A foot on the Mayan Soil

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Most of the people going to Cancun, Mexico book an all-inclusive resort in Zona Hoteleria (Hotel Zone) and chill there for the entire vacation. It’s a great deal where you pay everything upfront and then there’s unlimited food, liquor, beach and sun waiting for you. Getting away from cold in the months of December is just an excuse for the people from New England. In reality, it is the infinite Tequila waiting for them! But, spoiler alert : Hotel Zone is just another American city inside Mexico. You will get every single thing which can get in big cities in the US. They have malls, factory outlets, Starbucks and Panera Breads, and everything else except the real Mexican flavor. Staying in the zone is like staying in the US. It is not Mexico!

Jpeg

Resort in the hotel zone

Our goal is to experience the local beauty and hence we avoided the hotel zone. Our resort (still all inclusive) was outside the hotel zone. The resort had a private beach, open bars, unlimited liquor and a wide variety of cuisines. All these resorts have various tour company outlet stations to help you book local tours. Usually these are shit expensive. Actually everything is shit expensive because the locals know the incoming tourists are Americans with dollars. And to top it off there is no free wifi in any resort. You can buy it which is expensive, or decide not to check your emails and have a great time without it. For the first time in several years, I was out of cell phone and internet coverage for full 4 days! The first and last day was hard. First day because this all came up very unexpectedly as I had taken free wifi for granted. I mean, c’mon, even a crappy motel in the US has complimentary breakfast and free wifi. Never thought wifi would be a source of income to Mexicans. And last day because I started visualizing my exploded inbox and resuming work from next day. But in between those days, living without internet was the best part of the adventure.

We rented a car to get around and drive to nearby provinces. This proved to be cheaper. Secondly we look like Hispanics and I had learnt a few Spanish phrases to start a dialogue which helped in some instances. Yes, only in a few instances. Looking like one of their own, when Mexicans started talking colloquial Spanish with us, that too with lightning speed, tab ho gaya doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.

Jpeg

Chichen Itza

We drove to Chechen Itza Mayan ruins. Yeah, the same Mayans which f*ed up in 2012.  Following speed limits is very important in Mexico. The cops will pull you over just so that they can get some green bills under the table. Bargain hard if that happens. Pulling you over for over speeding I think is the best thing that can happen to you while driving. Things can get worse! Chechen Itza is a well-oiled tourist location. If you want time to yourselves, reach the place before 9am. All the local tourist busses start showing up by 10 and it can get super crowded. There are hundreds of local vendors where you can buy souvenirs – masks, skulls, hand crafted articles etc. Beautiful local stuff. Mexicans consider death as a transition of a person from this life into a better one. Hence they celebrate death and have a wide variety of skulls as gift items.

We took the back roads on our way back. Bright sunshine and beautiful rustic landscape through these small Mexicans villages like Xcan, Kaua, Catzin made the drive amazing. Experiencing the local food in the town of Valladolid is encouraged. On our way back we stopped at Xkeken Cenote. Cenotes are something very popular places in Mexico. It is an underground reservoir of water. The natural beauty of such underground Cenotes is just mesmerizing. We were the only ones at Xkeken. Pin drop silence greeted us when we climbed down the cave. The waters were still and so clear that I could see the bottom. After sitting there for a few minutes appreciating the silence of nature, I jumped into the waters while wifey clicked pictures.

Jpeg

Cenote Xkeken

In the next couple days we did snorkeling, swimming and also visited the nearby island Isla Mujares (or the woman island). We sailed on the Catamaran towards Isla Mujares and jumped into the waters in mid ocean to see the oceanic life. The boat captain had some fish food which attracted the local fauna. Isla Mujares is known for its clear turquoise waters. Playa Norte (the north beach) is where we docked and got some tan. Being brown I don’t need to get tanned, it is just the American way of saying we chilled on the beach. The island is full of tourists and souvenir shops. But unless you want to spend 8 times more, Mercado 28 is the way to go.

