Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Pura Vida and the Delights of Costa Rica

Friday, January 24th, 2014

687_thumbnailBob Szaro grew up fascinated by nature and started bird-watching while in grade school. His love of birds has led to travels and research around the world including many trips to Central and South America. His passion for different cultures, natural history and photography has led to his exploring the variety of landscapes found in Costa Rica starting in 1982 from the cloud forests of Monteverde to the dry forests of Guanacaste. Bob retired in 2008 as Chief Scientist for Biology for the US Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. Bob received a Dual Bachelors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology from Texas A&M University (1970), a Masters Degree in Zoology from the University of Florida (1972), and a Doctoral Degree in Ecology from Northern Arizona University (1976). He also completed the Senior Executive Fellows program at Harvard University (1993). Bob currently serves as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution on biodiversity, climate change, and tiger conservation.

***

January 6-17, 2014

Traveling through Costa Rica you learn to expect the unexpected.  Everyday something new and exciting was waiting for us as we drove through the mountainous volcanic region of Costa Rica ending with a few days on a gorgeous beach along the Pacific Coast of Guanacaste.  Our journey was one long treasure hunt for cultural highlights and natural wonders.

One of those cultural highlights was spending time talking with Marvin Rockwell (now 91). He was one of the original Quaker settlers of Monteverde. His story amazed us all with how they came to Costa Rica in 1951 and settled their “Green Mountain.” They were attracted by the beauty of the country and the fact that in 1948 Costa Rica abolished its Army to fund schools.  The journey was not easy as several decided to travel from Fairhope, Alabama by land in a few vehicles to bring some of their belongings.  At that time, the Pan American Highway was more myth than reality.  When they traveled through Nicaragua and reached the Costa Rican border they found no road at all.  It took 3 months to travel the 12 miles to the nearest settlement. The Quakers chose Monteverde in particular because of the high elevation and the sizable area of relatively flat land.

Max Vindas (our tour director) and Marvin Rockwell at the Bat Jungle in Monteverde (Photo by R. Szaro)

Max Vindas (our tour director) and Marvin Rockwell at the Bat Jungle in Monteverde (Photo by R. Szaro)

The fabled nature reserve they helped start is now a major destination for those seeking to experience the cloud forest. With its many vines, epiphytes, and trees it is one of the natural wonders of Costa Rica. It is also famous for the Resplendent Quetzal and hundreds of other bird species. One of the features of the cloud forest that is hard to miss is, of course, the clouds. Walking through the forest with the mist swirling around us was truly a magical experience. And if that was not enough, we found ourselves at the end of the rainbow.

Don Gerardo Montoya Traditional Mask-maker (Photo by R. Szaro)

Don Gerardo Montoya Traditional Mask-maker (Photo by R. Szaro)

Visit to Elementary School (Centro Educativo Cerro Alegre) near La Fortuna (Photo by R. Szaro)

Visit to Elementary School (Centro Educativo Cerro Alegre) near La Fortuna (Photo by R. Szaro)

Enjoying the wonders of the cloud forest (Photo by R. Szaro)

Enjoying the wonders of the cloud forest (Photo by R. Szaro)

Waterfall and lush vegetation in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

Waterfall and lush vegetation in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

Resplendent Quetzal at the entrance of the cloud forest reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

Resplendent Quetzal at the entrance of the cloud forest reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

At the end of the rainbow in Monteverde (Photo by R. Szaro).

At the end of the rainbow in Monteverde (Photo by R. Szaro).

But many other natural wonders were waiting around every corner.  It is tough to only highlight a few as we saw so many. They included the Three-toed Sloth crossing the road near Arenal National Park, the crocodiles and monkeys along the Tempisque River, and the many butterflies and iguanas we saw everywhere we went.

Three-toed Sloth crossing road near Luna Nueva private rainforest reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

Three-toed Sloth crossing road near Luna Nueva private rainforest reserve (Photo by R. Szaro)

Green Iguana displaying for a mate (Photo by R. Szaro)

Green Iguana displaying for a mate (Photo by R. Szaro)

American Crocodile relaxing along the banks of the Tempisque River (Photo by R. Szaro).

American Crocodile relaxing along the banks of the Tempisque River (Photo by R. Szaro).

White-headed Capuchin drinking along the Tempisque River (Photo by R. Szaro).

White-headed Capuchin drinking along the Tempisque River (Photo by R. Szaro).

But I would be remiss if I did not mention the birds. We saw and heard birds at every stop including toucans, tanagers, trogons, jays and hummingbirds.  In fact, we were even able to have hummingbirds land on our fingers at the hummingbird gallery at Monteverde.

 humingbird

Collared Araçari along Lake Arenal (Photo by R. Szaro)

Collared Araçari along Lake Arenal (Photo by R. Szaro)

Yet, best of all, we were able to meet some wonderful people and make many new friends. Enjoying travel with others makes great times even better.  Pura Vida!

