In our four-park safari through the Okavango Delta, the second place we stayed was the Khwai Concessions. At the end of the day, I think this was my favorite. I liked the terrain, the landscape, it had the greenest, wettest and most vibrant feel to it. Perhaps suffering through the heat made me feel unduly appreciative of this nature. But also, we had my favorite sightings here. The most stunning was our encounter with a leopard, which you can read more about in my Tuesday Tale, "The Leopardess: Encounters in Botswana." But here are a few extra pics of her:
In my previous Botswana post, "Back on Safari in Moremi Woo-Hoo!" I mentioned how excited I was to see African wild dogs, also known as painted dogs. I had been pleased as punch with these sightings in Moremi, but my pleasure just about hit overload the morning we found a whole pack of wild dogs with ten puppies in Khwai, romping and chasing and wrestling and running hog-wild (yes, even though they're dogs, haha).
And then it did just go off the charts when the dogs led us to the leopardess! That was one glorious safari morning.
In light of all this mega excitement, we nearly ditched the activity that had been planned for late morning. It was an extreme change of pace, but I'm glad we did not miss it. We boarded some little dugout canoes, a traditional type of transport in the Okavango region called a mokoro or makoro -- two tourists and a guide per canoe -- and very lazily navigated through a water channel densely populated with water lilies.
Our guide stopped several times to point out the smaller members of the local animal kingdom and minute details about the flora and landscape, which I would never ever have seen without his guidance, and I'm thankful for it. No, this little frog isn't quite as enchanting as a leopard, but it's pretty cool -- tiny thing clinging to a tube of grass. See Erik's hand for scale (he took the pic).
And this alone was worth the mokoro trip for me: a pair of African jacana eggs. They are super tiny eggs, absolutely exquisite. They look like they're hand-painted as a piece of art, or to me they look like some kind of dense, polished rock, like they make bowls and plates out of at the rock shop in my town. How on earth the guides ever found these eggs is beyond me, but it certainly makes me respect the knowledge of the local people who pay such close attention to their surroundings.
And what comes out of these tiny eggs? A tiny jacana bird! Again, Erik's hand provides some scale for this little creature hiding in the marsh grasses. Do you notice those giant feet coming out from underneath the bird, looking almost like giant spider legs, grasping the dead reed? Those crazy things belong to that itty bitty bird! So these birds have some funny nicknames such as "Jesus bird" and "lily trotter" because of their amazing ability to walk on the flimsiest rafts of marsh weeds and lily pads (which can look like they're walking on water), and it's due to those feet that function, rather like snowshoes do on snow, to spread their weight. The second photo below is an adult jacana, I took that pic in the marshes in Moremi.
On the way back to camp, we found the dog pack again, cached out in the shade of a small grove of trees, the little ones dozing fitfully in a giant puppy pile. But there's always one who just can't sleep!
Then we got up the next morning and found them again! We tried to keep track of them running through the bushes, careening around on the maze of dirt paths our guide knew so well, as we thought they were chasing down an impala. But it proved impossible. I confess I'm disappointed in 90% of the photos I snapped of the African wild dogs in Khwai, but I'm 100% thrilled with having watched them with my own fleshy eyeballs.
Another cool thing I watched was this little drama between a saddle billed stork and a fish eagle. The eagle kept wanting to land and the stork was simply not having it. If the eagle simply wanted to hang out on the ground, I suppose he could have gone elsewhere, to a section that was not patrolled by a stork, so maybe in fact he was somehow taunting the stork who kept snapping back at him.
Here's a more composed saddle billed stork calmly wading through the water. I must say I don't tire of these birds either.
Here's our Red Siren friend, the groundbill, again, and though he's walking in a different colored landscape than in Moremi, he has not grown any more cautious with his flashy wattle.
A duck fond of red, wading in the marshy waters.
Our original itinerary was to spend three nights in each of four parks. But there were troubles with the staff truck (which had to carry all of our tents and food and wonderful staff), so we stayed over a fourth night in Khwai. I didn't feel sad about this because I had been very much enjoying this game reserve, but then when we got to spend the extra afternoon with the lion family, whose story I gave you in "Family Tale in the Okavango Delta," I thanked whatever gnome tinkered with the truck and kept us here, allowing us this precious gift. I'd never before simply hung out with one particular group of animals for several hours, watching their day unfold in the freedom of their wilderness. It was so special, particularly when that group of animals included lion cubs!!!! I had really been hoping to see some young lions. Please read about the events of their afternoon HERE, and please enjoy some more time with the darling cubs below.
