600 Years and More – of Wisdom and Beauty

They say oak trees grow for 300 years, and stay in their glory for another 300 years, and then decay and die their last 300 years.

One of my favourite places to meet a 600 years old friend, is Gökalv in Blekinge, Sweden.

We have many things to talk about, and I have learned so much about life from him. He may be rugged to touch, but his wrinkles are mild and forgiving.

I visited last week again, and found him standing there as usual, waiting for me. This time in splendid evening light.

His advice I always follow – stay true to yourself and help others to do the same. Be kind and helpful to all living beings on this earth. That is why we are here together.

When I looked at my photos, now uploaded…I realized his voice was not just in my head or in my mind –

 

 

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Galápagos – Floreana, Santa Cruz – Dragon Hill

Floreana is best known for its colourful history of buccaneers, whalers, convicts and early colonists. In fact our guide told us the most horrible stories of intrigues, mass murder and strange colonists…Hard to believe, but in fact the stories are true. At least three books were written about this, and I bought and read the one Juan preferred: The Galápagos Affair by John Treherne.

Galapagos 3 and 4 580_copyI really loved the Palo Santo trees. They seem to cover the whole island, making it look very arid – but also very beautiful, sculptural and silver shimmering.

Galapagos 3 and 4 654_copyThe shore line is very jagged, and even here the Palo Santo rules.

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The beach is full of shells and not that pleasant to walk on, but in the waters you will find Brown Pelicans swimming and diving, Blue Footed Boobies and also…

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…the endemic Galápagos Penguin, a smooth swimmer in the bay. Further inland, along the paths, we surprisingly found more colours – astonishing!

Galapagos 3 and 4 596_copyThe volcano has been long extinct, and is now eroding, supporting the vegetation with important nutrients.

Galapagos 3 and 4 609_copyThe Palo Santo would be all green in a couple of weeks…according to Juan, our guide. I loved these silvery trees, but it would be a dream to visit when they are green as well. Mimosa grows here too – just imagine everything here green and yellow!

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We had to stop at Post Office Bay, where whaling Captain James Colnett established the wooden post barrel in 1793. In fact the first post office in Ecuador. Here, the outbound ships would drop off letters and returning ships would pick them up and mail them. In fact people still do! Tourist ships let their passengers post letters and cards, and then bring home the mail possible to hand over when in your home country. We brought home one letter to a family on Gotland.

Next post will be the last one from these enigmatic islands: Santiago and Genovesa.

Landscapes of the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are of volcanic origin, and situated in the Pacific Ocean, about 100km east of mainland Ecuador. There are 19 larger islands, 42 islets and and numerous emerging rocks. Five of the islands are inhabited, and the population is around 25000.

Last December, we got the opportunity to visit 10 of these islands, and M/S Cachalote was our home for 8 days. I have posted about our journey on my blog Leya, so now I also want to show you some of the magnificent landscapes out here in the archipelago.

Let us start with Santa Cruz, where the giant tortoises live in the wild of the lush highlands. This island is the most populated island and Puerto Ayora a most charming town.

The islands are known for their vast number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle, as his observations and collections contributed to his theory of evolution by natural selection. The Charles Darwin Station has a Giant Tortoise and a Land Iguana breeding program, and also a program for saving the Mangrove Finch.

Next stop was two tiny islands uplifted from the sea – Islas Plazas. Here the landscape is rather flat, and the tall opuntias are impressive. The ground is covered in carpet weed, portulaca, castela and grabowskia. Iguanas eat opuntias and portulaca.

On the beach the big male rules his hareem of ladies…but there was also a Sea Lion bachelor colony where the young males slept lazily in the sun, only giving us a brief one eye glimpse…saying: ”not interesting at all”…

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More sunbathing – this giant male of Marine Iguana was really impressive. He had found a spectacular place to show off his dominance.

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Endemic species everywhere – and the next stop, Santa Fé, one of the smaller, older islands, is no exception.  Here the trail is steep and uneven, and you are surrounded by tall Opuntias, Palo Santo, salt bush, yellow cordia, thorn shrub and more. Mocking birds are different on each island, just like the lava lizards. The Galapagos Hawk was vigilant, but did not bother about us wanting him to lift and spread his wings.

