Monday, March 15, 2021

Virtual Vacation - New Orleans, USA

New Orleans, I've always said, is the only place in the United States where you'll find culture of any substance. But of course this isn’t true. There are pockets of organic, uncontrived character in every corner and plain of the American west where Native American traditions still survive.

Culture goes back a long way in the New Orleans area, further even than the earliest gumbo recipe. Watson Brake, in northern Louisiana, is a burial mound complex thatwas constructed over centuries by a hunter-gatherer society. Dating from about 3500 BC, they are a thousand years older than the Pyramids of Giza.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Virtual Vacation - Chur, Switzerland

The town of Chur sits like a decorative knick-knack among the Alps of eastern Switzerland. The streets of the old neighborhood are a storybook come to life. The Plessur River flows down from the southeast, cutting a straight line through town, joining the fabled Rhine out on the northwest skirts. The verdant alpine slopes up above watch over Chur like loving grandparents. The surrounding countryside is replete with vineyards, keeping the town in good spirits.

If you aren’t checking flights by now I don’t know what else to tell you.

If you are checking flights, be prepared. Chur sits in the middle of a rough circle formed by Zurich, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Milan and Geneva. The intolerable wonders of Paris and Vienna are slightly further-flung but eminently accessible. What hell to have to choose which city to fly into! You’ll then have to tolerate being whisked headlong into the Swiss Alps via a train system that is the transportation equivalent of satin sheets.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Virtual Vacation - Yakushima Island, Japan

Yakushima is a circular island off the southwest tip of Japan. By boat or by plane, it takes a bit of time and a chunk of change to get there. Barely fifteen miles across, Yakushima is home to fewer than fifteen thousand people, inhabiting towns and villages strung around the island’s perimeter. There’s no traffic, no noise, and definitely no night life.

There is, however, a lot of rain. Yakushima’s mountains manage to suck in just about every cloud floating across the East China Sea, bringing several meters - meters! - of annual rainfall to the island. Bring a change of socks.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Arequipa, Peru


The desert is like a campfire in its ability to empty your mind. Gazing out the windows of the bus, the view constantly changing as we leaned and lurched through curve after unforgiving curve, climbing up into the mountains of southern Peru, I had only two thoughts in my head. One, who on this bus was going to throw up first, and two, was that person sitting directly behind me?

As the land plateaued and the road straightened another question came to mind, one whose answer eluded me for years.

What made the town of Arequipa back there so cool?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Cañón del Colca, Peru

Depending on who you talk to, the Cañón del Colca in southern Peru is the third or fourth, or maybe the fifth, deepest canyon in the world.

Some say Nepal’s Kali Gandaki Gorge holds the title. Where the river runs between the peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri the elevation difference reaches 5,570 meters (18,275 feet). For others the Tsangpo Canyon in Tibet is the deepest; though listed at 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) deep, at one point the river flows 6,009 meters (19,714 feet) below the land above it.

Then there’s the DenmanGlacier, hidden under the snows of Antarctica. Reaching 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) below sea level doesn’t make it the deepest in relation to the land around it, but it does make this glacier-carved valley the lowest point of dry land on Earth.

Cañón del Colca, then, seems to sit at #3 on the list of World’s Deepest Canyons. With a maximum depth of 3,501 meters, this remarkable hole in the ground is fully twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA.

Which is nice. But that’s not why we’re here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Essaouira, Morocco

From the stone ramparts of the old medina you can watch the waves crash against the rocky islands sitting just off shore. In the maze of narrow alleyways within these walls it’s easy to feel lost, not as one who can’t get home but as one who is so far away from anything resembling home that home might as well not exist anymore.
That long and distant island running off to the left is (probably) the island of Mogador.
The city sits halfway between the stately and tempestuous Strait of Gibraltar and the sandy wasteland of as-Sahra al-Gharbiyah, also known as Western Sahara. The walls can look as old as time itself, making the colors of the carpets displayed on them seem incongruous, even impossible. Half-ajar doors leading to dim rooms and hallways lend as much mystery as closed ones. There are cow’s brain sandwiches for sale.

I arrived in Essaouira not knowing what to expect. I left with what I take from most places I’ve ever visited: spontaneous photos, fragmented memories, and, at best, a rudimentary understanding of what I’d just seen.

Only now, over a decade later, as I search for things to say about a few of my photographs of Essaouira, am I understanding what I saw – and realizing what I missed.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Dakigaeri Valley, Japan

Japanese history – presented in true Japanese form – gives dates of events in terms of eras. So I was intrigued when I read that Dakikaeri Jinja, the modest shrine at the mouth of this Dakigaeri Valley, was established in the thirteenth year of the Kanbun Era (寛文13).

My knowledge of historical Japanese eras mirrors my knowledge of United States Presidents. I am familiar with the first one, the most recent few, and a handful of the more significant ones in between. The rest I may have heard of but don’t know anything about.

In other words, just like I have no idea when Millard Fillmore was president, I had no idea when the Kanbun Era fell in the annals of Japanese history. It could have been two hundred years ago, it could have been two thousand. This shrine in the sticks of Akita Prefecture may have been founded when Jesus was walking the earth or when Lincoln was getting shot. And quite frankly, I liked the idea of not knowing. The mystery adds to the allure.

So I was a tad disappointed to find out 寛文13年 was actually 1673 AD. Sure, this means Dakikaeri Jinja is a century older than the United states. But as old as Japan is, it’s hard to get excited about a shrine that didn’t even exist when Christopher Columbus started slaughtering the Indians.

Call me superficial. I’ve been called much worse.