Our Fifteen Minutes of Fame on Conception Hill

A modest dose of history with wine and empanada

Posting about our departure from Valparaiso, Chile (see Valparaiso Departure III “The Sunset”) brings us to the time spent wandering this World Heritage Site, added to the UNESCO list in 2003.  Within the amphitheater of hills is Cerro Conception (Conception Hill), historically settled by English and German immigrants.  The façade of the Hotel Brighton, a building from the 19th century heyday of Valparaiso when it was a stopping point for shipping through the Straits of Magellan, reveals why so many of the buildings are alike: all are constructed from materials dropped off from sailing ships.

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Hotel BrightonThe theme of the Hotel Brighton evokes thoughts of immigrants remembering their origins, emigres claiming a spot of real estate to mold a sense of place for themselves.  This goes both ways, Valparaiso, Indiana was formerly Porterville of Porter County.  The motive force behind the renaming were the memories of the retired Captain David Porter, the sole survivor of an attack on his ship USS Essex by the British frigates Phoebe and Cherub in the War of 1812, within sight of Valparaiso. Fifty eight (58) United States Marines lost their lives in that sea battle.  To point out the obvious, Captain Porter is the namesake of Porter County.  

Pam corrects me when I say we “stopped for lunch” at the Hotel Brighton, pointing out we “only” had a glass of red wine and an empanada.  Both were tasty, even more so with this marvelous view looking north into the other hills of the city.  The yellow umbrella is on the hotel restaurant terrace.  

Hotel Brighton

I missed capturing the signature wrought iron gate forming the word “Brighton” among decorative scrolls.  Built on the edge of Conception Hill it overlooks the coastal plain almost all of which is man-made.

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Hotel Brighton

During our refreshment, this young lady (see photograph below) introduced herself as a reporter for El Mercurio.  Accompanied by a photographer, she interviewed us and we had our photograph taken, I returned the favor with the following photograph saying the story might appear in the next edition.  Standing next to her, with a puzzled look, is our waitress who was from the States.

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Hotel Brighton

El Mercurio de Valparaiso is the oldest continuously published Spanish language newspaper in the world.  In my research for these photographs I discovered the newpaper officers were a short walk from the landing of the Ascensor Conception.

Continued with Valparaiso Separation

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Valparaiso Departure III “The Sunset”

The Sun’s Progress

Two minutes after capturing the last light on Concon Point, see “Valparaiso Departure II”, turning the camera 180 degrees, to the south, looking along the Chilean coast, to capture birds on the wing headed toward shore at day’s end.
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Remembering other times,

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waiting for darkness

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with a sky map, studying it to make sense of the stars.

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How far?  How large?

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Light from our star, eight minutes old,

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grazed the earth’s rim the breath of a moth wing ago.

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Connect the dots, stories of heroes, monsters.

 

 

Our star, as we know it now

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Singular, alone,

 

 

Progress, an illusion to be understood

 

 

No less mysterious for that

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Look back to the sheltering headland of Valparaiso, glowing.

 

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Click the link to visit my posting from the next day, “Island Romance”

Here is a link to more postings about Valparaiso, “Our Fifteen Minutes of Fame on Conception Hill.”

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Valparaiso Departure II

View of Aconcagua Mountain at Sunset

After the Ocean Princess sailed off toward its destiny in my last posting, “Valparaiso Departure I,” Pam and I left the deck for dinner to return two hours later for the Regatta’s departure in the magic sunset hour.

This first photograph is 22 minutes before sunset as the ship swung into a course along the northern shore of Valparaiso Bay.  The city grew along the bay shore, starting from the city center in the southern cup and into the north.  We are looking southeast across a lighthouse named “Club de Yates”, identified from the red fiberglass tower, a triangular daymark, toward the north end of Valparaiso.

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Here we see a different city altogether, the fourth largest of Chile and also within the Valparaiso Region and the Greater Valparaiso Area, named Vina Del Mar (Vineyard of the Sea).  The view is almost due east and, from here, it is difficult to discern why it is also called “La Ciudad Jardin” (Garden City), it is do densely populated.  North Valparaiso ends with a ridge with Vina Del Mar the next valley.  Look carefully along the shore to find the Punta Gruesa lighthouse with a red band on a white metal tower daymark.  By way of scale the tower is 56 feet high.  Follow Punta Gruesa to the right for the ridge separating Vina Del Mar (the taller apartment buildings, from Valparaiso.

