Tuesday, November 8, 2016

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK - A study in scarlet

Acadia -  the very name brings visions of a dream such as that painted by Nicholas Poussin in 1639.

It also brings to mind the Acadians, French settlers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, who were driven from their homes when the British pushed them out. Many settled in Maine, although some fled to Louisiana and transformed into the Cajuns, famous for good music and good food.

But the word also reminds me of a recent trip to Mount Desert Island and a day spent in Acadia National Park, one of the nation’s smallest, established in 1919, and the first  of our National Parks established East of the Mississippi.

The earliest known European to visit was Samuel de Champlain who arrived in 1604. He described the island as bare and rocky, thus its name. French Jesuits began a settlement in 1613, but during the following century the island was a site of contention between the French, British and then the Americans during the Revolutionary War. 

The island scenery didn’t remind me of ancient Greek Acadia with shepherds in robes, or nymphs and fauns flitting about. Instead, the landscape was a riot of fall color set against a deep blue ocean and matching sky.

Dark Balsam fir and spruce contrasted with maples, birch, and ash, along with red-berried shrubs
Ancient lichens decorate stone slabs and ghost branches laced the underbrush.

Rocks line the coast, some smooth and looking soft like the summers, others jagged reflecting the harsh winters and storms that batter the coast.

After stopping at the beautiful Jordan Pond, where a carpet of red shrubs led my eye down to the water and surrounding hills, we left the park for Northeast Harbor. Along the way, we could see carriage roads build by John D. Rockefeller who, ironically, wished to prevent automobiles on the island. They are now used for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Rockefeller was one of the “Rusticators” who build gigantic summer “cottages” to spend time with fellow plutocrats like the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Astors, and Carnegies. Tourism became a major industry as the island was popularized by painters of the Hudson River School like Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. 

But fires burned the hotels, and the Depression and World War II put an end to the idyll except for a few. One of my favorite authors, Marguerite Yourcenar settled in Northeast Harbor in 1950 where she wrote Memoirs of Hadrian. More recently, luminaries such as Martha Stewart have come to summer.

The little town was quiet, boutiques closing for the season and lobster boats including the Dauntless, tied up or taken out of the water and readied for winter.

But Asticou Inn was open and offering traditional and irresistible Maine food: lobster and blueberry pie served on a sunny deck overlooking the water.

After, we returned to the park and the summit of windswept Cadillac Mountain to walk and enjoy the scenery while working off some of the calories. While the summit at 1528 feet doesn’t really qualify as a mountain to this Westerner, the sweeping view of water and islands  provided a perfect end to a memorable day.

All photos copyright Judith Works
Reproduction of painting by Nicholas Poussin and George Craig are from Wikipedia Creative Commons 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

ACOMA: The Sky City

My friends and I began our visit in the beautiful cultural center at the base of Acoma, about an hour’s drive west of Albuquerque. The ancient settlement itself is located on a mesa 365 feet above the desert floor, a broken land dotted with other rock formations. Settled around the year 1000 AD, it is one of the oldest continually-occupied areas in the country.

Where formerly there were only ladders and steps carved into the rock, a winding road now leads up the steep hill to the cluster of adobe buildings occupied by only 30 people due to the lack of water, sewerage, and electricity. The remainder of the pueblo's citizens have opted for modernity and live nearby where there are schools, shops, and the inevitable casino.

Like most of the Southwest, the Spanish arrived with their horses, guns and religion to irrevocably change the earlier culture. The mission church of San Esteban Rey, dominating the town, was founded in 1629. 

The silent church has only a couple of rows of pews and is mostly used for weddings and funerals. I visualized it in the past with the priest chanting and incense wafting up to the high beams, each made from a single pine tree the Native Americans were forced to carry from the the hills thirty miles away. During their long trek they were no allowed to let the logs touch the ground even at night.

No photos are allowed, but the interior is a mix of Spanish and native décor with outlines of animals, including a bull and horse, above the side doors, and the altar brightly decorated with red and green pillars, carvings and paintings. One wall is decorated by an enormous painting donated by the King of Spain after the founding of the church. In front of the church is a walled cemetery, layered over time as a valley was filled to accommodate the dead. We looked at layer four, now reserved for dignitaries and war veterans. 

