Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Orleans - Once Again

Walking through the French Quarter
A few posts ago I wrote of This Ain't No Mouse Music and our Louisiana addiction that was displaced by long distance hiking. We've been restless this year, grounded from hiking, no walks through Spain or France. When we spotted a cheap flight to New Orleans, that old obsession beckoned. Five days. Arrive Weds midnight and return Monday afternoon. Our plan was a musical pilgrimage with days to be determined. A 3 day Jazzy Pass for $9 gave us unlimited trips on buses and streetcars (provided they came).

Thurs 8:30pm Rock & bowl Chubby Carrier - did this
 Fri 6pm dba Tuba Skinny
      8pm Snug Harbor Maria Muldaur 8 and 10pm - did the 8pm
Sat 6pm Three Muses Hot Club of New Orleans - did this
    10pm Tipitinas Art Neville and Treme Brass Band - did Mulates instead
Sun 5:30 Rock & bowl Bruce Daigrepont fais do do. - did this
This all coincided with a few days of sun and an arctic blast of wind and cold. Indoor anything got priority. We learned some things. Our stamina is not what it was twenty years ago. Music really gets going about 10:30 at night and goes to 2 or 3 am. We were fading by 11pm. **update** decided to add how to info - links for music, etc. at the end after images.

New Orleans seems whiter that it was before Katrina. Maybe a false impression. A lot of gentrification going on, and the new faces are white. On to images.
World War II Museum

Battle of the Bulge - a critical last offensive by the retreating Nazis in 1944. Have a friend who was there, as an eighteen year old medic. His orders to me: "Go to the World War II Museum". It is a sobering and well worth visit for those of us who remember some of those times, or remember our parent's history back then. For kids of today, only if they like airplanes. It's well done, movie clips, photos, a tremendous oral history collection, with stations where you choose which personal recollection to hear. The sight of an old white haired guy in a wheelchair, listening to personal accounts of Omaha Beach is hard to see, no matter how blase I try to be.
German individual bomb shelter

Maria Muldaur venue

Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular, takes its drinking and partying seriously, and music is a close runner-up. Sunday was pro football at the Superdome - Saints vs Bengals, and as we walked through that area around 9:30 am, assaulting the eye were tailgate parties, full pint sized cups of beer, sidewalk stands selling zombies, grenades, etc. high alcohol high volume beverages  and indescribable apparitions in the two teams colors.

I digress. What I want you to remember is that Bourbon St. focuses on the partying and drinking, though the music is also there. More visitors than locals partake. For venues where music comes first, venture out of the French Quarter.

To orient you, the French Quarter is on the North bank of the Mississippi. Just west of it is Canal St. and downtown. Our hotel, as well as many others are there, just a couple of blocks from the Quarter. On the east side of the Quarter is Esplanade Ave. Near the base of Esplanade, running northeast is Frenchman St., a 25 minute walk across the Quarter from our hotel, or a $10 taxi ride. Frenchman St. is where we saw Maria Muldaur, and those same few blocks have maybe a dozen other music venues, loud and local. Tipatina's, RocknBowl and Maple Leaf Bar are other places to hear local music, but too far to walk. $15 to $20 by taxi. This was first time we used taxis instead of rental car. Costs add up fast, and we did one venue a night when with a car we might have done several. Mulates is west on Julia St. about 6 blocks from our hotel, and a good place for Cajun food, music and dancing between 7 and 10pm.
Mural at Central City Festival site

lots of construction going on
Anytime we were in the hotel room, on went the Weather Channel. Again we learned new things. A massive cold front had swept down from Canada and across the Great Lakes for "lake effect snow", one of the new terms. Arctic air hits warm mosture laden air rising from the lakes. Result: A wide band of snow starting just south of the Great Lakes and running their entire length. If you saw pictures of snow in Buffalo, New York recently, that was lake effect snow.

The other term "thundersnow". Just what it seems. Thunder and lightning strikes, accompanied not by torrential rains, but blizzard blasts of snow.
Brown Cow Dairy

music nightly, Zydeco on Thursdays, Cajun on Sundays

There are three free street magazines for finding out food and music options. I can only remember the name of two, but they are the best. Offbeat Magazine is the best source, and their online site looks excellent - didn't find the site till we got home.

