Saturday, December 1, 2007
Bird Rescue

Today is the last teaching day. Next are study sessions and final exams. It is time to think about packing! I forgot to mention that two days ago at sunrise we steamed past the famous Madeira Islands. Madeira means wood and many a tall ship stopped here to cut the pine trees for wood for their voyage, get fresh water, and later, buy the famous Madeira wine. There were a lot of houses on the main island.

Yesterday, a student called me in my cabin to report a bird in distress on the aft 6th deck aft. I got there and someone had put a piece of bread next to it. It was a small storm petrel, I later identified as a Madeira Storm Petrel, not often seen. It was wet, sitting in a puddle and losing heat and energy. I had students gather napkins and I worked to dry every feather and to hold it in the sun and get it to warm up. You lose heat 400 times faster when wet than when dry, so getting the little one dry was a priority. I then checked it out, made sure nothing was broken, and then let it go. It flew with vigor, up and up and even flew ahead of our ship which was moving at about 20 knots! (No Bobby, it didn’t get eaten like the other time, so there are no cartoon opportunities here!) Petrels are pelagic birds and can spend years over the open ocean and only go to land to breed.

I taught my last Community College course last might and tonight is the Ambassador’s Ball. I wasn’t going to go, but was invited by several staff, so will join them for dinner and perhaps a dance or two. Less than a week now. Phew!

Posted by Nancy @ 02:57 AM pst

Thursday, November 29, 2007
100 Days

Today is day 100. I have been here 100 days, since Kent brought me on the 21st of August. Just over a week left…wow! I wanted to mention that there was an event here just before Spain. It is called the SOS Auction. SOS is the Students of Service Auction. Al manner of things are auctioned to raise money for charity. I have three course binders all of my students use. They are on reserve in the library. Each has every PowerPoint slide from my lectures on 6-slides to a page and are black and white. I also donated a copy of my book, Park Ranger. While my book received a robust $43.00 for the winning bid, one of my course binders sold for $205.00! I wasn’t able to watch, but I was told there was a bidding war! The other binders sold as well but not for as much. I am proud that my students would want such a souvenir! Wow!

Posted by Nancy @ 08:47 AM pst

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007
I returned today after three days of independent travel. I was up and out the door (off the ship) on Friday and walked the twenty minutes to the train station. There I met again with David at Europcar, I rental I made through AutoEurope. After giving up my credit card, I was given a little powder blue Citroen 4-door stick. I checked it out and off I went. It was a chilly morning, partly cloudy and I headed out of old town Cadiz to the AP4 freeway to Sevilla (Seville). The roads were modern and smooth and the maximum was 120 km/hr. I kept it at about 100 and drove across Andalucia toward Granada. My destination was Sierra Nevada National Park. So much of the land I traveled through was agricultural. There were times when there were rows and rows of olive trees as far as the horizon! I was able to read the signs and find my way, but it took over 4 hours. As I came over a rise toward Granada, there in front of me was un gran Sierra Nevada. A freshly snow covered mountain range that was massive and towered over the countryside. Of course, as I got closer, I lost that perspective, but my initial view was astounding!

I gassed up and continued through Granada, a sprawling town with a few visible cathedral towers. Then I headed around the foothills to, of all things, highway 395 and took it east to El Dornajo. The fall colors were neat as I climbed up an area that had few trees and then into umpteenth growth forest. Many of the pines had tent caterpillars that looked like bundles of plastic bags on the end of the tree branches. There was a Visitor Center which was closed from 2-4 (siesta hours throughout the country) and I got there just before 2. So after I bought a book, I headed further up the mountain to a huge ski resort! There National Park system encompasses land that is occupied, that had homes, hunting and recreational use as well as 100% preservation in areas. They are called natural parks and national parks.

Spain has 17 autonomous regions, including the Basque area on the border with Spain, and the Catalan area with Barcelona. Andalucia was where I spent all of my time; it is the largest of the autonomous areas and is beautiful. There is a group of Basque separatists called the ETA that are labeled as homeland terrorists in Spain and carry out regular terrorist attacks. Generally they are in the north and I only heard of a few incidents while in the country.

All of the hiking trails that went up had snow, so I drove back down and found a clean, nice hotel just down the road from the VC. It was the Hotel Don Jose, and as usual for most of rural Spain, few spoke English. I was getting by pretty well and made myself understood and understood quite a bit. When I needed a noun, I checked my Lingo translator Kent gave me several years ago that has truly proved its worth. Then I went for a walk through the foothills and watched birds and got out of the way of cows being herded by a car as it slowly drove them along the road with their bells clanging. There were pine and oak and fir.

When the VC reopened, I went in and read the displays and got an idea of where to go. A bit more exploring, and to my room, as the days are very short. It is not light until after 0800 and dark, generally by 1800 (6pm). I had cueltas de cuerda (pork chop) with papatas fritas, not as good as I had hoped. I took a tub soak to warm my bones and read the entire book on Sierra Nevada Parc Nacionale from cover to cover. In the morning, I walked a bit in the crisp then took off for the southern part of the range as I was in the north. I then went back down, winding through the hills I took a side road into a valley and explored yet another angle of the snowy peaks.

I then angled around past huge windmill wind generators. Man of La Mancha was created in this province and I bet he never had these in mind! The drive was stupendous with fall colors and snowy peaks accented by whitewashed buildings in the southern Spain Moorish-influenced style. I went through several small pueblos, (i.e. Lanojan) and then into a canyon with tremendous fall colors and in the notch of the canyon, a beautiful snowy peak from the high mountains. I worked my way up the switchback to Pampaneira in La Alpujarra. The latter is the area of these pueblos which defines a unique cultural area. The homes are old and have tinaos. These are roofed areas over the streets for living or joining enclaves. All the buildings are whitewashed with lime and many have wrought iron works over the windows. Every now and then you see an Arabian (Moorish) influence or Roman ruin. What a neat place this Andalucia is!

I noodled around the town for almost two hours, and watched a lady on a loom make great textiles. Then I returned to the main road and went south to Motril. There was a lot of open space. Then, at Motril, I saw the Mediterranean Sea. I headed east to Malaga along the coastline and to Marbella. Once I hit the Costa del Sol, it was a whole ‘nother world. There were lots of hotels, golf courses, and resorts to cater to the sun-loving crowds. It reminded me of a more built up Santa Barbara coastline. The sky was clear and the sun was high an warm and it was easy to see why people come here with over 300 days of sun. It was just very built up.

I then headed inland to Ronda. As I climbed into the hills, the rural spaces again came into view, and then mountains of limestone and dolomite peaks rose above. The drive was, again beautiful. After getting fuel at Ronda, I took the turn to Benaojan. I drove toward the little town to the Cuevo del Gato (Cave of the Cat). It was a large cave with some folks in the parking lot. After a five minute walk I came to a sign that said (in Spanish) that the cave was closed to people. I turned around, but it didn’t seem to stop some of the others.

I then drove through the town and 4.5 km to the Cueva La Pileta, (Cave of the Roman bowl). Here, I arrived after the last tour left. It was a climb to the entrance and they have a substantial locked gate. The ticket fellow told me to return the next day at 10:00 a.m. I enjoyed the Chough (pronounced “chofe”), a red-beaked member of the crow family. I then went to a small estacion and in medieval-sized streets, found the only open hotel. It has only 15 rooms, but the landscape was great. It had recently won 2 awards. I was able to get a room that was very nice, with a balcony and no TV, but it was beautiful, and totally unexpected out in the middle of nowhere. I later got a sandwich, and read into the night. I got up at 4:00 a.m. for a while and went out and looked at stars. The sun and Jupiter were both very bright.

Up the next day, I discovered the windshield wipers were gone from my rental car! Sigh. I don’t know if it happened at the Gatos parking lot or here. The manager was upset and very apologetic that people in his province would do such a thing and that he would write to the city council. Luckily, it was a clear day and I wouldn’t need the wipers.

I was back up at the Cueva La Pileta. It turned out the 10:00 a.m. tour was for a visiting group of French archaeologists and I would have to wait. I met the man whose grandfather discovered the cave and protected it immediately. It is still run by this family with guidance from Grazalema National park. This man was Jose Bullon Gimenez, and we talked a bit, I gave out Washington coins and bookmarks to he and Aurelio, a guide and the ticket man, who’s name I didn’t catch. By 11:20, after watching birds and sitting in the sun, I went into this cave with two others who had arrived. They were German who spoke English and, only one Spanish, so Aurelio gave the talk in very good English. Along with him was the son of Jose, who is learning to protect the cave for the next generation.

This cave is special because it is the only protected Paleolithic cave art in Spain that allow visitors. There are only 4 tours a day, and often not that many and the maximum is 25. The most famous is Altimira, whose art has been destroyed. The presence of tons of people, electric lights, changes in humidity, have caused the art to literally fall from the walls. Spain has built a fake Altimira cave with reproduced art on the wall, but no one can get in to see any other real cave but this. This one has special rules. Only photos in the antechamber. Not even digital photos, as the red laser for autofocusing can do damage. No electric lights. The guides still use lanterns, white gas like Coleman lanterns. The 5 of us entered another world.