After one more interesting day, we returned to Cachalote, patiently waiting in the lagoon. The crew taking care of us as if we were their children…

I wonder what tonight´s dinner will bring?

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Ziga, Baztan – Natural, Yet Sophisticated

In Navarra, Spain, there is a green valley of rolling hills where I left a piece of my heart.

We stayed a couple of days at Casa rural Zigako Etxezuria.

Everything here so neat and clean, rustic and authentic. Our hosts were genuinely kind and helpful with everything from sightseeing to choosing the right thing from the menu.The gastronomic traditions of Navarre makes eating a social event and all products come from the local farmers. Furthermore, Chefs from Navarre are among the most prestigious in the world of Nouvelle Cuisine.

After a delicious meal, it is time for a walk through the charming little village!

Navarra region is one of the regions with the highest quality of life indicators in Spain. And one of the greatest joys for me was all the farm animals – so many horses, cows, sheep, cats, dogs, hens and donkeys – and they were all well kept. Although some cats seemed to lead a rough life…

The last evening I had some difficulty in handling my feelings. Ziga and all its inhabitants had gone straight to my heart. I could live and die here. So I went out in the misty night to think.

Of all the places I have been to during my travelling years, I guess Ziga in Baztan, Navarre is the one that reminds me the most of my childhood at my grandmother’s and grandfather’s. All the animals I grew up with and the kindness and authenticity of the people. The landscape is of course even more beautiful here among the green hills, but still…

In the morning I waited for him to say goodbye…but I knew he would not come. I am glad we once met.

He Discovered Me – Love at First Sight

In the little village of Ziga,  Navarra, Spain, I met him.

He discovered me already the first day at the hotel door.

Our eyes met, and it was instant Love, and it was mutual.

”Follow me”, he said, and I do not know who followed who that short day…

He led the way at an elegant, fleeting pace, played around with this little boy, and then …

…inspected many interesting smells along the road. But still keeping an eye on me.

I noticed his red necklace and was happy that he surely had an owner. An owner who cared for his well being –

Because obviously he was well nourished – greatly loved by someone, someone more than me…

I kept telling him how handsome he was – and he liked it. I gently touched his ears and face, and he jumped up on the stone fences and posed for me – like a Best in Show dog…

As both he and I knew the tour was coming to an end, I just had to take a close-up photo – and he gladly let me do it. (My own dog at home never does… )Then he jumped up and posed for me one last time. He secretly flashed his lovely brown eyes, puffed my hand from behind – and was gone.

I looked for him the next day, and when we were leaving, but never saw him again during our stay in Ziga village. He is forever in my heart.

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

Another of the most famous gardens in China, is the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai. Read my post on the Lingering Garden in Suzhou, to get more facts about what a Chinese garden stands for.

 

Yu Garden or Yuyuan Garden, means Garden of Happiness in Chinese. Yuyuan Garden is located in the center of Shanghai’s Old City, a few blocks south of the Bund, and it has a total area of about two hectares (five acres). People say that the Yuyuan Garden is so exquisite that it can be comparable to the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou,

Just outside the entrance of the garden is a lake with the famous Huxinting teahouse, built 1784. It is standing on stilts, and there is a zig-zag constructed bridge leading up to it. According to traditional Chinese beliefs, this zig-zag design is not only for aesthetic appeal. It is also important for keeping the evil spirits from getting into the pavilion – evil spirits can not turn around corners…

Many famous people have visited here – for example the Queen of England.

Something I noticed immediately was the fact that the traditional male and female lions were a bit different here compared to all the other ones I have seen in China. These two are looking at each other instead of straight forward, and the female has a cub, or child, standing upright instead of lying on its back under her paw. The male has his usual power grip on the ball…Somehow these differences made the statues feel much more human.

Yuyuan Garden is believed to have been built in the Ming Dynasty, 1559, more than 400 years ago. At first it was the private garden of the Pan family in the Ming Dynasty, and it was the largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai after it was completed. The exquisite layout and the artistic style of the garden architecture have made the garden one of the highlights of Shanghai.