The town is almost without vegetation, a lone tree beside a depression in the rock where rainwater collects stands as a sentinel. 

Potters displayed their work nearby. Shops in Santa Fe, with their stratospheric prices, feature the works of the most famous potters, Most are women, although I talked to one on our tour who said she was teaching her two sons. The most valuable pots are those which are totally handmade with clay that includes ground up shards - broken pieces of old pottery. Whether commercially shaped or totally by hand, all feature intricate designs in orange and black. 

As we strolled, we passed two and three-story homes, some with ladders that lead to kivas, rooms traditionally used for men's religious ceremonies. One ladder had a crosspiece at the top in a cloud shape to encourage rain. Kivas are traditionally built underground, but because the ground is too hard to excavate, Acoma kivas are built on the second story of houses. Our guide, Maria, joked that they were early man caves, which made me wonder if they are actually used any more.

A few doors were painted to brighten the scene but the ground and the adobe buildings are all the same color, a warm tan color, making the pueblo appear as though it sprung from the earth centuries ago. A few of the homes still had the old-fashioned windows made of mica which the Spanish may have mistaken for gold when they sparkled in the sunlight.

We paused for lunch at the visitors’ center and the chef joined us to accept compliments on his latest creation: an acorn squash filled with wild rice and pine nuts, topped with grated cheese. Delicious and a recipe I'll try at home.

On the way back to Albuquerque, we passed a small cemetery – so sad and lonely.

On the return trip back to Albuquerque, we took a detour to check out a white church on top of a hill at the Laguna Pueblo. The church, Mission San Jose de la Laguna, was built in 1699. As we were standing by the open front door I saw a man running toward us. Unsure if we might be trespassing, we stopped to wait. Out of breath and dripping with sweat, the man introduced himself as Arnold. He lived nearby and was a caretaker. He told us the story of the church, including some of the miracles that had happened there while empathizing that none happened at Acoma. To illustrate the continued blessing of happy events, he said his mother had recently been granted a house nearby on the reservation after many years of waiting.

As we began to move toward the exit, he brought out a wooden flute and serenaded us with a plaintive melody. Perhaps it was the same as that played in the centuries before the Spanish arrived.


All photos copyright Judith Works

Sunday, August 14, 2016


A silent young man picked us up in front of our hotel in Cape Town near a post carved with animal heads depicting four of South Africa's big game.

We climbed into an SUV for a three-hour trip to a game preserve north of the city in an area called the Karoo. As we passed the sad townships, some with small houses and others with tin shacks, we were reminded of the deep poverty that envelopes so much of South Africa.

The contrast was emphasized when we came to the lush and manicured wine country with manor houses in Dutch Colonial style and acres of vines tended by black laborers. The landscape gave way to orchard and fields of grain. Small towns were anchored with sharp-steepled churches and small shops advertising braai (barbecued meat and sausage). We stopped in the delightfully-named town of Ceres (the Roman goddess of grain) for cold drinks before starting into the vast and empty Karoo. An enormous semi-desert, it is dotted with isolated farms and sparse vegetation that springs to life in the occasional rains.

Our destination was the Inverdoorn Game Reserve where we were to spend several days on safari to see the animals. The preserve encompasses 25,000 acres of fenced land and includes a cheetah breeding operation. But it is also home to many other of Africa’s animal wealth: Cape lion, zebra, Cape buffalo, rhino and hippo, giraffes and many species of antelope.

Not long after checking in we were greeted by two cheetah cubs (on leashes) coming to visit our bungalow. They were like large kittens rubbing against us, purring with a deep rumble. We petted the coarse fur and wondering what they were thinking, hoping that it wasn’t about dinner even though we’re pretty stringy. Their handler played with them but that ended when he put his fingers too close to one cub’s mouth and found his hand trapped. Another young man coaxed the animal to open up. No damage done but as my mother said, “Keep your hands to yourself.”