The distant mountain is huge, visible from 95 miles away.  More about it later.  

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The previous photographs were using a tripod mounted Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with the Canon 70 – 300 mm f4-5.6 L IS USM lens set to 108 mm focal length, taken 15 seconds apart.  I then swapped  the EF 24 mm f 1.4 L USM lens for the following photograph of the pilot boat heading to a rendezvous with the Regatta, having dropped off “our” harbor pilot.  It will wait beyond the harbor to bring the pilot back home.  The photograph is 7 minutes after the previous.  Punta Gruesa and the lighthouse and the Vina Del Mar apartment towers are just visible, having lost the sun.

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On the northern tip of Valparaiso Bay Punta Concon, the City of Concon and tall sand dunes also called Concon reflect the sun’s light 10 minutes before sunset.  The city is the fastest growing in Chile, 106% between 1992 and 2010 (28,157 to 50,000).  The Regatta is now well underway and I returned to the “long” lens here set to the 3oo mm focal length maximum.

On the other side of Punta Concon (Concon Point) the Aconcagua River flows into the Pacific.  Although the river has the same name as Aconcagua Mountain, the head waters are in Chile, 12 miles from the slopes of the mountain in Argentina.

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A swivel of the camera brings Aconcagua Mountain into view.  This former volcano, dead now for 8 – 10 million years is the highest mountain in North and South America.  The next highest peak is in the Hindu Kush, 10,000 miles to the northeast.  That said, Aconcagua is less challenging than Denali of Alaska and so many people attempt it each year human excrement is a major pollutant there.  We are looking here over the Vina Del Mar Valley 95 miles to Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina.

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Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Valparaiso Departure I

Thoughts on Departures

To continue with the theme of our encounter with Isla Mocha in my previous posting, “Island Romance”, we return to Valparaiso to experience a departure.  Late that afternoon Pam and I enjoyed entertainments on the Regatta.  This painting of a ship under sail brings to mind the history of Valparaiso, as a place only reachable by ship, clinging to a narrow ledge on the Andes, barely existing for centuries, repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes until the 19th century brought sailing vessels such as this, growth and prosperity.  Major earthquakes hit the years 1730, 1822, 1839, 1873, 1906, 1907.  After 1907, the city was rebuilt anew in the modern form.  The inhabitants must enjoy spot, naming it “Vale of Paradise.”

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While, in the 21st century the city enjoys a refreshment of an influx of artists and visitors such as the Regatta, the danger of the next massive quake is ever present and unpredictable.

As we enjoyed the artwork….

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….a pianist entertained us.

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As usual, I was carting photography equipment to capture the moments as the afternoon moved towards…

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….the scheduled departure among still life painting in the style of the Dutch masters.

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That day I chose the upper decks as the best vantage point.  From there, Pam and I viewed the departure of a similar ship to the Regatta, the “Ocean Princess.”  It must have been the last voyage of the Princess under that name as, the same year, it was acquired by the Oceania line, refurbished, relaunched as the “Sirena”.

The Chilean navy base and Naval Academy is there.  The Ocean Princess navigated around this docked destroyer…..

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…with the assistance of the tugboat Alcatraz, a name derived from the Spanish word for pelican as in “La Isla de los Alcatraces” (Island of the Pelicans) where the former Alcatraz prison was built in San Francisco Harbor.  Spanish speakers think of birds when viewing the tub boat.  Americans think of prisoners (escaping) and San Francisco.  Unlike San Francisco Harbor, Valparaiso Bay is a semi-circle open to the ocean, the harbor is on the southern, north facing (away from the ocean) shore, protected by a long (3,000 foot) breakwater along which the Chilean war ships dock.  We are viewing the Alcatraz after most of the work for the Ocean Princess departure was done.

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The north end of the bay is residential, behind the towers are homes arrayed on the hillside, the only land available.

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Much of the harbor and city business district, in the foreground (below), on the south side is on land reclaimed from the sea.

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All around the Regatta was a working port.  Here rolls of cable (wire?) are prepared for hoisting onto a cargo ship.  Note the hawsers, taught under the strain, between the workmen and the ship hull.

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Passengers board the Regatta from the last tours.  I expect this is the trip to Santiago.  Most of the dockings the Regatta was surrounded by the port, the only way to access the city was on a tour bus as the port activity made walking too dangerous.

