Saturday, May 24, 2008

Guatemala – A Volcano, Working with the Poor, The Pacific Coast and a Malfunctioning Lens! (part 1 of 2)

Trip Dates: April 21 - 22, 2008

I was really looking forward to this trip – another 48 hours in Guatemala! I have had only one other layover in Guatemala before and it was one of my best trips for photography yet. I was hoping this would be the same.

Capt. Mark P. gave me the leg down. GUA is not an easy airport to fly into with all the mountains around, but this time there was not much weather and it was daytime. It’s really interesting coming in over the mountains and seeing the city sprawled out over some pretty rough terrain.

We arrived at the hotel by 1:00 in the afternoon and Mark said he’d like to go to the Pacaya Volcano today, would I like to go? I asked how much it would be and when he said about $70 each, I said no thanks, I was too cheap and didn’t want to spend that much money. He said OK he was going anyhow. A short time later the phone rang in my room and Mark said – Come along Scott, I’ll pay half your way. Now I felt bad for being cheap, but not so bad that I didn’t take him up on his offer! We met downstairs and were soon on our way with a local driver heading towards the Pacaya Volcano. It was an interesting drive and I snapped a few photos along the way,

including some houses

a church

and some workers

After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at the base of the volcano, where we met our guide who would escort us up to the lava flows. Some young boys tried to sell us some walking poles but they soon got side tracked fighting with each other,

so they didn’t make any sales..

Horses were also available for hire, but we decided to walk. The trail got steep fast as noted here by Mark:

He did great, I was working hard – I did have my 25 lb pack – which Mark offered to carry but I had to say no since he was already paying half my way! We say some local villagers doing some work on the trail trying to prevent erosion.

We went through a misty, cloudy area a couple times during the climb, which gave an eerie feel to the place.

When we finally arrived at the volcano we could just make out the lava flow through the clouds. We could also feel the warmth and noted a unique smell. It was really a breathtaking sight when the clouds started to clear.

Another group (a family from Isreal) came up after us on horses and the guides got a little crazy as they took the horses back down.

We spent an hour or so walking over to the lava flow and got close enough that the heat was pretty intense.

The clouds cleared just enough for us to get a view of the top of the volcano where the steam was erupting.

We started down after another half hour and noted how much progress the lava flow had made during the short time we were there.

We had an uneventful hike back down and had some refreshments at the local snack bar at the base of the Pacaya Volcano.

As we drove back to the hotel I tried to pay Mark for my half of the trip but he wouldn’t take it. He said “just send me some pictures” and it will be worth it. It definitely was! Thanks Mark for inviting me to go! (End of Part 1)

View more photos of Guatemala at my website,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Switzerland – Hiking in the Emmental Region with a Swiss local

Trip Date: May 16, 2008

David is the station manager for Delta at the ZRH airport. I've gotten to know him over the year during my 50+ trips to Switzerland so far. A while back he invited me to contact him before one of my trips and if he was off, we would go hiking together. This would be that trip! I told David I would like to go back to the Emmental region since I had only been there once and it rained hard the day I hiked out of Kemmeriboden. David agreed and we arranged a pickup at the hotel at 11:30, which would allow about a 90 minute nap. On the leg over, I talked of my plans with the Captain – Lee, and other FO [First Officer] – Jeff. They both said they'd like to go and I knew David wouldn't mind.

David picked the 3 of us up promptly at 11:30 and we began our drive toward Eggiwil a town that David's grandmother was from. As we headed towards our destination, we ate the sandwiches he provided and I asked a lot of questions that I had been accumulating during my various trips throughout the country over the years. We covered politics, the non-membership of Switzerland in the EU, taxes, schools and whatever. An hour and a half later we arrived in Eggiwil, did some map study, planned a route of about 20 km and were on our way. The trail had an immediate steep climb

of a couple hundred feet out of Eggiwil and Jeff said "I hope the whole 20 km isn't like this!" I assured him it "probably" wouldn't be.

The area was beautiful and I really enjoyed the company of 3 other hiking partners, though I seemed to always be falling behind because I was busy taking photos. No wonder I never made the estimated times on the Wanderweg's signs!

The hike was great, the weather perfect (except for one small shower) and the scenery outstanding. A perfect Swiss setting of farms sprinkled throughout the hilly countryside with the alps in the background.

Jeff said the houses looked like the ones on the cuckoo clocks.

The cow bells (Jeff said they sounded like wind chimes) were continuous and the smell of freshly spread manure

and fresh cut hay added to the experience. The cows, as Jeff noted, appeared “perfect”, as if they were ready for the county fair. I told him these were probably some of the happiest and most cared for cows on earth. We saw lots of Brown Swiss and Red Holstein.

There were lots of assorted bells on cows and on barns too.

As we walked David told us about the history of the Anabaptists and how they had hidden in this area during the Reformation. The communities were very poor and isolated. One of the high points for me was seeing an old building built in 1789

that was used as the community storage building. It had ornate carvings

telling who made it and how the building and its contents were dedicated to God.

David said if one of these storage buildings ever burned, then the whole community would have been devastated by the loss.

We continued the hike – up and down the hills (more than I thought we'd do – sorry Jeff!) for several more miles. The Wanderweg took us through many farms with many cows,


and goats.

We reached the half way point and were about ready to be done! We pressed on though and passed by apple orchards,

gardens, pigs,

woods and yes, more cows & bulls.

After a total of 7 ½ hours of hiking, totaling about 12 – 13 miles, we finally arrived back in Eggiwil at dusk. We ate a quick sandwich (of Emmentaler Cheese of course) in an old restaurant run a long time ago by one of David's distant relatives. A giant nostalgic photo of her – a Stettler – was hanging in the restaurant. We headed back towards Zurich and the 3 of us could barely keep our eyes open as night fell and the rains started. David dropped us off at the hotel at 11:15pm and we slept well before departing the next morning and flying 10 hours back to Atlanta. Thanks David, Lee & Jeff for a great trip!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Springtime in Switzerland? Not yet!

At the suggestion of my kids and others, I am attempting to start a Blog. It won’t be anything too profound, just some thoughts and comments about a particular trip I took, along with a few photos of course to help tell the story! So, I’ll just jump right in and start blogging as if you know all the seemingly missing details or explanations. (These will come in time as time and opportunity permits) In an ideal world, I would like to add a blog after every trip, but in reality, I’ll be happy if I can get one out about once every couple weeks. Here’s the first – a trip to Switzerland taken March 25, 2008.

I just returned from a trip to Zurich and their springtime is not quite yet what our springtime is here in Georgia. In fact, it couldn’t be further from it. I hadn’t had a Zurich trip in about 2 months so I was really missing Switzerland and the hiking and photography there. I hadn’t used my snowshoes yet this year so was really excited to see snow in the forecast for all of Switzerland for the entire week. I was not disappointed! As soon as we broke out of the clouds on final approach, I could see snow cover everywhere. It snowed on the way to the hotel and I couldn’t wait to get going. However, as usual, I was a bit tired after flying all night so had to take at least a 2 hour nap. When I got up I took the tram to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main train station), renewed my half fare card, and bought a round trip ticket to Wasserauen – the small village at the end of the train line. I already had done the research on the SBB online and knew the times and train connections. After connecting in Gossau I got on the smaller 2 car train that went through Appenzell and continued on towards Wasserauen. I sat in the back part of the train where I could shoot through the windows at any interesting passing sights.

We stopped at a village prior to Wasserauen and everyone got off but me. I didn’t really notice because there were only about 6 people on the train and they had been trickling off along the way at each succeeding village. Soon the conductor came by and motioned me off too. Sometimes in the winter or late at night when there are few travelers, SBB will run a bus rather than a train to the last few stops on the line. This was the case today.

After reaching the last stop, I got off the bus (I was the last one on it) and started hiking. From here on there were just a few houses and the small mountain road had not been cleared beyond this point. It was snowing pretty hard as I started hiking and taking pictures.

About a mile up I saw some Chamois,

which I have seen before only on occasion and only in the winter. About this time there were no more old tracks to follow so I was blazing the trail in new snow, which was getting much deeper with the higher elevation. I put on the snowshoes when I kept sinking past my knees. The drifts got a bit deeper and it was a littler harder to make out the road.

but I finally made to Seealpsee,

which was my destination.

Background: The Swiss make great use of all their land, including the high alpine fields for grazing their dairy cattle in the summer. They live up in these small villages in the summer and early Fall when there is no snow, but must abandon them in the winter because the snow is too deep and besides, they’re nearly impossible to get to. In the summer though, the small communities are quite active with dairy farmers, day hikers and tourists.

I took lots of photos and just enjoyed the quietness, solitude and peacefulness of the place.

The lake there was beautiful

and I even found a small outdoor chapel that was boarded up for the winter.

I saw another Chamois way up on the mountainside and he didn’t even bother running like the other 2 had. It kept snowing harder so I thought I better head back down. There was already about 2 inches of new snow in my old tracks.

When I got to one spot on the road on the way back down, I was really surprised to see that a small avalanche had just covered the trail where I had hiked up a couple hours earlier!

I don’t think it was big enough to have taken me out, had it happened while I was there, but it sure would have given me a scare! It was definitely big enough that I haven’t mentioned it yet to my wife. She gets a little worked up sometimes when I tell her some of the more exciting parts of my adventures.

The hike back down was much easier since I was walking in my same tracks and going down hill instead of up. The snow kept falling heavily and it was a pleasant trip back down.

When I got back to the main road, I saw the bus about a half mile in the distance and noted the time to be 18:11. (Sunset was 18:42 – something I always make a point to find out) I had checked with the driver and determined the departure times to be 18:19 or 18:49. Since I was now cold and tired, I sure did want to make that 18:19 bus. I started jogging towards it, not going too fast because I had my backpack and gear, plus, I was a little tired after the hike up in deep snow! I kept checking my watch, watching the minutes tick by (I always have an accurate time hack – very important in the flying business and any time you’re in Switzerland relying on public transportation.) and when I got about 100 yards away, my watch ticked over to 18:19. To the second, the bus starts driving away!! What’s this?? Surely the driver saw me in his rear view mirror I thought? I started waving and hollering but obviously neither did any good because he just slowly started to disappear in the cold snowy night. (I have to assume he really didn’t see me, because drivers have been pretty good in the past about waiting for someone trying to catch a bus or train) I wasn’t looking forward to waiting the extra half hour, so I decided to start walking to the next village because you never know when you’ll get one more good photo!

After 2 or 3 minutes, here comes an older gentleman in has car from behind. I decided to stick out my thumb because that has worked well in the past and sure enough he stopped immediately. Between my miniscule amount of German and his equivalent amount of English, I made it known that I had just missed the bus. He said he knew that, he was watching me out the window of his home! I think he felt sorry for me and came by just to pick me up. We raced for the bus, but by the time we made it to the next village, the bus had already stopped and discharged it’s passengers to the train, which was now moving out. We raced the train and passed it, only to be thwarted again as the road had to cross the tracks and the barrier came down just as we were arriving. Not to fear though, this gentleman took another side road and headed on towards Appenzell where we made it just before the train arrived. I thanked him profusely, gave him one of my business cards, and caught the train back to Gossau and then on to the Zurich HB.

From the Zurich HB it was on the tram back to the hotel with a stop for a sandwich at the local New Pointe restaurant run by the friendly guys from Iran. As always, I slept well that night and then had an uneventful 10 hour flight back to Atlanta the next day.