“Wildlife Encounter Talks” are given every afternoon at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida.
Florida welcomes you to the state with fresh orange juice and glossy brochures, and then subjects you to mile-upon-mile of billboards advertising everything from alligator airboats to the power of prayer. Endless highways and turnpikes are bounded by garish plastic storefronts advertising all manners of food, tacky souvenirs, alcohol, and entertainment.
I found it vaguely depressing, and very overwhelming. Fortunately, as I have written before (Kissimmee Lake), it is possible to escape. National Parks, Indian Reservations, State protected green spaces and privately bequeathed lands are never too far away, if you look.
Which is lucky.
We’d had a rough night. Our planned lodgings in Fort Lauderdale had collapsed spectacularly, and our attempt to find an alternative near the Everglades had failed. (The people I spoke to at the local gas station didn’t sound used to talking to tourists, let alone accommodating them.) We drove in circles, late into the evening, and finally ended up with a room at a dimly-lit strip motel where the “reception” was behind a locked grate.
So, I was determined to jump off the highway at the Flamingo Gardens, a not-for-profit botanical gardens and wildlife sanctuary, before continuing south into the Florida Keys.
It was a good decision.
The Sun Conure (Aratinga solstitialis) is actually a native of South America – but often found in captivity.
We escaped our dingy, overnight dungeon and were parked at the gardens before they opened for the day. We wandered around the parrots and macaws in the outside aviaries waiting for the doors to open, and once inside, didn’t leave until early afternoon.
Pink Ginger (Zingiberaceae)
Flamingo Gardens is set on 60 acres of land, divided into seven distinct botanical zones.
The “Tropical Plant House” area includes orchids, calatheas and other high-maintenance tropical plants.
Wild Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet)
More Wild Gingers?
The gardens are a feast of strange, tropical plants.
It must be the right time of year: colour peaks out from everywhere.
We made our way into the “Bird’s of Prey” area…
Red Shouldered Hawk
… where we met several rescued raptors…
… including this adorable little owl who came off second-best in a nasty accident.
Black and Yellow Garden Spider
In the large, walk-through “Everglades Free-Flight Aviary”, we were surrounded by some of the more-than-45 species of Florida native birds housed there.
Eastern Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans live in Florida year-round ~
American White Pelican
~ while the White Pelican is a winter visitor.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is found in the southern parts of eastern Canada and throughout the mid-western and eastern United States.
The Flamingo Gardens cater for school groups. Some of these children seem pretty excited to be so close to White Ibis.
“Flamingo Pond” is home to the eponymous waders.
Brazilian Red-Cloak (Megaskepasma)
Golden Candles (Pachystachys lutea)
Delicate slipper orchids hang from the trellis where we wait for our “Narrated Tram Tour” around the wetlands and native trees.
Floyd L. and Jane Wray came to Florida in 1925 and bought 320 acres of land. They were intrigued by the horticultural possibilities of the subtropical locale. Floyd and his business partner Frank Stirling founded Flamingo Groves in 1927, maintaining the indigenous plant life as well as cultivating exotic specimens and testing the viability of over 60 varieties of citrus. (History)
The Historic Wray Home
The weekend home of the Wrays, nestled in a native hammock of Live Oak trees, many of them 150 to 200 years old, was originally built in 1933. Restored, it is now open to the public as a small museum.
Over four dozen peacocks live on the property.
Lucky for us, it was mating season.
The vultures nesting nearby are much less blessed in the looks department.
Northern Crested Caracara
These impressive Florida natives are members of the falcon family.
The “Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary” section of Flamingo Gardens was opened in 1990, and was one of the first to house permanently injured or non-releasable Florida native wildlife.
Much maligned, North America’s only marsupials, opossums are omnivorous and often scavenge roadkill and household garbages. They are almost totally immune to rabies and snakebite.
I am grateful that Mrs. Wray established the Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation in 1969 in honour of her late husband, preserving the core property for us, and for future generations.
A few hours in the park sure improved my day ~
and we can all use a bit more nature in our lives.
Moria and Anita
Kalbeliya gypsy sisters, Rajasthan
That land of colour, chaos and contradictions.
I’ve only just returned to my quiet little corner of the NSW southcoast after three weeks of travelling in magical, manic, northern India. My suitcases are full of trinkets bought from street children and beggars, my shoes are full of desert sand, and my external drives are full of pictures. It will be months before I can fully sort out my thoughts and impressions. So, I thought I’d prepare a short post in the mean time.
