Tuesday, February 21, 2017

First road trip 2017, Southern Oregon Coast — with a boondocking tip

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We'd been retreating to the Oregon coast between Brookings and Gold Beach for decades before someone recommended this prime real estate—Thunder Rock Cove. See PK on the rocks on right? How insignificant we are on the land, and the sea dwarfs us even more.
Storms have hammered Southern Oregon for months, but the furies took a break early last week for two entire days. We heard the forecast, locked eyes, and said, Let's go!

So PK released the Roadtrek from its antifreeze-induced coma, I put together a quick camp menu, and we motored 80 happy miles to the Southern Oregon coast.

We are fortunate to live near the Pacific Ocean — such a power-source. It never fails to energize, inspire, and, during these surreal political times, calm. The crashing waves, the salty scent of sea air, the glint of slanted sun on the water, the glowering clouds meeting the horizon. It all dissolves poisonous anxiety and opens the mind to focus on what really matters. Family, friends, relationships is what it boils down to.

Aside from its stunning beauty, the Southern Oregon coast in the off season is more or less deserted.
   A view from the Cape Sebastian trail. We hiked about 90 min-
   utes round trip from the top almost to the beach and back
   and didn't see a soul. 
Like everyone else in Southern Oregon, we live a five-hour drive from major population centers. Lots of small towns here, and a minor city there, but Portland is five hours north and San Francisco is seven hours south. Hence our guarantee, at least during the off-season, of having regional natural wonders to ourselves. 

On our lovely lonely beaches we can pretend that the world is still all natural and pristine, population density is under control, our country is not in a period of political discord, and that maniacs around the world are not constantly committing crimes against humanity and nature.

Here the only aggression arises from a winter sea riled by natural forces rather than from ego-ridden flawed humans riled by each other and driven by pride and greed. 

Another view  from the Thunder Rock Cove trail, which is part of the
Pacific Coast Trail through the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.

If you visit this part of the world, stop at as many pullouts as you can manage along the 26-mile Samuel H. Boardman corridor. Every single stop has a gem to turn over in your vision and your mind. 
PK at Thunder Rock Cove. Part of the trail follows
a creek with a waterfall or two. Ho hum. 
Boondocking Bonus

About that boondocking thing. I admit that until early last year,  I thought boondocking had to do with living in the boondocks, which we pretty much already do in rural Southern Oregon.

But no.

Boondocking, in camping terms, means parking your RV, or pitching your tent, someplace where you don't have to pay. And, of course, the trade off is you also don't have electricity or water hookups, restrooms, laundry, or any of the amenities that can dock you $30 to $60 a night. (We once paid $86 at a KOA on the East Coast near Acadia National Park but that's another story.)

Boondocking has become, I believe, something of a badge of honor. I learned this after we bought our Roadtrek Agile van in February 2016 and joined the Roadtreking Facebook group, aimed at travelers with small Class B RVs but open to all. If you have an RV of any size, or are thinking about buying one, check it out.

If you're rolling in a small RV, such as our van, you are self contained with water, heat, generator, and the all-important flush toilet. Why should you pay for camping? 

Too many commercial RV parks look like sales lots, just a bunch of big rigs lined up in a metallic row with a tree or two here and there. Or not. Little privacy. Gravel. Sad little plants. Sometimes clean restrooms/showers, sometimes not.

During our two-day coastal getaway, we scored a wonderful boondocking spot quite by accident. I glimpsed a car climbing a steep gravel drive on the ocean side of the highway as we were passing by. We returned to the area later and discovered a perfect hideaway.
I love this. We're super close to Hwy. 1 but we couldn't see the road and drivers couldn't see us. There were no pay envelopes in sight. Also no other campers.

As the photo below shows, we did have a fine vista to enjoy while sipping wine before our  dinner of leftovers from home. 

Here we are leveled up with Lego thingies, our plastic rug on forest duff and mud, deluding ourselves about keeping the van tidy. It never hurts to try.
Before I leave the boondocking topic, here's a tip.
If you have a self-contained RV, you can join, for $20 to $25 a year, a group called Welcome Boondockers. 

For $25, you can park your RV on a member's property. For $20 you can park on others' property and open yours to fellow travelers. The website shows hundreds, maybe thousands, of available driveways, fields, and whatever to park for the night, all over the USA and Canada and some in Mexico and other foreign lands.

We used Welcome Boondockers several times during our seven-week cross-country road trip last fall. It was great, and we met some fine folks. 

And while I'm at it, the ALLSTAYS Camp and RV app helps you find campgrounds and parks and dozens of other things RVers might look for, including "dispersed" camping areas, and Wal Mart and other businesses that allow overnight parking.

Dispersed camping, usually available on BLM or Forest Service lands, is free camping without amenities, the same as boondocking. 

Sky, land and sea from Otter Point north of Gold Beach, OR.
On the road there, we saw a large semi-hidden RV boondocking.

OK. Here's a confession: We were at the coast for just two nights, and we spent one of them at a hotel in Gold Beach. A hotel! Even when we had the private spot with a million $$$$ view.

I know. It's embarrassing.

But hear me out. It was Valentine's Day and we had reservations at a quirky gourmet restaurant in Gold Beach, Oregon, Anna's by the Sea.  Recommended!

The combination of Valentine's Day and dinner reservations propelled us to the hotel, where our dinner and our bed were just a few blocks apart. You make concessions when you're over a certain age and are no longer living paycheck to paycheck. 

We'll get our fill of  boondocking this spring as we travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

       Parting shots from the Southern Oregon coast

Standing in the surf can make anybody feel like Master of the Universe. 
One of my favorite Oregon coast memories is of this mid-December day when the temperature climbed to 70F and we spent hours hiking and relaxing on Lone Ranch Beach. Back home in the Rogue Valley, cold fog hid the sun and it was around 35F.

My niece from Minnesota marveling at an Indian Sands trail vista a few years ago. 

Same niece, different year, and a typical sunset on the Southern Oregon coast.

Guide to the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
If you plan to visit the Southern Oregon Coast, this guide is invaluable.

Three earlier posts, two about camping on the Southern Oregon Coast and one about a fantastic beach camp in Northern California. Pick and choose. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Galapagos Islands — like nowhere else

Email subscribers, please click on the post's title to see it on the website, which is more eye pleasing.
How did I get this crisp brown pelican's portrait? I was close. I mean  C L O S E.  Perhaps four feet away, crouched in the sand at eye level with my calm and curious subject.
In the Galapagos Islands the wildlife is habituated to people, as if humans are a natural part of their desert island world. To keep it that way, the Galapagos Islands National Park has issued 14 strictly enforced tourist rules including one that says don't get too close. Others include no feeding the wildlife, don't stray beyond the trails or marked areas, and always be be accompanied by a guide.

I had unwittingly broken the no-closer-than-six-feet from wildlife rule.

Later that day, while snorkeling, I shattered this rule again as I bobbed up to clear my mask and was shocked to find myself nose to beak with a floating pelican. They're big! The bird was unruffled. It didn't fly off or make any move to escape my unexpected and immediate presence.

At that point, the pelican needed to observe rules not to scare the crap out of tourists!

Actually, I was thrilled. I think I had the biggest smile within a 50-mile radius.

It was amazing. I will never again see a pelican without recalling the special moments I enjoyed that day. Many more incredible wildlife episodes thrilled me and my companions during the eight days we sailed, hiked, and snorkeled in the Galapagos Islands.

Our floating home in the Galapagos accommodates 16, but there were just 13 including PK and me and our friends and fellow Oregonians, Laurie Gerloff and Steve Lambros. Small yachts are a popular way to tour the islands. Many others choose to stay on an island or two or more. For us, not having to book hotels, find restaurants, hire qualified guides to take us to wildlife areas and snorkeling was worth the few downsides. The yacht was, as they say, pricey, but included all meals and an on-board naturalist who guided us daily on land and sea. Snorkeling! Every day! 
 Our guide, Efren, is a knowledgeable Galapagos native. Visitors 
cannot explore without a guide and must stay on marked trails. 
I confess that before our December trip, I had misgivings. I've seen sea lions, iguanas, turtles and birds galore in the wild, in pictures, and in films. Why would I pay big bucks to see more?

Uncharacteristically wise, I kept these doubts to myself.

Good for me as I was wrong. So wrong.

The sheer volume of wildlife alone is astounding. It's insanely beautiful, exotic, and exciting to step around and over hundreds of creatures during a couple hours of slow hiking over lava and sand, and on paths through thickets of brush including the eerie white palo santo (incense) trees endemic to the islands, and the occasional pond fringed by lush vegetation. The trees were beginning to bud during our visit, which in that part of the world, was early spring.
In this photo at least 10 birds are visible and others are flying overhead. Marine iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs are likely on the lava rocks, and other birds are no doubt perched in the white palo santo trees. Nearby we'd viewed frigate birds dive bombing nesting flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies nuzzling on their lava perch, Pacific green sea turtles swimming past our dinghy, and more and more and more.
Many species we saw exist only in the Galapagos Islands and were central to Charles Darwin developing the theory of evolution. 