Mercado 28 is the local market in Cancun. For Punekar’s it’s the Tulshi Baug (a very similar local market in Pune jyacha amhala jajwalya abhimaan ahe). Bargaining is the way to go here. We also bought a Mayan mask. The mask has a Mayan ruin, a mayan god and a couple Mayan ritualistic animals carved in stone. Mayan Calendars (carved in wood or stone) was also a good option, but given their 2012 fiasco, I went with the mask.

Overall, Mexican adventure was interesting. Coming from India, it felt similar to home, but frankly cleaner. The same equatorial weather, trees like coconut, papaya, almond, gulmohor, mango, roadside stalls, “yethe puncture kadhun milel” shops, mopeds like Activa, Dio and even cars like Matiz brought back some childhood memories.

——-

Lowdown

1) Must do: Any one Mayan ruin (Chechen Itza, Merida, Coba, Tulum etc). Any one Cenote (Xkeken, Mayas, Suy Tum), Snorkeling, Scuba diving, Isla Mujares, Tulum. Daily tours are available to all these places. Driving your own vehicle can be cheaper. Xcaret is a theme park which is amazing but very expensive.

2) Car rental is cheap, but mandatory car insurance is expensive. We paid $40/ day when car rental was $2/day. Rest was insurance.

3) Gas is very expensive. It is almost $4/gal. Tolls are unrealistic. One way toll for go to Chechen Itza from Cancun was $20.

4) Cash (in $ or pesos) is accepted everywhere. But things are overpriced. Bargain hard

5) Take foreign currency from you bank well before travel. Exchange rates at airports are not favorable, exchange rates in Mexico are random.

6) Water is very bad. Drink only bottled water. Avoid ice.

7) Although it is a different country, Delta charges $25/bag for checking in bags. Travel to Mexico is considered “domestic” in that sense. Valid US visa holders do not need Mexican visa to travel for a few days.

8) Stay away from timeshares. Stay away from all sorts of people who would approach you with “we have selected you for…” or “you are getting a complimentary day pass for…” or “your name came up in a lucky draw..” etc

Colorado II : The Land of Ute’s

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Maroon bells was on the cards for day 3. It is that place which is on every single Colorado postcard. Slow clad peaks on the backdrop of a scenic, crystal clear lake is supposedly a treat to everyone’s eyes. We planned to spend a day there and then drive to Colorado springs. It is a four hour drive which we had decided to do at the night.

We started early.  After handing over $10 to the ranger at the entrance and coming across some Llamas and sheep on the way, we reached the point only to realize that it was a complete flop show. Fall was over, trees had shed leaves, lake was shrunken and the snow clad peaks were not impressive. We kept wondering why we wasted $10 and how were we going to spend the rest of the day. As there was nothing else to do there, we decided we would rather reach C-Springs early and spend an evening there. And thus we started that four hour journey which in retrospect turned out to be the highlight of the entire trip!

dsc_0264-min

The road to C-springs goes via the independence pass crossing the White River National Forest. The Independence pass was an unexpected delight. The one lane road climbs the the mountains passing the abandoned dwellings of the Ute tribe. Ute tribes are one of the first Spanish settlers in Colorado and once had a major presence there. We happened to witness a “song in the making” in the craziest circumstances possible. Barry Sparks, a guitarist, was on a top of a snowy peak with his guitar recording for his upcoming Christmas album while his wife and kids waited at the roadside where we had pulled over. Curious about this whole thing we took a few pictures and chatted with his wife while she waited for her man.

The journey through the pass started with sunny surroundings. Then it started raining. As we reached the peak, we got to experience a snow blizzard. The snow petered out turned into rain as we started descending and finally it was again sunny at the other side of the pass in Buena Vista. It would have been a total nightmare had we done this at night as planned before. Experiencing all seasons in this one road trip was amazing. The road from Buena Vista to C-springs goes via middle of nowhere. Driving on miles and miles of straight road with acres of nothing on both sides will be checked off my bucket list.

dsc_0294-min

Buena Vista

The final day was busy. Early morning we visited garden of gods. This is a garden having groups of massive rock formations. The peaks of these rocks disappeared in the clouds as if it is a path to heaven. Next visit was at the Manitou cliff dwellings. Preserved under red sandstone overhang, these Anasazi cliff dwellings were built more than 700 years ago. It was interesting to see two bedroom houses carved in the rocks by these ancient tribes. The Grand Mesa national park has more of such original dwellings.