“Short” turned out not to be so simple! I love what little I have seen of India – but I can’t claim to begin to understand it. To a Western-raised mind, it truly is a land of contradictions.
The caste system is a case in point. Codified almost 2000 years ago in Brahminical texts, four broad castes were defined, based on their functions – their roles – in society:
- Brahmana (or Brahmin), to look after the ‘head’; the religious and spiritual endeavours, and education;
- Kshatriya, the ‘arms’, to take care of public service, law and order, and defence;
- Vaishya, the ‘stomach’, to deal with the commerce and business; and
- Shudra, the ‘feet’, to perform semi-skilled and unskilled labour.
Castes were determined by birth and could not be altered. While this system may have ensured stability, it didn’t allow movement or intermarriage between classes. Worse, it created an underclass and excluded and ostracised whole groups of peoples as Harijan or “children of God” – more commonly known as Dalits or achuta: “Untouchables”.
While I was in India, I was told that the caste system itself was outlawed, but I can find no evidence supporting this. Since 1950, it has been against the law to actively discriminate against someone based on their caste, or to practice “untouchability”, but in practice, prejudice and even violence against India’s lower orders is still commonplace (e.g. Untouchable @ National Geographic Magazine; Human Rights Correspondence School).
Rajasthan’s desert nomadic peoples are a prime example of India’s contradictions. Even though they were “Untouchables”, gypsies were hired in the old days by kings and maharajas to provide exotic entertainment – “the Bopa are talented musicians and singers and the Kalbeliya are dancers and snake charmers” - and today they still subsist as semi-nomadic street performers. They are, however, still outsiders, and are seen by other Indians as “squatters and hustlers” and “dirty and aggressive beggars”. I was told, sotto voce, that many of the women are “entertainers”. Indeed, in some areas of Rajasthan, in the absence of educational and employment opportunities, prostitution has become their main source of income.
The two gypsy women I met, Anita and Moria, might be outside the Indian caste system, but they are proud, self-possessed, and sure of their own value. Even if Karl Grobl, our photo-tour guide had not warned tour participants of their toughness before he negotiated a contract with the sisters to pose for us, I would have felt no inclination to cross them. These young women, aged 18 and 25, with four small children between them, may be dressed in beads, fancy embroidery, and sequins, but they are as hardy as tempered steel!
Wagons, camels, and the hills of Pushkar provide a backdrop for our Kalbeliya models.
Anita dances as Moria and Pushkar fair-goers look on.
Skirts and scarves flying …
… the women manage to dance and twirl …
… on rough sand with no music!
Moria and her Famous Dimple
Moria and Anita
It is hard to imagine what these bright, industrious women would have made of the their lives if they had had the kinds of opportunities we take for granted.
Perhaps they would change nothing -
The apparent contentment of many of India’s people is, for me, one of the most perplexing contradictions.
Horse Carriages and Dusty Streets
The colonial hill town of Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar, is an odd mix of dilapidated development and old colonial grandeur.
Pyin Oo Lwin (or Maymyo), a small town 67 kilometers (42 mi) east of Mandalay is an odd place, with it’s dusty streets and Wild-West look. According to Wikipedia: “The town began as a military outpost established near a small Shan village with two dozen households…”, becoming a permanent military town by 1896. Tour books will tell you the town still feels ”anglicised” from the days of colonial rule, but this is only noticeable once you are away from the inner-city rubble and litter.
I’ve written about the town, and the flower markets in the streets outside it, before:
Because of its altitude (1070 meters – 3510 feet) and temperate climate, Pyin Oo Lwin was a established as a hill station and summer capital during British colonial rule. The weather, perfect for growing fruit, vegetables and especially flowers, means that the popular resort town is sometimes called Pan Myo Daw, “The City of Flowers“.
It was after our morning stop at the flower markets that we ten photography enthusiasts, along with photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM, piled into gaily painted wooden pony carts for a tour of the town and its surrounds.
Pony and Cart
These dainty ponies hardly look strong enough to manage the cart and driver – even without three sturdy passengers with camera gear!
With their plastic flowers and gaily decorated harnesses, the ponies were almost as colourful as their carts.
Boyz in the Hood
A pony cart provides a nice (albeit unpredictably bumpy!) elevation from which to watch the life in the local streets.
