Maximize living, minimize annoyances

Author: offpeaker (Page 1 of 4)

Aquaman and the Mermaid

For the vast majority of our adult life we were land bound. While we enjoyed the occasional paddle in a canoe, raft or kayak we never gave much thought to being in the water beyond regular showering. No prolonged soaks in a tub for us, unless its the hot bubbly kind. We have learned to appreciate the unknown and different which goes along with travelling and exploring new places.  As 75% of the globe is covered with water, it was time to go aquatic.

man on rock

Lets go exploring!

The beauty of the ocean, the sense of discovery, danger, anticipation as well as the previously unknown sense of fun splashing around weightlessly has made us shed our landlubber status.

2 divers

John during his open water dive course with our friend Silas in Roatan Island.

We were convinced by fellow travelers to visit Roatan Island, Honduras during previous travels. There we learned to dive and were entranced and coached on snorkeling by our great friends Naomi and Robert (thank you for your generosity and inspiration!) It was on Roatan we heard about Corn Island for the first time, having it be described as being “like Roatan was 30 years ago”. Preparing for an extended visit to Corn Island meant we would need to bring our own gear even though we want to travel light.  In this case, we got travel flippers to go along with our masks and snorkels.

Spotted eagle ray

This is a spotted eagle ray photographed by John. Mature rays can be up to 5 meters (16 ft) in length; the largest have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 ft) and a mass of 230 kilograms (507 lb).

My flippers in particular were abbreviated versions of the long flippers you typically would use for diving. Our friend (and diving instructor) Sherine loved to laugh and tease me about my little tiny flippers (try to imagine it in her French accent). Thankfully my wife has given me extensive experience handling good natured abuse from a beautiful talented lady. The proper response is to just walk away!  Big John is comfortable in his skin and his swim suit.  Unless it is cold.


After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

My little flippers accompanied us into the water almost every morning on Corn Island. The north portion of Corn Island, approximately 1 1/2 miles across, provides the best snorkeling. Comprised of two neighborhoods, Sally Peachie and the North End,this stretch, is completely open to swimmers (as is all of the island).  The beach is not fenced off for developments.  The road follows along the shore, providing great access. As we were on the island for an extended period, we explored to see our favorite spot. Our conclusion, hop into the water and enjoy.

Coral reef

A gorgeous reef complete with a Queen Angel fish and other fish friends. What a great find!

The coral follows the entire stretch with small, easily breached interruptions. Some spots had better soft coral.  In other areas the reef was closer to shore. Our favorite spot was the extreme northeast by the manta ray bus stop. There are examples of reef within 10 yards of shore, with the main reef 100 yards out.


John found and shot this beautiful healthy elkhorn coral off Sally Peachie

The snorkeling was great and there are no fishermen traveling through this area in motorized boats, just the occasional ocean going canoe. We had a couple close calls with motor boats in other locations.  In order to locate the reef, look for the white breaking waves offshore where the current coming in hits the reefs that are only submerged by 6-10 inches of water. Using a small GoPro camera, we enjoyed taking photos and short film clips of the underwater world. Unfortunately our camera died and apparently took the images on the SD card. Terry had saved a few we had captured with screen shots and those are primarily what we are sharing here.

golfball and brain corals

Some healthy golf-ball and brain corals.

Spending 2 to 3 hours in the water every day, we found the haunts of large eagle rays that would soar over and around the reef structures. Sherine taught us how to best view and interact. As excited are you are, if you swim out after the large rays in a frenzy, they will normally swim away from you and your thrashing little fins. If you act cool, the rays may very well swim around you, letting you watch in amazement as they swoop like a bird of prey. We also found favored retreats of nurse sharks. These are very skittish, and once they saw you were observing them, they would change time zones.

Nurse sharks

Nurse sharks spotted in their favorite hiding place.

The mermaid and I have different approaches to viewing the mysteries of the sea. I am in a rush to see what is ahead, around the corner, on the next reef. Terry preferred technique is an analytical approach. A slow swim while she studiously scans the contours and crevices.

A collage

Some of Terry’s finds. Top L – The Magnifica Anemone, Top R – a Puffer fish & a Four eye Butterfly fish, bottom L – inside of a broken Conch shell, Bottom R – A Spotted Sea Hare (Sea Slug) 

She sees coral worms, tiny crabs, and sea hares that eluded my more cursory review. Terry is a quick study on identifying what we have seen. Internet allowing, she enjoys researching the species and sharing the details. Her keen observational skills also extend to people passing on the road. I no longer was surprised to return to land to find us stocked with mangoes, avocados, fish or guava jelly that she had purchased from passing merchants.

Collage of Terry's scavenger finds

Other finds: 1) Avocados, 2) Fresh yellow-tail fish ready for dinner, 3) A bag of mangoes 4) Eggs with mango & avocado for breakfast

Terry’s best find was new friends. Special places attract special people. The beach at Sally Peachie introduced us to a fun couple from Germany on their honeymoon. Thomas and Angelina specialized in finding large eagle rays and generating smiles. Two good features to have in island friends. We wish them continued happiness.


With our friends Tom and Angie at the beach in Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua.

Our view is that the reefs are easy and safe to find and you can explore them on their own. Of course not everyone has a great deal of time to get comfortable in the water. If you visit the island without snorkel gear or feel more comfortable with a guide, we see there are three options. We loved Sherine and Matteo at Corn Island Dive Center.


We miss our friends Sharine and Matteo.

Whether you are diving or snorkeling, they will get you in the water and make it a safe, fun, memorable time. If Corn Island Dive Center is booked, we also heard good things about Dos Tiburones Dive shop. Dorsey Campbell gives snorkeling tours and rents equipment based from his home on the Sally Peachie beach right next to the Victoria Comedor (and across the street from our favorite snorkel spot at Sally Peachie).

Terry at the beach

Another beach day. Crystal clear water and white sands with just us or in this case just Terry.

If you go to Yellowstone, you should see the Old Faithful geyser, if you visit Paris, you should see the Eiffel Tower. If you go to Corn Island, get in the water and enjoy the amazing work of nature. Beaches and warm weather are available all over the world. Isolated coral reefs are something special. You may discover your inner Aquaman and Mermaid. We are glad we made it part of our life and we will never forget the experience.

Do you have a favorite or suggested spot to see underwater beauty? Please share it with us, we’d love to hear all about it!

