I am fascinated by deserts, but the Atacama desert in Chile was not on my radar when I first thought about travel in South America. My niece Kaylan suggested we check out the star gazing opportunities on that high Andean desert, famous for the dry air and clear night skies. Also, home to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), currently the largest radio telescope in the world. This observatory of the “Dark Universe” was created with collaboration between Europe (ESO), North America (NRAO) and East Asia (NAOJ), as well as the Republic of Chile. We were not able to visit this facility, but we did spend time with astronomers and were able to get close up to the night skies with a guided tour using high powered telescopes.
Another amazing tour took us to the Chaxa Lagoon in the Atacama Salt Flat where we observed native flamingoes feeding on krill in the super saturated salt lagoon.
Moon Valley – aptly named, arid, stark and beautiful
October 2, 2018, my niece Kaylan and I boarded an Air Canada flight to Lima, Peru via Montreal. Ahead of us, visits to Machu Picchu, Peru, the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
From Lima we flew to Cusco in southern Peru, the oldest city in the western hemisphere, cradle of the ancient Inca civilization, at about 11,000 feet, surrounded by six mountains in the Andes. We spent 2 nights there acclimating to the altitude and enjoying the colours, the cuisine, architecture and the many shops and peddlers selling alpaca clothing, jewelry, art. It was not uncommon to see indigenous women and girls dressed in traditional costumes, holding baby alpacas or lambs for tourists to pet or get photos taken. We tried the local specialities like roast guinea pig and Andean quinoa soups, and of course their famous pisco drinks.
We returned to Cusco (back the way we came, by train and car), then flights back to Lima, then to Santiago, Chile, to Calama, and finally a long drive to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in the desert, for the next 4 days.
This past July-August 2018 I was joined by my friend Allison from Raleigh, NC for a 6 day bike tour in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. This was our first excursion with Sojourn, the company that organized the tour. Allison flew up to PEI, then we drove to the Burlington, VT area to meet up with the group and two leaders, Al and Wayne. En route we spent the night in Maine with my dear friends Gina and Jonathan Gutman, their daughter Ruth and her family. Also home to sheep, goats, horses, geese, guinea fowl, cats and dogs and a few snapping turtles (in their pond).
The second night was spent at a country B&B (more sheep and dogs) close to our launching point for the trip. We’d decided to use the bikes they provided, and I hoped that would work for me, used to a cushy comfort seat on my recumbent bike. We were assured the seats on the Fuji bikes were comfortable, but that was not our experience after the first few days. Next time we bike with an organized tour we’ll bring our own seats! But we managed to finish the rides each day and recovered by the next morning to ride again.
We had fabulous tour leaders, fascinating fellow riders from as far away as Sydney, Australia, our luggage was delivered to the wonderful accommodations and meals were excellent. This was not a DYO trip by any means, but we all worked hard to earn our meals. One newlywed couple rode a tandem, another couple had motor-assist bikes (oh how I envied them at times, especially taking on those long uphill rides). One of them would pass us as we huffed and puffed, saying ‘sorry’ each time, which made us laugh and more out of breath!
Over the six days we covered about 200 miles or 320 kilometers, many hills, several bridges including covered ones and one crossing Lake Champlain into New York state. We visited a Morgan horse farm, historic sites, local breweries and craft shops. We spent the last two nights at the Basin Harbor Club right on the lake with options to engage in water sports, tennis and golf. Alas, who had the energy to do much more than relax on the comfy outdoor chairs sipping on a cold drink after the cycling workouts. But I’m not complaining, it was a wonderful trip.
My latest project has finally hatched after a very long incubation. Rika’s Shepherd, a fictional story based on my decades of work with Akbash Dogs, had been simmering in my brain since the early 90’s. The first draft was completed in 1997 while I was on a leave of absence from my job at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, PEI. During that year I also completed a first draft of House of Bears, which was published in 2009. This writing process can take a very long time for some of us writers. Now it’s 2018 and another of my darlings has been launched from the nest.
Yes, that is an Akbash Dog puppy on the cover. The owner is Rika, a teenager who lives on a PEI dairy and sheep farm. This is the story of a girl who loves animals, who learns to deal with failures and loss, and discovers the importance of forgiving and being forgiven. This is also a story about these unique and beautiful dogs and how they can be our teachers if we are open to learning. I am one of those students, stubborn at first, but who eventually recognized the gifts our animal companions offer to us so freely.
The actual book launch won’t happen until September 22, 2018 at the Confederation Centre Library. In the meantime the book is available in print and electronic versions from The Acorn Press and Amazon.ca. Eventually I’ll add it to my home page for one-click on-line purchase, but I need a refresher on how to do that! You see, I am a perpetual student and not afraid to ask for help 🙂
On my last full day in Arizona, Elaine took me to the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo not far from Flagstaff and just past the Sunset Crater Volcano. We were able to wander around this ancient place, likely built in the early 1100s. The 100 room pueblo may have been influenced and inhabited by Sinagua, Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi cultures as they farmed the fragile, volcanic ash-covered desert to raise corn and other crops. By 1250 the pueblos in the area stood empty, though their descendants, including Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people, live nearby.
We decided that I need to return to Arizona (there’s the international gem and mineral show in Tucson, AZ each winter, for instance). I’d also love to visit Sedona and the Sonoran Desert again (I was there in 1997), though I understand that one needs to be aware of the sometimes lethal Africanized killer bee swarms that don’t tolerate trespassers near their hives! I insisted that Elaine and Randy MUST visit me on PEI…..and I’ll be waiting for them, their room is reserved.
My last hike along the base of Mt. Eldon with Rudy as my guide, and the day before the forest was closed to all traffic, on foot and otherwise, due to the extreme dry conditions and danger of fires. It was a glorious, sunny day as we explored the giant boulders at the base of the mountain along the dry stream bed.
I’ve been visiting my friends Elaine and Randy in Flagstaff, taking in huge breaths of fresh mountain air, surrounded by majestic Ponderosa pines. At 8,000 feet I need all the air I can get as we wander the forest paths with Rudy the rez dog. Rudy is an example of a local mixed breed, some of which are used by the Navajo nation and other ranchers as livestock guardians for their sheep. These dogs appear to be a multi-purpose ‘landrace’ of various breeds, including the traditional European livestock guardians, adapted to this arid environment and herd management style.