North America

A Bend in the Road

We’ve encountered a small snag on our life journey and will take some time off to deal with it. It’s just a pit stop and we’ll be back to exploring this wonderful world of ours soon, we’re sure.

If you’ve ever fantasized about places you’d like to visit, go now. Do not wait until you are retired. Do not wait until the children are grown, until you have enough money, until you have less responsibilities. The reasons to wait are many. The reason to go is one: No one has a guarantee on life and no one knows what lays ahead. It is important to take advantage of the time we have when we have it.

Figure out what you want out of life and go get it, today. Always keep exploring!

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: | 1 Comment

Big Skies over Texas

Nine miles out of Marfa Texas occurs a phenomenon which attracts many visitors and the occasional nut: a set of ghostly orbs of light playfully enticing viewers into keeping watch.  The Marfa Lights are said to have been observed by even the Native Americans although the first recorded sighting is from 1883. Explanations for the lights range from UFOs to ghosts to the airfield behind the Viewing Area. It is certainly a strange phenomenon as the lights seem to dance and travel in weird paths. There are sometimes three, one, two or even five lights which circle around one another, moving closer or farther away willy-nilly and sometimes disappearing altogether just to appear again when and where you least expect it. We loved it!  One sensible explanation for the lights is that they are simply headlights from cars traveling along highway 67. I have a bit of trouble with that explanation since, at least when we were there, the lights didn’t seem to come from where the highway was; could it be they reflected off some other surface before appearing? Some people claim to have had the lights chase them but that seems a bit too far-fetched by our experience. We invite you to judge by yourself: the viewing area is located along highway 90 and it is a pretty place to observe not only the mysterious lights but also the night sky. What a treat! We could have stayed there for hours. The lights are eerie and wonderful, don’t make the trek out here just for the lights but if you’re in the area it is worth the effort. We would have loved to come back during daytime and hike out to where we thought the lights were just out of curiosity, let us know what you find if you ever do.  Even if haunted lights are not your thing, coming out here for the beautiful starry sky is sure to make it a night to remember.

We were lucky and got a last minute reservation to the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park. We didn’t know West Texas could be this beautiful. The Lodge is located at the foot of the mountains and the views are phenomenal. 20140725_110409

The Lodge is cute and comfortable and the perfect place from where to explore the park but do not despair if you’re not able to get a room, camping is widely available as well. As much as we liked the Lodge, their food is not fit for anyone’s consumption, make other arrangements. Several places are available in town and it is a cute place for a stroll if you’re in the mood for a ‘lost-in-time’ kind of day.DSC04084

In the park, volunteers guide hikes thru the mountains pointing out all kinds of native and invasive species of plants,DSC04005

birds, and other critters.20140725_094544

Milkweed, which is nourishment for Monarch butterflies, is one such native plant. With its distinctive starlike flowers, you won’t miss it.20140725_091139

Notices were posted in the park to watch out for mountain lions but we didn’t see evidence of any, which doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be careful anyway.DSC04054

What we did encounter was a javelina on a nighttime trek which jumped right in front of our car in a failed suicide attempt. We refused to hit it so it grunted and squealed at us in complaint before heading back to wherever it came from. Although javelinas are plentiful in the mountains, that was the only one we saw during our time there. Hummingbirds are also plentiful here and we had the good fortune to come across a nest with two chicks no bigger than my thumb patiently waiting for their mama.20140725_100336

A long hike from the park will take you to Fort Davis, or you can simply drive there like we did.DSC04029

Fort Davis was established in 1854 and served as a military outpost to protect travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso road from assaults by the Apaches, Comanches and Kiowas.  The fort covers a large area so I would suggest touring it in the morning before the sun dissuades you from it (they provide complimentary golf carts to those visitors who need them)DSC04034

and do not miss visiting the Hospital all the way in the back. It will make you appreciate living in the age of science and technology.

The McDonald Observatory, belonging to the University of Texas, is located on the Davis Mountains.20140725_105409 While astronomical research is its essential function, it also provides community education and outreach. The observatory has several different public programs, some of its most popular are the Twilight Program and the Star Party which are commonly held on the same night in order to enable visitors to take advantage of both, which we did.  The Twilight Program is an indoor event conducted by an observatory staff member and is appropriate for all age levels.  It is to be noted that some of the thoughest and most detailed questions asked that night came from children under 10. On this particular night, we were treated to a detailed explanation of the motion of the planets around our sun and how humans use constellations to describe their locations.

Are you a fan of horoscopes? The Zodiac is based on the 12 constellations which appear on the ecliptic, which is the path the Sun seems to follow around the Earth throughout the year. If the obvious uncertainty of determining your future depending on where the Sun was thought to be at the time of your birth does not dissuade you from minding your horoscope, how about finding out that you might have gotten your zodiac sign all wrong? Turns out there is a thirteenth constellation: Ophiuchus, on the ecliptic which was completely left out of the Zodiac. Since being a Scorpio does sound nicer than being an Ophiuchus, I wouldn’t place too much blame on the creator of the Zodiac for such an omission.

After the Twilight Program, we were led outside to the forum where another staff member showed us constellations, planets and nearby stars in real life while we awaited the darkening night. At least 10 mobile telescopes were set up on the esplanade but even the big telescopes in their domes were available to us. There were lines, some shorter than others, but although there were about 400 people in attendance (we were told as we didn’t personally count them), the lines didn’t seem overwhelmingly long or maybe it was the magic of being able to see the Milky Way without the interference of city lights that made it seem so. We were lucky enough to observe Saturn in all its beauty but even those stars not given names any more poetic than a handful of numbers and letters looked beautiful to our lay eyes.

We went to bed that night grudgingly knowing that it was our last chance to enjoy the skies before heading home the next morning.  The boys decided to take a last hike before we left and persuaded us to let them go at it alone. No wonder they didn’t want me along to spoil their fun, if I had only known what they were up to:

West Texas surprised us with its beauty.  The mountains take your breath away and we couldn’t have asked for better night watching.  The Davis Mountains are definitely high on our list of places worth visiting and we will surely be coming back soon.DSC04076

 

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tiny Turtles @ The Texas Coast

South Padre Island is one of the most famous spots in Texas.  During Spring Break, tens of thousands of students descend on this small town and the place is transformed into a non-stop party.  We’re a bit too wise (read: old) to enjoy such a scene so we made our way during the month of July when it becomes a family hot-spot.  The area is expensive during the summer but not outrageously so. We stayed at The Pearl, which although billed as a luxury hotel, just wasn’t.  We’ve certainly stayed at worst places but we’d still opt for a different hotel next time around. The personnel working there were all very nice though and the proximity to the beach is probably one of the best.  Which brings me to the true reason to visit South Padre: the beach.  The sand is fine and soft, it might not be Caribbean white but it feels just as nice between your toes.  The ocean water is transparent and, during our time there, warm.  Waves are mild which allows one to swim lazily in the ocean, not to mention that the shore remains shallow for a long distance making it a good spot to bring children to.

Sure enough, the place is full of families happily building (what they hope will pass for) sand castles.  DSC03965The hotel does not provide beach chairs or umbrellas (nor beach towels) so you’ll be charged between $20-$30 if you’d like to use the ones provided by a separate vendor. We noticed that most families simply bring their own EZ-Ups and chairs and proceed to set their tents right in front of these umbrellas thus blocking the view others have paid for.  We’d never seen that before so we were not as well prepared but we catch on quickly.  When we saw this happening around us, we set some towels, sandals and anything else we could gather in the space in front of our umbrella with the result that families set their tents to both sides of us but not in front.  The beach is long though so don’t despair if it happens to you, just move a bit further down; you’re sure to find another good spot.

DSC03977Water sports, fishing and dolphin watching are some of the other activities available to you here.  In case you suffer from sea-sickness, dolphins can easily be seen from the bridge crossing over from Port Isabel, no need to get on a boat.  Deep-sea fishing though has no run-around.  The boys decided to go para-sailing while we relaxed on the beach. They claim to have been able to see the refinery from up there, I suppose that’s not really a selling point but it is an exciting experience regardless.

