Signs all around us – Part 2

This week we’ll look at signs that touch you on an emotional level. They may make you chuckle, scratch your head, feel a pang, feel trepidation or its opposite, relief, or even make you hungry/thirsty (often because of where they’re located).

Let’s eat/drink!

The photo below reminds me of a fantastic place where we had breakfast in Ireland. We’d missed the breakfast slot at the hotel, but the front desk staff recommended this place on a local farm, whose name refuses to stick in my head. However, I can always bring up this photo with the place name thoughtfully imprinted on bags in which to cart off loaves of their fresh, crusty bread.

Our lodge deep in the Amazon jungle along the Madre de Dios river, served up a wild assortment of irresistible cocktails. I believe I tried the Anaconda 🙂

On a trip into eastern Ontario last fall, when the pandemic situation on our province was still largely contained, we visited a farm market that’s famous in the area but danged hard to find, even with a GPS. We’re glad we persevered, though — a dazzling assortment of homemade and gluten-free products listed on the sign behind the counter. We’d tucked a cooler in the back of our pickup truck in case there was anything we wanted to come home with; we filled that up and stuffed a couple of paper bags full of fruits and vegetables in between the golf clubs on top of that!

A little libation of the colonial variety with a flight of beer, helpfully labelled, at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

Something every hot and thirsty traveler wants to see, a roadside stand offering fresh tropical fruit juice.

Signs of delight

I loved this bumper sticker so much I had to take a photo of it, in the town of Sleepy Hollow in New York State.

Knowing is half the battle 😉

A hiking trail through some woods had a section created especially for all children of all ages.

This vervet monkey in Kenya clearly needed its morning java.

Head-scratchers

Clearly this fellow would be the solution to all of life’s problems 😉

Of the ‘what the heck’ variety. This sign could also fall under the ‘induces trepidation’ category. We saw a number of signs like this in eastern Tennessee. Really, why would anyone need to rent a machine gun?!

This sign only fell into this category after we drove round a mountain for over an hour trying to find the spot, unsuccessfully, followed by blowing out a tire as we went back down the mountain, put on the spare on the side of a steep and narrow road and limped the rest of the way down to our bed-and-breakfast. Let’s just say that signage in Ireland lacks a lot of pertinent information and frequently stumps the GPS in your rental vehicle.

A wave of nostalgia

I grew up in the Woodstock era. I was much too young to be allowed to go, but the scrappy little music festival ended up making history and defining a generation. When we found out a few years ago that the site had been restored and was available to visit, we had to go — to stand in the place that was such a big moment in our youths and to share in that moment even if only in retrospect.

We also grew up with the Charlie Brown comics. One of the annual Christmas-season events in our house is a viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas — we never tire of it. It remains a popular show to this day, but I’m not sure more recent generations realize what a time capsule it is — children walking around by themselves after dark, lots of wide snowy undeveloped spaces and frozen ponds to skate on, the popularity of metallic trees… We’d been down to the fantastic ICE! show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville once before while spending Christmas with one of our cousins, and on a return visit as soon as I found out that the theme that year would be A Charlie Brown Christmas I booked the tickets! It was a chilly blast from the past to walk through the entire story done in larger-than-life ice sculptures.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has always been my favourite spooky story, with the big bad as a dead Hessian soldier on his jet black horse with a flaming pumpkin for a head! In another aha moment, as soon as I found out that the town of Sleepy Hollow actually exists (originally called North Tarrytown but adopting the name from Washington Irving’s most famous story out of affection and marketing value), I knew we had to go. The entire area is Irving country and replete with all kinds of Halloween events. But most important of all, you can walk across the modern incarnation of the bridge that helped inspired Irving in his 1820 tale of terror in the wilds of Westchester County.

Although this style of signage was iconic of an earlier generation, when you stumble upon one now it’s a perfect little time capsule of a bygone era when post-war life was good, the economy was booming and North America was full of innocence and optimism.

Shiver me timbers!

As a devotee of haunted attractions, I love the creativity in signage used to intrigue us and make us wonder if it’s safe to go on.

Of course, this photo is of one of the least-frightening Halloween attractions around, but it’s an opportunity to turn into a five-year-old again for a few hours.

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg does a little eerier version — not too frightening, but lots of atmosphere!

Signs throughout the park during the day promise thrills after dark.

Here in Ontario, Fort Henry in Kingston takes advantage of its built-in architecture to turn into its creepy alter-ego once the sun goes down.

Next week we’ll continue on this theme with poignant signs that give us insight into the tears of the past.

As always, all photos are by me and all rights are reserved.

The Monkey’s Tail

How many types of birds do you typically see in your back yard? I’ve counted maybe a dozen at different times – blue jays, cardinals, wrens, robins, pigeons… – the usual urban North American coterie.

In the Amazon rainforest there are 1,300 species and counting.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, of all the known species of creatures on the earth, 1 in 10 are found in the Amazon basin – “40,000 plant species, 3,000 freshwater fish species, and more than 370 types of reptiles. Over 2,000 new species of plants and vertebrates, including a monkey that purrs like a cat, have been described since 1999.” It’s mind-boggling.

The first thing you notice walking through the Amazon Jungle is a battle for life – layers and layers of plant life climbing on top of each other, growing on each other, feeding on each other. Jostling for every nutrient they can wring out of their complex environment.

Parasitic vines will eventually choke the life out of a tree

You look up through layers of green to catch a glimpse of the sky, or downward to a dense layer of new, old and decaying growth littering the ground. Nothing goes to waste in a rainforest.

Layers upon layers cover the forest floor

The jungle is home to myriad creatures as well – carpenter ants carting massive pieces of leaves like banners, spiders clinging to tree trunks, huge butterflies flitting in and out, secretive capuchin monkeys clustered on branches.

A black tarantula ventures a couple of legs out from its burrow near the top right

To celebrate World Rainforest Day this week on June 22, this blog is kicking off a Peru travel series with a peek at exploring that very jungle.

In Peru, typically visitors access the jungle along one of the Amazon’s tributaries, flying from Cusco to one of the jungle’s great frontier towns, Puerto Maldonado. From the Andes mountains your plane swoops down over masses of dense green-ness, sadly patched with barren brown pieces of denuded land, to a murky river snaking through the thick jungle growth.

How fantastic it must have been for the first intrepid explorers to be faced with the undisturbed masses of vegetation, and how daunting to explore for months slowly moving through unknown and difficult terrain.

We arrived at the beginning of the rainy season, easily, landing in muddy, ramshackle, colourful Puerto Maldonado, where any useful supplies for a trip into the jungle can be bought and loaded onto your transportation to the river dock.

Once at the bare-bones wooden dock, we boarded a long motorized canoe that zipped along the Madre de Dios river for just an hour and a half, past steep banks dotted with wrecked wooden canoes and the odd small cabin, residents cruising by in their own motorboats bringing supplies back home from the town, and people using illegal gold-dredging methods that destroy the river ecosystem.

Transferring to our motorized canoe in Puerto Maldonado

The river banks look the same, I imagine, as they must have for the early adventurers, but the river traffic is a modern concoction. The river is wide and flanked by tall green walls of trees – palm, wild papaya and mango, and many other kinds that we didn’t recognize.

Illegal river mining

Eventually we were brought gently up to a jetty peeking out of a clearing in the green wall – the access point to our comfortably rustic lodge, the Eco Amazonia. No hacking our way through the jungle – porters collected our baggage and led the way on raised walkways to the main lodge to check in. Had we arrived a few weeks later, the river would have risen right up to those walkways – the lodge even thoughtfully provides racks of loaner rubber boots for its guests.

Arriving at the lodge

The lodge wasn’t one of the luxury versions, but I loved its green-meshed and wood-sided buildings strewn amongst the brilliant red- and pink-flowered ginger plants with vivid green leaves.

Colourful meals were served in the large dining room – our first lunch led off with a fresh avocado salad, followed by a mysterious banana leaf-wrapped packet that, once we untied the string, revealed a delicious chicken and vegetable rice pilaf.

Our raised cabins were ranged in rows along the grounds, past brilliant green lizards, little brown agouti and parrots lurking in the palm trees. Here we finally heard all the sounds you expect to find, from insects and birds and monkeys in the jungle that surrounded the lodge property, just a short bridge-walk away.

A small agouti roams across the grounds

The accommodations were basic but quite comfortable, straddling the line between civilized and adventurous. Steps lead up to a screened porch, then a large sleeping area with several twin beds, and a dimly-lit bathroom that intermittently had warm water in the shower. At night we could hear the preliminary light rains spattering down on the corrugated tin roofs, and the insects humming safely outside the walls.

There are a lot of things to do in the jungle after a meal and a cup of the thick, dark, concentrated Peruvian coffee that has to be thinned with water to be drinkable.

On our first afternoon we were taken across the river to the lodge’s Monkey Island, a sanctuary for primates rescued from the pet trade. There are golden and brown capuchins, and a particularly cheeky female spider monkey who loves to pluck plastic water bottles from visitors and bite off the caps. I was standing next to a small feeding platform, taking a few photos, when she decided to run across, climb my shoulder and sit on my head, wrapping her long prehensile tail around my neck for balance so tightly that I had to wiggle my finger in between to keep from choking. I could hear cameras going off furiously while I tried to see past a screen of black fur. After a minute or so she’d had enough of her perch on my head and uncoiled herself to see who else looked interesting.

Our spider monkey visitor

As evening fell and we made our way back to the canoe, we could see the deep tracks of a caiman in the cracked dry earth of the river’s edge. Some of us took the opportunity to do a night canoe ride by paddle on the river in the hopes of spotting a black caiman or two along the banks, their eyes gleaming in the darkness. It was eerie and silent, gliding softly through the water under hundreds of stars – that was when I felt closest to the early explorers.

Our long hike through the jungle itself was led by a genuine Amazonian native, Marco, who’d grown up in one of the traditional villages and knew the forest like the back of his hand. He showed us some of the many plants that the villagers have used for a long time to promote fertility, heal maladies, even to send messages – one of the trees makes such a loud, carrying sound when it’s hit with a piece of wood that people would use it as a locator signal.

This tree holds the source of extracts for both male virility (the purplish protrusions) and female fertility (the green vine winding up the trunk)

We ducked under fallen trees, crossed weed-choked streams, took photos of each other dwarfed by just the roots of towering jungle trees. And yes, you can actually swing on the vines.

Our guide demonstrating the proper vine swing technique

Our main destination was an oxbow lake well-hidden by wild papaya trees. There’s a tall viewing platform that some people climbed, but we chose to be paddled around the small lake in a canoe, watching ducks swim along the fringes and a black-collared hawk look for prey from its perch on an old branch. Back on shore, butterflies of all kinds flitted around us and landed on our gear. We felt miles away from anywhere.

In the evenings after dinner everyone congregated in the bar and explored the many intriguing cocktails created by the staff. I believe I sampled an Anaconda and perhaps even a Jaguar, perfect after a day in the jungle.

Our three-week adventure to Peru and Bolivia included just two days in the rainforest, so we weren’t able to catch sight of the area’s most famous residents, like the elusive jaguar or the giant river otters, but it was a window into a mysterious green world that forms one of the greatest natural wonders of our planet. Even today we know so little about it, a place with over 16,000 species of trees alone, and a staggering estimated 2.5 million species of insects!

The sight of a big, bright blue Morpho butterfly landing delicately on a leaf in front of you is a magical thing.

There are numerous rainforests around the world, all rapidly dwindling because of our greed. To learn more about these biodiversity hotspots and how you can help save as much as possible, check out the Rainforest Rescue website.

All photos by Erica Jurus and rights reserved.