Thursday, September 26, 2013

Small Wonders

It seemed like a usual Thursday.  Little did I know that I would encounter so many small wonders along the way home.

I left Al Akhawayn University's front gate at 11:30 to walk home.  The sun was hot on my neck as I neared the Zerouka lake across from the ONEP building just a little way down the street from the university.

This lake is always full of life, even when there is snow on the ground.  This bright fall day was no exception.  Here are the first small wonders I came across:


A baby, mummy and daddy terrapin.  These are turtles, not tortoises.  In fact, "terrapin" is the Algonquian (a Native American tribe's) word for turtle.  

Turtles often live in murky water and these had just climbed out of the plant clogged pond to enjoy some rays and get a turtle tan.  This turtle seemed so happy in the sun that it even seemed to smile:



God made these creatures especially for water since they have their own built-in snorkel noses. Take a look:  


How wonderful for this turtle that it is built specifically for its habitat.

Just a few feet away from Mr. Terrapin was this strange looking bird:



I wonder why it has a pair of shiny red testicles on the top of its head?!  Just kidding!  Those aren't testicles.  Both the male and female of this species have these eye-catching decorations.

This bird is called the red-knobbed coot, and those nodules on the top of its head are biggest during the mating season.  I guess they make it look attractive to the opposite sex.  As for me, I would want to pluck them and see if they taste like cherries...

These berry-like balls rapidly shrink after the breeding season and become quite hard to see.

Here is the mama red-knobbed coot looking quite content on her scraggly nest:


Not far from this pond, I came across two of God's much smaller flying wonders.  Here they are:




Both of these butterflies were smaller than my fingernail.  Such delicate beauty is sure to inspire wonder in any childlike heart.

I crossed a clear, rippling stream...


...and wondered at the submerged mosaic of fallen poplar leaves:



I more closely inspected a leaf that had fallen on the richly verdant grass and marveled at the intricate vein-work speckled with fall color:


Beauty can be found in the simplest of things if you are looking for it.

As I left the pond and entered the woods, a curious sight met my eyes.  Someone had neatly piled up leaves, twigs and dirt behind a stone!  Take a look:


Have you ever seen anything like it?  No, it wasn't done by a bored Middle Atlas shepherd.  It was a deluge of rain water that washed this forest floor detritus down the trail.  The leaves, twigs and dirt became plastered behind the stone that obstructed their path.  The trail was filled with these columns of piled up fleeing forest fertilizer.

A sudden flutter in the treetops made me glance into the crown of a tree where I saw this bird hanging upside down....and right side up:



This is the great spotted woodpecker, a common visitor to the Ifrane oak forest.  It is often heard rat-tat-tatting against a tree before it is seen.  

Did you know that a woodpecker's tongue is so long it is wrapped all the way around its skull?! And its brain is specially encased to protect it from the severe g-forces it endures with each peck of the woodpecker's sharp bill?  

Amazing!

Just as I left the Source Vittel park, I spied another flying miracle of nature--a tiny dragonfly as thin as a single piece of straw.  Here it is:


Not impressed?  Then take a closer look!


If you look closely, you can see where the wings attach to its thorax.  Its as if the dragonfly's back is cut open so that you can see every muscle and sinew and tendon!  

And why did God bother putting that one dark spot at the end of each wing?  Why make this dragonfly a gorgeously iridescent green?  Just for camouflage?  Or was it so we would stoop to wonder at God's glory in the humblest of creatures?

You don't need to travel the world to see the wonderful.  All of these photos were taken within a 15 minute walk from my university.

The next time you wander around your own back yard, keep your eyes open for those small wonders and keep your heart soft enough to marvel at the little treasures of God's creation.

If you would like to see more of my photos of nature's small wonders in and around my hometown of Ifrane, Morocco, then please click on the "Kolin's Travels Facebook"tab at the top of this blog page.

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels!  See you next week with a new article on Brazil!






















Friday, September 13, 2013

Moonbows and other Originals

How do you pronounce this word:  "Caribbean"?  Do you say ka-RIB-bee-un  or KA-rib-BEE-un? And where did this name come from anyway?

The name of the ocean comes from the Carib (accent on the first syllable) indians.  So if you pronounce the name of the ocean as KA-rib-BEE-un, then you would be correct.  Caribs were the original Dominicans before Europeans arrived.  

The Caribs were excellent boat builders and sailors which accounted for their proliferation on Caribbean islands.  On Dominica, the Caribs put up a valiant effort against the invasion of the Europeans, delaying colonization on Dominica for longer than on neighboring islands.  Despite their efforts, they succumbed to smallpox and other European diseases to which they had no immunity.

