Tucson Sunset

You seldom lack a sunset in Tucson to photograph.  My first posting of a Tucson sunset.  Not our best sunset this week and no photoshopping the sunset photograph.

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Kartchner Caverns State Park

This morning we stopped for bagels and then began our drive to Kartchner  Caverns.  About an hour later we pulled into a parking space at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

The gods were with us.  The next tour was to begin in less than five minutes.  Nancy and I are just not lucky when it comes to lines and starting times so this was a big surprise to us.  It gets better because there were only four of us on the tour rather than the typical 15 people.

Nancy and I between us have seen and taken tours in at least six caves in four countries.  This tour was the best for the information provided and the formations to see.  (New Zealand’s caving trip with Martha and Tony Combs will most likely never be equaled for adventure!)

I bought tickets for the Big Room and on our next trip to the caverns we plan to tour the Rotunda-Throne room.  It is a professional tour from the moment you meet the rangers who will be the guides, to the electric carts that take you and return you to the Discovery Center, through the five airlock type doors, the mist spray system to bring your body’s moisture content up so as not to dry out the cavern as you walk through it, to the lighted and very easy to walk pathways, and the three separate door systems to exit.  This is a living cave with no vandalism, graffiti, or other man caused destruction.

The caverns are located in the mountains outside of Benson, AZ in the typical limestone formation — no I didn’t know this about limestone but the ranger told us.  I choose the Big Room tour because it was beginning in less than five minutes — no wait time.  The ranger selling the tickets had explained the largest and most exciting formations were in the Throne room whereas when touring the Big Room you are much closer to the formations.  My reply to her, “So, the Throne Room is for bragging and the Big Room is up close and personal.”  She said she was going to use my description in the future when explaining the two tours.  Our ranger guide also noted this difference between the two tours: Throne Room you learn a little more about geology of the cavern and the Big Room you learn about bats and a little less geology.  Nancy and I like bats so our luck on tours was holding.

I have never seen better examples or more types of speleothem.  We saw box works, cave pop corn, soda straws, draperies, a fried egg, helictite and probably another half dozen.  I forgot my pen and notebook but then again you can’t take these items in with you so my notes of the tour are less than perfect.  My favorite speleothem (this is a new word for me and I am going to use it till it becomes a portion of my vocabulary) is the drapery which is a formation which looks likes the folds in a set of curtains and can be fairly large.  However, for fun its hard to beat the helictite which is a tube formation that grows in twisting — up, down, sideways and all of the preceding again and maybe again again — directions.  A group of helictites reminds me of a drawing of Medusa’s hair.

One of the advantages of taking the Big Room tours is you will see the world’s largest brushite moonmilk speleothem.  All together now, “Tom, what is a brushite moonmilk speleothem?”  You will love the answer.  Brushite moonmilk is a creamy white formation created when bat guano chemically interacts with limestone!  Yes!  We got to see — but not touch — a combination of bat shit and limestone.  Who says a geologist doesn’t have a sense of humor.

This is also a good time for me to let those who want to take the Big Room tour know this tour is only available from mid-Oct. to mid-April.  The remainder of the year it is closed for the female bats (apparently no male bats are allowed) to have and raise their babies.  The bat impregnation and pregnancy is another great story but I will leave it to the rangers to tell you this story.

Possibly the most intriguing story of the caverns is their discovery in 1974 and the caverns being kept a secret until it was announce in 1988 the State of Arizona had a new state park: Kartchner Caverns State Park.  The Throne Room tour began in 1999 followed by the Big Room in 2003.

To read more about the secret and becoming a state park:

http://www.explorethecaverns.com/caverns-history.html

Wish I had photographs to post but cameras are not allowed.  Actually the only things allowed are the clothes on your back, eye glasses, wallets in a pocket (no purses), hats and coats.  The cave environment is roughly a temperature of 72 degrees and 90+% humidity so hats and coats are not needed.  I have to say I found it strange when they gave us directions on how to fold and carry a coat but once you are in the caverns you understand the carrying of a coat is just one of many precautions they take.

Final Note: Trip Advisor rates this the number one attraction in Benson, AZ.  I wonder if there is a number two?

 

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx caqlifornianus)

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx caqlifornianus)

And more: As we pulled into our driveway I saw a Roadrunner.  By the time I parked and grab my camera from the backseat the Roadrunner had moved to the back desert of our lot.

 

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Boyce-Thompson Arboretum

Following our Sunday morning ritual of eating breakfast at the Good Egg we began the drive to Boyce-Thompson Arboretum.

