A day trip to Mexico

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On our recent road trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, we took the legal crossing point across the Rio Grande into Mexico to visit the village of Boquillas. The day was overcast, cold and windy. We needed plenty of layers to keep warm and the constant, buffeting wind blew dust into our eyes. But it was worth the discomfort as we had a memorable and enjoyable day.

Not knowing what to expect was part of the experience. I’d not anticipated the scruffy dusty road which we followed to the village, athough there was the option to ride there on horseback. The male inhabitants of Boquillas hang around as each ferry arrives offering to be guides.  I was saddened when we got off the boat to be greeted by a needy but cringing small dog, looking for a little TLC  .

The ferry is a rowing boat; the crossing is quick as the Rio Grande is quite narrow at this point.  The walk into Boquillas is less than a mile.

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 More horses were tethered at the entrance to the village, and a less needy and probably more loved dog sat watching us as we walked by.

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Boquillas is small so it didn’t take too long to explore along the main street and some of the side streets, all of them dusty unmade roads.

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We found one of the two churches – there is a Catholic and Baptist church in the community. We heard music as we approached the village but didn’t know what it was or where it was coming from. There were trumpets and a furious banging of drums. It sounded awful. Turning down a side street we came across the school, where the children were lined up in the playground for band practise. This was being led by a soldier in uniform, and he was blasting away on the trumpet, the children joining in with trumpets and drums. I later learned that this was only their second lesson, which explained why it sounded, well…raw. The smiles from the children as I took this long shot are a delight; they were enjoying it!

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I stopped to look at the local crafts and wares on display outside some of the houses, and spoke to Ruffina, who was selling bags, wall hangings and pottery along with ocotillo, cacti, scorpions and roadrunner wire and bead ornaments. She was a friendly, cheerful lady, as were the staff in the restaurant where we had lunch.

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Granddaughter wanted to ride back to the ferry on a horse, which was led by a young woman named Veronica. She was happy to talk and told me that the village was a happy community where many people come from the same family and where everyone supports each other. She’d been to college, had worked away in a larger town, but returned to stay in Boquillas, simply because it’s friendly and it’s home. They have no AC in the village so suffer in the summer heat and stay indoors. It’s windy most days, some being worse than others, and although they have TV there is no internet. She laughed and said they just do without and if they really need to use it they travel to the nearest town. I got the impression they don’t bother to do so very much and suspect life is much simpler. What is important is their community.

I bought some bead and wire ornaments and a wall hanging, embroidered with a roadrunner and the words “No Wall” on it. Ruffina fetched it specially to show me when she realised I liked birds. The slogan it carries is bang on for current topical and historical significance. We never saw any signs of Trump’s wall on our trip; the mountains in this area form a natural barrier.

Then it was back into the US via the very small and efficient entry point, bringing with me the local crafts along with some good memories of a new and very enjoyable experience.

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Ever faithful

Dogs with bone

When I visited the Basilica of St. Denis, in the Paris suburb of St. Denis (also the banlieu where, a couple of years ago, an armed seige by police took place after a terrorist terrorist attack in central Paris), I came away with plenty of photos of the stunning tombs of the kings and queens of France who are buried there.

It’s an amazing place to visit, especially if you like cathedrals, but this one is full of effigies, each depicting the deceased in repose with symbols relating to their life included in the marble sculptures. It’s like a cross between a cemetery and an art gallery.

The details on the effigies are impressive, giving them a life-like appearance, even in death. Hands, feet, faces and draped fabric all have an aesthetic beauty.

I was particularly drawn to those effigies which had loyal dogs at their feet. This signifies loyalty to the crown and the sovereign, and dogs are usually found beneath the feet of women or children. If the dogs have a bone between their paws, as in the photo above, it means that the body is buried in the tomb.

Some effigies have lions at their feet and these will always be on the tombs of men. Other animals found beneath feet are dragons, a porcupine and there’s a ferret beneath the feet of a count who was reputed to be a great hunter.

The day I visited Saint Denis it was bitterly cold outside and not much warmer inside the cathedral either, but I forgot about the cold, so stunning were the statues.

The last time I saw Paris

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Photo by Barry Hopewell

I’ve not been to Paris for a while, and some of my visits there have been in winter when it can be excruciatingly cold, but if it’s dry, bright and sunny, it’s nigh on perfect. It’s preferable to being there in the heat of summer, when it can be unpleasantly sticky and heaving with tourists.

I came across this shot of Notre Dame taken several years ago. Tinged with wintry sunshine, it is seen through a tangle of bare branches. The bookseller’s stalls – always worth a browse – were open for business, but it wasn’t a day to loiter too long before finding a warm cafe and some chocolat chaud.

Acoma people

Roadrunner clan family

When I visited Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, I was very aware of the boundaries I was expected to stay within while I was there, and to respect the customs and privacy of the residents.

The only way to visit is with a guide, and he gave plenty of interesting information about this remarkable place. He also said not to take photographs of people without first asking their permission. Fair enough, that seems only polite to me in the context of respect for their culture. And when asking it’s also fair to have no expectations – agreement or refusal – both are on the cards.

I’d already paid a modest photography fee and had the permit on display. I’d taken a lot of shots of this stunning, ancient village, and was enjoying views over the desert from the elevated Sky City, where the tour was.

Made for J&A!I bought some beautifully hand decorated pottery from one of the stall holders selling his wares. I’d chosen a turtle motif and he explained that the turtle symbolises good health and long life, asking who the dish was for, wanting to know a little about the people I was buying it for.

I asked  – quite tentatively – if I could take a photo of him with the pottery dish I’d chosen. No problem. He proudly held up the dish and posed.

I’d learned from the guide that the residents of Acoma come from different tribes, but had forgotten to ask which tribe the friendly potter belonged to.

As the visit drew to a close, we came upon some of the residents sitting in the sunshine, probably watching our group of tourists gathering for the descent (there was a bus to take everyone down to ground level, but we opted to walk down a rocky ravine used by the locals – more adventurous and scenic).

I asked – again tentatively – the three family members sitting together in the sunshine if I could take their photo as they looked an interesting family group. They said yes; again no problem, and they wanted to know something about me and where I was from. They were all members of the Roadrunner tribe – mother on the right, daughter in the middle and younger son on the left.

I learned names of some of the other tribes from them – all names, as I remember, relate to nature and the environment. Before leaving Acoma I bought a hand decorated pendant made by someone from the Cornstalks tribe. The turtle dish was for a gift, the pendant was for me, but the encounters, conversations and photographs are what really remain in my mind as the best souvenirs.

In a Scotland state of mind

Scotland’s on my mind, probably because I need some light at the end of the everlasting, deja vu-ridden Brexit tunnel of despair as negotiations continue on their journey of ever decreasing circles.

So I’ve updated the blog’s head photo with a stunning view I took several years ago of the mountains near Achnahaird in the Highlands – thoughts are straying towards revisiting next Spring.

With blue skies, crisp clear air and sunshine, it’s tempting to think of going to Scotland again, and my archives have revealed a few more temptations – the scenic cathedral ruins at Elgin…..and the  view from the promenade at Cromarty for starters.

Way up in the far north, at Dunnet Bay, I saw sun dogs refracted in a halo around the setting sun, and the wide empty sands at Balnakiel were wonderful to walk on and just simply BE.

095 deserted northThis view of the empty, dramatic Scottish wilderness was taken from the North Coast 500 road – empty when I was there apart from a solitary biker riding by. This route has become very popular, one of those scenic drives that has to be done.

I’m glad I saw it deserted and dramatic. Would I want to travel along it again? Maybe…but there are still many unspoiled, deserted places to discover. Maybe time to get out the guide books and maps and get the ideas flowing.

Liverpool’s Albert Dock

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Liverpool has some stunning architecture and somehow the old and traditional, and the new and modern seem to have blended together very well in the Pier Head and Albert Dock area.

I never tire of seeing the iconic Liver Birds on top of the classic older buildings at the Pier Head. I remember seeing the angular new buildings going up near the traditional stuff several years ago and wondered if they would ever be a match for their long established grand neighbours.

Now these buildings are finished. They are unashamedly modern and unfussy, with reflective glass and sharp edges…..but oh how well they work alongside the established, iconic traditional grandeur.

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A close up of the Liver Birds and the classic dome rising proudly above a modern cheese wedge of a building had me reaching for my camera again…..

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…..as did the light on the cobbled promenade by the Mersey. The former warehouses on the left are now apartments.

It didn’t use to be like this when I first came to live “ooop north” and visited Liverpool. It used to be a rather scruffy place – parts of it still are – but lots of innovative planning and design has made the city a big tourist attraction. Of course, the Beatles, the Mersey sound of the 60s, the siting of the Tate Gallery in the Albert Dock, the history and the Maritime Museum have something to do with this as well!

Here be Goblins

ET Goblins State Park

It’s hot here in the UK. Far hotter than is usual for June. Cool rooms away from the sunny side of the house are a good place to loiter after a brief spell in the sun or under the shade on the south-facing patio. The current heatwave got me thinking about seriously hot places I’ve visited. One of them was Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.

With the sun beating down and the essential sunhat on my head, I explored this weird and wonderfully evocative State Park, my imagination running overtime as I snapped different formations of the hoodoos which fill it.

Shown above is what I named “ET”.

Others seen, as I wandered around this amazing space, I dubbed “Friendly Dog”, “Council Meeting”, “Eagle or Tortoise” and “Donald Duck”. It’s all down to the imagination.