Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Return to Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas (2010)

Returning to Harbour Island in the Bahamas, especially for a day trip, created an immediate tension for me because I felt that there were two faces to the island competing for my attention. The first is Dunmore Town, where the twin-hulled ferry "Bo Hengy" docks and provides the entrance to its quaint setting and remarkable storehouse of history. However, when you drive your rental cart to the top of the hill overlooking the town and walk the sandy descent on the other side, the second face of Harbour Island opens up, like a well-kept secret hideaway: the spectacular Pink Sands Beach, which defies all superlatives and dares you to pull yourself away when it's time to leave. The subtleties of how the pinkish sand mixes with the bright, clear blue water in different hues, are mesmerizing, so it was hard to decide if I should spend my time just relaxing in the water or getting out my camera and taking photo after photo to capture all the images that were captivating my senses. My conclusion is that I had to do both in equal proportion, so that I could be caught up in the moment and still have these images to take back home and stare at on my computer whenever I wanted to transport myself back to that enchanted place.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Back in Providencia, Colombia (2010)

Ten years after making an overnight trip to Providencia, a remote island in the Caribbean belonging to Colombia, in 2000, I had the opportunity to return and stay for three days. Providencia, according to what I heard during my stay, only attracts 11,000 tourists a year (compare the Dominican Republic at about 4 million), but those who go there never forget the place because of its isolation, the beauty of its landscape and the warmth of its people. My impression is that it is sought out by a small group of travelers representing a cross-section of the whole world, based on the tourists I met during my brief stay who were from Colombia, the United States, the Netherlands, England, Argentina, Malaysia, and Switzerland. On my first trip I had also met a tourist from France.

The photo of Providencia, with the well-known Split Hill or Loma Partida in the background, was taken from the smaller island of Santa Catalina, which is connected to Providencia by a small floating bridge for pedestrians. Speaking of Santa Catalina, biologist Germán Márquez Calle notes in the booklet A Guide to the Environment of Old Providence and Santa Catalina (a gift from Javier Archbold Hawkins, one of my gracious hosts on this trip) that there is a striking resemblance between Providencia and the map of the fictional island from Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel "Treasure Island," in that the map of the island in Stevenson's novel includes a small island with roughly the same proportions to the larger island as Santa Catalina has to Providencia. Though the association between the real island and the fictional one has not been proven conclusively, to my knowledge, it's still fun to speculate. What we do know about Providencia is that pirates did inhabit the island at certain times in its history, most notably Henry Morgan, who used Providencia as a base to invade Panama and other Spanish possessions. Looking at certain parts of the island, you definitely can imagine a pirate movie being filmed there. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Captured by pirates?

Am I on my way to being abducted by a rascally pirate? Not exactly. We just made a stop at the Pirates of Nassau Museum on our vacation to the Bahamas last month. This was one of the highlights of our vacation for the kids. The history of pirates is fascinating, and it's evident when you visit the museum that a lot of care went into the development of the exhibits. It's also not so large that kids would wind up being bored. This colorful character greeted you at the entrance and at the exit, and of course spoke what we could consider to be typical pirate language (no "Arrr's" though).

Pirates covered a large area of the seas during their heyday, and you'll find museums and exhibits dedicated to them in quite a few places. Some years ago, when we stopped at the town of Bath on our way to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, we saw an exhibit on Blackbeard, who was captured and executed in that area. We ran into stories of pirates when we went to Cartagena, Colombia as well, because Sir Francis Drake attacked the city at one juncture.

See my webpage on the Bahamas for more pictures and information.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Waiting for those elusive white birds in Villeta, Colombia

Last year our extended family spent a weekend in Villeta, a town not far from Colombia' s capital city of Bogotá, a favorite resort spot along with Melgar and Girardot because of its warmer climate. During the weekend, I became fascinated with the flora and fauna of the area, and it seemed that there was a surprise at every turn: a flower here, an interesting insect there, a tree with unusual seeds or another plant growing on one of its branches, and birds of all sizes and shapes.

Colombia is supposed to have more species of birds than any other country in the world. In the lower elevations where the climate is warmer, the way that the birds seem to fly in carefree fashion gives the impression that they are in their own version of paradise, where it never gets cold and there appears to be more than enough for them to eat. (Of course, drought can be a problem at times.)

There were birds that were easy to observe, such as these swallows who had made a nest in the house we were staying in. Other birds were content to find food or water near the swimming pool. Another bird allowed itself to be photographed in dramatic fashion against the mountain backdrop.

Sunset in particular is a great time to observe birds. There are plenty of them flying around, either by themselves or in flocks, and one need do no more than to sit out on the patio and watch. During our weekend, my sister-in-law called my attention to one type of bird that I had seen on many occasions but never thought about consciously. She said that every evening, a flock of large white birds would fly across the sky in full view, with the mountains in the background, but you would see them only once each evening. Once, while I was looking at pictures stored on my digital camera, she said, "Look! There they are!" and of course, by the time I looked up to see, they were already gone. This last picture represents my attempt to capture the sky at sunset, in the direction they were flying. One day maybe, when I'm ready, I'll be able to capture their flight in a picture or a video clip!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guasca, Colombia and its beautiful church

The Colombian town of Guasca is a hidden gem. It's situated a little higher than the towns that surround it on the northern outskirts of Bogotá. It's not on the main road and you have to drive out of the way to get there, fortunately only about 2 kilometers. If you leave Bogotá by the mountain road that goes toward La Calera and continue on as if you were going to Guatavita, you can turn off where the sign indicates Guasca. When we went, we didn't stay long, just enough to take in the pretty views that were the result of this city being on a small hill above the others. Also noteworthy was the church that occupied a prominent place in the plaza, especially as the whole plaza was sloped uphill and the church sat at the top. I just loved the interior of this church, which looked very well maintained.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Joys of the "Almuerzo Típico"

I am always blown away by the large portions of food that I get when I travel in Colombia. This is what you would call an "almuerzo típico" (literally translated "typical lunch"). Aside from the steak, beans, plantain chips, rice, potato, tomatoes, and blackberry juice ("jugo de mora") pictured here, the meal starts out with a soup of the day. The soup could be, for example, a pasta soup or a broth with some meat and potatoes mixed in. All this together sold for $2.25!
In Colombia itself, the almuerzo típico sometimes suffers from an image problem. Often - and I found this out very early in my travels there - some of the locals, judging by the crowds, seem to prefer eating at a hamburger place because of its suggestion of an American eating experience, and usually pay more for what I think is inferior food. It may be human nature to prefer those products that seem out of the ordinary even when they aren't better than one's own.
There is at least one exception to this rule, however. Colombians, and people from many other parts of the world as well, don't like to rush their meals unless they're absolutely forced to. I recall that when some of my in-laws came up from Colombia and visited New York with us, the biggest culture shock for them was something I never would have imagined. It happened when we were driving through Manhattan and we saw a man standing on the sidewalk eating a hamburger. They were absolutely astonished to see him finish it in five bites!