Nov 12, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Unexpected Love: Seattle

Opposite attract, they say. Whoever ‘THEY’ are, they are right, at least in this case.

Me:  Small-town Southern girl, likes quiet nights by the bonfire, wide-open spaces, tree-frogs and cicadas, roads with no traffic, sunny, summer days, and hot, sultry, summer nights.

top of Seattle
Seattle: One of the top 20 largest cities in the USA, compact, traffic everywhere [but certainly not unmanageable], modern, progressive, cool, drizzly in fall and winter, crisp in Spring/Summer, insanely pretty… pretty much opposite in every way what I am used to.

I’m not sure why I’ve never visited Seattle before because there are so many things about the city that is awesome. My first visit in May 2012 I did all the touristy things like visit the Space Needle, hang out at Pike Place Market, go see the Seattle Sounders match, and visit some of the city’s best museums. I was also staying in a neighborhood [Green Lake] with friends so I got a different perspective than staying a city hotel.  I went back to the city in October 2014, stayed in a different area [Queen Anne] and explored a slightly different side of Seattle [and then again in October 2016 for a quick visit before exploring more of Washington].  I did a city hike, explored gas works park, took a ferry across Elliott Bay, ate some amazing food [It happened to be restaurant week], and said hello to Lenin and the troll in Fremont.

Home of Starbucks and the Space Needle, Jimi Hendrix and the grunge movement [hello Everclear, my favorite 90s band… yes, I know they are from Portland], Pike Place Market and the Seahawks, Sounders, and SuperSoncis, Seattle is definitely a place worth visiting. Despite its stereotype of being gray and wet [it rained like 5% of the time i was there], Seattle is a place that I could conceivably call home… you know, if I ever leave the South and want to live in close proximity to a big city.

First tip: I’ve used CityPasses before is some of the other larger cities I’ve visited and found it to be a good value in terms of sites and cost. So I sought out a Seattle City Pass, which let me visit 6 of Seattle’s top destinations and activities, and though not part of the City Pass, my friend Cameron had a season pass to the Sounders, and couldn’t make it, so score! I got to go to my first Major League Soccer match.

The pass covers the Space Needle [2X–once during the day and once at night], the Seattle Aquarium, a harbor cruise, EMP, Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center or Chihuly gardens.

Here’s what I got to squeeze in:

    • Space Needle–The best-known feature in Seattle’s skyline, the Space Needle was built in 1961 in time for Seattle to host the 1962 World’s Fair. The 605-foot structure was a bit of an engineering feat [nerd factor:  the “bottom” of the Needle is actually 30 feet underground to bring its center of gravity lower], and it has come to represent Seattle in everything from postcards to television shows. You can dine at the revolving SkyCity Restaurant, 500 feet off the ground, or check out the Observation Deck at 520 feet, which gives views out over downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. With your City Pass, take the elevators up once during the day, and then return at dusk to witness darkness falling over Seattle and the city lighting up.

3500135655632

check out those blue skies and high cirrus clouds

top of Seattle

    • Starbucks [the original one]–While at Pike Place, head across the street from the market and visit the world’s very first Starbucks. It was from this unassuming location that the coffee giant began its world domination in 1971. After hours, is about the only time you can get a photo without a ton of people standing in line.

The Original Starbucks

    • pretending to be Jimi Hendrix at Experience Music Project

3500279259222

    • the glass garden–Glass artist Dale Chihuly is originally from Washington, and the Gardens and Glass at Seattle Center is a permanent exhibit of some of his work. Indoors, you’ll find large glass exhibits lit up in darkened rooms, and outdoors are glass sculptures that blend in to the gardens. It opened the week I was there so I can say I was among the first to visit the museum.

3500282899313

 

Untitled

 

3500125055367

    • Seattle Aquarium–With the pass in hand, pop on in to the Seattle Aquarium. You’ll see all sorts of fish and sea creatures, but the real must-sees here are the room of Puget Sound natives (fish and plant life), and the otters and fur seals. Learn about the kinds of life found in the waters around Seattle, and then head into the building next door to watch some adorable sea and river otters frolicking, and some massive fur seals swimming around in zoo-like enclosures.

