Readers’ wildlife photos.

November 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

You know what to do: send ’em in! Thank you.

Today we feature photos of Mount Etna in Sicily taken by Richard Bond. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

My photos near the top of Mount Etna might be of interest, though not all of nature is colorful or beautiful or both.

Anyway, from a service complex at 1,900 metres one can take a cable car to 2,500 metres. Previous iterations went higher, but were repeatedly damaged by lava flows, so now a fleet of rather specialised buses goes to nearly 3,000 metres.

The first photo shows one of these: its large wheels, long suspension travel, high ground clearance, and 4WD testify to the difficulty of the terrain. There are no fixed tracks, as new lava keeps changing the upper route.

This shows a fairly recent flow in the foreground with the top of the mountain above it. That bit of white halfway up to the left is steam issuing from a vent. The peaks are a little hazy owing, I think, to dust emitted along with the steam.

This is a close-up of the lava. The whitish inclusions are limestone, carried up from around sea level.

A general view of a crater at about 3,000 metres. It seems to be a complex of one main crater about 300 metres across containing some subsidiary ones. I walked anticlockwise right round this crater, and the next photo looks back to its lowest lip.

The next three photos are of various vents in the sides of the crater, and the fourth one is a mini crater inside the main one.

Mini crater:

This was taken near the highest point of the crater rim. The serpentine track of the bus gives some idea of the steepness and difficulty of the route.

This shows the then highest peak of Etna, 300-400 metres higher, taken as I was walking down from the crater rim. I did not have enough time to walk to the peak. There is a rather neat small crater in the middle ground. Pity about the dusty haze.

Here is one of the numerous boulders scattered around and in the crater, showing embedded limestone. This one was a bit bigger than a rugby ball.

About 30 kilometres from the peak is the delightful town of Taormina. Its main feature is a Greek theatre, which seems to have been deliberately set to have Etna as a backdrop. My photo of it below is most disappointing: I had to use a wide-angle lens setting to include all of the theatre. That not only shrunk Etna but also seemed to exacerbate the obscuring effect of the dust. I include it mainly because I wonder if any of the accomplished photographers among WEIT readers could suggest how I could have done better.

This was taken the following day at Syracuse and shows part of the quarry in which the Athenian troops who surrendered in 413 BCE were worked and starved to death. The rock is limestone, presumably part of the bed that lies under Etna and which is the source of the limestone inclusions.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos are from Tony Eales in Queensland, and are a combination of culture, landscapes, and animals. Tony’s captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

I just got back from a short trip to the outback to attend and celebrate the Koa People’s successful struggle for recognition of their continuing native title rights in the Winton area of my state. My job is to assist Aboriginal traditional owner groups in their legal battles to have their native title rights recognised by the Commonwealth of Australia, so it was a good day for us as an organisation as well as the Koa.

I spent some time in Bladensburg National Park on Koa country prior to the hearing and drove out there and back some 1400 km each way so it was a big week. Here are some of the sights.

On the way out, my wife and I passed through the small town of Muttaburra. It was a bit of a detour but is the home of the rather musically named dinosaur Muttaburrasaurus langdoni (seen here in statue form at the Muttaburra discovery centre, holding hands with my wife).

Where we camped in Bladensburg was very dry with little life around but at night the lights attracted a wide variety of beetles, bugs, moths and lacewings including this very beautiful thread-wing lacewing, Austrocroce mira.

At night things came more alive with many wolf spiders, visible by their eye shine, dramatically striped native cockroaches, and large huntsman spiders—to single out a few.

My friend suspects some of the wolf spiders like this one may be Allocosa sp. but the huge diversity of Lycosids in Australia are currently being reviewed and removed from European genera and given new taxonomic labels.

Daytime was the time for birds and when we could appreciate the dramatic landscape.

EmusDromaius novaehollandiae:

White-breasted woodswallows: Artamus leucorynchus:

I watched this immature Grey Shrike-thrushColluricincla harmonica, work hard at removing the cottony thread from a seed by wedging the seed in the fork of a bush and pulling the hair away.

At the few water holes, you could sit and wait for the seed eating birds to come in to drink. Zebra Finches, Taeniopygia guttata, are never far from surface water and could help you survive. If you hear them, you know there must be some water nearby.

