Saturday, August 21, 2010

Falcon Lake in Manitoba: relaxing family vacation

The family of Bridget´s partner, Phillip Ens, invited us again this year to their lodge on Falcon Lake, Manitoba, about an hour east of Winnipeg.

Lovely place. We had lots of sun, warm temperatures, perfect for swimming and biking.

Christine, Bridget, Emily (Patrick´s partner), Patrick, their dog Sheva, Phillip (standing, Bridget´s partner), Alex (Phillip´s brother-in-law) and Johanna (Phillip´s sister).

The blue marker is Falcon Lake.

One day we took the boat and two kayaks to an island in the lake for a picnic, egg salad sandwiches and a couple of beers. That´s me, Phillip, Bridget and Patrick.

Bridget and Phillip went fishing one day and caught a couple dozen walleye and pike, which we feasted on over several days. Sweet corn was fantastic, as were the bison burgers, country sausage and saskatoon berry pie. Cindy and I each gained five pounds in 10 days.

Schlitz Gold beer, very tasty, had something to do with it.

We all used the kayaks at one point or another. It´s very peaceful to paddle along in the early morning, stop and listen. The loons sometimes paddled close before diving for fish. They can stay down for about a minute. Bald eagles like to occupy the highest spot on the highest trees on some of the islands in the lake.

Christine and Em

Patrick and Em bundled up on one of the few cool days. Mostly it´s warm in Manitoba in August, but you´re 400 miles north of Minneapolis. Six years ago during our visit the temperatures were in the 30s and 40s and we saw the Northern Lights.

A deer offers Phillip a carrot.

Em, Bridget and Patrick play a board game. Dominos were also a nightime diversion.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A swing through Toltec ruins and provincial towns

We had a couple of days free and decided to swing down toward Mexico City. We made a big detour around the state of Michoacán, which has been a hotbed of drug violence, and stayed in Querétaro, which is famous for, among other things, its 275-year-old aqueduct.

On Sunday it provided the venue for sculptures of fanciful creatures.

The town of Bernal is noted for its crafts market. We went on a recent Sunday and bought our quota of lovely things.

Mexico has hundreds of charming towns, 35 of which are given the official designation of Pueblos Mágicos, and Bernal is one. We´ve been to about a fourth of these towns and all merit the designation.

While we were there, we saw a group of men marching down the street. The men were singing praise to the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is perhaps a more important figure than Jesus in Mexican religion. The priests might contest that but the people have their own way of worshiping, especially in the countryside.

In the background you can see the huge monolith known as the Peña de Bernal, which rises more than 1,000 feet above the town.

Exorbitant tolls

Incidentally, traveling by toll roads is safer but costly. For a 500-mile round trip mostly on toll roads, we paid about $75 in tolls, which works out to about $15 per 100 miles.

Americans would rebel against tolls that high. Rates on the Ohio Turnpike, for example, are about one-third as expensive.

The four imposing Toltec warriors are among the attractions at the archeological site of Tula, about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City. We hadn´t seen any statues like these before.

This site sprang up in the 8th century after the collapse of Teotihuacán, the massive cultural center to the east. It´s notable that these statues are of warriors. Historians say the warrior class replaced the priestly class as the dominant one in many Mesoamerican societies around this time. Prayer was less important than making war.

The Tula site is like a park, with lots of cactus plantings leading from the parking area up to the pyramids and ball court.

Marching like young warriors, a Scout troop takes in the sights. We saw an awards ceremony for a troop the next day on top of a pyramid.

Cindy is my tour guide. She figures out itineraries, reads the history to me in the car and takes a lot of the pictures.

Getting to these sites is complicated by the fact that signage is spotty and inconsistent. You´ll see 10 signs that say, "Don´t leave rocks on the roadway", for every one that gives you a hint about where a major historical site might be.

Back to Teotihuacán and the huge pyramids

We had visited the city of Teotihuacán almost two years ago but both wanted to go back. The massiveness of the pyramids and the sacred plazas takes your breath away. This one is the Pyramid of the Sun. The specks on top are people. We climbed to the top. That also takes your breath away. The stairs are very steep.

In their original state, the stone surfaces of the pyramids were covered with a thick plaster that was painted white and red.

Not much is known about the people who built this place. It thrived from around 2,000 years ago to its collapse in the 7th or 8th century. Historians think it might have been a combination of drought and then an uprising against the ruling priestly class that led to the city´s demise.

In the palace of Tetitla are impressive murals of priests and gods that are about 1,500 years old.

All around the sacred city are residences that are still being excavated. Depending on who is making the estimate, the city might have been home to 80,000 to 250,000 people at its peak.