Gypsy's Travels

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Travels With Abs - Taos, New Mexico – Farmington, N.M.

Since DH and I did not go into the Taos Pueblo when we visited Taos several years ago, I decided to visit the old Pueblo this time. It is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA. I paid $10.00 for my entrance fee and $5.00 for my camera, but Abs was free.

The buildings in Taos Pueblo are made of adobe – a mixture of earth, straw, and water – formed into bricks and sun dried, then stacked and joined with more of the adobe mixture. The exteriors are plastered annually with the adobe mixture and the inside walls are whitewashed to make them bright. The buildings do not have running water or electricity. Residents carry their water from the river and use gas lanterns, much as the Amish do. Some have wood burning fireplaces for heat and cooking. Some use a horno, an adobe oven. We bought bread from a resident who had been up since 4:30 AM baking – I paid $5.00 for ½ a round loaf. We were allowed to wander freely about the village. The limits were clearly marked. After examining a few buildings and taking photos, there were plenty of shops to visit. In fact, most of the space in the small dwellings was devoted to merchandise.
It was only after I downloaded my photos at the end of the day that I discovered a dial had been accidentally turned and all my photos from the village were over exposed.
We left Taos and headed to Farmington. We stopped just past Taos at the Rio Grande River Gorge, but quickly moved on as a thunderstorm announced its pending arrival from the direction we planned to travel.
We had an unexpected surprise just past the gorge. There were several unusual houses scattered about. Some used earth embankments as part of the structure, all were very surreal. I only managed to get one photo.
Heading over the mountains, the temperature dropped from 82 degrees to 49 and I had to brave the rain to check my tires when the tire warning came on. Fortunately, everything appeared to be in order and I figured it was caused by the extremes in temperature.
Abs and I traveled most of the rest of the day through some beautiful country. We stopped to several times to drink in the beauty of our surroundings. Even the most excellent photographs cannot capture the moments. There is something about being in the place, surrounded by the mountains and sounds of the area, that has to be experienced in person. The quiet on the mountain, the lack of traffic after the bustle of Taos, and the freshly washed wildflowers, made the stops worthwhile.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Travels with Abs - A Day in Canyon, Texas

It was Abs who really wanted to go to the PPHM (Panhandle Plains Historical Museum) in Canyon, Texas. I was reluctant to spend $14.00 (with discounts) for the entrance fees, but it turned out to be a great buy. We spent 4 hours at the museum and Abs read almost every notation. My mother once refused to enter a museum with me because I read all the notations, but Abs outdid me this time. It helped that the museum provided “bingo” cards and a prize for finding all the items on the card. One of the kind security people advised Abs to look at all the handwritten cards and find the one by the director of the museum to win an additional prize. Abs left with a postcard and a ball containing…what else….a dinosaur. In addition to the competition, the prizes, and the wonderful air conditioned facility, we learned a lot of interesting things.

We spent the afternoon picnicking, then driving through Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I talked Abs into hiking one of the trails by offering to walk 1 mile out and 1 mile back instead of 2 miles round trip. We didn’t make even one mile on the 100+ heat. It had actually inched up a couple of degrees by the time we returned.
Even our short hike revealed a baby snake, a host of bees attracted to native trees, checkered back lizards, lots of birds, bugs,
a heart-shaped rock,
and a flock of wild turkeys. These are the scroungy looking things George Washington wanted for our national emblem? There were more around and they did look better when they fluffed up their feathers.

As we continued our driving tour, Abs spotted an outcropping that appeared to provide a sheltering cave high on a mesa. Suddenly, she was all about hiking and climbing…in the heat…with the bugs…and the hot sun. I grabbed 2 bottles of water, figuring this hike would not last any longer than the last one. Surprise! Abs climbed all the way, groveling in the red sand, and stuffing her pockets with treasured rocks (I know, that was illegal). Tired and dirty, we picnicked again and went to the Pioneer Theater for the musical, “Texas!” I had booked the tickets on-line and did not realize how close they were to the stage. Abs could not even see over the rocks in front of her. Fortunately, even though there were 750 people present, the seats were not all full and we were able to move back several rows. Abs was so excited that she chattered through almost the entire performance and punctuated her comments, with “WOW!” “Wow! Look at those special effects. Wow! Those are real horses. Is that a real fire? Is this a true story? The Indians only got to show up two times. Look, that girl is wearing her cowboy boots and all the other girls have dancing shoes.” On and on amidst my “shushing,” hoping the people seated around us would not be able to hear her, or at least they would be amused by her excitement. To their credit, no one said anything.
Tired, dirty, and still happy, Abs had a bath and was in bed by 11:30. I opted for some quiet time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Travels With Abs - Austin to Canyon, Texas