Mom and cub simultaneous tongue action! For a gal who loves it when she captures an animal with its tongue out, this was the jackpot!
Now check out how huge mom's tongue is as she licks her affectionate cub's face -- practically as big as its whole face. And then look how cute the cub's little tongue is giving its mum a sweet lick on her nose.
We saw plenty of adult male lions, too. And I can never see too many of these magnificent animals with their brilliant manes and regal demeanors. This guy, though, looks to me like he's feeling melancholy or wistful. I wanna go hug him and ask him what's up. Here he's looking more like his old lion self ... he has recovered his thoughts to whatever lions normally think of in the early morning. Look at the ear of the next fellow, though, how notched it is -- he's clearly had a few good tussles in his life.
For lots more lions, read about our time in Chobe National Park, which was particularly rich with elephant and lion encounters.
But back to baby animals ..... baboon youngsters are some of the most manic and entertaining creatures to watch when they rumble with each other. These little guys were getting on their kung fu moves!
Very young baboons have it pretty easy, leisurely riding along on mom's back or clinging to her underside as she walks. Do you notice what challenge this baby's mom has overcome? Makes you wonder if she was born that way or suffered an injury later in life.
I love this scene of a male kudu and his spectacular horns strolling through the marsh, indifferent to the baboons all around him. It's a scene peaceful and calm, yet dynamic at the same time, similar to one I posted from Moremi with the waterbuck and baboons. The only thing that would have made it better is if one of those baboons had jumped on the kudu's back.
My two favorite African antelope species: A male kudu, mid-munch; and a shaggy female waterbuck.
Is a safari post complete without a picture of a giraffe? I'm not sure, but just to be safe, here's a super little baby, not even as tall as the branches of an acacia tree.
Evening descends in the Khwai Concessions, and it actually seems to cool off a tad. Maybe because of being surrounded by the water. That special golden light of evening highlights a spray of water from a hippo, the texture of the underside of an elephant's amazing trunk, a bird's wings, my brown hair, and all the sweet moments of the day parading through my memory as we prepare to head back to camp and enjoy an evening glass (or three) of wine, the nightly appetizer of popcorn (hurray!), and dinner by gas lantern before lying down in my tent in the Botswana bush, ready to hear the sounds of night and imagine the nocturnal world around me.
Continuing at my exceedingly leisurely posting pace, allow me to take you back to Chios Island, where I volunteered at a refugee camp in 2017. Souda camp has since closed down and all refugees relocated. Some to better camps on the mainland, and some to the way more miserable Vial camp on Chios. The refugee crisis continues unabated as the homes and families caught in Middle Eastern chaos and war are steadily and ruthlessly destroyed. Please don't forget about these people whose lives have been stripped away from them in the worst possible ways. If you haven't read about my time there and wish to, please go HERE.
Prior to beginning our volunteer work, Erik and I spent several days driving around and touring the island, which was abundant in quaint villages and impressive ruins. In contrast to the southern mastic villages we visited, the villages on the northern side of the island were built into the rolling hills with sweeping views and more defensible spaces. But today they lie partially abandoned, like the southern villages, and some of them are home to nearly nobody but ghosts.
As I mentioned in my posts about the southern villages and the roadside shrines, it's very easy to drive around the island, and half of the enjoyment of the villages is simply getting to them. Allow me to share just a few of our destinations with you.
Anavatos is abandoned now except to the wandering tourist and a handful of people who man the cafe and gift shop. Oh, and who feed the cats, of course! This was the most impressive hilltop village, a Byzantine "tower-village" perched at the very top of a range of hills. Yet, it was raided numerous time by pirates and brutally sacked completely, along with the rest of Chios, in 1822 by the Ottoman Turks in what is known as the Chios Massacre, and much of whatever managed to persevere after that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1881.
