We went to the little town of Lake Placid with two other couples yesterday. Lake Placid is known for its murals painted on walls all around the town. They range in size from 14' to more than 175' long. I must say that it was an odd visit since even at 3:00 pm on a Saturday almost no stores or businesses were open. But it was worth the trip. There are 44 murals and lots of other artist's creations to see. Here are a few.
Even the trash cans are decorated.
And of course Rene was playing with the alligator...
Val was sitting outside yesterday morning when she spotted a pair of red-shouldered hawks on the rig two spaces down from us. There were a lot of young squirrels running around and I think they were hoping to catch one. It was a foggy morning, so the picture I took isn't the very best, but people here seemed to like it. I made a print for the couple who own the motor-home where they were perched.
Saturday brought more warm, beautiful weather here in Wauchula. And when we heard about the Chillin' and Grillin' festival we couldn't resist. We rode the bike into town and spent some time walking around where the vendors were. Two of our friends and fellow full-timers (Rich and Dee) had a tent set up with all their silver jewelry. They also had their new machine that allows them to imprint names, etc. on stainless and gold rings. They looked very nice and Rich and Dee did a good business at the festival. Then it was off to get some lunch. We decided on two plates of pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw, and after waiting way too long in line (I think there was more molasses in the people working there than in the barbecue sauce) we sat down to a lot of food. And man was it good. Definitely worth the wait. Of course we had to follow it up with some homemade strawberry ice-cream made the old fashion way with ice and rock salt. You could taste the cream and fresh strawberries. Very nice.
We met up with some friends after that and sat around talking and listening to a bluegrass band and a couple of young girls that competed in the Wauchula American Idol contest. They were all pretty good. All in all it was a great day.
My apologies for the long delay. It's been a serious whirlwind the last week or so. I'm in the airport heading to Guadeloupe from Dominica. Everything is going very well. I'm extremely pleased with the images I'm getting. Probably the best work I've yet done. DOminica is an amazing island that has one of the largest remaining untouched rain forests on earth. 70% of the island is still untouched. The main highway is a dirt road in many places. A few days ago we visited a waterfall tucked up in the jungle. There were actually 2 falls spilling down a 200 ft. cliff, both separated by thick jungle. The fall on the left was hot (everything is volcanic down here) and the fall on the right was cold. At the base were numerous hot springs - some half hot, half cold - for soaking. It was surreal. After shooting, we soaked in an amazing pool surrounded by thick jungle with sunlight streaming in through the leaves. Tourism is in it's infancy here, so the experience is pretty authentic. The only downside being that the villagers can be pretty aggressive at times with begging. I paid for pictures yesterday for the first time. A fisherman invited us over to where he and his brother were cleaning fish, making gestures with his hands like he was taking pictures. We went to where they were working and started shooting a bit ( I did expect to give him a small tip) and when we were done he asked for 20 Eastern Caribbean dollars, or 10 U.S.! We had a little debate (he was getting pretty angry, actually), and settled for 6. I wasn't too happy about the deal, but oh well. The pictures are pretty nice.
I took a break from writing this email to fly on over to Guadeloupe where I'm now sitting on the front porch of our guesthouse. It's expensive here - another French island - and the island is huge. Today we'll explore the capital and some of the beaches. Again, the contrast between this island and the last couldn't be bigger. Dominca was completely rural, and not much smaller than Guadeloupe, with vast areas of untouched rainforest and a population of less than 100,000. Guadeloupe has 500,000 people and is almost entirely developed, aside from the mountainous national park, with highways, 2 big cities, totally modern amenities, and resorts everywhere. I must say, I'm glad that places like Dominica still exist. So far it's the one island that I've seen so far that I could imagine returning to. I really hope the developers stay clear away from that one.
Martinique was amazing as well. We climbed an incredible active volcano called Mont Pelee. It erupted in 1902, killing everyone in the then capital of Martinique (32,000) aside from one man, a prisoner trapped in a dungeon safe from the noxious gases and scorching heat. Climbing it is an incredible experience. It's about 10 miles round-trip, with a side hike into the caldera, which is now a quiet garden-like rainforest with very unusual plants. Many of which I'd never seen before. The clouds are constantly swirling around the peak, so the views aren't very good. It was a little disconcerting when the clouds broke while hiking along a knife edge ridge and the ocean shows up 4,000ft. below on one side, and the sheer 400ft. cliffs into the caldera show up on the other. It made for spectacular and frantic moments while we tried to get pictures before the fog closed in just seconds later. What was especially interesting was how, since the clouds always sweep over the mountain from the south, the north slope is in a sort of eddy, and once there you can watch tremendous cloud formations spill off the upper slopes above you and sail thousands of feet down towards the Caribbean just a few hundred feet over your head. The scene was almost disconcerting. I hard a hard time getting my eyes to discern space and sky from the sea. We were exhausted, soaked (just from being in the clouds - no rain), and covered in mud once we got back to the car.
The next day, once back in the little village of St. Pierre that was destroyed by the volcano, we happened onto an impromptu dance parade by the locals, which we followed around for about an hour in the sunset light. The pictures are awesome, with traditional dress, good light, and lots of color. The drum beats were both mesmerizing and moving.
Once I get some stuff edited, I send it out. I've been up since 3:30am, so getting pretty tired. It was a long, long drive through the jungle to get to the little airstrip for our 7:30 flight, and our driver showed up early. Being completely dependent on him to catch our flight we had to run out the door in the darkness so as not to miss him. To say I need some coffee is an understatement. "No rest for the weary" has become our motto down here in the Carib!!!
Yesterday we were asked by some friends if we play Court Whist. I've heard of Whist but never played it and definitely never heard of "Court" Whist. Turns out it is a fairly simple card game played with partners like bridge or pinochle.The big change is that there is no bidding involved. The trump suit is determined and you don't have to trump if you don't have to. So off we went at 7 last night to play Court Whist with 46 other players. The fun part was that your partner and opponents change after 4 hands are played so you meet new people all evening. And there are variations in how the trump card is selected and how each hand is played. There are four hands where there are no trump and you try to lose each trick. At the end you get your opponents score. That was a tough one. And of course my hands with the most high cards were during this segment. Arghh. Then there were four hands where you couldn't say anything at all. If you did, you were penalized 3 points. Someone at my table made that mistake.
Through the night each person keeps track of his or her score and the top five scores at the end of the night get a part of the pot (everyone puts a quarter in at the beginning). Oh, and the loser gets his quarter back. Val and I were neither the winners nor the loser. But it really was fun and we'll be back next week.
And I'l leave you with an early morning scene from our rear window.
Val's sister Joanie is still in re-hab, but consciously moved her left arm for the first time just a couple of days ago. That's wonderful!!
Emily is studying to be a real estate rental agent in Queens. Mariam is her expert teacher with all the experience, so we're expecting great things. Of course the several feet of snow doesn't help.
And Matt is in the Caribbean shooting the National Geographic travel book. His girlfriend, Uliana, just arrived so they will travel together for the rest of the project. Here's a picture he sent us today. Sorry to see he looks so unhappy....