dsc_0331-min

Anasazi cliff dwellings

dsc_0319-min

The path to Heaven – Garden of Gods

Our plan was to visit the Pikes peak. It was cloudy in the town and hence we were contemplating about going up. We took our chance and surprisingly at the summit it was extremely clear and sunny . Pikes peak forms a stunning backdrop for C-springs and Garden of Gods with an altitude of 14115 ft above the sea level. We drove up to the top, spent some time there and came back… we did not get “This car climbed Pikes Peak” sticker :/

dsc_0366-min

From the top of Pikes Peak

After doing Rocky mountains, colorado national monument, maroon bells, independence pass, garden of gods, pikes peak and cliff dwellings, the last leg for the trip was the icing on the cake. A delicious Paav Bhaaji at Kaustubh’s place and lots of Marathi gappa reviving the good old college days!

The trip was worth it!

Colorado Part I : The color “RED”

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We always wanted to visit the beautiful mountainous state of Colorado. Colorado is a Spanish word for the color Red! This Columbus day, we finally embarked on our vacation which turned out to be an exciting journey experiencing all four seasons on a 1000+ mile drive across four different national parks.

Jpeg

A well fed wife is always a happy wife! Keeping this mantra in mind, we had packed sandwiches for breakfast and also finished our lunch before we entered the Rocky Mountains. This was the Elk mating season and we were hoping to see some Elk action in the meadows but ran out of luck! After several minutes of straining our eyes to catch a glimpse of at least one of them, we decided to leave the Elk’s alone and continued our journey on the Trail Ridge Road across the Rockies. To drive on the Trail Ridge Road is like to leave this world and enter another. It carries you, breathless in wonder and altitude, towards a fragile Alpine realm, the Tundra. We recollected the 6th grade geography lessons about Tundra and Taiga and had a good laugh. The trail ridge drive is very scenic. We stopped at various places to capture the views before finally reaching the Alpine visitor center at the summit. There was a half a mile trail from the summit to experience the effect on thinner air on your body! Half a mile looked like forever and wifey cherished that moment of reaching to the top!

On our way down to Glenwood springs, as we were exiting the Rockies at dusk time, there was a treat waiting for us! All of a sudden an Elk jumped out from the woods in front of us. Panicked, we pulled over and waited patiently till it took its own time to cross the road. Few minutes later, we saw a huge herd of female Elks in a meadow, waiting for their man! We were even fortunate to hear the “mating call” of the male Elk summoning 40-60 females. That satisfied our Elk viewing desire and then we continued to Glenwood Springs.

GPS lady tried to navigate us via an unnamed unpaved 13 mile road in the dark, which was gated! I don’t think I am still at a stage to have that much of a faith on machines and automation and hence decided to take a well defined free way (read this as : this was a road trip with wife sitting besides me and not a group of bachelors)

dsc_0174

The Balanced Rock

Colorado national monument was on next day’s agenda. We started early and drove west to reach the park by noon. Colorado national monument is a treat of magnificent views stretched from sheer walled canyons and towering masses of naturally sculpted rocks due to soil erosion. The huge flat topped mountain is the Grand Mesa and the most famous attraction is the Independence peak. It is mesmerizing to see how water and air can erode huge mountains to create these formations. Colorado national monument is nature at its best!

dsc_0197

The Independence Monument

As we stood staring at the independence monument, wondering how many millions of years nature must have taken to give it it’s current unique shape, we noticed an elderly couple, may be in their 80s, also lingering at the same spot. We overheard the grandpa, dressed in an “english gentleman” ly manner asking his wife if she would like to climb the peak! To which the she chuckled and replied “I was thinking may be on our next visit!” 🙂 Such a cute couple deeply and madly in love even at an age of 80!

dsc_0205

O mere.. dil ke chiaan

Back at Glenwood springs, after having delicious Mexican cuisine at the Tequila’s we decided to spend some quiet moments alongside the colorado river. The Hanging lake trail is a strenuous 1-mile hike up the mountain. It was already dark by the time we reached the base and hence could not make it! It will remain on our bucket list. Polish cuisine for dinner made up for what we missed! After a sumptuous dinner, we cuddled up in bed, getting ready for the next adventure.

Jpeg

Polanka – Polish Cuisine – Expensive, but worth it

How NOT to go about seeing NYC

Tags

, , , , , ,

NYC, the city that never sleeps, city frequently compared with Mumbai and Shanghai, the place which lives and breathes finance and money and yeah.. Where there is the Trump tower! It’s always tricky to be a tourist in such a city where millions of people flock in for the same reason.. Tourism. New York City has something for each type of person. If you are a kind who loves nature, there’s central park, for the kinds who are into museums, there are tons of museums like Natural history and Madame Tussauds. If you are into tall buildings and great views, you have Trump Tower… oops sorry I meant Rockefeller or Empire State. If you like water, you have cruises and if you are from the remaining group, you have an exquisite nightlife and off-the-grid places which I won’t mention here!

So, in short, visiting this city for limited period requires planning. I had visited NYC twice before as a tourist and hence had a lot of confidence in my planning… which in hindsight turned out to be over confidence. Hence, here are some tips for all those of you who will be visiting the city for the first time.

DSC_0039

The Financial District and the Statue of Liberty to the right

 

Be sure who your companion is!

My first mistake was comparing this visit with the other two. The prior visits were with friends, today I had my wife with me! With wifey you need to allot time for romance and cut down time with your camera! With wifey, you need to be at the lunch/dinner places at the right time (with friends, meal is the least important aspect of the trip! ). Having good food at the right time trumps everything else, and wife’s happy! Happy wife, happy life!

 

Start Early and avoid driving if you can.

We woke up on a Saturday and decided to drive down to NYC for the weekend. Big mistake! We started at 8am in the morning from Boston. My wife is into museums and hence had decided to go to Natural History museum on Saturday and rest of NYC on Sunday. GPS said 3 hrs so my calculation gave us 6 hrs in the museum before it closed. Plenty of time huh?! Yes, but just on paper. Tackling food, traffic, wrong turns and time spent to find parking, we reached the museum at 2pm just to stand in an hour long line for tickets. So effectively we got to see the museum for just 2 hrs before we were kicked out. That evening we headed to central park, spent some nice moments and headed back to the place where we had planned to stay.

So, plan ahead, start early and to make most out of your visit, make sure you are on the streets of NYC by 8am. If you end up driving, there is tons of parking in uptown Manhattan and oh yes.. tickets to Natural History are a donation.. meaning you can pay “whatever you like”

DSC_0056-min

At Statue of Liberty

Long Weekend + Day Pass! AVOID

The next mistake was to get a day pass. This is a $100 pass which gives you admissions to hundreds of attractions. So if you see more than $100 worth of places, you are in business! It had worked before, and hence I assumed it would work this time!  The caveat was that it was a long weekend with huge lines everywhere. This is not a “fast pass” so you still have to stand in line to get tickets. Its just that you don’t have to swipe you credit card, that’s it!

Line to get to the top of empire state was 2 freaking hours, line at Liberty was similar. Half of the fun in visiting any place was gone by just standing in lines and looking at the wrist watch. We then took the hop on hop off bus just so that we could see more in less time. But by the time we finished Empire state and Liberty, it was past 6pm and these busses run only till 6. Of course, after 6, there is extra charge not included in the pass. NYC is designed to empty your pockets! It’s a city of money anyways! So now, we were walking from one place to another and taking subways in between.

P_20160703_112026-min

The Times Square

So, avoid visiting NYC over a long weekend (4th July, 31st dec.. forget it!) and if you do anyways, do not buy a pass! It will be a total waste of money. Pass is a great deal on some odd day not over a long weekend. If you get a pass,  then before starting your day, finalize 6 attractions totaling more than $100 and knock them off first. Then the rest of the day (if you still have some time) is a bonus.

P_20160703_151543-min

The Wall Street

Have plenty of time!

NYC is not a city you can check off your list in two days. So plan accordingly. First time visitors, knock off Empire state, Liberty, 9/11 and Wall Street. You will have all you need for your facebook and snapchat!

If you are going there just for a weekend, plan two to four top attractions from your list and then spend rest of the time on the streets. The streets and subway is where all the fun is. In addition to Manhattan, go to Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx. Absorb the city, eat good food, participate in street performances… after all that’s living life, not standing in line and spending $30 to go to a tall building to look down!

 

Jpeg

The Statue of Liberty

 

 

 

Hiking up Mt. Lafayette

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Appalachian Mountain Club has these huts scattered in the White Mountains, NH, perfect for hikers to stretch their legs after a good strenuous hike. Greenleaf hut is one such hut in the mountains on the way to Mt Lafayette. Raghav had done the booking and we were all set to embark the hike.

DSC_0067 (2)

The Greenleaf hut

After climbing for around 3 hrs we could finally see the hut. We still had a mile to reach the summit, but we decided to take a food break. Raghav had got this awesome hummus which we finished in less than half an hour. Don’t know where he got it from, but boy, that was the best hummus I have ever eaten. After refilling our water bottles we started for the summit.

DSC_0083-min

The Falling Waters Trail

A mile of steep climb and we reach Mt Lafayette. Excellent views were awaiting us. Oh Yes, and thousands of bugs too. This is something we had not prepared for. I would highly recommend a bug spray or some kind of a lotion to keep bugs out. We spent about an hour on the summit. After chit chatting with other hikers we realized that we were the only group that had done such a simple hike! Who comes directly to Mt Lafayette?! Haa.. most of the hikers had reached Lafayette after crossing Mt Liberty, Mt Flume, Little Haystack and Mt Lincoln. Yes, that’s the Franconia ridge trail which is a long hike covering five peaks. That is now on our cards too! One of the hikers was planning to ‘run’ the Pemi loop which is a 31 mile long loop covering multiple mountains. Now that’s intense! People are crazy, but these are the sorts of people from whom I get motivated to go that extra mile in life!

By sunset we reached back to the Greenleaf hut. Kate, the huts caretaker, greeted us and we signed in. The hut provides a fully equipped kitchen and we had supplies to cook food. Maggie (Indian noodles) and Sweet corn soup was our menu.

DSC_0118.JPG

At such places, where a common goal of hiking unites all, people are very considerate. They help, support and also come to the rescue if you are in trouble. The same people who might flip you off on the streets of Boston, would come sit next to you and share their mountain experiences for hours, give you tips and also offer you water/food if you are out of it. Alexis was one such little girl. She might be 10 or 12 years old but volunteered to clean all the dishes that some people had left behind unwashed! Super obedient and quiet Alexis won my heart. I offered her some Maggie and soup.

WhatsApp-Image-20160529 (2)

Alexis (center) taking the oath to preserve nature, from Kate

WhatsApp-Image-20160530 (5)

Dinner

After dining a well-earned dinner, it was the time to celebrate the hike and I took out the ‘good stuff’ along with some shot glasses! It was pitch dark. Me and Raghav were sitting outside, star gazing and drinking Vodka. Suddenly I saw a flash of three lights on the summit. I told Raghav but he flipped me off saying I was drunk! What an asshole! 😛 But after around 15 min, the lights came out again and this time even he saw them. We were super curious to know who was on the summit and what the hell was he doing there. Of course, imaginations took a leap. I was optimistic to see three gorgeous chicks climbing down the summit at midnight and Raghav’s mind was wondering in the supernatural world! But we weren’t sure that whoever that was, had they planned a night hike or was lost?!

The lights were coming towards the hut. We decided to wait and see. Well, I was a bit over optimistic. After about an hour, three male hikers (ofcourse!) reached the hut. We greeted them with applause. These guys had some balls in them! They were hiking for almost 14 hours and had aimed to reach the Galehead hut which is another 6 miles from Lafayette. Pitch darkness had forced them to change their path and take a break at Greenleaf hut instead. The hut was full, there was no place to crash. One of them suggested to keep moving! That was insane. Although they did not listen to him, just a thought of continuing at midnight after fourteen hours of hiking tells something about that guy! They had hammocks with them so I guess they decided to crash amongst the trees and call it a day.