Sadly, the massacre, which happened during the Greek War of Independence, was sorely undeserved. Although most of Greece was in revolt against the Turks, the Chios inhabitants had no desire to be involved. The Turkish sultans had maintained good relations with the island on account of its mastic production and trade. But other Greeks fighting the sultan came to the island, and the sultan made the erroneous assumption it was the Chians taking up arms. He was particularly infuriated in light of the amicable relationship he thought he had with Chios. He felt betrayed and ordered his forces to carry out a complete genocide of the islanders. No village, not even those on the hilltops, was spared.
As you can see, the inhabitants had a clear view of their surroundings and could only really be attacked on one side. But the hilltop advantage wasn't enough to save it. The Turkish fleet landed on Chios's shores in April of 1822 and promptly began carrying out their orders: to kill everyone on the island. Approximately 50,000 Chians were killed, another 50,000 enslaved, and about 20,000 managed to escape and flee to the European mainland. Thousands more died of diseases after all the pillaging, or maybe of broken hearts, considering how many of their family and friends suffered and died. After all was said and done, only about 2,000 people remained on the entire island. The current population is a little over 50,000.
It's not as though this kind of sorrow is not known throughout Europe and throughout the entire world, over and over again through history; still, the quaint beauty of the stone buildings and the spring flowers in the rolling hills quivers a little under the weight of such a massacre.
Some of the buildings still shelter various abandoned items such as the little shrines below.
And of course, what is a Greek village without a kitty cat??
Want more kitties? Check out Kitties of Chios post all about the friendly feline inhabitants of the island.
Our favorite village we stopped at a couple times for lunch, snacks and exploration, was Volissos. It's another village sprawling up to a hilltop fort, and unlike Anavatos, is still inhabited in large sections. While Anavatos is in the interior of the island, Volissos is near the coast and commands authoritative views of both land and sea. But of course, it was raided and then sacked just like everywhere else on the island. It has a very long history, however, and persistent legend names it the birthplace of Homer. Even the revered Herodotus makes mention of Homer writing his epic stories here. It was nice to stand on the hill and imagine for a moment the muse of such a titanic contribution to literature whispering in the ears of the imaginative Homer.
Because of the mix of abandoned and currently-used buildings, we sometimes presumed we had found one type but had instead found the other. We'd been wandering a narrow street characterized mostly by abandonment when we ran across this church below the street.
We thought it was probably abandoned and scrambled down the hillside to the entrance and found, to our surprise, the door unlocked, welcoming us inside to this lovely little space, clearly still in use.
We saw a lot of these metals frame with painted faces behind them. Not knowing anything about the Greek Orthodox religion, I had to Google them after I got home. So I learned these free-standing (unmounted) frames are actually considered as shrines and are intended to be portable so they can be used in processions or other ceremonies outside of the church. The painted face is usually a saint, and at least one ceremony that the shrine will be carried outside the church for is the name day of the patron saint.
This abandoned building appealed to me largely for the simple detail of the two buckets hanging near the window at the top. I would have liked it anyway, but when you include those, I *really* like it. I also appreciate ruins being digested by vines and other plants, even though it means the ultimate destruction of the building. Still, I'm mesmerized by the floral feasting.
This is typical of rooms we ran across in our abandoned-town wanderings. Just full of random stuff, remnants of lives past and passed, jumbled together by no obvious organizing factor.
I always feel partial to scenes of abandonment in which the story is still so tangible or the lives so easily imagined. For example in my Tuesday Tale from Mesta, "A Life Left to Cats." (The first photo below was included in a brief photo essay in Gravel online magazine.) Both of these pics below seemed to me sad yet picturesque settings for ghosts, and metaphors for the human condition of being inextricably tethered to time, either restrained by it or liberated, depending on our choices -- to stay locked inside the past or to step forward into the light of the unknown.
And how do you know that Volissos is a genuine Greek village?? Surely you know the answer, in the form of this little critter hanging about .....
While we drove to some villages as destinations to spend time in the entire village, some others we stopped at spontaneously or only briefly to see one particular thing mentioned in a guidebook. I don't remember the names of those places, but here are a few shots of some of those stops, just for a feel of the island villages in general. Also a typical view from the northern hilly roadsides where the villages were nestled in so comfortably.
