June 27, 2012
We take a bus to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China. I’m so excited, I can hardly believe I’m going to actually walk on the Great Wall of China. On the way, Vicki gives us a history while we look at the passing scene out the windows. We see the Beijing Romance Club, a matchmaking club, which seemed strange in 2006. Now, don’t we all know about on-line matchmaking? We see farms, fruit orchards, vendors along the highway lay out their produce on blankets. Highway workers in droves sweep the edges of the roads with straw brooms. I mean straw brooms that look like “witches” brooms. China doesn’t buy machinery to do a task that can be accomplished by human labor, though, that is changing. But what then do you do with a huge population of workers without work asks Vicki? People don’t drive as fast here and the highway is teeming with people on foot.
The walk up to one of the Great Wall’s entrance places is lined with vendors, since the Great Wall is the biggest tourist attraction in all of Asia.
I took a picture of this camel and was shushed away by the owner. Vicki explained that this man makes his living by charging for pictures taken of his camel, usually with mom and the kids standing near it. I felt bad for my “sin”, but I couldn’t read the sign nor undo the picture. Vicki explained that most of these vendors have been licensed to sell here because they were once farmers displaced by the flooding of the Yangtze River.
We enter near one of the towers built to house the soldiers and their families who lived there and manned the towers all day and night. I was stunned to learn that. It isn’t as though the Great wall could be driven to from a nearby city during the 1200′s. Somehow, I thought the wall was its own defense, a deterrent. Vicki took us to an entrance that is the farthest from Beijing city center, and not as busy as others. Notice the dip on the right to take rain water away from the steps.
This gives you an idea of the height of the walls at the top, just over five feet tall. From magazine pictures and travel ads I’d seen, I thought of the wall as this smooth brick roadway for miles. It is smooth here. This section has been restored and looks quite new.
I guess I expected an even structure built in a ring at the Chinese borders, never giving much thought to the undulating terrain of the mountain passes it guarded. It is mind-boggling just trying to see in the distance as it traces the tops of the mountains in every direction you look.
It’s uphill, jagged, stairs both straight and crooked; weathered and broken.
You can hike the wall for days, or weeks. We met a family that backpacked in for miles and found vistas, and wild animals, and broken, crumbling sections of the wall where they could climb down and explore the woods and meadows.
When you look over the edge, you realize that the wall is much taller than it looks on the “inside”. Here Vicki pointed out the remnants of an old fruit orchard the soldiers and their families depended on when they guarded the border. They had to grow their own food and carry or pipe water to farm on the Chinese side of the wall. On the opposite side, it was part of their job to cut away all vegetation within 30 feet of the enemy side of the wall. Ascending and descending the wall many times a day, to toilet, haul water, tend gardens, and other tasks, tests the sense of believability.
This is a spot where soldiers could get out to their work detail off the wall.
In inclement weather, you can imagine how treacherous it would be to patrol this wall. It drains one way and then another. Like castle walls, cut outs were built for the soldiers to fire their arrows at raiders below. The towers and exits are located I’m guessing about every 300 to 400 feet, or so. Inside those towers, all open to the air above, the families kept warm by body heat and a charcoal brazier, also used for cooking. The feat of building the wall is hard to put your mind around. It at one time stretched 13,171 miles. And, while we were in China, news came that archeologists had uncovered another 400 kilometer section of earthen and stone wall from ancient times. The original wall was started in 200 B.C. Each section has a distinct character, an individuality, as one worker differed slightly in his method than another. Hauling and mixing the cement in a remote area, hauling the water, again, it tests the sense of believability. I expect they used horses and donkeys to help with the work. Even so, a monumental achievement.
You can see this section of the wall is shorter, warmer and sunnier.
This was an emotional experience for me. I felt it was worth the whole trip’s expense just to see the wall. I cast one last look at this impossible place, straining my eyes through the mist to see, as far as I could, this amazing wall etched like a painting on the mountain tops. I hated to leave.
The website below gives some history, facts and pictures of this one of seven of the greatest world wonders.
