Crocodiles, Tortoises and Piggies, oh my!

Kerry with a giant tortoises, more below

He was saying, “I’m not going to talk to you unless you have baby carrots”.  This is a reserve close to Alvin, Texas called Crocodile Encounter.  It was literally in the middle of nowhere on a rough road that had just been repaved.  Even so, there was no room in the car park for me.  It was as hot as hell – 109 head index with humidity through the roof.  The shot below gives you a little feel of the conditions.

It wasn’t raining – this is the humidity on my camera.  I truly love alligators and crocodiles; primeval animals.  To be honest, I don’t know which ones were alligators or crocodiles because the heat had fried my brain.  I prefer reserves to zoos for all the obvious reasons and this sign describes why I liked it.

There are so many predators in the wilds of Texas that small crocodiles could be eaten.  It looked like crocodile heaven and even hog heaven.  I wanted to jump into the pool with the little piggy.

I loved that you could get really close to the animals.  We live alongside alligators all the time in south east Texas and these ones are really well fed.  In Louisiana we saw kittens playing close to an alligator who was basking in the sun.  Plenty of catfish to feed everyone.

This is such a beautiful crocodile, perfectly designed for living in the swamp.

Can you see me?

I love carrots!

On a slightly tangential note, I had a friend in Egypt who kept rescued tortoises, most of whom were endangered.  When they have sex, they moan and groan like they are starring in a porn movie.  It was the most hilarious noise I had ever heard; although the tortoises took love-making very seriously.  I suppose you would, if you were endangered.

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Fuzzy Pterodactyl

baby green heron, Texas

When I looked in this nest in Alvin, Texas, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.  It was in a crocodile nature park, so I asked the guide who told me that it is a baby green heron.  The mother nests there every year so she must feel comfortable around crocodiles and alligators.

They are migratory and curiously I shot this adult green heron, below, in Merida, Mexico about 18 months ago.  This was also in a nature reserve and there were rare crocodillo living there too.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was the same family?

The male and female build the nest and they are one of the few tool using bird species.  Smarter than the average heron and smaller too.  I think there were 3 or 4 little nestlings.  They are nocturnal and clever little predators that can hover for short periods above prey.  It is not always the same Papa as they are seasonally monogamous.  That sounds like a fabulous idea!  Who will be my autumnal husband??

adult green heron, Mexico

They call me Mellow Yellow…

I haven’t worn yellow in almost 40 years.  Most yellow shades make my skin look sallow but for some reason I was drawn towards this lovely top in Manchester Airport, UK.  It was on sale in Monsoon, much more expensive than my usual purchase but I couldn’t resist.  Since then I have had so many compliments about how I suit the color.  That provoked the next purchase below.

I bought these floral yellow trousers in Ann Taylor Loft on sale.  The little blue pumps are Steve Madden and feel like slippers.  So comfortable that I bought three pairs in silver, black and navy.  The last yellow purchase I remember was a floral midi dress with a shirred peasant top.  I had just dyed my hair blonde for the first time and I was 19 years old.  The top of the dress enhanced my plentiful assets and my girlfriend told me that I looked like a busty, Swedish barmaid.  That was exactly the look I was going for!!  I loved that dress…

 

Merchant City, Glasgow

This is the Tron Tower in Glasgow’s Merchant City.  Tron is a Scottish word for a weigh beam, essential for all trading cities. It is derived from the old French, ‘troneau’ meaning balance.  This general area is still called Trongate.  The original building was a Catholic Church ‘Our Lady and St Anne’ constructed in 1525 which later was ‘Reformed’ as a Protestant church. The tower was added in 1628 and is all that remains after fire in 1793.  A previous devastating fire in 1652 destroyed much of the Merchant City buildings – most of them had wooden frames. Glasgow had various peaks in its history but much of the wealth came from trading tobacco, cotton and shipbuilding.  Daniel Defoe, in his book ‘A Vision of Britain Through Time’, wrote –

Glasgow is, indeed, a very fine city; the four principal streets are the fairest for breadth, and the finest built that I have ever seen in one city together. The houses are all of stone, and generally equal and uniform in height, as well as in front; the lower story generally stands on vast square dorick columns, not round pillars, and arches between give passage into the shops, adding to the strength as well as beauty of the building; in a word, ’tis the cleanest and beautifullest, and best built city in Britain, London excepted’.

Let’s not forget, however, that this wealth was built on the back of African slaves.  I doubt there is a country in the world that does not have a dark history.

This rather sinister building is the Tollbooth Steeple built in 1626. It was attached to a later demolished town hall, court and jail.  Public hangings and other ghastly punishments were a spectacle for the medieval locals.

Glasgow Cross, between High Street leading to St Mungo’s Cathedral, Gallowgate and Saltmarket.

