That's a Wrap. Friday, Jan 31st, 2014

Our South American adventure is but a fond memory; we've been home four weeks today.  It's time to begin a new journey -- we're packing up Tergel and will take off on Sunday.  Our destination is the Southeast - the frozen southeast.  People in the south oftentimes refer to the northern tier of states as the "frozen nawth." Believe the tables have turned this winter!  Hopefully by the time we get to Louisiana, the state will have experienced a thaw and milder temps will prevail.  Because we're traveling in winter, we'll stick to driving on I-10, which is very familiar (way too familiar), but weather dictates this.  Too easy to get caught in blizzards and such further north.  So, hi-ho hi-ho, off we go, on good ol' I-10, all the way to Tallahassee! 

January is usually a wet winter month in NorCal, but only one dinky rain shower fell a few weeks ago, barely enough to dampen the top layer of dirt.  December was equally dry.  Fact is, most of California is in the throes of an extreme drought.  On tonite's news, a reporter used the words, "epic drought."  Scary words. Probably good that we're leaving California for a while; save the area some water!  January brought many record high temps, too -- it felt as tho winter was a forgotten season this year.  These Lenten Roses (Hellebore) that popped up in our front yard in April last year began their blooming this year two weeks ago! Our native dogwoods, the Redbud, lilacs, and the Japanese Maple all have buds and are fixin' to pop!  Too early, I'm afraid.

I grew up in a house where utility conservation was practiced -- to wit:  Turn Off Those Lights! Don't Waste the Water! You name it, we heard it.  So, trying to capture and store rainwater comes naturally to me. A regular chip off the old block!  Right now we have three water collection containers, for a total of approx 150 gallons.  When we return from our trip, we'll look into more and better ways to "salt away" our precious water.

Folsom lake, at an all-time low level, made a splash on the national news this week (ew, bad pun). Shockingly low levels. We cross the Bear River on Hwy 49 whenever we travel down to Auburn or Sacramento.  All that's visible among the boulders are puddles.  Check this link:

* * * * * * * * * *

If we had bucket lists, which we don't, we could cross this one off that list. (another bad pun?)  One of Jimmy's lifetime goals was to cross the Equator.  Nice to achieve a goal.  I guess that's sort of like a bucket list.  But we did cross the Equator and we kept moving south nearly to Antarctica!
And we have the certificates to prove it!
Cool beans!


Tundra Swans and much more... Saturday, Jan 18th

Sutter Buttes reflected in a flooded rice field dotted with hundreds of tundra swans.

Back in the fall, sometime in October, our local newspaper ran a short article, "Winter swan tours offered near Marysville."  Free tundra swan tours would be available from Nov 16th thru January 2014.  I cut out the article and set it on the windowsill in our dining room -- where I'd see it every day.  Meantime, we had bigger fish to fry with planning our South American trip coming up in December.  But, I'd marked this potential tour in the back of my mind.  So when we returned home from So America in early January, I "rediscovered" the article and made a reservation online for Saturday morning, Jan 18th.  (I had my fingers crossed that we wouldn't be too late and all the birds flown away!)

 Pretty photo thru a bird scope.

Thousands of tundra swans migrate from Northern Alaska to their ancestral wintering grounds near Marysville each year, and the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife, partnering with local rice farmers, sponsors these tours for the public to see this wonderful phenomenon.  In an area covering 23,000 acres of rice fields and restored wetland habitat, Marysville is one of the premier locations for viewing the swans.  We didn't know all this till last Saturday!  And we learned a whole lot more.... The amazing thing is that we were only 20-25 miles "down the hill" from our house.  We're still new enough to NorCal that we don't have distances to other towns hot-wired in our brains.

I have never seen so many raptors (esp Red-tailed hawks) in a concentrated area like we did while spying on swans.  Of course, the guy on the left is NOT a raptor, but the American Kestrel (I love these little falcons, they're so cute!) certainly is.

Our morning temp in Nevada City was warmer than down in the valley.  I figured the opposite would be true, as it usually is, so I wore a vest, but no jacket.  Thank goodness the day warmed ('cause it was cold). Jimmy and I and another couple carpooled with the lady tour guide, and our first stop led us to a flooded field with a gazillion swans (and the occasional snow goose).  But they were all so far away it was difficult to see them clearly even thru a bird scope.  She rattled off many interesting facts, gave us body parts to touch and feathers to feel, and then we moved on.  

 Eventually we snuck up close enough to get these pictures.  We were reminded by the pow-pow-pow! sounds that it is hunting season, and if the swans and geese see people and perhaps the flash of a camera or a scope, they will flush - i.e., take to the sky immediately.  So, we had to be sly.  A plus from the loop swan tour -- we found back roads we could bicycle on w/o fear of being run over (or hopefully getting shot!) to get more personal with birding. 

 These White-face ibis (shooting into the sun renders them DARK all over) were a common sight.

One small view of a huge flooded rice field filled with Tundra swans, Pintail ducks, Northern Shovelers, and a few Snow Geese mostly resting in the late morning sun.  Large honking flocks of snow geese and smaller groups of swans in the air were audible all morning.  Throw in ducks and blackbirds, and you know we got an earful!  
Most enjoyable two hours!

On Hwy 20, to/from Marysville, we drove past Smartsville (which apparently used to be just Smartville), so we drove an extra mile to the town itself -- which ain't much at all -- and stopped Smarty in front of a street sign.  
You know it just begged to be done!


Relish a January ketchup? 2014

Jimmy and I hung around Matt and Jen's in SoCal for a couple of days upon returning from South America on New Years Eve.  We went out for brunch on New Year's Day, and slowly got back into the swing of things. Matt drove us to Santa Monica for a visit to the mall, as well as an outing at the new Tongva Park. This park is really a perfect blend of function, space and design; close to the beach and everything else.  

On Friday, Jan 3rd, we hopped in the Prius for the trip home to Nevada City on the usual boring I-5 freeway.  It's seven or eight hours of either barren nothingness or huge corporate orchards, mainly almonds trees in rows that stretch for miles in all directions. Once in while orange or walnut or pistachio groves appear, and vineyards, of course.  But, there just isn't much to take your mind off the fact that you're stuck with this "scenery" for hours.

I took this picture from the roof of Matt's apartment bldg.
If you squint, you can see the Hollywood sign!

I know this is a succulent of some kind,
but I've never seen flowers like this! @ Tongva Park.

My two favorite guys at Tongva Park. 

We usually adjust fairly quickly to our surroundings, but this time -- coming from early summer in austral South America to early winter in Northern California -- this time the change was rough.  To wit: I woke up sometime in the dark that first night we were sleeping in our own bed.  Bewildered, I lifted my head off the pillow and said, "Where are we?  I don't know where I am."  I peered around in the darkened room and realized we were home.  Satisfied, I burrowed back under the blanket and drifted off to sleep.  We turn our thermostat down to 50 degrees when we leave town, and it takes the house (and that bed!) a while to feel warm and cozy.

Long winter shadows on a lengthy afternoon Canal trail walk in Nevada City,
a few days after we returned home.

While we were basking in warm sun on the Golden Princess the first week in December, Nevada City got a 6" - 12" snowfall!  (awww, too bad we missed it )  And, a month later, this one-foot mound is what's left from where the snowplow piled heaps of snow. 

Another aspect of our slow adjustment was too-short winter days!  It was summer in South America and we'd gotten used to (and liked) early sunrises and late sunsets.  Now when we awoke at 6 or even 7 in the morning, it was still dark outside.  In fact, the sun didn't peek over the mountain and into our windows till well after 9 am.  A tough one for early risers like me and Jimmy!  And then, by 3 in the afternoon, those long shadows soon vanished into darkness.  During those few daylight hours, we unpacked and then found things to do while we acclimated.  I began catching up on my South American blogs.  We went hiking a few times -- exercise was good -- and once we met up with fellow hikers, Laurie and Odel, to try out a new trail near the historic town of Coloma.

Odel, Laurie, me and Jimmy on the Monroe Ridge Trail at Marshall Gold Discovery St Pk.  After a chilly morning, jackets came off.  This was a fine sunny afternoon for a loop hike.  We ate our packed lunches at the next picnic table site.

Most people remember the name Sutter and associate it with the 1848 California Gold Rush.  The man who actually found gold was James W. Marshall (1810-1885).  He was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in NorCal on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush.  The mill property was owned by John Sutter, who'd employed Marshall to build his mill.  Marshall, the dang fool, blabbed about his find, and the world stampeded to the American River!  The rest, as they say, is history.

Odel, Laurie and Jimmy at Marshall's monument. 

This is a replica of Sutter's saw mill.  The original was never used as intended, as waves of gold seekers turned everyone's attention away from the mill.  It eventually fell into disrepair.  Neither Marshall nor Sutter ever profited from the gold discovery.  We four wondered aloud how long we could keep quiet if we were to discover gold.  Much discussion, but no one committed to staying silent!

Despite a prolonged drought, the North Fork of the American River flows along nicely.  I peered into the water looking for bright and shiny (as in, gold), but all I saw were dull, gray rocks.