Nea Moni Monastery was built in the mid-11th century. The story goes that three monks on the island found a holy icon of the Virgin Mary hanging from a tree branch, and the monastery was built on that spot by the Byzantine emperor whose rise to power was foretold to him by those same monks, who said they saw it in a vision. The monks were promised a monastery if their vision came to pass. In 1042 it did, and so the emperor kept his word and began constructing Nea Moni. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are still some well-preserved frescoes in the interior. I liked the colored stone, too.
Nea Moni was not spared during the 1822 Chios Massacre. Here is a plaque inside the monastery talking about it:
What Erik and I really appreciated about this place was the mix of ruins and preservation. So often you visit a place either all in ruins, or else all preserved or restored or reconstructed. But like so many of our favorite villages on the island -- Volissos, Pyrgi, Mesta -- this ancient holy complex had a nice mix of both present and past to explore and admire.
And here's your random photo of the day. A pay phone booth next to a grazing donkey and the ruins of a monastery. So I guess the booth, too, is technically a ruin ... abandoned and illustrating a time past.
In retrospect, I'm not really sure why I didn't take more pictures around Chios Town, which is where we spent the majority of our time. It's the hub of the island, where more than half of the island's population lives, and the main port area. There is a nice medieval town center with the narrow passageways typical of such historic towns, and a center courtyard ringed by cafes and shops. The narrow alleys are quaint until you get stuck in one with a car and need to turn around. Remember that scene from Austin Powers where he's doing the 5-point turn in the golf cart? That was us a couple times, but add a couple more points and me outside the car spotting so we didn't scratch the rental car on the buildings. No way in heck would I be driving the streets in this town, nor many old European towns, where you have to pull in your side mirrors not to hit parallel-parked cars and pedestrians. And ALWAYS pull in the mirror while you're parked! Erik's a trooper as our official trip driver.
Here are just a few shots from around town. There is also a nice central park with trees and park benches, and cafes around the outside. One evening there was a big soccer match on TV, and even the outdoor cafes and bars put up big TV screens for the patrons to watch on. It had a very nice community feel in general. However, the community vibe was being whittled away by the tension between the exploding refugee population and the locals, particularly an active fascist party that was physically aggressive toward the camps and refugees. While we were there, a new hospital was being built in Chios Town and its administration said that it would treat refugees who needed its services. Some of the islanders staged protests against this -- they wanted refugees denied medical care.
But here are some random peaceful streets. We found the food in town always delicious, just FYI should you wish to check out this lovely Aegean island for yourself. Many, many restaurants, cafes, pubs in the central part of town and along the waterfront. So, although the island has its share of tragedies both historical and current, it's well worth a stop to see the bountiful beauties.
And of course ... a kitty. Oh wait! That's no kitty! An imposter. A sweet dog that was just down the block from our hotel in Chios Town. We walked past him several times in our daily quests to park our car as close to the hotel as possible on these narrow streets. Our little friend. It felt a bit weird that his owners left their front door open all the time. How can you not want to push it open and walk inside?? Well, we managed to restrain ourselves.
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Day 1. 6:30 a.m. It's a pleasant temperature as we hop in the safari truck and head out for the day. I'm so very excited to see what creatures will greet us today. With just shorts and tee-shirt and flip-flops on, the air rushing by almost feels bona fide cool. Perhaps I'll put on a light long-sleeved shirt.
9:00 a.m. We've seen a delightful assortment of wildlife and not too many other safari vehicles. The sun is out, it has warmed considerably and I shed my sleeved shirt some time ago.
10:00 a.m. Whew, it's starting to get pretty roasty. Wouldn't mind a little of that early morning cool coming back now. Time to get the neck coolers out. The animals seem to be shouldering the weather okay.
10:45 a.m. The heat is really starting to kick in. The animals seem to be looking for some siesta shade already. They're smart!
11:30 a.m. We passed a water hole and I tried to dive in, it looked so deliciously cool and refreshing. The guide insisted for some weird reason that I could not splash around with the elephants. Poor sport, I say. I'd give anything for a swim about now. I've never wanted to be a duck in Africa so badly.
12:00 p.m. Brutality starting to set in. Animals looking for shade everywhere to stand in or better yet, to lie down in ... beneath trees, beside bushes, or if nothing else, behind their companion. There is shade beneath the safari truck's canopy, but it provides me little relief.
1:00 p.m. Sweltering. Our guide tells us that this is when the impala start committing suicide. When you notice one hanging up in a tree, it's because they couldn't take the heat anymore.** Time for lunch back at camp in the still, still air saturated with raw heat. Shade seems pointless until you step into the sun and realize it can get worse.
2:00 p.m. It's so hot. In a torpor. Will I ever feel the delightful prick of coolness again??
2:30 p.m. It's really, really hot. Don't know if I can go on. I will step into the bucket shower in camp and see if I can feel alive again.
3:00 p.m. Temporarily revived! Sweat and dirt washed away. Wet hair working like a swamp cooler.
3:08 p.m. Hair completely dry. Sweat building up. It's really really very hot.
3:30 p.m. Now it's hotter.
4:00 p.m. It's still hot. Time for a cold beer.
4:30 p.m. Moving in the truck again, at least now there is some wind in my face. Has such a small pleasure ever felt so divine?
5:00 p.m. Cold beer, gin and tonic, rehydrated neck coolers, stacked one on top of another. I might survive the heat after all.
5:30 p.m. Animals starting to feel they might survive, as well. Elephants walking down to the river as the sun lowers and the light dims.
6:00 p.m. The iconic African sunset is beginning. Dusky water holes attract the grateful wildlife. Some will drink and go to bed, others are getting ready for an active night grazing in the moonlight; predators are hoping to catch some midnight dinner.
7:00 p.m. Back in camp for the night. It's warm. Quite warm. But I'll live to see another day of mind-bending heat. And when I think of all the amazing animals I saw today living their wild lives in the Delta, there is zero doubt that it's worth it. The descending night sky bands with magical colors and a sliver of moon that heartily confirm this conviction.
Day 2. ... Cool, warm, hot, hotter, hotter still, really damn hot, lord-help-me hot, survivable, really warm, warm. Goodnight again.
Day 3+ ... repeat.
By the way, do you know about neck coolers? So, OK, I look kind of like a weirdo dork wearing them, but I just don't care. They really help me cool off, and I recommend them to anybody who, like me, is not well heat-adjusted and heading off into a hot climate. Erik and I both use them. You can order them on Amazon and I'm sure a lot of other places. They are filled with little gel crystals that soak up water and hold it in, so when you wrap them around your neck it has a similar effect to a swamp cooler, with the evaporation from the fabric cooling you down. I've never worn two at the same time until the Okavango Delta in September!
**Footnote: I nearly left that bit about the impala suicide as is. Our guide said it to us totally deadpan and then moved on to another topic. This is the dry humor I've encountered in several Afrikaaners and I love it, but a lot of people don't always know when a joke has been said. So for the record, impala do not climb trees (they're antelopes) and kill themselves; rather, if you see one hanging in a tree, it is a leopard kill. Leopards store their kills up in high tree branches. Our guide also told us that giraffes sleep by putting their head in the crook of some tree branches and then lift their feet off the ground and dangle there asleep. I couldn't even count the number of stories that Berrie has told me in this vein. It keeps you on your toes! I'm sure I have digested a few lies from them, not even recognizing the joke! So if I start telling you about the elephant shoe industry and the men who make the shoes -- like horseshoes to protect the elephants' feet -- you'll know who to blame. They get a lot of private amusement from us foreigners any time we buy one of their silly statements. Also for the record, I did not really ask to play in the water hole with elephants! Hopefully you know *me* well enough to know that!
I'm fortunate to live in a place that is scenic and full of wildlife at the edge of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Various critters come and visit me in my own backyard as I live at the edge of a forested area in the town of Nederland. And areas near me such as Rocky Mountain National Park specialize in some of the most iconic Colorado wildlife. I've gathered a number of photos over the years of these animals, so I decided to throw a bunch up here just for hoots since they are already processed and ready to go. So this is a collection of photos with very little effort toward explanation ... a picture "book," so to speak. So put your iPad on your coffee table while you're scrolling through it to simulate a coffee table book, haha.
