Redemption

I made a second attempt to hike the Ansel Adams wilderness with my photography buddies. (First attempt entry: http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/06/07/backed-out-in-the-outback/). Wow! What a difference a month makes.

Since my abortive first backpack to the Ansel Adams wilderness in early June, attempts are being made to reopen the backcountry, the state, and the country. A month ago, the 3.5-mile road to the trailhead was closed and its parking lot empty. This time, arriving at 7 on Thursday morning in July, we barely scored parking spots for our cars at the packed Agnes Meadows trailhead parking lot.

I for one am glad I didn’t have to hike the 1000 foot elevation gain over the 3.5-mile at 9000-foot elevation road a second time but this time with my forty-pound pack. I had renewed appreciation for the June hike up the road as I was driving my car trying to squeeze by others on the narrow winding street. Since I only day hiked the trail on the first outing leaving my friends to their backpacking adventure, I trekked up the empty road by myself on the way out stopping in the middle of the pavement at my leisure to take pictures of wildflowers, wildlife, and scenery or simply just catch my breath. Not one car or bus.

This time, on the drive out, the line to get on the road at the pay booth entrance near Minaret Overlook was a mile long. I do not think I exaggerate the distance. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get outside in the wilderness on a beautiful 4th of July day, but that long of a wait and only to discover that you might not be able to park anyway would just suck the joy out of the experience.

On the first trip, I was able to get a hotel room, but restaurants only offered carryout or drive-through service. Bars and basically anything with a hint of a gathering was closed. This time, the hotel didn’t offer breakfast or coffee and the amenities were handed to me in a plastic bag when I checked in. The restaurants and even bars are open again under the weird rule that I’m only mildly comfortable with, you don’t have to wear a mask at your table but you have to wear it everywhere else. Of course, it’s the same everywhere in California. Outside is better than inside. Open is better closed. Distance is better than closeness. If you have to be indoors, good air circulation preferably with filtering would seem to be the option of last resort. It seems oddly weird to watch people sit indoors with a bunch of other people in the midst of the pandemic while hikers pull their masks up over their noses as you pass on the trail.

Ewok

The forecast for this trip was abundant sunshine with overnight lows in the upper 30s and lower 40s. So, sans the threat of daytime rain and overnight temperatures in the teens, I ventured into the wilderness with my forty-pound backpack, which is eight pounds more than the recommended maximum of 20% of body weight. I could have gone a little bit lighter on the clothes but not much. When I packed for this trip, I ditched my rain jacket for an emergency poncho knowing the forecast for intense sunlight, so I saved weight there. I don’t own a lightweight jacket so I compensated by carrying a couple of long-sleeve shirts. I could possibly lose a little weight there. I definitely should have left the crampons behind since we never had to negotiate any ice packs. I took two camera bodies instead of one so I didn’t have to change lenses every time I shifted from a closeup to a scenery shot. The camera body is light, the wide-angle and telephoto lenses are heavy. I took a lightweight fold-out chair which was really nice to have but not necessary. Camera equipment is heavy but when your mission is to take the best possible pictures, good equipment is not something you want to leave behind. I should have carried a first-aid kit, but didn’t. I really liked having my life straw, a water bottle with a built-in filter that I used to fill up at a stream whenever I needed to instead of stopping to put together a filtration unit. If there is a next time, I will work harder to get the weight down.

The things that worry me the most are not the expected problems of high altitude and fatigue but the structural pains such as a sharp pain in the knee and excessive hip pain especially on the downhills under the straining weight of the pack. But all-in-all, this old body protested but did not crumble.

For the record, the trip was three days and two nights long. We hiked ten miles to Thousand Islands Lake on the Riverside Trail doing some back and forth once we arrived to pile on extra mileage. We hiked two-plus miles to Garnet lake reaching the highest elevation of 10,400 feet. Both lakes are at 9,800 feet in elevation. And then the seven-plus miles back to Agnes Meadows.