In spite of the shimmering heat, the puddles from the last downpour remain.
Tourists in the Pony Traps
Soon we are out of the downtown, and into greener areas…
Life isn’t Perfect
… but even here, things can be tough.
Our first stop is at Candacraig, the oldest hotel in Myanmar.
Originally built in 1904 by the British Bombay Burma Timber Company for their expatriates, Candacraig is now a government-owned hotel.
Paul Theroux, the American travel writer and novelist, tells of his stop here in The Great Railway Bazaar (1975).
For all it’s teak splendour, Candacraig is little improved. People still bucket-bathe out the back.
While we were there, Candacraig was being used as a set…
Singing On the Porch
… for a music video. We weren’t sure if this was for a song, or part of a movie, as the actors were an ethnic minority whom our guide had trouble understanding.
Meanwhile, our ponies were grazing.
Pots and Pans
Back in town centre, I had the opportunity to wander through the shops…
… and the fresh-food markets.
Flowers for Sale
Here, too, Pyin Oo Lwin’s famous flowers are for sale.
But, it is the people I enjoy the most.
Selling Flour and Grain
(The beetle-chewing starts young!)
At the Mechanics
The absence of protective clothing in high-risk work areas is always noticeable. Of course, the weeping goldsmith flowers on the bike will appease any mischievous Nats (Burmese spirits), so everything will be fine!
At the Mechanics
Bottles, boxes and bags…
- and just about everything else!
Truly a town of contrasts.
But, as is the case elsewhere in Myanmar, the smiles are never hard to find.
There is a lot to be said for that.
May we, too, keep smiling!
Mural #12 – Native Heritage – Chemainus First Nations
Named for a legendary chief, the town of Chemainus, in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island‘s east coast, has a rich First Nation cultural heritage.
Painted in 1983 by Paul Ygartua, Vancouver, B.C.
Do you remember The Little Engine That Could? The story about the little blue engine who took on a job that was far too big, but through positive self talk (“I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can”) succeeded in pulling a long train over a high mountain pass?
Well, this is a story about The Little Town That Did.
Once upon a time, nestled between a mountain range and the Salish Sea, in the temperate Cowichan Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island, there was a small town called Chemainus.
This small town always had a big spirit: it was named for the native shaman and prophet “Tsa-meeun-is” (Broken Chest), who, according to legend, survived a massive wound in his chest before becoming a powerful chief to his people: the Chemainus First Nation.
The rich natural resources of the Cowichan Valley provided all the necessities of life, first to generations of First Nations people, and then to the immigrants who came looking for riches and a better life.
Mining, fishing, and forestry were the original industries in the area, and the port of Chemainus was one of the first ports in the Pacific Northwest. Germans and Scots came to make their fortunes in the mining and lumber industries. Chinese worked in ‘bull gangs’, struggling to move huge lumber planks to the waiting ships. A sawmill was completed in 1862. Then the railroad arrived in the 1880s, bringing more work, and a wave of Japanese and East Indian labourers.
Life was good, and the people believed the riches would last forever.
But, with lumber the only viable industry, the town’s fortunes rose and fell with the price of wood products. By the late 1970′s, MacMillan Bloedel, who owned the mill, estimated losses of more than CD$15M in a two year period. The town was on its last legs.
Fortunately, Chemainus was still home to people with strong spirit and big vision. Using a grant from a provincial redevelopment fund, community leaders and a young Mayor Graham Bruce agreed to a proposal from local German immigrant Karl Schutz. Since the early 1970s, Schutz had been promoting the idea of having large, outdoor murals painted around the town. In 1982, the time was right and the first five murals were completed.
The next year, the mill, which had operated off and on for 120 years, closed for the last time.
But, the people of the Cowichan Valley didn’t lose hope. The Festival of Murals Society had been established, local and international artists had been commissioned, and the beautiful murals – all portraying local life, heritage, and history – were on track. The little town of Chemainus had put itself back on the map – this time as a popular tourist destination.
Tour operators take visitors around the murals by horse-drawn carriage or by small steam train. During high season, locals dress in period costume to enhance the visitor experience.
Mural #11 – Temporary Homes
Even chains get the local treatment!
Painted in 1983 by David White, Nassau, Bahamas
Mural #18 – Julia Askew – first child of European ancestry born in Chemainus (February 22, 1871)
An old school house gets a new treatment as a boutique fashion store.