BCI beach at Long Bay

Introduction to Corn Island, Nicaragua

Opportunity Knocked

When we were kids, Terry and I both dreamed of living on a tropical island. The kind of place you see on TV with clean beaches, warm blue water, tropical fish and plenty of coconuts (can we include Ginger and Maryann?).  While you are at it, get rid of the tourist infrastructure, the people trying to sell you souvenirs and beaches choked with chaise lounges and incontinent kids. That dream came true when we found an opportunity to house sit on Corn Island.

A photo of a beach with a quote from H C Anderson

The background picture is the beach in front of the house we house sat.

Where is Corn Island?

Map of Corn Island

Corn Island is circled in Orange. Map c/o wikipedia

Corn Island is located 43 miles off of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.  The island is about 5 square miles (10 square kilometers) with a high point of 371 feet (Mount Pleasant Hill).

Picture of Long Bay in Big Corn Island

View of Long Bay, Big Corn Island, Nicaragua from Pleasant Hill.

This tropical isle is home to around 5,000 people, most of which are of a English speaking Creole background that could have you think you are in Jamaica with their distinctive accents and lively music (unless their second favorite music playing – classic old country.  What a surprise to see young people enjoying Conway Twitty’s greatest hits!)  The main driver to the economy is commercial lobster fishing.  This replaced the coconut farms that were destroyed 25 years ago in a major hurricane.

Lobsters and a queen triggerfish

Immature spiny lobster (or Langusta) and sadly a Queen Triggerfish caught by one of the locals.  Spiny lobster have no claws but a tasty tail.  There are size limitations for legal catch but these are seldom respected in our experience.

Island Life

Life is a bit isolated on Corn Island.  There is a twice a week ferry arriving from a remote Nicaraguan coastal community, Bluefields.  Most tourists arrive on a La Costeña flight.  People excitedly emerge from the little planes.

Guy and the planes

He thought we were riding the plane on his left…wrong! It was the tiny 8 seater on his right! Yikes!!!

This may be due to the intoxicating view of the Caribbean you enjoy in your approach or you know you pushed your luck in a rough sounding little single engine craft that is as easy to board and exit as a tight pair of jeans.  The airfield bisects the small island. Conveniently, in between the three daily flights you are allowed to short cut across the airfield to reach destinations on the other side of the island, saving over a mile in the process.

Crossing airfield

We crossed the airport runway to get to the other side of the island.

Island Transportation

Getting around the island is convenient.  There is a paved loop approximately 6 miles long that generally follows the beach.  Taxis, in the form of small economy cars, circle regularly.  Customers have a flat rate of 20 cordobas (66 cents US) for your destination.  The car will be shared with any other passengers the driver encounters.  An even more economical approach is to take the bus.  The bus circles in a clockwise direction, taking people for the rock bottom fare of 10 cordobas (33 cents).

Bus and taxis

Several modes of island transportation is pictured, 2 taxis, a motorcycle, a bicycle and the torquoise bus aptly labeled ‘My Bus” in the front.

The bus is a fun way to meet people as well as get the insider information on needed supplies or destination.  Dexter the bus driver knows the island like few others and will point out (and drop you off in front of) a barber, good hardware store, or yell out to fishermen unloading their canoe when you want VERY fresh fish.  Walking or riding a bike are also efficient ways to get around if you get started early or later in the day as the sun is intense.  There is always something to see with great views over the water, diverse fruit trees, and people that became friends.

Low hanging fruits

John showing off some of the island’s “low hanging fruits”! Not a metaphor but the real thing 🙂

Our Temporary Home

Home during our over 9-week stay is on the appropriately titled “Long Bay”. Beautiful sand and little development makes this half mile long beach facing the rising sun a lovely location to start the day.

Housesit front porch

Enjoying the front porch while listening to the waves.

This beach features bigger waves super for boogie boarding or a cool dip on an always hot day, but protected beaches with exceptional snorkeling and swimming are only a short distance away.  We are in a  comfortable home with not one but two cute lively beach dogs that enjoy treats even more than they want attention.

Girl and dog

Terry with one of our temporary pets Sweeney during one of our afternoon beach walks.

Sweeney and Brownie are great company with one small exception.  They feel the beach in front of the house is theirs, and any man, child, dog, horse or cow that attempts to walk past is chased and intimidated.

Chasing Cows

Here are Sweeney and Brownie in action against the cows!

Island life is relaxed and is unique from other places we have visited. Groceries are different. While there are many tiny stores here and a few markets/commisarios that would be similar to what we know, the choices are limited and it is common to run out of staple items in between boat arrivals.

Island stores

One of the local pulperia or variety store besides a clothing store.

Produce is mainly limited to old potatoes, cabbage that has had better days, onions, tomatoes, and squash.  Bananas surprisingly are one of the items not always available.  Sliced bread is at the store, but the island is blessed with home based bakeries that produce excellent coconut bread (pan de coco).  But without an official distribution cycle, you have to know where to knock to see if today is a baking day and what is still in stock.

Islanders are  passionate about baseball, and as small as the island is, it features one of the finest stadiums in Central America.  Home games are lively and are the center of island activity.  A great place to enjoy the loud fans, tasty treats, and cold Toña beer.  Terry watched over three innings before she gave up on baseball and headed home.  That is longer than she gave the New York Yankees.


After a fun day of snorkeling at Sally Peachy beach.

Our real passion is the water and its coral reefs.  Corn Island is a dream come true if your dreams involves warm water, private beaches with white sands, viewing abandoned ship wreck, tons of colorful fish, warm clear water and easily obtainable reefs. We will talk about that in our next post.

Have you been to to the Corn Islands?  Do you agree with our description? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.




Snowshoeing uphill

Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is a mountainous region in the Olympic National Park that overlooks Port Angeles and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.  Only 30 minutes from town, the road climbs from sea level to over 5,000 feet (1,600 m) where there is an average of over 400 inches of snow fall a year.



The post in-front of us is normally 10 feet tall. 

Terry by the pole.

Terry standing by the same pole. This was taken when we hiked the ‘hill’ last July.

School Hike

Terry and I jumped at the opportunity to join a school group to spend a day floating over the 70 + inches of snow currently on the trails.  Our fellow adventure seekers are primarily foreign students from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Our fun was enhanced by their enthusiasm to see so much deep snow and unique scenery.

T with student

Terry with SJ, a Peninsula College student from Malaysia.

Snowshoes have been used for 4,000 to 6,000 years.  The equipment we rented is for the same purpose but is definitely from modern times as we had polished aluminum, plastic, and composites shoes rather than the hide, sinew, and wood of the classic models.  Hurricane Ridge turns out to be almost as active in the winter (although only open Friday through Sunday) as it is in the summer.

John holding poles

John about to embark in another adventure!