May 14, 2012
Jim says I try to stuff 600 years of history into 800 words. I suppose he is right. I’m always awed by history in out-of-the-way places I’ve never heard of such as the Acomo Pueblo near Casa Blanca, New Mexico.
This mesa was once home to 3,000 Acoma. Their homes were built during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. But evidence of the mesa’s occupation are as old as the 11th century, making it the longest continually occupied place in the United States.
Many homes line the sand streets though only about thirty families live full-time on the Mesa.
The adobe houses reveal layers of history. The bottom part of this building has smaller stones of odd and uneven sizes. At one time the Pueblo could only be reached by climbing a stone stairway hacked into the side of the mountain. Every log, every stone had to be hand carried to the site. The top was restored after a drivable road, and a pick-up truck could carry loads of perfectly formed adobe bricks.
At one time, all houses were assessable by ladders. For safety, people entered from the upper story, no doors were built into the lower levels. People lived communally and could travel the length of the street inside of the houses from one end to the other. The young men would pull up the ladders every night and set them down in the morning.
For light, a glassy type of stone, that had to cure for about a year, was used to bring a dim light inside. This pane is the only remaining pane of that type on the mesa. When the Spanish brought paned glass, the Acomo quickly converted to larger, better windows.
In this unique and fascinating place, the families worked together on the roof. They dried the corn, and ground it and took shelter inside from the heat. The children and dogs played there. They dry farmed and collected rainwater in several large cisterns. Once the Spanish arrived and the horses drank from the open cisterns, algae contaminated the pools and are no longer used today. New closed cisterns provide drinking and cooking water. Residents have no electricity, nor running water. They now use Portable toilets.
This building is a Kiva with a special ladder. The top represents a cloud. The posts must be brought up the Mesa without touching the ground. Men only are allowed in the building, though the Acoma are a matriarchal society. A small hole in the thick wall, just under the fourth rung from the bottom, on the right, could be used by the women to shout in to the men if needed. The population swells on the weekends when friends and relatives visit or ceremonies are held.
When the Spaniards arrived, they brought many good things to the Pueblo. They learned to steam corn and cook meats in these adobe ovens. Two of them remain on the Mesa. They brought peaches, peppers and grains to the area. But they also treated the native populations with disrespect. Ordered them to cease their religious practices and convert to Christianity.
They built an enormous church, with Acomo labor, over one of their Kivas. The Acomo are the only people to successfully rid themselves of a foreign power on their land. They kept the Spanish out for 100 years. The church, built in the 1600′s stayed unused for that 100 years. But, the Spanish returned. The Acomo had ambushed the Spaniards by leading them into the zigzag maze of their Pueblo, separated them and killed them.
The Spaniards brought back a cannon and destroyed buildings, set fire to the Pueblo, and killed 500 Acomo and threw their bodies over the edge to the ground below. They amputated one foot of every man aged 25 and over (except the very old) and sentenced them to 25 years of enslaved hard labor. The women were sentenced to hard labor. The old women and children were abandoned on the Mesa.
The Spaniards took 1500 people off the Mesa, but one thousand of them had hidden in neighboring villages below and returned to the Pueblo to continue life as they had known it. They built their doors small, so that anyone trying to enter, like a Spaniard with a tall helmet and a weapon, would have to stoop to enter and be vulnerable to attack from the inside the thick walls.
They surrounded their cemetery with an adobe wall with head shapes. They would dress these knobs up to look like people guarding the mesa.
The old church was the most fascinating building,ten feet thick at the base and four feet thick at the top. No pictures were allowed inside. When it was built the Spaniards claimed it wasn’t complete without a bell. The Acomo asked for a bell. The Spaniards said they could bring a bell in exchange for four children, two boys and two girls. The trade was made and the children were sent to be priests and nuns.
This historical treasure was a fascinating place to visit, just 60 miles West of Albuquerque. It is under continual restoration. They have a visitors center, a film,cafe, gift shop and museum. The Acomo are renowned for their special pottery.
The nearby Casino provides a nice respite and a parking place for RVers like us. After our visit we had a Mothers Day lunch to strolling musicians in the Casino.
If you’d like to see the rest of my photos, click on the link below:
February 19, 2012
A National Historic Monument, San Xaviar Mission was founded by Spanish Padre Kino in 1692. The current church replaced it in 1783, making it the oldest European style structure in Arizona. It is situated on the O’oddham Indian Reservation. It suffered earthquake damage in 1887 and the restoration process was the most fascinating aspect of the Mission to me.
It’s long and narrow and colorful. Now, with electric lights, you can better appreciate the work. Originally, it was lit with hundreds of candles and what little light came from four small windows in the center arch of the church. The roof is divided into four arches with two arched knaves to either side of the altar knave, making the building into the shape of a cross.
The windows are beautiful and allow one to see the frescoes during daylight.
There is said to be 50 human figures in the church. This statue of the Virgin Mary appears to be wearing cloth, but all is made of stone as are the drab curtains behind her.
No one knows who designed and painted the original church, but studies of Catholic iconography show that everything in it had a particular place and meaning.
The beautiful arched ceiling frescoes, the figures, paintings and altar decorations, inspire awe, but more so the restoration after the earthquake.
At the four corners of every arch is a painting. And running through out the church is the knotted rope of the Franciscan Robes visible above the painting. The original work was most likely done by a Spanish artist, but the restoration was done and paid for by the O’oddham Indians the church serves. With donations and grants, they hired experts from Italy to teach them how to do restoration work, a skill they now pass on to a new generation enabling the church to be cared for forever, one hopes.
The outside facade of the building was severely damaged by the earthquake and a lightning strike took off the top of the North tower in 1939. Several restoration efforts failed. In 1953, they rebuilt crumbling areas of handmade brick covered with plaster just like the original. Then they patched cracks and covered everything with a cement wash. The cement wash was a mistake.
The cement wash prevented the building from breathing and kept the inside damp, further damaging the art work on the inside. Analysis of the materials and the advice of Italian experts who learned from experience, they tried a new wash from materials at hand. The new wash made from lime and sand and cactus was successful. It kept the building from leaking and allowed the thick walls to breathe and dry out properly.
The facade was restored in 1953. The painstaking inside restoration was begun in 1992 and completed over a period of five years. If you’ve ever seen a wall with flaking paint, you can imagine what it was like. Using hypodermic needles, they injected liquid with a thin epoxy into each flake to get it to re-adhere to the painting. Once stabilized, the spots where no paint remains are sponged or brushed on to blend with the original painting. A video in the museum allows you to see the process and meet the locals who were sent to Italy to learn restoration.
There is much to see here. An adjacent mortuary once used to hold bodies awaiting burial. A school sits behind it. A hill on the north side of the church has a sanctuary built into the rocks resembling Our Lady of Lourdes.
About the place interesting touches of old. A door latch.
A cross of iron in a gate.
The unique way water is drained from a flat roof.
Ignacio Franko explained the significance of this gate design to O’oddham culture, where a man walks and reaches hard turns in the road but always circles back to the good of life. He is the leader of the band, White Dove Mumsiga.
In the museum, one can see the old saguaro rib and wattle building methods of old.
This bell wheel turned by the altar boys, old vestments, baskets and everyday artifacts along with a huge Spanish tome with colorful lettering are on display.
We visited on a Saturday when multiple baptisms were being performed. People were enjoying this wonderful ritual and it was fun to watch them enjoy this time. Vendors were waiting for the crowds to leave the church. They were selling green and red chili burritos, Indian fry bread with cinnamon and sugar, and beans and chili. Great smells and a great tasting burrito.
We climbed the hill for a last look at the White Dove of the Desert.
February 19, 2012
Yesterday Mary and I visited this mission located about 9 miles from our current parking location and also about 9 miles from downtown Tucson, Arizona. It is also known as the White Dove of the Desert.
From their brochure…
Some 200,000 visitors come each year from all over the world to view what is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space. The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.
