Step away from your screen(s)

An African sunset, truly magical

Since March 2022 I’ve been a local explorer. During the autumn preceding the COVID pandemic, my hubby and I had visited Ireland, and over the December holidays we’d spent time with a relative outside Nashville, TN, so at least we had those under our belts to hold us while we waited to see how the global disease was going to play out.

Some of our friends and relatives decided to travel outside the country, bucking the requests and advice of our government; we chose to stay within our province for the greater good. So if you’ve been following this blog during that time, you’ll have seen memories from all the local adventures I’ve been embarking on. On those journeys, there has been so much history and local culture to discover, and plenty of local beauty as well. Most of my, and our, best moments have happened out and about.

We have spectacular ornamental cherry blossoms in our area each spring, but hardly anyone goes out to see them

I was intrigued to see what advice a 100-year old traveller – someone who’s reached a milestone most of us never will – would have to offer, in a recent article posted on AFAR Magazine, and wasn’t really surprised to see that it dovetails with my own philosophy.

Both Deborah Szekely and I (and most of my friends) grew up in the decades before smartphones, tablets or even the internet existed. We had no other option than to really embrace the world around us and be in the moment all the time. It was a great time to travel, sometimes by the seat of our pants, and without the benefit of GPS, online city guides, or any kind of convenient app. That meant that we had to think on our feet, pay attention to our surroundings and form our own opinions.

Now, I see all kinds of travellers with their faces buried in their screens, completely missing what’s going on around them. They base their choices on the opinions of influencers who offer no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about, and often present false fronts on their media sites. People destroy popular tourist sites so they can take a photo of themselves looking cool, thus being a general nuisance and often ruining the site for any visitors that try to come after them.

This beautiful iris in the cloud forest of Peru only blooms one day a year; exploring by myself, I was the only person in our tour group to see it

According to the article about Szekely, her philosophy is “to find our own inner peace by looking away from our screens and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world. And sometimes, the best antidote to doom scrolling is by going on a walk—not on the treadmill, but in nature—and by focusing our awareness on the birds and other wildlife around us, we’ll find “all kinds of answers.” “ 1

Building on that, if you look through history, political clashes come and go and the human race goes on. Devastating epidemics have occurred over the centuries – the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, the Spanish Flu anywhere from 17 million to possibly 100 million worldwide – and humanity survived those with far less medical advances than we have today. Many people are working hard to save species and our planet.

Things you see on the side of the road deep in the African bush: an elephant refreshing itself in the hot afternoon sun

It’s important for us to stay informed enough to remain safe, but not to drive ourselves crazy with it. Conspiracy theories count on fear to help them spread, but wouldn’t you rather feel good about life and stop worrying that everyone’s out to get you? Sure, there’s bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good also, and that’s the kind of news I want to look at.

My advice builds on what Szekely has to say: stop living your life through an electronic device. Get out and actually live! The world is still very beautiful and there are plenty of wonderful people in it. But you’ll only experience all of that when you look up. Go someplace, see what it has to offer without any preconceived ideas, and make up your own mind about it. Learn to rely on your own opinions and judgements. Travel locally or travel abroad, safely and with full awareness of where you are. And then let me know what you found 😊

Look up, look down, look all around — you’ll be amazed at what you see

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

1After Living, Traveling, and Learning Her Way to 100, Deborah Szekely Has Some Advice for You, byChloe Arrojado for AFAR Magazine, May 10, 2022, www.afar.com/magazine/wellness-tips-from-100-year-old-legend-deborah-szekely

Green Day

A painted turtle shows off its colours while it basks on a pond log

Apologies folks! I was so busy last week prepping for a family dinner on Easter weekend that I lost track of my blog post schedule. But today is perfect timing to celebrate Earth Day, and in honour of the event, this week’s post features green things on our planet. Green is the colour of nature, of growing things, of hope. As Spring very slowly makes its appearance in my neck of the woods (we had snow again just a few days ago!), burgeoning green plants are a signpost that the change of season is really happening.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet”. Check out the website for listings of global livestream events as well as a map of any local events that may be taking place near you.

