San Juan Islands Day 4

FruitThis was the first day of the land portion of our tour. It started with a guest lecture from a local artist named Nancy Spaulding who, with her husband, has been making a living from doing art on San Juan Island for many years. Next we split into two groups with one headed for the History Museum and one to the Whale MuseuAmCampm. My group was for history where we learned about the fruit preserve collection dating to 1909. I always love the small history museum for all the daily utilitarian artifacts they have inherited over the years. This one was no exception.

Next up we had a bus tour of San Juan Island starting at American Camp. There the American soldiers waited out the resolution of the border dispute with the British over the border between the United States and Canada. The only casualty in the conflict seems to have been a pig who wandered into the wrong camp.

LavenderrWe made a quick side trip to the local lavender farm which for me was a highlight of the trip due to the abundance of colorful photo ops.

We then made our way to Lime Kiln State Park. Here we found the Lime Kiln lighthouse which is seen in many San Juan Island photographs and art works. Unfortunately the time of day was not the best for us and I think I have better images taken from the boat when we cruised by on Tuesday.LimeKilnLH

Finally, we continued to explore the interior of the Island, including a drive by the local alpaca farm and a pause to wave at Mona the camel which was adopted by a local farm family. One gets the sense that not a lot happens on the Island but everyone is involved and interested in everything that does.

And then we headed back to the hotel for yet another chicken dinner.

San Juan Islands Day2

LandingDay 2 dawned bright and sunny and we made our way down to the Spring Street Landing to meet the Chinook where we would have breakfast onboard while cruising north toward Roche Harbor. We arrived around 10am and started our tour with a trip to the Lime Kilns, relics of a major industryLimeKilns of the 19th century. We then proceeded up the path toward the sculpture gardens ever cognizant that we had less than two hours before departure and still needed to see the historic hotel and gardens as well as the Frogartisan’s marketplace.

Back on board we cruised south around San Juan Island to make a complete circle en route to Orcas Island while being served a cracked crab and barbeque chicken lunch. Somewhere along the way more Orcas were sighted but they proved elusive to photograph.Hotel

We arrived at Rosario Resort around 3pm and were immediately bussed to a  private Salmon Hatchery where an organization called Long Live the Kings is hard at work trying to restore populations of Chinook (aka King) salmon in the Salish Sea. This is a new term for me, it seems that recently it was decided to call the combined waters making up the Puget Sound, Straits of Georgia and San Juan de Fuca the Salish sea. It was interesting to hear about how they harvest the eggs and sperm to cultivate young salmon for return to the wild.

Chinook2On returning to the boat around 5 we were offered a tasting of two Washington wines along with cheese and crackers as we cruised back to our home base at Friday Harbor. As if we hadn’t had enough to eat that day we then had a catered dinner of seafood enchiladas with chips and salsa and coleslaw.

San Juan Islands Day1

Our Chinook1trip started Sunday in Seattle at an airport hotel where we gathered for an evening meal and brief orientation. The next morning we were put on a bus to Bellingham where we met our private boat, The Chinook. Our luggage was loaded onto the boat and we were underway by 10:00 am. Our cruise to Friday Harbor had barely begun when our Captain got word of sightings of Transient Orcas nearby and we headed that way and were rewarded with views of the big killer whales by 11 am.

Orca1

After a fun hour or so of whale watching we were served a delicious onboard lunch of lasagna and salad only to have another whale sighting reported closer to shore. We hurried through lunch and went out on deck to try and photograph the whales. I took a lot of pictures but only a few turned out with recognizable Orcas. Still it was a thrill to see them.

Orca3

ASeagulls we resumed our journey there were also bald eagles to be seen. Not to mention sea gulls and cormorants. There were boats of all shapes and sizes from huge tankers to tugboats to ferrys to sailboats to pleasure craft to whale watching zodiacs.  And just to put a little icing on the cake Mount Baker put in an occasional appearance on the eastern horizon.

