Canaveral National Seashore

As I mentioned in the last post, acres and acres of the land around  NASA’s Kennedy Space Center not needed for space agency business is preserved partly as a wildlife preserve (Merritt Island) and partly as a wild, natural seashore (Canaveral National Seashore.)

I spent most of a day, walking trails, visiting historical locations, and getting coated in the salt spray from storm tossed waves. I even got rained on but it was well worth it. Another national treasure just waiting to be explored.

Here are a few images for you to enjoy. More on the historical locations another time.

If you are near Florida’s Space Coast, be sure to take some time to take a walk on the wild side.

By the way, all this was happening while they launched a SpaceX rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Blue Bear at Merritt Island National Wildlife RefugeAnyone who knows me knows that getting out into the wide open spaces to view the beauty of an unspoiled landscape and the creatures that call it home is a passion.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, FloridaAfter leaving Cocoa Beach, where my only real escape from the chaos of that over-developed tourist community was the beach in the early morning, I headed to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore. This large expanse of Florida estuary, salt marsh, mud flats, and hammocks, literally in the shadow of the NASA vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center, provide breeding grounds and refuge for many threatened and endangered species.

I would love to hike, bike, or kayak in this area but since it was mid-afternoon before I got there I had to be content with what I could see quickly, mostly from my car. The National Park Service accommodates this need (and provides those who cannot or do not want to get out of the car) with the Black Point Wildlife Drive — a 7-mile drive that winds through spectacularly unspoiled Florida scenery. Take a video tour here.

Here are a few creatures I met along the way.

Next scenes from Canaveral National Seashore.

St. Augustine

St Augustine bannerI could not be in NE Florida without at least stopping at our oldest city, St. Augustine. This city dates back to the 1500s when folks like Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon (of fountain of youth fame) claimed this land for Spain. They were not the only ones, the French and English were here too, before the good ole USA either bought or fought their way to claiming all east coast lands from Maine to Florida.

Castle-like turret, St Augustine, Florida

Back to the Spanish —

Pedro Menendez, the founder of the first European colony in what is now the US, landed here in 1565 (40 years before Plymouth Rock), met up with the Timucua people, indigenous to the area, and set about creating a thriving society that at once enriched the coffers of Spain and inadvertently decimated the native peoples (by giving them European diseases to which they had no immunity.) The city’s architecture still maintains a very Old World, Spanish feel, with tabby (a cement made with oyster shells) walls and tile roofs, at least in the historic downtown area. If you like history, you will find it in St. Augustine, in all its fascinating and commercialized glory.

Dominating the downtown is the old Hotel Ponce de Leon (now the home of Flagler College). Built in the Spanish Renaissance style and covering an entire city block, it was one of America’s most impressive resorts when it opened in 1888, and is no less impressive today with its beautiful courtyard and stained glass designed by Tiffany.

Across the street is another Flagler hotel, the Alcazar (now the city hall and home of the Lightner Museum), also in the Spanish Renaissance style, and a few steps away is Villa Zoyada, a 1/10th scale of a section of the Alhambra Palace in Spain.

If you tire of opulence and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the parklike square offers glimpses of life in the old city — the old market and well, along with tall ships in the harbor, the historic bridge of lions, not one but two historic forts, the city’s lighthouse, and numerous “attractions” that interpret the city’s history.

I was going to take a picture of the fountain of youth for y’all but since everything came with a price, this is as close as you get unless you come yourself.

Fountain of Youth, St Augustine, Florida

 

Holy Week – Mexican Traditions (a flashback)

Palm Sunday is past and Easter is coming up, that means bunnies and egg hunts here in the US but in Taxco it is Holy Week, something that a young man who lives there calls “a show you just have to see — at least once.” This one week of the year, people descend upon Taxco who take their Lenten penitence very seriously.

Hundreds of penitents come to town bearing the virgin statue from their parish, accompanied by an entourage of family, friends, townspeople, and all the confirmation girls of the village in their white dresses. The penitent’s intent is to show their devotion by “walking in the footsteps” of Christ (never mind that he never set foot in Mexico.)

With masks over their faces (to disguise their identity) and what I can only describe as a black sarong (I am sure they have a different name for it) tied around their waists, each chooses one of three ways to show their devotion — walk bent over with chains around their ankles holding candles or a small cross in their hands (usually women), carry a giant cross (usually adolescent boys), or carry a tree trunk sized roll of thorn stems over their shoulders forming a sort of human cross.

On the evening of Maunday (or Holy)Thursday, there is a procession of the shrines, when the main street winding through town is filled with these masked guys in black,bowing to their particular virgin, and self flagellating themselves with a fabric whip. Each penitent along with their entourages wind all the way through the main street of town from the la Garita statue to the church at the Zocolo (the park square in the center of town.) Don’t even think of trying to get anywhere downtown on that night, or the rest of the weekend for that matter, as thousands upon thousands fill the streets (the hotels, and restaurants – some of which rent and open a second seating area just for this week) to gawk and “see the show.”

Statues of penitents, Ex-convent, Taxco, Mexico

Statues of Holy Week penitents, Ex-convent, Taxco, Mexico

Saturday morning is the solemn procession. I am not sure how far these people walk (a mile or 2) all bent over or carrying their burden, but they do it barefoot on hot cobblestones, and if you are carrying the thorns bleeding. Each penitent is watched to be sure they carry their own burden, though they have assistants to guide them along (since those with the thorns cannot see where they are going, and, if the procession stops to lift the thorn rolls off the guys shoulders, while the bent can straighten up.

Around the Zocolo people throng to watch the procession, creating an avenue between rows of live bodies snapping photos, making videos, and cheering as each penitent reaches the church and receives communion. It is pure chaos but fascinating.

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As my friend, said, if you are in Taxco during Holy Week, you must “see the show.”

To Market, to Market

“To market to market to buy a fat pig… So says the old nursery rhyme. That is almost the way it is in Mexico.

In the States, we go to the super market, where we can buy almost anything we want in one fell swoop. It is not that way in Mexico, at least outside of the larger cities.

Oh, there are “mercado commercials” (remember to accent the last syllable) — commercial markets somewhat akin to a super Walmart, only much smaller, selling everything from soup to nuts and I don’t mean the kind you eat either.

The  locals in Taxco shop at the “mercado grande” – a giant multi-floor maze of shops and stalls inside and outside, upstairs and down, and all around a conglomeration of buildings and alleys downtown, near the zocolo at the city center. There are permanent shops in the mercado that sell meat, dairy, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies, and more general stuff like watches and batteries, clothing, wine and liquor, flowers, engine parts and repair, plastic household goods, and even a hair dresser or two.

On Mondays, the market swells to include people from miles around selling fresh produce, herbs, maize for tortillas, and anything else you can imagine. And of course, Taxco residents buying what they need for the day or week.

One recent morning I accompanied Irma on her weekly shopping expedition, and I mean expedition quite literally. Come along…

Mercado, Taxco, Mexico

Frutas y verduras (fruits and vegetables) for sale

First we grab the giant economy sized shopping bag, and walk to the market, about 3/4 mile up the cobblestone street that winds through the downtown, down a little alley that by-passes the zocolo proper and up the other side (think of walking through a mixing bowl), around the corner and into the multi-hued semi-darkness of streets covered with tarps (red, blue, green, and white).

Mercado, Chilpancingo, Mexico

Fruit with your brassiere?

Follow her past the cacophony of vendors and shoppers, haggling over quality and price, through a maze of corridors, dodging dangling underwear, winding around the glow-in-the-dark bras, assorted housewares, and hardware vendors, and inhaling the aroma of the comidas (little food stands).

Pig head

“Disjointed”

We continue to wind around and around, up the stairs, and around the corner when I come face to face with a pig — well it was a pig, now just its head (with one eye poorly sewn shut so that it seems to be peeking at me) nicely nestled next to four feet (with toes that look strangely manicured) in some sort of odd and disjointed repose. Next to this is the rest of the animal, sliced, diced and hung in chunks for sale.  Across the aisle is the beef vendor with cuts of meat hung from hooks. Irma orders something, they take down one of the slabs of meat and slice off what she wants, and hangs the rest for the next customer.

Chicken sculpture

Artzy pollo (chicken)

Next we head down the stairs and around another corner where the chicken vendor is busy chopping up whole chickens and slicing the breast into one long thin slice, which is pounded and later cooked up quickly for tacos. Though I saw one foot on the table (in some circles the feet are more highly prized and expensive than the breast), this vendor does not make a sculpture of them like they did in Chilpancingo. Irma buys one large chicken breast, which by the time she gets done stewing and pulling it will feed a family of four or more, and off we go past the sausages and organ meats, to wind around, up, and down some more until we come to her favorite queso (cheese) stand.

Cheese, mercado, Taxco, Mexico

Say cheese

Mexican cheese comes in three basic styles, mostly the same cheese just in various stages of “ripeness” or maturity.  There is crema, a thick sweet cream about the consistency of American sour cream, that they dip with their plastic-bagged hands out of a 5 gallon bucket, turn the bag inside out, tie the ends and send along home with you, the soft, crumbly “fresca,” which sits in giant rounds waiting for you to order a chunk or have the vendor grate it before your eyes. There is also Queso Oaxaca – the Mexican version of string cheese, which is the same cheese only it is pulled like taffy while it is solidifying. Oh and, you can get all three cheeses dipped and cured in chili if you like. This shop also sells milk, yogurt, and canned beans and chilis — sort of your one stop taco or quesadilla fixin’s shop.

Down another set of well worn steps that originally led to a street but which now is permanently part of the market, we come to the women selling maize – a corn flour mixture that any self-respecting housewife takes home to make tortillas (2 kilos please).

Pandeleria (bakery)

Pandeleria (bakery)

Down more stairs, then through what appears to be a broken down wall (they just knocked it out and you descend on steps cut into the rubble which under the passing of thousands of feet have turned into a heap of gravel), then up another we come to the bakery section, where Irma buys bolillos (a short, wide loaf that is sort of a cross between French and Italian bread only softer) remarkably unburned; bread here is often cooked in wood-fired clay ovens, so many times it is more than a little black on the bottom or around the edges. Toast these on a cast iron tortilla pan with a little butter and sprinkle of sugar and it is to die for.

Jomillas

Jomillas

We wind around some more (Are you lost? I know I am.) and come to a set of steps, filled with vendors selling produce, herbs, and live jomillas, the little bugs that give golden salsa here it’s unique flavor.

The steps and the alleyways beyond are full of little tables, or sometimes just a blanket or baskets on the ground, where people from the surrounding countryside come to sell their fruit, vegetables, and sometimes crafts in front of permanent shops selling meat, flowers, hardware, sundries, CDs, toys and you name it. This part of the market is outdoors so you don’t really realize that you are almost out of it until you pass the last stall and there you are on the busy street. We emerge into the bright sunlight, right across from the combi (bus) stop; good thing too because by now our shopping bags must weigh 20 pounds each.

Shopping done

Shopping done

We head home to unload our goodies, but wait, we are not done yet. We empty the bags, peel some fruit and start it and that chicken breast stewing on the stove, and head out to the little mercado around the corner from the house where Irma selects the oranges, parsley, cucumbers, papaya, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and other basic (and heavy) ingredients for her homemade fruit waters, tacos, and more.

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Are you hungry yet?

Let the sun shine

Currently I live on the top floor of a house, on a hill in Taxco. When I open my eyes in  the morning I look over the top of the city and beyond to the mountains, where every morning the sun comes up to greet me.

Sunrise over Taxco, Mexico

Since winter is the dry season in Mexico, that usually means the sky turns from deep indigo, to violet to shades of  magenta, coral, pink and peach, in layers sort of like a sand sculpture or those gelatin cups they sell everywhere here (Mexicans love their gelatin).

Days are clear and bright with azure blue skies occasionally dotted with a few white puffy clouds.

Imagine my surprise and wonder when I opened my eyes and saw this.

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He certainly knows how to paint a beautiful sky. I just love how the beauty changes minute by minute.

Street Signs

Taxco is not a small town, yet it is small enough that the residents (the permanent ones anyway) seem to know everyone. There are no traffic lights in Taxco, though there are traffic police that stop traffic on busy roads so pedestrians can cross. Other than that, it is pretty much a first come, first go philosophy, or the typical Mexican attitude of if you can squeeze your car into the space, do so. Add that to the general steepness of the terrain and as you can imagine this philosophy comes with a lot of horn honking and occasionally (amazing really how rarely), scraped paint,  broken lights, and shouting.

img_5684-qprBut having no traffic lights does not mean that there are no street signs. This being a colonial town, with the exception of the main highways into and through town, the streets are as they have been for centuries made of cobblestone.The road builders, set each stone by hand, and sometimes, using the three colors available (black, white, and red) take the opportunity to add some creative variety to their jobs by placing a pattern into the pavers.

img_5606-qprThere are the typical white lines down the middle, supposedly the line demarks two lanes but usually they serve more as a guide for one car, as if it could not get around the bend without straddling the line.

Other times, the lines form patterns — leaves, geometrics, even intricate pictures  in stone outside businesses or in the plazuelas.

Here are a few of my favorite street signs. enjoy the show.

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