Garnet Lake under Full Moon

On the success of the mission from a photographic point of view, I will leave that to your judgment. We didn’t get any clouds, which as long as they don’t obscure the subject matter of interest, add significantly to the drama of the composition. We didn’t time the night pictures very well. If we had woken up at three-thirty instead of two-thirty, we might have had a full moon over the mountain and its reflection in the water. Then again, the incredible glow of the full moon presents all kinds of challenges for night photography. For one, it rules out capturing the Milky Way as a backdrop to the mountains. All-in-all, I’m very happy with my pics, at least until I see the other guys. The fun thing about traveling with a purpose, in this case attempting to take great photos of incredibly scenic backcountry, is that you end doing odd things that you wouldn’t otherwise do, like get up at two-thirty in the morning for shots of the night sky and then again at five to take pictures of the mountains in the sunrise. Or walking up and down the same shoreline over and over or climbing high up on the rocks looking for that perfect composition. It’s great traveling with experts because they have a great sense of composition and great command of the technology. If they allow it, I will share their links here.

GoldenStar

On the success of the mission from a nature point of view, I would claim a resounding victory. You can find beauty and intrigue in the large and the small and everything in between. Aside from the mosquitos, which can be a complete nightmare if you don’t bring repellent and even some mesh, the beauty of the water and the mountains is amazing and a picture can only begin to give you the feel of the immensity. The wildflowers are in full display. Mountain wildflowers tend to be smaller than their lower elevation equivalents. You have to look harder, but if you take the time to look, they are everywhere and of surprising variety. The insects are also everywhere too busy flitting from flower to flower and buzzing about doing whatever it is that they do. Be sure to check out the proboscis on that fly/bee insect in the photo. I was lucky enough to get a shot of one at work on the long narrow tubes of purplish flower. Regrettably, the one interesting mushroom I found growing under a pine tree, which resembled a hot-cross bun, didn’t turn out.

On the success of the mission from a spiritual point of view, perhaps the most important aspect of the trip, three days really isn’t long enough to truly disconnect but only to feel a vague uneasiness that those things, coffee, alcohol, and connection to people and news, aren’t there and to notice that your world goes on even inside your little nature bubble. Or is the bubble the other way around? I did leave a little something of myself behind, buried under a couple of inches of dirt and covered with rocks. Hey. Don’t laugh. Making do without modern amenities is part of the spiritual experience.

I don’t know on what other criteria you would judge a trip, but I would judge it a success. The thing that made me go back to Ansel Adams was my abortive first attempt. The things that will keep me going back is the wind whistling through the pines, a curious yet afraid marmot, and the raw beauty of a peak towering glacier-covered three-thousand feet beyond a lake full of jumping trout. The thing that will keep me from going back is the body. I’m not sure it’s up to it anymore.

Here are the pics. I hope you enjoy them. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1jCExUnmEMIIQO2Wz47l2KiZGCYReKc3P?usp=sharing

An Unexpected Pleasure

I went to Lake Hodges North Shore, an area that I’ve hiked numerous times before so I am pretty familiar with the trails. After hiking the road for about a mile to the boat ramp parking from the east side, I decided on a new trail at the southeast corner of the lot. I figure it would parallel the main trail and probably join back in so I could do a loop returning on the main trail. I started hiking the trail and then it unexpectedly turned south and headed up the hill instead of staying east. Normally, I would think a spur trail would lead to a street or something but there are no streets in that direction, only lake. It looked like the trail led to an overlook and view of Hodges I have never seen before.

I had my turnback timer set for half an hour so I could keep my end of the day hike to an hour or so to finished before sunset. My turnback timer expired, but I was only a few minutes from the top so I continued. When I summited, I stopped there for some pics but the trail led on. I got the thought that maybe the trail doubles back around the hill and along the shoreline, but it could just as easily have dead-ended. I saw plenty of tire tracks and footprints, too many I think for an obscure out and back trail, but I hadn’t seen another person from the time I set foot on the trail. The sun was already dipping behind clouds over the hills to the west but I took the gamble and the gamble paid off. The trail looped back around the hilltop following the shoreline. I found the trail exit at the southeast corner of the parking lot just beyond the large boat ramp. I started the hike with expectations of dullness and ended up with a little adventure. It’s an unexpected pleasure to find something different in each outing.