DSCF0664

    • Harbor Cruise in Eliot Bay

3500286699408

    • Museum of Flight at Boeing Field–I am such an #av8geek, that this was a must for me. The Museum of Flight covers all aspects of flight history – from the very first airplanes to space travel. There’s one gigantic warehouse space filled with all manner of aircraft, a mock control tower, a space exhibit, rooms dedicated to WWI and WWII, and even commercial jets and an old Air Force One plane outside that you can walk through. It not only includes planes of all shapes and sizes, but also interactive features and tons of history to read about. You can book bi-plane rides outside the museum, or (if you’ve really got the money), sign up to ride in a B-17 or B-24 bomber.

3500146575905

And beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the city.

Oh and nearby vampires in Forks.

Oct 26, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

In search of Vlad

The second post in my series of  haunted places…[in case you’ve missed it, I’ve featured cemeteries and other final resting places earlier this month].  This week it’s a story from a little place in Romania…

A story [based in history]

Once upon a time, there lived a prince in a kingdom called Wallachian.  He was no Prince Charming.  His name was Vlad Tepes.  Stories of his cruelty and thirst for blood abound – stories that make even Stalin, Hitler or Ivan the Terrible seem compassionate by comparison…Vlad was a sadistic bastard and gained the name ‘Tepes’ (‘impaler’) honestly.   His favorite form of punishing his enemies included driving a wooden stake carefully through the victim’s anus emerging from the body just below the shoulder in such a way as to not pierce any vital organs. Best to ensure maximum suffering prior to death and his methods ensured at least 48 hours torture before death.

Impalement was Vlad Tepes’ favorite method of torture, but it was by not his only method. The list of tortures employed by our sadistic prince included nails in the heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially for women), scalping, skinning, boiling, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and burning alive.  He was the one everyone warned their daughters about.

Now, to be fair, it is impossible to verify all of these stories.  There was no such thing as facebook and blogs and cameras and such in the 15th century.   Much of the information we have about evil little Vlad comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia and the German pamphlets, were probably politically inspired. In fact pamphlets were a form of mass entertainment in society when the printing press was just coming into widespread use. Much like the subject of Some Celebrity’s latest downward spiral into doom, the life and times of the Wallachian tyrant were easily sensationalized and given the numerous reprints.

Vlad– auf Deutch –was portrayed as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered the innocent with sadistic glee. The Russian version took a somewhat more measured view, however.  Young Vlad was presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. No matter what language the stories agree remarkably well as to specifics–Vlad the Impaler was a sick bastard.

How Vlad became Dracula:

His princely father, Vlad II, was called Vlad Dracul (from the Latin ‘draco’, meaning ‘dragon’) after the chivalric Order of the Dragon accredited to him by Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1431. The Romanian name Draculea – literally ‘son of Dracul’ – was bestowed on Vlad Tepes by his father, and was used as a term of honor. Another meaning of ‘draco’, however, was ‘devil’ and this was the meaning that Stoker’s novel popularized.

In search of Vlad:

Vlad was born in the Romanian town of Sighisoara.

They seem to be pretty proud of their native son in Sighisoara.

Sighisoara is a UNESCO world heritage site so should Vlad return from the dead today, he’d still be able to find his way around.

Dracula’s Castle [for tourists]–but really Dominic’s house

Bran Castle, situated near Braşov, Romania, is a national monument and landmark. It was built by the Teutonic Knights in (or around) 1212, after they had been relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.  The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In addition to its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent myths that it was once the home to our villain, Vlad the Impaler.  According to most accounts, Vlad  spent two days in the Bran dungeon, as the area was occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time. Because of the (disputed) connections between Vlad and the fictional character Dracula, the castle is marketed to foreign tourists as Dracula’s Castle.

The castle is open to tourists, who can view the inside by themselves or as part of a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small park to which examples of traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country have been moved.

The castle passed through royal hands for many generations. For many years at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the principal home of Queen Marie, who, despite her British birth and upbringing, became quite a Romanian patriot. The castle is decorated largely with artifacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. It was inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana of Romania, and was later seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980′s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir of the castle is the Princess’s son Dominic von Habsburg and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him (Habsburg is currently an architect in New York City and probably never designed something so fancy)

The Real Dracula’s Castle

one final view of the citadel–it was a dark and stormy night day [oh come, oh….you know I couldn’t resist]

The story of how this fortress was constructed also involves a tale of revenge… Early in his reign, Vlad Dracula gave a feast to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that had led to his father’s assassination and the blinding and then burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea.  Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older nobles and their families were impaled on the spot.  The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved nobles and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Yep, ol’ Vlad was a sick bastard.

Lake Vidraru–only 1km away from Vlad’s  fortress… I might have impaled people too for that view… It’s amazing.