At dusk we drove deep into the preserve to watch the adults being trained to hunt. The conservationist told us that they will not breed unless they are in peak condition and must be thoroughly trained to hunt before they are released into the wild if they and their progeny are to survive. A pickup truck dragged a dead chicken on a long wire with the animals racing after it. The winner got the spoils and the others had to wait for the next run. They can run up to 70 miles an hour in short bursts - a spotted blur in the evening gloom.

The following day a group of day tourists arrived for lunch. Several rambunctious children were in the group and when the cubs were brought out they lunged at the children, more of a bite-size meal than us. Wild animals they were and I was content to admire them from a distance.

Although our room was luxurious and it was tempting to lounge around the pool, the attraction of the animals got me up before down, ready with camera and binoculars. The animals were so close that I didn’t even need a telephoto lens.

Rhinos and Cape buffalo, looking oblivious to our “ohs” and “aws” strolled to a waterhole, zebras cavorted, and giraffes trotted by with their rocking gaits. The low light cast a golden glow over the scene.

The homely gnus grazed but other large antelopes were stately as they looked at us curiously before moving slowly off into the brush in a dignified manner. The smaller antelope like springbok bounded around like hyperactive ten-year-olds. One apparently didn’t jump fast enough when on a morning game search we saw blood on the trail, the remains of a partially-eaten carcass and a leopard print. The leopard had leaped over the fence for a meal and was long gone but would return that night. 

The Cape lions, apparently extinct in the wild, were in a separate enclosure, the only zoo-like aspect of the game preserve. The guide opened both gates and we drove in. She closed the gates and turned the key in the ignition. It wouldn’t start. There we were like a pair of Daniels in the lions’ den. A tense few minutes followed while she radioed for backup. Fortunately they weren’t hungry. While we waited for help, we watched as the black-maned male mated with one female while the others in the pride napped in the shade of a few trees in the hot afternoon, uninterested in the coupling next to them.

It was hard not to think of all the wildlife being slaughtered without care throughout the continent. A tragedy for them and for us. We felt fortunate to have a small chance to see what is left outside the national parks, too far away for us on this journey.

We were reluctant to leave. The same driver came to pick us up for the journey back to Cape Town. This time he was conversational, telling us about his life. He was a migrant from the Congo. Economic migrants are bitterly, sometimes violently, resented by South Africans who are desperate for jobs. He was trying to support a family in his home country but said the pay was so low it was nearly impossible to sustain himself and them, and that he suffered constant discrimination. It seemed to us that not only were the animals under siege, but also the people of every country in the region, all seeking work no matter where the quest led them.

We took a different route than the outgoing trip, this time over craggy and mostly barren steep hills. Proteus, the national flower of South Africa, bloomed in crevices. At the summit we came upon a troop of baboons, dangerous to people and destructive to crops, preventing us from getting out of the SUV to enjoy the view. We descended and reached Ceres again where a long line of angry-looking agricultural workers marched along the roadway holding signs, some in Afrikaans and others in English. Low wages and not enough work – the universal problem.

We stopped at a coffee shop before we reached the city’s outskirts and convinced the driver to join us for a snack. He reluctantly did so, silently drinking a Coke and eating a sandwich. The other patrons stared at him. It was clear that he was accepted by neither whites nor blacks, caught in a harsh world of great beauty that offered him little.

How sheltered we were from reality again when we said good-bye and entered the enclosed world of a fancy hotel on the Cape Town waterfront, far removed from others’ problems, both animal and human.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


A guest post from my fellow travel writer, Tori Peterson, writer and adventurer. She is currently working on a memoir about living in Mali and Rwanda. Her last travels including walking the Camino de Santiago and trekking in the high Andes.

When I left the United States for the first time, I was 30 years old.  Yes, I knew that I would be seeing new sights and new cultures, but I did not stop to think how my senses would be surprised, assaulted, and challenged.  Touch, in the form of heat, and smells hit me first.  Like music in a movie, sound was always there in the background.