Food in the Boston area

September 22, 2021 • 11:00 am

I have eaten very well on my vacation, having gone to several semi-upscale ethnic restaurants and also eaten well in the homes of two people who were kind enough to put me up. But I often forgot to use my camera when I was absorbed in the food, so I’ll present a melange of photos of different foods, restaurants, and the like.

First, though, a scene from Harvard Square, which has changed immensely since I arrived in Boston in 1972.  It’s gentrified now. My erstwhile favorite place to eat as a grad student, Elsie’s Deli (home of the huge “Fresser’s Dream” sandwich), has long disappeared. As has Steve Harrell’s ice cream shop, which made the best hot fudge sundaes in Massachusetts. The Coop is still there, and Cardullo’s is hanging on, but the magazine store in the center of the Square is defunct.

This is one thing that remains. If you listen to NPR, you’ll recognize the name of the fictional accounting firm on the third-floor window: “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.”

Yes, it’s from Car Talk. Wikipedia has an entry for this fictional firm, which was also used as a joke by others.

The name of the DC&H corporate offices (otherwise known as the headquarters of the radio show Car Talk) is visible on the third floor window above the corner of Brattle and JFK Streets, in Harvard SquareCambridge, Massachusetts.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, of NPR’s Car Talk radio program, named their business corporation “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe”. Their corporate offices were located on a third-floor office at the corner of Brattle and JFK Streets in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Magliozzi brothers declared that they established DC&H in 1989.

We went out several times, first to this excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline, specializing in tapas. But I forgot to take pictures of the food! We had a fine Rioja with the meal, and were full after dinner. (The first question you have to ask when evaluating a restaurant is, “Did I get enough to eat?” If the answer is “no,” then you need go no further.)

The flavor board at my favorite ice-cream shop in the world, Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream in Cambridge.  If you go to Cambridge and don’t go here, you are a reprobate. There are usually many more flavors, but I expect the pandemic reduced the choice somewhat. Still, there are more flavors than you could try on several visits. I had the very best flavor, “burnt sugar” (the world’s best ice cream flavor) with a scoop of ginger-molasses, itself a wonderful combination. It was a great postprandial treat. They make ice cream the real way, dense and with all natural flavors. I wanted green tea with a scoop of adzuki bean, too, but I couldn’t pass up the burnt sugar.

Every reader here knows that my favorite British beer is Timothy Taylor Landlord, which has won Championship Beer of Britain four times and is a wonderful, tasty session ale that is not overhopped. It’s hard enough to find on tap in the UK, but there’s a bottled version as well, and four bottles were available in the Boston area. Andrew, my host, tracked them down and then cycled 22 miles to get those four bottles so we could have some. What a kind chap!

And even though it was bottled, it tasted nearly as good as a freshly-drawn pint in England. (As it had been kept in the fridge, we warmed the pints, 500 ml., up to 11°C in the microwave.)

Yesterday I moved to my second set of hosts, old Harvard friends Andrew and Naomi. Naomi is a world-class cook, and never uses recipes. I begged her not to go to any trouble to cook for me, as she always does, but she ignored my instructions and produced a wonderful dinner, which included this shepherd’s pie (a treat with a pint of Landlord!):

We also had a half avocado with lime for appetizer, green beans and baby asparagus on the side, and the apple-raspberry crumble below for dessert, served warm with vanilla ice cream.

I am allowed only one breakfast at this house due to Andrew’s insistence: two cakes of Weetabix with bananas as well as a strong mug of superb coffee. But Andrew is absolutely insistent on how one eats Weetabix. (He buys them by the case, and sometimes eats them three times a day when his wife is out of town: two for breakfast, four for lunch, and six for dinner. He is a Weetabix fanatic.)

Andrew displaying the breakfast item to come:

First, put two Weetabix biscuits, round side up (there are two different sides) in a wide, shallow bowl so that the milk doesn’t saturate the biscuit. The point is to retain most of the crunch of the biscuit while also getting the milk. You must always eat two Weetabix (I like three) as there are an even number of biscuits in the box and you don’t want to be left with just one. Four or six are permitted at other meals, but neer an odd number.

Half a banana is then sliced atop the biscuits with a sharp-edged spoon:

Then add milk, making sure to splash some atop the biscuits so they won’t be dry. The milk should be about a quarter-inch deep in the bowl.

Only then do you add the sugar, as you don’t want it dissolved in the milk when it’s poured:

Finally, tilt the bowl towards you so you can nip off a bit of biscuit and spoon it up with some milk, retaining the crunchiness but also getting the milk. For Andrew the consumption of the entire bowl takes about 40 seconds; he insists that speed is essential so that all the elements of the bowl are properly mixed with the right texture.