In the end, I learned a lot of interesting history–some of it quite disturbing–but I didn’t find any vampires, evil villains, or rich princes [Dominic must not have been home], but I did find Vampire Wine–[oh yeah, I bought some]

Oct 1, 2017 - Life    No Comments

Life is short. Go now.

Life is surreal sometimes, and we never know what might happen. It’s been six years since I witnessed my friend get run over by a car right in front of her house just a few hours before I left to travel New England in the fall.  It was October 2011, and yet it feels like yesterday.

Tonight [or more accurately last night since it is now well past 3a] I saw a friend of mine get hit by a car. She was pronounced dead about an hour after after it happened.  To be fair, we weren’t best friends, but we did have a fair amount of classes together at Clemson, and I have studied at her house quite a bit so not only did I know her, I knew her husband and kids too.  Tricia was a non-trad student–like me, but she was tons more outgoing that I will ever be.  Tricia had one goal for her education–and that was to become a physician.  She didn’t waiver.  She didn’t have any doubts.  She knew that she would go to Clemson, then go to medical school, and then be an Emergency Department physician.  I was always impressed by that.  I always have doubts of whether I should go to medical school or not, whether I should go to nursing school or not–what exactly my career path should be.  I have doubts about whether to get married or not.  Tricia married Warren right out of high school, and never thought twice about it.   I question constantly whether I ever want to get married, and sometimes whether I even want to be in a relationship.

Is it harder to be here one minute and gone the next?  Or is it harder to suffer for  awhile and then just pass into the next beyond?  Tricia was older than me, but not by that much, and the way she died was a freak accident.. One minute she was here, and then JUST LIKE THAT, she was gone–hit by a car while trying to help a neighbor’s dog who had been hit by a different car.  I know the details; I have worked in an ER.  This wasn’t the first time I have had brain tissue on my hands, but it was the first time I’ve held brains of a friend.  She wasn’t alone when she died; she had the love of her life beside her.

I stopped by her house after work to drop off MCAT books.  I was planning to stay only a few minutes;  I’m leaving for vacation later today.  But Tricia wanted to show me her new kitchen, so I went in and looked around.  It was nice.  I was there when there was a knock on the door.  I was there when Tricia put on her shoes to go look at the injured dog.  I was there when Warren went to the neighbor’s house to tell them their dog had been hit by a car.  I was standing in their driveway when I heard the car’s engine rev up.  I was still standing  there when I heard a thud.  The rest of what happened was in slow motion.

The car kept going. I ran to Tricia. Warren screamed. She was still alive when I got to her but her head was split open.  I tried to stop the bleeding.  Eventually an ambulance came.  Warren went with her.  I went home…blood [and brains] still on my hands and scrubs.

When you see someone you know have their life snuffed out in front of you, it leaves a permanent mark. Because sometimes people have an affect on your life….even if you aren’t particularly aware of it at the time.

So…to Tricia…you are in a better place.  I know you wanted to be here to live your dream of becoming a physician, of seeing your daughter go to prom and graduate high school…to see your son graduate from Clemson…to grow old with your husband.  Your family will miss you.  Your friends will miss you, but you have inspired many people to follow their dreams.  I am one of those people.  Rest in peace, Tricia, my friend.

Some links:

http://www.independentmail.com/news/2011/oct/01/woman-killed-car-driver-charged/  from the local Anderson paper

http://www.wyff4.com/news/29359594/detail.html  from the local TV station

from her husband’s Facebook page October 1, 2011:

As I look around the house tonight, I see her in everything that surrounds me. The way she painted the walls, the decorations, the smells and my two awesome kids that have her personality. I miss her so very much.
Here is the story, the other night we were just sitting watching tv and catching up with a friend, when we here a knock at the front door. It is a lady that asks if our dog is out because someone just hit one. I get my shoes on and so does Tricia. Sure enough the neighbors’ dog has been hit and is lying in the ditch, dying. I go to check the neighbors’ door, but no one is home. I turn around and head back to the dog, by the time I get half way across the lawn, I hear a motor revving and then a thump. Someone has just hit my darling Tricia. I run to her and cradle her in my arms, all the while screaming for help and for someone to call an ambulance. In my eyes she is still as beautiful as the day I meet her. I tell her I love her and I am here for her. I think she can hear me so I continue to tell her to hang on and I love her. The ambulance takes her to the hospital where she passes away. Life will never be the same.