MtBaker

We finally pulled in to Friday Harbor at around 2:30pm, walked the few blocks to our hotel for the week and had a couple of hours to rest and get organized before our catered dinner at the Farmer’s Market building downtown. All in all a great start to our tour of the San Juan Islands.

New Bern

BannnerFounded in 1710 by Swiss and German immigrants, New Bern was named for Bern Switzerland. Since Bern means bear in German the town has embraced the bear as its symbol. Bear flags, banners and statues decorated in all manner of costume can be found throughout the downtown area.Colonial_Bear

New Bern also served as the colonial capitol of North Carolina and Governor Tyron had a palace built here in 1770. Though the capitol was moved to more centrally located Raleigh and the palace subsequently burned down, citizens reclaimed their history by reconstructing it in the 1950s. Furnished with period antiques the palace offers tours guided Tryon2by costumed docents.

New Bern’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of PepPepsi2si Cola. A small museum and gift shop
 occupies the site where Pepsi was born.

Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville_BeachI decided to give the barrier island beaches one more chance and headed out early after a quick (and awful) breakfast at the hotel. I arrived at Wrightsville Beach around 9am and found it pretty crowded already. And though I found the town a little more appealing than some I have driven through, I finallPiery had to throw up my hands and say “OK, I’ll pay to park.” Only to get to the pay station and find a sign that said “Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay until March 1.” So, finally I got another walk on the beach.. Most of the shells
 were broken but what caught my attention was the waves crashing under the pier and the surfers.

Surfer3Oh my, the surfers. I got pretty frustrated trying to photograph them from the beach as the sun was in my eyes and I could not see a thing on the camera’s screenSurfer. Then I finally got the bright idea of going up on the pier to shoot. I gladly paid my $2.00 and had a great time and a great view of the surfers. I just wish more of them had been better surfers as the ratio of standing to sitting out behind the surf was pretty low.

Surfer2Eventually I did have to push on to New Bern but I finally felt satisfied that I had had a positive beach experience to add to my outstanding time at Bald Head Island.

Wilmington

So, getting back to Thursday, I collected the rental car at the ferry terminal and started the short drive to Wilmington. I stopped off at a little museum at the site of an early settlement called Brunswick of which all that is left is the brick shell of an old church. I learned a little about the history of the Cape Fear region and then moved on.

Baggage_BWJust over the bridge is downtown Wilmington but I could not check into my hotel until 3pm so I went in search of lunch at a little shopping center called the Cotton Exchange. After wandering around for a while not finding any serious restaurants some guy invited me to come taste his fudge and I said “You, know, I’m really looking for lunch.” And he said “Oh, that place over there is great.” So I went in and found them serving down home Southern Comfort food. I ordered an Oyster Po’ Boy and fried okra. I would never have thought to eat fried okra but it was forced on me once in Carlsbad, New Mexico and I found I really liked it so now I eat it when I get the chance, which isn’t often.

I wandered around the Cotton Exchange a little longer after lunch, mostlyValves galleries and souvenir shops. But my parking meter was about to expire so I had to move on. I had set my sights on the Railroad museum in hopes of finding some good steam punk images but was sad to see that most of the museum was model railroads and there was only one real train outside. I stopped in at the visitor’s center next door and picked up some literature from a very strange woman who seemed to think that browsing at a visitor’s center was not acceptable. One must ask very specific questions, one must know exactly what one is looking for.

Boat2At this point I decided I might as well try to get into my hotel room since I was tired and I had no more change for parking meters and couldn’t find the entry to the Riverwalk. The Wilmingtonian turned out to be a collection of old buildings refurbished but about ready for another round and smelling strongly of mildew which is clinging to my clothes even now. But the price was right, the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot. I could have lived without the loudmouth on the balcony just across from my window though.

