Sunday, March 30, 2014

Steam N Wheels

 Steam N Wheels
March 22, 2014
Abilene, Texas
Steam N Wheels is an annual ritual for a lot of us from San Angelo. Besides being a close-by good ride, if you come in 1,2, or 3 in your age group, you win a prize. If you don't place in the top three is a well supported fun tour. You can't lose.
 The assembly point of the ride is the Abilene Zoo parking lot.
Getting ahead of myself, but caught Rick and Velma Ogan warming up before the race. And yes, once again they came in first place in the tandem category.  
Well, at least it is a fair shot of Loyd Evans and myself. Loyd rode the 32 mile ride so was not in the race. Yeah, I finished first in my age category. No exclamation points after the last sentence as all the others in my age category were smart enough to ride the 32 mile ride--or stayed at home. 
 Why smart enough to stay home? It was a cold and windy day. I bundled up like the couple on the right. Reading the mind of the guy on the left, "I wish I had a pair of long pants--or stayed at home."
 We lined up according to distance of the ride--48, 32, and on down. We lined up with the 48 milers. Directly in front of me were Rick and Velma. To their left with the red camel back was Eddie Trevino. Eddie must not have had a chip as I never saw his race results. On the right of Rick was Troy Hosmer.  Troy came in 3rd in his age category and #22 overall in the whole ride.
Not shown is Marlon Miller. I took a picture of him, but it wasn't there when I downloaded. I bet the shot of the pavement was supposed to be Marlon and I was just shivering too much to aim. Anyway, Marlon did quite well but was placed in the wrong age group--we will not mention which one, but it wasn't too far below me.
Also not shown is Gene Potter. I had asked Christine to catch him after he changed into riding clothes but it got too hectic and she missed him. Gene placed 2nd in his age group.
And off we go into the wind. This is about the only picture I took on the ride as I wore bulky, long-fingered gloves. It was too inconvenient to take pictures. Hopefully next year it will be warmer and greener so we can better show off the scenery.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Oranjestad, Aruba

Oranjestad, Aruba
Capital of Aruba. While considering the ports of this particular cruise, we were not excited to visit Aruba as the incident with the young American student was fresh in our mind. However, while reading up on the incident, it was brought out that upon learning of the disappearance of the student, almost the whole island's population joined in the search. We rapidly changed our mind about the caring and sincerity of the residents of the island.   

Oranjestad is a picturesque city with its Dutch colonial architecture in pastel colors. Along the wharf, merchants come to sell fresh fish and produce right off the boats every morning. The city would have made another great walking tour but we had already decided to take a small tour and a trip to a beach.
 One of our first stops was the Chapel of Alto Vista (highest view). Because of its high elevation and location, the Alto Vista Church is the ideal setting for sunrise and sunset services.   
Professional photo borrowed by permission.
The chapel was the island's first Roman Catholic Church, built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953. The Chapel is reached by a winding unpaved road lined with white crosses marking the Stations of the Cross. For locals, pilgrimages are made to the Chapel by traveling on their knees. 
Note the outdoor rock pews for over-flow worshipers on special occasions. 
Pilgrimages to the Chapel involve real sacrifices. Not only is the road not paved, the setting is a desert. 
The cacti remind me of Arizona. 
Our next stop was the California lighthouse. It was named after a vessel called the "California". The California was a wooden ship sailing from England to Venezuela when she ran aground off Aruba on September 23, 1891. The lighthouse wasn't built until 1914. Perched on a high seaside elevation, the lighthouse has become one of Aruba's scenic trademarks and offers a picture perfect view of the island's western coastline of sandy beaches.
And, speaking of beaches, that was our next stop.

I was taking a picture of the sandy beach when a group of people walked right in front of my camera.
The water was a little murky and the ocean bottom was slick like moss, but if you took a handful, it was just slippery mud.
We settled in a lounge chair under a nice shade tree and little birds kept getting closer and closer above us. I thought a flash from the camera might preclude an "accident" such as one of our neighbors experienced.

This little bird looked like a baby vulture and was not easily persuaded to leave.
After another swim in the water, I took another shot of the beach and people walked in front of me again!

On the way back to the ship, we took a little tour of various scenic places such as the Dutch windmill bar and restaurant. 
I think this was a gigantic hotel and casino, but I don't recall which one.
Back aboard our ship, I was impressed by the "austerity" of an accompanying cruiser. Note there are only port holes and no balcony rooms. Nowadays cruise ships have as many balcony rooms as possible as they are premium cabins.
Despite our initial reluctance to visit Aruba, it turned out to be a pleasant experience, and it was easy to tell why it was a popular spring break destination.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Willemstad, Curacao

Willemstad, Curacao
Willemstad is the capital of Curacao, one of the many islands associated with the Netherlands.  
 We had decided to take a walking tour of Willemstad, so there was no rush to disembark. Passengers with booked tours line up on the pier.
Willemstad's colorful colonial architecture helped it win a lot of UNESCO Heritage site designations. 
 As we were in no hurry, we had time to stop and smell the flowers.
A panorama shot of the Noordam makes it look larger than it is. It has a capacity of a little over 1,900 passengers which is why we like to so much. We have been on cruises with over 3,000 passengers and that was too crowded for us.   
 A government building but I have forgotten the function.
The section of the town that was our walking tour destination. 
 Another government building. First clue, security guards.
Shown is the Queen Emma Bridge which connects two major sections of the town: the Punda and Otrobanda (the other side). It is a long pontoon bridge and the section I am standing on is moved to the side when a ship or boat needs passage.
Of course I got off before the bridge started to open.  
The bridge was opening for the large sailboat. Most of the motor vehicles cross the Sint Anna Bay by the bridge in the background. The Sint Anna Bay is an inlet that leads into the large natural harbor back where our ship was docked.
 The buildings were beautiful, if that is an acceptable description of a building. In the foreground is a portion of the pontoon bridge.
 The "farmers' market" stretched for blocks along this street.
Tempel Emanu-El 
The Temple Emanuel dates back to 1864. It was built when a group of Reform Jews broke away from the Mikve Israel congregation (the oldest in the Americas). The temple now houses the Counsel for Prosecution.
 A real postcard town.
Rif Fort was built in 1828 to protect the entrance of St. Anna Bay. It was well armed and had a chain that was used to seal off the entrance of the bay if needed. 
 (Fort facing the harbor). Rif Fort was last used for defense in 1942 and was armed with two 37mm machine-guns. It is now a tourist shopping mall with restaurants, bars, and shops inside the fort.
 Seems stores everywhere start Christmas early. It was November but Christmas decorations were already in place. Getting into the spirit of obtaining gifts, the store on the right had exactly what I was looking for--Dutch chocolate rumored to rival Swiss chocolate.  (As if the ship didn't have desserts galore--but we were in a Dutch settlement so if in Dutchland, eat as the Dutchmen do).    
 Back onboard the ship we were still treated with a great vista. Note the stacks on the horizon in the background. Due to its location near the Venezuelan oilfields, Willemstad became the site of an important seaport and refinery. The refinery, at one point the largest in the world, was originally owned by Royal Dutch Shell but later sold to the Curacao government.
Willemstad was a very colorful city, brightened even more by gorgeous flowers. Which we took the time to smell. No rush.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


As one can glean from looking across Bonaire's harbor what the central tourist draw might be: snorkeling and scuba diving.
Bonaire, meaning "good air", is one of the group known as the ABC islands, i.e., Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. It is located off the north coast of South America near the western part of Venezuela. It is believed that the first Bonaire settlers came from Venezuela. Venezuela is a major supplier of goods and food to the islands.
While awaiting de-boarding, a lone pelican surveys the territory.
Greeting us to the port, two bright yeller canaries decorated the shutters.
Got time to kill, have a drink over the water.
And hopefully, one can get an idea of why scuba diving/snorkeling is popular. The water is clear and inviting.
The different shades of ocean give a hint of the increasing depth.
If one hasn't guessed, our choice of tour that day was snorkeling. With regret, no pictures of the dive are available as my little point and shoot camera is getting old and I am afraid it is not longer water proof. But take my word for it, snorkeling off Bonaire is indeed great.
Back on land, we had time to sight-see a little in Klein.
I don't remember what this symbolized but I thought it was pretty.
Whereas Bonaire was at times under different countries' rule: Spain, Dutch, Britain, and even the U.S. during WWII, Klein still reflects Dutch influence.
And a fond farewell as we start our departure from the wonderful coral island of Bonaire.