Some Caribs were able to hide in the dense mountainous forests of Dominica's northeast, and even today there exists an autonomous Carib Territory spanning 3,700 acres granted by the British in 1903.  Supposedly, these 3,000 Caribs who live in this territory today are the only remaining full-blood Caribs among all of the Caribbean islands.

Here is a photo of the ocean from Dominica's Carib Territory:


Changing subjects....Have you ever seen a rainbow?  Of course you have!  I bet at least 80% of the people in the world have seen at least one rainbow (perhaps those who live in desert areas where precipitation is very low have never seen one).  

OK.  Now what about a moonbow? Have you seen one of those?  Aha!  I bet you haven't, have you?

A moonbow happens when a bow is formed as sunlight reflected off the moon's surface becomes refracted in clouds, mist or rain.  A moonbow is quite rare since certain conditions need to be just right:

1.  There should be a full moon so that the light is bright enough to make the bow visible.
2.  The moon must be low in the sky--preferably lower than 42 degrees. This means that it often happens at moon set (just before sunrise) when few people are watching.
3.  There has to be rain, mist or clouds opposite the moon to refract the light.

A moonbow is also possible in winter months when darkness falls earlier while the rising moon is still at a low angle.

When I first saw a moonbow, I was riding my bicycle back to my sister's home in Massacre, Dominica about two hours after sunset.  I looked out over the ocean and thought my eyes were deceiving me!  Was that a very faint rainbow I could see in the ocean mist far out to sea?

When a moonbow appears, the light is so faint that it is hard for the human eye to detect the colors in a moonbow.  For this reason, a moonbow often appears white.  But the colors are really there!  In long exposure photographs, moonbows show their true colors.

As I stared at the moonbow, my eyes began to water, and I found that I could almost detect the colors of the moonbow better out of the corner of my eye.  

When I got home, I immediately surfed the web to learn more about moonbows.  One website said that they often happened out over the ocean when the moon's orbit was closest to the Earth. 

And guess what?  That night in November of 2008 when I saw the moonbow over Dominica's ocean was indeed the very night that the moon was closest to Earth!

Cool!  

Here is a photo of a moonbow (not my own photo since my camera couldn't pick up the colors of the one in Dominica): 


Of course, moonbows are not originally from Dominica, but you can't deny that they are definitely unique.  And my first (original) unforgettable moonbow was sighted in magical Dominica.

Finally, have you ever wondered where the phrase "jungle gym" came from?  So have I.  I think it has something to do with the climb up Dominica's Morne Diablotin--the island's highest peak.

The climb up Morne Diablotin leaves no time for warming up.  From the first footfall into the damp, pungent black detritus of decomposing leaves that make up the jungle soil, you are climbing at a steep enough angle to make your thighs burn.  And it doesn't get any easier.

If you are lucky, to take your mind off your painfully thumping heart, you might see the national bird--the purple sisserou parrot--winging its way through the canopy.  It is a bird so honored that it sits smack in the middle of Dominica's flag.  Here is a photo of one (not my own photo, since I never saw one in the wild):


Just when you think you've got it made, Morne Diablotin's summit packs a little surprise--a muddy, up and over, swooping and ducking game of Twister with vines and tree branches that goes on for at least an hour.  Morne Diablotin's wretchedly fun mud-sloshing contortionist's paradise must be the reason the mountain got its devilish moniker.  If there ever was an original "jungle gym,"  the summit of Morne Diablotin is one!  

Here I am negotiating the jungle gym.  Don't I look like I'm having fun?


The view from the top was definitely worth the hard work! Take a look: 


So there you have it!  Three "originals" -- the Caribs, a moonbow and a jungle gym.  All of them to be enjoyed on Dominica--the Nature Island.

Come back next week for another interesting and informative article about Dominica!

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels.  :)




Saturday, September 7, 2013

Poop Face and Friends Visit the Boiling Lake

I was feeling down.  Bad news does that to a person.  And when I'm feeling sad I do what I always do--get some exercise.

The vigorous 13 kilometer (8 mile) hike to Dominica's Boiling Lake would do the trick!  Nothing like a good heart-pumping stomp up and down a mountain to get the endorphins flowing in the brain to wipe away those blues.  

The Boiling Lake is a roiling, frothing, bubbling cauldron of toxic grey-blue water 60 meters across (180 ft.) and can reach a temperature of 92 degrees Celsius (197 Farenheit).  

To be honest, it isn't the lake itself that is the greatest attraction.  After all, no one likes to be in second place, but I'm afraid that Dominica's Boiling Lake plays second fiddle to Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand.


The real attraction is the gorgeous jungle scenery on the way there.  Take a look:


Boiling Lake at upper left. Valley of Desolation bottom right.
But let's jump back to the beginning.  I was feeling depressed.  After hitching a ride to the tiny village of Laudat, I was greeted by a small white dog, most likely the village mutt.  