Here I am trying to eat properly. Note that I’m tilting the bowl:

I persuaded my first set of hosts to try Weetabix, and Andrew located one store in Cambridge that sold them. My hosts’ son-in-law went there and got a box, which was delivered yesterday by their granddaughter. I am curious about whether they’ll like Weetabix, as both of them eat only homemade granola (a different mix for each person) for breakfast. Son-in-law and second grandchild to the rear; photo used with permission.

I think this photo would make a great Weetabix commercial!

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’m showing a melange of photos contributed by readers who sent in just one or a few photos. Their captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here’s a Canada Goose family (Branta canadensis) from Laurie Berg:

From Joe Dickinson:

These bats are spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) seen by the thousands in downtown Cairns, Australia.

This monkey is certainly in the genus Ateles, likely Ateles chamek, the Peruvian spider monkey.

From Ken Phelps:

Caught some early morning light on an Arbutus tree whose peeling bark seems to be sending out a message. About what I can’t say, but they have been stressed by fungal organisms and warmer, drier weather in recent years. Ours seem to be doing pretty well, but we do see a lot of mangy looking trees in the area.

And some travel photos by Jean Greenberg:

We went to Tibet in the summer of 2009. It was when Michael Jackson died, because we learned about it while we were there. We traveled with my former postdoc and her husband, who was all about taking fancy pictures and connecting with people everywhere even though he could not speak the language. To get pictures of people, he often posed with them. The pictures below, except for a few, were taken by my late husband Adam Driks.


A yak with a fancy saddle:

Nomad lady:

A sheltered prayer wheel:

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 17, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please keep those photos coming in, as every day the level of the tank drops a bit.  Today we have travel photos from Tony Eales, whose captions are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

With spring now definitely on its way here, I should have many more new photos but for now, I happened across a box of old photos of my travels in the early 1990s. I’m scanning a few of them for ease of viewing.

The current batch is from my travels in the north-west Indian Himalayas. We did a horseshoe-shaped journey from the summer capital of British India, Simla up through Kashmir and Ladakh then back down into Himachel Pradesh.

The first stop on the journey was McLeod Ganj, a picturesque suburb above the town of Dharamshala. It is known as little Lhasa because of the large Tibetan population and it being the location of the Dali Lama’s government in exile.

I loved McLeod Ganj. We would spend hours in the local cafe ordering teas and banana pancakes and playing 500 with other Australians. We also went to the local cinema pictured on the left here.

With McLeod Ganj as a base, we did a five-day trek over the Indrahar Pass. The effects of climate change were already visible. we crossed several scree slopes that the guides informed us used to be small glaciers. Nevertheless, the views were amazing.
I saw a lot of wildlife there but had only a small camera. We had Lammergeier [Gypaetus barbatus] gliding past, mongoose running through the grass, and Rhesus Macaques [Macaca mulatta] in the hills behind the town.

From McLeod Ganj we took probably our riskiest trip to Lake Dal in the city of Srinigar, Kashmir. While fighting has made it impossible to visit recently, even in 1993 there were regular clashes in the city between separatists and the Indian army. We heard distant gunfire at night but were relatively safe staying on a houseboat out in the lake.

The author as a much younger man:

Dal lake is famous for its beautiful tourist house boats and for its floating markets where venders paddle about with their wares among shoppers also paddling in shikaras, the small boats everyone uses to get around.

It’s a great pity that this most beautiful city has been suffering under post-colonial conflict and religious intolerance for so long.

After the somewhat stressful experience of Srinigar, we passed over into the desert of the Himalayan rain shadow and the region of Ladakh. This is without a doubt the most spectacular place I have ever been.

Strips of vivid green in the snow melt fed valleys with Tibetan monasteries built above the crops but in the shadow of the enormous mountains.

It has a real feeling of going back in time to a place where the seasons dictate everything about life. While there were plenty of tourists and a great many of the businesses existed to cater to us, from what I’ve read, these days it is flooded in the high season with tourists from India and one needs to carefully book ahead any accommodation or activities. It had a much more relaxed feel in 1993, far away from crowds, conflict, armies and bureaucracy.

The capital Leh is fed by the Indus River, channelled through the barley fields and apricot orchards.

The altitude of 3500m and resulting lack of oxygen slowed our previous frenetic pace to a crawl and it was a real shame to leave this wonderful land. We took the eastern road out of Leh to the hippie mecca of Manali. Doing so took us over the second highest motorable pass in the world and yet more desolate spectacular scenery.


Reader’s travel photos: Nagasaki

August 9, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, reader Joe Routon sent us some photos from the area. His captions are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

My Trip to Nagasaki

My father, a Marine lieutenant during WWII, was one of the first Americans to enter Nagasaki after the bombing of the city. He and other Marines, who were stationed there to help maintain order, lived in the Mitsubishi factory for several weeks, unknowingly absorbing harmful radiation. Fortunately, he lived to the age of 83, unlike many of his fellow soldiers who succumbed to cancer, caused by exposure.

It had long been a goal of mine to visit Nagasaki, so my wife and I planned a trip of several weeks to Japan.

On our train ride to Nagasaki, we passed through Hiroshima, site of the first atomic blast, on August 6, 1945. Gazing through the window at the buildings and the people walking the streets, I tried to imagine that day.

Our visit to Japan so far had included Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Kurashiki. We found the Japanese people to be unfailingly polite, helpful (one lady went out of her way for four blocks to guide us to our hotel), considerate of others, and welcoming to us American tourists.

Our day in Nagasaki began with a streetcar ride to Peace Park, at the epicenter of the atomic bombʼs explosion. We lingered for a few minutes at the wing-shaped fountain that was dedicated to the fatally wounded who begged for water.

Heading farther into the Park, we stopped to see statues and sculptures from all over the world that were donated to Nagasaki to memorialize the atomic bombing. We passed by the ruins of the concrete walls of a prison where 134 inmates had died instantly.

At the end of the Park is the Peace Statue: a seated man, 30 feet tall, with one hand pointing up in the direction from where the bomb had come and the other extending outward in a gesture of peace.

The statue, “Maiden of Peace,” was given to the Japanese people by China.

A few hundred yards away, the exact epicenter (the bomb exploded 1500 feet above) is marked with a black pillar placed in the center of concentric circles on the ground that signify the spreading waves of death. A black coffin in front of the pillar contains the nearly 150,000 names of all of the known victims of the fiery blast.

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum pulls no punches. Its photographs and videos of the city before and after the explosion are mind-numbing. Inside, the lighting grows dim and a clock can be heard ticking away the seconds until 11:02, when it abruptly stops.

Displays show hand bones melded in the searing heat (7000 degrees F.) into a clump of melted glass, remnants of a personʼs skull inside a helmet, clothing exposed in the bombing, photographs of dead and dying victims, and video accounts by survivors.

Other exhibitions show damage caused by heat rays, by the force of the explosions, by fires, and by radiation. Viewing them is not a pleasant experience, but, like Auschwitz, it is something that should be seen by everyone.

Whether or not the bombing was justified, countless innocent lives, young and old, military and civilian, were lost; animal and plant life were destroyed. Visiting this museum is the closest you can come to comprehending the horrific magnitude of the death and destruction of atomic warfare.

I came to Nagasaki and got a glimpse of what my father experienced 63 years ago. By connecting with history, I connected with him.

Kodak deletes pictures of Xinjiang, but it’s too late: Bari Weiss’s site publishes them

July 29, 2021 • 11:30 am

Patrick Wack, a photographer, has a book coming out called Dust, which combines essays about Xinjiang with Wack’s own photographs taken in the province between 2016 and 2019. As I’ve reported recently, and you should know already, China is in the process of dismantling the culture of the local Uyghurs (a Muslim people) in Xinjiang, with 1 million out of 6 million Uyghurs living in “reeducation camps”, which involve propaganda, forced labor, and even torture. The entire province is subject to minute scrutiny by China, with cameras everywhere, searches if you go into public places, and apps on phones that record your every click and call. You can be sent to a camp for a minute “infraction”, like getting a telephone call from overseas. Mosques are being destroyed and burial grounds covered with new buildings.

This is much like the takeover of Tibet by the Han Chinese and the destruction of Tibetan culture I sensed when I visited there a few decades ago, all done to assure the hegemony of China’s one true religion: Communism. The tension between the Tibetans and the incoming Han was palpable; often a Tibetan would pull me into a corner and ask me if I had any pictures of the Dalai Lama (these are forbidden).

There’s a really intriguing interview of Wack by Suzy Weiss on Bari Weiss’s site this week, which documents not only the changes Wack has seen over the past few years in Xinjiang, but also the censorship of his photos by Kodak lest they offend the Chinese. Wak’s photos don’t really show obvious repression of the Uyghurs, since Wack is not allowed to depict that, but it hints at it. I’ll show a few of them.

Click on the screenshot to read:

You can see more pictures from the book here.

First, what Kodak did, also documented by the New York Times. Excerpts from the interview are indented.

Earlier this month, Patrick Wack got a boost any photographer would dream of when Kodak’s Instagram account — 841,000 followers and counting — decided to feature ten photographs from his forthcoming book. It’s called “Dust,” and it chronicles the transformation, over the past half-decade, of the Xinjiang region, the cradle of Uyghur civilization, at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

Then, a few days after Kodak shared the photos, the company deleted them

It didn’t just delete them. It replaced Wack’s haunting pictures with its corporate logo and a statement that reads, in part: “Kodak’s Instagram page is intended to enable creativity by providing a platform for promoting the medium of film. It is not intended to be a platform for political commentary.” It went on to “apologize for any misunderstanding or offense the post may have caused.”

Instagram is banned in China, so Kodak put out an additional statement on WeChat, a Chinese social-media platform. This one was more abject:

For a long time, Kodak has maintained a good relationship with the Chinese government and has been in close cooperation with various government departments. We will continue to respect the Chinese government and the Chinese law.

We will keep ourselves in check and correct ourselves, taking this as an example of the need for caution. 

What Weis didn’t note, but the NYT did, is this:

In the Kodak post and on his own Instagram account, Mr. Wack described his images as a visual narrative of Xinjiang’s “abrupt descent into an Orwellian dystopia” over the past five years. That did not sit well with Chinese social media users, who often object vociferously to Western criticism of Chinese government policies.

I suppose you could say that, in light of Wack’s statements, Kodak had some justification to remove the pictures, which would surely worsen their relationship with China. But I still see it as cowardly. For Kodak, though, the bottom line counts more than cultural genocide. At any rate, beyond this censorship, Wack has some interesting stuff to say about his trips to Xinjiang and the changes happening as the Han Chinese begin their cultural genocide.

Here are a few photos and Wack’s statements in the interview that characterize them.

I wanted to see how much of the repression of the minorities, and the economic segregation, I could capture. For example, the biggest industry in Xinjiang is hydro-carbons, like gas and construction. I didn’t see a single Uyghur person working there. It was all Han Chinese people. The only people you see working in the cotton fields were Uyghur. They are second-class citizens. And they are in a region that is generating so much wealth — but not for them.

November 2016. A young Uyghur seasonal worker in the last days of the cotton harvest in Luntai county, located between Korla and Kuqa, north of the Taklamakan desert.

I think a lot of Chinese people have no idea what’s going on in Xinjiang. Regular people who don’t speak English and only read Chinese media think the camps are training centers, and that the government is bringing modernity to backwards people so they can integrate into the Chinese dream of this great, modern society where everyone has a car and a flat.

There’s also a push from the government to send people there to eat the food, and watch girls do traditional dance or take a camel ride into the desert. They want people to think it’s stable and safe.

There are busloads of Han Chinese tourists coming in to see this idyllic version of Xinjiang which is just about the folklore. They’re going to theme parks, or ethno-parks, and ten kilometers away you have camps where they are trying to brainwash and annihilate the culture of the Uyghurs. I found it perverse, the two realities of this Potemkin Village version of Xinjiang with what was really happening.

September 2019. Motorized miniature tanks at a desert-tourism park catering to Han-Chinese tourists.

And the changes:

You describe your work as a “visual narrative of the region and as a testimony to its abrupt descent into an Orwellian dystopia.” I’d like to know more about that descent. What were some of the most important changes you saw between your first trips to Xinjiang in 2016, and your most recent trip in 2019?

There were two major differences. The first was the increase of the police on the ground. In 2016, it was a highly-surveilled region. By 2019, it had become an open air prison filled with police. The officers are all Uyghur people, and they are checking you all the time. You have to go through a body scan and security, just like when you go through an airport, but whenever you enter any public place at all, like a bazaar or a supermarket.

February 2019. Hotan, Xinjiang province. Locals wait in line for ID check and body searches before entering the local bazaar.

There’s also the surveillance you can’t see. There are devices that check the content of phones and apps that record everything. And the cameras are absolutely everywhere.

The second major change was in the landscape. The women were not wearing their veils anymore. Any symbol that was Middle Eastern or Muslim had been removed. The mosques were closed or destroyed. You couldn’t hear the call to prayer anymore in the streets.

In 2016, the mosques were filled, especially in the towns in the south of the region, which is the cradle of the Uyghur people.In 2019, I didn’t see a single person going to the mosque to pray. Some mosques were open, but only as tourist sites. I also saw a gap in the demographics in the region. There were fewer men in their twenties, thirties and forties out in the streets. My impression was that they were in the camps, but it’s hard to know for sure. That’s what I felt. There was tension and weight all around. Something grim. 

At the end, Wack questions whether the Olympics should be held in Beijing next year (winter games), comparing them to the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany and adding that, “If a stand is going to be taken, it should be now.” That’s a bit hyperbolic, and of course they won’t cancel the games. But the world needs to know more about what’s going on in Xinjiang.

Reader’s wildlife photos

July 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos from reader Daniela, whose notes and captions are indented. You can enlarge her photos by clicking on them.

I hope to find you well. I’m sending you my wildlife/nature pictures, which were taken with a basic or cell phone camera. I’ll send some that I think might be interesting. I took them while on vacation in Kauai in Jun/Jul 2021.

I know you are a fan of Aloha shirts, so I’m wondering if you have ever been to Kauai. I think it was the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

There were lizards and chickens everywhere in Kauai, which was great because there were no bugs!! I was really surprised to be in a tropical paradise where I didn’t need to worry about mosquitos.

This gold dust day gecko (Phelsuma laticauda) seems to have been in some fights. I took the pictures in a restaurant where they had some plants and a fountain.

The red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata) was introduced in Hawaii and it is also called Brazilian Cardinal, which is funny because I’m from the Brazilian region where it occurs and I’ve never seen it before. They were very common on the island.

A brave fisherman:

Crabs. (What are those small balls?)

Brown anole (Anolis sagrei):

We took a helicopter ride where I could see the most amazing views of the Napali Coast and the north side of the island. It was totally worth it for me, we got lucky and it was a pretty sunny day with almost no clouds. The helicopter got really close to that big wall, and it seemed like we were going to hit it.

Namolokama Falls:

Namolokama Mountain:

Napali Coast:

The beginning of a river:

The Cathedrals, Napali Coast:

Tunnels Beach:

View from Nourish Hanalei Restaurant:

Reader’s wildlife photos

July 14, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have travel photos from Richard Bond, whose captions are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Since you accept travel photos, perhaps you might like these: a few of the high points from a tour through four cities in SE Asia.

The seven-headed cobra is a common motif in Cambodia, and the first photo shows an example that I liked very much in the balustrade of steps leading to a temple near our hotel in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh lies mostly on the west bank of the Tonle Sap river and the much larger Mekong. Unsurprisingly, river traffic is important. This photo shows boats at the southern tip of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the rivers. I believe that people live on these boats.

Ferries are a necessity:

Between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap we stopped at a market. The foods for sale included many stir-fried invertebrates. The first photo shows scorpions and the next a much larger variety; the pale things in the right foreground are silkworm grubs.

I really liked Siem Reap. It is most noted for the Angkor Wat complex of temples, but there are many more features of interest. The photo below shows a home on the nearest of the many floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake. This lake was filled annually when the Mekong floods caused the Tonle Sap river to flow backwards. Today China diverts so much of the Mekong for its own use that this no longer happens as formerly, and it might be that the lake will become so polluted that the floating villages will no longer be viable.

The photo below shows a man in a workshop that produces examples of typical Cambodian art. This is not tourist tat: these people are real artists who take great pride in their work. I preferred this photo to some that I took that showed faces because it exemplifies the total concentration of these fine craftsman.

Near Luang Phabang we visited a rice farm, where we saw all stages in the production of rice from preparing the paddy to polishing the seeds. I was amused by the “scarecrow” made from rice stalks; nothing goes to waste. (Yes, I fully admit to an idiosyncratic taste in what is interesting.)

The photo below shows a water buffalo dragging a rake with huge tines to churn the paddy into mud for planting. As it shows, we were invited to take part in the fun. The man in the green shirt was our guide here, and he was outstanding: totally expert and spoke fluent English with almost no accent.(All of our local guides in all three countries were excellent.)