The arboretum is a few miles over 100 from the restaurant and takes just short of two hours.  However, the drive up Oracle to State Highway 79 and then State Highway 60 is a beautiful desert drive in the fall.  No trees with leaves changing color but still very scenic for a desert lover.

The Boyce-Thompson Arboretum is a state park and the oldest arboretum in the state of Arizona.  The arboretum does have a very small greenhouse but the remainder of the plants are spread out over 300 acres of mountains, canyons, around a small lake, and several speciality gardens.

After paying the entrance fee and buying bottle water, we forgot to bring water, we started out on the main trail.  The main trail is only 1.5 miles in length but I am estimating we walked about three miles before retuning to the entrance.  It was a beautiful morning/early afternoon, sunny and in the low 80’s.  A great day to walk the various offshoots of the main trail, leave the main trail and cross over the stream to the cliff side trail, and then back to various speciality gardens.  We spent three hours or so walking, looking, and exploring the arboretum.  We obviously were in no hurry taking three hours to walk maybe three miles.

Rock garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, AZ

Rock garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, AZ

With over 800 different cactus for me to look at Nancy was constantly out ahead of me on the trail.  However, the beginning of the trail had a rock garden with desert plants that we both spent ten minutes looking and discussing “could we do the same in our yard?”.

Anytime we are visiting a desert oriented arboretum, garden, etc. I am always looking to see which plants are on a drip system and always wondering why the plants are not being devoured my rabbits, javelina, rats, mice and other vegetarian loving animal.

The arboretum is not just about cactus.  Beside the cactus there are thousands of arid environment plants from all continents but the Antartic.  The canyon has native trees and palms. Also I kept looking at the bushes and more importantly what was growing next or under the  bushes.  Our yard will never have too many plants.

Bad news — our walk required more food.  We stopped in Superior, AZ at a locally owned Mexican restaurant.  Good news — the food was great, the portions too large for anyone trying to lose weight, and the price was a 1990’s price in my estimation.

We took State Highway 77 completing a loop back to Tucson.  Again, I thought the drive was beautiful including the open pit copper mines.  Not that the open pit mines are scenic but they are very interesting to look at.  All in all a very enjoyable Sunday drive, walk, and drive with food stops.

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Our Self Guided Tour of Istanbul

I know we would have seen more of Istanbul and know more about what we saw in Istanbul if we had the services of a guide.  However, after spending most of the last five weeks with guides we were ready to be on our own again.

The Blue Mosque -- Istanbul, Turkey

The Blue Mosque — Istanbul, Turkey

Our first stop was the Blue Mosque.  We had already seen the main dome, minarets, and secondary domes from our hotel.  The Mosque is five minutes from our hotel unless you are letting me lead the way.  I showed Nancy the ten minute mostly scenic walk.

 

 

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

I am sure my scenic walk would have set new heights of joy for Nancy if it hadn’t been raining!

After a ten minute wait in line to enter and then a few minutes to put slippers over our shoes, we entered the mosque.  It is by far and away the most beautiful mosque I have ever visited.

The first five minutes my eyes bounced from one area or section to another without really seeing what I was looking at.  It is overwhelming.

 

 

The Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque. 

 

Nancy thought it was interesting but didn’t understand why I wasn’t ready to leave after fifteen minutes.  Then I realized it wasn’t just the workmanship and architectural design that held my interest it was “how did they build this building without cranes, design without engineering software programs, layout the building without survey equipment, etc.”.

I began explaining to Nancy the different sections I was looking at and then the intersections of two or more sections and Nancy began to realize my amazement in the building team that put this all together.

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After properly being WOW’ed by the construction I them began to be re-WOW’ed by the beauty of the details and the overall grandure of the space.

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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia 

 

Our next stop was a cafe for coffee.  Did I already mention the rain and chilly temperature which we had NOT packed for.  This trip was to Africa and we didn’t give the proper thought of what the weather may be like in Istanbul.  The hot coffee was well received by my body.

After coffee we continued our tour at the Hagia Sophia.  We both rented the self guiding tape tour.  This was a definite IMG_1092help but I still admit I don’t have the sequencing of all the history organized correctly in my mind and believe me there is a lot of history and then there is the fact that two different religions — Christianity and Muslim — and two different theologies of Christianity — Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic — have used the building since it opened.

The building broke ground in the early 500’s — no I didn’t drop a digit.  The interior is almost all marble and tile.  It is a fascinating building.

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It is and has been for many years under renovation.  It was converted in 1931 to a museum and opened in 1935.

The original Christian mosaic art was plaster over when it became a mosque.  One if not the key issue is what do expose — Christian art — and what do you leave — Muslim art.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The legs were tired and the stomachs were empty — it must be lunch time and a late lunch at that.