The 24 year old girl who hit her is arrested for felony DUI and Manslaughter, but is already out on bail of $10,000 tonight.

We’ve all heard the saying “Life is short.” And, sometimes, it is.

But life is also unpredictable.

Even though we all probably have dreams and goals and plans for our lives, there are certain things we have no control over.

Our lives could be going along on right on track, only to be shattered by something we could never have seen coming.

A tornado that rips through a neighborhood. A flood that devastates a city.  And these are just the unpredictable things nature can bring about. There are also accidents, health problems, financial woes…

Life is too fleeting and changeable to take for granted.

I know where I would like my life to be headed in the coming months and years. But there are no guarantees that things will go as planned. In fact, more likely than not, nothing will go as planned.

How often do we hear others say, “Oh, I’ll travel when I retire,” “I’ll travel when the kids are grown,” “I’ll travel when the house is paid off”? I hear these excuses all the time. But you know what happens? Age. And stress. And, well, life.

Life happens, and by the time you retire and your kids are grown and your house is paid off, you might have bad knees and weak lungs and you simply can’t visit all those places you dreamed about in your youth.

How sad. I don’t want to end up like that, holding on to youthful travel dreams that will never be reality.  

So I travel now, in whatever way and to whatever place I can. I scrimp and I save and I make it happen. I volunteer.  I get grants. I grasp at every opportunity and unique adventure. 

I travel with reckless abandon — often to the detriment of my wallet, but to the benefit of my soul.

Is this wise? Probably not, especially if you’re a long-term traveler. But, for someone like me who tends to take shorter trips to distant places, I attack travel with a no-holds-barred attitude.

Unique experiences–If I think they are worth it, then I will not hesitate to shell out for them . Sure, I’d like to think I’ll be back to Ireland or Italy or Argentina someday. But what if I never make it back? 

These days you can’t climb Chichen Itza like you could the first time I went there.

 

I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, and this includes travel regrets.

I know not everyone shares this philosophy, though. Many travelers stick to a strict budget so they can travel for as long as possible. Others simply don’t want to pay for anything beyond the necessities.

Why would you come literally halfway around the world to hoard your money?  Would you go to China and not visit the Great Wall because it costs money? Would you go to Italy and skip visiting the Vatican because it requires an admission ticket?

vatican-stairs

There are so many worthwhile experiences to be had in the world — and yes, many of them require money. But it’s my travel philosophy that you shouldn’t deny yourself any of these experiences just because they come with a price-tag.

If you are privileged enough to be able to afford to travel, then you should attack it with curiosity and vigor and a sense of adventure. And to hell with the bank account.

So travel now. Make memories. And enjoy your life.  Because you never know if a car will mow you down in front of your house.

At the end of the day, I’d rather die with a million memories than a million dollars.

Money won’t comfort me on my deathbed, but knowing that I lived a full and fulfilling life might.

meow meow

Whatever your dreams are, follow them… because you never know what might happen…

Sep 20, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

That time I went to the Galapagos Islands

I don’t know if I ever mentioned that time I went to the Galapaos Islands.  I think going to the Galapagos Islands are one of those things that are on nearly everyone’s [ok maybe not everyone, but every traveler, animal lover, and science nerd I know] bucket list.  My own adventure to the islands involved a bit of serendipity and a lot of  meclizine.

Flashback to 2010:

It was September 2010, and I was working for an ecological research/preservation company.  The original plans were for me to split time between the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Lalo Loor Dry Forest, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.  I did all that and more. But the highlight of my conservation internship was when I was asked to spend 10 days on a research boat on the Galapagos Islands tagging turtles.

galapagos islands turtlesThese guys are huge and can live up to 175 years in captivity or 100 years in the wild

galapagos iguanasand checking on these guys

galapagos island marine iguanasdon’t forget about these fellas

galapagos island sea lions 1and revel in the cuteness of these lovable lions

My home for the 10 days was spent between living on a boat [not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as easy as I do while on a boat] and spending time at the Charles Darwin Research Center. There were not a whole lot of tourists on the islands. I don’t know if it was due to it being the low season [September] or the fact that back in 2010 there weren’t a whole of of tour groups coming to the island.

galapagos research station

Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George was the center’s most famous resident. He got his nickname because he was the last surviving member of his species. Scientiests tried mating George with several different ladies who were genetically close to George but nothing happened. He died without having reproduced and with his death, his species became extinct. I feel a little bad for him, living his last years in comfort but without the friendship of someone of his own kind.  George was also known for being a little bit of a recluse.  Each time I saw him, he was hiding behind something or behind the trees, but always munching on grass.