Chains are often required for the trip, but we had no issues and enjoyed the van ride joking with our fellow students, even though most are younger than our kids.  Terry even knew a few of their songs!  The mountain top visitor center hosts a small ski area with a tow rope, an overflowing parking lot and miles of snowshoeing trails.

Terry snowshoe

On top of the hill, cold but sweaty.

Thankfully snowshoeing is easier to learn than other winter sports (I am pointing my finger at you ice skating and downhill skiing!) and after adjusting a few straps we were plodding and darting across the snow.  Effective traction plates makes climbing steep hillsides a breeze.  You are only limited by your lungs, nerves, or sense of good judgement.

Soccer players snowshoeing

Three members of PC women’s champion soccer team enjoying the day.

Our group started out together up the Hurricane Hill Trail.  Soon we lost sight of our fast contingent of the NWAC Champion Female Soccer team.  During stops for water or photo opportunities we were approached by fluttering Camp Robbers (Gray Jays).


A Gray Jay bird.   Photo: wikimedia commons

These beautiful birds were cute enough that I hardly minded that Terry fed them most of my peanut butter sandwich.  A great day was had by all.  On the return trip the quiet bus full of sleeping Peninsula College students was proof positive that although snowshoeing is fun, it is also hard work!

And below is a short video of the trip

Have you ever gone snowshoeing? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to know some of your favorite spots. Thanks for reading!

Fort Clatsop & The Oregon Coast

Even the toughest people need to take a rest.  Fort Clatsop was an encampment where the 33 hale and hearty members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a fairly miserable winter waiting for better weather to return home back east.

Photographs of Rossevelt, Lweis & Clark

Photographs of (L to R) Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial houses a striking replica of the fort along with an interesting museum of the region and the Corp of Discovery.

We witness the flag lowering at the end of the day

We witnessed the flag lowering at the end of the day

A visit to the fort is enhanced by a group that in period costume that answers questions about life in the camp and in part reenact life as it may have been in this remote outpost.

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Standing at corner of the rebuilt fort

Fort Clatsop was an encampment forced on the expedition in the winter of 1805-1806.  The heavy rains and limited food sources were less than ideal but the journey back had to be delayed waiting for snow melt in the Rocky Mountains.  After some investigation and even a vote that include all races and sexes, the Fort Clatsop site was chosen.  Construction by the party took three weeks.

A painting in the museum of the fort

A painting in the museum depicts a possible scene with the fort in the background

This is another of the indicators of what hard working people comprised the expedition.  The work force, not even the full 33 person team as there was a party gathering salt and another getting food during construction, completed most of the fort in three weeks.  Move in date was Christmas Eve, 1805.  The current replica of the fort, built in 2006, took over 700 people three months to construct.

A Bull Elk

A Bull Elk like this one provided sustenance to the expeditioners. Photo was taken at the Dean Creek Wildlife area.

The men ate a diet of mostly elk meat and roots.  The elk meat proved to be harder and harder to get and it spoiled quickly. Elk still inhabit the area in great numbers.

Beautiful elk grazing in the field

Bull elk grazing in the protected wildlife area in Dean Creek. So exciting to see them up close in a safe environment.

We enjoyed stopping at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, an important habitat administered by the BLM.  Over 100 head of Roosevelt elk call this home.  It was exciting to see groups of large bulls in velvet up close.

A look at the inside of the fort

A look at the inside of the barebones fort

For most of the members, the three months in Fort Clatsop was the least favorite of the entire 2 year 4 month journey.  Besides tight quarters and poor food, many of the men had colds, influenza, and venereal diseases along with irritating skin conditions from the continual wet weather.  The team happily left the Fort on March 22, 1806 heading upstream in several canoes including one stolen from the neighboring Native Americans.  The Fort was left to the Indians for their use.  It rotted away in the wet weather, with no mention of it past the mid 1800’s.

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach

We enjoyed walking on the empty beach. We picked some shells that John just rinsed in this photo. 

Much like Lewis and Clark, we enjoyed Oregon’s gorgeous coastline.  Our 3 mile round trip hike on the Tahkenitch Trails tooks us from pine trees to sand dunes across swampy wetlands on to the beautiful beach.  In 45 minutes on the beach we only saw one other person.  We found a few interesting shells but only partial sand dollars.   The plovers were nesting so we had to stay on the wet sand in order to not disturb these tiny little shore birds.

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

In front of the Sea Lion Cave entrance and store

Further north of Florence there is an opportunity to visit the privately owned Sea Lion Caves.  For $15 a person, you can take an elevator 208 feet down to see the signature Sea Lions.

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

We watched sea lions swimming and catching suns rays on the rocks

Being frugal Offpeakers, we stood at the top and saw the interesting marine mammals with binoculars and the camera’s zoom lens.

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Beautiful view of the Heceta Lighthouse

Further down the road we had a great view back at the Sea Lions along the coast as well as of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  This area is one of the most beautiful we have seen.  From this one spot you can see steep cliffs, crashing surf, swimming and sunning sea lions a the spectacular light house.

The coast was breathtaking

The coast was breathtaking

Less than half an hour further north, save time to investigate the Cape Perpetua Scenic area.  Included there is a nice Interpretive center from where you can reportedly see whales swim by earlier  in the year.  There are also short but interesting trails that can lead you down to the shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn, Cape Cove as well as tidal pools.

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

John found this beautiful starfish in one of the pools

Heading north, Tillamook has a massive cheese factory that just cries out for a visit.  In a few minutes you can go on a self guided tour, enjoy nice restrooms, and sample a buffet line of cheeses.

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the factory

We enjoyed sampling the cheeses at the Tillamook factory

Of course you can purchase blocks of the cheese or tasty looking ice cream if you can brave the long lines and steep prices.  By now we were near Fort Clatsop, so we hurried on in the tradition of Lewis and Clark.  Our new home base is only a few hours away, so the Offpeakers will be back to see Fort Stevens (you can even hike to a shipwreck!), the Tillamook Aviation Museum among other notable sights in the area.

What an impressive bridge

The longest continuous truss bridge in North America, the impressive Astoria-Megler bridge. 

Our exit from the area was not in a hot canoe but still memorable.  The Astoria-Megler bridge crosses the mighty Columbia, taking us from Oregon to our new home state of Washington.  The towering 4.1 mile long bridge, with a top road height of 215 feet, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.  7,100 cars a day take this vertigo inducing trip.

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

A view from the top of the bridge. Washington Ahoy!

We felt safe despite the height as the bridge was built to withstand windstorms of 150 miles per hour. Reading about the bridge brings to mind how the cost of infrastructure continues to rise.  When bridge construction was completed in 1966, total cost was $24 million.  Just recently the bridge was painted for a cost nearly the same, $21 million!

We loved the Oregon Coast, we want to go back!

Oregon is a diverse state that we must explore more. The Offpeakers will be back.

Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just want a fun outing in the area, the Offpeakers endorse a visit to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and of course the beautiful Oregon coast.  With so many coastal related sight seeing opportunities in the immediate area, try to set aside additional time in order to take more of it in.  What are some of your favorites on the Oregon Coast?  Are you a fan of Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery?

Nettie’s Dream

Skilled hands make difficult, artistic work look easy and fun.  The Offpeakers are fortunate to have dear friends with amazing creative skills, some of which include: painting and wallpaper specialists, natural farmers, a master scuba diver, cake wizard, needlework experts, a noted game developer, a top notch welder and fabricator, travel blogger, auctioneer, and some presumed international secret agents.

Terry with the author of Netti's Dream, our friend Barbara Cairn

Terry with the gifted author of Nettie’s Dream, our friend Barbara Cairns.  We are in the State Park’s Discovery Center where she volunteers.  Such a busy lady!

One of our dear gifted friends is Barbara Cairns, who we met at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida.  There her dynamic work as a volunteer helps people learn more about the park and its exciting wild life, particularly the manatee.

Barbara is the only person we know who has co-workers like these :-)

Barbara is the only person we know who has co-workers like these!

Barbara is a noted children’s author who’s books delight, entertain, and educate.  (Spoiler alert, we know what we are sending our nephews for Christmas!)

The book cover for Gatsby's Grand adventure.

The book cover for Gatsby’s Grand adventures.

Barbara is a fascinating study on her own (school teacher and principal in the Great White North and other exciting international posts, learned to fly from a bush pilot) and a brilliant story teller.

She even wrote a book about her pet Nimh!

She even wrote a book about her pet Nimh! Lucky & cute rat!

Happily her first novel, Nettie’s Dream, is now available.  Most interesting novels involve spies, corporate takeovers, and international intrigue.  Nettie’s Dream involves a small sea side village in Maine, a lobster boat, and an exuberant Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

We imagine Bo to be this cute when he was a puppy!

We imagine Bo to be this cute when he was a puppy!

Trust me, it works and soon you are pulled into the fascinating world of Lobster Bay.  This is a mature book about people taking another chance in life, smarter and seasoned, but with the same enthusiasm and the some of the familiar insecurities of their youth.

Cover page of Nettie's Dream

Cover of Nettie’s Dream

This fun novel will make you laugh aloud and also tense as she faces grave situations that are much closer to home than a missing satellite or a turncoat spy.  Terry and I read this out loud to each other as we drove around on our latest road trip.  We speculated about plot turns and loved the vivid descriptions of food, people and places.  The Offpeakers appreciate your book taking these travelers back to beautiful Maine!  It is always fun to see special people do well, and Barbara has certainly crafted an entertaining novel.  We highly recommend Nettie’s Dream and wish Barbara the very best in her literary career.

Crater Lake National Park

Classic bands produce several albums, resulting in a variety of music to enjoy.  One hit wonders do not provide us with variety, but we still  can appreciate the fun of the single offering.  Crater Lake National Park is the one hit wonder of the park scene.

Photo not altered or filtered the lake is really THAT blue

Photo not altered or filtered the lake is really THAT blue

The hit is the memorable view of the fabulous blue lake waters.  Basically all of the 183,000 acre Crater Lake National Park is dedicated to providing the view.  Rim Drive is a 33 mile loop road surrounding the lake.  You can stay in Rim Village.  I would not work there.

The stops at rim drive offers lots of opportunities for photos but it is windy and cold!

The stops at rim drive offers lots of opportunities for photos but it is windy and cold!

Unfortunately, a major resurfacing project has half of this loop closed for most of the summer.  The road closure did prevent us seeing a few of the major sights including the Pinnacles rock formation and Lost Ship Island.  Crater Lake is the deepest lake in United States with its deepest measurement of 1,943 feet (592 meters).  At 6 miles wide at its greatest, it covers 20 square miles.

Photo taken by nice couple from Wisconsin.

Photo taken by nice couple (Mike & Carol) from Wisconsin.

There are no known outlets or streams flowing into it, yet its water is some of the purest in a large body of water.  The crater was filled solely by precipitation.  This is an area that does receive great amounts of snow.

There's plenty of snow on the ground. Enough for snowball fight in July!

There’s plenty of snow on the ground. Enough for snowball fight in July!

Even in mid July large drifts are visible.  Three different times the park has received 37 inches (96 cm) of snow in one day.  The highest yearly total was 903 inches (75 feet/2,290 cm).

We are standing on a massive volcanic crater! So cool!

We are standing on a massive volcanic crater! So cool!

The lake was formed when an immense 12,000 foot volcanic mountain (Mount Mazama) erupted almost 8,000 years ago.  This eruption was 150 times greater than that of Mount Saint Helens.  Having expelled its contents, the now hollow volcano collapsed, creating an immense bowl like depression in the remnants of the volcano’s crater.

Cleetwood trail, going down is easy, coming back up is a bit more challenging

Cleetwood Cove trail, the hike going down is easy, coming back up is a bit more challenging.  A jaunty hat always make the hike more interesting.

This is an isolated lake but the beautiful sapphire blue waters are mesmerizing.  There is one path that will allow you to hike down to the level of the water, Cleetwood Cove trail.  It is 1 1/4 miles down to the lake, dropping about 800 feet in elevation.

The water is really clear and just as blue up close.  It is very cold, but a few people where joining the Polar Bear club by stripping down and plunging in.

The cold water did not stop some from taking a dip

The cold water did not stop some from taking a dip

A group of young students were making a film that featured a hunky guy jumping in and swimming. He had a very difficult time speaking due to the shivers and shakes.

The actor jumping in.

The actor in bright yellow shorts jumping in.  Terry offered to help with sun block.

If you want to see more shoreline, tickets are available ($40) for a boat tour around the lake.  I was surprised we saw several lizards in this cold, high altitude spot.

We saw several of these type of lizard along the trail.

We saw several of these type of lizard along the trail.

The lake had no native fish, but was stocked extensively through the 1950’s.  Visitors are allowed to fish and no fishing license is required.

The hike up was more difficult but with a view like THAT, it's totally worth it!

The hike up was more difficult but with a view like THAT, it’s totally worth it!

As expected, the hike up was a lot more work than the hike down.  A stop for a breather did allow some great photos and another look out over the heavenly blue waters.  Another stop provided a good place for  picnic and more of that great view.

Entrance to this Park (which is surprisingly the only National Park in Oregon) costs $15.  We received admittance for free via our well loved and used Inter Agency pass.  In order to make a full day of it, we additionally visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument, a couple hours north of Crater Lake.

We are walking on the trail in the big obsidian flow.

The trail is ON the big obsidian flow!

The Newberry Monument is 50,000 acres set aside inside the Deschutes National Forest dedicated to preserving interesting volcanic features.  We loved the Big Obsidian Flow.  This is a 700 acre, 150 foot deep deposit of obsidian and pumice deposited only 1,400 years ago.

No, you're not allowed to take them home.

No, you’re not allowed to take them home.

Obsidian and pumice have the same composition, what differs is if air was introduced while drying.  It makes an interesting hike where you see these rocks interspersed in great quantities.  Obsidian was a prized resource used to make tools such as spear and arrow heads and while rare and highly prized around most of the Americas, it is certainly in great supply here.

Behind us is Paulina Lake

Behind us is Paulina Lake

The Newberry Monument has several other attractions including Lava River Cave, a lava tube that tourists are allowed to explore (we did not), Lava Butte which is a 500 foot cinder cone, Lava Cast Forest, and two lakes, Paulina and East Lake.  Paulina Lake is picturesque and is circled by a trail for a peaceful hike.

At the summit of Paulina Peak

At the summit of Paulina Peak

Better views are available from the 8,000 foot summit of Paulina Peak where you can overlook the lakes, Big Obsidian Flow, and the surrounding mountains.  It is a steep drive but the view is worth every hairpin and nervous encounter with a car coming the other direction on the narrow road.

Beautiful lake

Beautiful Crater Lake

Crater Lake Park is a one hit wonder, but a fun stop if you are passing in the area.  Include Newberry National Volcanic Monument to make it a full interesting day. When visiting the Oregon coast or the other locales in Central Washington, we recommend you make a detour to include these sights.  What “One Hit Wonder” sights have you visited?

Painted Hills Oregon

If you travel a bit in North Central Oregon, you might start to wonder who in the hell is John Day. There are the towns of John Day and Dayville, the John Day River, and the John Day Dam.  John Day was an early trapper and hunter that made this rugged country home in the 1810’s.

We have never heard of him until we looked closely at the map of Oregon.

We have never heard of him until we looked closely at the map of Oregon.

The Offpeakers were interested about John Day due to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.   This Monument is comprised of three separate geographical locations comprising 14,000 acres. The three sights are separated by 150 miles in a sparsely populated region with few services.

We see endless clouds while driving on the Oregon Scenic byway

We see endless clouds while driving on the Oregon Scenic byway

Only 140,000 people a year visit any of the Units.  Gas stations are few and far between, and even if you manage to find a store or restaurant, places close early.  Plan ahead for this visit.  Out of the way travel is fun.

Serpentine roads and gorgeous views on the way to the Fossil bed monuments

Serpentine roads and gorgeous views on the way to the Fossil bed monuments

The drive is interesting as it will be flat rolling plains and a few miles later it is climbing to a timbered forest and then down to a relatively lush river bottom.

Great view surrounds the museum/visitor center

Great view of the geologic formations surrounds the museum/visitor center

The Sheep Rock Unit (35 miles west of Mitchell, OR) is the headquarters for the John Day Monument and hosts a very nice Paleontology Center (or as I would call it, a Fossil Museum). Included are many specimens of early mammals as well as plant fossils.  Large murals offer guesses as to what the area looked like in earlier periods. This was a wet, humid place with terrific volcanic activity.

Near the end of the blue basin hike

Near the end of the blue basin hiking trail surrounded by 29 million year old volcanic formations

Volcano eruptions would spread lava over hundreds of miles, vastly larger than any eruption in recorded times. This lava and aggregate rock would erode at different rates, helping to form another draw to the area besides fossils, the colored rock formations.  Near the Sheep Rock Unit are the Blue Basin and Foree locations. These locations allow short hikes of ½ to 1 mile to see rocks of different hues.  Blue Basin in particular leads you into a deep gulley of light blue tinted stone. A ranger aptly described it as making you feel like you are on a Star Trek planet.

On our way to our favorite

On our way to our favorite, John Day Fossils Bed National Monument Painted Hills  Unit!

The John Day Unit we enjoyed the most was the Painted Hills, which we learned is listed as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders!  Just eight miles west of Mitchell, you are in this brilliant colored vista with alternating layers. Have your camera ready. The Painted Hills Unit again has several locations such as Overlook Trail, Red Hill Trail, and Painted Cove Trail where a little walking will earn you unusual sights.


Pictures don’t do justice on how beautiful this location really is. Amazing!

In the same area, Leaf Hill trail shows were literally thousands of leaf specimens were earlier collected. A few are on display incorporated into a trail side sign.

No filter used on this photo. It looks like a painting

No filter used on this photo. It really looks like a painting or for those old enough to remember, sand art.

There is a picnic area and restrooms at the location. Do be warned that if you linger too long in the restroom, the other patrons do get quite antsy and impatient. Hold to your guns, as sometimes it takes a little time to do the job right.


Clarno unit of the monument, not as big as the other two  units

The Clarno Unit of the Monument is the northernmost location. This Unit receives the fewest tourists and we would suggest you not visit . While this is a beautiful location, it is lacking in the “wow” factor as compared to so many other locations in the area. The Clarno unit is known for leaf fossils fused into a scattering of boulders. These fossils are hard to see.

The fossils are hard to see

The fossils are hard to see, I think I found an avocado leaf!

A few signs have directions such as “See the leaf fossil one foot to the left” and even with this help, we had difficulty seeing the specimen. There are two very short trails here, one ¼ mile, one ½ mile so you don’t get much of a hike in either.

I have used Mitchell, Oregon as a reference point for these visits. Mitchell is the closest this area has to a large town with a population of 140. There is no gas station but it does have a nice family run hotel/bed & breakfast, The Oregon Hotel.

Sam watched over us while we sleep. No one dared bother us!

Sam watched over us while we sleep. No one dared bother us!

A variety of rooms are available at a nice price.  Food options are limited.  Don’t wait too late even on a Saturday night, as the Little Pine Cafe closed promptly at 8 PM.  And it would have been a real shame to miss one of the finest Hamburger and Fries that we have EVER tried.  This alone would be worth the interesting drive.

We had the best burgers at Little Pine Cafe.

Little Pine Cafe (left) in Mitchell, Oregon, yummy food and friendly service, what a find!

Our meal was enhanced by a couple of tourists who snapped a picture of a wild animal on the town’s lone street. They refused to believe the waitress that the tan cat they photographed was her pet tom cat, insisting it was a cougar.  It made them happy and secretly pleased the locals, so no harm.

We are loving Oregon! We're glad it's our neighboring state!

We are loving Oregon! We’re glad it’s our neighboring state!

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was interesting and we enjoyed its remote location. However, if your travel days are limited, there are other sights in Oregon that might bring you more joy.  Let us know if you have travel suggestions for the Pacific Northwest.

Thank you for traveling along with the Offpeakers.

Mount St. Helens

On May 18, 1980 Mount Saint Helens volcano in Washington state erupted.  Over the next weeks this was a major story on TV and in print. Most impressively I remember a fine film of ash covering our local roads 890 miles away in Billings, Montana.  With the Offpeakers traveling in Washington State, we could not pass up a visit to see the still active volcano and the fascinating Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.   We were right in the neighborhood on a futile effort to get a view of Mount Rainier.

Mt. St Helens canopy is covered with clouds

Mt. St Helens on the right side of park sign is partially covered with clouds

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was set-aside for research, recreation, and education. Inside the 110,000 acre Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the havoc created from the eruption.  The large sight has a variety of entrances, viewing areas, informational and educational displays, and opportunities for entertainment.  A $5 pass for Monument access is required.

Scenic & traffic free drive to the park

The roads are lined with evergreens, peaceful, scenic  & traffic free drive to the park

This admission is also covered by the useful Inter Agency pass.  Mount Saint Helens is a popular destination.  It sits only 75 minutes north of Portland and 2 hours south of Seattle.  This is the high country, so a visit is best made in the summer, as many of the Forest Service Roads (the Monument sits inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest) are only open from July to October.

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Most visitors enter from the west side along Interstate 5.  Our approach to the Monument was from the east side. This is a series of little used roads that have scenery worthy of a visit themselves.  In an hour we saw active logging areas, thickly timbered land, mossy trees, clear streams, varieties of wild flowers, and evidence that a patriotic man does not care for Nancy anymore.

We laughed at this eye catching sign

Eye catching sign dedicated to Nancy, complete with the American flag!

Top off the gas tank and bring along lunch, because there are very few services in the direct area.

Forest Service road 99 goes all the way into Windy Ridge, right between Spirit Lake and four miles to the crater.  As we drove in starting 15 miles from the crater two things surprised us: how visible the effects of the eruptions were 36 years after the fact, and the resiliency of life.

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Information displays at Bear Meadow show where some of the famous photos of the blast were taken 13 miles from the crater.  An amateur photographer was camping with two friends on a ridge.  He managed to snap 22 pictures in 30 seconds.  He quickly realized that even at this distance he was not safe and they managed to get in their car and careen down the primitive roads, just getting behind a steep ridge to avoid the worst of the blast and survive.

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

The power of the eruption was immense.  The side of the volcano had been expanding by 6 feet a day.  The intense pressure sent a shock wave that traveled 670 miles per hour with temperatures of 700 degrees F.   There were zones around the north eastern side (direction of the blast) where for several miles everything was incinerated and destroyed.  In this area even the topsoil was stripped and recovery is much slower.

Flattened miners car

Flattened miners car

Further was the knock down zone where all trees in the direct blast were leveled.  An interesting relic from the blast is the “Miner’s car”.  This 1973 Pontiac Bonneville had been driven in by three people working a small mining claim.  They had been warned of the danger and had signed release of liability forms.  The car was flattened by the shock wave, the men disappeared.

Much of this area is showing signs of recovery.  Downed timber has rotted away, adding nutrients to the scorched soil.  Areas on the back side of hills were less damaged and seeds survived.  The recovery of the area was greatly enhanced by the time of year of the eruption.  As it was mid May, there was still significant snow on the ground.  In the protected areas at least 8 miles from the blast, the three feet of snow allowed seeds (and in some cases, even small animals such as mice) to survive and begin the gradual recovery.

New tress are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

New trees are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

Driving in there, are several trail heads and informative displays to explain the eruption and aftermath.  Further from the knock down zone is the vast areas where the hot gases scorched the trees bad enough to kill them.  To this day the burned dead trees fill the sides of hills as monuments to the blast.  All the way in at Windy Ridge, the ground is still gray pebbly matter from inside the volcano.


Spirit Lake – note the logs still floating along the distant shore and the bare hillside to the left where all soil was scoured away by the landslide.

Here you can see visible remnants of one other onslaught from the eruption, a massive landslide. The side of the mountain broke free and slid down the valley.  It roared up the other side, scouring the hillsides down to the bedrock.  Over 300 feet of debris ended up piled on the ground around Spirit Lake.  The slide roared over the lake and up the steep hills on the other side.


How can these two be so happy at the sight of a disaster?

When it receded, it took the thick stand of trees that stood there back to the water, creating a thick mat of tree trunks that still choke a significant part of the recovering lake.  A steep hike up a neighboring butte took us to a long ridge that has amazing views of the crater, lake, and surrounding areas.  Just now plants are beginning to come into this area.

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Thick wildflowers and young grasses are coming up in areas.   We were surprised to see elk tracks along the damp path.

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

Even more so it was a pleasure to actually see the small group of elk that were beginning to make this area part of their range.  On this overcast day we were pleased to receive a quick view of the mountain’s new, less lofty summit.

Hmm...Not sure of there are apes in that cave

Hmm…that cave will probably make a monkey out of us

Take some time and see other sights affiliated with Mount Saint Helens.  There is a Visitor Center on the west side of the Monument.  On the southern side, the Offpeakers just had to see Ape Cave.  Ape Cave is a 2.5 mile long lava tube from a previous eruption, it is open for hikes but in total darkness.  There is good access to a significant portion of it with two options, normal or more extreme.

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

On this day we chose the normal option.  It is a chilly 43 degrees F year round in the tube.  While we enjoyed the twenty minute hike in the dark, we wished we had better flashlights or had arrived in time to rent the available lanterns.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

Interesting numbers help visualize the eruption.   Mount Saint Helens lost over 1,300 feet of elevation in the event.  The ash thrown out comprised nearly a cubic mile in volume.  If the ash was piled onto a football field, the stack would be 150 miles high.  Great scenery, fun hikes, learning, this is another National Monument that has it all.  The Offpeakers suggest you work Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument into your Northwest travel plans.

Do you have any volcano memories?  Share them with us below!

Gatorland Adventure

Albert Einstein. Sir Isaac Newton. Marie Curie. Thomas Edison. Owen Godwin. All accomplished people, all considered to have remarkable intellect. You may be more familiar with the other names, but Owen Godwin could be our new favorite.

Owen Godwin Sr.

Owen Godwin Sr. Photo c/o Kissimmee Main Street

Mr. Godwin in 1949 opened Gatorland, and the world has never been the same. Those of you who have visited this national treasure are nodding your heads. For the deprived people yet to get your Gator on, imagine a zoo with an amusement park with a carnival sideshow whose whole premise is to give the people what they want. And yes, what we want is more alligators!

Gators! Lots and lots of them!

Gators! Lots and lots of them!

Gatorland has 1700 reptiles spread over 110 acres. A pioneer in the Orlando attraction game (he was decades ahead of Disney) Mr. Godwin realized that not many people like a snake, while almost everyone is fascinated by gators. So “Snake Village” became “Gatorland”, the self proclaimed Gator Capital of the World!

The offpeakers had gator fever! what a fun place to visit.

The Offpeakers have Gator fever.  Just past the teeth is the cure.

Once you proudly stride through the massive concrete jaws of a red eyed gator, you have arrived.  For about a quarter of the price of a day at Disney, you get admission to this dreamland. Three different and progressively impressive shows, all hosted by likable scoundrels, are available for the enthusiastic crowd.  The first is Up Close Encounters.  In a rather intimate setting, snakes, tarantulas, and other exciting creatures are introduced.

Sadly the Offpeakers were not chosen to hold the Burmese Phython

Sadly (or maybe gladly) we were not chosen to hold the Burmese Python. 

Those of us in the crowd are aching to be selected as assistants, but only a chosen few have their moment in the sun. Once the show is over, we have time to begin looking at the literally dozens of displays.

They do have reptiles too, like this diamond back rattlesnake.

They have other reptiles too, like this diamond back rattlesnake.

There are environments with different kinds of crocodiles from around the world.

Beautiful Nile crocodile

Beautiful Nile crocodile.  Notice the blue heron behind him?

A small train provides a tour around the park.  Other displays reveals the snakes of Florida,  giant tortoises, and Bobcat Bayou (which happens to be the mascot of Montana State University, yeah!)

Bobcat photo C/o Gatorland page.

Bobcat photo c/o Gatorland page.

Opportunities to learn abound, such as how venom is different than poison, but it only adds to the fun, never slowing down the excitement.  There are boardwalks to get you up close to the creatures.

Beautiful Flamingos up close

Beautiful Flamingos up close

Gorgeous flamingos, chattering non-stop as they eat, strut below the boardwalk.

Feeding the gators can cause a frenzy.

Feeding the gators can cause a frenzy as the birds remain close by to swoop the errant hotdog.

You can feed hot dogs to the alligators, and watch aggressive egrets, cranes and storks swoop in to take the treats from the mouths of these hungry beasts. The facility is spotless and in top condition. The pools and enclosures are large and the animals seem in very good condition.

Gator wrestling

He looks tough but he didn’t get in the sand pit!

Before we long, we break away from the fascinating displays to see the next show, Alligator wrestling. The 800 seat wrestling arena is rocking with enthusiasm. The charismatic wrestler and the wise cracking announcer make it fun and get us worried about the results.

Yup, John can do that too

Yup, John can do that too, but maybe end up with a stump

The big reptile does his part as well.  The gator is wrestled, posed, and eventually put to sleep laying on its back, only to be awoken with a practiced tickle.  Our heroic wrestler ends the performance with all his fingers, but just barely. Adding to our anticipation is a colorful token burning a whole in my pocket.

Yes, she wrestled the gator too

I think she watched Gladiator one too many times.

For the low low price of $5 I get to send my wife into the sandy arena of death to sit on and hold an 8 foot alligator.  I also get a package of hot dogs to feed the gators, but that is just frosting on the cake. Terry is a super sport.  She handles the strong beast like it is calf. Terry is surprised by the soft texture of the alligator. When asked if she has ever wrestled an alligator, she replies “No but I married an Italian”. That’s my girl!

They are cute and they wanted to be petted and fed.

They are cute and they all wanted treats.

We continue our tour, seeing the petting zoo (we were slightly disappointed it was stocked with barnyard animals and not alligators) and the Parrot Playground. The Merry Aviary allows you to enter and be swarmed with dozens of colorful budgies.  If you purchase treat sticks, the birds are literally eating from your fingers.

White gators up close, really cool!

White gators up close, really cool.

Next it is on to the white alligators, both albino and leucistic.  For the young visitor there is a small water park that looks welcoming in the Florida heat. Now we enter the area that proved to be our favorite in the whole park.  We absolutely love the Alligator Breeding Marsh.

The Breeding Marsh is a must see! really amazing to be so close to hundreds of gators and birds.

The Breeding Marsh is a must see.  Thrilling to be so close to hundreds of gators and birds.

This is 10 acres of wetland studded with trees, Spanish moss, and flowering shrubs. 100 female and 30 male alligators live here, along with thousands of water birds.  The egrets, cranes, storks, anhingas, wood storks, pelicans and vultures nest in the surrounding trees.

Can you spot the birds on the bushes?

Can you spot the birds on the bushes?

The elevated board walk & viewing towers enables you to see all the life and activity above and below. The photo opportunities are endless. Alligators swim purposefully past.  Young birds in their nests get fed by their brilliantly plumed parents.  It is easy to see why this was used as a scene in the Indiana Jones film “Temple of Doom”.

Wood stork and chicks (these are endangered species of wading birds) with Anhingas on the same branch.

Wood stork and chicks (an endangered species of wading birds) with several Anhingas (snake birds) on the same branch.

We have been delighted to see alligators in the wild, but this turns it up to 11.  The alligators build nests and lay eggs in June. These are collected for raising in incubators. For those with the desire, a long zip line runs right over this swarming mass of snapping jaws. It was a good thing the best show was just about ready to take place or we would not have left the marsh.

Didn't know gators could jump so high!

Didn’t know gators could jump so high!

The Gator Jumparoo show involves some of the largest alligators and crocodiles in the park being enticed to jump four to five feet out of the water to snatch meat from lines, then from the performer’s hands. As many “Ohhhhs” and “Ahhhhs” as at a firework display.

Great walk into a real swamp...too bad we couldn't spend more time.

Great boardwalk into a real swamp…too bad we couldn’t spend more time.

We have just enough time to take the Swamp Walk, an educational tour that is a shady and interesting stroll.  In three hours we have not been able to see all of what Gatorland has to offer.  When we go back, I want more time and a serving of crunchy fried alligator.  Thank you Marty and Gail for recommending this stop. It was a well spent $24 (each)  after using online coupons available at the park’s website.

So much happening at the same time! its like watching Nat Geo live!

So much happening at the same time.  It’s like watching Nat Geo live!

There are a variety of options for early and late park access for bird photography. Experiences in handling and feeding the animals are also available for someone looking for a once in a lifetime adventure. The Offpeakers enjoyed everything provided by the base admission with the $5 upgrade. Very reasonable when compared to other entertainment options in the area. Good fun, and Gatorland is consistently a happy place.

Add caption

The Offpeakers had a great time visiting Gatorland. 

The excellent staff enhances the experience. Some destinations only appeal to a limited demographic. Shoe shopping, water bed emporiums, tool demonstrations, and comic book conventions might be examples. With beautiful wildlife, excellent facilities, old time charm and adrenaline producing showmanship, Orlando’s Gatorland is a destination for everyone.  Thank you Owen Godwin!

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was proclaimed one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (based on internet voting) in 2007. This may be just a made up title, but tourism has doubled since the designation.

New 7 Wonders of the World

New 7 Wonders of the World. They are (L to R, top to bottom) Christ the Redeemer, Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, Rome Collosseum, Taj Mahal, and Chichen Itza  (photo c/o Google)

Most of these wonders make sense, I think the Christ the Redeemer statue may be the weak link in the group. I am sure it is very nice, but it seems like something that the town council in Des Moines, Iowa could replicate if they chose, whereas the other sites are truly unique. Off the top of my head I would offer up the Panama Canal, Angkor Wat, Notre Dame, or the Saturn V rocket as alternatives. Anyway, Chichen Itza is on our agenda, and we are interested to see what the Mayans put together.

The Oriente Bus, clean and air-conditioned all for $1.75

The Oriente Bus, clean and air-conditioned all for under two dollars

A $1.75 bus from Valladolid will have us at the site in an hour. We arrive early, having been warned that tourist buses from Cancun begin to arrive after 10 AM and bring large throngs of visitors. Entrance fees are around $14. Several people approach us, offering guide services. The guides are an additional $30-$50. As we have read about the site, we pass on the offer.

Chichen Itza sign by the entrance to the site.

Chichen Itza sign by the entrance to the site.

I pause at the entrance to ask a German housewife, strangely dressed in a black bikini, to take our picture. Our paths will cross several times with bikini woman over the next few hours. I remain convinced that she is featured in more photos on this day than some of the relics. Chichen Itza, one of the largest Mayan cities, is visited by 1.5 million tourists a year (4,100/day). The site was populated and fully developed between 800 AD and 1100. By 1200 it began its decline, probably due to powerful neighboring kingdoms.

In front of the most famous temple

In front of the most famous structure, the El Castillo.

The most popular structure is El Castillo, a step pyramid 98 feet tall and 191 feet wide. All these massive blocks were milled and transported without the benefit of iron tools or the wheel. El Castillo incorporates 365 steps and is aligned to allow the equinox sun to create a snake like shadow. It seems like everyone who visits wants an iconic photo in front of the pyramid, hopefully without many other tourists.

El Castillo

The site was so crowded we did not get a photograph with just the two of us and the famous pyramid.

We attempt a few and give up on having it to ourselves. A few of the guides demonstrate how clapped hands cause an echo when directly in front, so now there are dozens of tourists (including the Offpeakers) maniacally applauding for home videos. Beginning in 2006 tourists were denied access to the pyramid and other structures. I am glad we were able to see and enjoy Ek Balam to have the fun of climbing the tall pyramid in solitude.

John and his favorite bag!

John and his favorite polka dot bag in front of one of many souvenir stalls.

Though the ruins today are in a higher state of restoration, Chichen Itza is more like Grand Central Station. And the crowd is not just tourists. Vendors have booths lining many of the wider walk ways. There are also roaming salesmen with colorful souvenir options. Many chant “One dollar, one dollar, one dollar”.

Another row of shops

Another row of shops. They sell hand carving, dresses, shirts, blankets,  jewelry, whistles, wood-carving, calendars and more.

That is the bait, for their nicer gifts cost much more, they are discounted one dollar once the negotiation begins. This is an easy scene for the Offpeakers. We have to travel with one small pack each, so there is no room for purchases. We do note that the German in the bikini seems to get some great deals.

Ball Court

Here you can see both sides of the huge ball court. Notice the hoops right above the tourists with pink umbrellas.

The Mayans were sports fans, and most of the major cities had large ball courts. The largest is here with measuring 230 by 550 feet. Players would try to hit a 12 pound rubber ball through stone scoring hoops. The competition was fierce as the losing team was sometimes put to death. Luckily for the Jets and Browns this is now frowned upon.

In front one of the temples

In front one of the temples

The complex continues with the Temple of Warriors, which is a smaller stepped pyramid surrounded with rows of columns carved to appear as warriors. Smaller temples, causeways, and platforms stretch into the trees. Off the side is the path to Sacred Cenote. Cenote are natural sinkholes that are common in the Yucatan.

In front of the scared Cenote.

In front of the sacred Cenote.

This cenote was used as a source of water during droughts. At these droughts, sacrifices were held where the victim was bound and thrown into the cenote. Archeologists dredged the cenote and found bones of victims as well as tools, pottery, and gold. If a sacrifice somehow survived, that person was thought to have the power of prophecy. One ambitious young man threw himself in the cenote, emerging with the prediction that he was to be the next leader. And it worked!

The mercado central (central market) in Valladolid

The mercado central (central market) in Valladolid. Photo c/0 Pinterest

Our ruin exploration complete, we take a bus back to Valladolid. Enjoying the city, we wander to the Public Market. This large building houses areas for meat, vegetables, fruit, baked goods, and dry goods. It is a colorful and noisy place. My eye is caught by the mini bananas. I feel like a giant with this perfect miniatures.

The giant and his banana

The giant and his banana

The shop keeper, at less than five feet tall, teases me that I am a giant. Anyway, the bananas are great, as is the roasted chicken we purchase to take back home. Affordable and fun, shopping in the market is a treat. Almost all cities of any size have these daily markets. Tonight will be an early dinner and then we can walk the city as it cools down. The towns we have visited have made us feel safe wandering on our own. If we get lost or tired, a $2 taxi can always bring us home. Another interesting day on the road.


Note: The Offpeakers’ visit to Chichen Itza occurred in October 2015.  Mexico was the first stop in the Offpeakers  five month, 10 country Latin America adventure. 

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