Bran Castle, famous home of Count Dracula in Transylvania, hosts one of the most spectacular Halloween celebrations imaginable. It includes a night tour of the Castle with Vlad The Impaler and Halloween After Party hosted by a famous Romanian DJ. They hold a contest for best costume. Winners spend the night in the castle–coffin or bed is their choice. When we landed at the airport in Bucharest, we met a traveller who had come to Romania solely for this event. I wonder what his costume looked like.
We travelled south to the San Carlos indian reservation near Globe in early March to see the fields of poppies.
Next we went to a baseball training game in mid March. The route from Sedona into the valley was stunning.
Now in Sedona, at 4,500 feet, the wildflowers have gone, well…wild.
When people come to visit you, and you live two hours from the Grand Canyon, it’s a must see. I can’t count the number of times I have looked over the vast edge of the canyon and gazed into its depths.
Having gotten the canyon out of the way, we bring our friends to our favorite place — Monument Valley. It may have been made famous as the backdrop for 12 westerns, but for me it is a timeless place of peace and serenity.
This time we visited around the new year and there was a sprinkling of snow. With the sun hanging low in the sky, the lighting was magical. Unlike the summer, when you have to navigate around the many tourists in their cars and SUVs, you practically have the place to yourself in winter.
No these are not paintings! They are actual pictures at Death Valley National Park.
A four-day winter storm rolled into the Verde Valley in January and I was looking for a way to get warm. So my husband, my son and I piled into the car and headed over to Death Valley National Park. We figured with elevations below sea level– the hottest, driest, and lowest national park–we could catch some milder temperatures. It, too was catching some of the storm, but here it took the form of rain. Park workers were quick to point out that this rainy day was “an event”. Average precipitation in the valley is 2.4 inches.
We awoke the following morning as the sun was rising and burning away the fog that hovered in the lowest reaches of the landscape. Later that day we wandered through the Golden Canyon, a moderate hike into some amazing landscape.
India’s reputation for its heaving population is well-known, although it’s something altogether to actually experience it. And it’s also known for its sacred cows, which are allowed free rein through out the country. But what I didn’t know was the extent to which birds, monkeys and dogs coexisted with this ever-growing human population.
I was especially struck by the dogs who seemed to roam the streets completely unfettered. They seemed too well-fed to be strays. I had certainly seen my share of strays in Africa and Latin America. They were always were emaciated, their ribs protruding, digging in garbage piles for food. These dogs lounged in the sun on the sidewalks, on top of cars, on rooftops of sheds. (We were there in winter.)
What was the deal?
Apparently, it’s all about karma. Dogs, like the abundant monkeys and huge flocks of birds, are fed as a gesture of good karma. On Sundays, the dogs are even fed warm milk. Our guide told us that these animals were the messengers of the many Hindu gods.
Sounds like a pretty good life to me!
Many believed that the devil lurked in the home, crouching behind furniture, tucked under the bed, or concealed in piles of rubbish. To cleanse their homes of evil on the night before the feast, Guatemalans would burn their trash on the eve of the feast.
The addition of devil piñatas has been more recent.
It is one of the noisiest evenings in Guatemala City, with an estimated 500,000 bonfires blazing (and firecrackers cracking) over the course of an hour in the capital city alone.
Last night I was riveted to the television watching “The Last King of Scotland”, chronicling the tyrannical rule of Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970’s. For me the movie was especially poignant, having lived in Uganda from 1995-1999. Now, sitting in Guatemala almost twenty years later and watching the movie with my husband, I was shocked at how much I had forgotten. The lush, green rolling hills covered with Matoke trees, the roughness of Kampala with its bullet-ridden buildings and sprawling poverty, and most especially the people. Black, black faces from which the whites of the eyes contrasted so starkly. Eyes that conveyed a vast array of emotions. Proud faces. Intelligent, educated, energetic. Some of the women were exotically beautiful, with their high cheekbones, lofty foreheads, and full lips, with their long, dark graceful arms and pronounced buttocks. I forgot about the dancing and the beat of the drum that throbbed straight through you and carried you away. Men dancing, dressed in animal skins, faces painted, feet bare. Women who could shake their booties like you have never seen before. And the speech patterns, that extra little vowel at the end of words ending in consonants, creating a melodic flow.”And-i I will make-i Uganda a strong nation.” The charm and the beautiful smiles.
Beneath it all was the potential to commit the most heinous crimes imaginable. Idi Amin may have been at the head of the country, but he had his share of henchmen ready and willing to commit atrocities on his behalf. You could see it in their eyes. A kind of sick enjoyment when they moved on an enemy, torturing, exacting excruciating pain. I remember seeing a newsreel of a group of African rebels tearing apart a live chicken and eating it raw. I saw that same look in their eyes. And the victims’. Young men, stripped naked, manacled, their faces stoic, resigned to the deaths that they knew were imminent.
We moved to Uganda in the aftermath of that long period of terror when Obote, then Idi Amin, then Obote ruled with tyranny, when one in every seventeen Ugandans was killed. Their memories were fresh and they spoke openly about those terrible years. My secretary, a young woman in her twenties, recalled the time that she and her sisters waded through the swamps in the middle of the night, escaping to Kenya. Of how, after they arrived at the refugee camp, she woke up by herself and couldn’t find her sisters. The receptionist of the school, herself an Acholi, the same tribe as Amin, reflected on the many times she found herself running through the streets of Kampala whenever she saw others running. She never knew what she was running from, soldiers on the rampage, gun battles, chaos. Sitting at the clubhouse of the golf club, enjoying a cold drink, my colleagues would point to the green at the eighteenth hole where we watched the next group of golfers come in. That was one of the soldiers’ favorite dumping grounds, where they left the bodies during the night to be found in the morning. The waiters still had the habit of bringing your drink in an unopened bottle and untapping it in front of you, just so you would know that it hadn’t been poisoned.
And although relative calm had prevailed in Uganda by the time we arrived, there were still plenty of vestiges of violence. In the first year, we often heard gun shots coming from the swamp in a low lying area near our neighborhood. Bad guys chasing criminals, or so they said. We were warned that if we ever hit a pedestrian, we must drive away, lest we be beaten to death by an angry crowd. Then there was the time the police followed their suspect onto the golf course, straight across the 17th hole, firing their guns at will. The wife of the Peace Corps director, just coming up the fairway, dropped flat on the ground. Like the wild, Wild West.
Our son, Charles, begins his epic journey on bicycle, leaving from his Peace Corps village near Ubon, traveling to Savannakhet, Laos.