Interior and Exterior of the old Glasgow Fruit Market

When I was a child this was still the bustling Glasgow Fruit Market.  The father of one of my first school friend’s worked here.  Every day I looked with interest in her lunch box to see what exotic fruit she had.  Now it has been transformed into a bustling, glamorous event space with bars and restaurants.  On the day I visited, there was a craft fair in the middle.  One of the artists, a man of my age, noted that I had a silky voice with my mutated transatlantic vowels.  A silver tongued merchant methinks…

Alleyway or Wynd. Good for ‘winching’ on a dark night. Google it in Glasgow dialect…

I graduated from college in this very building in 1980 – Glasgow City Halls.  I always feel a tinge of regret when I think about my graduation. Family issues made me choose not to continue with a post graduate qualification. In time I could have lectured at my alma mater. One of my fellow students did exactly that with lower grades.

He spent two years wallowing in unrequited love for me because I thought he was gay and he didn’t make his intentions plain. Maybe this is the ‘troneau‘ in life. He got the dream job but not the girl.  Speaking of dream girls, I have a new admirer at work.  He thinks I am too beautiful to work with the masses.  It is hard to know how to respond but perhaps I should retire to my brown recliner throne and have Teddy bring me sugared plums?

 

Germany or Texas?

It is Texas, of course, Tomball to be precise!  The closest I have been to Germany was Frankfurt airport in the middle of the night  but there is a distinct German feel to our local area.  We live north of Houston and in the past it was home to German settlers who farmed the area.  Most of the local roads are German or some corruption of such.  The Kuykendahl Road has been mangled into submission by locals who call it Kirkendall.  I think I pronounce it slightly better with my Scottish drawl but am constantly corrected.☹ To be honest I pronounce most things better…

Teddy was off last Friday and we decided to go to Tomball for lunch.  When we first moved here it was even more German, with many descendants of the original settlers.  Most of them arrived in the late 1800’s by ship to Galveston, TX.  There is a Lutheran High School and a sweet little Main Street that has been kept intact.  It slumbered during the recession but now it is vibrant with new restaurants and antique shops.  To our surprise, they were setting up for the spring German festival.

One of our favorite restaurants was empty because it was difficult to maneuver through the vendors trucks and equipment.  America and Texas, to be frank, has a terrible reputation for food.  Some of that criticism is worthy when you look at the amount of fast food franchises.  Life is changing, however, and below you can see the freshest local blackened catfish served with sauteed vegetables.  Just a touch of butter made it delicious.

Blackened catfish with sauteed vegetables

The restaurant was originally a meat locker and the original signs are intact.  The German flags were just for the festival.

 

Teddy and Bunny

We sadly declined to eat the apple cobbler and wandered outside to see what was going on.  My eyes were immediately drawn to a petting zoo from a local farm.  Oh how I love goats!  I would have some but they are little gremlins, always getting into trouble.

Isn’t he perfect. Look at his tiny little horns!

Look at those ears! They are fat little goats.

I was surprised at the amount of goat products in Texas but I think there was some money benefit to having goats at one point and now we all love goat cheese.  Goat’s milk – gaaaaa!

Loved this shot – the water is just a few inches deep.  It gets so hot in the summer here that I guess some liquored locals took the water!  Finally, a happy Teddy is enjoying a flight of local German style craft beer.  I despaired of the regular beer in Texas when we arrived but thank goodness for the current craze of craft beer!  Decent European style beer at last.  We also have some very good wine, vodka and bourbon now.  Moonshine too – that will get you swimming!.

Timing is everything

Tiny tourists

I have a problem with punctuality.  Honestly, I think it is a symptom of my OCD and I am always on time or early.  It drives Teddy crazy and his slowness makes me consider spousicide or whatever the word is.  Before I left the Grayliner Bus at the entrance to the Grand Canyon, the driver went to great lengths to emphasize that Arizona was one hour behind Vegas.  He urged us to check and double-check that we would be back in 4 hours precisely no matter what time it said on our watches. Our fellow passengers would have plans for Vegas later, perhaps a show, and we had to be considerate of each other.  I was listening…

Proof that I am not a vampire. Spoiled a great shot of the brown Colorado river way down

After chatting to the Tribal member who looked like my Dad when he was young, I went straight back to base.  There was a little tourist shop, restrooms and a view of the airfield.  The canyon was in the distance and I was so happy to sit in solitude with my ice-cream gazing at the view.  It was fascinating to watch the small planes and helicopters take off.  On a couple of occasions, staff came up to me to ask if I was waiting for someone or generally okay.  I don’t think I look particularly suspicious but the airfield was a secure area, as they all are.  Eventually it was time to head to the bus.  Other passengers were there before me including my foul-mouthed friends.  Some people were a few minutes late but one couple was about 35 minutes past time.  Even worse, they sauntered to the bus oblivious to the silent hissing and dark stares.  Their attitudes changed as soon as they stepped on the bus with boos and cat-calling.  They look mortified, as they should…

Can you see the couple on the ledge?

We set off, got off the Tribal Lands, then the county roads to the main drag between Arizona and Nevada.  The bus was going pretty fast and then it stopped.  There was a major accident ahead and the double-lane road was closed.  As the driver relayed this information to us, you could sense heads swiveling towards the unpunctual couple.  There is really no more to the story – we came back to Vegas about 2 hours late.  My fellow passengers in my row became ruder and more annoying.  We stopped at the first hotel on the outskirts of Vegas and I bolted off the bus like Speedy Gonzalez.  The driver confirmed that there would another staging fiasco so I went to the Uber lane.