A centerpiece, and one of the highlights of the garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. It is a 5-ton, porous, beautifully-shaped rock, which is said to have been carried from Taihu (Tai Lake) in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. The rock is characterized by its wrinkled appearance, slender shape, translucent nature and numerous holes eroded by water. Rumour has it that it was meant for the imperial palace in Beijing, but was salvaged after the boat sank off Shanghai.

Yu means ‘peaceful’ in Chinese, and so it really is. This despite its closeness to the big shopping area of bazaars.

Yuyuan Garden was first conceived by Pan Yunduan, an officer in the Ming Dynasty, for his parents to spend a quiet and happy life in their old age.

However, during the Opium Wars, the garden was badly damaged. In 1961, after five years of repairs, Yuyuan Garden was re-opened to the public, though it was not as charming as the original one. It was also partly destroyed in the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During 1986-1993, the government made another effort to repair the garden, the results of which we see today.

Feeding the Koi fish is popular. Fish is a must here as in every garden. It stands for prosperity.

Today, Yu Garden is divided into six general areas laid out in the Suzhou style with halls and chambers, an Inner garden with rockeries, ponds, pavilions and towers.

Each area is separated from the others by ”dragon walls” with undulating gray tiled ridges, each terminating in a dragon’s head. Sometimes just hiding behind a tree trunk and surprising the visitor with its huge head.

Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore. The dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles, and also imaginary creatures, but they are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin, a phoenix.

Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. The Emperor usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, and a number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to a dragon, for example: ”Hoping one’s son will become a dragon”.

Being a tree lover, I immensely enjoy Chinese gardens. One of my absolute favourites here, was a 400- year-old Ginko Biloba.

A perfect mix. And the dragon…is everywhere…

Details are essential in a Chinese garden. Perfection.

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Water Village, Yangtze River, China

 

On arriving by boat to the Water Village, you used to anchor up by this pavillion.  Facing the new, big cruisers, another, bigger pavillion has been built.

The evergreen waters, the silent mountains – and the lifting fog –  brightened my spirit. I knew this would be the highlight of our journey.

Cruising along the Yangtze River, you can still see fishermen rowing a wooden boat from which they fish. The history of fishing on the Yangtze River can be traced back seven thousand years.

The small wooden boat is usually twelve feet long and three or four feet wide, the boat usually has five to six cabins including the navigation cabin, engine room and the living cabins. With the rise in living standard along the Yangtze River, fishermen have installed diesel engines on their boats to save manpower.

To catch fish, there are usually two ways: net casting and using hooks. Daytime, fishermen cast nets with large stones as anchors. Then, one or two boats drag two ends of the net to catch the fish. Fishing hooks are put out before sunset and reeled in with the fish in the morning.

Every year, the fishermen repair the boat during the hot days of July and August. When the Chinese traditional Lantern Festival comes, the family usually eats a reunion lunch in the cabin and sticks incense on the fore at the same time burning papers and shooting off firecrackers to sacrifice to the water god for good sailing and good catch.

On our walk along the river, we were first met by stone faces speaking to everyone about what to do to fend off Evil…

Then – soft flute music reached our ears. A beautiful girl standing on the deck of an old wooden boat, and a man playing the flute, releasing its silvery tunes over the river.

Of course they were posing for us – but the old ways of this people, the Tujia, were both breathtaking and esthetically shown to us. As a visitor I could not but use my eyes and ears in silence. It hurts to watch the beauty and the sad loss of the old ways  – even if we know about the hardships they meant as well. It is the same everywhere in the world.

Following the wooden pathway by the river, the silent calmness and serenity  overwhelmed me. This was indeed a picture of a Lost Paradise.

The lush bamboo  and the stillness in the air, the boats and the fishing nets – and the sun lifting the veil of mist.

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Only the faint sound of the flute faraway, and the sound of birds rustling in the foliage. Tears in my eyes. It doesn’t matter if this gloryfying of the old is just…gloryfying. This little village shows the essence of old Chinese life, art, painting and poetry.