Note: Here is the link to a few pics from several training hikes spanning Blue Sky, Lake Hodges, and Bernardo Peak of my unexpected little pleasures on each hike. See https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1fe_aaIGs6lIdSr45Kvnmm6WLY3zGPj9j?usp=sharing

All these hikes were part of training for a chance at redemption from my aborted backpacking trip. If you want to follow the thread, start at http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/06/07/backed-out-in-the-outback/ Then read this one. Then http://www.thetembo.com/clip/2020/07/05/redemption/

Note: Pictures from the particular hike described look rather blue including the feature image. I did not use a blue filter, rather I took indoor pictures the night before and set the white balance to neon lighting. I forgot to turn it back, so in a few of the exposures, you are viewing a neon lit world.

Daley Ranch 3

This is my third trip to Daley Ranch in the last two weeks. In the previous two outings, I started at the lesser-known Southeast and Northwest entrances. For the sake of completeness, for this hike, I started at the main park entrance of Daley Ranch. Not unexpectedly, the lot was jampacked with cars and people. The main road to the ranch is a paved road, loaded with kids in strollers and mountain bikes screaming down steep hills. I wear a mask as people pass but then usually remove it. It fogs up my sunglasses and I’m flying blind with both the mask and the sunglasses on. After one lady passes and I take off my mask, I can smell her perfume. If I can smell her perfume, can I smell her COVID?

I figured since I took plenty of pics on the previous two hikes, this hike would be more of a training hike than a picture-taking hike, but I am always prepared. It’s about a mile hike to the ranch, which has some nice rustic buildings. If you follow the link to the pictures, the machinery is a grain planter. I took the liberty of photoshopping out the big white sign on the other side of it. The barn has some beautiful colors that contrast nicely with the soft green background. I took another liberty in photoshopping out a bright incandescent light hanging out over the barn door.

The very straight “Jack Creek Meadow Loop” trail leads north away from the exhibits for about a mile and a half. The trail tracks a gas pipeline through a meadow. The meadow is patched with invasive mustards, wild radishes, hemlocks, and dried-out grasses but also includes oaks and elderberries. I chanced upon a gliding hawk and had only a second to set the camera’s speed settings and snap off a couple of shots. With birds I find, you take what you can as fast as you can take it. Plants don’t tend to get away as fast. Patches of whites and yellow-greens and browns abound, but I just can’t find a good composition in the chaos. I tried with one elderberry but ended up using a software filter to make it stand out against its background.

The path doubles back to follow a power line that also cuts through the heart of the park. The birds are a little more cooperative today. I catch a few in-flight or starting to fly away. The one with the chainmail breastplate I have never seen before and I can’t find it in the bird books. I catch another bird with its outstretched wings launching it for takeoff, it reminds me of Japanese ladies waving their fans covering most of their faces.

Just before the trail returns to the ranch, I veer off on to Sage trail. The vegetation changes to chaparral in a short but steep climb. I find a patch of spineflower, which makes for an interesting composition of red spineflowers, green shrubs, and brown grasses and rocks. I zeked it in the final presentation to test out the filters and because it looks more interesting. The bugs were cooperative too. The velvet ant didn’t turn out well enough to save but the dragonflies at Mallard lake more than made up for it. Both the blue and orange ones perched patiently on bushes right in front of me. I went black and white with a black and white butterfly. I think it shows up better against the rather oddly contrasting lime-green flowers of the mustard plant.

I cut around the backside of Mallard Lake through the chaparral tunnels on Diamondback Trail and the more open “Coyote Run.” I lost whatever cloud cover I had so I finished up returning to the main entrance via “Creek Crossing.” There is a creek crossing and it is rather pretty but hard to get a coherent shot through all the underbrush.

Pictures are here. They are mixed in with the two prior trips so you can see all of my Daley Ranch efforts in one viewing. I hope you enjoy them.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1u6rWJyldXdskA8MigRMbM9DR3KcL8yfI

Daley Ranch Addendum

In the interest of training, I decided to hike more of Daley Ranch. I hit the east entrance to Stanley Peak in the previous post. In this one, I circumnavigate Burnt Mountain. And if I stay healthy, in the next one, I will use the popular South entrance.

I started from the Northwest corner of the park for a 4.5-mile hike loop trail down Cougar Ridge and Engleman Oak. I’m sure this is the most obscure entrance, if for no other reason than I had to drive a mile or so of unpaved road to get to it and the fact that for the first two hours of the hike, I didn’t see another hiker. Only when I looped back onto Cougar Ridge towards the end of the hike, did I run across a few hikers and bikers more sensibly starting out the hike at the end of the day.

The Cougar Ridge trail is a dusty truck trail that dips in and out of the shade of oaks. A modest stream still parallels and even crosses the trail at one point, taking no more than a large step to cross. Most of the elevation gain of the hike is in the half-mile ascent to its intersection with the Engleman Oak trail.

The Engleman Oak trail was a pleasant discovery. The west trailhead has a small pond starting to show signs of drying but very much alive with dragonflies, frogs, and ducks. It’s a single-track trail with surprising views of Palomar mountains as it parallels Pauma Valley to the North.

A few pictures have been added to the original set.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1u6rWJyldXdskA8MigRMbM9DR3KcL8yfI?usp=sharing

P.S. If you have a caption for the feature image, let me know. I kind of think of it as a guy that “Gives a Flying F**k”

Stanley Peak

As part of my training for the Sierra’s, I thought it prudent to do some hiking with a little elevation gain to it. So I tackled Stanley Peak in Daley Ranch. From the parking lot to peak is about a thousand feet of elevation gain over the course of three and a half or so miles.

I started about three o’clock in the heat of the day in jeans, a good choice for trails with overgrown vegetation and the later hike in the shade, but not so great starting out. The spring bloom is still on full display with flowers showing every shade of red and purple that I could imagine. (Maybe there’s a book/movie in that? The colors red and purple.) The air smells of spice and the fields hum with the tinnitus of bees, particularly around the swaths of deerweed. When deerweed and buckwheat flower, the bloom is coming to its last phase before drying into the brownness of summer. Plenty of lizards scurrying along the way. A buckeye butterfly stopped to take a look at me. When I summit at Stanley Peak, I share the view with a Granite Spiny Lizard, which I think is better described as a scaly rainbow on four legs.

Horses, bikers, and hikers are all out today but I don’t think too many people use the Caballo trail entrance. A couple of guys ask me if this is an access to Dixon Lake. Not the way they are headed, down to the parking lot from which I just came. A few people have masks, a few people don’t. I wear mine so I can stick my tongue out at them without them seeing (jk).

I think we can come up with some better words for a collection of hikers than just hikers. On a single-track trail, from a distance, hikers that stick together on the twists and turns, especially those with walking poles, remind me of a centipede. A centipede of hikers? On wider trails, they tend to cluster in a ball and take up the width of the trail. A clot of hikers? On the way back and in the shadow of the hillside, many of the flowers I saw on the way up have closed up for the night, curling up like a wrung-out towel. It makes me wonder if they have any kind of awareness. There is nothing to prove that the electric pulse of a neuron is the only thing that generates consciousness. Anyway, photos and strange thoughts are how I pass the time on the trail.

My only scary moment on this hike is when I think I lose my glasses. In all fairness to me, when I see a photo opp, I move my sunglasses to the top of my hat. When a hawk flies overhead, I don’t have time. When I go to place my sunglasses back over my eyes, they aren’t on the top of my hat. I start looking on the ground thinking I may have dropped them before I realize they are still on my eyes. God, I fear for my brain.

Here are the pics. I hope you enjoy them.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1u6rWJyldXdskA8MigRMbM9DR3KcL8yfI

Get Fit! Get Smart!

