Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lake Atitlan Days

View to the south

Lake Atitlan speaks to me, in so many ways. Her voice is clear and pure. This is a place to come to cast off the old, to breathe new life into jaded minds, to rejuvenate tired bodies, to elevate mired souls. She liberates, beguiling, transformative.

The people here are almost all indigenous Mayan. They speak their own languages, the women and girls all wear traditional dress on a daily basis, and they welcome the sprinkling of outsiders who come to share in this elevated landscape and aged culture. Of course, the bigger towns like Panajachel, Santiago de Atitlan, San Pedro la Laguna (where we are staying) have modern-day trappings such as restaurants, bars, tour operators, catering to travellers and tourists, but the markets, churches, most stores service the local population above all. The hustle and bustle of these small towns on market days is accentuated by vibrant colour and hearty banter.

We get around by walking a lot and taking $2 tuk-tuks when loaded down with shopping, tired, or just lazy. They are everywhere and ever-ready. Our AirBnB-rented chalet is a twenty-minute walk south of town along a paved road. It is perched above the road in a private garden overlooking the lake. At night, we look out over the gently-twinkling lights of the villages along the north shore. By day, the speedy lanchas ply the waters connecting each village and town. Using them, we have visited San Juan, San Marcos, Jaibalito, and Santa Cruz in our two weeks to date. More on them in due course...

Yesterday, our outing took us south to the end of our road and along a dusty trail prompted by magnificent views over the mountains, volcanoes, lake and shoreline. The vegetation is sere in this dry season with many trees flowering and coming into bud and leaf. Volcan San Pedro hovers over us, its slopes a kaleidoscope of greens thanks to its natural state. Each tree and plant finds a niche. The sky above is radiant blue, but white cloud invariably collects around the peak as it does now.

Our pathway is clean and clear but for some horse droppings. The old rubbish dump is no more, and the signs prohibiting dumping are adhered to. The locals here are very waste-conscious as they protect their lake's fragile eco-system. No plastic bags, little bottled water, no paper in the toilets. Ceramic water filters purify water from the tap.

Our road is called Calle a la Finca and, sure enough, the trail leads to an abandoned coffee estate. Built in the 1930s using solid stone construction, with an almost football field-sized drying area, production ground to a halt (excuse the pun) in the 1980s, perhaps due to a slump in price or competition from other growers as global consumption took off and corporate conolidation took hold. Two families are now custodians of this enclave. Just down from their simple abodes is a rocky cove where we chose to be baptized by the waters of Lake Atitlan. The waters were fresh and invigorating, the vista panoramic.

View towards San Pedro, to the north

Tomorrow, Atitlan will reveal herself in another way.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Monarch Butterflies in Michoacan

On February 26, we made a special pilgrimage – to see the over-wintering Monarch butterflies high in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. The day began serenely at the lovely Agua Blanca canyon-side spa inn in Jungapeo, at an elevation of 4,850 feet above sea level. Gundi started her morning with a long swim in the mineral-rich pool waters, which she says took away the aches and pains of years. In Chris and Allan’s rented Jeep we climbed 5,000 feet via the town of Angangueo to the butterfly-viewing base at El Rosario. This is part of a 56,000-hectare sanctuary for the mariposas monarcas (of which the butterflies only inhabit a fraction), declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 2008.  From here, it was an hour’s steep climb in thin air another few hundred feet to close to the summit at over 10,000 feet. It is here that millions of monarchs cluster high in the oyamel fir trees, making forays in the sunshine to find water and food from the plentiful forest flowers. On mostly cloudy mornings such as we experienced, the butterflies are lethargic in starting their day, so action on the wing was tempered. Nonetheless, the sight of so many monarchs freely finding their ancestral annual winter home was a mesmerizing one to behold.  With a hundred or so fellow “pilgrims” watching on quietly in awe, this was a profound  and moving spiritual experience, with Nature playing out for a whole species. 

Monarch butterflies are severely threatened by a number of challenges, all of which are brought on by humanity’s greed and over-reach. Their habitat across their summer feeding and breeding grounds in Canada and the United States, their migration route to the southern states and Mexico, and their over-wintering forests all need ongoing vigilant protection from toxic pesticides, desert-like monocultures, development, mining, and logging in order for their current numbers to be sustained and increased. They are highly dependent on the milkweed with which they have a symbiotic relationship across these vast territories. Our relationship with them has to be symbiotic too, as they pollinate wild flowers, bring us beauty and joy, and as we continue efforts to conserve them as a fellow species. They need us as we need them.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Tune with the Elements

This mermaid is intuitively and rapturously in tune with the elements in Snowdonia. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Up over the hill

Up over the hill the rambling wild old apple tree is not quite over the hill. Her tenacious fruit are hanging on for dear life bolstered by the balmy early November temperatures - a veritable Indian summer, a gift from the speckled blue skies. They are clustered on the top half of the tree, safe from marauding deer and the clutch of humans like us, ravenously stripping the lower half of her ample flesh, transforming it by means of our hand-cranked apple press into rich juice of a complex sweet tang that modern-day apple strains cannot match. The pink-blushed fruit that remain will ultimately succumb to gravity and the waning juice of life, tumbling down with the breeze and rotting into a mush where they fall. They will have had a good long life left to their own devices in nature; that’s the most any being can hope for.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Where were you when you fell in love with Nature?

Where was I when I fell in love with Nature?
I was playing in the woods down the leafy lane with my friends for hours on end.

Marine scientist and ocean advocate Wallace J. Nichols explores the neuroscience of our brains on nature, and posits that our love of the natural world holds the key to preserving it.
"Nature brings us deeper into ourselves, connects us more to it and our planet and each other... Nature is medicine."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Twelve Years of Camping & Canoeing

Year 1. Algonquin 

For the last dozen years at this time of year as the seasons turn, I’ve been camping and canoeing in southern Ontario parks with my pal David. We have been transported on two trips to Algonquin, two to Temagami, two to Massasauga, two to Kawartha Highlands, one to Haliburton Highlands, and three to the jewel in the crown, Killarney. 

Year 2. Algonquin

Year 3. Temagami 
We have witnessed the spectacular in sun-bleached skies and star-laden heavens, gales and downpours, frosty mornings and breezy afternoons. We have been awed by magnificent scenery in lakes and rivers, canyons and cascades, waterfalls and woodlands, marshes and mountains. We have encountered ravens who bid us welcome and loons who lull us to sleep.

Year 4. Kawartha Highlands 

Year 5. Temagami
Year 6. Massasagua

We have constructed and been toasted by roaring campfires long into the hours of darkness. We have eaten heartily and drunk merrily.  

 Year 7. Massasagua
 Year 8. Killarney

 Year 9. Killarney

We have mooted a lot of ideas, spouted a lot of drivel, and laughed our socks off. We have ruminated about the world we have temporarily left behind and pondered where it is headed. 

 Year 10. Kawartha Highlands

 Year 11. Killarney

It is a wonder to me to feel so enriched by Nature’s effusive embrace and reassured by the knowledge that this majestic land and lake scape will sustain itself for eons after we are dead and buried.

 Year 12. Haliburton Highlands

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

On this glorious Thanksgiving morning,
Giving thanks for the family and friends we share, the land we inhabit, 

the community we share, the food we grow and eat, the gifts of love and life, 
and much more besides.