***

For more information on our Costa Rica’s Natural Treasures, click here!

Inspiring Travel Photos From Smithsonian Magazine’s Annual Photography Contest

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

On March 4, 2013, Smithsonian magazine announced the 50 finalists from their 10th Annual Photo Contest.  The contest attracted over 37,000 photographs from all 50 states and 112 countries.  The photos easily transport you around the globe, stopping off in places like the Bac Son Valley in Vietnam, Sossusvlei Sand Dunes in Namibia, and the Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  See a selection of travel photos below, and view the full 50 finalists here.

Which ones make you want to travel the world?

Sossusvlei, Namibia.

“Lone Acacia, Sossusvlei Sand Dunes.” Taken by Bob Bush (Altadena, CA). Photographed May 01, 2010, Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Xiao Donjiang, Hunan, China.
“River ferry operating in the early morning in Xiao Donjiang, China.” Taken by Teng Hin Khoo (Shah Alam, Malaysia). Photographed November 28, 2012, Xiao Donjiang, Hunan, China.
"Musicians arrive early at the bullring to take their places."  Taken by Raul Amaru Linares (Bogota, Colombia).  Photographed October 2011, Quito, Ecuador.

“Musicians arrive early at the bullring to take their places.” Taken by Raul Amaru Linares (Bogota, Colombia). Photographed October 2011, Quito, Ecuador.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, monks

“Monks releasing lanterns during Loy Krathong.” Taken by Daniel Nahabedian (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Photographed November 01, 2012, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Yen Bai Province, Vietnam
“Rice Terraces Close To Harvest Season.” Taken by Vo Anh Kiet (Tan Phu District HCM City, Vietnam). Photographed September 2011, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam.
Thrissur, Kerala, India

“Puli Kali”- In the annual festival “Onam.” Taken by Indranil Sengupta (Hooghly, India). Photographed August 01, 2010, Thrissur, Kerala, India.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

“A lone hiker viewed the path before him as the Milky Way rose in the night Sky.” Taken by Jason Hatfield (Lakewood, CO). Photographed May 01, 2012, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT.

Bac Son Valley

“Bac Son Valley.” Taken by Hai Thinh Hoang (Hanoi, Vietnam). Photographed July 01, 2012, Bac Son, Lang Son, Vietnam.

Ninh Hoa district, Khanh Hoa province, Vietnam, salt harvesting.

“People harvesting salt the traditional way.” Taken by Giang Hai Hoang (Hanoi, Vietnam). Photographed August 1, 2012, Ninh Hoa district, Khanh Hoa province, Vietnam.

A Smithsonian Traveler’s Cuban Experience

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Written by Smithsonian traveler and last year’s Smithsonian Magazine’s photo contest grand prize winner photographer, Jia Han Dong.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong
Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Cuba is truly a dream destination for every photographer. I am glad to have had the chance to participate in the program: “Discover Cuba: It’s People and Culture” People-To-People Exchange Journey. The very day I received the invitation from Smithsonian, I just knew I had to be a part of it. It didn’t look like your typical “touristy,” sight-seeing only trip; it seemed to me like it would be an adventure filled with the promise of cultural exchange and meeting people from all walks of life in Cuba.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

The program accounted for all of our meals, save for one dinner and one lunch. For dinner, we were given a sheet of recommended “paladares” – privately owned restaurants, which were underground establishments a mere ten years ago. After Raul Castro called for “actualization of the economic model” (ie. economic reform), the Cuban government began encouraging self-employment, and more budding chefs received permits to run paladares. I, along with six other fellow travelers, chose a paladar owned by Fidel Castro’s ex chef. When ordering, we asked about Castro’s favorite dish. It turns out that he really liked fried shrimp, so a few of us decided to order some for ourselves.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

While we were waiting for our food, I took the opportunity to head to the kitchen and spend some time with the chef. I noticed at one point that he pulled off all the shrimp heads and set them aside, deep frying only the bodies. I commented that the head was the best part (many may disagree, but I’m in the company of Anthony Bourdain!). Everyone in the kitchen laughed in surprise and the chef deep fried a few for me. It was delicious: crispy on the outside and still quite juicy inside; I loved them. The chef patted my shoulder amicably and grinned. Later, he sent a plate of shrimp heads to our table.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

The entire meal was absolutely delightful and well prepared. The paladar was beautifully decorated, showcasing a picture of Fidel Castro with the chef displayed on the wall. Even with a bit of a language barrier, everyone there was incredibly accommodating and friendly. We spent a few wonderful hours with great food and even better company.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

During a separate excursion, we were introduced to the traditional Afro-Cuban Rumba dance. Developed in Mantanzas, Cuba, it is entirely different from ballroom Rumba. We were fortunate enough to be treated to a private performance by the world-renowned rumba group “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas” in their rehearsal hall.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

The group was formed in 1952 at a bar in Barrio Marina in Matanzas, Cuba, rather spontaneously: a group of youths had begun dancing with dishes and bottles to the rhythms of a playing song by Arsenio Rodríguez, emulating a style of what has come to be known as the “kitchen rumba.” The group “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas” is part of the living legend of African music in Cuba, famous not only throughout Cuba, but also worldwide. The gentleman you see here was helping to set up the drums and other props. He told me he was 93 and still dancing, right before giving me a killer handshake. I could only revel in his incredible physical strength at such an advanced age.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

On our last night in Havana, I was about to grab a taxi back to the hotel with two of my new friends from the tour when this gentleman came over and asked if I am Chinese. Once he got the confirmation, he was so excited that he gave me a warm hug and told me that he himself was half Chinese. Originally from Guang Dong Province in China, his father came to Cuba to look for tuna. Instead, his father found a wife in Havana. I was asked to wait just a moment, and he came back within moments carrying his family’s photo album. He showed me his father’s picture as well as a newspaper clip about his family’s history. There was an obvious and quick bond between us, and it was a shame that we didn’t have more time to talk and more common ground in languages we speak. But I had to get back to my friends waiting for me in the taxi. Looking back, I should have sent them off first and gotten to know my new friend.

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Photographed by Jia Han Dong

Thinking back on my time in Cuba, I’ve found that Cubans are an incredibly friendly yet proud people. Smithsonian’s tour was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Cuba, see it with my own eyes, meet everyday people living out their lives, and to gather insight into their culture, heritage, history, pride, and how, despite countless barriers, we are inescapably similar.

For more pictures by Jia Han Dong and his Cuba adventure, check out our Facebook photo gallery here.***

To learn more about our Discover Cuba: Its People and Culture click here.

At the Summer Home of Norwegian Composer Edvard Grieg

Friday, August 24th, 2012

A Smithsonian group at Trollhaugen, the summer home of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg

Just in! A Smithsonian group poses at Trollhaugen, the summer home of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Next, the group leaves Bergen and heads for Geiranger, to what Study Leader Terje Leiren describes as “some of the most spectacular fjord country of the entire trip!”

Check their itinerary here to see where they’re headed!

A Day in the Land of Gods & Heroes

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Kris Trego, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderKris Trego is an assistant professor of classics at Bucknell University. For the past 11 years, she has spent her summers working with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology excavating ancient shipwrecks off the coast of Turkey. Additionally, Kris lectures and publishes on narrative and rhetorical techniques used by ancient Greek and Roman authors.  This summer, Kris led a Journeys family cruise adventure tour around Italy’s beautiful coastline, visiting some of the ancient world’s most remarkable and best preserved Greek and Roman sites. See her post from the trip below:

* * *

For the rest of the world it may have been a normal Thursday morning, but for those of us aboard the Corinthian II the day had brought wonder, adventure, and exuberant joy. After disembarking from our ship, which was anchored in the caldera off the cliffs of Santorini, the adults spent the morning exploring the Bronze Age site of Akrotiri. This site had been buried in darkness for thousands of years by the violent eruption of the Thira volcano that created the caldera, and we walked in hushed awe over the ancient

A Bronze Age fresco of a fisherman in Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini

A Bronze Age fresco of a fisherman in Akrotiri. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

streets that had been brought back into the light. We looked into the houses, abandoned eons ago by their caretakers, strewn with pottery that lay were it fell when the inhabitants fled the island, warned by earthquakes of the impending eruption.

As we explored the results of the volcano’s past, the Young Explorers from Corinthian II traversed its living presence. The Young Explorers hiked to Nea Kameni, the volcano at the center of the caldera, and felt the heat still rising from the ground. The groups, young and adult, reunited for a delectable lunch on Santorini perched high on the cliffs overlooking the caldera. Breathless stories of riding the donkeys up the cliffs, feeling the steam from the volcano, and marveling at the colorful and detailed frescoes from Akrotiri at the museum were shared over an endless array of Greek dishes. Our laughter echoed down the cliffs, and our smiles rivaled the sun for their brilliance. Could this day be any more amazing, we wondered? After exploring the island a bit more that afternoon, we returned to the Corinthian II for dinner, which never failed to delight with exquisite flavors. But the adventure was not over for the day yet! After sailing out of the caldera, the captain found a calm, sapphire blue anchorage, and we went for a pre-dinner dip in the Aegean from the ship’s stern. The sun sparkled on the waters, and the waters responded with twinkling reflections, all flashing over the faces of the splashing, laughing bathers. Over dinner, we talked of how we shared many adventures over the course of the trip and how we transformed from fellow adventurers into friends, as we sailed through these lands of gods and heroes. Each day brought new sites, new tastes, and new reasons to smile and laugh.

Santorini

Santorini. (Photo by Kris Trego.)

Smithsonian Journeys Group, Italy

Smithsonian Journeys group. (Photo by John Frick.)

 * * *

Kris will be leading two upcoming trips this fall and coming spring. Check them out here: