Easter Island

The first time I visited Easter Island, I especially wanted to make the most of it.  It is an incredibly remote place – in the middle of the south pacific, there are hundreds of miles of water in every direction before any other land is encountered.  It is sometimes described as “the most remote inhabited place on Earth.”  It takes some effort to get there, and so I wanted to squeeze every moment of experience from it that I could.  I was not likely ever to see it again.

But I was given a shell lei at the airport when I was leaving.

“It is a gift,” the man said, “but know that if you accept it, it also comes with a great cost.”

I looked perplexed, even as I bent my head so he could place it around my neck.

“You will be taking a shell from the island,” he explained.  “And anyone who takes a shell from the island will feel the need to return.”

“Quaint superstition,” I thought.

And yet, a mere three years later, I again found myself stepping off a plane at the Mataveri Airport on Easter Island.

It is one of my favorite places.  Already it had changed in the time between my visits and I fear it will continue to change rapidly.  I was there for the southern summer solstice, and wanted to take some photographs at dawn at the Rano Raraku quarry – but fences had been erected and access restricted to times when the park that now contains the quarry is open.

Here are a few of my memories of Easter Island …


One of my fondest memories of being on safari was waiting for the plane to arrive at the airstrip when our group was to fly from the Serengeti to the Ruaha, another of the four national parks in Tanzania we would visit.  There was a small problem.  When the plane arrived, the pilot would discover a herd of wildebeest grazing all over the area, including the airstrip.  Our guides needed to take the jeeps and drive around the airstrip to encourage the wildebeest to move out of the way.
This was, of course, only one of many memories that I have of my safari.  There is also the morning when I awoke to hear sounds of a lion prowling the camp, walking between the cabin I was in and the neighboring one.  It reinforced the real reason why we were never permitted outside our cabins or tents at night without the presence of Maasai guard.  Their heightened sensitivity to the subtle movements of African animals made them essential, and there was one morning on the way to breakfast when they kept the herd of elephant who had wandered into camp at bay.  Or there was the morning a playful monkey ran across the breakfast table as we ate under a huge acacia tree; he grabbed bread and fruit, screeching at us defiantly, just daring us to try to stop him.
But mostly what I recall about my safari is the persistence of the wonders, with each day bringing something new without fail.  Infant giraffes, their umbilical cords still hanging from them, following their mothers on spindly legs.  Baby zebra bending their heads underneath their mothers’ bellies, suckling.  A pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed wildebeest, the solitary male reclining powerfully in the sun to remind us all why he is called the King of the Jungle.  The elephant mother trumpeting and using her trunk to move her child along when he spent too much time posing for cameras.
Here are a few of my many photographs of Tanzania.


I should have been a Roman.  Maybe I was.

There is something about Italy that has always drawn me.  Many European countries have long histories, but only Italy has Rome.  To walk through the Coliseum, to stand at the site where Julius Caeser was assassinated, or to hike out of town to see the remnants of an aqueduct is to step back in time and wonder about the sophistication and accomplishment of the Roman Empire.  So many of our modern laws trace their roots to concepts developed by the Romans, as does so much of our modern language and culture.

And Italy is, of course, not just Rome.  It is also endless expanses of olive groves and vineyards in Tuscany.  It is romantic canals that wend their way through Venice — where one can incongruently see the Fedex boat delivering packages, police boat cruisers patrolling the canals for speeders, and garbage boats collecting trash.  It is the explosion of Renaissance art in Florence and the magnificent architecture of Brunelleschi.  It is the footprints of great scholars — Galileo, Leonardo, and Michelangelo.  It is the Alps and the Mediterranean.  It is pasta and pizza and biscotti.

One of the things I spend much of my time doing these days is studying Italian, with the hope of moving to Italy — at least for a time — and learning about the place in ways that only a resident can.

French Polynesia


Fire and ice.  These two words are often used to characterize Iceland, and they are not inaccurate.  Barely outside the Arctic circle, much of the island gives the appearance of having been carved by glacial motion:  high cliffs, narrow fjords, deep ravines, expanses of moraine.  At the same time, it feels like the crust of the Earth is as thin as it can be:  volcanoes ready to erupt at any moment, geysers of steam, hot springs.  The odor of sulphur is everywhere — in the air at the many locations where the interior of the Earth belches through the crust and in all the water, whether it be in the famous Blue Lagoon spa or in the shower at the hotel.

Reykjavik is a wonderful city, and one thing I will always associate with it is wandering lost among deserted streets on the Sunday morning I arrived.  A teenager sitting in a chair on a balcony at one of the many apartments looking out over the city stood and yelled out, “Can I help you find something?”  In English, of course.  There is something that always amazes me when I am in a foreign place and a total stranger goes out of his way to be helpful.

But as wonderful as Reykjavik is, my real fondness is for Myvatn, a small lake in the north of Iceland around which a number of small communities live.  Well away from any real city, it gives a better sense of the truly wild and rugged nature of Iceland.  On the approach to the hotel, what progressively dominated the views was Hverfjall Crater.  It is impossible for any photograph to do justice to it, although many photographers have tried.  About a kilometer in diameter and rising 400 meters above the surface, it is not an impact crater, but was instead formed from an eruption within the tephra of the Earth itself.  Climbing to the top and walking around the edge of the crater, it is impossible not to be struck by the sheer power of the dynamics going on within our planet.  It is also at the top that the arrangements of rocks in the interior can be seen — people who left their names or pronouncements of their love for another as beacons to be seen hundreds of years later.


“Where are they going,” my Dad said, looking at the snowmobiles racing out onto the ice of the Arctic ocean in the bright sun.

“Hunting,” Terri said.  She was our host for our visit to Resolute Bay, one of the northermost communities of Canada.

“Hunting?  At this hour?”  It was about 9:30 PM.

“Well,” she answered, “it won’t get dark for another four months.”

The way of life is different in the north.

When I visited Resolute Bay, it was still in the area of Canada called the Northwest Territories.  That was back in the days when Canada had, as I dutifully learned in school, ten provinces and two territories.  It was in 1999 that Nunavut — which is the Inuktitut word for “our land” — separated from the Northwest Territories and became Canada’s third territory.  It has a population of perhaps 30,000 people, diffusely spread over an area greater than the more than 100 million who live in Mexico.  More people live in the tiny principality of Monaco than in the vast expanse that is Nunavut.

In my brief time there, I marveled at the appearance of the tundra.  Almost nothing at all could grow that far north.  Just a few colorful flowers among the small rocks of the terrain.  I liked seeing the inukshuks — piles of rocks stacked in the shape of men and used by the native population as part of their hunt for tens of thousands of years.  The runway strip was dirt, it getting too cold in the winter for anything to be paved.

My trip to Resolute Bay was one of the few that I took alone with my father, and my time there, although it was only a couple of days, remains the source of many memories for me when I think of him.

Scotland and England

The car was headed straight for me on the narrow one-lane road. I couldn’t quite remember what the guidebook had said. Will he stop? Or I am supposed to?

To get to Iona, a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland where Macbeth is believed to be buried, one first has to pass over Mull, taking ferries at both ends. The roads on Mull are all single-lane with numerous tight bends and blind crests. Passing areas are provided every so often, with the first person reaching the area stopping so the one going in the opposite direction can pass.

Finally getting to Iona is to arrive at peace itself. While it has many tourists during the day, who have come to view the ancient abbey and tour its graveyard, it has a very different feel at night. Darkness descends comfortably on the island, and it becomes a place where one can get lost in the night among the ghosts of its ancient past.

The small hotel I stayed at had its own garden, which — except for the fish I ate — provided all of the food for my dinner. Without doubt, I had the very best meal of my entire stay in Scotland at that small hotel.