The other magazine is Gambit, and they also have a website:

The streetcar bus Jazzy Pass is a good deal, but they are a little flaky as to schedule. Also on St. Charles line, frequently so full they do not stop. Check schedules before depending on them. Buses look more reliable, but didn't make much use of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A long, familiar walk, but always some new images

When Susan and I are training, or these days, when Susan is still recovering and my body needs to walk, we have a local walk of about ten miles. The incentive is a local bakery, five miles away. A croissant and a coffee primes us for the return. The bakery is at 300 feet elevation, we are at 1100, so mostly down for the first half, and up all the way back. This is a two or three times a week trip, so we seek out little variations, always keeping in mind the distance to the nearest restroom. That means keeping tabs on any construction going on midway either direction, and the associated porta-potty.

One of the variants goes down the bear route, where three wood sculptured bears are to be along the way.


This last walk was my day for yards with character or at least interest:
They continue up the driveway, representing many happy hours
We are having a drought year, so this brown metal sculpture blends right in.
A block or two further on
This route variation sent me down a commercial street.
Bakery reached, now on the return trip through different streets.
Deliberate or a forgetful child?
As I said, things are dry here, and this sign was miles from any water:
I cut off the phone number for privacy considerations
For some reason there is fresh growth in some shrubs, even though it is fall.
And finally, on the trip up the hill, nearing home, wildlife.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hot weather hiking affliction: Golfer's Vasculitis

This sock had elasticized top
Chances are, you hot weather hikers have seen something like this. That's my leg you're looking at, yesterday's view, and not much of a concern to me since I knew what it was.

The first encounter was a scare - on Susan's leg while hiking in France, and we had no idea what it was. Just it came on while hiking in very hot weather, and was right under the elasticized band of her sock, warm to the touch and puffy, but not painful. A wider, more brilliant band than you see here on my leg.

A few days later, the whole foot started swelling in a major way, all the way from toes to half way up the shin, and extremely painful. That ended up with us going to emergency, where a severe infection was diagnosed, treatable with antibiotics, but we had to cancel the trip and it took two weeks for the swelling to subside. The doctors were unable to determine point of entry for the infection. They did x-rays for hairline fractures - none. Final thought was that hiking had generated invisible cracks in the feet where some infection could have gained entry. This was all very stressful and we totally forgot about the earlier red band around her leg.

Zoom of top image

I also did a lot of Googling, and learned that the usual cause of this is a condition called Golfer's Vasculitis, according to internet comments, unknown to a lot of doctors.

A good link on the subject:

It is usually just on the inner side of the leg. The best treatment is avoidance, no pressure at all on the leg in the sock area during hot weather. Stop, remove socks, let leg cool, wipe with water if necessary. Wear very light un-elasticized socks if you can find them, cut or fold down the elasticized part if you have to. Once it occurs, remove socks and get out of the hot conditions and it will be gone in two or three days.

This sock was loose but pulled up
Susan has been ordered not to hike the last few months, to cure severe pain caused by strain of muscle sheathing over a large band of muscle going down the outer leg, so I've been doing hikes in the local area, to maintain conditioning (with notable lack of success). The last ten days have peaked in the 90's F each day - the normal is 60s to low seventies. One night Susan looked at my leg as it rested on the coffee table while we watched The Good Wife. "What's that?" Me: "What's what?".

That prompted me to take these pictures. The final picture is of socks. I only wear liner socks. The rightmost is an REI liner sock from about 10 years ago. It is very comfortable, and does not have an elasticized top. After 10 years it is nice and loose. Unfortunately, the dozen or so I had of these are now wearing out, and are no longer made. All liner socks now have elasticized tops. Your only choice is how elastic. I find any elasticizing at all is too much if the sock is pulled up to full height. The leftmost sock is typical and ok if I fold the top down to the top of my running shoes. The center sock is one that was severely elasticized, so I made a field repair, using my Swiss Army Knife scissors to cut through the elasticized part.

Almost forgot my conclusion. The this weeks incident of me getting the symptoms reminded me of Susan's incident in France. When the infection was occurring, we totally forgot about the two days earlier Golfer's Vasculitis incident. My current thought is that the two days of hiking with this condition created some cracks, minor wounds so that the infection got started there. If you get a GV incident, be sure to keep it clean, and try not to aggravate it further.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Galapagos - Experience of a Lifetime

I love hiking and traveling. Each trip brings experiences I want to remember forever. I'm sort of shy though, about assuming others will share the same feelings. Galapagos is the exception, and possibly Torres del Paine. If a trip to the Galapagos Islands is in your realm of possibilities, do your best to make it happen. The Galapagos part of our expedition was an organized two week trip by Wilderness Travel. We added on Otavalo and Quito, Ecuador on our own, since we had gone so far anyway.