In perusing my hard won maps and brochures I found that the restaurant Sunset_CapeFearmy friend had recommended was just a few blocks from me and I headed out just before sunset. Since it was right on the river and had an outdoor deck and the temperatures were very mild I sat down and ordered a glass of wine and some shrimp and grits and watched the sun set over the Cape Fear. Unfortunately my waitress was apparently doing the same and service was a bit on the slow side so it was well after dark when I made my way back to the Wilmingtonian.

GownsNext morning I set out to explore downtown and take pictures of architectural details. I actually found the widow displays and some unusual signs to be the best subjects. I stumbled upon a café called the Dixie Grille which seemed to be about the only place serving breakfast. But, no matter, the cops were eating there so it had to be good. And it was. I ordered the Dixie Benedict. A biscuit, scrambled eggs, fried green tomatoes smothered with Vidalia onion gravy. OK, I think I have check all the boxes on Southern Cuisine now.

After checking out of my hotel I proceeded to explore the beaches of KGBBrunswick County which were a huge disappointment to this native Oregonian. All the beaches are lined with houses and access is limited, parking lots often charging for the privilege. And while the good news is the temperatures have been in the 70s. The bad news is the locals are all flocking to the beaches. Hoping to get an earlier start today and exploring beaches further to the north and getting some decent photos.

Cuba Days 8 and 9

On our last full day in Havana it started to rain. The backup plan was to take us to an art gallery to see some Cuban art. It was interesting and some I liked. Some was very dark. But it was hard to appreciate without a little background and commentary on the history of Cuban art. I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of the works hanging on the walls had been confiscated from wealthy homes after the revolution.
splashWe were then taken to a seaside village which appeared very poor but where a retired surgeon and his wife had opened a restaurant called Julio, specializing in seafood. The house was set out over the water and on that day waves were crashing all around making one wonder how it had ever survived a hurricane. We were served a sumptuous lunch of seafood including, fish, clams, lobster, and shrimp. Appetizers includeYello_Windowd fried banana cups filled with tuna fish and calamari. As always the ubiquitous rice and beans. Desert was some sort of candied orange and cheese, not really to my taste. I left feeling quite stuffed. by the time lunch was over the rain had abated and I was able to get a few interesting shots around the village.

MosaicWe stopped on the way back at a neighborhood where an artist had covered the walls with mosaic and created sculptures not only at his own house but for many ofHeart his neighbors. It was apparentlymeant as a tribute to Gaudi. Unfortunately, a huge tour bus arrived just after us so we were not able to fully enjoy the art. This was the one place outside Havana that I saw a full fledged gift shop, albeit in someone’s front yard. Alas, still no t-shirt that spoke to me.

Angel4We then proceeded to an old cemetery that took up at least 16 city blocks. You might ask what the heck do you photograph at a cemetery? Like Valle Prehistorica this required a little creative openness and thought toward future processing. I started off with angels but then realized that about 90% of the monuments were angels and I could not possibly get them all and after all, how many angels do you need even for future creative elements. I then started in on windows and doors of the mausoleums and decorative iron fences.crosswbirds I also got some great textures for future digital artistry projects.

Unfortunately, as I was blithely approaching an interesting looking window, I walked into the territory of some stray dogs and was viciously attacked. I think the hat and raincoat and camera were just too intimidating for the dogs. I don’t think I was bitten but just scratched as the dog’s foot glanced off my leg, though for a time I was having visions of rabies shots. They did settle down right away when I told them to shoo. I iron_fencewiped off the blood with a kleenex then poured hand sanitizer over it. I later had Dr. Norm look at it and he washed it again with bottled water and more purell and kept checking it the rest of the trip. It seems to be healing up just fine.

We went back to the hotel for a short siesta then were picked up for our farewell dinner at a lovely restaurant, La Bonita, out in a Havana neighborhood. We had pork chopsbluewall2 which were delicious, not like the over lean pork we get in the U.S. There was a luscious cervice for a starter, rice and beans, of course, and flan with ice cream for dessert. And we had wine which is hard to come by and expensive in Cuba. There was a jazz trio plaundrywchairlaying and since we were the only table it seemed to be just for us. We all bought their CD, which, it turns out, is my only souvenir from Cuba, there not being much to buy in the first place and lacking quality in the second place and probably not made in Cuba in the third place.

The next morning I was all packed and had breakfast and it stopped raining for awhile so I went for a walk walkingthedogbehind the hotel. There I found some of the most abject poverty, not to mention filth, I have ever encountered. I also found some of the best street photography of the entire trip. Still, I soon proceeded back to the rich side of the hotel and photographed old cars for a while.

Three_womenAt 10:30 we were whisked off to the airport where we said goodbye to Leonel and were left on our own to negotiate the lines. First we went to the money changing line. They said, “Sorry, we have no American Dollars” then we were told Shiny_chevyto go over to another window and were taken one by one into a small room. They locked the door and  a man in a suit proceeded to exchange my CUCs for American dollars, one to one. They ran out of dollars before we were all through the line and some of our party had to exchange their CUCs for Euros to be exchanged for dollars when they got back home.

carsandarchesNext was the line for checking in for our flight. I had needed to go to the restroom when we arrived but could not find one so stood in the line for half an hour with my legs crossed. Finally, I got the counter and checked in and got rid of my suitcase and asked for the banos. Sure enough way past customs and down a narrow hall was the ladies room. I started to go into a stall and an airport worker yelled “Paper” reminding me that in Cuba you have to obtain your toilet paper before going into the stall.

Much relieved I proceeded through customs which was no big deal. ThenHood_ornament security which was not too bad though I tried to ask the woman if she wanted my computer out but she was intent on telling me to take my belt off until I finally lifted my shirt to show her I didn’t have a belt on. Then, of course, on the other side I was asked to take the laptop out so they could scan the bag without it. And then we proceeded to sit and wait for our flight which was only an hour late and that’s pretty good for Cuba time.

I have to say, I have never been so happy to return to American soil. Cuba was warm, Cubans were friendly, the colors were amazing, the photography was outstanding but all the time something was just a bit off. And I guess that’s why I travel, to get out of my comfort zone. But it is also, oh, so nice, to snuggle back into it when I get home.

 

Cuba Day 7

PineapplesI have to say up front that I had 350 images to sift through this day, more than any other day. I loved most of them and it was very hard to choose which to share.

manwfanWe met in the lobby of the hotel before breakfast to walk the five or six blocks to a traditional market where the meat was being butchered before our eyes and all manner of fruits and vegetables were for sale. Everyone was goingyellowboots about their business and not paying much attention to the crazy American photographers.  I think I have enough good photos from there alone for a show by themselves.

StudyBack to the hotel for lovely buffet breakfast then into the van for a trip to Ernest Hemingway’s house. I did not realize that he lived in Cuba
 for over 20 years. He left for Paris after the revolution expecting to come back but never made it. They havlivinge kept towerhis house as a museum just as he and his wife left it. The rooms are filled with books, and art, and animal head trophies adorn every wall. While they do not allow you to go into the house, all the windows and doors are open for viewing the rooms. At the top left is his library, below that the living room, notice the bull fighting poster and the well stocked bar. On the right is his tower room where he could go to write, take a nap or spy on the women at the swimming pool with his telescope.

CojimarWe then went to the village of Cojimar where Hemingway used to dock his boat and where he got the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea from an actual incident that happened there. We had a huge lunch which started with a honey mojito (by this point in the trip our slogan was “drink it fast before the ice melts” and I was already taking Cipro and Imodium to counteract an episode the night before, so what the heck). The drink was followed by two rounds of appetizers, a main course which included chicken, beef, fish, and lobster, vegetables, rice and beans. Rice pudding was served for dessert. I tried it but only confirmed that I stmusiciansill do not like rice pudding. Down at the waterfront we were serenaded by musicians. The old man in the wheelchair had a sign that said “I have ailment Parkinson’s,” possibly an asset for shaking the maracas. He still sang well though. We walked along
 the sea wall and sat in the shade for a bit then back to the hotel for a quick siesta.

CruisinAt 4pm we were loaded into three old convertibles. A pink Chevy, a red Ford, and a Turquoise Buick. I was riding in the Chevy which was probably in the worst condition but we had hands down the best looking driver.driver We went first to see the Christ of Havana statue. At 60ft it is the second largest statue of Christ after the one in Rio. Interestingly, the statue was commissioned by Batista’s wife in 1958 and was completed a week before the Revolution.
sunset1Next, we hopped back into the cars to visit an old fort built between 1763 and 1774 by the Spanish. Here we had a marvelous view of an amazing sunset and we even got to see a cruissunset2e ship leaving town. The cars dropped us off at another American café, very
 similar to the first (where we had lunch the first day in Havana) with a similar menu. Even though I wasn’t hungry I had a tuna sandwich, two beers and some cheesecake.

Cuba Day 6 – Transfer to Havana

On Wednesday we arose at 5:00am. I was prepared to forego breakfast but Lionel said “No, it’s paid for, they have to give it to you whenever you want.” Fortunately, my housemate had a translator on her phone because I would not have known how to say 5:45 in Spanish. We left for the airport at 6:15 and were all checked in with luggage checked for our flight to Havana and through security by 7:15 though the flight did not leavInglaterrae until 8:35. But at least it was on time. We were in Havana with luggage in hand by 10:15 and picked up by our new driver Lasero, who did not speak English, but who drove a very similar van to David’s and he whisked us away to the Hotel Inglaterra on the border between Central Havana (dating to the 19th century) and Havana Viejo (old Havana, dating Opera_houseto the 16th century). Our hotel was just next door to the very ornate Opera House and just a block from the national capitol building which was having its dome restored.

Havana is to Santiago as Portland is to Eugene, Seattle is to Spokane, Dallas is to San Antonio, Dublin is to Galway (sorry east coast people, I can’t think of any good analogies). Both are big cities but Santiago was much more intimate and manageable. The buildings in Santiago are mostly two stories, in Havana more on the order of four or five. The streets are wider in Havana and the traffic much, much heavier.

We arrived at the hotel around eleven and of course our rooms were not ready so we checked our luggage and Lionel walked us to a very Americanized café for lunch three or four blocks away. Though we were told to focus on walking not photography, I could not resist this woman putting out her laundry. At the restaurant, which we later learned is funded by Cuban Americans, they even had a menu in English,
which was good because Lionel abandoned us to go visit his wife. I ordered a tuna sandwichWomanwlaundry because it was the only one on the menu that didn’t say it came with vegetables. Unfortunately, it did anyway. It also had three slices of bread with about a tablespoon of tuna salad between each slice. I peeled off the lettuce and made do with my tuna flavored bread. 

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel and checked into our rooms where we were presented with not only a complimentary bottle of water but one of Rum as well. I never opened mine and feared to try and schlep it back to the west coast unbroken. The hotel was, no doubt, very grand in its day but that day had long since passed. Some of our group had stayed there before and said there were improvements but not enough to justify the doubling in price from two years ago. However, my room was clean and the plumbing and electricity, including the air conditioner, all  worked to my satisfaction.

I caught up on some photo editing then when outside to Central Park and photographed old cars as they were zooming by. They also had parking areas at each end of GreenChevythe park filled with old cars now serving as taxis so I did some detail work there. While there are some newer cars from Russia and China, in Havana the old American
cars are the norm.

A few words about the old cars seems appropriate. Though they are running, none of them seems to be running well. Some have nice paint jobs but the interiors are not necessarily intact. The fumes from
these cars, many of them older than I am are atrocious. One of our group members said he saw a man pull up, grab a screwdriver to open Buickthe trunk where he had a 20 gallon jerry can with hoses running out of it. Ron pointed to it and asked “Is that your gas tank?” The man grinned and said “Si, welcome to Cuba.” Regardless of condition, the old cars are considered a national treasures. Still, I have a hunch many will find themselves on boats home if relations with the U.S. continue to normalize.

Blue_DoorAT 4:30pm we were picked up by the van and taken to Old Havana for a walking tour which ended up lasting for 2 ½ hours. I was exhausted with sore feet by the end and it was too dark for photographs. Lionel saidLightwiron “You are photographers, you need to walk around.” Well, yeah, but in the light of day please and with a rest break every hour or so. The architecture was beautiful and I would be happy to return some day to photograph more… in the light of day.

Blue_ArchWe ended up at a restaurant where we were directed up a narrow spiral staircase to a private room. I had Ropa Vieja, a sort of shredded meat dish, in this case lamb. It was served with the ubiquitous rice and beans and some very tasty appetizers. I especially liked the fried plantain basket with seasoned ground beef.

Cuba Day 5 – Valle Prehistorica

Breakfast was about the same as at the last casa though I indulged in the bread and honey since it was already laid out and this hostess did not offer onions in the “omlette” which I missed.  We had a little time for editing photos which I enjoyed.

MammothThen we hopped in the van for a trip to Valle Prehistorica, a park with lots of old statues of dinosaurs, mastadons and such. I found the texture of their sides most interesting to photograph but thought I might come up with something artistic using the more creative software and here a couple of examples using Topaz Glow. PossibDino1ilities still abound. I did some motion blurs with the horses and they almost look real but I need to take more time to work on them. I’m pretty
sure at this point Lionel was scratching his head as to what to do with us and I too was ready to leave Santiago and move on.
OrangeNext up was a trip to a car museum. Unfortunately most of the cars were victims of very bad paint jobs and far from complete restorations. BuBluet old car abstracts are one of my favorite things and the brilliant colors, though inexpertly applied did add interest to my photos.

Back to Santiago for lunch where we had our first truly disastrous meal. Some in the group had requested something light as we had been having large meals for lunch and dinner every day. First the local guide could not find the restaurant. The service was slow, the guy making out with his girlfriend on a couch turned out to be the owner, three people never got their meals, I never got my water and worst of all the restroom was out of order. Once again, the ordering was guess and by gosh. My Crepe with Jambon y queso turned out pretty well, though it didn’t seem all that light to me, at least I got food.

Boxer1Some people in the group had expressed an interest in photographing sports so, after a short rest back at the casas, we headed out to a boxing gym to do some shots of fighters woBoxer2rking out. It was interesting but not my style in the long run. Though I did get some decent shots. What I will ever do with them I have no idea.

Purple_dressWe stopped to buy bottled water on the way home and the van ran over a broken bottle. David, bless his heart, tried to get us home before the tire went flat but didn’t make it. We could see the Cathedral from where we were and offered to walk home but Lionel, said no, just wait. As always, Santiago offered up some colorful images while we were waiting.

In case you ever wondered how many photographers Flat_tireit takes to change a flat tire the answer is 9. One to take the picture and eight to watch. It’s also helpful if you have a couple of Cubans, one to supervise and one to do the actual work. It turned out David had never changed a tire before but he got through it in spite of all the “help”.

Our farewell dinner in Santiago made up for lunch. A private restaurant in an old home with lots of wood paneling which had no doubt been very grand in its day. I had the lamb and it came with real potatoes, yeah! The flan was the best I have ever had. Lionel and Dr. Norm sprang for wine to test whether Chilean or Spanish wine is better. I preferred the Spanish but don’t tell Lionel. In general wine is hard to come by in Cuba and relatively expensive when you find it.