Started a tad later than I had planned, but it all worked out well.
Eight year old Abs had plenty to keep her busy in the back seat and she did not even pack all her dinosaurs to take along. Whew! She had her head buried in books, puzzles, drawings, and coloring until we were well clear of the Austin area.
We just happened to pass through Llano about lunch time, fudged a little early, and stopped for bar-b-que to go at Cooper's, my most favorite BBQ place. Well, Goode Company and Cooper's run neck and neck. We stopped a little later at a roadside park for lunch. Amazing how cool it is in the shade, with a breeze, while the thermometer insists it is 99+.
As we entered very arid central Texas and hurried through the Panhandle, I began to call Abs' attention to some of the attractions. Her response was more than satisfying as she began to take notice of the area we were traversing. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is nothing short of exhilarating.

Me: "Look, Abs, lots of goats! This is goat country because there is not enough water and grass to raise cattle."
"Look at the size of that yard! That house is sitting all by itself with no neighbors close by. That is just the way the pioneers lived. They took their sewing with them and had to walk or take a horse and / or buggy to visit their neighbors when they finally got too lonely."
Abs: "I know someone who bought a goat to mow his lawn."
"WOW! Look, Grandma, tall mountains! And that one looks like a Shield Volcano." She pointed to a line of disconnected mesas not too far away.
Me: "Those look tall to you because you live on flat land. Wait until you move to Colorado in a couple of weeks."
I pointed out the serenely beautiful blue sky peppered with fluffy clouds. She immediately noticed the windmills.

"Grandma, those are just like the windmills on the Teletubbies!"
We tried to find one close enough to the road to check out the monstrous machines up close. They were very quiet, just producing a slight hum.
"WOW! There are hundreds of them," Abs exclaimed. "WOW!" was quickly becoming her favorite word.

"Look, Abs, dust devils!"


That was a conversational element for a good half hour! There were a lot of dust devils, as well as farmers plowing dried fields and kicking up dust. She learned to tell the difference.

"How fast are you going?" she questioned several times.
"70 miles per hour." I answered repeatedly.
"Can't you go any faster?"
Long explanations on speed limits ensued. I had the same feeling though. I was traveling at 70 mph on a major, but not heavily traveled, road, and it seemed we were crawling. I have, however, learned my lesson the hard way and cannot tempt fate for another 2 years.

We have stopped in Canyon, Texas, just short of Amarillo, so we can spend the day exploring Palo Duro Canyon tomorrow and give Abs a day to stretch her legs.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Down the Drain

It began with a slow drain and progressed to a clogged drain. Apparently, there was a little hole somewhere because the sink would be clear by morning. Using it didn't fill the drain immediately, suggesting the clog was down the line a bit.

Over the next few days, I used my usual earth-friendly techniques for clearing the drain. Baking soda followed by vinegar gave a satisfying eruption which I reasoned was sure to burst through most clogs. Indeed, it had worked several times in the past. I followed that with pots of boiling water. There was no change so I unleashed my ultimate weapon - industrial strength degreaser. Nothing. It was time to resort to manpower, or woman power as the case may be.

I assembled my tools and tried to open the trap under the sink. There is a pipe with an inner plug that must be unscrewed. I settled on the flat end of a long file to turn the plug. It inched around but not enough to open. The file was too long. I went to the local hardware store to see if there were a special tool for this job. No one had ever heard of such a contraption, or such a tool. I looked on my own and found a mini-crowbar. A cute little piece pushing to make the 6" mark. The plug turned some more, but I could not get it out.

Fortunately, Gunner and family are staying with me but had been out of town during my early trials. On their return, Gunner easily turned the plug and inserted the snake, all 15? - 25? feet of it. He replaced the plug and tried the sink. Still stopped up. It was time to give up and call the plumber.