The actual site!  We were here!

Sutter's Mill site. 

Near the end of our loop trail were Nisenan Maidu bark structure replicas.
A Nisenan village stood here for thousands of years. 

Chaw-se (grinding rock) was a key part of Nisenan village life.  Based on the number of deep holes pounded into it, this chaw-se was used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to grind acorns.

Nearby were two stone structures built in 1858-59.  One building - Wah Hop Store and Bank - was leased to Wah Hop in 1860, and served the sizable Chinese community for many years.

This sign was the first thing we saw when we hit the trail.  I looked, we all looked, but none of us saw a mountain lion.  Probably just as well, right?!

This ends my January catch-up.  Next:  Our Marysville swan tour!


Farewell to South America.... Dec 30/31, 2013

On our last full day in Santiago, we wanted to revisit Cerro Santa Lucia, an easy walk from our place, maybe a couple of blocks.  Cerro means hill in Spanish, and getting to the top of this hill involves climbing lots of stairs, mostly irregular old stone steps.  And along the way, this small hill is adorned with wonderful facades, fountains, and it even has a castle on it (Castle Hildalgo).  At the highest point, a popular tourist spot is perfect for picture taking. 

On one side of the hill, Fort Hildalgo was finished in 1820 as a defensive point.  A few years ago, Fort Hildalgo was restored and reopened to the public.  Traditionally a cannon shot is fired exactly at Noon. The first day Jimmy and I were scared out of our wits when walking nearby and that shot was fired.  Today, we were directly above the cannon when it was fired at Noon, and I let out a bellow like I'd been shot and just about jumped in the moat.  It's that loud!

Moon rise (not set) at dawn on Monday - most amazing!  We leave our sliding glass door and curtain next to the bed partially open all night, inviting cool air in.  Hence, when birds begin to sing and light comes in, I'm awake.  I watched the moon rise above the trees, and took this picture from bed.

Up, up, and away!

Halfway up the hill, overlooking the city, we stopped for a look-see.

We fell in love with beauty of the city.

Speaking of love, isn't this a great picture?

A place to sit near the top, enjoy an orange Popsicle, and admire the views.

The Andes were part of the view!

At the top, crowded with tourists.  Many Brazilians are in Chile on holiday this time of year. 

That's a whale of a century plant growing out of that hill!

Window in the Sepulcro de Benjamin Vicuña MacKenna, appointed mayor of Santiago in 1872.  He began extensive remodeling of Santiago and Santa Lucia Hill.  The works of 1872 consisted of a road which crossed the hill, which at the top accessed a chapel that he also built there, illuminated by the then-novel means of  gas.  The actual hill is watered by a sophisticated irrigation system.  Jimmy and I became engrossed with the area's history and beauty.

When it came time for dinner, I suggested we find a restaurant that featured real Chilean food.  We walked hither and yon, vetoing as we went, till we saw this place.  We walked in and were guided upstairs to a pleasant window table overlooking the street.  Again, the restaurant was empty... but not for long!  We thanked our lucky stars -- our waiter spoke passable English!  Jimmy and I each ordered an appetizer, and decided we'd split the main course.  I'd tell you what we ordered if I could remember it and pronounce it, but nope, not gonna happen. Suffice to say, the two appetizers were so large (and delicious), we wondered how we'd be able to make a dent in our main course. Just then, our waiter came to the table, leaned over to Jimmy, smiled and said, "Sir, do you still want to order?" We ixnayed the main course and ordered a piece of chocolate cake instead.  It turned out to be half a cake and soooo good!  We couldn't finish chocolate cake!!!!  The kicker?  It was a Peruvian restaurant!

After dinner, here's Jimmy relaxing on the roof of our building (18th floor, near the pool).   

 Self-portrait from the roof.

Whoa, looking down at the street!  

Back in the apartment, we finished packing for our very early rise tomorrow morning.  Our COPA flight to Los Angeles leaves at 6 AM - yikes!  We have to be at the airport at 3, and we've arranged a TransVip van to pick us up, but the only time they can get us is at 1:30 AM for our 6 AM flight.  Heck, that's the middle of the night - why bother going to sleep?  

* * * * * * * * * *

 COPA from Santiago to Panama City, Panama:  6 1/2 hours.  Two meals!!
COPA from Panama City, Panama to Los Angeles:  6 1/2+ hours.  Two more meals!
End of day, end of month - December 31st - Two weary people.

Farewell to South America.  And farewell to 2013.

Outside air temp at -58 Celsius = -72.4 Fahrenheit.  That's cold!  