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I can only guess the role the Alcatraz is playing here…..

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…. probably it is positioned to give the Ocean Princess a nudge if the harbor pilot misjudges the turn around the breakwater and warships.  In a harbor, a ship’s crew passes control to a harbor pilot who knows the navigation challenges much better than is possible for them.

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Today, as 99.9% of all days, the pilot makes the turn safely.  Here is a better view of the warship.

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Looking back toward the harbor, the crane is hoisting those rolls, the tug boat “Lauca” framed by the superstructure of (I think) the crane.

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The Ocean Princess is will under way, as shown by the long wake.  As luck will have it, When the Regatta follows the sun will be much lower, the light better for photography.  At the stern of the warship, the masted vessel is a training ship for the Chilean Naval Academy.

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Learn of the view of the highest mountain in North and South American in my posting “Valparaiso Departure II.”

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Around the Kiva

a fascinating lecture

This diverse group of fifty three individuals are gathered around a kiva of the Mesa Verde Cliff palace on a July afternoon.

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Interested in Ruins? Here is another interesting post, “Loughan Bay Ruins, County Antrim, Ireland”Interested in Ruins? Here is another interesting post, “Loughan Bay Ruins, County Antrim, Ireland”

Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Skellig Puffins

The Lovable Puffin

Each of the 603 steps between the Skellig Michael dock and the monastery evoked contemplation, caution, wonder and gratitude.

  • Contemplation: how did the monks manage to survive while placing the steps?  It can only be by a careful division of labor once a survival tripod was build.  By tripod I mean the basics food, shelter, warmth.
  • Caution: as with any steps, for a 60+ person I have learned the hard way falls take a long time to recover from.
  • Gratitude: for the opportunity, growth and knowledge afforded by travel.
  • Wonder: every step offered a new vantage and discovery.

Puffins were on my mind for most of the lower steps being immediately at hand, almost underfoot, constantly.  Underfoot, not in a obnoxious way.  Underfoot in being right there, unabashed, going about the business of life.  Pam and I were lucky, Puffin wise, for the weather.  Sensible birds, when the visibility is low Puffins stay close to the burrow, making improvements and socialize with neighbors.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig

Bad News: Atlantic Puffin populations are on a precipitous decline across Ireland and British Islands.  There are talks of a population collapse.  Researchers enlisted assistance from wildlife photography enthusiasts with outstanding results released in 2017.  The photographs showed parents returning with less nutritious fish.  The stress on Puffin populations follows the decline of fish stocks from over fishing.  I listed two references at the end of this post.

The disturbing element to our experience was not one of the birds flew in with a catch.  On second thought, this is not unexpected.  Late May the eggs are laid and under incubation.  The individuals in these photographs were feeding only themselves.  If we returned mid-June there would be chicks to feed.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin with an inquisitive attitude

Why do we love Puffins?  We see reminders of ourselves.  The expressive large eyes, over a striking beak and there is something expressive about the birds’ body movements.  Don’t you almost know what’s on the mind of this fellow?  “What’s going on, over there?”

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
A colony of nesting puffins on a flowering cliff of green.

Puffins are small birds, the size of a human hand.  This colony returned in late March or early April, each breeding pair claiming a nesting site.  The coloring of the beak happens during breeding.  The bird molts while at sea during the winter, the beak and other brightly colored facial characteristics are lost.

Social Puffin
Michael Skellig puffins in social setting on cliff with burrows and flowers.

Puffin sexual differentiation is unique among birds.  The coloring and markings are identical between males and females.  Males are somewhat larger than females is all.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Soft soil covering the flanks of Skellig Michael is the site of age old Puffin colonies.

Here is Puffin nesting behavior up close.  I did some research on the flowering plants surrounding the burrows and am not sure.  I believe the white flowers are a mixture of Sea Campion and Sea Mayweed.

As far as my photographic technique.  There are two sets of Puffin shots from Skellig Michael.  For the the walk to the top, the monastery site, I used the lighter Sony Alpha A700 dslr with a Sony variable lens, DT 18-200 mm F3.5 – 6.3.  On top, I switched to the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and, for the descent, fitted a Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L USM lens.

The shot above and following are the Canon, taken on descent.  Prior shots are the Sony, taken on ascent.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin Entering Burrow

Puffins have striking black and white plumage and leg color some describe as “tangerine.”  Tangerine?  I guess.  Here an individual ducks into the burrow.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
A grouping of Michael Skellig puffins, the foremost with an attitude of regard.

I did not spend a great deal of time in any one spot, being time limited and needing to get back to the boat.  Don’t recall very much social interactions between individuals, other than this perching together on the rocks.  The foreground Puffin seems to take the behavior of another bird to task.

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Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffins are capable, if awkward, fliers.

 

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”
References
Puffins and Technology
Clues to the Puffin Population Decline

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Skellig Peek

A Trinity of Skellig Images

With the newest Star Wars cash cow , “The Last Jedi”, bruiting about the media show, now’s time to debut a trinity of images from a morning spent about the Skellig Islands May 2014.  Skellig scenery also graced the ending of the 2015 installment, “The Force Awakens.”

Pam and I have many stories from that day, a favorite is from the parking lot of Portmagee where we met the fast boat to the island. I prepared for the day by making a reservation for our ride. We traveled from Killarney, where an early morning breakfast feast spread by The Killarney Royal Hotel fortified us for the adventure. Throughout our tour, experiencing Ireland was like taking blinders off, this first experience on The Ring of Kerry was no exception, driving on a tight timeline to reach Portmagee with minutes to spare, every turn of the road presented a new delight.

Grateful to have made it to Portmagee, we quickly pulled our kit together. As I closed the bonnet, Pam exclaimed “our umbrellas.” At this point of the story we laugh together. Umbrellas indeed. I had a dim clue of what lay in store for us and insisted the umbrellas be left behind, a counter-intuitive decision for a rainy Irish day the Wild Atlantic Way. Regardless of the time, we needed a bathroom break as there will be no facilities on the fast boat or the World Heritage Site where there is no space for human waste products.

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Skelligs from Valentia Island
I was here perched on a cliff of Valentia Island across from Portmagee looking southwest across Valentia Sound.

The humor is in our welcome aboard the fast boat, like a fishing boat with a small cabin and small deck dominated by the engine hatch. We crowded on, handed a full set of fisherman slickers. This is a heavy coat with hood and pants, all waterproof. Our close timing guaranteed the worse seat, away from the cabin in the open. It was a new experience for us and we felt a sense of dread as the craft left the protection of Valentia Sound into the open Atlantic Ocean.

We faced a west wind, driving 12+ foot waves, as the boat breached each wave the crest went over the cabin in a waterfall of salt water. Up and down, up and down. Thankfully neither of us lost breakfast as some did. I do not have photographs of the trip out or the approach to the island, my equipment was safely packed away.

In the above photograph you see the entire course of our approach to the island, a bit more than 10 (land) miles from Portmagee. We toured Valentia Island that afternoon.

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Skellig Steps
Climbing the side of Skellig Michael, approach to the peak and monastery.

There is a fair climb to the top to view the former monastery buildings. The steps are uneven and, when wet as it was that day, slippery.  I wore a waterproof North Face shell with hood for the low threatening clouds.  There was no rain as such, a constant fog on the top kept all exposed surfaces wet.

From the point on, until the top, was the most exposed and uncomfortable (frightening, chilling…you get the idea).  Spare yourself the experience if you are afraid of open spaces and heights.  Here was a stiff wind blowing from the right, on the left the cliff falls away to the ocean.  Ahead, the path narrows to about 10 inches with a cliff wall on one side, the precipice on the other.  Then come the monastery entrance and rock wall safety.

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Monk Cell
Monk Cell, Grave and Cross

This single image gives a succinct impression of the monastery setting.  The bee hive shaped stone monk cell requires a stooped crawl to enter.  Inside, the space is small and, thankfully, dry.  The structure keeps out the rain and wind, a marvel of stone construction. This cell is off to the side, on a cliff balcony, over the wall an ocean precipice.

My closing advice is to plan your time wisely.  The ship boards in less than an hour, in that time you climb the 700 steps and explore.  There are people all over the place, in waves. To capture the structures without humans, you need to wait until the cohort become bored and leaves.  There will be a space before the next wave of tourists breaks. Leave enough time to descend the steps safely.  People have suffered fatal falls on the steps and cliffs, it is easy to do.  Make your personal safety a priority.

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves