Friday Photo #2

HDR of the Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

FridayPhoto2

“… Arriving at Tongariki for the first time is hard to describe. It’s an experience you can only have once in this world. The ahu is aligned with the inner part of a natural bay a few hundred meters wide and a field gradually rises inland giving the feel of an amphitheater.

These moai are huge. The biggest on the island is here, 86 tons. You can see why because you are line-of-sight from the main quarry, the cone of the volcano Rano Raraku. They say they built them bigger and bigger toward the end, perhaps growing plaintive in their pleas to the ancestor gods. If that is so these must have been among the last.

Standing at the base of the ahu regarding these guys, isolated in an obscure corner of an obscure island, while you’re alone in the twilight, it’s a feeling not quite like any other. It’s entirely unique.

A man taking pictures, another man and a boy are leaving as we walk through one of the rusty turnstiles they’ve put up here and there around the island. Campers’ lanterns twinkle down along the shore and besides that, no one. Nothing but the sea air, the full moon rising through broken clouds, a crashing surf, the moai and us….”

– from the eventual book, Visiting Easter Island, A Considered Guide.

Click to enlarge the photo. More photos in the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Where to Go, Why, and What to Read.

Travel ferociously. Get out there. Engage people. Witness events. Explore the world. Bust a move. See all you can see. But when you’re at home and calm, sanguine and reflective, back in the part of the house where people don’t come unless you invite them, in that one little spot where only you rule, that’s where you can see most clearly.

Back there in that room, I saw our trip to Sarajevo as a conceit. We decided we’d go and see the aftermath of war and then we would think about it. And we saw the burned out houses on the airport road. We saw children at play beneath a hand-painted sign warning of “snijper” fire over there, in that direction.

We stood on a hill above town with an old woman and her little granddaughter and a vast field of Muslim graves behind them. We took pictures of SFOR soldiers (NATO’s ‘Stabilization Force’) taking pictures. And in the end, we didn’t really understand it any better. Or at least, we didn’t Glean Wisdom.

I read and read, before and after Sarajevo, and we went to see it, and we had a view of the bombed out parliament building from the Holiday Inn hotel, where we paid in advance, in cash, in Deutschmarks, right up front, for our entire stay.

Sarajevo

The parliament building from the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo.

The elevator opened to carpet ripped by gunfire.

The main reconstruction work in Sarajevo was in busting down curbs and rebuilding them with wheelchair ramps.

We walked up and down the open air Markale market where a random, direct shelling killed 68, wounded two hundred on a rainy Saturday in February, 1994 – the bloodiest attack in the then twenty-two month long conflict. We saw bricks and mortar blasted from the side of the hotel next door. People bustled about the market that day, selling flowers, buying fruit, and we took it all in, but still we didn’t Glean Wisdom.

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Common Sense and Whiskey: The Book

Common Sense and Whiskey, the blog, was born less than two years ago to compliment the photo site EarthPhotos.com. From time to time since, we've published stories from the eventual book, also to be titled Common Sense and Whiskey. It's a compilation of short stories about the photos that found their way to EarthPhotos.com.

We're happy to say that finally, we think, Common Sense and Whiskey is only a couple of months away. Here's a mock-up of the cover, which will immortalize a gaucho and his sheep on the very desolate road to the Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia. Below is a short bit of the Patagonia story from the book. Watch this blog for the publication date.

 

Coverforblog

 

The Alps are massive and majestic. The Torres del Paine only reach three thousand something meters versus Mont Blanc’s 4260. But the Alps have been domesticated, everywhere you go, all the way up onto the slopes. Cowbells tinkle so farmers can keep track of their livestock in every prim village.

It’s the vastness around the Torres, the silence. There are no houses, no farms. Land isn’t delineated by perpendiculars. No fences to keep anything in or out. Nothing, except for the snow and the big rocks, and the water and the animals and the silence.  That’s just what you’re after when you come to a place like this, but too often you find yourself in the common room with strangers, hearing about Kurt’s blister.

“It’s out to here,” Kurt said several times, showing a distance between his finger and thumb. Each time the wife of Kurt would chirp something like “He’s not very athletic,” the more galling because she clearly never auditioned for Buns of Steel.

There’s always people like that, though, and Kurt was a good enough old guy, running a party of five, some of them sullen kids.

Maps was what Kurt liked and he’d sink his head farther into his maps to ignore his wife. The wife of Kurt liked showing people things. She’d go back to the room (“Wait right here,” she’d command) to get some page that she’d printed off the internet. Or she’d inflict her sack of trail mix on a very dubious little boy.

Each time Kurt would move his face closer to his map and trace lines on it with his finger.

The wife of Kurt had a running disagreement with Kurt over the price of gas, or benzine as they called it here. Kurt had heard they were getting six dollars a litre out of jerrycans back at Posada Serrano and the wife of Kurt wouldn’t hear of it.

She worked herself up to high dudgeon (although high is pretty much the only way dudgeon comes) as she asked the dubious little boy’s father if he knew the price of benzine, and he allowed that he’d got some and it was close to the normal price.

“See Kurt! Six dollars a litre is impossible! I thought six dollars a litre was impossible. Did you hear that Kurt? I told you six dollars a litre was impossible. Kurt, this man says it’s not any six dollars a litre. Kurt thought gas cost six dollars a litre!”

And Kurt pulled the edge of the map nearest his wife nearly to his ear and the little boy’s father, who had a naturally puzzled, disheveled look, tried to find somebody else to talk to.

•••••

From Common Sense and Whiskey: Modest Adventures Far from Home, available soon.

Fiji: A Story

Last month I posted a story about our visit to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. We visited Fiji on the same trip, a few years back. Here's a little taste of that trip from the eventual book, Common Sense and Whiskey:

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The only sounds at Koro Sun, Vanua Levu island, Fiji are four: The palm fronds, the birds, the overhead fan, and if a truck rumbles by. Sixteen bures sit in a ring around a garden and the sea is across the road.

Tony and Paula, our proprietors, greeted us, Tony with that just slightly perplexed look I swear is endemic to Kiwis, and Paula, a Dutch woman with a slow, rigid manner and huge round eyes, unblinking.

Paula fixed us a vodka welcome drink, “Strong – I thought you might need it,” and we settled in to introduce ourselves. They knew we’d been traveling some 27 hours. They knew we’d be frazzled, and sunburned Tony offered again and again to arrange anything we’d like – or nothing if we’d like.

Nice folks, they set us up with bure #1 and sent a six pack of Fiji Bitter beer to the fridge, then followed that with fruit and cheese platters. We alternately sat on our porch, gazed at the sea and poured sweat, doused ourselves in the freezing shower, and napped, and that was all we did on the first day.

*****

Dew dropped from the roof, the sea lay gray and smooth as ice, and birds called from the tops of the coconut palms. The first pickup truck of the day lumbered by and color began to return to the earth as the sky lightened on the morning of the second day. The yard boys collected last night’s fallen palm fronds.

I sat with coffee (poured under the watchful eye of a gecko perched on the wall) on the front porch after I could sleep no more, and Mirja caught just the last few minutes of sleep. I had lain in bed trying to store the feeling of the pre-dawn cool, under the ceiling fan, to summon back later in the day.

A British couple who stopped to commiserate about our long flight (everybody knows everybody’s business here, apparently) said yesterday had been the hottest of their six weeks here, and indeed I took a reading of 90 degrees in the cool of our bure, in air hanging with humidity. The fan had a mighty five speeds: 1, 2, 3, 4 and on, and “on” would whip the air furiously but to little cooling effect.

*****

Vanua Levuans have the time and disposition to be open, affable and curious. And honest. We asked a waitress what she knew about Vanuatu.

“Oh, they are MUCH blacker than we are,” she told us, and laughed uproariously.

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The Southern Caucasus Part Five: Baku

Teapots 

Today, the final installment in our series about travel through the southern Caucasus states. Next week, a trip to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Earlier in the Caucasus series: Part One:
From the Eventual Book
, Part Two:
Yerevan to Tbilisi
, Part Three: Tbilisi and the Georgia Military Highway
& Part Four:
The High Caucasus & the Russian Border

*****

They would have you understand that Baku is crawling with western oilmen. Besides the Hyatt, where harried, unhappy or uneasy young guys in ill-fitting suits rode elevators to meeting rooms, we found neither Texans nor cowboy hats.

In fact, Baku, of the three South Caucasus capitals, easily filled the bill as the most Soviet city. With a bonus – head scarves.

Down at the waterfront, atop the Maiden’s Tower (originally dating from the 11th century, complete with an inside-the-fortress well), there’s a fine view of the old town and the harbor, and a ferris wheel enclosed in a strip of trees.

Skyline A concrete bund stretches down the Caspian waterfront, the waves in full chop, and families promenade. Beside an amusement park full of kids and moms, you could enjoy Efes beers from Turkey under shade trees in the fine sea breeze.

Maybe not explicitly, outwardly, but Baku’s still a company town. Oil wealth provides a fine mix of consumer "stuff" and ethnic restaurants. Baku has built an urbane and modern pedestrian plaza called “Traders Street,” reminiscent of its glory days. In the 1890’s, Baku pumped half the world’s supply and Europe’s finest architects clambered for commissions to build signature buildings.

Stay close to Trader’s Street and you’re in Europe. Head out of town, though, and it’s a little different.

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The Southern Caucusus Part Four: The High Caucasus & the Russian Border


Masthead

Earlier in this series:
The Southern Caucasus, Part One:
From the Eventual Book
& The
Southern Caucasus Part Two:
Yerevan to Tbilisi
& The Southern Caucasus Part Three: Tbilisi and the Georgia Military Highway

The sides at either end of Kazbegi square comprised nothing much, with a road wandering off in each direction, one the direction from which we’d come, from Tbilisi, the other to Vladikavkaz in Russian Ingushetia. On the fourth side of the square, opposite the hotel, a half dozen desultory kiosks all sold the same things, the petty little consumer goods necessary for life. All had tissues and matches and drinks, but not cold – there wasn’t refrigeration anywhere in the whole lot.

The wares on offer jammed all the window space, inside and out, so that the salespeople sat back invisible behind a little open window in the middle. You wouldn’t call the collective attitude among these six tiny kiosk capitalists sullen. Crestfallen might be the better word.

Kazbegi itself rose on a low hill behind the kiosks. A morning walk among the houses revealed bright flowers on windowsills and suspicious, smoking men in caps seated on low benches with a wary eye and a nod of the head to a stranger. No vehicle traffic. Massive amounts of trash just cast onto the ground in the street, and pigs snuffling through it.

Familytruck A dump truck sized Kamaz truck lumbered by, an unlikely family vehicle which disgorged a scarf-clad old woman and a basket down at the bottom of the hill.

At any particular time, six or eight or ten old Russian-made cars congregated at the center of the makeshift square, their drivers in little knots smoking and waiting for the odd passenger to here or there. Zaza hired a red Lada Niva, strong with a high undercarriage. Just the right vehicle to haul us up to the Holy Trinity church, way up at 2200 meters. We’d drive up and walk down.

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The Southern Caucusus Part Three: Tbilisi and the Georgian Military Highway

 
Tbilisi
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Earlier in this series: The Southern Caucasus, Part One:
From the Eventual Book
& The Southern Caucasus Part Two:
Yerevan to Tbilisi

The Marriott Tbilisi offered an island of luxury, and we took them up on it for a while before a stroll along main street, Rustaveli Boulevard, down toward the massive old Soviet telephone and telegraph building on the far end of the street. From there  a warren of cobbled streets led down to the river Mtkvari.

On the way pensioners sold their family artifacts and whatever else they’d got their hands on, old swords and telephone parts, cutlery and cigarettes, all spread out on mats on the sidewalks, below the leafy canopy.

Never was the sun more brilliant. The air was crisp, the sun hot and the light, somehow, had a northern-latitude clarity.

Impossible to read the Georgian script. The sign outside the first building across the river was doubtless once in Cyrillic, but now it wasn’t in Russian, or in English, but only, proudly, Georgian. Couldn't read the sign, but looking inside, it was a restaurant, and we went inside.

Sometime in Greek antiquity, Jason, in his quest for the Golden Fleece, sailed safely with his Argonauts through the Symplegades, rocks that crushed anything that tried to pass between them, to land in Colchis, the Black Sea coast of present day Georgia. After a series of heroic feats, Jason seized the Golden Fleece.

Duduki In the Argonauts' honor we enjoyed Argo beers as groups of men sat at wooden tables, drinking and enjoying khinkali, sort of the Georgian equivalent of pelmini, Russian meat pastries. Three men in costume wandered out of the back, sat on low chairs and played the traditional Georgian reed instrument called the duduki.

An old man in a bright orange jumpsuit with BP on its breast took our picture from a table across the room, so we took his too. He grinned, got up and left, and came back in a minute with ice cream bars for Mirja and me. He showed us the pictures and said something like, “Souvenir for me, gift for you.”

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