WhatsApp-Image-20160530 (6)

In the clouds

WhatsApp-Image-20160529 (4)

We got up early morning next day. While having a hot beverage at the hut, I spent some time chatting with Kate, getting to know her more. She is from Pensylvania and was at the hut for last whole month managing all the operations so that hikers like us feel at home. That day was her last day at the hut and she was going to go back with tons of experiences. She said she would like to do this again. After waving her good day, we started our descent. Descending was fast and around lunch time we were back at the parking lot.

tejaspic1

The way back

Surely it was a memorable hike on the Memorial Day weekend!

Lowdown:

Capture

Mt Lafayette can be reached via multiple trails. The Greenleaf trail starts from the Canon Mountain campground and is a short but steep hike. The Old Bridal Path starts from across Lafayette campground. This trails is less steep, longer and has great scenic views. For more adventurous hikers, the Falling Waters trail is great. This reaches Mt Lafayette after crossing two mountains, Little Haystack and Mt Lincoln. The hut provides bunks with padding and pillows. In full service season, which starts after Memorial Day, blankets, dinner and breakfast is also provided at the hut. Water, food and some kind of sheets to cover you at the night are needed for an overnight hike.

A Sunny Saturday @ Lynn Woods Reservation

Tags

, , , , , , ,

It is spring time and the security check airport queues are insane. Even though the winter was mild, spring brings a new fresh scent in the air and every one of us wants to get out. The temperatures are warming up and the time is just right for a day hike in the woods.

DSC_0065-min

Not very far from Boston, where Rt1 and I95 cross, is Lynn Woods reservation. After a long busy week, today I decided to get some peaceful time to myself and drove up there. Well, I had asked my friend but he had to play boyfriend for his 1yr anniversary, so of-course he ditched me!

Capture
The state park features a relatively big pond on the north end surrounded by trees. Yes you can kayak in this pond. There are a lot of trails on both sides of this Walden pond. If you take the east entrance to the park from Rt 129 and start walking on the right side of the parking lot, you will end up on the overlook trail. The overlook trail begins with a relatively wide fire road, goes alongside the Walden pond and then within a matter of half a mile dives deep into the woods. This trail climbs up to a point where you can get a view of the pond from above. In New England, trails are not marked by placards. The trees are color coded and one has to trace the trees with the color of your trail. I feel this is a great way to bring us closer to the nature and yes it is easy to get lost.

DSC_0069-min

A trail marker in red

DSC_0061-min

Walden Pond

This is a one way trail and hence relatively less crowded. Today it was just me and hence had a great time connecting with nature: squirrels, birds and also one snake. I also saw a tree dedicated to mans best friend.

DSC_0068-min

On the other side of the pond is the stone tower. In springtime this tower is open to climb on the top. This four storeyed tower goes above the tree line, where you get an exquisite view of Boston skyline on a clear day (Yeah, and days are usually clear here unlike San Francisco, so you will always get a clear view!)

DSC_0078-min

The stone tower

DSC_0081-min

Boston skyline from the top of the stone tower

At the tower I met Chris, a solo hiker like me who was exploring Lynn woods! We spent some time on the top of the tower looking at the skyline, exchanged a few thoughts and then greeted Adios! I love such interactions. We probably do not have anything in common (its not silicon valley where everyone is a software guy!) and I very well know that I am most likely never going to meet Chris again. But for those five minutes, we were at the same place, with the same thought in mind: nature is beautiful.

The Battle of Lexington

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Lexington, MA re-lives the day which effectively kicked off the American Revolutionary War. Every year on patriots day weekend bunch of local untrained minutemen attack the english army which is on their way to Concord to confiscate the weapons, and make them retreat back from Lexington to Boston. Slowly inching ahead, firing from behind the woods, making it hard for the outnumbered RedCoats, these minutemen put up an excellent display of patriotism.