I've evolved  into the sort of person who gets a huge charge out of photographing wildlife, and it's likely there are few places on earth more satisfying to be a camera freak than the Galapagos Islands.

For the most part, the various species carry on as if you aren't there. If you laid down on the sand or lava, they'd just walk right over you and maybe pick through your hair for morsels.
A bird - a Galapagos mockingbird, I think -  perched upon a marine iguana may just be seeking higher elevation, or perhaps she's looking for a snack lodged in the iguana's armor.

I'll shut up now and share more of my favorite images from a magical week.

Steve and Laurie enjoy up close the sight and sounds(!) of a baby sea lion suckling.

The pup's noisy suckling was entertaining. Our presence didn't
appear to affect any of the hundreds of sea lions we observed during the
week. Sand in the eyes doesn't seem to bother them either.
Unabashed sun worshipping is common. I love the sea lion's glossy coat and burnished colors.
         Blue-footed boobies are common in the Galapagos. 

Even more common are the colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs, which occupy seashore lava. 

A Sally Lightfoot crab appears to be pursuing an oystercatcher, but is headed for the water. 

   Here's another oystercatcher, nesting. What an odd eye with an iris that seems to be leaking. 

Marine iguanas, like most amphibians, love to luxuriate in the sunshine. I never made personal contact with an iguana, but that guy in the middle seems to be giving me the eye. I just now noticed that their lips look like tires. So prehistoric looking.  
Nice top knot on this snoozing sunbathing iguana, which, with all that pink, must be a female. :)
I was surprised and delighted to see a few flamingos. Our guide explained that prolonged drought has dried up some of their habitat, and usually they can be seen in flocks of 50 or more. 

                                          The common stilt doesn't look at all common to me. 
Galapagos great blue heron in a mangrove lagoon. These herons aren't as blue as the ones we're used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest, but every bit as graceful and eye-catching.

This yellow warbler wandered around on the beach as if she hadn't a care or an enemy. 
                        Vermillion flycatcher.  We were fortunate to see one, according to our guide.
An inspiring sunrise on a Galapagos morning. I was up early for the usual two-hour hike followed by an hour or so of snorkeling. Snorkeling every day! Next up - a post about sea life and a bit more about taking the yacht route to exploring the Galapagos Islands.

Earlier posts about Ecuador travels 2016

Amazon Adventure - Kapawi Ecolodge  - All about tramping around in the rainforest, gaining insights into Achuar culture, and seeing how various rainforest plants are used for just about everything from housing construction to medicine to spiritual enlightenment.

Off to a shaky start at Kapawi Ecolodge   But it was all good, even the fishtailing bush plane and the drink made from manioc and spit.

Wild in the Amazon - photos and some amateur anthropology

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wild in the Amazon - photos— and some amateur anthropology

E-mail subscribers, please click on the blog title for better visuals. Thanks! MK

A recent trip to Ecuador included a five-day adventure at the Kapawi Ecolodge in the Amazon basin. I'm still digesting the experience. I feel somehow shifted.

PK and I have traveled to many developing countries and have seen poverty. The indigenous people in the Kapawi area of Ecuador have little, if any, money. But they're not poor.  Photos below demonstrate some of the richness of the flora and fauna of the unique environment into which they're totally integrated.

Maybe that's what touched me: Being in a diverse and eco-rich environment—the Amazon rainforest—where people are part of the scene, not taming or conquering it, but living as one with it.

To a large degree, I think that's what many of us - people who live in urban or rural neighborhoods in developed countries try to do when we escape to the mountains and rivers to hike, camp or sit by the water watching insects skim and birds fly.

We long to be part of the natural world. Some people already are. 

It was a good thing to see.

The hoatzin, AKA stinky turkey, has a disagreeable manure-like odor because of aromatic compounds in the leaves it consumes and the resulting bacterial fermentation in a ruminant-type pouch. It is hunted by humans only in times of dire need, according to Wikipedia. It's common, large, noisy with a show-off Mohawk top notch and is featured on the Kapawi logo.

Aww, the toucan! Much sought by camera carriers. Bonus that this one was about to eat a nut. The Kapawi area was thick with birds. All photos were shot within a few miles of the lodge.
Seems like wherever we are on the planet, we see birds that look like great blue herons. This is actually a cocoi heron, common throughout much of South America and closely related to the grey and great blue herons of North America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. (Wikipedia.)
   Horned screamers, large heavy birds, occupied space around the lodge and screamed often. Rude at night. 
Laurie Gerloff and moi. Also large and
 heavy, hanging around the lodge
screaming and were rude at night.
 Not to be mistaken for birds.

Masked crimson tanager. These tanagers feed in groups near water, and we saw plenty of crimson crowds from our cabins-on-stilts on the small Kapawi lagoon.  
Old blue eyes with white bill, AKA yellow rumped cacique, a regular at the lodge lagoon.

C R A W L Y  T H I N G S 
.My favorite caterpillar. What's with the white strip down its back? The fronds at each end? And the blue wiring? 

This one apparently got into some Styrofoam.
Ordinary spider but unusual circumstances on a night walk through the rainforest.
Tiny termites used by the Achuar as insect repellent. We joined our guide in smearing the termites onto our upper extremities. They had a pleasant cedar-like aroma. Regardless, mosquitoes were mostly no-shows.

A stick, walking.

                             F U N G I

Our guide was encyclopedic, but unless a fungi was medicinal, he didn't necessarily know its name. Case in point, this hooded monk with a curly black beard and a crocheted shawl, dancing in rotting leaves on the rainforest floor. Hmmm. Could have phallic implications. 

The black fungi fingers sticking out of sticks are medicinal. 
Guide Diego explaining that black fungi to us during our medicinal plants hike.
With a stiff wind I believe these ultra light shrooms would flutter.
Grains of rice stuck atop black wires?

Miniature marshmallows. But don't taste!

    R A N D O M  S T U F F

Red monkey spotted during our canoe ride into the Kapawi Ecolodge our first day in the Amazon. Monkeys are often present but are difficult to see, unless, of course, you're an Achuar man with a blowgun and poison dart, precision eyesight and dead-eye aim. Stores don't exist in this remote part of the Amazon, and monkeys are on the menu. (Not at the Kapawi lodge.)
A walking palm with colorful legs.
Twenty-foot tall tree ferns almost get lost in
 the rainforest's awesomeness.

But here's the most splendid tree of all. The giant kapok rivals the California redwoods, and is sacred to the indigenous people. Our Achuar guide Diego, pictured, has one foot rooted in the rainforest near this tree where he came of age in a three-day ceremony, and the modern world, which is encroaching.

Our trip to the Amazon basin opened to me a different reality. Simple yet complex. Raw. Exquisite.

I saw with my own eyes, and learned on a heart level, that people who look as if they've stepped from a National Geographic page are intelligent, resourceful, intuitive, skilled, creative, spiritual, and intrinsically wired into their natural world. Tourism, technology, missionaries and a hungry oil industry threaten their way of life, and together those threats create pathways to inevitable change.

Oil is Ecuador's number one economic driver. Tourism is second, and as tourists arrive with fancy phones and demands for hot water and wifi, and exotic cocktails with ice, we create little bumps of cultural distress that may one day become upheavals.

The oil industry has already engineered upheavals in numerous Amazon locations, and many more are in transition. But the Kapawi preserve area is, so far, mostly protected. Encroachment, I believe, is mostly in the form of big white people wearing khaki and carrying expensive cameras.

We're accommodated by Achuar guides who know and love the forest and river creatures and can imitate hundreds of bird and animal sounds. They make poison darts and blowguns from forest materials, and after felling a monkey or wild boar, can whip up a sharp "knife" from a slice of wood to dress out the prey and carry it home. 

Diego has made for us fishing line in about five minutes from fibers in a palm leaf. None of us could snap it.
Many others also possess these skills, he says. And I believe him. We didn't see even one store in five days because there aren't any. We did see a small market canoe that motors over from nearby Peru on the Pastaza River and stops at villages along the way. I regret we didn't go aboard.

Hunting. Communal gardens. If you want something, make it. Self sufficiency to the max.

But Diego also has a cell phone and a Facebook account and uses the lodge's feeble wifi to dawdle online. He's fluent in Spanish, and after a year of study, speaks competent English. He's studied in naturalist programs to be a guide, and he's excellent.

Kapawi Ecolodge reviewers on Trip Advisor rave about the guides. 

Most of all, he knows the language of the forest and draws wisdom from a tribal life we can only imagine. I wonder what he thought of us. I'm not sure I want to know.

 Note: PK read this post and calls me a romantic. True. My opinions and feelings are based on just five blissful days. I'm an amateur dabbling in anthropology, and an optimist who seeks and sees the positive. Nothing scientific here. I don't know enough about the status of women and children, for example, or education or healthcare beyond what the shamans provide with rainforest medicines. All I know for sure is that I was touched by a place and its people.


Amazon Adventure - Kapawi Ecolodge  - All about tramping around in the rainforest, gaining insights into Achuar culture, and seeing how various rainforest plants are used for just about everything from housing construction to medicine to spiritual enlightenment.

Off to a shaky start at Kapawi Ecolodge   But it was all good, even the fishtailing bush plane and the drink made from manioc and spit.