The giant tortises like George can weigh up to 800 pounds fully grown.

galapagos island baby turtlesHard to believe that these little fellas will still be with us in 2180 and will be 800 pounds. I’d be lucky to survive to 2080.

One of the cool things about being a ‘researcher’ is getting to go where is usually off limits to tourists. And when you are in places not often frequented by human, you catch animals, or in this case turtles, having sex. I’ve never thought about tortises having ses before, but I sure didn’t imagine them doing it ‘doggy-style’.

more turtle sex
Tortise style

It must have been giant tortise valentine’s day or something. I found another couple doing the same thing.

even turtles do it

All that tortise sex results in lots of babies, and it was because of the babies that I was there. See that yellow writing on the shells? That’s my handiwork…tagging baby land tortises for future scientific research.

baby land tortises

giant turtle
These guys have such personality. And they are only found on the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the creatures on the islands are like that. Being located over 600 miles from mainland Ecuador equals not a lot of genetic diversity. And that is a good thing especially from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Aug 24, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

In search of the world’s largest bird

When you think of birds, what usually comes to mind?  For me, it’s cute little feathered things like hummingbirds, cardinals, or wrens.  Rarely do I think of owls as birds although I guess technically they are.  Then there are large birds like eagles and vultures, but I rarely see them.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

When I heard that the world’s largest bird was in Colca Canyon, I made it my mission to not only see it, but also find out all I could about this magnificent bird.

It’s often hit or miss to see these birds, but there is a stop on most tours to the Colca Canyon at the Cruz del Condor.  It’s often the best place to get a glimpse of the bird in flight.

Fast facts about the Condor

  • The condor has a wingspan of 10 feet.
  • It can live to to be 70 years old, but the average lifespan in the wild is about 50 years.
  • The bird can weigh up to 30 pounds and is nearly 4 feet tall!
  • Due to its size, it prefers an environment where loft can assist its flight. Under the right conditions, the bird can fly to a height of 18,000 feet.
  • Both parents care for the babies and baby condors stay with their parents for 2 years.
  • They reach adulthood around 7 years old.
  • The condor mates every other year and only lays one egg at a time.
  • The condor eats carrion and eggs; it is not a threat to any type of wildlife.
  • Condors are currently on the endangered species list due to over-hunting.
  • The condors, are more specifically, the Andean Condor, is the national symbol of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

and my favorite fact about these massive birds…

  • Condors mate for life.

In fact, the remaining partner often commits suicide when its partner dies.  The bird just refuses to flap its massive wings and plummets to its death. Tragic, but also somewhat romantic.

Jul 16, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Chac– the most supreme Mayan God

Being in charge is no joke.  Sometimes at work I’m forced into that position, but it’s not a position I enjoy. It’s hard work being in charge. However, at least when I’m in charge I know there are things outside my control.  In ancient Mayan society, rulers were responsible for governance, organization, warfare, keeping the calendar… Oh, and CONTROLLING THE WEATHER. By claiming divine descent and direct communication with the gods, the elite was able to justify its power and obtain necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and status symbols from lower social classes in exchange for divine protection. Great temples were built to house bodies of dead rulers, who were thought to be part god themselves. A combination of rituals and offerings were used as appeals because the Maya believed that their gods rewarded sacrifice with blessings like prosperity, fertility, and military success.

Lubaantun Ruins–Belize

One of the most insatiable deities was Chac, the god of rain and lightning. Chac is often portrayed as being a snake-shaped being with a reptilian face, large round eyes, a down-pointing snout and fangs, and a lightning axe. Chichen Itza is often thought to be acoustically designed so that feet climbing the steps would mimic the pitter-patter of rain drops and please Chac who in turn would cause real rain drops to fall.  Not coincidentally, Chac is depicted all over the exterior of Chichen Itza.

Hello there, Chac

On the Yucatán Peninsula, rain wasn’t a guarantee, but it was absolutely necessary for survival; rulers were even known as supreme rainmakers in honor of their most important job. Rituals involved feasts, ceremonious smashing and burning of ceramic vessels, and even mass public bloodletting with stingray spines. Temples were also important divine pathways, and construction was often punctuated with rituals that left artifacts within the building’s structure itself.