To understand the wonder of the story I'm about to tell you, you must understand that I'm not particularly fond of dogs or any other domesticated animal.  So when this small white dog greeted me, I didn't encourage it by saying, "Here boy!"  I didn't pet its flea-bitten head.  I didn't give it any food.  But for some reason, this small white dog was persistently friendly and wouldn't stop following me. 

Could this small white dog sense my sadness and wanted to cheer me up?  Or could he smell the lunch in my backpack?  Either way, this dog's unexplainable glee at accompanying me distracted me from the storm of dark thoughts that swirled in my mind.

Before I began climbing, Nature called.  Little white dog followed me into the bush and watched from a polite distance while I cleared my bowels.  And I do mean cleared...this was no polite little turd.  This was a cow-pie sized mountain of mush worthy of any bovine, and the little white dog loved it!  

Yes, that's right.  Little white dog greedily devoured every last drop of that disgusting dump.  He almost seemed to smile as he licked his lips saying, "Thanks for breakfast, pal!"  

That is how Poop Face got her name.  Without a doubt, I was now Poop Face's best friend.

Poop Face wasn't alone.  There were 3 other non-descript dogs I couldn't be bothered to name. Here they are:



There was one that looked like Poop Face with a little darker patch on its face and then the other two.  Poop Face was definitely the leader (as you can see in the above photo) and she was the one to convince all her friends to follow me up the mountain.  She was probably hoping for a lunch just as scrumptious as breakfast, but no luck there.

In fact, I don't know if these dogs realized what they were getting themselves into.  This was a long and difficult hike.  I thought for sure that after a few minutes they would give up. But no! For some unfathomable reason, they kept following me.  The novelty of this situation made me completely forget my gloominess.  I was beginning to enjoy having an entourage!

After about an hour, I crossed the first of several streams.  At first this seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle that Poop Face and friends had never faced before.  These lazy village mutts had probably never had to cross a stream before.  Here they are, about to give up:


Notice that lazy shaggy dog just flops down in the stream to cool off, while only Poop Face behind it seems genuinely worried about losing her new friend because she can't figure out how to get across.  The other two just look apathetic and would just as soon go home to Laudat.

But Poop Face proved me wrong again.  To my amazement, she didn't give up until she found some stepping stones to hop across.  Once on the other side, she barked and yelped at her friends to come on over. And they all did!  

I was thoroughly amused and actually beginning to feel rather cheerful after witnessing this canine courage.  All because Poop Face wanted to keep me company.  I was starting to feel a bit special...

But we were not even halfway there.  We crossed several more streams, and every time, Poop Face found a way across for her friends.  She yapped encouragement to her doggy pals to not give up, and they all, albeit hesitantly, crossed over each and every stream.

Poop Face and friends looked taken aback at the strange sight of the boiling river in the Valley of Desolation.  All that steam and hissing sulfur jets seemed a bit disconcerting:



Nevertheless, we all trudged our way up through the last valley toward the Boiling Lake.  Here they are waiting for me to catch up after I took a few pics:




Poop Face, being the most energetic, got to the Boiling Lake before all of us.  I was close on her heels and could hear the voices of tourists who had already reached the lake.  Before I rounded the last corner, I could hear all the adulation and stupid, whiney baby talk of some dog lovers who saw Poop Face arrive.  

"Awwww...what a cute doggie!  Here, girl!  Did you come here all alone?  Where did you come from?  Are you tired?  Are you hungry?"  and on and on it went...

When I appeared, it was, "Oh, you have such a cute dog!  And what a good hiker to come all this way with you!"

"It's not my dog," I corrected.

"What?! It isn't your dog?"  they all exclaimed in unison.

"No.  This dog and the others,"  I motioned to the lazy mutts now appearing, "followed me all the way from Laudat.  I don't know why..."

"Well, they must like you.   They must know a good person when they see one."  

Whatever.

But inside I felt warm fuzzies at the unremitting companionship these 4 dogs had given me all the way to the Boiling Lake.  They had really cheered me up.

Too bad for the dogs that I didn't have any food to give them.  

What?  You think I could have shared my lunch? Are you kidding?  I needed all that energy for myself for the hike back!  

OK....I gave them all a few morsels from my lunch....

Poop Face was so tired she fell asleep sitting up:




After an hour and half of resting and napping, Poop Face and friends followed me all the way back to Laudat. The moment they got to their village, they all trotted off without even saying goodbye or looking back once.  

Just goes to show how fickle their friendship was!  Huh!

I will never forget Poop Face and friends and our hike to the Boiling Lake of Dominica.

If you want to see more photos of the Boiling Lake and of those stupid dogs (just kidding!) please go to Kolin's Travels Facebook page by clicking on the appropriate tab at the top of this blog.

See you next week right here for another informative and fun article about Dominica--the Nature Island.

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels!