Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kuala Lumpur in Pictures

En route to meet a boat, I had the opportunity to visit Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia for a couple of days.  

Pretty well exhausted after 36 hours in transit, I was grateful to be delivered at 2 a.m. local time to the Hotel Majestic by my cheerful driver Vieky ( pronounced just like Vickie) . Wow. I almost never travel in high style like this, but for less than the cost of a stay at a  Hampton Inn, I got to stay in this beautifully refurbished and expanded colonial beauty, originally built in 1932

For some reason,  I kept thinking of the "Hotel Grand Budapest"
and the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel".  I had a delightful stay, even without
 the charming concierges from those hotels!

The lobby in the new wing, where I stayed.

I chose this hotel based on favorable recommendations, and because it was within walking distance of almost everything I wanted to see.    Though the city is not really laid out for pedestrians, I was able to walk almost everywhere I wanted easily.
The old British colonial district has some pretty impressive architecture, in the Indian style, which is being kept up well enough. The tropical heat and humidity are hard on brick and stucco buildings.

Leaving my immediate neighborhood in the Colonial District, I crossed over the railroad tracks and river into Chinatown, the old-fashioned market area of town where food vendors sold everything from boiled peanuts, rice mixtures roasted in banana leaves, fruit smoothies, packets of fresh sliced fruits to shoes, bags, carvings and all kinds of goods.

The facade of the old Central Market.

A view from the mezzanine inside the Central Market building.
Some of the old colonial street fronts in the Market area

Fresh fruits of every description...rambutan, sugar apples and other tropical fruits.

The famous gate to the Chinatown shopping district. A guy offered to take my picture,
and deftly wove through moving traffic to get this shot! 

A main street in the Jalan Petaling area.

Fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. It's mango season! just look at those beauties.

Some Buddhist monks checking out the swag.
The lady was cooking a layered rice and meat dish over screaming-hot charcoals
She finished it with sprinkles of savory scallions and other greens, and some sauces.
  It sure looked good. I was sorry not to be hungry at the time.
The brightly painted front of the colorful Hindu Temple in Chinatown.
You can smell the incense and burning flowers from the street.
Inside the temple. There are small shrines all around the walls, too.

The pantheon of the Hindu gods and goddesses.

Home at last, after walking over seven miles all around town. A beautiful view from my room.  In the morning before sunrise, the muzzein at the National Mosque, just to the left, sang a beautiful chant for about ten minutes before the usual call to prayer.  I enjoyed lying in my cozy bed and listening, for while he chanted, the city quietly listened too.

In the morning, my driver Vieky picked me up to take me to visit the famous Batu caves.  A mountain of limestone rises up rather incongruously above the countryside and can be seen long before we reached it.  The entire mountain is hollow and stalactites drip down like melted wax.  The ceiling caved in eons ago, so the interior is skylit in some places.  To reach it I climbed over 200 steps right up the mountain behind the golden Temple Guardian.

Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists make up the majority of visitors to Malaysia. Saudis and other Gulf Arab nationals like to visit here also, especially now, when Ramadan has ended and they celebrate Eid with feasting and fun.  I spoke with two parties of Saudis who were jovial and engaging.

Shrines inside the Batu Caves.  Blue tarps covered many of the brightly painted statues on the shrines,
 since they are being repainted and will be unveiled at a ceremony later on.  They are ornately painted, and Vieky told me they have to be repainted every year or two.  Just like painting a bridge; when you get done you start over again!
Ganesha the Elephant headed god.

A blurry shot of musicians playing a tabla drum and a kind of oboe-like horn.  What a sound!!
The faithful buy fragrant garlands of flowers to offer at the shrines.  They smell wonderful.

A family enjoying themselves at a temple outside the caves.

Hanuman, the monkey headed god who is Rama's right-hand man.
Vieky took me on a tour  through KL's modern business district to admire the urban architecture
 and to see the famous Petronas Twin Towers.  They were briefly the tallest buildings in the world and are
 still the tallest twin towers.  They are clad in gleaming stainless steel. I love the design.
 This girl from Indonesia asked me to pose with her for a photo.  So I took a shot of  us too.
 Then they asked if I would  pose with her boyfriend too. I'm not sure why!!

More of the fabulous cityscape of KL. Lush landscaping enhances it.

Oil nut palms reflected in a glass skyscraper.

My driver Vieky.  I teased  him that he was Batu Man driving the Batu Mobile.  He cracked up.
After lunch and bidding Vieky farewell, I walked to the KL Botanical Gardens, the Bird park ,
and the Butterfly gardens.  The rain held off  and it was lush and beautiful, an oasis of quiet in this busy city.