If there’s nothing near you, I encourage you to take a walk in nature and appreciate its richness and beauty. Be grateful that we still have so much greenness to enjoy and celebrate.

Bright daffodils with their rich green leaves and stems
Green mixed with shades of burgundy and purple on tulips pushing out of the ground
A carpet of green grass studded with blue flowers under a venerable old tree waiting to unfurl its leaves
Spectacular unidentified shrub, possibly a kind of bamboo?
The soft jade of a sedum cluster
Even water can be green – here the Niagara River as it flows under the Queenston-Lewiston border bridge

So many shades of green! Let’s all do our part in preventing that colour from going extinct.

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

It’s alive!

Cyclamen?

Our local weather has been completely conflicted as March draws to a close, flipping from snow and hail to balmy spring temperatures and back to cold again within 24 hours spurts. The other day I snuck out on one of the good days to my favourite botanical garden to look for any signs of life among the often dismal days that have comprised our early spring so far. What I found was far more than I expected: myriad brave flowers lifting my spirits as they lifted their heads to the fickle sunlight.

I expected to see a few stalwart snowdrops, but there were hundreds of them bursting out all over the lawns and organized gardens
The rhododendrons were already readying their flower buds
All kinds of crocus were sprayed across the lawns; this blue variety was especially lovely
These look like daffodil stalks; their vibrant green shoots poking out of the drab soil just made me smile
The netted iris, which I hadn’t seen before, were absolutely breathtaking
Hellebores in the Woodland Garden were out in all their ruffly spring dress
A pair of glorious yellow crocus also made an appearance in the Woodland Garden
Crinkly yellow witch hazel flowers glowing against one of our rare sunny blue skies lately
In the meantime, the local horticultural students have been busy preparing the flower beds for their spring plantings

If you’ve also been waiting impatiently for signs of spring, I hope these photos cheer you up as much as the real-life versions did me 🙂

Remarkable Explorers – Marianne North

My own easy photo of lotus plants in the Botanical Garden in Mauritius, All rights reserved.

In honour of International Women’s Day two days ago, I’d like to introduce you to a fascinating explorer from the late 1800s!

Marianne North, born in England on October 24, 1830, broke all the molds. I knew nothing at all about her until I happened across an episode several years ago on television, “Kew’s Forgotten Queen”, aired by the BBC. I was mildly interested, having been to Kew Gardens several years before, but as the documentary introduced more and more about its subject, I became engrossed.

Miss North (as she would have been addressed in her time) was the daughter of a prosperous landowner and politician. She took up flower painting at a fairly early age, perhaps inspired by trips with her father to visit Kew Gardens, where her father knew the director, Sir Joseph Hooker.

Her sister went the traditional route for women at the time of getting properly married, but Marianne had no interest in doing that. She travelled extensively with her father, through Europe and into the Middle East. Her mother passed away when Marianne was only twenty-five, and painting helped her through her grief.

On her visits to Kew she’d been so intrigued by some of the tropical plants that she determined to see their countries for herself. After her father passed away in 1869, she took advantage of her inheritance to do exactly what she wanted: travel the world, painting.

Can you imagine not only travelling all over the globe 152 years ago, crossing the oceans in a steamship to barely-explored continents, but doing so as a single woman? I think we have to give Marianne North extra points just for courage.

For fourteen years, she visited fifteen countries, painting the people and cultures, dramatic landscapes, and most especially the plants.

Her skill and scientific accuracy attracted a lot of attention, and she met many famous people of the day. Visiting Canada and the United States, she visited the home of famous Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, who built his famous Orientalist-style house Olana, near Hudson, New York. He encouraged her to visit South America. Charles Darwin suggested she go to Australia, where she spent a year.

Her paintings are extremely beautiful, and she went to extraordinary lengths to find some of the rarest species. One of the pitcher plants that she painted in Borneo, had been unknown to science at the time. It was named after her: Nepenthes northiana. It’s always been one of my personal favourites of all her work.

Nepenthes northiana (c. 1876), Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens. The painting shows the pitcher plant‘s lower and an upper pitcher.
By Marianne North – Scanned from: Phillips, A., A. Lamb & C.C. Lee 2008. Pitcher Plants of Borneo. Second Edition. Natural History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3353798

North bucked the traditional stylized botanical paintings of the time, with parts of plants sedately placed on a light background, and instead vibrantly painted everything in its natural setting. Each painting became a time capsule, capturing the entire habitat as it looked in that era.

In 1879 Marianne offered her collection of paintings to Sir Joseph Hooker as well as commissioning a gallery to house them.

You can find out much more about her and view many of her paintings at the Kew Gardens website, and I encourage you to watch the original documentary on YouTube, The Incredible Life of Marianne North Through her Art and Adventures (Full Documentary), to see host Emilia Fox visit some of the same locations as a testament to Miss North’s remarkable passion and dedication.

May her life, and those of all the intrepid women before us, inspire us all to have the courage to live our dreams.

World Wildlife Day – the Circle of Life

Faithful readers will have noticed a lot of wildlife photos on this blog. My father had a great love of animals — we were regularly rescuing injured birds and feeding area squirrels — and instilled it in me. In high school I loved my first biology class, and decided that would be my career path. I entered university with the idea of eventually doing cancer research, but I landed my first summer job with the Ministry of the Environment, and that changed my focus. I majored in Ecology: the study of how the entire world, from the creatures that hang around a pond in a forest to everything on this planet, is interconnected. Every segment is critical, and we humans have arrogantly ignored that for the most part.

People often speak of the ‘circle of life’ in Africa, where it’s obvious and transparent. In the photo above, taken in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, a large pride of lions had killed a zebra and were enjoying dinner late in the afternoon. Scenes like that epitomize life in Africa: the loss of a zebra feeds an entire family of lions. This was an important meal for the lions, as their species is listed as ‘vulnerable’, only one step away from ‘endangered’. Yes, the top predator in Africa isn’t doing well at surviving.

As we watched the lions eat, other species gathered around. First the jackals showed up. They’re called “opportunistic” predators — they’ll hunt small animals and birds, and will scavenge from larger kills.

It didn’t take much longer for the vultures to arrive.

Both of these serve as cleaners in the ecosystem. By the time they’ve finished off what the lions haven’t eaten, there’s no longer any meat to decay and attract pests. They’re an essential segment of the circle of life.

And while we feel awful for the animal that was killed, we understand that if the lionesses don’t make the kill, their little cubs won’t eat either.

We permit species to die off at our own peril, not to mention losing the beauty and gift of their existence.

It’s hard to convey how beautiful lions are when you see them in the wild. Their rippling golden fur and mesmerizing golden eyes just can’t be adequately captured by a camera. I took a lot of photos trying.

Can you imagine a world without lions? Within our lifetime that’s a real possibility. Future generations may never be able to go and see a lion walking the plains of Kenya, or Botswana, or South Africa. And every species that we lose is one more piece out of the global ecosystem that supports all of us. If we lose enough pieces, that ecosystem will no longer work.

On World Wildlife Day, you can help by adding your voice to the groups doing their best to prevent further species erosion. You can find out more on the Global Citizen website.

Winter daydreaming

Generally around February, when I’ve run out of love for snowy landscapes for the season, my mind wanders abroad, to sunnier climes and exotic places.

When I was a child, my father and I loved to watch old adventure movies together on television, usually on Sunday afternoons; he must have had the same wanderlust gene that I do. Two of our favourites, both involving treks through the desert to lost cities, were Legend of the Lost (1957) and She (1965).

Legend of the Lost is an obscure movie now; I rarely see it aired on television any more. The plot revolves around an Englishman, Paul Bonnard, who’s in Africa in the legendary city of Timbuktu, looking for a treasure his archeologist and missionary father was after ten years before. Bonnard’s father never returned, and Bonnard is finally able to secure the services of a rugged American guide, Joe January (played by the ubiquitous John Wayne), to take him deep into the desert on his quest. They’re eventually accompanied by a beautiful, down-on-her-luck prostitute played by the ever-stunning Sophia Loren. Much drama ensues.

The movie She was based on the famous book by H. Rider Haggard, published in 1887 after its popular serialization on a magazine. A sensational adventure, the book has never been out of print since then, and has seen many movie iterations. The 1965 version is my favourite, starring Ursula Andress at her most gorgeous as Ayesha, the immortal ruler of the lost city of Kuma, a remnant of ancient Egypt. Two men stumble across evidence of Kuma at the end of WW1, when they meet a mysterious woman in a nightclub in Jerusalem. Leo Vincey, the young and handsome adventurer, his older friend Horace Holly, a British archeologist played by the inimitable Peter Cushing, and Holly’s valet, are lured into a trek through the desert to search for Kuma, putting their lives in grave danger.

The exotic landscapes of both movies imprinted themselves on my imagination and I’ve loved desert scenery of any kind ever since. So when I saw this recent travel deal, I immediately settled in for a little armchair travel and wishful thinking.

from the Travelzoo website: “Every week we search more than 2,000 companies worldwide for their very best deals and compile this Top 20 list.”

It’s posted on Travelzoo, which is a free weekly newsletter (free sign-up required) sending you a list of the Top 20 travel deals they’ve found. It’s completely legit – several years ago I booked a great deal for flights to Tahiti and New Zealand PLUS 3 free nights accommodation in Tahiti (with optional upgrades for a pretty low additional price). Hubby and I had a great trip to a place that had been on our bucket list for a long time – Tahiti – and another place that always sounded really interesting but I never thought we’d ever get to, New Zealand.

The Anantara brand of resorts is famous for their stunning locations and architecture, and the Sahara Tozeur Resort in Tunisia will make you drool. The resort contains 93 suites, villas and pool villas. It offers “Arabian Nights culture and cuisine” and “Saharan adventures and explorations”, including this one that will excite all fans of the Star Wars saga:

Screenshot from the Anantara website of a visit to a Tatooine film set

The rooms are a serene but exotic desert fantasy:

Screenshot from the Anantara website

This image from a visit to the local Bazaar has me envisioning a chic white outfit like the one Ingrid Bergman wore in Casablanca when she and her husband visited the winding bazaar, and I would fill my carry-on with the treasures I’d find among the dusty passageways.

Screenshot from the Anantara web

If these screenshots, and the gorgeous gallery of images you’ll see on the Anantara website, inspire you to subscribe to the Travelzoo newsletter, there are a couple of things to pay attention to.

(1) All of the deals are available for a limited time only. The deal may only available on within certain departure dates, or may not be available on certain dates.

(2) Check the length of the deal and inclusions. This particular offer is for a 4-night stay with some additions:

“What’s Included:

  • Stay most dates through January 2023
    • $1499 … four nights in a Deluxe Sahara View Suite — these 850-square-foot suites come with a king or twin beds, daybeds, rainfall showers, deep soaking tubs and massive windows overlooking the Sahara
    • $2249 … four nights in a One-Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa — these 1,100-square-foot villas have outdoor dining areas and private plunge pools
    • Add extra nights to your stay for $215 or $359 per night (must be used with a four-night voucher for the same room type)
  • Packages are for two guests (not priced per person) and include:
    • Daily breakfast and dinner for two (excludes drinks)
    • A half-day desert excursion for two to visit Nefta city and film locations from Star Wars as you off-road across Saharan sand dunes (once per stay)
    • A two-hour Tunisian cooking class for two, where you’ll learn to cook — and sample — traditional Tunisian cuisine
    • Taxes, taken care of, except for a tourism tax of 1€ per person per night, which is payable on site
  • Not available: March 14-31; Oct. 22-31; Nov. 1-8; Dec. 17-31, 2022; Jan. 1-2, 2023″

You’ll need to activate a membership with Travelzoo to see the entire deal; there are no obligations, and the service doesn’t pester you with frequent messaging.

From North America, I wouldn’t fly all the way to Tunisia for only 4 days, so I’d add this on as a special treat while exploring more of the country for at least another week or more. Tunisia has much to see: desert landscapes, Roman ruins, lots of culture.

Anyway, this is a little inspiration to help you get through the late-winter doldrums, assuming you live in a place that becomes snowbound 😊 I’ll be dreaming of visiting this resort one day when adventure travel becomes more feasible, and in the meantime maybe I’ll cook up a nice dinner of chicken with lemons and cinnamon over a bed of couscous to be there in spirit.