The plumber was a genial fellow who wanted "to do things right."
"The garbage disposal was put in on the wrong side," he told me. "The pipes were put together with chrome fittings where it should have been plastic." He would "have to remove the garbage disposal to be able to access the tap with his snake."
"Well, the last time I had a plumber out, he didn't have to do that," I protested.
"Also, one part of the PVC pipe was bad and needed to be replaced. I can do it for free if there is one on my truck, but it will be $49.00 if I have to get one."
"For an 8" plastic pipe?"
He could replace everything and make it "right" for about $250.
"What would that do for me?" I asked.
"Well, it would make it easier for the plumber to get to the trap," he answered. "I will have to charge you for taking it off next time."
Mr Super Plumber used his ultra-snake in the pipe of the trap.
"I only found a small plug," he said, "not very much to cause the difficulty. You might benefit from the special solution I carry on my truck [associated with the company]. It is $60 [for a 1/2 gallon of bacteria to pour down the drain weekly].
I opted out.
"Well, at least the drain works well," he exulted as he turned on the garbage disposal and opened the drains to the filled sinks. He postured proudly standing in front of the sink, anticipating my pleased reaction, I gasped and could hardly speak as water poured out from under the sink. He had forgotten to replace the plug!
Not one to lose face, he laughed, mopped, and said, "This cleaning is at no extra charge."

I am thankful my sinks drain!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tornado Warning

Mother has been visiting this week. We had lunch with sister, "B," yesterday and were planning a quiet evening at home last night. The thunderstorms that threatened, then moved through, did not seem more alarming than usual. We have these spells occasionally and have weathered them just fine. In fact, the lightening show is often spectacular. Last night was no exception.
Nevertheless, we do not take the storms lightly. About 12 years ago a tornado almost wiped the little community of Jarrell off the map. It is only about 10 miles away. So when the siren sounded last night, I advised mother of my storm survival area, and we discussed the feasibility of moving in. The siren sounded several more times and mother decided we should get chairs, so we would not have to sit on the floor, and move to a spot closer to the door of my chosen area.
I kept checking the sky outside, which was extremely dark even though sunset was not scheduled for another 30 minutes. No hail. No tornadic cloud sightings. Heavy rain but little wind. I felt sure this, too, would pass us by. Fortunately, it did, but it was a good trial run for the real thing. I never take these things lightly.

My survival room?
A small bathroom in an inside hall with no windows or outside walls. I have bottled water, a flashlight, a blanket, and a weather radio stored in the cupboard. Even if I had to close myself in there, I wouldn't expect to stay long, so I don't keep food there.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand - Wat Pho

(Click on photos to enlarge.)
Wat Pho, also known as the "Temple of the Reclining Buddha," was built 200 years before Bangkok became the capital of Thailand. It is the the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok. Wars having taken their toll, restoration on the temple began in 1788 and continued into the mid 1800's. The temple was restored again in 1982.

Each Wat seems to have its own special attraction and Wat Pho is no exception. This Wat is best known for its beautiful statue of the "Reclining Buddha." The statue, 46 meters (151') long and 15 meters (49') high, has a core of wood gilded in gold. The feet and eyes are engraved with mother-of-pearl. The feet are 3 meters long with inscriptions that show the 108 auspicious characteristics of the true Buddha.
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Wat Pho was Thailand's first University. It is the center for Thai massage but DS and I opted for one later.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand - Wat Arun

(Note: Click on collage to enlarge.)
When, having fallen to the Burmese, Ayutthaya was reduced to rubble and ashes, General Taksin and the remaining survivors vowed to march "until the sun rose again", and there to build a temple. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, stands on the spot to which they came and where later the new king built his royal palace and with it a private chapel.
Wat Arun is a Khmer-style Buddhist Temple on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It was quite visible from our day of touring on the taxi/ tour boat, but appeared quite bland and ordinary from a distance compared with the gilded temples we were visiting. Still, its reputation preceded it and we took a taxi-boat across the river to explore. We were not disappointed.