I was just invited to go on a two-night photographic backpacking trip to Ansel Adams wilderness. With basketball and walking the dogs, I’m usually in pretty good shape and can just pick up and go without any extra training. But the last two months have killed the basketball and the dogs are slowing down limiting the walks from any distance. So, I chose the Del Mar hike of six miles, previously blogged here, http://www.thetembo.com/clip/?s=del+mar+triangle

The hike starts at the Torrey Pines Extension near Del Mar Highlands school. I figured the short cut through the schoolyard would be closed off, and I know there is a trail in the extension that stays on the south side, but I wasn’t sure where to pick it up at. I parked at a spot with a lot of other unoccupied, parked cars thinking maybe it was the access point I was looking for. It wasn’t. I walked around to another spot where I saw a trail going through a grove of Torrey Pines.

My first clue that this was a bad idea was the “No Public Access” sign that I ignored. My second clue was the sleeping bags laid out under a tree about a quarter-mile in. Still, I pushed on until the worn path ended but I saw a wooden bridge that I recognized as part of the trail that I was looking for. My third clue was the bushwacking I had to do get to it, paying the price with legs and arms full of scratches. My fourth clue was the twenty-foot bridge had a two-foot gap so I had to jump to get on to it and another two-foot gap on the other side so I had to jump to get off of it. My fifth clue was the tree that had fallen across the path so I had to bushwack around that. Finally, I found myself back on the main trail and hiked to the entrance at the bottom. My sixth clue was the fence I had to hop around to get out of the reserve with big signs on the other side saying “No Entrance. Park Closed.” Obviously, I’m not one to give up easily on a bad idea. I’m glad I did this part of the hike first because it would have sucked to come to the fence at the other side and discovered I had to walk around probably adding two miles or more to the hike.

The parking lot at Torrey Pines State Beach is closed but the beach is alive and well. As long as you are moving, you can hang out on the beach. No laying down towels and having little parties. I walked the stretch from North Torrey Pines Beach to the south side of the San Dieguito River. The beach is covered in a foul foam, my guess is that perhaps it is residue from the red tide, but I’m not sure. It’s a beautiful cloudless day and the low tide opens up the beach. I can’t blame so many people for being out. I didn’t have any trouble negotiating a path through the throngs at a safe distance, even at the most crowded point near Powerhouse Park in Del Mar. I only had one incident where a child ran by just missing me and the mom said so I could hear it, “Be careful sweetie, you have to watch out for the man because he isn’t looking where he is going.” (Not to pass judgment, but f**k her.)

I do this segment of the hike barefoot, walking in the very shallow surf, jumping over the nasty foam as the waves push it in and back out again. Brown Pelicans soar overhead taking advantage of the north-to-south wind. A woman in a thong bikini bends over in front of me to pick up a shell at an angle that makes it look like she is not wearing anything. The only thought that passes through my head is that I’m sure they are worn for comfort and not for show.

At the race track, I take the path along the south side of the river passing the lagoon and then over the train tracks, watching terns patrol the waters and kids fishing on its banks. I cross Jimmy Durante road at the Viewpoint Brewery company, which is open for takeout but not for sit down. There is a nature trail that leads to an observation pier. At low tide, fiddler crabs infest the exposed mud banks. They seem to keep a proper social distance from one another. I watch one do a little sidestep, lifting its big claw into the air, take a step to the left as if pulling itself along on an invisible rope, and stop. It repeated this movement several times. The whole mudflat was alive with the incomprehensible social signals of the asymmetric crabs.

I then followed the river road to the Crest Canyon North entrance. The Crest Canyon North entrance is fenced off for construction with nothing but heavy equipment and yellow trucks on the other side. I ask a lady walking by on the road if she knows of another access point. She thinks there is a path in the pines ahead but she offers that I can probably just go through the site by walking around the fence. She tells me, “It would be a little adventure.” I take her up on her offer, but I’m not sure it’s such a good idea. My first clue is that I have to breach a fence by squeezing through two sections and past the signs that say “Warning. Danger. Do Not Enter.” Clearly, these signs are more guidelines than rules. On the other side, is a yellow front loading shovel truck of the Caterpillar variety. My second clue that this wasn’t such a good idea is a second fence perpendicular to the trail. I find a spot where I can belly crawl under and do so. Based on my observation of a large section of rusted out pipe, it looks like they are digging out old sewer pipes that must have run down the length of the canyon. My third clue is the third fence. I part the makeshift gate slightly to squeeze through. My fourth clue is the fourth fence. This one I have climb over the top. It’s not staked into the ground so it is a little bit flimsy as I negotiate over the top and then leap to the ground. The whole thing reminds me of the different gates that Maxwell Smart had to negotiate to get into Control at the start of every “Get Smart!” episode. Lesson learned, never trust random ladies on the hiking trail.

The final stretch of the trail gets me back to Durango and back to my car. The highlights of this trip are not getting fined, arrested, or injured in a canyon with no other hikers for help. Oh yeah, and that girl back on the beach. I won’t be recommending this trail anytime soon, as for the moment, a good chunk of it is not actually a trail. Eight miles, twenty-seven floors, and some discomforts of age. A lot of work to do to be ready for the Sierras.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1lBTSqD144AoMMV_J95_4K2f6pc1dJGft

San Elijo Lagoon

The weather has cooled off and the coastal clouds are back. It rained earlier in the morning at least for a little bit. So what to do on a mom’s day? Take a hike.

I decided on San Elijo lagoon starting at the La Orilla entrance on El Camino Real on the preserve’s east side. Since its a single track trail, I donned my mask for COVID safety. The east end trail is swampy. Wild grapes and parsley grow under a canopy of oaks and eucalyptus and willows. The first quarter of a mile or so has a jungle feel to it but quickly opens up into chaparral.

On this day, the lagoon still has a San Diego spring feel to it. Everything is in bloom even after the week of heat. Black mustard dominates with its sweeps of yellow-green flowers but there are lupes, primroses, phacelia, popcorn flowers, wild peas, thistles, mallows, prickly pears, and paintbrush to name a few. The late bloomers like cactus and buckwheat are starting in and the black mustard is man height signaling the beginning of the end of the spring flourish. The brief morning rain left its mark on flowers and spider webs while the thick clouds made for great hiking weather and muted pics.

The path under the I-5 is under construction so I didn’t get quite as far as I intended. Also, the trail that cuts across the river from the south side trail to the Manchester access on the east side of five is fenced off and blocked by an impassable river crossing. It usually is a great spot for bird watching and picture taking. I found a mother leader her ducklings, a suitable image for a mother’s day. I also managed to get a pic of a fish leaping out of the water, usually not an easy task unless there is a hook in its mouth. The fish were jumping everywhere so it was just a matter of a few snaps over a couple of minutes before I was lucky enough to get one at the apex of its leap.

Baby Diamondback

I elected to drive around to the west part of the reserve to do the short hike on the Nature Trail. It too is undergoing some construction but I was able to do most of the short trail. My reward for the effort was a nice set of close-up bird pics. A night heron wasn’t intimidated by my close approach on the trail. A brownish duck paddled by in the lagoon sounding more like a croaking frog than a quacking duck. I found a covey of sleeping ducks while nearly walking over a baby diamondback rattler pointed out to me by hikers coming from the other direction. Its a quick trail but the closeup with nature made it well worth the effort.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=17o8ctUub0-qc8E39W9VB9UJleq6WaLO6

The Fungus is Among Us

With all the rain in San Diego over the last couple of weeks, the fungus is among us. I have plenty of pictures to prove it, which of course I will share with you, whether you like it or not. Judge for yourself, whether you think they are as photogenic as I do.

The many forms of the fruit are as interesting to find and to photograph as it is to contemplate the underground life of the mycelium, each organism growing to discover its particular culture of symbionts and competitors, limited in size only by the geography of nutrients and underground structures.

Mushrooms close the loop on nutrient cycles and are far more capable than we of turning waste streams into the gift streams that keep all plant and animal life alive, a task we should and sometimes do literally partner with them on, and metaphorically, we could strive to achieve.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1n6CET976wwpSd9oL0DC84Pb3yrUEHnnf

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Stupid is as stupid does. I canceled my trip to South Korea when the CDC issued a level 3 warning. I did not cancel my side trip to the Philippines, which at the time had no warning level issued. By the time of my flight, a couple of cases had been reported in the Philippines. It wouldn’t be the first time I hiked in a forest in a 50 mph wind and besides, what’s one or two cases? Well, there is a reason things are said to go “viral”. The unchecked spread is exponential in a new population. Stupid is.

