Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Home Again

The Art Festival is over, my trip to South America is over, Annie and family have come and gone and Saturday I leave for Alaska. Whew! It's been quite a summer!

I am happy to report that the art festival came off without any major hitches. Everything worked, except the weather. We had competition, too, from the Freemont Solstice festival, which cut into our sales, but the biggest problem was crummy weather. And as crummy weather is beyond our reach, I think all of the directors can sit back and look at our 50th Anniversary festival as a total success. We didn't make as much money as last year, but we had more expenses and we were well within the normal profit, so we'll be able to give plenty to the Foundation for scholarships and such. A true success and one of which I am proud to be a part. AND I finally got a Michelle Usibelli painting for my collection---a little miniature called Afternoon Nap of a older, very round lady dozing in a chair with legs akimbo under an Asian umbrella. She rather reminds me of me!
Now for the good part....South America. Astounding, amazing, stupendous, fantastic, incredible, indescribable places were visited, engaging and friendly people were everywhere, the food was delicious and varied and the scenery spell-binding. I had, needless to say, a grand time!
The Galapagos Islands have to be the most magical place I have EVER visited. Every moment on the islands was amazing. The birds really do just sit there, waiting for have you walk right up to their nests and stick your camera in their faces, asking them to please present their best side. And they do! The marine iguanas and sea lions really do litter the beach, unmoving in the equatorial sun and you really do have to watch where you are walking or you really will trip over them! The male frigate birds really do have a bright red pouch that they inflate to the size of a balloon to attrack the attention of female frigate birds. Albatross really do sit in their nest of rocks, billing and cooing to one another, while you stand five feet away and watch (and photograph)! Land iguanas are really big, Darwin finches really do have a variety of bills depending on the island they inhabit, the Galapagos tortoises have distinct shells on each of the islands where they reside and an expert can just look at the shell and say where the tortoise came from.....Sea lions want to swim with you and sea turtles will let you watch while they dine on the green stuff growing on the rocks. Humboldt penguins are FAST in the water (and all you can manage to photograph is the water in which they just were---Penguin Water---because you won't get a photo of them shooting past like a rocket). Manta rays will surface so you can see them clearly from the ship. Blue footed boobys nest on the ground while the red footed sort nest in the shrubs, and wrap their webbed feet around branches in a way you would not think possible. The geology of the islands is as varied and astounding as the birds and animals. I have now seen aa lava, something I have had a secret yearning to view with my very own eyes ever sinc a college geology course, and I saw other kinds, too. (I am especially fond of ropey lava.) The scenery was gorgeous. I learned that there are four kinds of mangroves (one called button mangrove because, wait for it!, they make buttons out of it), three kinds of boobys, a bunch of different kinds of finches with those amazing beaks, flowering shrubs, secluded bays, sandy beaches, great snorkeling, boats, sun, water and FUN. I had the best time. Words fail me.

Seriously, if you ever have the chance to go to the Galapagos, GO. Run, don't walk, to the airport. Just go!

I had a fantastic time in Ecuador, too. The Avenue of the Volcanoes did not disappoint! My favorite spot was Cotopaxi National Park. It's very high, and mostly beyond the tree line, with wild horses roaming about and condors riding the thermals waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up there, Cotopaxi looming over it all in it's snow capped beauty (with just enough of a threat of erupting to make things interesting) and low grasses and stones making the land look rather steppe-like. We stayed at some old haciendas that were truly wonderful. My favorite is Hacienda San Agustin de Callo. (Callo means blister and is the name of this little hill right near the main house.) Our room had a huge fireplace (needed on the chilly winter mornings) in the bed chamber and the head board of the bed was a remnant of an Incan wall! In the bathroom, besides the claw foot tub was another fireplace, for cozy and romantic bathing. There were flowers everywhere, a chapel, a library and the dining room was all Incan wall, dark polished wood, Peruvian silver and candle light. I could go back and just live there!

What surprised me the most about Ecuador was the thousands and thousands of greenhouses we saw, all growing roses for the European and American markets. Millions and millions of roses, beautiful roses in colors I have never seen---bronze and a purple-y salmon color that sounds hideous but was really lovely. I had no idea that Ecuador was such a rose producer!