 

The reason behind our desire to visit at this time is an event which occurs every summer and which we, since we don’t usually spend summers in Texas, hadn’t been able to witness until now (drum-roll please): the sea turtle hatchling release. DSC03847During the period from April-August, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles deposit their eggs on the beaches of Tamaulipas (in Mexico) and Texas (in the USA). Kemp’s Ridley Turtles do this during the daytime, in contrast to all other sea turtles which do so during the night. The arrival of the turtles to the beach is known as the “Arrivada” which means to arrive, in Spanish.  Due to man activity, the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle is critically endangered and its arrivadas aren’t as plentiful as they used to be, you can watch a video of the last filmed event here from 1947. What a wondrous sight that must have been.

During these summer months, personnel from Sea Turtle Inc. comb the beach looking for nests. When these are spotted, the eggs are relocated into a secure area where they are protected from predators and humans alike. About 45 days later, the baby turtles begin to hatch.  Once most of these baby turtles are ready, they begin a frenzy which is a burst of energy allowing the hatchlings to make their way out of the nest and toward the sea.  As this happens, Sea Turtle Inc. personnel collect the hatchlings and transport them to the beach where they are released.DSC03856When this frenzy occurs close to dawn, a public release is held and anyone has the amazing opportunity to watch it happen.

It is the turtles that decide when they will frenzy so a viewing is never guaranteed. However Sea Turtle Inc. has a phone number set up for you to call and find out if the release will happen. Some tips about this hotline though: the hotline is updated around 5:30am but this does not mean you must get up at 5:30am to call.  The public release, if there is one, will happen around 7am so you could wake up around 6:30, call and still have time to make it there. The number tends to get busy so a safer bet is to like them on Facebook and check your timeline for the announcement.  The release is held at beach county access #3, parking is available and it’s only a few steps to the beach. Volunteers set a perimeter line but don’t fret, they will bring the hatchlings over for you to take pictures to your heart’s content before letting them go.DSC03842No touching though.

Releases happen at various dates during the summer as the nests hatch at different times. There were not that many people in attendance when we were there but we were told we were lucky as the previous weekend had seen upwards of 400 people gathering for the release.DSC03860

Once they are let go, the tiny turtles make their way toward the rising sun, some faster than others and some seem completely lost as to what they are supposed to be doing. DSC03895DSC03889

One even settled in a small pool of water which had collected on the beach as if it was home already and it had to be coaxed forward.DSC03932After a bit, gulls get wind of what is going on and begin circling overhead. None of them tried to pick up any hatchlings though, maybe having so many humans keeping guard is not such a bad thing for the turtles.  We did see one gull dive into the ocean and fly up with a hatchling in its beak, but it was just one out of dozens so I’d call that success. Even gulls have to eat after all.

Sea Turtle Inc. also works to rehabilitate other kinds of turtles and provide educational programs for the community, please check them out if you’re in the area. Numbers are not even close to what they should be for the Kemp’s Ridley Turtle but thanks to efforts from organizations like Sea Turtle Inc. there is reason for hope. Maybe we will be lucky enough to witness an “Arrivada” in our lifetime but in the meantime attending a hatchling release is sure to leave you with a heartening feeling for the rest of your visit to South Padre Island.DSC03887DSC03954

 

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How big is Texas after all?

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This summer we opted for something quite out of the ordinary for us: staying home!  Best laid plans and all that…although truthfully we have been enjoying it fully. The wanderlust is still there but so is the need to slow down for a while.  In order to merge these two seemingly conflicting desires we have been taking small trips around the area. Who knew interesting could happen so close to one’s house, right?  Texas is the second largest state of the union and as such encompasses many diverse environments. We’ve been exploring a few of them. This summer’s posts will likely be all about Texas, come along in our discoveries and please forgive us if we forget to write a post or two, we are taking it easy this time around, laid-back Texas-style.

 

 

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No Place Like Home

We’ve been back home for almost a week and can’t believe how fast these six weeks flew by.  We’re exhausted but at the same time feel we could have kept going longer.  We had many surprises this summer and are glad to have put our preconceptions to the test, most (all?) of them were completely wrong.  The two countries we were most concerned about visiting were Russia and Turkey but they turned out to be two of the best. Continue reading

Categories: Albania, Asia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Mexico, Montenegro, North America, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Turkey | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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