I traveled to Bamako, Mali, West Africa to live for three years with my husband and four children, 10 months to eight years old.  Our flight landed in Dakar, Senegal.  Late October is not the hot season, but a wall of heat hit me in the face as I walked down the stairs from the plane to the tarmac.  After the heat I was aware of the smell.  My offended nose could not pick out the different vegetation and animal odors grilled by the sun producing a heavy earthy fragrance. Here we would catch our flight to Mali.

In Bamako, I felt I had been transported and dropped on the other side of the moon.  As I waited for our house to be Americanized, I met new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds.  Sounds, always in the background, slowly crept into my consciousness. 

The constant whirring songs of early evening insects.  Walking the dry, dusty streets, Malians greeted me in French, “Ca va.”  At the Grand Marche and small grocery stores, beggars without fingers or feet, demanded, “Cadeau.”  The call of vegetable women, “Madam, Madam,” as they stopped by my gate to sell their papayas, mangos, and spinach to me. 

That first morning in our home, roosters crowed.  Dogs barked.  Noise invaded my sleep.  A donkey’s bray joined the cacophony.   The air filled with electrical scratches while a man’s static, garbled voice chanted.   Into our bedroom paraded three of our four children, the oldest asked, “Daddy, Mommy, what is that man doing to the animals?”  My husband sleepily replied, “The muezzin at the mosque is calling the faithful to prayer.”

Several mornings later I heard a soft thump, thump, thump and chanting to the beat.  Walking out of my walled in yard down the pot-holed dirt road, I discovered the source of the music.  Two women dressed in blue, white, and green tie-dye boubous lifted and lowered long wooden pestles smacking millet in a two foot high wooden mortar.  The grain cushioned the pestle as it hit the bottom of the mortar.  Their song accompanied the rhythm of the lifting and lowering.

This unique soundscape become familiar and part of my mornings.  As I travel, I am still surprised by unexpected sounds.  They have woven their way into my memory and stories of places lived and visited.  Becoming aware of the snorting of hippos bobbing in the Niger River, wind in bells, drums, and chants from temples, the clickety-clack of trains, muezzins call to prayer, bird songs, the cadence and tones of languages enriched my travel experience and my life. 

Photo of women pounding millet by Kaia Chessen, a medical illustrator in global health. See more of her photography and illustrations at http://www.kaiachessen.com/personal/#/travel-photography/.

All other photos from Wikipedia Creative Commons licenses

Sunday, May 29, 2016


I'm pleased to have a guest post from travel writer Vivian Murray, a member of EPIC Group Writers based in Edmonds, Washington.


The apartment was a short-term rental through VRBO and located on a hill in the Alfama, one of the oldest districts in Lisbon, Portugal. We were on the 3rd (or 4th depending on what country you were in) floor requiring careful negotiation of a narrow wooden stairway which seemed endless at the close of a long day. My bedroom included a balcony facing a narrow cobbled street where the old yellow trolley cars clanged up and down. On our first morning, my 4 year old granddaughter and I happened to catch a random parade, featuring historically dressed soldiers on white horses, as it passed by. It was perfect.

Portugal is known for port wine, gorgeous tilework (azulejo), and fado (a Portuguese style of music). Hearing fado was the last item on my ‘must do’ list and the clock was ticking to hear live fado music before flying back home to the States.

One evening, I stopped by a neighborhood restaurant up the hill from our apartment advertising fado in scrolled writing on a small sign in the window.  I asked the doorman if I could come in for a glass of wine to listen. He apologetically told me this was only possible if I reserved a table for dinner. Recognizing this was an upscale restaurant, I knew we would not have a relaxed meal with my 4 year old granddaughter in tow and I did not make a reservation.

When at a flea market on another day, I was told about a fado club a few miles away. But before I went through the bother, I decided on my last day in Lisbon to purposely  ‘dress up’ for dinner, although we were only going to the family restaurant downstairs.

Donning black pants, white shirt, a pretty new scarf from Tangier, uncomplicated makeup with a dash of mascara, along with a bit of simple jewelry, I managed to spark up my tired-looking-traveler-appearance. This was my secret tactic to get inside the neighborhood fado restaurant before heading to the fado club.