This local reenactment of the famous battle of Lexington is a unique experience and well.. a pretty serious affair. Take a look…

 

DSC_0003

loading the gun

DSC_0049

The marching orders

DSC_0021

DSC_0054

The pep talk before ceasefire

DSC_0042

And the locals call it a WIN

 

This is what I like about the east coast. What could be a more exciting way of teaching history to kids than this. Local audience comprised of a lot of kids and their grandparents telling them stories as the battle progressed. Kids asking a lot of questions, granny’s were re living that experience. The atmosphere was pumped with patriotism and every english man falling down was greeted with cheers. Residents were embracing the history, keeping it alive in their hearts even in this 21st digital century. Freedom was in the air….!!

More history about the Battle of Lexington

The Sound of Nature

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Mass Audubon Wildlife group is celebrating its 100th year this year. Hence on the 100th day of this year, Ipswich wildlife sanctuary had arranged a natural trail for the day. Its the nesting season and Ipswich preserve is known for its blue birds, wood frogs and spotted salamanders.

I have recorded the chirping of birds. Take a look at the link below. Close your eyes, listen to nature and see if you can identify the birds.

 

 

DSC_0052

DSC_0043

DSC_0033

Later we took a walk to the vernal pond where frogs and salamanders lay eggs. The picture below shows eggs of Wood Frogs. Yellow spotted salamanders and blue spotted salamanders lay their eggs in masses. Every time they can lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs.

DSC_0066

Wood Frog Eggs

DSC_0061

Yellow Spotted Salamander Eggs

 

 

 

The legend of Maple Syrup

Tags

, , , , , , ,

In the olden days, there was no stove, no gas and the only way to boil any liquid was to put heated rocks into the pan. The heat of the rocks gets transferred to the liquid and that’s how the native Americans used to make soup.

DSC_0887

Heating the rocks

DSC_0900

Boiling the soup

That’s how even Clair used to make soup everyday for her husband Woksis. Woksis, our very own native american, used to go out hunting all day and bring back meat to throw into the soup. The water, spices and meat had to be in the right proportion everyday to make a good recipe. The process of heating up rocks, boiling water and making soup used to take so long that there was no time to redo anything. If failed, Clair and Woksis had no option but to drink the bad soup and call it a day.

DSC_0901

One such day, when nothing was going their way, Woksis was unable to hunt, Clair was unable to get the proportions right. Dejected on his fate, Woksis angrily threw his axe at a tree and they went to bed. The next day a bucket kept beneath the tree was full of liquid and Clair thought her husband had fetched water for her bright and early to get the soup ready. Little did she know that it was not water but a bucket full of maple sap. That night the soup tasted amazing and it turned out to be the best soup they had ever made.

Thinking what changed, Clair then realized that she may not have used water in her soup, but some liquid generated by a tree in their yard. The sweetness of that liquid was so enticing that Clair started to boil it further until it became a concentrate …and thus maple syrup was invented.

DSC_0903

A gallon of maple syrup is generated by boiling nearly sixty gallons of sap. The maple trees generate sap when the nights are cold but the days are warmer. That’s the beginning of spring. During spring time, this sap is collected in buckets that are attached to the tree like the one shown below. These are covered so that this sweet sap is not consumed by wildlife. One tree can generate more than 40 to 50 buckets of sap.

DSC_0877

DSC_0878

Curious little kid

Early sugar makers gathered their sap in wooden buckets as they went from tree to tree. The sap was then boiled down in a series of large iron kettles hanging over a long open fire. As the syrup got thicker in one kettle it was ladled into the next one and fresh sap was then added to the first kettle. In this way, they always had the last kettle full of nearly completed syrup or sugar. When it was finally thickened enough, the liquid sugar was stirred until it began to crystallize, then poured of into wooden molds.

DSC_0909

DSC_0916

Crystal Sugar

These blocks of maple sugar could be broken up or shaved later in the year when needed. Nowadays the sap is flown through a channeled evaporator where all the excess water is evaporated to get the sugar concentration to 66% at 219deg F. This temperature and concentration has to be perfect for the maple syrup to taste good. Otherwise the syrup can become less sweet.

DSC_0920

The Channeled Evaporator

Such process is carried out at the Moose Hill wildlife sanctuary in Sharon, MA. This is where we got a tour of their facility and also had a chance to taste their homemade maple syrup.

DSC_0925

The Maple Syrup Factory @ Moose Hill, Sharon, MA