Our month is finished:  17 days on a Princess cruise and ten days wandering around Chile.  People have asked me what part I liked best, or what was the most memorable.  I can't answer that, except to say we loved it all.  It was a real learning experience for us, being out of the country on our own, and we feel fortunate to have made the trip.  The excursions, food, friends, it was all good.  Some days were cold, some were hot, but we lived those days!  BTW, altogether our trip from Nevada City to Punta Arenas and back? Close to 18,000 miles!

Son, Matt, picked us up at LAX, drove us to their place in LA, fed us (yum) and excused us to hit the sack, after about 24 hours w/o sleep.  We crashed, missing the ball drop at Times Square, but it seemed to get along fine without us.  Matt and Jen went out to a party and we slept peacefully on and on and on.... 


What a Santiago Super Sunday -- Dec.29th, 2013

I guess we knew, but technically we DIDN'T know just how close the Museum of Fine Arts was to where we were staying.  All we had to do was walk a block and turn left rather than right, and there it was.  We weren't sure if it would be open on Sunday, but judging from all the people in Parque Forestal, we figured something must be going on.  Yes, the museum was open and we paid a few pesos to get in, and then that language thing kicked in again. We wondered if there might be a brochure -- did it matter where we began? No brochure, came in so many Spanish words.  Gestures, friend of the lost, worked, and this time it was a helper who made sweeping motions, indicating downstairs.  What we wanted, what we needed was down the staircase.  OK.

Great entryway.  But, check this out -- we got a two-fer!  We paid to go into the museum of contemporary art (MAC).  On the western end of the building, under this entryway, was the museum of fine arts.  The entire building is known as the Palace (el Palacio de Bellas Artes, and dates to 1910).  Are you keeping up?

This is not a "guard" dog.  I think it's a HUGE horse?.
Quite a crowd outside the MAC entrance and near the BIG dude above.

The helper was correct -- downstairs was an interactive exhibit in English, featuring quite a few video screens that explained much about Chile in general, Santiago in particular.  I can't begin to relate all of it.  I will say that walking along on the crushed crystal quartz was fascinating.

Georges Russo.  Initially we gave Georges Russo short shrift... until we began to really look at his work.  THEN, we returned to the exhibits and studied them, amazed at what he's done.  Where the lines converge in front on the floor above, a star appears. 

Move left, and this is what you see.  In another direction is a different view.  But only where the lines come together on the floor in front will you see the star.  Enlarge the photos.

Looks one-dimensional?  It is three-dimensional painting.
(Hint:  Look at all the columns.  Most of the first column is visible.  As you look back, more of each column has been painted red.  And the in between spaces are all painted) 

Same with this.  We have more pictures, but it's time to move on!

El Palacio is a beautiful building, inside and out, both contemporary and fine arts sections.

Walking around to the museum's other side, it was obvious more people were setting up to sell stuff.

 Looking up to the next level at the fine arts museum.  Stunning statuary. 

One of my favorites. 

Horace imitating life?  Life imitating art?  Jimmy, you rascal!!

This round room was full of color.

Um, I took this photo before I knew "no photography allowed" (got in trouble, too).  Carlos Faz was the artist -- 1931-1953.  He died so young, in New Orleans.  Fell off a boat.  Verrrry interesting work.

 My feelings exactly!

Hello!  More art?  Maybe!

 Beautiful statue across from el Palacio.  Love the city statuary.

The snow-capped Andes are a different form of art.   

We'd decided to cross the Mapocho River and return to Bellavista Barrio to eat dinner.  Jimmy walks on a Parque Forestal path.  The river is to our left. 

 A playful kitty in one of Bellavista's open windows -- cute!

Our dinner choice (after checking out many sidewalk cafes, etc) was Backstage.  We ate inside which was air-conditioned -- important to us on a 90+ day.  We enjoyed yummy pasta dinners. 

 First time I'd tried Sanpellegrino.  Quite refreshing to a thirsty gal.

 Bougainvillea to the max!

More whole-building graffiti in Bellavista.

After dinner, we strolled back toward our place.  Now we understood that every Sunday on Parque Forestal, people turn out here (museum is at left) to sell their stuff.  We saw families, with infants to ancients, sitting in the grass, a blanket or two spread out in front of them with stuff, usually clothes, for sale. 

 And it went on forever!

This is where we turned off to Merced (our street).  A band had set up and was beginning to play.  We sat for a while and people-watched, listened to music, watched jugglers, and rested our feet.  Everyone seemed orderly and happy to be outdoors on a sunny Sunday.  I know this is a long post with probably way too many pictures (it is a mere fraction, tho!), but it was such a full, splendid day.  I just wanted to share it with you.