Leaving this Paradisiac painting and hiking further into the river valley, we approached some water wheels and an old homestead.

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On the little arched bridge, a young couple was standing – obviously this used to be a popular place for lovers to meet.

Soon we were to see a little performance on the marriage customs – Weeping Marriage of the Tujia Ethnic Minority.

The marriage date for girls of the Tujia Ethnic Minority ia usually welcomed with crying. According to custom, the new bride should begin to cry half a month or one month before the wedding ceremony. Whether a girl could cry about her marriage became a criterion to value the girl’s ability and virtue.

In order to be regarded as a good girl, the girl begins to study how to cry for marriage when she is twelve years old. Some will invite an experienced person to teach them. When 15 years old, girls will invite each other to match who cries best and teach each other.

There are songs which are sung when weeping for marriage. These include singing for parents, sisters, brothers, the matchmaker and ancestors. When singing the weeping marriage songs, the emotions are fully expressed through the mournful tones. They say that on hearing the vivid and strong words of the song, even the toughest man can’t fight back his tears.

The weeping songs can be sung by one person or by two. If one girl sings, she will cry for her destiny, the deep affection to her relatives and the feudalistic marriage custom she suffers under. When two girls are weeping together, it is called ”sister crying.” The bride cries and sings first, and then the other one will sing together with the bride to console her.

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The Bride unveiled

It is said that the weeping marriage custom originates from the marriage system in the old times. Girls sang and cried denouncing the marriage system and dreaming of flinging off its chains. Today, although Tujia girls can choose their loved ones freely, they still cry out of tradition.

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Our lovely Tujia guides. The basket on their back will show if they are married or not. Carrying flowers – free, carrying a baby – married.

Before reaching the waterfalls, we saw the bamboo forest swaying – monkeys! Maybe we would get closer on the other side of the river.

But first – the falls. Not very big, but fresh  mountain water falling through the lush bamboo forest. Have you ever seen an old  Chinese painting?

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The narrow gorge ahead of us.

Hiking back, quietly, everybody pondering and reflecting on their impressions…

…I suddenly found more reflecting and pondering faces – monkeys. This one became my favourite during the short time we were listening to them and watching them climbing rocks and branches. He was sitting there on the rock with his wise little face turned slightly upwards. Sometimes he glanced at his hands and into the greenery, but never jumped around making ooooooooooo – sounds like the others. I called him the Philosopher.

These monkeys had bushy tails instead of sleek ones to use for gripping branches. Unfortunately none of our guides could name the species. I tried to find them when I got home, but the closest I get is Rhesus Makak. If anybody knows – please write me!

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This trip back into the China of old; customs, art, painting and writing, I am certain will stay with me forever.

Because this is no more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weissfluhjoch and Weissfluhgipfel – Cool and Windless White

In famous winter sports’ Davos – in fact 8 communities instead of one – we took the Parsennbahn up to Weissfluhjoch, 2662 metres, and from there to Weissfluhgipfel, 2844 metres – still snowcapped.

About 5 pm, but still warm… no wind, no people. Stunning views in all directions.

Silence

A harsh area for plants and flowers to survive in, but still, they are here. I was happy to find Ranunculus glacialis – isranunkel…

…and Saxifraga – purpurbräcka, hidden in the crevices.

The buildings here includes of course a restaurant, but also a meteorological station and a centre for research on snow and avalanches. There is a daily forecast on avalanches sent from here all over Switzerland.

Oh, the Silence – and the Air

The distant views …

…and the clouds of white

Muottas Muragl to Alp Languard – A Hot Hike

Switzerland, St Moritz alps. At 2456 m. we started our hike at Muottas Muragl – a panorama walk filled with majestic views and stunning flowers.

A very easy walk with no steep climbing, but still 24 degrees C…I met some wise elderly people who just walked for maybe half a mile to see the views and the flowers.

Alp clover and hikers – we all tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. Not easy in an open landscape.

Soon the views were opening up, and the valleys revealing all their secrets. And we could see St Moritz down there.

Leaving the morning dew and lovely coolness for beating sun as it rose higher in the sky.