During droughts, however, rituals just didn’t cut it.  During droughts, human sacrifice was a common practice, and young children were often the sacrificees.  Kids represented the same growth and development needed for growing crops that was necessary for survival. On the Yucatan peninsula, archaeologists have recovered the hearts of young boys. Their hearts were ripped out of their body and thrown in the area cenotes. While in the southern highlands, infants were dropped in springs and drowned.

A sacrificial human skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden was found in the dark zone of a cave and dated back to the ninth century, a dry and turbulent era for the Maya. The god Chac was believed to live at the bottom of caves, cenotes, and other dark places, with his pet serpents guarding the layers of water. Though remains are found in cave entrances from the Early Classic period, not until the eighth and ninth centuries were the priest elites venturing into the perilous dark zone with sacrifices like the Crystal Maiden. This may be evidence of a growing desperation to satisfy Chac and pacify an angry populace.

Unfortunately for the elite, the rain didn’t come, despite frenzied temple construction and increased frequency of human sacrifice. Wars and infighting rose, and kingdoms collapsed as the peasant class began to shift blame toward its rulers. Many of the elite were killed for failing to control the rain, and the established social hierarchy deteriorated until the population collapsed. But it didn’t die out, and modern Maya still worship Chac, sending offerings into the cenotes he dwells in.

At least today, no kids are sacrificed. No hearts are ripped from their bodies. And no one is expected to make it rain.

Jun 10, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

SC State Parks | Stepping back in time

The region south of the Mason-Dixon line is dotted with historic antebellum plantations, but few of them have the history of Rose Hill Plantation.  Built in the 1830’s, Rose Hill Plantation was the home of William Henry Gist, the governor of South Carolina from 1858 to 1860.  Gist is most famous for his leadership of the south’s secessionist movement following the election of President Lincoln, a movement that led to the Civil War.

Rose Hill– shrouded by magnolia and oak trees

In 1860, the plantation reached its apex, producing nearly 300 bales of cotton and over 4000 bushels of corn.  These products would be floated down the adjacent Tyger River or, because the Tyger River is only navigable part of the year, transported by cart to the Broad River.  The plantation survived Union General Sherman’s destructive 1864 march because the flooded Broad River made the plantation inaccessible to his army.  After the war, Gist received a pardon from President Johnson, after which he returned to Rose Hill to lease the plantation to sharecroppers.  Gist died in 1874, and he is buried in a cemetery plot adjacent to the plantation house.

The Gist family headstone.

Today Rose Hill Plantation house sits on the 44-acre state historic site that bears its name, but most of the plantation grounds lie in Sumter National Forest, which surrounds the historic site.  Plantation house tours are offered at 11A, 1P, and 3P Thursday-Monday, but the plantation grounds are open during all daylight hours.  For hikers, two short trails tour the grounds: the 0.6 mile nature trail loop and the 0.94 mile out-and-back Tyger River Trail.  This hike combines both trails to see all the site has to see.

The Tyger River in the spring… water levels don’t get much higher than this

The town closest to Rose Hill is Union, South Carolina although Cross Keys, a dot on the map, has a little interesting history as well.  According to local legend, Jefferson Davis ate his last meal there prior to his final cabinet meeting as president of the Confederate States of America.

Cross Keys House

 

May 31, 2017 - Life    No Comments

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking lately some local, some a little further away, and hiking, especially alone, is always introspective for me. I’d gotten away from it lately, but having covered nearly 30 miles on foot over the last week on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and the Wales Coast Path, I’ve realized that it’s as essential to my well-being as a good night’s sleep.

I haven’t been hiking much lately because I lost my main hiking partner last May, and as much as I like traveling by myself, I don’t love backpacking by myself.  Maybe it’s because all the quiet and solitude gives one ample time to think and with ample time things you’d rather not think about come bubbling to the surface.

It’s been nearly a year; I should have forgiven him by now. People make choices in their lives and those choices sometimes affect other people.  And his choice profoundly affected me.  In ways I hadn’t noticed until quite recently.  Until I was sitting on top of that huge granite slab looking out over the beautiful aquamarine lake.


I can hold a grudge like a champ and in some cases have been doing so for years.  Some things are my fault, and those things  I have to take responsibility for; however, some things are not my fault and I need to recognize that too. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. I suck at forgiveness. I want people to know that they hurt me and to be sorry, and like most people I have a hard to admitting when I have hurt someone. I’ve been going back through situations where I have felt slighted – situations where I was sure that I was the innocent one – with a new perspective and often times seeing that I am not completely blameless.

So while I’m back to hiking solo, and backpacking solo, I do it with a clean conscience.  I’ll probably never know the real reason this person dropped out of my life.  This person will probably never know how much pain they caused me, but that’s OK.  We recently met for lunch and that helped provide closure.  He was still oblivious to the pain he’d caused and I realized that he always probably would be.

I have forgiven this person.  We lead different lives now and I have moved on. If I did see the person again, and most likely our paths will cross since we live a mere 7 miles from each other and have mutual friends in common,  I don’t want to dive head first into the muck of the past but instead I’d like to start fresh… even if we could never get back to where we once were as friends. I’ve learned a lot of lesson from that friendship, some were painful but necessary.

So, why did this failed friendship trouble me so much? I think it’s because I had not forgiven myself.  Only recently did I realize this and I have been able to scoop myself up like a loved one and remember that just because this friendship didn’t work out doesn’t mean I’m incapable of having real friends… that just because this situation has brought up a lot of negative feelings doesn’t mean I am not a good person. I am human. I make mistakes. It is how we grow.

The only way I have been able to move on is through forgiveness. .. forgiveness of self and of others. Forgiveness is a powerful tool and I am using it in other relationships that gnaw at me.

Forgiveness of self doesn’t need to be saved for big things like the end of relationship but we should practice in all aspects of life. It is OK to forgive ourselves when we forget the keys, eat the extra bowl of ice cream, or spend a little too much on an evening out.

As humans, we will never not make mistakes. That is  part of our design. Yet, we’ve been given this great gift of forgiveness so that we can see our mistakes as blessings. It’s remarkable when we forgive others but it is astonishing when we can forgive ourselves. It’s the glorious acceptance of who we are and that who we are is enough.

Hiking on the PCT… Mt Hood in the background

May 28, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Uxmal and la ruta PUUC

Back when I was 21…

Once upon a time I had crazy dreams of being a cultural anthropologist or  historical preservationist or something that would allow me to travel and be the #historynerd that I truly am. But then the reality of these jobs set in. 1. They are few and far between 2. Most require a masters to even get started, and even finding a program that’s available and affordable is not so easy. 3 most are funded on the whim of a government and therefore pay is low and sometimes not at all. In spite  of all that, I chose to do my senior thesis/project on Mayan Art and Architecture which 1. required a thoroughly researched and well written thesis [in Spanish] and 2. on-site visits to some of the sites. This was back in the Dark Ages when the internet was a baby, digital camera quality was awful, and blogging was a journal and scrapbook [of which I have both]. So with my SLR… that’s right, there’s no D if front of that SLR and copious quantities of film that I carried in a separate bag and polite instruction to ‘inspeccione por mano, por favor’.  Thankfully they did and my 50+ rolls of film, both black and white and color, in different ISOs, made it safely through airport security and allowed me to photograph all the little quirks of Mayan architecture to my little heart’s content.

A little history of Uxmal

Chichen Itza is the most well know of the ancient Mayan site, but Uxmal should give Chichen Itza a run for its money –at least in terms of its vastness.  It’s not super well known and isn’t directly on a bus route the way Chichen Itza is, but it is relatively well preserved.  If the access was easier, my guess is that it would be more popular than Chichen Itza.

Uxmal_Ruins_Selva
Uxmal rising out of the jungle

The area around Uxmal was occupied as early as 800 BC, but the major building period took place when it was the capital of a Late Classic Mayan state around 850-925 AD.  Somewhere around or after the year 1000, when Toltec invaders took over the Yucatán peninsula [establishing their capital at Chichen Itza], all major construction ceased at Uxmal. However, it continued to be occupied and participated in the political League of Mayapán.  Uxmal later came under the control of the Xiú princes. The site was abandoned around 1450, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Mayan legend claims that a dwarf magician, born from a egg, built the city of Uxmal in a single night. In reality, archaeological excavations reveal that the Pyramid of the Magician itself was erected in a series of five successive builds upon existing, lesser pyramids. This was a common Mayan building practice, thought to capture and amplify the power of the underlying structure.

Uxmal_Ruinas_Pelota

Kabah is situated slightly further along the road from Uxmal, and is famed for the Temple to Chaac, the Rain God of the Maya. The structure is filled with the masks of Chaac. Across the road, there is also a Maya Arch, part of a Maya Road system that used to span the entire Yucatan region.