The impressive central prang, a Khmer-style pagoda, is 79 meters (259 feet) tall. It symbolizes Mount Meru, which is considered the center of the universe. The smaller prangs at the four corners are dedicated to Phra Phai, the wind god. What appeared to be bland and boring from a distance, was entrancing on closer inspection. One reference says: "Since the ground beneath it was so swampy, thousands of bamboo stems were laid across one another and the spaces created by this lattice were filled with clay. In this way, a foundation capable of bearing a sufficient weight was created." The decorations on the prangs were seashells and bits of porcelain used to make patterns in the gray plaster that covered a brick core. The porcelain had reportedly been used as ballast by boats plying their trade from China to Bangkok. Charming sculptures of what I have seen variously described as demons, guardians, and soldiers, appear to balance the prangs, while sculptures of Chinese soldiers and animals decorate the base.
DS and I climbed the steep steps for the views available from the two terraces.
Although Wat Arun means Temple of the Dawn, it is said to catch the best light at sunset. We managed to sandwich our exploration of the temple and the grounds between two heavy downpours. No chance of any sun that day.
Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan
Wat Arun - Temple of the Dawn - Bangkok, Thailand
The first class royal temple that was built in the Ayutthaya period, was first called Wat Makok, then changed to Wat Makok Nok because there was another new temple in the area called Wat Makok Nai (Wat Nualnoradit). In a later period, King Taksin the Great formed the troop via the river from Ayutthaya and reached the temple in the early dawn. The sight inspired him to renovate the place and change the name to Wat Chaeng, meaning the temple of dawn. Thonburi was the capital in 1768. The king built the new palace that surrounded the temple, Wat Chaeng was the temple in the palace that without the monks resided. The royal temple of Thonburi was the holding place for the Emerald Buddha and Phra Bang, the Buddha images, which were brought in from Vientiane in the reign of King Rama I. When the capital and royal palace were moved from Thonburi to Bangko, the wall of Thonburi Palace was destroyed. When Wat Chaeng was no longer the temple in the palace, the monks were allowed to reside there. The renovation of the palace continued until the reign of King Rama II who changed the temple's name to Wat Arun Ratchatharam. It was renovated again during the time of King Rama IV. Once again the King changed its name to Wat Arun Ratchawararam.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Guardian of Freedom

This one is for you, Gunner!
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand - A Lovely Lunch

Eating on the move is fun and saves time, but we tried to opt for more traditional fare at least once a day.We had some great worry-free meals in restaurants that normally cater to foreigners. and where we could be pretty sure everything was held to higher health code.

This lovely meal was also delicious. Maybe Martha Stewart got some of her ideas in Thailand. The appetizer was a meat mixture placed in the center of a wrapper (like a thin crepe egg roll wrapper). The edges were brought up and the bundle was tied with green onion strips. The whole was fried until crisp.

DS chose this spicy beef dish. The foil packet contains rice.
I had a slightly spicy soup with shrimp, squid, maybe some other things, and veggies.
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Everything was delicious and the total for our meal was well under $10!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thailand - Small Business Owners - Fast Foods

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There were many small food vendors on the street and they all seemed to have their own specialties. Everything looked and smelled delicious, but the Western stomach is renowned for its fragility.

There were places where we indulged in the local food cooked at the site, but we were very, very careful. We chose vendors who maintained clean areas, kept their meat on ice, and handled the food with gloved hands. A hot fire for well-cooked meat and veggies, served with disposable chopsticks commercially wrapped in paper for eating utensils, made me feel more comfortable eating the food. We made sure all our drinks were sealed when we got them. Perhaps we were too nit-picky, but the people seemed to know the ropes for those finicky Americans and we never once got sick. I bypassed cups and utensils when I saw they were being washed by hand. Even a crock pot with hot water to dip and "sterilize" eating utensils did not tempt me.

The squid, and many things I did not recognize, made for good eating. DS had talked about trying the octopus that is bought fresh and alive, then cooked quickly and eaten while it is still wriggling. I was not tempted even before I learned that the reflexively moving tentacles could attach themselves to your throat and strangle you. DS was looking forward to "squid-on-a-stick," but we never did find it.

After two weeks of eating like the locals, we both decided it was time to try out the McDonald's around the corner from our hotel.

Thailand - A Day Along the River

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DS and I got an early start so we could see as much as possible on my first day in Thailand. He had had already been there for a week, which was mostly spent in Phuket...on the beach and shopping. We bought a tourist ticket for the boat that runs up and down the canal. We could get on and off at any stop, all day long. A great way to see the sights along the waterway and stay out of the town traffic.

In town, it really seemed that everyone was a small business owner. Mini-restaurants and tiny shops lined every street and alley way, spilling over onto the sidewalks and stopping just short of the curbs. Pedestrians are obliged to step into the street at frequent intervals and just take it in stride.The sights along the canal were a curious mix of new, old, and ancient. Modern buildings vied with apparent dwellings that would ordinarily be condemned in many other places. The people all seem happy, energetic, and ready to work.

The canal water is a murky, green color which appears to double as a giant trash receptacle. It could have been worse so there must be people designated to clean it at intervals. They certainly retrieved anything of value, including aluminum cans and plastic bottles, which could be turned into cash. People took every opportunity to drop a line in the water and must have been successful, although we never saw anyone carrying fresh fish. I sincerely doubt it was "catch and release", but I would have a hard time eating anything caught there.

We saw one group of three men and one woman, working on refurbishing a portion of wall near the edge of the river and pier. The woman was bent over, diligently spreading the concrete with a trowel, while the men were roaming around the area. One man was fishing, one was having a bite to eat, another was sitting listening to music. They jumped up every once in a while - one to sprinkle sand over the newly place concrete, and the others to oversee the project. We did not hear any complaining.

The river functions well in its roles as provider and transportation.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Swine Flu?"

The "Swine Flu" scare or N1H1 as some prefer to call it, was just getting warmed up as I arrived at my transfer point in Tokyo on my way to Bangkok. I had to to change planes, but Japan was running scared after having a whole flu season named after them one year (Asian Flu), so they were taking no chances. We were captive in our seat belts as a large crew of men and women passed through the cabin like a swarm of ants. They were gloved, gowned, masked, and had taken all precautions they could think of to protect themselves from us. The first person led the way with a thermographic camera. He was followed by others who accepted ,with gloved hands, the questionnaires we had been required to fill in and who asked us specific questions.
"You...fever?" asked with a hand to her forehead and a 'sick' look.
"You...(koff, koff)?" placing a gloved hand genteelly over her mouth.

As we deplaned, one of the workers held a large, open bag out to us and appeared to be frantically tying to get us to take a mask and wear it. I wondered if the workers realized the masks they, and half of Japan, wore would not screen out any virus (which is what causes the flu).

We went through similar examinations on each airport arrival for almost two weeks. I did not know there were so many different types of high-tech thermometers and I never did meet anyone with a flu of any kind.
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Home Again. Home Again.....

The Asians are quite rule oriented, so most things flow very nicely in spite of the large number of people. Well, I have to retract a little on getting around without crowding in China.

When the people from our flight approached Passport Control in Atlanta, our first point of debarkation, we were moved around like pegs in a "Hi-Q" game...
"You go over there! YOU, come over here! I am trying to get some people out of long lines, but it depends when you came in!"
Why didn't she just let us line up in one line, then designate a line as it emptied?

Eventually I did get to the Passport Control Officer(?), who was sullen, morose, and obviously not happy to be working this evening. He passed me on without the phrase I value most from these guys - "Welcome Home!"

After I left Beijing this morning,I had a 6 hour lay-over in Shanghai and another 3 hours in Atlanta. By the time I hit the Austin shuttle area, I was tired and not happy to be pushed around. We had to take the shuttle designated for our area. Our first shuttle pulled up behind another one and, even though we had been standing there for 10 minutes, a large group of latecomers pushed past us and filled the shuttle. Oh well, another one would come along in a while, I thought. Our group waited patiently, having all been pushed aside the first time. The next shuttle came and stopped in front of another one, so we had to walk back to the previous part of the stop for our designated shuttle. All the latecomers pushed past us again, but I had been well-trained in China. I made it on to the 2nd one, feeling very sad that I had to behave in that manner.

I was home by midnight and now have to get my biorhythms straightened around.

Posts with photos to follow over the next few days.