My mood was foul but I was curiously surprised that my Uber driver was a middle-eastern lady.  She was even more surprised when I greeted her in Arabic.  We had a lovely time chatting about Iraq and Egypt.  Her journey for Iraq was as traumatic as you can imagine and then she struggled to conceive.  Her boss kindly paid for the IVF treatment and now she was a happy bunny with a baby in Nevada.  Her story jerked me back into reality about what is really challenging in life.  It’s not an overlong trip to the canyon.

Perhaps Vegas is a happy ever after story for some?

So, why was the trip to the Canyon so bad?

Given that I am going to show you some great photographs, what was wrong with my Grand Canyon trip?  I am cheap, thrifty and love a bargain.  Therein lies the problem; busy flight to Vegas paid for by Teddy’s miles.  I considered a helicopter ride to the canyon but decided to use my ancient British Airways miles for a prepaid tour bus to the western rim of the Grand Canyon.  It sounded so marvelous: comfortable tour bus; wonderful guide; lunch on the Tribal Land of the Hualapai viewing the Skywalk.  Blah, blah, blah – all I saw was that it was free.  I blame my upbringing in Scotland.  Even better, they picked us up at our hotel.  They omitted to mention some critical facts.

  • We left at 5am
  • Then we went to a detention camp staging area
  • We queued endlessly for another ticket
  • Finally we went out to the cattle trucks luxury Greyliner double-decker buses

There were quite a few singles among the groups of tourists.  Another, very sensible, lady and I were last to get on my bus but there was only one seat left.  She decided to get the next bus; impatient Kerry got on the bus…from…hell.  My seat was in the middle of 5 seats in the very back row upstairs.  Somehow in all of this excitement I forgot that I have a congenital spinal problem and take medication for that.  In the row was a Spanish speaking family, obviously tourists, who looked unhappy that I was going to take up their extra space.  I was equally unhappy.

After we got underway with a very jolly guide, I attempted to converse briefly with my fellow guests.  I discovered they were from Costa Rica and then nothing.  That made me curious because almost all the Latin American guests that I meet at the airport are friendly and very polite.  I was certain they were not originally from Costa Rica.  They looked nouveau riche, not uncommon in our part of the world.  Before we even reached the Hoover Dam, the senora next to me was snoring on my shoulder.  Sigh.

Without revealing everything about the trip, I was relieved they did not know I could understand Spanish and by the time we returned to Vegas, my mind was whirling with nefarious plans for their demise.  I jest of course… but do I?  My conclusion about mi amigos was that they were Cartel.  Their bags and clothes were ludicrously expensive and didn’t seem to match their coarse language peppered with Puta and Pendejo.  I would guess that they originated in Mexico by their accent and looks.  They endlessly encroached on my limited space with no apology.  The final insult was passing candies across me to each other, without offering me one or a ‘disculpe’.

They were only part of the problem, however, and I was still relatively excited by the time we crossed into the Tribal lands, spotted Joshua trees and then finally glimpsed the canyon.  I don’t know if any of you have taken this particular route to the canyon but the Hualapai Nation have really gone to great lengths to satisfy the endless thirst of tourists.  There is the infamous Skywalk – you pay even more money to walk on it and then you cannot take any photographs.  You could have lunch at various places and shuttle buses regularly rotated between the Skywalk, the Wild West Show and the plain old canyon.

What is wrong with this image – the people!!!

Marriage to Teddy, who taught geological field-trips in Utah and Colorado, has given me the opportunity to see amazing natural wonders without so many tourists.  Although the Grand Canyon is the largest, it wasn’t the prettiest or most photogenic.  At the main viewing site, I felt constrained by having too many people around me, all trying to take dangerous selfies.  Without thinking about the consequences, I walked off into the road so that I could be alone.  Almost immediately I was corralled by a tribal guide who told me to stay within the invisible tourist perimeter.  There were very sensible health and safety reasons for that – the shuttles drove fast and I could have easily got lost or fallen off the edge.

Wandering off the Reservation

Lunch was not particularly appetizing but it did make me think about how difficult life would be on most tribal nations.  The bathrooms were clean but had a sign asking us to conserve water.  I wondered how often they had to drill new wells or was the water shipped in?  Even though I had another hour or so, I decided to head towards the shuttle back to base.  Alongside was a tent with tribal members selling hand-made trinkets.

One young man was just the image of my father.  Although our native DNA is from North West Mexico, it is pretty close to South West USA.  There were no borders before the Europeans arrived.  We started chatting and he told me that when the Hualapai Nation were given this land it was mostly useless.  As pretty as it is, there is no value in land that you can’t use.  It isn’t really suitable for crops or grazing.  Back in the day no one realized how valuable this type of tourism could be.  His sister Pearl had made the earrings I admired from Hematite, a healing stone in their culture.  I bought them for a friend who has cancer.  This was my favorite part of the trip, truly connecting with a real person from the canyon.

My father with his sister in the 1930’s

More to come soon…