Painted in 1986 by Elizabeth Smily, West Vancouver
Mural #31 – 10th Anniversary Mural – The Lumber Barons
JA Humberg (left), mill manager from 1924 shaking hands with HR MacMillan (right), who bought the mill in 1944.
Painted in 1992 by Constance Greig-Manning, assisted by Bill Manning, Kenilworth, Ontario (now residing in Chemainus).
Mural #36 – The Hermit
Every laneway holds history… This one tells the story of Charlie Abbott, a long-time Chemainus character, who wandered into town in the 1970s and created a garden of paths and trails in the forest nearby. The Hermit Trails are now popular walking paths.
Painted by Paul Ygartua (Vancouver BC) in 2004.
Trinkets for Sale
Local shops attempt to benefit from the influx of tourists ~ selling a range of trinkets.
Old-Timers on a Bench
Not all of Chemainus’ art-works are murals – a number of sculptures are installed around town.
Mural #22 – Leonora Mines at Mt. Sicker (right panel)
Copper was mined at Mt. Sicker from May, 1897 to November, 1908. Today, virtually nothing remains of the once-thriving community.
Painted in 1988 (with additions in 2001) by Peter Bresnen, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mural #13 – Billy Thomas
William Ishmael (Billy) Thomas, was the first male child of European ancestry born (1874) in the Chemainus Valley. He lived there for all of his 102 years.
Painted in 1984 by Sandy Clark and Lea Goward, Victoria, BC
Bits of old machinery grace the flowerbeds around town.
Mural #1 – Steam Donkey
Hauling logs out of the forest was a difficult and dangerous task. This steam donkey started work in Chemainus in 1885.
Painted in 1982 by Frank Lewis and Nancy Lagana, Victoria, B.C, based on a 1902 photograph.
Mural #35 – 20th Anniversary Mural – First Chemainus Sawmill 1862 – Waterwheel Crescent
This waterwheel is a replica of those that powered the early mills. Originally part of the grounds of the mill manager’s house, Waterwheel Park is now open to the public and includes a children’s playground.
Painted in 2003 by Sylvia Verity Dewar, Chemainus, BC, with construction assistance from her husband Russ Dewar.
Mural #7 – Logging With Oxen
In the 1890s, oxen were one of the main forms of “power” in logging.
Painted in 1983 by Harold Lyon, Fountain Hills, Arizona
Mural #28 – No. 3 Climax Engine
This little steam engine, painted on the side of what was an artist’s studio, hauled logs out of the Chemainus Valley in the late 1880s.
Painted in 1991 by Dan Sawatzky, Chemainus, (now Chilliwack, BC).
Mural #26 – Chemainus – The War Years – Circa 1915 (detail)
Farmers watch as soldiers go off to war. By the end of 1915, over fifteen percent of the local population had gone to fight – many never returned.
Painted in 1989 by Susan Tooke Crichton, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mural #19, “Mill Street in 1948″,
Old shops and buildings lead down old Mill Street to the wharfs on Chemainus Harbour.
Painted in 1986 by Mike Svob, Coquitlam B.C
Doll on the Stoop
An old “character” welcomes us to one of many coffee shops.
Mural #3 – Steam Train On Bridge Over Chemainus River
Locomotive No. 4 steams across a log bridge over the Chemainus River.
Painted in 1982 by Paul Marcano, Victoria, B.C. (now Chilliwack)
We enjoyed following the yellow foot-prints along the sidewalks as they guided us to the various artworks, and we liked what we saw – but we didn’t get to see all of the forty-plus murals scattered around the town. Part way through the afternoon, the autumn skies closed over, the rains came, and we had to escape back to our car.
I’m not sure if the people of Chemainus will live happily-ever-after.
But, they’ve given themselves a new lease of life and determined their own path to the future.
I think that is pretty cool.
The ultimate anniversary gift: in 1867 Mitchell Henry, a wealthy London doctor, started building Kylemore Castle for his wife.
It seems like half the North Americans I have ever met have at least a drop or two Irish in them!
Not surprising, I suppose, in view of the continued growth of the Irish diaspora. Three million people outside Ireland (a country of less than 5 million internal residents) have legal claim to citizenship, and between 80 and 100 million more have Irish roots.
And those roots – even when well watered down – run deep! When was the last time you were in a city without an Irish pub? When was the last St Patrick’s Day you weren’t surrounded by “the wearing of the green”?