And if you want to come try to meet these critters yourself, remember you can come stay with me! Go here to book: Cozy & Quiet Guest Studio.
Here are some of the wonderful visitors I've had literally in my own yard. I keep a camera by the kitchen door, where most of the wildlife comes through. My cat, Trixy, is often the one who spies the wildlife in the window, and I can always tell from her demeanor when she has spotted something special. Other times I just happen to look out the window myself or be standing on my balcony at the right time.
One of the most exciting visitors to me are the bears, but I've only ever gotten a couple photos of them.
We've been blessed with several awesome bobcat sightings. I get particularly excited over these and have even jumped out of bed in my pajamas and run out in my socks to try to catch a shot of one (alerted to its presence in the yard by Trixy). Our dear kitty, Mister, absolutely loved the forest and within an hour of his passing Over The Rainbow Bridge, a bobcat appeared in the yard and stayed for a very long time. I'm somewhat convinced that Mister's soul passed into the bobcat and that he's roaming his beloved forest freely.
I was also pretty excited about the proximity of this visitor one winter's morning, just a stone's throw from my balcony: a great horned owl.
In the last decade, the moose population around Nederland has increased dramatically. Although I love to see them in the yard, it's not really all good news, for they strip the bark off the aspen trees and as is the way in the delicate balance of nature, a change in one animal's population can affect the entire local ecosystem in a chain reaction. I still get excited when they visit me, though. The most exciting encounter with moose was the year a mama brought her brand new baby twins into the yard to hang out. Who knew how cute baby moose are!?
A different mom and baby more recently in the forest adjacent to the house.
Here is a different mother with an older calf. You can see in the second photo how they eat the bark off the aspen.
An assortment of a few of the other mooses who have visited the yard.
This guy came trotting by me while I was photographing flowers at nearby Long Lake. This is at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, about 30 minutes from Nederland and one of my favorite lakes to see wildflowers at.
One of the more rare friends we've had is the silver fox we named, "Blacky," for reasons I'm sure you cannot imagine. He was very friendly, I never fed him or anything, but probably other locals did, hence his habitual close contact, coming right up to the steps of our balcony and even hanging out with our cat, Mister.
The most common visitor we have, though, are deer. Some people are uninterested in them due to their ubiquity in the area, and maybe I don't stop to look when they are elsewhere, but I always enjoy seeing them in my own yard. Except when they eat my tulips. My favorite deer is a sweet girl I've named Black Brow. Another astoundingly original name, I think you can figure out why ... she's the one on the right.
And of course my favorite sightings are of the little spotted fawns. These twins were very young when mom deposited them in the yard while she foraged in the forest.
Some more babies and moms and families .....
And a nice assortment of bucks come through also.
And lately (about 2021+) we've also been getting elk in the yard!
I was rather surprised to see a flock of turkeys in the yard one day! They have come through several times in winter now, constantly moving across the snow nibbling whatever grasses are poking up. They seldom stop long enough for a picture.
The beginning of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is about an hour away from me to the south. Mount Evans road is the highest paved road in North America, topping out at 14,250 feet above sea level. It's the easiest way to summit a fourteener, you don't have to hike! You are treated to amazing views, but the road, in my estimation, is scary as heck! It's not a nail-biting drive, though, because you can't reach your nails when your hands are white-knuckle glued to the steering wheel ... very, very narrow road with no guard rails along sheer cliffs traversing bare hillsides above timberline, so you would roll for ages if you fell over the edge. Not to discourage you from going; you should certainly check it out once, just fair warning.
There are a lot of pretty views around here, so in spite of their spectacularity at Mount Evans, I wouldn't be so motivated to drive up there for that reason, owing to the road. I am, however, motivated to see the darling baby mountain goats that populate the top of the mountain. I don't know where else to see them. The mountain goats aren't actually native to this area, they were introduced in the mid-20th century. Like the increased moose population, this growing population also affects the ecosystem, particularly the tundra grasses they live on, affecting the other creatures who rely on it for food. But it's hard to be mad at them when you're sitting hanging out with them; they're super fun to watch. Here's a big batch of photos I took over two days, one day cold and overcast with very flat light, and the other a glorious morning with bright blue skies.
About 45 minutes to the north of me lies Rocky Mountain National Park -- a lovely treasure that I'm fortunate to have so nearby. In summer, I like to drive up Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuously paved road in America, linking the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake) to the souvenir shop and cafe just on the other side of the summit for lunch. RMNP is perhaps best known for its elk population. In summer they hang out high on the tundra, and in fall and winter they stay in the valleys. Although Trail Ridge Road is closed in winter, it's a great time to see the elk because of how they concentrate in the valleys.
I'm not much of a bird person, so I know very little about the avian life around me and I don't take many photos. However, one can't help but be impressed by the magnificent bald eagle! Spotted this beauty while kayaking on Dillon Lake, about an hour and a half west of me. And also a beautiful falcon. Not the most crisp shots, but you get the idea!
In 2020 we got some new birds at our house that we'd never seen before. Apparently they live in the area but for some reason just moved into our yard -- the red crossbill. Their beaks are crossed as an adaption to better dig into the pinecones that are one of their primary food sources. They seemed to be building a nest, but I never saw any babies.
I only recently found out that we have great blue herons in Colorado. Somebody even spotted one here in Nederland recently. But these guys below I found down on the flatlands just east of Boulder, about 45 minutes from me, at a little collection of ponds called Walden Ponds. Quite impressive birds.
I saw this sweet little bird on my balcony and took a photo and then had to ask in my local nature Facebook group what is was! It's a junco.
The littlest creature I love in the Rocky Mountains is the American pika. Darling critters, maybe the size of a small gerbil or large hamster. They live in rock piles and rock falls in the high elevations (higher than Nederland). They make little nests in the rocks with grasses they gather in a frenzy all summer. They can be difficult to spot, but their calls are easy to hear, so when you hear one, just stop and look around. Look how big their paws are to help them scamper around the rocks.
Marmots are another common furry member of Club Rodentia who populate the higher elevations. I photographed these guys in Rocky Mountain National Park. They love to lie in the sun on the rocks or, unfortunately, on the pavement when there are roads in their neighborhood. You can see that they eat well and their thick fur allows them to live year-round in the cold, high elevations.
The Abert's squirrel is my favorite type of squirrel in the area. I like their tall tufted ears and black coats. They're a bit smaller than the brown squirrels. We have a couple living at our house and I enjoy watching them scamper around the balcony and trees. We had left some over-ripe oranges outside one day on the balcony, meaning to take them to the compost bin, but this Abert's got to them first.
There is, of course, much more wildlife existing here, but you've gotten a Colorado safari of some of the common species. We have coyotes who sometimes come through the forest in a pack and their howling fills the air. We have mountain lions in my town, too, though they are rarely sighted. Sadly, though, it is not uncommon for several pet dogs to become casualties each year to a mountain lion's appetite. In 2022 I finally saw one on our property! Our backyard game cam captured this perfectly posed lion at night. It is definitely the most thrilling photo I have of our yard even though I personally didn't take it!
So this is mostly a photo tour. Do you like how my "narrative" travel blog has morphed over the years from mostly text-based to mostly photography-based? It's cuz I'm lazy. :-) Also, my interest in photography has grown like a baobab or a panda ... i.e. dramatically. And, truth be told, I've come to see the truth in the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words ... or if not quite a thousand, a whole lot of them. It's more expedient for conveying things ... buildings, landscapes, animals, what people look like, etc. If something particularly interesting happened to us in these villages, I'd tell you about it. But mostly we just wandered around contentedly, got totally and genuinely lost, and had a very pleasant time -- one day by ourselves and another afternoon with two fellow volunteers with A Drop in the Ocean who were working with us at the Souda refugee camp in Chios Town.
But a wee bit of background for the two villages I'm going to share with you in this post, Pyrgi and Mesta. They are sometimes referred to as "mastic villages," being located in the southern part of Chios Island, where the mastic trees grow. I'd never heard of mastic until arriving on Chios, where I learned it is (a) grown only here on Chios and nowhere else in the world, (b) when made into mastiha liqueur, it's fabulously delicious. It's used in many other products, as well, both edible and non (like body care products). Plain mastiha candies taste kind of like cut grass or earth, but add a little mint flavor and they're far tastier (according to *my* taste buds). It's rather remarkable how delicious the liqueur is compared to the plain candy.
But, "What is the mastic?" you ask. "Does it grow on the mastic trees? Is it harvested like olives? Is it the root?" Nay. Mastic (pretty much interchangeable with "mastiha," as far as I can tell) is actually the sappy resin in the tree bark. Farmers bore holes into the bark, put a plastic tarp skirt around the base of the tree and let the resin run down the trunk, then collect it in the skirt. The trees are quite small, kind of like olive trees, and we could see terraced groves of them from the roads. So anyway, if you can get your hands on some mastiha liquor, go wrap your little fingers around a bottle of it. There are different alcohol contents, we found we preferred the middle-of-the-road 28%. Pretty much every night in our hotel room we had a nightcap (or two) of mastiha before bed.
Mesta is a classic medieval mastic village. Here and at all of the small villages on Chios, as a visitor you must park your car outside the old city walls, there are usually small parking lots. The streets were built to scale for donkeys, not cars! There are several entry points through the city walls into the maze. Mesta was built in the Byzantine era (approx. 14th century) and its high defensive walls and central tower were designed on account of the pirates and Turks who were always trying to raid them and their mastic stores.
The city walls:
The narrow streets ... a miniature tractor manages his way down the cobblestones.
The interior maze of streets (what I'd consider more aptly as alleyways) are lined with houses adjoined to one another in solid blocks, interspered with archways. Most doorways looked like they belonged to abanonded homes. But there is, in fact, a hotel in the middle of the village and several tourist souvenir shops and a large central courtyard of restaurants, so the place does not feel dead.
The biggest attraction for island locals is the church, Megalos Taksiarhis, aka "the big Archangels Church," the largest orthodox church on the island and one of the biggest in all of Greece. It was built in the mid-1800s where the original castle tower had been built in the Byzantine era.
And just in case you did not get enough kitties in the Kitties of Chios post, here is one I title, "The Dark Kitty" ... emerging from his dark alley lair!
And another shot of the blind kitty also pictured in the Tuesday Tale, "A Life Left to the Cats," about an abandoned home we explored in Mesta.
Now we move on to the uniquely picturesque southern Chios village of Pyrgi, the largest of the mastic villages, and often referred to as "the painted village." Pyrgi has been mentioned in old documents as far back as the 11th century. Apparently, it's widely believed that Christopher Columbus is descended from a family in Pyrgi and that he lived for a time in the village. Why is it called the painted village? Because of the unique black or gray and white geometrical decorative motifs on the facades of the buildings. It's called Xysta and is made by a plastering-sand being applied to the wall, carefully painted white, then scraped with the designs. So the designs are etched, not painted, in spite of the "painted village" moniker.
Of course there is the ubiquitous village clock tower rising above town, and the old man enjoying the afternoon sun. Er, well, he's in the shade, but the sun will get to him .....
A central feature of Pyrgi is the Church of Ayioi Apostoloi (Holy Apostles). A Byzantine-era church, it mimics, on a smaller scale, the architectural structure of the larger Nea Moni monastery (which I'm planning to show in a future blog post). There is an inscription that dates the erection to 1546, but historians consider the architectural features to be a more reliable date (Byzantine 14th century) and therefore conclude it was merely repaired or remodeled at that time. The interior walls and ceiling of the church are covered in frescoes, but we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church. I'm glad we got to visit it twice, to better cement in my own memory the interior, which is really quite small.
Its ancient Byzantine structure and plain stone facade stand out in a kind of simplicity in contrast to the elaborate Xysta facades of the rest of the village center.
Like Mesta, Pyrgi is a combination of abandonment and vibrance. Some of the abandonment:
Some of the vibrance:
I guess Erik's the main vibrance here.
It appears I just can't help myself from including one last kitty picture, I included a different shot of this sweeite in Kitties of Chios. Only one of the many kitties we accosted with my camera in the mastic villages.
It's easy to drive around Chios, there aren't that many roads and there isn't much traffic, or at least there wasn't in April. Most people think of the Mediterranean islands like Santorini when they think of Greek Islands. But a visit to the Aegean island of Chios would make a nice addition to any Greek itinerary.