Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

East Africa, Part 5: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

After my awesome morning drive I went back to the lodge, ate some lunch, took a nap and got ready for my second game drive of the day. I noticed on the path there was some interesting poop. You should always be paying attention to the poop, it can tell you who passed by and when. I saw giraffe (hoofprint included for scale):

And some teeny-tiny pooplets from the dik-dik, the smallest of the African antelopes. We’ll see some later so prepare yourself for the smallness.

As The Moomins and I were walking to the vehicle we walked past reception and I saw something dart out of the corner of my eye. Turns out banded mongoose live under the floorboards and they come out and forage.

I noticed that the doors on our vehicle, you could open them from the inside but not from the outside. That’s the exact opposite of child locks. I couldn’t decide if that was prevent robberies or to keep baboons from getting in. Honestly I would be more afraid of the baboons.

As we were driving out we saw the local eland and her baby. She tends to hang out near the front of the lodge so she’s kind of their resident eland. It’s easy to know it’s her because her horns are misaligned.

We passed some Maasai with their herd of sheep and goats. It still astounds me that these people share the space with wild animals, and not regular wild animals. Advanced-level wild animals, if you will.

Saw some Thompson’s Gazelle and a Random Other Antelope, the one laying down. I’m going to guess it’s an impala.

Ever-present Topi.

Okay, grab a drink and get comfy ‘cuz here we go.

We saw two lionesses sleeping. They were so close to the vehicle, it was a great sighting.

Now remember, this is a conservancy which means the guide can drive anywhere they want. We didn’t have to remain on the roads.

While we were watching the lions take a snooze there was an ostrich who turned to look at me, was like “whatevs” and continued on his way.

There was a warthog. You don’t realize how oddly put-together they look until they turn sideways. Their proportions are all off.

Baboon.

The ever-present cast of characters.

The lionesses rolled over so our attention went back to them.

We were now able to see those pronounced nip-nops on that one lioness. *foreshadowing*

Jacob told us that females tend to stay together for their entire life, so chances are the big one with the teats is the mother and the other one is either her sister or her eldest daughter.

Look. Look at the proximity. Acknowledge it.

This shot is bangin’. The iPhone 12 Plus Max Pro Ultra was doing a damn fine job.

Sister woke up, took a couple big sniffs:

And then had a big yawn.

Which apparently was inadequate because it was followed by another equally big yawn.

Now it was time for drinkies so the two ladies headed off to the watering hole and we booked it in the car to get there before them and get a good viewing spot.

The two ladies sauntered up to a pre-existing lioness to say hello.

The pre-existing lioness said “No thank you.”

Then there was drinking.

Followed by some rolling.

The two original lionesses crossed in front of us making a “hrrhhgg” noise like they were calling for someone. *foreshadowing intensifies*

And out of the shrubbery tumbled a pile of lion cubs, squeaking and being absurdly cute. The cubs went over to the mother lioness, she resignedly laid down and the babies started nursing from her and/or walking all over her face with complete and total disregard for her comfort or personal space.

Are you seeing this???

Are

You

Seeing

This???

This is unheard of. I am surprised I didn’t bust a blood vessel in my eye, I did so much very quiet screaming.

My two favorite shots. I call them “Parenthood.”

Eventually the lion family until wandered off in search of food and I got one last shot as the sun was setting.

So good. Such a good day. I couldn’t wait to tell my new BFF, Gecko That Lives Behind The Mask.

 

East Africa, Part 4: Masai Mara.

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

This was going to be Day 2 out of 3 in the Maasai Mara. I was blown away by the previous day, I didn’t feel like I needed to see anything spectacular so I went out there with no expectations which made what I saw even better.

I woke up at some unacceptable hour, like 4:30am, so I could go on a hot air balloon. I looooove hot air balloons. If you know me personally you might find that odd since I haaaaate flying. The major difference is there’s no vibration and no lurching in a balloon. You feel safe and secure. It’s peaceful from beginning to end. The only problem is if you want to watch the sunrise over that Masai Mara you gotta wake up before sunrise. That’s pretty much the only downside.

A van picked me up, swung by a few other lodges to collect other ballooners and I didn’t have to wait long to see a beastie friend. As we arrived at the gate there was a jackal resting.

One of the women in the car could not wrap her head around how small the full-grown jackal was. “It’s a baby, right?” she kept saying.

In the background was a hyena loping around doing its best impression of a cryptid. This is how local myths get started. I mean, look at that thing. It could be a chupacabra, it could be jackelope with Marfan syndrome, you don’t know.

When we got to the balloon site they were already blowing it up. According to the balloon pilot this is the biggest size balloon in the world.

I don’t think he was lying. The basket seats 16 – 20 people. In order to get in I had to climb into that top layer of the basket. This guy is demonstrating.

I lightened it so you can see what he’s doing.

We climbed in, lay on our backs and assumed the sitting position on a bench in there so when the balloon was full and they tipped up forward we were already seated. Clever.

Then there were hot flamey-flamies and we were off.

One of the things I love about ballooning is if you’re 20 feet in the air or 200 feet in the air, it feels the same to you. So sometimes we drifted over the ground and sometimes we went way up to see all the way to the horizon. And if you’re not paying attention you’re pleasantly surprised. “Oh, we’ve gone high now.” We started here (where I saw another secretary bird!):

Then we were here:

And then we were here:

It all felt the same (which is lovely and peaceful).

We didn’t see very many animals but I was really there to experience the balloon ride so I wasn’t bothered by that. There was the aforementioned secretary bird and decent-sized herd of gnu. One gnu was feeling the need to run around and kick his legs for reasons only known to him.

I learned a lot about gnu on this trip. Our guide Jacob had strong feelings about the gnu, specifically that they were the stupidest animals known to man. After this trip I am inclined to agree. They predominantly roam around, panic and then cause stampedes for no reason whatsoever. I have a story later in the trip that will solidify their stupidity for you, we’ll get there. In the meantime, take my word for it.

In addition to sharing one brain cell amongst 100,000 they also make a noise I can only describe as a sad, slightly out-of-tune cello. Thousands of wonky violas expressing their monotone emotions. I found a decent example on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nwBvgi3MA8

Jacob said you will almost never find elephants near gnu because elephants cannot stand listening to the moaning. It probably doesn’t help that elephants are so intelligent and gnu are very much not. I could see an elephant saying “I’m going to need these sentient corn cobs to shut all the way up” and walking off in frustration.

We came across two mating lions taking a breather! And the male lion was blonde! That was cool sighting. Lions mate nonstop for two days to make sure it sticks and they take breaks in between because of course they do.

The balloon ride only lasts about an hour at most (sadness). When we landed our van driver asked us if we wanted to see stuff or go straight back to our lodges. Luckily, everyone in the van wanted to see stuff so we went on an impromptu game drive. I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of these strangers. Look, you like what you like and you can’t control what you like. And I like marabou storks, also known as undertaker birds. They are kinda gross-looking but for some reason I find them charming, with their naked heads and their pretty feathers and their feces-covered legs (they poop on their legs to keep themselves cool, don’t judge.) We saw some and I got excited and weirded out the others.

We found some zebra. I love how their tails look braided.

There were a mommy eland with her young calf. In South Africa I’ve seen elands and they are huge. They are the largest of the antelopes and the bulls can weigh 2,000 lb. These elands were prettier and smaller and a bit more orange.

“I’m going to spin my head all the way around like that chick in The Exorcist instead of turning around to face you.”

There was a topi. They are extremely common but I always liked seeing them.

Saw some rocks in a dry river bed. Thought they looked cool. Took pictures of them.

Green mamba! It’s a really scary snake because it moves so fast your eye can’t follow it and it makes you feel unsafe. These are the only pictures I could take of it before it disappeared into the grass.

The driver parked in front of a tree. I could not see anything special about this tree so I didn’t know why we had stopped. The driver told us to get out and look at the tree which is usually a big no-no but if a guide tells you it’s okay you can do it. But you should NEVER get out of the vehicle without their permission.

Once I got underneath I saw why we were there. A leopard had pulled an impala over one of the branches and it was still there, decomposing. Shocker: I was delighted.

Have you ever seen an ostrich chilling and doing nothing and then decide to freak out and flounce away? I caught a pic of the beginning of the hysterical flounce.

Another secretary bird! I saw them five separate times on this trip and I’m going to mention all five so get used to it. I think I’ve done three so far. Two more to go.

We saw some hartebeest. They’re very pretty, long-faced antelope with teeny horns perched on the top of their heads. Their proportions are weird but I love them anyway. Don’t listen to the haters, hartebeest.

A few hours after leaving (at 4:30am, I cannot emphasize that enough) I got dropped off back at my lodge and got to take a nap before lunch and an afternoon game drive. That’s coming up next.

East Africa, Part 3: Masai Mara.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

I learned what “Mara” means. It means “spots,” referring the sporadic bushes that speckle the area. Other fun facts I acquired:

  • The animals migrate to Kenya in a specific order. The zebra come first because they eat the top of the grass. Next, the wildebeest who eat the main part, then the impalas because they eat the bottom part.
  • Crocodiles swallow stones to control their buoyancy, and
  • Giraffes have healing saliva because of all the wounds they get for nibbling the delicious leaves on the thorn acacia. I saw some different breeds of thorn acacia along the trip, it is not a tree to be messed with. I walked head-first into one and was immediately awash with regret. You really gotta like those leaves to wrestle with those thorns.

The guide Jacob asked us what we were hoping to see. I imagine most people say “Lions, elephants, etc.” I was like “You know what? I’d like to see a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung. I always enjoy that. Or a secretary bird, those are the most dinosaur-y of the birds.” Jacob was like “Alright, unusual, but we’ll see what happens.:

After we left the camp we headed off into the Mara. Normally you don’t see game for a while. Remember, we’re in the middle of nowhere and only by the will of the animals do we encounter them doing their thing. So it was nice to be greeted by zebra.

And a topi and a warthog.

The topi suddenly remembered he left the oven on.

Two male impalas posing near a tree because fashion.

A hole where an animal with large claws, most like a lion, dug to try and extricate a meal.

Basic, easygoing, welcome-to-a-game-reserve-type stuff. And then we saw the two other vehicles parked near each other which usually means there’s something worth seeing over there.

It was a cheetah! A cheetah chillin’ out next to a tree! Because this was a different type of park called a Conservancy your guide doesn’t have to stay on the road. They can drive right up to whatever is happening. The downside is only five vehicles are allowed at a viewing at any time so if you show up late you have to wait for someone to drive away before you can see better. But we were one of the first five so we could get right up close to the cheetah.

Now, while the cheetah is wondering off, guess who shows up? A secretary bird, sauntering past us being all weird with the eyelashes and the fancy.

It even turned its head, like “You asked for me?”

As the secretary bird headed off to do secretary bird things the cheetah caught up with his brother (Jacob told us that bachelor brothers tend to pal around with each other). So now there are two cheetahs.

They’re hanging out in the grass relaxing so we turned and there were two jackals running down the road.

Apparently while we were looking at the jackals the cheetahs killed a baby topi! We didn’t see the kill but we did see the cheetahs afterwards. They didn’t have their meal and they were forlornly cleaning the blood off themselves. You can see it on that one cheetah’s chest.

Where’d the kill go? That nervous hyena over there might have something to do with it.

Near that hyena was another hyena and he was gnawing on something.

Holy crap, a dismembered topi head in its mouth!

This is Jacob. You can see how close we are to the hyena through his window.

You need to understand, you don’t ever see this kind of awesomeness on safari. You have one, two great experiences on your whole trip and that’s it. We’d already banged out an absurd level of sightings and we’d been driving around for three hours. What’s truly amazing was the whole rest of the trip was this level. We saw jaw-dropping things every single day. It was outrageous. I described it as “Nature knew it was The Moomins’ last trip to Africa so she brought out everybody. Nature said, ‘Sure, you want herbivores, you got ’em. Carnivores, no problem. You want me to resurrect a dinosaur? I could whip up a Heterodontosaurus if you just gimme a sec.'”

After this we saw a storm was coming as the sun was setting so we headed back to camp but I as we drove I saw a herd of buffalo and the sunset combined with the storm clouds made for some beautiful photographs.

And as the sun started to dip below the horizon an ostrich walked by. “This sunset pic is nice, but you know what would improve it? Me. Let me saunter on through, there you go.”

When we got to the lodge there was a poster of all the local wild animals on the wall. I’m not one of those people who checks off every animal they see and if they don’t “collect them all” they get angry, but I was shocked when I realized the I had seen 15 out of the 20. I was staring so hard at the poster I almost my new best friend hiding behind the mask to the left.

I stood there and watched him eat some bugs and went to bed to recover from my first day. Little did I know what was in store for me on Day 2.

East Africa, Part 2: Okay, we’re starting for real now. Masai Mara.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

The reason The Moomins wanted to go to east Africa at this specific time of year is because of The Great Migration. It’s impossible to capture in photos because it is hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and and tens of thousands of zebra walking from part of Tanzania to Kenya. It’s a giant cyclical journey. The animals give birth in the bottom part of the Serengeti because the grass is high in calcium, and then they trek to the Masai Mara because the grass there is high is potassium. By the time they’ve eaten all of the grass they can head back to the Serengeti. Here’s a map I found.

You can see smaller herds throughout the year but this when they clump together in these insanely large groups.

I want to bring something to your attention, which is that I did not bring a camera on this trip, only my brand new iPhone 12 Mega Ultra Plus Max, so my pictures look… adequate. If you’re expecting Nat Geo stuff, go ahead and lower your expectations.. I was lent a nice camera by some family friends but I decided once I got there if I had to plug ONE MORE OBJECT into an outlet I was going to punch something. I had this clunky adapter because their plugs are so different from ours and I was charging my phone and my laptop and occasionally my 2010 iPod that I like to travel with (don’t judge, that thing is the bomb), plus I was dealing with all the infernal paperwork that kept cropping up out of nowhere, I was not willing to feel responsible for another damn thing. So all these pictures are from my phone and some of them look like they were taken on a potato. I’m fine with that. There are so many people who go on these trips who bring crazy equipment and take breathtaking photos. I wanted to have a chill time so I sacrificed photographic quality for that. What I recommend you do is take a top-notch pair of binoculars because I ended up smooshing my camera against the eyepiece and taking some decent photos with that. And you don’t have to plug in and change binoculars. Plus you have binoculars.

We arrived in Nairobi and crashed for the night. The next day our Kenya guide Jacob arrived and we headed off to the Masai Mara, which is an incorrect spelling of the Maasai tribe who inhabit the area. The Maasai are predominantly very tall and very thin people who herd cattle. Cattle is everything to the Maasai. From the time they’re born to the time they die, it’s all cattle. There’s some sheep and goats in there, but the cattle is who they are, it’s their everything. We saw Maasai men everywhere, walking their herds from grazing areas to watering holes. Interestingly, they live in the game reserves with the animals and everyone seems to cohabitate nicely. I asked what about the lions and hyenas and Jacob said, “The Maasai aren’t bothered by them, they carry spears.” I was like, yeah, spears are great but, you know, lions and hyenas, I don’t know if one dude with a spear would cut it, but apparently it does. The only animals the Maasai are scared of are the buffalo and the elephants because if they want to walk through your house and break everything they sure can and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Leaving Nairobi I saw some jazzy mini-buses. It was as if the drivers were given an unlimited budget to buy all the vinyl decals and all the blinky lights their hearts desired. I ended up driving behind one that was particularly disco-tastic.

It had a light that zipped back and forth like Kit from Knight Rider. One thing I loved about these mini-buses (called matatu, btw) is that the design choices were clearly very personal and didn’t need to make a lick of sense to anyone else. I looked up “feelanga free” and it’s some kind of cell phone plan. Or a song. Depending on where you look.

On another matatu that drove in front of us it said “boy child” with the “h” backwards and “keep calm and love academics” as well as “Latema Sacco” which is one the major matatu owners (don’t think I knew that off the top of my head, I very much had to look that up).

This matatu drove past us and I snapped a shot real quick. Good luck figuring out what the theme is here.

But the one that totally blew my mind was an Oakland Raiders-themed matatu. Yep. A football team from outside San Francisco. I’ve been to one of their games, tailgated and everything.

https://design-newyork.com/blog/2016/01/04/christmas-the-super-american-all-inclusive-deprogramming-holiday-of-i-think-im-their-hostage-now/

This matatu was better designed and executed than anything  I saw from the super-fans in the parking lot that day. I didn’t get any pics because my jaw was hanging open but luckily there is a following on Facebook and I pulled some pics from there.

A few times I saw guys clinging to the back which, okay, I understand having to get somewhere but unless it’s a critical doctor’s appointment or the bank is gonna close or something I’m not risking my life, I will catch the next one. I found this as an example.

After driving for about six hours we got to the Masai Mara and the lodge we were staying at. We got out of the car and walked into reception where they said “Please have a seat so we can tell you about the amenities and rules here. You can watch the family of elephants in the meantime.” What??

“Yes, they’re at the watering hole, the one with the hippos.” WHAT?? We’re going to get awesome game views immediately on arrival?

Elephants were my father’s favorite animal so The Moomins had a moment. She started crying and said “It’s like he’s here to greet us!” I, being the extremely sensitive person I’ve always been, said “Is…is it going to be like this the whole trip, with you crying at every elephant? Because that’s going to get very old very quickly. Listen, I’ll let you have this one Hallmark card moment, ‘look at the stars and remember I’m always with you’ crap, but from now on you’re keeping it together. You can do some light weeping but this level of crying where you soak your mask with tears, that’s done.” Come on by for all your grieving needs.

Back to the elephants. Look at the little guy drinking!

I saw some high-end binoculars sitting on a chair so I held them up to my phone and I got some quite nice pics of the elephants and the hippos. You can see the details like the wrinkles in their skin.

Next post: More Day 1 in the Masai Mara. I’ll have to split several of the days up because we saw so much. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to rush through it.

East Africa, Part 1: The Gripening.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

This entire post is going to be complaining, so if you’d like to skip this post and go right to the awesome pictures I totally understand, but I gotta air my grievances. I got grievances, y’all! Wait til you hear these grievances. Let’s start from the beginning.

The Moomins bought a fancy tour through a fancy tour company so we wouldn’t have to deal with hotels and flights and guides. She’s 85 and I am not the most organized person in the world, we wanted to make it as simple as possible. We asked them at least twice what vaccines and papers were needed. We got yellow fever shots with accompanying yellow fever cards (it felt very “arriving at Ellis Island.”). We packed the recommended amount of money for border crossings. We did all the things. Or so we thought. On the day of the flight we happily headed off to the airport to take our 13.5-hour flight on Air Emirates (again, fancy).

We arrived at the counter, passports and paperwork in hand. “Do you have your visas?” said the counter person.

The what now? No one told us we needed visas at the airport. We knew we would need to get visas to cross into Tanzania but no one mentioned needing a visa at the airport to go to Kenya, especially no one at the travel agency. So now I’m panicking. Let me tell you, there is nothing sexier than a crying adult woman surrounded by copious luggage and her elderly mother at a ticket counter. It’s just embarrassing for everyone within a two-mile radius. Random people outside the airport were like “Why do I inexplicably feel horribly awkward all of a sudden?” We called the travel agency and luckily got a very nice woman who said she had no idea that we needed visas at the airport. It’s always been “visas on arrival,” meaning you get one when you arrive in Kenya. Apparently this rule changed overnight and the Kenyan website didn’t even have it listed. Commence more frustrated weeping (from me, not the nice lady on the phone, all the weeping in this story will be mine). It ended up we had to push our trip a full week forward which thank God we could do because we have loosey-goosy schedules (Moomins: Retired, Me: Freelance).

We went home so I could spend the week getting an expedited visa and clenching my intestines. I filled out all the forms, took photos of us (we looked TERRIBLE) and waited, obsessively checking my email. The night before I finally had all four visas, we had gotten new Covid tests and we tentatively headed off to the airport, now flying Air Kenya (less fancy but whatever). We made it, though. We made it to Nairobi. I was still vibrating with anxiety but the trip was pretty drama-free. In fact, by the end of the trip when we had to go home I was the diametric opposite of when I left. “If the paperwork isn’t correct I actively don’t care, I’ll live in the airport and be passive-aggressive until they beg me to leave.” We had also acquired some ungainly art, like a stick man who was around 4′ long and fit nowhere in any luggage. This normally would have made me twitchy, but again, the stress hormone had been purged from my system during VisaGate. The point is in the end it was fine and we’re going to make the fancy travel agency pay for our visas and extra cab rides. It’s the least they could do.

For your amusement, my picture on the visa. I look like I had been punched in the face and my hair is extra Bobo the Clown. It’s kind of perfect honestly. An accurate physical representation of how I felt on the inside. Enjoy.

East Africa! I went there!

Saturday, August 28th, 2021

I haven’t blogged in a month and that is because I went to East Africa, a place I have never been before. I’ve done the bottom bit of the continent a bunch because I have family there but the sides, no. The Moomins wanted to see the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra wander from Kenya to Tanzania and she’s recently become a widow AND she’s been cooped up avoiding the Covid (truly magical year, everyone) so off we went. We splurged big time because The Moomins has earned it with the everything listed above. It also allowed us to have a private tour. Like, our own private guide and a car. Alone. No one else. It was pretty great. I’m going to go on a whole crusty rant shortly but before we get into The Great Unpleasantness let’s enjoy some of these teasers of the magic The Moomins and I got to experience.

The Victorian Era is so much.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

The last time I was in Cape May I went to the Emlen Physick Estate. Aside from having a real interesting name it is a Victorian home open to the public for tours. So sure enough I went on a tour. I thought I was ready. I was not ready. I had an inkling about Victorian design but I had not anticipated the depth and breadth (and width and length) of the design elements and the layering. i will clarify.

I own this book called Artistic Printing. I was intrigued by the variety of patterns all crammed on one postcard. It’s pretty intense.

But here’s the key: It’s an small printed object. Your eye can move off the image and look at nice simple things in your environment like, I don’t know, a clean white towel. When you’re in a room and every surface looks like this it is, honestly, it’s upsetting. You get a little motion sickness.

First, the outside of the mansion. Not bad at all.

 

As you arrive you find yourself in a little foyer where you remove your coat and hat. There’s cool embossed wallpaper made from wood pulp so it holds its shape. That’s fine.

You step forward into the first hallway and oh dear. The bottom part of the wall is one complicated pattern. The top part is another. Going up the stairs? Another. And then on the ceiling there’s like four more wallpapers. I’m not kidding. We haven’t even added in the furniture which is also ornate. Off at the end of the hall? A patterned stained glass window. It’s an assault on the senses.

I didn’t hate everything about this space. Check out the light fixture made of whatever the hell was lying around.

We went through all the rooms on the ground floor. They were all various versions of mismatched chaos. Here’s the ceiling of the parlor.

I had never seen this before: Instead of the house being wired with electricity, it had gas tubes going through all the walls so you could carry a lamp from room to room, plug it in and it would stay lit for as long as you wanted because the gas kept flowing.

There was definitely an Asian aesthetic in many of the rooms because about the time the house was being decorated Asia was really in vogue. So there’s a lot of Oriental (you can use that word when describing decor) decor.

The upstairs is just as bad. The one thing I loved was the tiling around the fireplace. I collect art nouveau tiles from 1895 – 1910 and seeing them in their natural habitat is always a treat. I patted some of them. The other people on the tour were probably weirded out. I did not care.

Here’s another light fixture made from whatever was lying around.

And here’s a light fixture with the exact design shapes from the Artistic Printing book. Scroll back up and you’ll see what I mean.

Finally, my favorite thing on the tour: According to the tour guide celery was hard to come by during the Victorian era so well-to-do folk would place a glass of celery on the table to be like, “Bask, bask in my wealth. By adoring this celery.”

Mexico 2019 Part 9.

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

Alebrijes! The main purpose of my visit! But first, other stuff.

I heard low bok-bok-boking at the airport ticket counter and discovered people transporting chickens.

On the flight home, more chickens.

When the Spanish came to Mexico they could not pronounce the “tl” sound at the end of many words so the word “Xocolatl” became “Chocolate” and the word “Tomatl” became “Tomato.” I had no problem saying it, I think the Spaniards were just being lazy.

A stained glass window. I’ve mentioned a bunch of times that it is extremely difficult to get a good shade of purple with glass. It comes out light and muted. So I was impressed with the purple in this window. Strong color, very clear.

Two-toned VW Beetle.

Okay, alebriges. Quick recap:

The first alebrijes, along with invention of the term, originated with Mexico City cartonero Pedro Linares. Linares often told that in the 1930s, he fell very ill, and while he was in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into something strange, some kind of animals, but, unknown animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting one word, “¡Alebrijes!, ¡Alebrijes!”. Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cartonería, a papercraft consisting of strips of paper and glue on an armature.

Summary: A guy had a fever dream where he saw animals and made sculptures of them. Now a town outside of Oaxaca specializes in them. I had a guide take us to the town and I acquired about seven of them, from small inexpensive ones to two pricey collector’s item.

Several notable facts you should know: Alebrijes tend to be covered in symbols belonging to the indigenous people. All the shapes and patterns you see, those all have significance. Often they are painted with natural paints found in plants and rocks. And they are all painted freehand. No one draws the patterns on first. It takes years of training to become a painter. The skill level is unreal.

The first studio we went to was Jacobo and Maria Angeles. They’re the most famous of the alebrije artists. Their work was the inspiration in Pixar’s Coco. Here are some photos I found on the internet showing their work.

One of the things I like is that the artists are constantly incorporating new elements into their work. The Angeles workshop is bringing in gold leaf:

Stones, shells and fossils:

And the coolest thing, masks. The masks are removable so you can see the painted faces underneath but it enhances the fantastical quality of the pieces.

It is possible to commission a piece from them. Every year has an animal associated with it and it cycles, very similar to the Chinese calendar. You can say, “I would like a piece representing my family. I am a jaguar and my oldest child is a turtle and my youngest child is a eagle and we like the color red.” Then a piece would be made for you that looks something like this, with the parent being the big animal and the children being small animals attached.

They’re also exploring only black and white alebrijes. Look at this bear. Look at it.

When we got to the studio they showed how they made their all-natural paints. This one tree, the male has one kind of bark and the female has another which gives them two colors right there.

They have their small selection of colors but they’ve figured out if they mix it with lime juice (acid) or a specific powdered rock (base) a whole new realm of colors emerge.

There was a shrine off to the side that emphasized the importance of corn. It is the staple of all the cuisine.

And please note the dead armadillo on the right.

I bought a piece and their coffee table book just as the owner Jacobo was walking by so we hugged (hugging is a big deal down there and I ain’t mad about it) and he signed my book and we took a picture. It was pretty great.

There were some xoloitzcuintlis wandering around the property and I am still on the fence about them. They’re so cool and demonic-looking which is why the myth is that they lead you to the afterlife, but they’re so bad at being dogs. The big ones look austere and impressive but the little ones look like they have nasty mange and are on the edge of entering the afterlife themselves. They need sunblock and nose cream, it’s a lot.

After we left the Angeles studio we went to David Hernandez’s studio. While Hernandez is nowhere as famous as Angeles’, Hernandez’ alebrijes. particular the painting, are far superior. I think they need a better agent to share their sculptures with the world because they are an unappreciated treasure. Here are some of their pieces that I found on the web.

I mean, look at the stippling to create the gradient. I can’t even.

Quick reminder: None of these painters at any of the galleries draw on the patterns beforehand. They paint them with no guides. It’s awe-inspiring.

Flawless.

All those were pictures I found on the internet. Here are the pictures I took.

The skills, y’all. Acknowledge the skills.

Sometimes they paint a maroon base when they plan to gold leaf something. It makes the gold richer than painting on the light color of the wood. I love that bun-bun, btw.

This bear. Unreal. The carving, the painting, it’s all there.

Now here are the pieces I bought. I got this howling coyote from the Angeles studio.

I love it. I love the carving, the balance of the elements. And the painting is great. But it pales in comparison to the piece I got at David Hernandez’s studio.

This owl. I am in awe of the incredible workmanship on this little guy. Here is my hand for scale. Keep that in mind for when I zoom in.

Every time I look at this owl I notice something new. The last time I discovered the details along the inside of the wings.

And I love that it’s signed (with a paintbrush, I can’t even fathom) so I can seek out other pieces created by that painter. And I will. Oh, I will.

That ends my trip to Mexico. We will return to our regularly scheduled posting. Get psyched for charts and such.

 

Mexico 2019 Part 8.

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020

Oaxaca! It’s pronounced wa-HA-ka. I’m diggin’ the last three words of this description:

In present-day Spanish, Oaxaca is pronounced [waxaka] or [wahaka], the latter pronunciation used mostly in dialects of southern Mexico, the Caribbean, much of Central America, some places in South America, and the Canary Islands and western Andalusia in Spain where [x] has become a voiceless glottal fricative ([h]).

Oaxaca is a state in Mexico and it is the home to alebrijes. I’ve spoken about alebrijes before, here and here. My major point of this trip was two-fold: Show The Moomins the famous murals and go to the studios of the top alebriges artists and spend aaaaaall my money.

But first! Oaxaca City. Oaxaca City has a large town square. I asked the hotel concierge what activities happen in the town square and he said, “All of them.” He was not kidding. We woke up out first day there and while eating breakfast in the hotel’s open café several ladies were setting up a baby shower. One of them had made a variety of amigurumi to decorate the diaper cakes and table.

Nice way to start the day. We headed out, walking in and out of churches (that’s where the art is kept). The first church was a big hit for me because it was dedicated to my patron saint, St. Ignatius de Loyola.

Yes, I know I’m Jewish and we don’t have patron saints. I’m saying if I was Catholic this one’s feast day is on my birthday so he’s mine. In concept. Therefore I have a soft spot for him.

Something I was very surprised to discover was how tasteful the churches and cathedrals were. It’s reaaaaall easy to go over-the-top with the decorating if you’re not careful, as referenced here and here and holy crap here. Mexico held back. They showed admirable restraint and it is to be commended. This is the interior of the St. Ignatius church.

Off to one side was a sad reminder of people’s pain and suffering and their hope that God will bring them comfort. A wall of photos, and notes, and occasional locks of hair. I assume these people were missing or dead. I was very moving.

As The Moomins and I headed towards the front of the church we came upon a family baptism off in one of the arms of the cross (the floorplan of many Catholic churches look like crosses).

We lurked in the shadows and watched that for a while. We tried to not be creepy. We probably failed.

It looks like the columns are built with cinder blocks but that’s just the way the stone and adhesive ends up. I kinda want to see columns built with actual cinder blocks, it’s cool.

As The Moomins and I trotted down the main drag we saw a gallery with people milling in it. We decided to check it out. Turns out it was the opening of the exhibition at a small museum. There was a press photographer there so it’s totally possible that we’re in press photos. We met the artist. This is the only picture I took of his art.

As is required by all Mexican art, it’s a little odd and dreamlike. Bonus points because it includes bugs. It’s clearly very important that all Mexican art have an element of LSD in them.

On our continued journey to the town square I got to see another aspect of Oaxaca I had been looking forward to. Many of the buildings are built with lava stone and the lava stone is green-colored. It’s particularly lovely at sunset.

Finally we arrived at the town square. The hotel concierge was right, a whole lot was going on. There were the tourist buses passing by.

The Moomins and were doing a lap around the perimeter when we heard music that could best be described as “enthusiastic.” Then the giant lady puppet heading towards us. And all of a sudden there was festival happening all around us.

Here, a video of… whatever the hell it was.

https://youtu.be/tG980f9TIJE

That went on for fifteen minutes. Still don’t know what was being celebrated. As soon as that wrapped up The Moomins and I completed our All The Churches In Oaxaca Tour with the cathedral. That was more of what I had expected. Lots of detail.

An important thing you need to know about Mexico is everyone is constantly protesting. There are camps set up all over the towns that look like homeless colonies but they’re people camping and waiting for their protest. We exited the cathedral to a protest.

We got dinner around the town square (it was mediocre except for the Mexican hot chocolate which has changed my life) and what appeared to be another festival parade showed up. But it was not. It was a protest. And it was completely identical to the parade. It was around this time I started to feel like I was losing my sense of reality.

Video for comparison.

https://youtu.be/K_0jlu0wOTo

But wait! There’s more! On one side of the square was the protest with the music and the people yelling into megaphones and on the other side of the square was a concert of choirs singing Christmas music. It was bananas. Epic cacophany. I live-texted the whole thing to Snorth.

And thereby ended Day 1 in Oaxaca City. It was a bonkers experience that the Oaxacans go through every day. I can’t even imagine.

Mexico 2019, Part 7.

Friday, June 26th, 2020

Mexican craftpeople! But first, an oxymoron.

Mini-super.

Mexican crafts. Moomins and I came across a state-funded exhibition of all the styles of art Mexicans make and there was no way we were going to pass that up. I’m so glad we didn’t because I had no idea. The different materials and the variety of creative outlets, it was mind-boggling. As you well know I like details, the smaller and more complicated the better. And I was not disappointed. Look at these free-handed ceramics.

 

To give you an idea of how much The Moomins and I differ in our artistic taste, I got soooo excited to see the work of Jacobo y Maria Angeles. Look at the carving, the painting. So precise.

Moomins was disinterested. The one that catches her eye? This.

So, you know, different. Going back to bananas intricacy: candles. Ever thought your wax candles were unexciting? How about making lace and flowers from dripped and carved wax to jazz up those blandles?

Those figures are also made of wax which I totally understand because wax is slightly translucent and therefore looks a great deal like skin. But I hope all these artists live in cool climates because on a hot day all this awesomeness is going to gently slump to the ground.

I was introduced to an art style I never knew existed which is unusual and really neat. See this tapestry? It’s a village scene. Not big, maybe 2′ x 3′. Whatevs.

But wait. It’s made by attaching small pieces of black and white feathers in a meticulous manner. Suddenly every line and section is far more impressive. It’s a very old art in Mexico. Here’s a section of antique featherwork.

You can see the labor put into that. I was impressed as hell.

Something I’ve always enjoyed about Mexican art is how relaxed they are about how animals are represented. Is that a bird? Who knows. Maybe it’s a jaguar? Your guess is as good as mine. Here are some of the better examples of that with what I think the animal might be. Feel free to disagree, we each are probably right and / or wrong.

Fish and deer. That one’s easy.

Lions. With back scales.

Fox owl hybrids.

Crocodiles. Or horses. Definitely crocodiles or horses. Maybe.

Okay, I see a frog off to the left, a bird wearing a hat playing a saxophone off to the right, a cat (?) wearing a hat playing something small near its mouth and a lizard (??) with a horn fused to its snoot (???).

Uhhhh…

UHHH…

Other art forms represented: Sheet metal sculpture using things like soda cans.

Lacquer:

Carving:

There was a model of a cathedral made of corn husks that I forgot to take a picture of. There was silver jewelry and complex weaving and embroidery art, it was insane. I was blown away. Unrelated to anything, I liked these doves and leaves on this chair.

Coming up next: The beginning of Oaxaca.