This connection goes both directions. In 1998, following the landmark Good Friday Agreement, which aimed to restore some peace to the island, the Republic of Ireland amended its Constitution. The amendments de-emphasised territory in favour of characterising the Irish nation as a community of individuals with a common identity, and included those beyond national borders “… the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage (Article 2, Constitution of Ireland).”
My little bit of Irish ancestry hails (albeit several generations ago – back in the 1840s) from the the Mayo-Galway region. Perhaps that is why, in spite of foul, wet weather, I felt right at home in the rugged west coast of Ireland.
Of course, after ten days of walking in the rain, we were also revelling in having the freedom of movement and shelter from the elements that a rental car brings. But, whatever the reason, we loved our three days in Galway and the wild Connemara region within it.
Here is just a taste of the wild, wild west coast.
Loch Lurgan or Cuan na Gaillimhe
Looming skies stretched over the beach and water, as we lunched looking south towards Co. Clare, where we had stopped to eat only two days before.
Bicycle in the Rain
We had to time our runs between shops, as the weather alternated between “raining” and “pouring”.
“Swim between the Flags”
With the potential for rough seas, the lifeguard shelter is probably necessary. The only swimmers we saw were divers in full wetsuits. Galway Bay is cold!
The plots of land between the fences are so small, it is hard to imagine what they could be good for!
Heather and Broom
The plants look rugged; I guess they have to be to survive in the west winds.
Connemara Peat Pile
Peat farmers have a hard life – but fortunately are blessed with good hearts. My husband dropped his cell phone while I was photographing somewhere around here. What are the odds? A peat farmer found it – in the middle of a grassy nowhere! – and after we realised it was missing and phoned it, we were able to drive back and collect it.
Hills and Bogs
It’s a wild land, with a lot of open space.
Bóthar an Chladaigh
As we drove along the Beach Road, Clifden, to find our accommodation, the light was falling over the moored boats on the low tide.
Row boats take shelter at the boat launch.
The narrow Sky Road winds across rough country.
Gentle-looking bovines watch our passage.
A traditional Irish row boat sits alone on the rocky shore.
Rising out of the grasslands and bog cotton, Diamond Hill sits in Connemara National Park.
Diamond Hill Trails
Paving stones, dirt paths, and wooden walkways lead up Diamond Hill. Footing was rather treacherous in the rain.
Bridge over Tumbling Waters
By the time we got to the top of Diamond Hill it was raining heavily and blowing hard – but it was easy to see how magnificent the view would be on a nicer day.
The harsh landscape here has given rise to a breed of hardy but beautiful ponies. This little colt, who is only weeks old, stayed close to his dam.
Frog in the Grass
Back on the local roads, it is like driving through a different time.
Our next stop is the fairytale Abbey, which started life as a private castle in 1871. After changing hands several times, it was bought by the Irish Benedictine Nuns in 1920. Until June 2010, the nuns operated a boarding and day school, with alumni including Indian royalty and Anjelica Huston.
Chaffinch (fringilla coelebs)
Birds hang around the coffee shop, hoping for crumbs.
In the Drawing Room
Part of Kylemore Castle is restored and open to the public.
Margaret Henry, for whom Kylemore was originally built, died in 1874 after contracting dysentery in Egypt. She was 45 – and left behind nine children. Her grief-stricken widower, Mitchell Henry, built the gothic church, a cathedral-in-miniature, in her memory.
It is a pleasant walk around the grounds, surrounded by trees and flowers.
Some of the trails follow the lake. Others wander up into the surrounding hills.
The Connemara Giant
“Conn, Son of the Sea, Built in 1999 by Joyce’s Craft Shop, for No Apparent Reason” in a little town called Recess. (iPhone S4)
David Howley and Garry O’Meara
Where else would you finish up a few days of seeing the sights in Galway but in a pub? J. Conneely’s Bar in Clifden is known for its traditional music and these guys were terrific – in fact Garry is Ireland’s Junior Banjo Champion.
Wild, windswept coasts, quirky and original crafts, fairytale castles – beautiful, intelligent Connemara ponies; mountain ranges and piles of peat…
Love stories and stories of loss and hardship – warmhearted, hardworking people, always ready to share a tale, a pint, and a tune.
I’d be proud to call Galway home.
Sláinte - Good Health!