every island we had visited had either been dry lava rock or dry scrub brush and rock. But Santa Cruz Island is split in half and as we drove south towards the Darwin Center and climbed in elevation, the dry, arid land turned to…rain forest. Seriously, all of a sudden we were driving through clouds. And it was raining. What a huge contrast to the entire previous week of weather.

After driving through some rain, farmland and finally a small town, we arrived at the Darwin Center.  The Center is all about keeping alive all the different species of giant tortoises from all the different islands. They have hundreds of turtles of all ages. The smallest are segregated by the island they came from. Then as they get older they are put into the same pens but with numbers on their shells that indicate the island of their origin.

In still another enclosure were some fully grown giant tortoises. They are truly amazing creatures. These were being kept apart because they can’t be sure which island they came from and they do not want to cross-pollinate species. As you can see from my photos, these animals are amazing. Later in the day we would see them in wild.

After our visit we headed back into the hills to visit the Manzanillo Ranch for lunch but before we got there we stopped to do some community service. Celebrity supports a reforestation project that removes invasive species and replaces them with the kind of plants that are native to the island. It was an interesting experience. Because we were planting them a ways off the road, our bus stopped (blocking half the road) and we got out and found a row of chairs and a pair of rubber boots that we swapped for our shoes. We then grabbed a trowel and two seedling trees and then we headed into the jungle. There we found pre-dug holes that we dropped the seedlings into and from there we just covered them, took pics of each other, changed our boots (while they stopped cars—it was almost funny to see this row of chairs standing on the road) and we were off to Manzanillo Ranch for lunch.

At the ranch they had a very nice covered area where a delicious buffet lunch was served. Again, just like the ship, no one was allowed to serve themselves and all the servers were masked. Lunch was tasty and was followed by an Ecuadorian folk dance performance by students from the island dressed in colorful, traditional colors . Celebrity has been supporting this group for a while including sending them to a folk dance competition to Italy.

I need to mention something that was so typically Galápagos. While I was taking these photos of the dancers in a covered area at a ranch, all I had to do was turn around in the exact spot where I was standing to take this photo. A giant tortoise that seems to have come along to see the performance himself.

After lunch we were allowed to go onto the rest of the grounds on the ranch to see the tortoises close up. Some notes about that short walk. As we started to leave the enclosure, the rain picked up and that meant my camera went into my dry bag so I didn’t get very many pics of the big guys in the wild. But I had so many from the Darwin Center, that was OK with me. Another thing that was very interesting was when a fellow traveler asked our naturalist who owned these tortoises, the ranch or the National Park that bordered it? His answer was, “No one owns them. They own themselves and can go anywhere they want on these islands. That is our  law.” In fact we were told if you were a rancher or a farmer, you could be fined for using any fencing that would block the tortoises from migrating. Speaking of migrating, our friend Fausto who runs the Celebrity operations in the Galapagos told us he had been to the ranch less than two weeks before to finalize the lunch plans and when he was there he saw two or three tortoises. Two weeks later while we were there we saw hundreds. They were migrating to the higher elevations. There were so many on the road leaving the ranch, it made it hard for our bus driver to get off the property. Think of driving in a sheep ranching area and running into a bunch of sheep on the road and have to stop until they moved. Now imagine it at tortoise speed 😀.

After our tortoise experience it was back to the ship for our final dinner, packing to leave and sad farewells. But in the meantime, here’s the balance of today’s pics.

I will be back tomorrow with some notes on the ship and our room. See you then.

 

Day 6–South Plaza and Santa Cruz

Good day readers! As I write this I am sitting in our good friend Cathy’s living room in Wellington, Florida. As I think I mentioned before I am planning on doing four more posts after this one. One to cover Day 7, another to answer questions, a third to talk about the ship and our stateroom (with video) and the last one to kind of sum things up…with a very few complaints, so stick with me please.

South Plaza Island

Just off Santa Cruz Island (the Galapagos most populated island) are two very small islands, North and South Plaza Islands. On a map they look like two halves of a circle with missing pieces at the top and bottom. Smaller boats (up to 30 people) anchor in between them during the night. Here’s what our schedule looked like:

This morning we again had the choice of a long or short walk. Kathleen took the short walk and I took the long one. This one was a real eye opener. Not for the fauna (because as you will see in the photos, there were plenty of the usual suspects) but because of the flora. All of the islands we had been on before this had been either green (foliage), black (lava) or brown (scrub brush) but South Plaza was lit up like New England in the fall. Not on trees but on the ground. And the cacti looked like a forest sometimes…after a fire when only a few good trees are still standing.

It was drop dead gorgeous. Especially since the weather was also pretty good or a long walk. This was the windiest island we were on. And that meant the amazing seaman who drive the Zodiacs had a heck of time getting us on and off. We thought that was the toughest we had seen them have doing a dry landing…until that afternoon. So here’s my pics of our morning hike. I truly loved this walk as it was like being in an entirely different type of island.

Dragon’s Hill, Santa Cruz Island

In the afternoon we headed to the island of Santa Cruz for what we were told would be a “fast walk.” Which meant as our cruise director Betina told us, “More walk, less talk.” But it seems we found time for both. I want to add here if you take the longer walk, it is fast. We were moving. I walk 4-6 miles a day at home at just over 15 minutes per mile and I found this one to be strenuous. Mostly because of the trails.

This is called Dragon’s Hill because of the plethora of land iguanas of very large size. So you will have to endure a few more to those. But to me the big revelation (for the second time that day) was the geology. Many of my fellow walkers felt it looked like Mars (with water) or the Moon (again with water 😀). Check out the photos to see what I mean.

One thing to know if you take this walk—it is HOT! Even with a breeze. So take lots of water. You will need it. And thus ends day six. I really liked this day. Just when I thought they couldn’t show us anything different, they did. These were two awesome hikes I would not have wanted to miss. But day seven was even more different. I should have that for you tomorrow but later in the day as we don’t fly from Fort Lauderdale today until 6:30 pm EDT and don’t arrive in SEA until 10:00 pm PDT. So who knows how we late we will get up. Plus I want to walk, need to shop for groceries and then collapse 😀.

 

Day 5–Morning Fernandia, Afternoon Isabela

First, if you are following this blog note that I posted twice yesterday (Sunday). I hope to get this one out early Monday but it may be later. So you didn’t get two e-mails by mistake, there is another post.

Morning on Fernandina

In our previous daily episode (interrupted by those pesky questions and answers) we had finished the afternoon of day four. Day five found us exploring Fernandia Island in the morning and going back to Isabela Island in the afternoon but we had moved to Punta Vicente Roca. Here’s our Day Five schedule.

As you can see, in the morning we had a choice of a long or a short walk. I took the long one and Kathleen took the short one. My long one was excellent as we got to see more of the usual animals and I finally got some good shots of the Sally Lightfoot crabs as well as lots more pictures I like of the marine iguanas, sea lions and a Galapagos hawk. Today’s walk was all over some incredible lava with huge fissures as you can see from the pics.

Afternoon cruising around Isabella

Our afternoon choices were fairly limited. Since we SURE would not be doing the “Deep Water Snorkel” we had a choice of a tender ride or a tender ride. We chose the tender ride 😜. We took the earlier of the two because they wanted to use the later ones for the people coming back from the snorkeling.

This one was very cool. Even though we are seeing some of the same animals, we are seeing totally different habitat and varying landscapes. This one included sightings of lava gulls, female frigate birds, more blue-footed boobys, sea lions and penguins again! YEAH! We also got to see some amazing geology. Here’s what we saw:

As I write this, we are sitting in the airport in Quito waiting for our flight to Miami. Had to be awake at 2:50 to make this flight at 6:30. The airport is packed. It took us an hour to get through all the checks and we are in Business Class so we were quicker through check in. Then we had go through security (computers out, belts and watches off but you can keep your shoes on which is good since I have my boots on and they are a pain to lace)

It seems as if all the flights in and out of Quito are either very early in the morning or very late at night. Part of our group that was going to Houston left around midnight and others around 2:30 am. We did not hear of anyone who had a midday day flight so everyone was either up really early or still up really late. Looking at the departures boards it looks like very little departs Quito after about 9:00 am until late tonight. That is only a good thing in one way…unlike Miami airport where everything was closed prior to our 6:30 am flight down here, here everything is open. I told Kathleen with the schedules the airlines have in Quito, this is the only time they can sell anything. And when I say everything is open, I mean EVERYTHING! You can buy a Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador) at 30% off right in front of me 😜.