The Kuang Si waterfall comprises a series of cascades through tropical forest. Thought not particularly high or of large volume, it really is very beautiful. My photo does not do it justice.

The photo below was taken in an enclosure near the bottom of the falls that houses Asiatic Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus) rescued from tiny cages where they are “milked” for their bile for use in traditional “medicine”. Many of them were captured when young, so would not thrive if released into the wild. In any case, they are extinct in the area and for hundreds of kilometres around, so there is no wild population that they could join. The enclosure is large and packed with trees and wooden structures to give full scope for their arboreal habits, so it was quite difficult to get a good photo. This was the best that I could manage.

I was not in much of a state to appreciate Hanoi and I took hardly any photos. I was unexpectedly tired. It transpired that I was suffering from severe anaemia caused by a condition that later landed me in hospital with sepsis. On top of that I was starting with the worst cold that I have had for a long time, probably caught from a pushy gaggle of Chinese tourists in a Luang Prabang museum. This was a pity, since Hanoi looks interesting. However, I did enjoy a boat trip around Haiphong Bay (no walking!). These two photos show a couple of the nearly 2,000 islands.

Below you see a local fishing boat. Some fishing areas are in dispute between Vietnam and China, with Chinese gunboats armed with water cannon disrupting the Vietnamese boats (according to the Vietnamese).

The islands are limestone, and one has a cave complex. I did not feel well enough to tackle what looked like an intimidating flight of steps, and anyway I am claustrophobic, so I stayed on the quay while the rest of the party went to the caves. After a while I noticed the boat below that turned out to be fishing litter out of the water. I suppose that anywhere popular suffers from people dropping litter (probably Chinese tourists) but such an effort to clean it up is commendable.

The world’s most beautiful spots

June 16, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I guess I’ve written a post like this before, but like to periodically refresh it. Today I’ll simply list the five places that I consider the most beautiful spots I’ve seen. Most of the pictures I have of them are on 35 mm Kodachrome slides, so I really can’t reproduce my photos here. I will add two of my own for Antarctica.

Click the photos to enlarge them.

1.)  Mount Everest from the Khumbu Valley, particularly from the Thyangboche Monastery. At the monastery one gets a view of not only Everest, but the great wall of Ama Dablam rising up before you. Since there are primitive guest facilities at the monastery, you can watch the Himalayas become gold and purple at sunset, and then reappear in the morning. The view looks something like the photo below. But one can’t convey in a photo how high these mountains really are, rising up to nearly the height of the Sun in the sky:


 2.) Machu Picchu, especially viewed from the overlooking Machu Picchu Mountain.  When I visited decades ago, all one could see was a solid green forest stretching to the horizon, and then these ruins sprouting from a hilltop. It was fantastic, especially seen from above. What a place to build a city!

3) The view of the extinct volcano from high up on Santorini.  Before Santorini became popular and a tourist madhouse, I visited it in 1972 on my way back to mainland Greece from Crete. We stopped for a few days on Santorini and were able to get a room right on the cliffside (the island is the remnants of a huge volcano that blew up, supposedly destroying the Minoan civilization. The main town sits on a vertical cliff that was once the inside of the crater.  The view down toward the still-active area (a few smokeholes on a small island) is fantastic, and to sit on your balcony and watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea is to get as close to paradise as you can on this orb. A view (I bet these hotels are now pretty expensive):

4.) The Taj Mahal, especially during a full moon. Yes, it’s one of the most touristed spots on Earth, but it justly deserves its fame. Just try to go at a time when it’s not crowded (probably almost never) and especially at night during the full moon. Fortunately, we stayed in Agra at such a time, and in full moonlight the great mausoleum turns pearly blue, almost appearing to float above the ground. If you’re in northern India, you must go.


5.) The Antarctic continent. My latest discovery, and there is so much that’s beautiful that I can’t single out one spot. Just go, and go where you can cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula, with icebergs floating by, and see the majestic mountains which are, to steal a Gordon Lightfoot phrase, “too silent to be real.” Here are just two photos I took in the late fall of 2019. I am desperate to return late this year or early next year: keep your fingers crossed for me. I swear I’ll give great lectures to the passengers!

But of course there are also birds:

The point of this post, of course, is not only to cheer myself up (when I’m low I like to remember how lucky I’ve been to see these places), but to ask readers to list the most beautiful places they’ve been. I’d be really curious to hear!