Drinking water – fresh and clear. But also for putting our feet in. Not many degrees in glacier water – hardly for bathing. Every brook or flow offers a welcome break.

Majestic mountains and some rest in the shadows…when possible. My hat was very useful.

As this is an easy walk, many families had a delightful day out. Holding hands is a good idea when it is too steep.

Crossing an area where water had undermined the path and falling stones and mud slides made it dangerous to hike, we had to pass through a tunnel of corrugated sheet metal. Some holes were made in it for the view.

And we were richly rewarded in the end. Alp Languard in all its beauty – and cows! The end of a spectacular walk

On our way down with the lift (15 minutes), we met this lovely family…(Can you spot the dog?)

Some of the many flowers on the road…a feast to the eye. I found it rather difficult to focus my shots as the heat made drops fall onto the camera as well – but when we arrived at 1800 meters, the heat was 30 degrees C and more. So the day was well spent. I hope you enjoyed the trip too.

A walk in Verzasca valley – an extraordinary experience

The Verzasca is a Swiss 30-kilometre long mountain river flowing into Lago Maggiore. It is known for its clear turquoise water and vibrant colored rocks, as well as its treacherous currents. The Verzasca Dam is a few kilometers upriver from this lake. The Dam is well known for its 220 m height jump, which is one of the highest jumps in the world and also the most famous bungy jump, as it was used in the James Bond film GoldenEye.

Valle Verzasca extends over a length of 25 kilometres in north–south direction. The surrounding mountains respectively passes have an average altitude of 2,400 metres (7,874 ft).The Verzasca River valley is in Ticino, Locarno district, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland.

The valley comprises several small municipalities, but we only visited Sonogno. My husband’s sister has a friend living there, hosting a restaurant at the end of the road. Sonogno is also the last village on the paved road through the Valley Verzasca. All motor vehicles are required to park at the entrance to the village. Understandable if you walk the narrow streets.

Here they meet again – Bodil and her friend – and we had a delicious meal at  his charming restaurant, Grotto EFRA.

With the connection to the public transport, tourism developed from the end of the 19th century, but still the majority of the young people of the Valley is looking for an income in wealthier regions of Switzerland or northern Italy.Today, the majority of the locals is active in the tourism. The conversion of the old Rustici houses into holiday houses created jobs, increased tourism revenues and ensured that the old houses and the characteristic image of the Verzasca Valley are preserved.

Sonogno is a very charming village and has a population (as of December 2013) of 94. The village has its own language which is a mixture of Latin and Celtic. But, the language of Sonogno is a dying language as only about 100 persons are known to speak it. Unfortunately we didn’t meet anyone using this old language – but that would have been awesome. The Villagers also speak Italian which is an official Swiss language – and I guess this will be the only language here within a couple of years…

The so-called Rustici (Italian for farm house) in grey stone, with white borders on the windows and heavy stone roofs, are typical houses in the valley. As a bar for the heavy stone roof, Castanea sativa wood is used. This tree was introduced by the Romans and is still growing in the southern part of the valley, below 1,000 metres (3,281 ft).

The local economy was traditionally based mostly on grazing. During the summer, the cattle grazed in the high alpine pastures, in the winter the cows were moved to their winter pastures. Due to limited jobs, many of the residents emigrated and after about 1850, many went overseas.The more recent exodus to urban centers, combined with emigration have caused a steady decline of population since the mid-nineteenth century.  In 2005 the agricultural sector still offered about 50% of the jobs in the municipality.

Due to its isolated location, the Verzasca Valley is claimed as one of the valleys that could keep the best its originality. The secluded geographical location made it unattractive for conquerors. First traces of settlement have been found from the early 2nd millennium BC in its south.  In the European Middle Ages, the population operationed mainly pasture farming, and since the early 17th century, many residents had to search seasonal labour outside their home valley; still unemployed young men were recruited as mercenaries for foreign armies.

So – let’s go to the beautiful river…its water is crystal clear, and the depth does not exceed 10 metres (33 ft). Its average temperature is 7 to 10 °C (45 to 50 °F).

I admit it was great to have a bath – we had about 34 degrees C this day as well. And a spectacular place to be!