After dinner, my family returned upstairs to pack, and I ventured back up the hill.
Walking past the tall restaurant windows, which were covered with white gauze curtains, I approached the same door and same host from a few days prior. Again I inquired, “Would you mind if I purchased a glass of wine or two while listening to your music?” Without hesitation, in his halting English, he politely asked me to wait a moment while he checked with the owner. My strategy worked!

After a short wait, a crisply-attired maître d’ ushered me into a long narrow room filled with an ambience of quiet elegance. The dining room glowed with candle lit tables swathed in white linen with crystal chandeliers hanging in delicate balance above. The maître d’ seated me a couple of tables back from the stage with a perfect view of the musician.

Casually scanning the softly flickering room, I noted only two couples dining separately, and one lone man at a table in the very front of the room. His table held three white candles sitting tall in a large crystal goblet of white sand. It was obviously an extremely slow evening in the maybe 40 capacity restaurant.  No wonder they let me in.

A male performer played guitar and sang melancholy songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, which was definitely not fado.  One couple left soon after I arrived and the other couple stayed for a few more songs while entertaining the staff with stories about riding their bicycles from Amsterdam to Portugal.

On my second glass of wine, I soon became the only customer, other than the man up front and an older gentleman who arrived during intermission sitting very still by the front door with the beer he was served in hand. Perhaps he was also a neighborhood interloper who wanted to hear fado without purchasing an expensive dinner?

With no other diners, the young server and I had an enjoyable conversation about life, family, and travels. His English was very good and it was quite sweet to hear him talk about his young family and the life they dreamed of living. There was no fado, but I was relaxed and content.
Curious about the man at the table up front, I observed he was dressed extravagantly and the servers deferred to him by keeping his wine and water glasses full. They were very polite and soft-spoken when around this man; they seemed to almost bow. Candlelight flickered shadows across his rigid profile and even in the dim light I could see he wore a long lapis-blue satin jacket, brown leather pants, and handmade yellow-leather-pointed shoes peeking from beneath the tablecloth. My waiter let me know this was the restaurant owner.

The intermission concluded and the guitarist returned to the stage again but this time the quiet older gentleman near the front door slowly stood, placed his beer glass on the chair, and positioned his robust figure in front of the stage facing sideways toward the long, empty region of the room. Wearing a plain zippered jacket over a simple striped shirt, he appeared to be a working man rather than a performer. Clearing his throat and closing his eyes, he began to sing.
Guitar chords thrummed along as his rich baritone voice crooned melodies, which even in my limited experience, I immediately recognized as fado.  This was the deeply rooted Portuguese music I was seeking

I couldn’t understand a word of the lyrics but there was such fervor in his delivery, I imagined the songs could only be of love and loss.  This was the passion of soulful and sultry fado I was seeking.


The performance ended and reluctantly I made my way to the front door stopping next to the owner. I thanked him and then asked if he’d like me to send him photos of the evening and he gladly gave me his card. Voicing my appreciation to the entertainers and servers, I said, “Obrigada” (“Thank you” in Portuguese using the female tense) and they applauded me while replying “Obrigado” in the male tense as if pleased that I knew the difference.

Outside in the dark, encased in a foggy drizzle, I gingerly navigated damp uneven cobblestones until finally arriving at our apartment building door.  Slipping in the old skeleton key into the ancient iron lock and pushing open the heavy wooden door, without a second thought I bounded up the 3 flights of stairs using a new-found gait never experienced during the previous days of climbing those wretched steps.

In my experience, music is truly an elixir for the body and soul and when traveling, hearing local music in foreign countries offers an experience travelers should write on their ‘must do’ list. It’s even worth dressing up a little for the event.

Photo Credits:
Blue Tiles: Alvesgaspar, Wikipedia CC
Plaza in Lisbon: Lee Canon. Wikipedia CC
Painting of Fado Musician: Joes Malhoa, 1910, Public Domain
Fado Singer: Vivian Murray. copyright Vivian Murray
Alfama Sreecar: Romazur: Wikipedia CC