A very polite rug salesman tried to get us into his store but we explained it was time for a drink (pain killer for the traveler’s legs) and food.  No problem, he walked us around the corner and told us the restaurant in front of us  was the place to eat.  It was a great meal.  My lamb and there was lots and lots of lamb on my plate was as good if not better than any lamb I have ever had the pleasure to eat.  Only problem was after sitting, drinking two beers, and eating enough lamb for a family of four; we both were ready to rest.  No more sight seeing for the day.  Oh yes, guess who showed up as we were paying the check?!

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

This morning I was to navigate us to the Topkapi Palace.  However, as we are (again) taking the scenic route and there is the entrance to the Basilica Cistern and oh, did I mention it was raining.  Next stop is the Basilica Cistern.

This Cistern is a little larger than the  “save your desert rain water cisterns”.  It is over 100,000 sq. ft. and may hold up to 2,800,000 cubic feet of water.  What I amIMG_1138 trying to convey is it is BIG.

Now for some information that makes this cistern a little out of the ordinary as far as I am concerned.  The cisterns roof is supported by 336 marble columns.  In my mind that was a whole lot of marble no one was ever going to see at the time of the cistern’s completion.

 

Yes, you are viewing this from the correct angle.  A Medusa head as a base to a column.

Yes, you are viewing this from the correct angle. A Medusa head as a base to a column.

There are several other quirks other than the marble columns.  For instance there are two column bases carved with Medusa heads.   One of heads is laying sideways and the other is upside down.

Our next stop is the Topkapi Palace.  This is a relative new building complex with construction beginning in 1459 or 33 years before Columbus discovered America.

 

Just another walkway between buildings.

Just another walkway between buildings.

We spent more than four hours walking the palace buildings and viewing jewels, religious artifacts, buildings, and the grounds.  One of the guide books I

Why use paint when tiles are available.

Why use paint when tiles are available.

read before coming to Istanbul recommended setting aside three hours.  We spent four and didn’t even enter the primary treasury room and its jewels and skipped several other buildings.  But don’t despair, we quickly walked through two other jewel rooms.  Again, we elected to tour using the prerecorded tape machines.

 

IMG_1177The palace served as home and government complex for the Ottoman Sultans who rules a large portion of the world for 600 plus years.  Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site open to the public.

The Queen's mother also lives in the Harem.

The Sultan’s mother also lives in the Harem.

One of the religious and historical items for public view is Mohammed’s cloak and sword.  Also there were several small orate boxes with whisker hair from Mohammed — better than an autograph I am guessing.

The rick and powerful do like their gold leaf.

The rick and powerful do like their gold leaf.

 

 

If there is one thing the past rich and powerful liked no matter where they were in the world is gold leaf.  Makes me wonder how Melinda and Bill Gates decorated their palace.

 

This set of doors are nice but just don't go with our decorating scheme.

This set of doors are nice but just don’t go with our decorating scheme.

IMG_1172I’ve always said the first thing a traveler loses his legs and Nancy and I decided after the last two days it was time to rest the legs.  We stopped for another very good meal on the return walk to our hotel.  We opened the hotel provided (for a price) wine in our room and rested and slept.

 

IMG_1280Our last full day in Istanbul we navigated the subway, a bus route, and the ferries.  Our first stop was New Town and Nancy had done some internet research for a long sightseeing excursion.  First thing to know about new town it is only new compare to Sultanahmet where we are staying and had explored.

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At least I don't stand in the middle of the street to read my map.

At least I don’t stand in the middle of the street to read my map.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1239There is a little of everything in New Town.  Religious buildings, shops, a block of shops selling musical instruments, candy stores, jewelry stores, embassies, offices, living spaces, and the list goes on.

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I am not thinking Power to the People.

I am not thinking Power to the People.

We walked through a fish market to get to the ferry building.  Nancy purchased two tickets and we were off to see Asia.

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The ferries are very clean and pleasant.  And I give the subway even higher marks and the bus was good — getting around in Istanbul was easy for us and pleasant.

The ferry boats jockey for position.

The ferry boats jockey for position.

Interior of ferry boat.

Interior of ferry boat.

We only spent an hour or so in Asia Istanbul.  Very nice and wish we more time to explore.  I did note to Nancy I saw more women wearing headscarves on the European than the Asian side of Istanbul.

After three days in Istanbul I feel like we barely touched the high points.  I know I want to not just return to Istanbul but also travel Turkey.  It is a fascinating city and from what I have read an even more fascinating country.

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Istanbul

We arrived in Istanbul at 10:45 am on Monday morning after leaving our Dar es Salam hotel room at 1:00 am.  Tired and worn out would be an understatement.

However, the Istanbul airport, passport control, currency exchange and the taxi stand were all easy to navigate and it seemed we were driving into Istanbul within minutes after our airplane touched down.

Within five minutes our taxi was driving on a six-lane limited access parkway on a non-potholed asphalt road, with a green grass and tree park on our right and then the Sea of Marmara to the horizon and on the left the ruins of a Roman fortress wall and high rise buildings behind the wall.  We both had the same thoughts about the extremes we had just lefted and arrived.  It reminded us of leaving Ecuador and Peru after two plus months and arriving in Buenos Aires: rough to easy.  This was the same: rough, interesting, and at the same time would not trade the time or memories of Uganda/Tanzania for anything to western living and ease.

The Blue Mosque from our hotel's roof top balcony.

The Blue Mosque from our hotel’s roof top balcony.

Within a half hour of leaving the airport we were checking into our hotel located about half way between the Blue Mosque and the water.  We were early and our room wasn’t ready so we sat down to Turkish coffee and a 30-minute desk top tour of Sulanahmet, New Town, and Asia – all parts of the incredible city of Istanbul.

Our room was small in comparison to our Tazanian/Ugandian living quarters.  We were two flights up and one and half flights below the roof top breakfast restaurant that looks out on the Sea or the Blue Mosque or Aya Sofya.

Hagia Sophia from our hotel's roof top balcony.

Hagia Sophia from our hotel’s roof top balcony.

Paris has always been the City I have wanted to live in.  However, after four days in Istanbul I believe it is now a toss up between the two Cities as to which has first place in my heart and mind.

Istanbul in a fascinating city that I don’t believe I could ever become bored with.  Twisting, winding, sidewalk filled, and fascinating streets; architectural of every style and time period; so many shops no one person could visit them all in a single life time; people of every faith and both eastern and western cultures; buildings and infrastructure that defies my mind as to how they

Looking at the Asia side of Istanbul from our hotel's roof top balcony.

Looking at the Asia side of Istanbul from our hotel’s roof top balcony.

could have been built a thousand or more years ago; the calls to prayer and the constant hum of a hundred conversation surrounding you; the sea always just around the corner; and food that only India can beat but with lamb dishes no one can beat.  The city is thousand of years old and at the same time as modern as any in the world.  Yes, I am in love with Istanbul and will make every effort to return.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Africa We Saw

IMG_5541We traveled through Uganda and Tanzania for 36 days.

In this small portion of Africa we saw incredibly poor and sad to drop dead beautiful and a land containing amazing sights to be discovered.

 

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Would I do it again — yes!  Do I wish I had done it differently — of course, I now know where to spend less time or skip all together  and where to spend more time.

First the poor and the sad — the people and their living conditions.  Without a doubt the poorest countries I have traveled are Uganda and Tanzania.  And Uganda makes Tanzania look prosperous.  To drive through village and sometimes village after village without electricity, clean water, the very minimalist in housing, and no commerce other than a very IMG_0233local market with local produce sitting in a basket on the ground is not what most Westerners can comprehend or want to see and experience.

Do I believe the life of the Africans I saw is getting better — yes.  When you read about Idi Amin or Obote, Nyerere, and Karume or his son and compare them to today’s leaders you recognize a step forward (even if the current leaders may be positioning themselves to be presidents for life, etc.).

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Is Uganda and Tanzania moving forward at a faster pace than Nigeria, the Sudans, Mozambique, Angola, Mali, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the list goes on and on — again in my very limited knowledge of the African continent I will say, yes.

The beauty is the people.  They want to move forward.  Many are in school with the expectation of improving their lives.  Others are willing to work hard to improve their lives and the lives of their families.  Are there

The BIG CATS of Zanzibar.

The BIG CATS of Zanzibar.

those who don’t want to learn or work hard; yes but name a place where those people don’t exist.  Technology is changing the African peoples lives: mobile phones, micro-loans, banking by phone, and access to the outside world.  Then there is solar power, the understanding of where disease start and how they spread, and better farming practices all of which make each day better than the day before.

Silverback Gorilla

Silverback Gorilla

The African landscape is beautiful.  What is truly amazing to me is as poor as the people as a whole are they have committed a much greater portion of their countries to national parks than we have.  They understand their protected parks which in turn protect the famous African animals, birds, reptiles, and fauna are economic drivers in their economies.

IMG_7818Do I wish the roads were better, testes flies were gone, the food was more varied, etc?  Again, yes I do.  Would any of these impediments hold me back from traveling Africa again — NO.

Is Africa a place everyone should visit?  I will go out on a limb and say, yes.  However, I think each individual must know their limits.  I believe anyone can travel Uganda and Tanzania and enjoy the landscape and animals.  Maybe not for 36 days, maybe not on a 12 hour day, maybe not on a rain slick trail that seems nearly vertical.  However, with a little invested time I think anyone can assemble a trip to Africa they will remember forever.

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And Life is Good

We spent our last two full days on Zanzibar at the Matemwe Lodge.  This was a new experience for us.  Rather than ending a travel with a typical hotel and then on to the airport, we stayed at a stunningly beautiful, relaxing, and laid back lodge.

The ocean view from our hut's porch.

The ocean view from our bungalow’s porch.

Matemwe is a two hour drive from Stone Town and is located on the north east shores of Zanzibar.

All twelve bungalows are separated from each other by beautiful grounds and have ocean views.

The rooms are larger than my California apartment I rented in the early1990’s.  Heck, the sleeping area is bigger than that one bedroom apartment.  The bathroom was separated into four spacious areas: (1) sinks, IMG_1023(2) shower, (3) toilet, and (4) tub.  And how can I forget the porch with sofa and double hammock less than 15 feet from the drop to the ocean below.  Oh yes, almost forgot the private wading pool and double lounge chairs.

The only time you don’t see the ocean and the interaction of the locals coming and going on the ocean is when you are sitting at the outdoor bar or in the lower of the two

Just for the two of us.

Just for the two of us.

swimming pools.  Maybe they need a third pool because once I was one of four people at one of the pools — not private enough for me.

The dining area looks out over the Indian Ocean.  As good as the view is, the food is better.

We had too wait in the lounge area off the dinning room when we first arrived.  After an hour of ocean breeze, great tasting coffee, and sinking into the cushions of the lounging sofas while taking the time to relax and read they actually had the nerve to ask us to walk

The dining room.

The dining room.

to our bungalow — where was the sedan chair and servants to carry us to our bungalow.

We did nothing but lay back and take it easy for the entire time we were here.  Personally I moved from the bed to the dining area to the pool to the dining area to our private lounge chairs to the bar to the dinning area to our room and back to the bed for the total time we were here.

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The view from our dining table.

The view from our dining table.

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Sunset Cruise

Our second evening in Stone Town had us on a sunset cruise.  It was great.

Bad photograph -- I have the flatter stomach of the two guys.

Bad photograph — I have the flatter stomach of the two guys.

There were two couples: (a) honeymooners from San Francisco and (b) travel pros.

We all enjoyed the cruise.  The view was great, the water was flat, the food and drink good, and we didn’t have to do any of the work.

 

Our boat.

Our boat.

The cruise last about 90 minutes.  Nothing special to report.  Just a relaxing time on the water.

The food.

The food.

 

 

 

 

 

And the promised sunset.

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The Fish Market in Stone Town

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We have traveled in a number of third world country so we know if you have a city tour it is going to include a local market.  Market as in “you want ham, my pig is still warm” not as in “the hot dogs are next to the coffee” at your local 7-11 market.

Our guide referred to the market as a fish market.  Not a big surprise since we were less than a half mile from the ocean.  I will say they had a variety of fish and were willing to cut to order.

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And this little piggy went to market (and that is the end of the story).

And this little piggy went to market (and that is the end of the story).

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sad History

Like much of the African coast there is a sad history that goes with where ever you are.  That is the slave history.

IMG_0910I won’t attempt to tell the slave story.  I will say Zanzibar was the primary East African slave trading port and the slaves sold in Zanzibar were taken to Arab countries, India and farther up the African coast

IMG_0918Above is a monument to the slaves sold in the Stone Town slave market.  Under a nearby building are several rooms left over from the time this originally had been a slave market.  These were the rooms where the slaves were held in conditions that killed a large number before they could be sold.  It is estimate 50,000 slaves were bought to Stone Town every year during a majority of the 19th century.

Christ Church, Stone Town, Zanzibar

Christ Church, Stone Town, Zanzibar

The first Anglican cathedral in Africa — Christ Church — was built upon the slave market beginning in 1873.

Altar of Christ Church

Altar of Christ Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. David Livingston (of “Dr. Livingston, I presume”) was a significant leader of the anti slavery movement.  He is remember in the church with a crucifix carved from the tree under which he was buried.

Crucifix was carved from the wood of the tree under which Dr. Livingston died at Chitambo village Ilala, Zambia in 1873, and under which his heart was buried.

Crucifix was carved from the wood of the tree under which Dr. Livingston died at Chitambo village Ilala, Zambia in 1873, and under which his heart was buried.

 

 

 

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