Before the trip, I searched through stores and tried to order masks and sanitizers online weeks ahead of time. The stores were wiped out and everything online was out of stock. I ordered masks reported as “in stock”. They have yet to arrive one week after my trip. I even looked for isopropyl alcohol and aloe gel without success in a vain attempt to roll my own. Just before the trip, I found one lone bottle of sanitizer in the travel section of a local supermarket where things are sold in travel size bottles. It turns out the bottle was an ounce over allowed size and I had to “surrender” it to TSA and the garbage. Stupid is. I should have checked instead of assumed so it is on me. But f**k that store, too for putting oversized containers in the travel section with all the correctly portioned out soaps, shampoos, and lotions. I ate seafood at the seafood market in Boracay: the two table restaurant with mismatched table cloths that cooked my fresh seafood meal had hand sanitizer for customer use. How come I can’t get any? For the most part, it was easy to find a hand sanitizing dispenser in every airport I set foot in. I thank the few people that squeezed a little sanitizer into my hands.

On the upside of travel in the time of the pandemic, I have an upgrade to first class. Not really, but when I get four seats to myself on a fourteen-hour flight, with the four blankets I get, I basically have a mattress and a bed. I slept a good (not quite solid) ten hours. First class ticket at steerage prices. On the downside of travel in the time of the pandemic, I have someone point a thermometer at my head getting on and off of every airplane. The mall and the hotel in Manila test temperature. Everyone has a temperature gun. Of one thing I am absolutely sure, I do not have a fever.

For the people I met and talked to, the coronavirus is the elephant in the room. I met two Brits that came from South Korea over a week ago, the trip that I canceled. They told me everything is deserted and shut down. They report the Hanok village was empty and the railway deserted. Half the fun of a Hanok village is watching people in costume walking around, so that seems like a bust. Effortless travel seems like an upside. The couple seemed rather animated and excited to talk to me, from which I infer that interaction, in general, is a rare commodity. Half the point of travel is to interact with people from different places. We want to connect with people, even if only briefly, not to distance ourselves from them, although, I might be old fashioned on this point. A group of people that look like they are together sit in a beach facing restaurant window on the same bench, each one looking down at their cell phones instead of at the beach or each other or at me. I see a number of women walking with their boyfriends on facetime. Is never-ending virtual contact what we want? I shudder at the thought. It’s tempting to wave over their shoulders to destroy their illusion of privacy. I wonder why they even travel. My scuba diving buddy is also from Korea from the same suburb Max is hiding out in, a young kid taking advantage of his closed university. If my choices are scuba diving in Borocay or listening to lectures at school, I know which one I would pick.

Everyone is wearing face masks except myself of course. (It’s really more like 75%). In LAX, a platoon of flight attendants and pilots walk by like a marching army in blue face masks. The facemask worn by a little girl riding on her dad’s shoulders looks cute. Another crying restrained toddler tries to vigorously shake the mask off without success. From my online reading, I have a hard time figuring out if the masks are actually any good. If they don’t have filters, particles get through. And you have to take the mask off for a selfie anyway or so I observe on numerous occasions. Personally, I miss seeing people’s faces. I miss seeing the pretty faces of women. I wonder if a prehistoric man had a similar thought after skirts and shorts were invented. What fun is people watching if they all have blue mask covered faces, or worse, those garish masks with gritting teeth painted over them? And how far off are hazmat travel suits? Are we turning the world into a giant condom?

In the course of a few days, the situation in the Philippines and the world is changing drastically. Images of street spraying come on the local news; I read an article from Forbes trying to explain the hoarding of toilet paper; more news in the NY Times of a tax holiday for working people. A pretense at being proactive; panic; using an event to facilitate an old agenda. Stupid does.

I watch on the local news as Duerte makes the command decision to shut down the Philippines. Containment. The island of Borocay will shut down on the 15th. Domestic flight travel is going to be suspended on the 15th. I’m lucky. My flight out is on the 14th but it also means I will be joined by thousands of people forced off the island trying to reschedule and rebook their flights. I have plenty of fear that I will be trapped. Any of a dozen things could go wrong: I won’t make it past a temperature sensor; someone on board will be reported with the virus; the flight will be canceled at the last second; I won’t make it off the island; god forbid I actually catch the virus. God help me if I sneeze. I have images in my head of getting gang tackled to the ground by a pack of zombie medical enforcers who cart me off to quarantine.

I’ve been warned by Risa from Leyte to get off the island early. At 4:30 in the morning in front of the hotel waiting for the ride to the ferry port, the hotel security guard escorts me to the trikes while a woman sweeping the sand path with a bundle of wooden sticks listens to the Eagles sing, “…we are all just prisoners here, of our own device…”. How appropriate. Stupid is.

I am at the ferry port in time for its 5 a.m. opening. I have to wait for a couple of ferries to come and go but the wait is not too bad with a boat leaving every 5 minutes. I’m glad I didn’t wait until later. I meet a couple from Stockton and a man from Germany dealing with the pain of rebooking a flight. They were scheduled to leave a couple of days later. I have images of the helicopter leaving the American Embassy in Vietnam in 1975 (yes I’m that old); of people jumping off the Titanic as its propellers are lofted into the air. In reality, the airport is crowded but I think everyone is in a quiet panic not quite an emergency panic.

So many steps. So much processing. Get to the port. Wait. Get off the island and catch a trike to the airport. Wait. Catch the flight to Manila. Get to the other terminal and re-enter getting past more temperature sensors. Wait. Get onboard the flight to Taipei. Wait. And again, get to the U.S. and into the U.S. In the U.S., one of the last trips for British Airways to the U.S. offloads. The Brits are all routed to further testing by the CDC. CDC employees donned in goggles and surgical masks and plastic faceplates await them. I use a hastily downloaded “Mobile Pass” to bypass an hour of lines. I thank the attendant there for the tip.

And finally, home, where I will self-quarantine for the next fourteen days waiting to live, waiting to die. (Sorry, couldn’t help borrow a melodramatic line from Titanic.) Hunkering down even though I’m not actually sure when I am hunkering and when I am not. Socially distancing myself as if that were anything new for me. Now I have an excuse. Plenty of time to contemplate the fragility and interconnectedness of the economy and supply chains and health of the world. Wondering if this is the way of things until a vaccine is distributed, maybe a year from now?

Sights of Philippines

Odds and Ends watched from the long ride to and from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back.

  • a grey dog sitting on a pile of roadside scree staring off into the distance
  • a family living under a blue tarp in a gulley beneath the road
  • white egrets working squared off flat-flooded plots of land with water buffalo, one egret standing on the back of a laying buffalo
  • cattle egrets. Did they get their name because they hang around cattle or because it looks like a cattle just crapped on their head?
  • a man sweeping the road of construction gravel in the rain with a witches broom
  • a token mango seed weevil inspection of the van that any even mildly crafty weevil could have breached
  • a boy riding his roadside grazing water buffalo
  • people standing in line waiting to vote at the local school
  • a painting of the landscape photo I wanted to take of the El Nido sunset descending over the ocean between two islands
  • an outdoor basketball court with wooden backboards and dirt grass court
  • jungle jungle jungle
  • banana trees and sugar cane fields, some of the sugar cane fields smoldering back to the black ground
  • jack fruit and stunted bananas at a thatched roadside stand
  • sales children offering packets of coconut vinegar
  • a karst tower rising out of the flat ground
  • a woman parasailing on the back of a scooter with a white spotted purple umbrella
  • a painting at the seafood grill of kids playing together with the caption that says “I’m glad I grew up before technology took over.”

And the pics that I actually did take.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Y8dkaUD7xL3BQJs2FPIYZWmEwPpNTZaO

All works are original work of the authors subject to Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licensing.

On a sad note, I lost my Nikon 3400 camera to a wet bag. It was supposed to be a dry bag and I wanted some pictures of a very beautiful hidden beach but it didn’t survive the swim over. While not entirely pleased with the loss, I take it as a message from the universe to always respect and enjoy the moment, it’s the only way to really hold it forever.