Sayil has a beautiful multi level palace

Sayil-Palace-1024x609

Sayil-Choc-Side-view

At Labna, you can clearly see an example of a Maya Road system, as well as a well-preserved decorative Maya Arch. The palace is also very beautiful.

labna arch
Labna Arch

OK enough with the technical stuff…

The area where Uxmal, Sayil, and Kabah is collectively known as the Ruta Puuc, and it is for lack of better terms, deserted. There are plenty of small temples to see as well as small villages [<50 inhabitants almost all of Mayan descent and who speak only Mayan and are ecstatic to talk to you, you know if you can actually communicate. In honesty, most do speak some Spanish, but if English is your only language, you may be out of luck.  Luckily, everyone I met was really nice], and deserted roads almost covered in vegetation.

The main road down the Ruta Puuc. I saw very, very few cars and lots and lots of lush, green vegetation.  It is easy to see how the area could be reclaimed by Mother Nature.

A small Mayan town more or less in the middle of nowhere in the Yucatán peninsula.
Poc chuc, a very traditional Mayan meal. Essentially it’s seasoned pork with peppers, onions, and lime juice, to be wrapped up in tortillas and eaten like tacos. Tomatoes, avocados, and cucumbers on the side.

Labna, and when you are the only one there, it’s both awesome, and a little bit creepy.  Yes, I realize I could have been bitten by a snake or some wild animal, and no one would have ever seen or heard from me again.

Some beautiful ruins at Kabah.

Hundreds of masks representing the gods along the front wall, often with long, protruding noses.

If you look very closely, you can see all of the masks etched in this wall.

One last view of Kabah.

Salbutes. It’s a very common meal in the area, and while not my favorite, it is amazingly fresh, so I had this for a couple of my meals.

May 5, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

Every May 5th, Americans bring out their party sombreros, make tacos or burritos, and celebrate with copious quantities of margaritas and/or tequila and Tecate and XX beer. Mexican restaurants capitalize on the holidays with mariachi bands, extended happy hour, and Cinco de Mayo specials. But why do we in the United States celebrate the 5th of May?  It’s not as if Americans are experts in other countries’ histories.  Most Americans have a pretty grim grasp on their own country’s history.

Many Americans have no idea that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the ill equipped Mexican army’s victory over a much stronger French army in Puebla on May 5, 1862, and it marked the first major victory by the Mexicans. Many think that 5 de Mayo represents Mexican independence day, but actual Mexican independence day is celebrated on September 16. Back in 1862, the US was mired in another war at the time, and did not have the energy or resources to care about what was happening south of the border. Back in 1862, the US, despite it’s modern day reputation, was not the strongest armed forces in the world. Nor did it generally make other countries business it’s own. So, despite a modern-day reputation for debauchery, Cinco de Mayo was originally a celebration of military valor and anti-colonialism. Even though they lost the city to the French the very next year, they still celebrate the bravery of their forefathers and the battle fought on May 5, 1862.  It was a quintessential victory for the underdog…and everyone loves an underdog.

Interest facts about Puebla

  • The was established by the Spanish in 1531 on the main route between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City. Puebla has an appearance of an European city since it was built by Spanish designers rather than having it built on an existing city.

iglesia de san francisco

  • Today it is Mexico’s 4th largest city behind DF, Ecatepec, and Guadalajara.
  • Puebla, or at least the mountains around it, has the world’s largest pyramid–the Cholula pyramid– which measures 450 meter across.  It’s partly obstructed by mountains and is Aztec in origin.

  •  Mezcal’s, a drink made from the agave plant, certified origin is Puebla.  It has been produced in the area since colonial times. Mezcal and tequila, while not the same, are very similar. Tequila is technically a mezcal, but there are differences in production technique and in the types of agave used. Tequila is made from a single type of agave plant  [the blue agave] and can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in small parts of four other states. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be produced from up to 28 varieties of agave [including blue agave] and is made around the city of Oaxaca and can also officially be produced in some areas of the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. Most mezcals are made from the Espadin agave, although some mezcal producers blend agave varieties to create a distinct flavor. Mezcal has a very unique, smoky flavor that makes it fairly easy to distinguish from tequila. It also tends to taste sweeter, or richer, than tequila.
  • Cuexomate, a geyser often mistakenly called the smallest volcano in the world located in the middle of the city. Rumor has it that in ancient times the bodies of those who had committed suicide were thrown into the geyser’s crater as it was believed they didn’t deserve a proper burial.

If Cuexcomate was a volcano, it most certainly would be the smallest in the world.

 

Inside the world’s smallest ‘volcano’– home of more marijuana plant than anything volcano like… and yes, you can walk inside it