Tree flower at the botanical garden.

So then these three guys from Bangldesh came up and asked if I would pose for a picture with
 them.  So again, I took one of us together, too.  Again, I'm not sure why.  Is this a new trend or something??
Taking your picture with old foreign white ladies???

A butterfly landed on an Ixora flower and posed for my picture.

 I made my way to Merdeka Square, where Malaysia formalized it's independence from Britain.
Again, here is more fabulous architecture , old and new.
A mosaic of the famous photo of the signing of the declaration of Independence of Malaysia.

Merdeka Square, lined with buses full of tourists.

From here I walked back to Chinatown for something to eat and to see the Chinese Temple, which was closed yesterday.
The people in the doorway were saying their prayers.

An incense burner inside the temple.

In the background of the photo above, you can see these two yellow columns,  When I got close up,
 I could see that they were filled with lighted boxes containing hundreds of little statues of the Immortals.  Cool!

I have no idea who this is, but he's the main  attraction.

I enjoyed my two days in Kuala Lumpur!

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Tale of Three Glaciers : Iceland, July 2017

After sailing around Iceland, I invited my friend Ron to join in Iceland to do some land touring around the Ring Road.  It took ten days of driving and we went through some spectacular territory.  Here is a story from that road trip.
A tongue of the Vatna glacier.  You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.
A map of Iceland showing the approximate location of the glaciers in Red.
The snowy crown of the Vatna Glacier gleamed from her mountain throne, and I caught my breath at the first sight.  As we drove further south from Egilsstađir on the Ring Road, we glimpsed many tongues of mighty Vatna, rivers of ice which flow from the snowcap down into different valleys, carving their names in stone, heaving up islands of glacial sand, and melting away into milky jade-colored rivers.  I hoped to be able to have a close look, maybe even to get right up to the ice face of a glacier.  Perhaps there would be an opportunity.

One:  The Late-Night Glacier

Our day’s journey south along the Ring Road ended in the mid-afternoon at the Smyrlabjörg Hotel near Höfn.  The accommodations for our ten-day visit had been efficiently and cheerfully arranged by Sandra Björk SigϷόrsdόttir at Hey Iceland tours, and had been a delightful mix of small guesthouses and farm stays. The spacious Smyrlabjörg Hotel was a nice surprise, with its airy dining room, lounges, bar and abundant buffet.
The Smyrlabjörg Hotel , southwest of Höfn.
After settling into my room, I asked the receptionist if there was anywhere nearby where I could have access to a glacier.  She told me to drive a few miles back north, the way we had come, to find Guesthouse Skálafell. I could walk to the glacier from there.
The Skálafell Guesthouse and working sheep farm.
The glacier is over the mountain just behind it.
I parked in front of the guesthouse, and knocked on the door to see if it was OK where I had parked my little Toyota Yaris.  The hostess assured me it was fine, and directed me to the national park trail, which started just on the other side of their sheep pen. I let her know I was walking alone, just in case.  A tall wooden gate was topped with reindeer antlers and a sign reading “Hjallanes Area & Skálafellsjökull”.

I entered the sheep pen, wended my way among the placid animals, and made sure to latch the gate securely as I exited the pen. From there I could easily follow the trail, which was well marked with blazes.

The path wound ahead over grassy pastures interspersed with low bushes and stone outcrops.  It wound upward, climbing along a ridge and zigzagging back and forth up the steepening grade.  It was midsummer, and the sun was still shining high above the horizon at 8 pm.  The fresh sweetness of the air energized me, and the silence was unbroken except for my footsteps and the distant sound of an ewe calling to her lambs.
Looking back at the Skalafell Guesthouse. The trail is blazed, this was easy going here
Grass gave way to thick pillows of moss, soft and easy underfoot.  I came to a steep rocky incline, and used my hands as well as my feet to climb past a striking rock formation which reminded me of the Iron Throne.
The Iron Throne (from the side...). You can see the trail below it, steep.

At the top, the blazed trail continued and there were occasional plaques explaining geologic features along the way.  At last I sighted the glacier, carving its way down the valley surrounded by majestic peaks. The trail became rockier and more primitive, deeply cut in one place by a some-time watercourse. On a plaque, a map printed in 2010 showed the path leading down directly to the face of the glacier. 
My first glacier.
Now, ten years later, the glacier had retreated further, and to reach it I must cross a broad delta of wet sand, veined with streams running out of the lagoon at the ice face.

The map showing the areas which were covered by the glacier in the past.
 I debated going further; it was now almost 10 pm and the temperature was falling. Clouds were lowering over the mountains. If it rained I might lose the trail, and would risk hypothermia in spite of my Gortex coat and boots. I paused to savor the endless music of running water flowing under the mighty glacier, the primal rush of water back to Mother Ocean.  I turned back.
Turning back before the rain came.

Two:  The Two-Track-of-Death Glacier

Over coffee the next morning, I chatted with a server who told me of another place to see a glacier. He said the staff go there to swim in the lake, it’s easy to find, no problem.  Great!   Just down the main road from Smyrlabjörg I easily found Jökasel Road leading past the power plant.
It'll be easy, they said.
Winding gently up through green meadows, the well-graded road passed by one pretty lake and then another, tempting me to stop for a dip.
The two track in the easy part.  So pretty.

 The road wound higher and grew narrower, higher and narrower.  It became a two-track, and was surfaced with jagged scree which bounced noisily off the bottom of the car.  My little Toyota Yaris climbed doggedly on. At last I came to a down-hill grade so steep that I could not see the road ahead over the hood of the car.  Anxiously, I got out and looked, then decided to go for it.  Over the brink I went, and down the straight, steep two-track. It turned sharply at the bottom and rose steeply again.  My heart was pounding. What if Little Yaris can’t make it back up that hill?  What if another car is coming down when I am coming up?  What if I get a flat tire?  What if a rock pierces the gas tank?What if I slide off the cliff?! The road got narrower and  rougher and hairpin curves became the norm.   Finding a wide spot where I could pull over,  I got out and breathed evenly to calm my fraying nerves. Along came a big 4x4 truck, down rolled the window, and a German man asked me “How on earth did you get that car up here?”  I asked him “How on earth am I going to get it down!?”  He said, “Steady on, see you at the top”.  I continued on, my heart my throat.  At last the road leveled out and I saw the Snowmobile Adventures building at the end.  As I approached, I saw the German man changing a flat tire on his all-terrain truck.
Snowmobile Adventures equipment was a reassuring sign of humanity.
Grateful for arriving safely, I headed out toward the glacier where could walk off my anxiety.  The glacier was frosted with snow and marbled with veins of slate-colored silt.
It was farther than it looks.
Here was no melt water, but the snow of centuries hard-frozen and compacted into super-dense blue ice. Black mountains watched silently. All sense of time and scale was lost. The world was black and white, with dabs of glacial aqua and the radiant blue sky over all.

I was too afraid to stop and photograph the worst stretches of road.
I walked through the snow, crunching my footprints into the pristine snowfield, in awe of the unblemished beauty and primeval power of this place. It might be unwise to go further toward the glacier by myself (or maybe my nerves were frazzled). It would have been better to go with the Snowmobile Adventure tour, but today  it was not an option.
A view from on high of the glacial watershed and the sea.  And the Two-Track of Death.
Retracing the my precarious path down, I stopped at an overlook to survey the steep hill which worried me so. No other car was in sight. At the bottom of the hill I stepped on the gas, and  Little Yaris scrabbled up and over the top of the hill like a champion.  I had survived, and Little Yaris too. I celebrated with hot breakfast back at the Smyrlabjörg Hotel.   I should have had a four-wheel drive vehicle for this escapade. Lesson learned!
Next time!

Three :  The Drive-In Glacier

Heading south along the Ring Road,  we stopped to admire the spectacular natural ice sculptures and black pebble beach at Jökullsarlon, then continued south.

A calm day. You could hear the ice grinding from time to time.
Beautiful bergy bits at Jokulsarlon.
 Not far ahead, another tongue of the glacier came into view, and a large parking area was conspicuous just off the Ring Road.  We turned into the car park.  A well-trodden footpath ribboned over gently rolling heath, leading inland toward the glacier.

So easy!  Especially after the last two days.
It was an easy walk. Eventually the path grew narrower and passed over loose scree which made it slower going.  I hiked to within a half-mile of the glacier, to the soggy, sandy lagoon which was scattered with silty chunks of ice melted into dimpled shapes.

 My friend was waiting back at the car, and I had to decide whether to pick my way along for another easy, but slow, half-mile to reach the actual ice face, or keep him waiting for another hour.  In the end, consideration won out over exploration, and I turned back.  Once again I had ventured tantalizingly close to the glacier’s frozen face without quite reaching it.   Nevertheless, I was grateful for this remarkable experience of nature, to almost have touched three of Vatna’s frosty fingers with my own.