Peru...sigh. Home of the most amazing jewelry store chain I have ever encountered....Ilaria. If you get to Peru, do not miss the Ilaria shops. They are everywhere and they have the best silver jewelry and table wear and art objects. I bought way too much from them and love each and every piece! I have Chrismas presents, goodies for me, little objects for the house and I had a great time shopping in the many, many branches of the Ilaria chain. If I saw one, I entered it and I almost always found something I had to bring home! No will power at all.....
Machu Picchu and Cusco were so much more than I had expected. I am not exactly sure what I really had expected, but Cusco was wonderful. It's a small city, a little jewel, full of old buildings, Incan stonework, saints statues, balconies, flowers, big blue sky, little air ( being nearly 10,000 feet in elevation), great food, coca tea and Pisco sours on every menu and more friendly, happy people. Oh! And llamas! Lots of little children in indigenous dress with baby llamas, wanting a few sols for allowing you to photograph them. (A national teachers' strike was in effect while we were there or most of these little children would have been in school. As it was, they were out making money for their families.) Machu Picchu is truly a mysterious place, especially when you get up at 4 AM and take the first bus up to the site, then enter before the sun is up in the murky gray pre-dawn light and fog shrouding most of what you see. It was amazing to watch the fog eddy and swirl, with bits and pieces of the different building coming into view and then fading back into gray nothing and the light slowly got brighter and brighter. It takes a lot to get me to admit that getting up at 4 AM can be a good thing, but I am so very happy I did! The crowds are much less early in the morning when the site first opens and the wild llamas are still moving about, feeding and looking "scenic". I can't begin to describe the beauty of the location. The jagged and pointy peaks, the river far, far below, the gray stonework contrasting with the bright green of the grassy areas made for a virtual visual feast. Everywhere you looked was a view worthy of the cover of National Geographic (and probably has been!). Sometimes it got to be too much and I found I had to sit down and just focus on one small thing for a time, to clear my head. No wonder Machu Picchu has just been voted one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. It is!
We stayed in some amazing hotels while we were gone. In Cusco we stayed at el Monasterio, reportedly one of the top hotels in all of South America, and I can well believe it. The building is amazing with two large interior patios with rooms all around. The rooms were charming and the service at the hotel, sublime. We had a spa afternoon and both had pedicures and massages, which were heavenly (pun intended). Another wonderful spot was in the Sacred Valley where we stayed one night at Sol y Luna resort. Lovely little private cottages dot the landscape and there is a very good restaurant and bar on the premises. There is horseback riding, a very pretty spa, tennis courts, a very extensive garden and lots of fun little villages nearby. If I ever get back to Peru, I will be sure to spend more than one night at Sol y Luna. In Ecuador we stayed at several haciendas (see my favorite above) but I also really enjoyed our Quito hotel, Patio Andaluz. It was only a block from Plaza Grande and is a converted mansion. Patio Andaluz is also built around an interior patio in the Spanish style and the rooms were very comfortable, the service spectacular and the food was pretty good, too! Our last night in Quito we stayed at a very small, very new boutique hotel that was lovely. It's away from Old Town, but probably only a ten minute cab ride from Plaza Grande, and is called Hotel Casa Aliso. The room was charming, the public areas were delightful and there are some wonderful, lively paintings gracing walls. I'd like to stay there again, for several nights. Life was NOT hard on this trip!
Nonie and I booked the land portion of our trip through Vaya Adventure's Jim Lutz. Jim is extremely easy to work with, a really nice guy and he knows his travel chops. If you are interested in a South American trip, take a look at his website. He arranged a perfect holiday for us.

Just a few days after returning home Annie, Chris and Alex came for a two week visit. They just returned home yesterday. I woke up early this morning, straining to hear Alex, but the downstairs is empty again and the house is very quiet. I miss them! Annie is just beginning to look pregnant with The Bean, who is due to arrive in January. What a lovely start to the new year for all of us that will be! Alex got to spend a lot of time with cousin Emma, with varying results. sometimes they were delighted to be together and other times they were at each other's throats, with lots of "NO!" and "MINE!" being hollered by both of them. Alex is really showing a lot of signs of just merging into the Terrible Twos and Emma seems likely to carry the Terrible Twos into the Terrorizing Threes! Yikes! It's good to be the gramma sometimes and just let the mommies handle it. (Yes, I know when to cut and run.) It was a joy for me to see the two of them together, no matter the mood, and I must honestly say that they are really very well behaved girls for their age. I love being a gramma!
I have finished the 34 pages for the Heart Swap Fatbook for Art & Soul in Portland in October. I had promised myself that I would have them done and mailed before I left for Alaska on Saturday, and I did. I had to spend most of the weekend working on them, but they are finished and I'm happy with the result. I hope they will be well received by the other participants, but I did a page that pleases me, so I guess the inner critic can just go hang!


MomPhD said...

Did your daughter mention that this morning, the day after returning home, she and her OB took a peek at the Bean's boy/girl parts?

How much Peruvian silver will Gramma cough up to find out what they saw?!?

Hee hee hee

Michele R. Unger said...

I had no idea I had raised such a smug little snot. Tell me or don't, but don't torture me with withheld information! Really, the world will think less of you for treating your own, gray haired, mother so shabbily. Shame!

Grove Street Journal said...

Mom, your photos from your trip are AMAZING!!! When do I get to see the rest?

Love you,

Your FAVORITE daughter, the Lawyer. (That PhD daughter of yours seems to think she ranks higher at the moment, having given you a grandchild and another on the way.)

Michele R. Unger said...

Dear darling "Favorite" Daughter---the Lawyer,

Thanks for the nice comments about my photos. I thought I got some good shots, too. Nice to know that you liked them also as you are an amazing photographer and your compliment means a lot. You may come home and view all the photos you want, or I will let you know when I get them (finally!) uploaded to the internet.


Grove Street Journal said...

Is this a bribe? : ) Ha ha... I will see them in November, if not before. Love you.