As a bonus, it was a real, living cave, with stalactites and stalagmites that are still dripping. There are flowstone, little lakes and many formations, some colored by oxides of copper and iron, giving then a green and red hue. It was slippery and we were often cautioned about watching our heads and to watch our step. We were also told why we should not touch formations (human skin oil) and climbed into a fairly warm cave. We spooked an entire group of Myotis myotis bats. It was so cool to watch them drop, wheel and fly. There were about 30-40 of them. Then we began to see the reason for our visit. Carbon-dated works of art were behind barriers. We saw horses, deer, elk, people, hands, goats, fish, a seal and so much more. The oldest were dated to 28,000 tp 30,000 years before the present. It was incredible to think that human beings, 30,000 years ago drew these things on the wall, using animal fat and rock pigment. It was astonishing and humbling. What a setting. We also saw bones and pottery from the Neolithic and Bronze Age. What an experience. Our enthusiasm was palpable, and I think that is why our guide gave us a 1.5 instead of a 1 hour tour and showed us art and formations not normally shown. He even banged on the organ formation, something he said he rarely did, and it rang out with great, deep tones. In one room, he jumped up and down on the floor. A great reverberation sounded and it rumbled away. He said the floor was only a few meters thick that under us was a great and huge cavern with a lake in it. Wow! I had read the cave book the night before and really enjoyed the tour and meeting all of the folks, including the other grandson of the discoverer, who was outside. On our exit, I bought a larger more technical cave book that was bilingual, and postcards. I exited into the sun, realizing that this too was an incredible highlight of my trip around the world.

I then headed toward Grazalema National Park. The town of Grazalema is anther of the white towns surrounded by hills and mountains. I went through it on a beautiful drive to El Bosque. Unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed; despite the schedule on the outside saying it should have been open. By this time it was getting late, and I headed east to Arcos de la Frontera and more as I ended up in Cadiz. I drove all around the old city but found no gas station. I headed back out and found one in new Cadiz, outside the city walls, and returned my rental car and walked back to the ship from the train station where the rental car place was.

The next day I was up bright and early (5:45 a.m.) to lead the last field trip of the voyage. It was a Field Directed Practica I had set up in Donana National Park. There were 17 total; a mix of students, faculty, staff and Life Long Learners. We boarded the bus and were driven north one hour in the dark and arrived in the city of Sanlucar. It is considered one of the most important protected areas in all of Europe. It had 4 ecosystems, including extensive wetlands that house European bird species in the winter and African species in the winter. We got off the bus and boarded our ferry to cross the Guadalquivir River, a delta and estuary. On the other side, we were greeted by Hermillo, a park ranger who was our guide. His English was poor, but I understood 70% of what he said and between myself and a student who spoke Spanish, we were able to get the biology across. Unrestricted movement in the park is not allowed. Only fishermen were allowed on the beach. We boarded a 21-person all terrain vehicle with huge tires and big windows we opened, and took off. We were in marismas (marshes) bosques (forest), dunas (sand dunes), playas (beaches) and even maquis (chaparral scrub). We saw elk, fallow deer, wild boar, wild horses from the original horse stock (per DNA analysis) and zorro (fox) footprints. We saw lots of birds: crows, eagles, lapwings, hoopoe, oystercatchers, dunlins, sanderlings, gulls, perching birds, hawks (buzzards) and over 1000 flamingos in different flocks. We drove through many different environments and ecosystems. We stopped and got out several. I set up my spotting scope and we had a blast. We even rode over sand dunes that would have bogged down any other vehicle. We whooped and laughed and discovered with amazement. It ended all too soon. As we drove 4 hours later along the playa, we saw the local fisherman with box screens. They were going into the ocean to get cocino, a small edible bivalve, like a small clam. There is a size restriction, so they sort them on the beach in mesh screens. The little ones fall through and the tide takes them back. We even found a crab. Then back across the ferry and the ride back to the ship. It was a perfect end to this great trip. I went back into Cadiz with some friends for some last minute shopping (read: getting rid of Euros) and heard the bells in the cathedral say it was time to go. We got back on the ship after sunset.

At 11:00 p.m. we weighed anchor and headed out to the open ocean. The Atlantic is our home for a nine-day crossing. Two more class meeting, final exams, convocation for the graduating seniors, and then the Port of Miami. I will shuttle up to Ft. Lauderdale and fly home on the eighth. I should blog a few more times before then. Thank you for reading and sharing this with me.

Love to all! Nancy

Posted by Nancy @ 01:30 AM pst