Since we've got back, I've looked at a number of Galapagos trip offerings from various companies. There is a huge range of content, and I'll make some comments later on what to look for in a trip. But... first look at a video I put together that is just a series of images from the trip, set to music. Watch it and then decide whether to read further:

Galapagos 2014 - two weeks on the Mary Anne

Almost the entire Galapagos Islands are in the National Park, and tourism is strictly controlled to avoid damaging the resource. Each ship must have a local guide. The islands are currently divided into some 70 different visitor zones. Access to the zones are limited by time of day and number of visitors. Every tour vessel or private ship must have a permit for a specific time and day for each zone it visits. We never saw more than two other vessels at a site. Itineraries are sometimes changed at the last minute because they couldn't get a permit for the exact time and day they wanted.

Most flights are into Baltra, which is roughly in the center of the islands. From Baltra some tours do the Eastern Islands, some the Western, and some both. On our tour we lived on the boat, but there are many hotels, and some tours operate out of the hotels with day trips.

Our trip covered both the Western and Eastern Islands and we lived on the Mary Anne, a three masted barkentine. Almost every day we had short (a mile or two?) walks on the islands, snorkeling, sometimes sea kayaking, sometimes zodiac trips around the edge of the islands. I found the Eastern Islands a little more interesting if I had to choose, but some favorite moments were in the Western Islands.

Things to look for in a tour:

First, look at days on the mainland (Ecuador) vs days in the Galapagos. I've seen some with three mainland days and four Galapagos days. Get as many Galapagos days as you can. Ecuador is fine, but ordinary South America travel. Galapagos is unique. We had two mainland days, 15 Galapagos days. The current REI tour has eight days, all in the Western Islands except for the mainland airport time at Guayaquil.

Second, if you only have a week, do the Eastern Islands, and be sure the tour includes Tower (Genovesa) Island. I don't see how a hotel based tour would have time to get out to the remote islands, but don't know for sure.

Third, it is mandatory that your trip include lots of snorkeling opportunities and land hikes. One of the most impressive things is the sheer biomass of the fish in the sea. Sometimes the clarity is not great, but the numbers of fish are staggering. The occasional large shark is a sobering sight. If you cannot snorkel or hike, the zodiac cruises around the islands still allow you to see a great deal.

Last, if your airport time includes a day in Guayaquil, be sure to take in the Museum of Anthropology , right along the edge of the waterfront. Go in and straight to the back where the oldest objects are. Some magnificent pottery whistles for example.

At the end of the trip we made our own arrangements and flew to Quito and then went directly to Otavalo to the Ali Shungu lodge. This is an incredible place to stay, and will get a separate post in a day or two. After several days there, we went to Quito for two days and then flew home.

Doing Quito last was a bad idea. Going to Otavalo and Ali Shungu is an excellent way to decompress from the Galapagos experience, but Quito was a traumatic culture shock. It is a huge, busy city. Worth visiting, but do it BEFORE going to the Galapagos.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Of mammals, mostly, travels and a snake glimpse

More tales from grounded hikers. Susan can walk a few blocks but our normal long distance treks are temporarily on hold. So... our meantime activities.

Take my word for it, youngster rats are sort of cute. They're also pretty fast, so don't have a photo to prove it. Roof rats are endemic in this area, at least since the white man arrived. The city even has a department to help control them - vector control. I used to be fairly tolerant if I saw evidence of rats outside. However a number of years ago we got back from a trip and found them inside our house, happily co-existing with our two cats, and sleeping in our bed under the pillow. Susan was definitely not happy. I was not pleased either. That was the end of tolerance. Vector Control came out, pointed out my failings, but gave me instruction. I've thoroughly rat-proofed the house, and rigorously inspect it several times a year for any evidence of rats.

This year the neighbors report rat resurgence. Our compost pile, a large covered hard plastic bin, frequently has rat burrows. I completely cover the top surface of the compost with snap traps, get one rat, and one rat tail, but the burrowing continues. Finally we order a raised rotating compost bin from Amazon, and that so far seems rat proof.

Re the cuteness. Deer, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, cats and other critters roam our neighborhood and as much of our yard as they can get to. We've got a fence that encloses the sides and back of the house and in that area we can grow deer appetizers (roses, etc.) without them being sampled. In front things are "deer tolerant", but we've learned how that really goes. Each year, that year's crop of deer discover our yard. They don't read. Deer tolerant is determined by take a bite, see if you like it. Always plant enough to survive sample nibbling.

We've got lots of birds, so have a bird feeder near the window at the side of the house in the fenced off area. Vector Control didn't like that. Feed the birds, the rats come. I could see this myself. Looking out the window where I am was the bird feeder, and one day I noticed the cute little rats, eating the spilled seeds directly beneath the feeder. So we stopped feeding for a couple of months, then resumed. The rats resumed. Finally I moved the feeder to the middle of the front yard, far enough away from shelter so that any rat beneath it was likely to be snatched by the owls at night or the hawks by day. Problem solved, but there is that phrase, unintended consequences.
Not Unexpected

Unintended Consequence
This was one afternoon a few days ago. Hold that last image in your mind. The next day Susan had to write all day, so I took off to circle a local reservoir on watershed land. We are in a high fire danger area, and things are very dry, so goats are in demand to reduce vegetation on public lands. This day they were on my hiking route, standing to graze if needed.

Contained by the wire
I was tempted to touch the fence but resisted.

The day went on with turkeys, cows and a water snake.
The goatherder's trailer
Yesterday's was too fast to snap, but similar

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

This Ain't No Mouse Music!

Susan and I have been together twenty-seven years now, and since 2001 have been almost obsessively caught up in long-distance hiking, writing about it, doing it. All these twenty-seven years though, we have had a shadow life, caught up in Cajun music, later in Zydeco, and have always loved the way music is embedded in the culture of Louisiana. In 1987 we took Cajun dance lessons from Diana Castillo and Irene Tenney in the SF Bay Area. Irene founded the Cajun Creole Cultural Center. That organization gave us insider information and in our early years together Susan and I made many trips to Louisiana, seeking out the dance and music events in those little French speaking communities in the  Lafayette area.
Those events were hard to find sometimes, particularly when looking for Zydeco music. In 1990 forget about checking with town tourist bureaus. Their response was "we wouldn't know about that. You need to ask the black folks."

Once we got to the dance halls, white or black, it was fine. We just watched the locals and danced as they did, though not as well, I admit. Our west coast lessons had included a lot of open swing style moves, but we didn't see that in the early Louisiana years, just two-steps and waltzes. The Zydeco was two-step with full body contact a la Tango--in my mind just about as good a dance position as could be imagined. Anyhow, in the darkened Zydeco dance halls, we kept a low profile, just out there with everyone else, loving the music and the experience. Slim's Y Ki-Ki was one of those dance halls: Lawtell Playboys at Slim's Y Ki-Ki

I'm getting to This Ain't No Mouse Music! Most of our trips back there were during non-festival times, when tourists were scarce. However, we did go back during Festivals Acadiens et Créoles one year and ran into Irene Tenney who introduced us to Chris Strachwitz. Since that time we've encountered him many times on our musical travels. The just-released documentary on his life was a wonderful surprise to us. We knew so many of the faces in the film that for us it was a documentary of our life as well. We recognized some of the musicians in the film from when we had first seen them performing as small children with their parents.

This is truly a magnificent, one of a kind film, thanks to directors/producers Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling. If you care for authentic American music, see it!

For the performance near you, check - Kurt, this is for you: Los Angeles, CA
October 1-7, 2014
Downtown Independent

I'm almost done, but take time to see and hear the film trailer:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Not Walking, and what fills the void

We just cancelled our Sept. flight to Northern Spain a week or so ago (Norte route). First time in some twenty years that we have not done a major hike or backpack of some sort, and first time in 10 years that we have not been walking a Camino route. Susan has intense leg pain if she walks any uphill distance at all beyond about 10 minutes - according to her doctor, just something that needs rest, but we are more than three months into it at this point. Susan has blogged about it:, but this post is mostly about I am doing instead.

 The positive thing about this is that I have days, weeks, months suddenly available. Those never ending house chores sitting on the to do list are suddenly being accomplished. The back fence is repaired. Formerly on the edge of a down slope, it now sits on a three foot wide deck, farther away from the house than it once was, and with a little shed perched on it, to boot. I've indulged my desire for big rolling tool box with those flat shallow drawers, brought the garage state of disorder down by 75%. I even put wheels on the table saw so it is less effort to drag it around.

Susan's 2006 book Camino Chronicle is part journal and history, but also has a substantial "how to" section. That part has become somewhat dated. It talks about buying film and travelers checks. The links pointed to Santiagobis as the forum to go to for instant information. Facebook was not mentioned. When we put it on Kindle a few years back, all that information was updated, but it never got to the paperback edition. So, with time suddenly available, I was able put out a print on demand version of the book with all the current information. Now I no longer have to run down to FedEx or the post office every time I get a little order from Amazon (they had a thing for one or two book orders every week). Instead they get it from Createspace. The process was fairly easy and I will probably do a blog post just on the process for the book techies among you.

We have a lot of street fairs this time of year. Booths with jewelry, clothes, alcoholic beverages, pretty women, popcorn, you name it. The streets are flat so Susan can walk for an hour or two. Well, we passed this booth promoting a scan your slides or photos service, with a great show special price. I went for it. Got a deal to scan 800 35mm slides, which I thought would make a substantial dent in our unscanned slides. When we got home, I started looking at the task. More than I realized. We have about 20 carousels, each with 140 slides. There also slide trays full of slides, and top of that many many envelopes with aps negatives. This service is not exactly cheap - costs about as much as the original processing cost. Massive triage was required. We decided to each select the 400 oldest that we wanted to keep. I've been taking slides from 1958 up to the digital era, with a very bad detour to aps format.

We resurrected our projectors, and the stack loader. It only took me a few minutes to realize that on the old images, only the people mattered. No one cares, least of all me, about a so so picture of Yellowstone taken forty years ago. Over the course of two days I threw out some 2000 slides, retrieving all from the trash three times to make sure I hadn't thrown something out that I wanted (I had, each time). For the final cut, we put the keepers in carousels and projected them in large format to make the decision. At this point 890 slides are in the hands of the scanners, mostly early family history. Nothing can go wrong at the scanners, right? Those images aren't going to vanish from our life?

Towards the end of our review, the advance reverse on one of the projectors stopped working - just a buzz when I tried to go either direction. Turns out this is a known problem. Plastic gears become brittle and fail, and ebay has a repair kit for a small price. A year or so ago, my Kindle screen got broken on one of our hiking trips, and with ebay and youtube directions, I was able to replace it myself. A few months ago, big black fuzzy circles started appearing on images from my Canon S95 camera. So, I googled for repair Canon S95, and again found an ebay kit, and youtube directions. The directions were in German, which I don't understand, but that is another blog topic. I was able to replace my S95 lens and lcd successfully, so that gave me the courage to attempt the carousel repair. It was much more difficult than either the Kindle or the S95 mainly due to the tiny space in which you have to remove motors, screws, plungers, etc and then fit back in exactly the right location. The projector now works, but is sort of loud, so I should open it up again and see if I have a wire touching the fan. Of course, you may ask why repair the projector if you are only going to use it a few more times? - for the challenge. Since we have two, and rarely use either, the cost of my failing would be little.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chuck's annual birthday party, Zydeco and the Camino Connection

We are having a strange year, with an absence of our usual hiking, thus no posts for a while. Still, we took in the Galapagos, and some of Ecuador. That may be a future post, but this one is about our friends Tom and Patricia, and his video of Chuck's annual Zydeco birthday party. Tom has a gift for faces, and skip my text to watch it if need be. However, I can give it more context.

In January of 2004, Susan was giving a Camino de Santiago presentation at the San Francisco Sierra Club's annual dinner meeting. After the show, Tom and Patricia came up and told about their own experiences walking the Camino, and we have been friends ever since. One of the things we share besides the Camino is a love of Cajun & Zydeco music. Two cultures, sometimes the identical songs, but a different rhythm. Heads bobbing up and down at a Cajun festival, and fairly level at a Zydeco festival. Separate venues in most cases, but a lot of Cajun dancers going to Zydeco events, and here in the SF Bay Area, there is some separation of venues, but a lot of crossover. Mostly you will find this music in southern Louisiana and southwest Texas, but there is a large contingent here in the San Francisco bay area, due to workers imported from Louisiana during world war II to build ships. I'm still getting to Tom's video.

I tore off a slip of paper on a telephone pole twenty seven years ago, that said "change your life, learn to dance", and started taking Cajun Zydeco dance lessons from Diana Castillo. I met Susan shortly after, dragged her to the lessons, and we were hooked, searching for venues both locally and in Louisiana. At the local events we would see many of the same faces, one of them being Chuck's. One of the features of this music is the house party. The music is imbedded into the fabric of daily life. Push back the chairs, invite your friends, bring out the accordion and fiddle, and everybody dances, from kids to grannies, and everybody is smiling. No one sits unless they are physically unable to dance.

Well, Chuck has hosted an annual party around his birthday for more years than I can remember. It was too big for a living room, so in the earlier years it would be in a local park, potluck fashion with the local musicians. The last few years it has been at the Nature Friends, a local German club with a big outdoor dance floor. We were there yesterday with Tom and Patricia. My potluck offering was Willie's Crisp, which I've written about earlier. We caught up with Diana Castillo, still giving lessons, who has known us almost our entire life as a couple. Tom has his video up on Youtube already. Most of it is filming during one of the band's number and the music never stops, so that part is unedited.

Tom has shared a very special multicultural event and it is my pleasure to try and get it out to a larger audience:

Chucks annual Cajun Zydeco birthday party