To read about the mission, you may click this link…
Under terrible photography conditions…harsh sunlight on a bright white structure and dimly lit interiors…we nonetheless ventured forth. Here are some of the photos that I took…
As always you may left click upon an image to see an enlarged view and then click once again to see an even larger view…
To see the other 71 photos that I took, click this link…
I’ve been in many missions in Mexico and the United States. This mission is likely in the best conditions I’ve seen. That’s because of the major restoration starting in 1989 and finishing in 1997. During our 2.5 hour visit we watched a 25 minute video describing this painstaking renovation process. The mission is the first historic building of its kind to be entirely cared for and preserved by its parishioners. It was indeed a most pleasant visit during which time a number of local families where having their newborn babies baptized.
All original material Copyright – Jim Jaillet 2012
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July 19, 2011
I knew there was a reason I like to use Southwest Airlines when I fly. In fact, I always attempt to put my money where I sense corporate responsibility. Many companies, especially small companies encourage their employees to do community service, often giving them company time to do it. But how does a huge corporation that does business in so many communities involve itself with people projects?
Several months ago, the Student Conservation Association, which coordinates young adult volunteers on conservation projects across the country, approached Southwest about a collaboration tied to Southwest’s 40th anniversary. Southwest was enthusiastic about the idea and both groups met and came up with “Conservation in Action Tour: 40 Projects for 40 Years.”
On the ground, that translates as a circuitous nationwide trip in a painted Southwest RV, moving from city to city to work on conservation projects.
Prior to each stop, Southwest organizes a group of its employees to participate in the day’s project and the Student Conservation Association mobilizes its own volunteers. They were spotted in Las Vegas last week at McCarran Airport.
The Las Vegas conservation project was scheduled for the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre center-of-town cultural center dedicated to the desert ecosystem. Organizers at the preserve and the SCA planned a morning of tree planting, mulching, weeding and general garden cleanup. But the night before the event, Mother Nature intervened with a flash flood. The clean-up became a recovery project that included replacing some downed trees.
The 60 volunteers worked through the heat to get the place back in order in one day, a project that probably would’ve taken the area Springs Preserve volunteers many days to complete.
“They didn’t even want to take water breaks,” claimed Tyler Lau, an SCA project leader for the Tour 40 team.
A midsummer outdoor project in the sizzling heat of Las Vegas probably had as much appeal as skunk grease, but the volunteers pitched right in. They have done invasive plant removals, habitat restorations and wetland and riverbed cleanups, but fixing up a desert garden after a storm was something new.
Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said the Tour 40 project was something new for the airline, but giving back to communities is something it has done for years. Last week, VEGAS INC chronicled the importance of corporate philanthropy, but imagine how tough that is for an airline that flies into 72 cities?
The company initiated a program called Tickets for Time in which for every 40 hours a Southwest employee volunteers for a nonprofit organization, the benefiting organization is eligible for a complimentary roundtrip flight for fund-raising or transportation needs. Southwest employees logged 45,000 hours of volunteer work in 2009, according to the company website.
On last week’s visit, the SCA crew got a day off from RV living to spend a free night at Bally’s on the Strip.
“I never thought I’d ever spend a night in Las Vegas,” Lau says.
I’ve blogged a number of times about bad corporate citizens so it gives me great pleasure to illuminate what happens when tourism, business and conservation work together for the benefit of all.
November 20, 2010
Its possible to see the workers of today, like the sailor below…
and their equivalent occupation from yesteryear.
Of course, these guys were officers of the vessel, not a swabbie like the woman above.
To me, the most fascinating business on the wharf was the rope making building, because the building had to be as long as the finished rope, which meant about 250 feet, if my memory is correct.
Its a marvel to watch how the strands were twisted to make huge, heavy duty ropes, much needed by the shipping industry.
Ropes were made of the hemp plant which makes it illegal in the U.S. Too bad! We could use that industry here instead of importing from Canada or Germany or China. Our early colonists knew a good thing. Hemp makes cheaper paper rather than cutting down trees, as well.
Another good occupation might be the carving of figure heads. They are definitely obsolete, but look what beauties. And, collectors love them. This particular vessel was engaged in rescue training for their sailors the day we were there. Young sailors learn real skills in how to operate these vessels and it made for a fascinating day at Mystic Seaport.
The hardest part of this rescue was learning how to lower the small boat.