Photo Friday: Burning Man and the Astronaut

Posted by Ted on Aug 4, 2011 in Burning Man, Events, Photography, Space

This week’s Photo Friday is dedicated to a man you’ve likely never heard of. I certainly hadn’t until I was researching the Apollo 17 program recently. Everyone knows Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. However, Eugene Cernan, a Czecho-Slovakian fighter pilot from Chicago, was the last man to walk on the moonAlmost 40 years ago. His final words as he stepped up into the Lunar Module were;

As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record — that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”


This photo was taken at Burning Man during my second year on playa. It is of the art piece “Moonwalk“, by Jonathan Buchart. This year’s Burning Man has caused a lot of hype due to it selling out for the first time. Tickets that were at most $285 or so are now going for $600-800 dollars on eBay. Thankfully, we have ours and look forward to returning to Black Rock City in just a few weeks.

While we have yet to return to the moon in 4 decades, we do have an orbiting space station, and we have just discovered that there may be liquid flowing water on Mars. How cool is that?

(Related pictures of Burning Man 2004 can be found here.)

(More on the finding of water on Mars can be found on SFGate and Huffpost)

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Photo Friday: Guan Yin and the Solar Eclipse

Posted by Ted on Jul 28, 2011 in Events, Photography, Space, Travel

The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century has already happened, just two years ago on July 22, 2009. Totality could be seen from eastern India, through China, and across the Pacific – a swath of darkness 1000s of miles long and only 160 miles wide. We chose to watch this cosmic event at the feet of Guan Yin, on the island of Putuoshan, in the South China Sea, near Shanghai. The island is named for the mountain at its heart, one of the four sacred mountains of Buddhism, and which is the earthly home of Guan Yin, the bodhimanda of Avalokiteśvara.

This longest eclipse of the century had much anticipation for many eclipse chasers. This was our first, and we had no expectations, but we did hope to actually see the eclipse. As our luck would have it, the day was thick with cloud cover. Very few in our corner of China were able to actually see the event itself.

That said, it was no less magical or spiritual. For over six minutes, what had been daylight a few minutes ago was now darkness. The Goddess was suddenly glowing gold against a night sky.

(Related pictures can be found here.)

(Read more about the Total Solar Eclipse in 2009.)

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Review: A Sacred Mayan Journey

Posted by Ted on Jun 28, 2011 in Events, Photography, Travel

As lavender clouds herald the rising sun, over 300 men and women ready themselves for a grueling journey, hoping that five months of hard training have prepared them for this day. Barefoot and dressed in simple linens, they walk across the white sand beach with oars in their hands to a line of dugout canoes strung out along the shore. Spurred on by the beating of drums, they paddle away through a haze of burning copal incense.

Canoeists digging in as a Shaman watches

This was the scene a few weeks ago at Xcaret, a cultural resort on the Mayan Riviera, halfway between Cancun and Tulum. These dedicated canoeists were the most important participants in the 5th annual Sacred Mayan Journey, bringing to life an ancient and sacred pilgrimage. Over the course of nearly seven centuries, millions of Mayan pilgrims would make the journey to the village of Polé, where Xcaret now stands. Often traveling in groups, they walked for hundreds of miles on white stone “sacbe” highways across the Yucatan Peninsula. Some would be ferried up the coast in canoes from Mayan port cities as far away as Honduras.

Turning the corner into rough seas

Once at Polé, these worshippers would brave 17 miles of rough seas to reach the island of Cutzamil (Cozumel), where they would bring offerings and pray to the goddess Ix Chel for prosperity, bountiful crops, and fertility. As a rite of passage, young women would travel with their families to receive her blessing and ask for strong sons. This important journey was put to an end with the Spanish Conquest when the crown prohibited the Mayans from crossing the water, but in 2007 a coalition of sponsors, including the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, got together to revive this tradition and promote Mayan culture.

A Mayan Market and a Shipwrecked Sailor

The 2011 Sacred Journey (Travesía Sagrada) officially began the night before with the recreation of a Mayan market, called a Kii´wik. Using cacao beans instead of pesos, we joined the other invited guests in bartering for such items as dried fish, fresh fruit, necklaces, and roasted tortillas. The vendors wore white linens and their language was Mayan, not Spanish. I tried to buy a beautiful pink seashell for my lovely wife back home, but the tanned woman simply held her hands out as if holding a basketball representing how many cacao beans I would need.

With the setting sun, we were ushered away from the ancient bazaar towards a small cove to witness the opening ceremony. A large man – tall and broad, wearing bells around his ankles and dressed in feathers and gold jaguar shoulder plates – strode across the sandy beach waving a censer of copal. After sanctifying the space, the King of Polé received the visiting pilgrims who presented their offerings. Among the corn, flowers, and jewelry was a man in chains. A stranded Spaniard, Gonzalo Guerrero begged for his life.

Gonzalo Guerrero begs for mercy

As his luck would have it, the princess took a liking to him. The king commanded Gonzalo to beg for Ix Chel’s mercy, so he joined the pilgrims as a slave and Zazil Há waited for his return.

Triumphant Celebrations

30 hours after watching the canoes charge out into the ocean with the sunrise, the crowds gathered on the shores of Xamanhá (Playa del Carmen) to welcome them back.

Zazil Há waiting for Gonzalo

Under the heat of the mid-day sun, brown and white dots on the horizon slowly resolved into the returning worshippers. One canoe after another made landfall, and the beach came alive with the cheers of triumph. The mood was joyous as paddlers hugged each other and helped pull the boats onto land.

Victorious paddlers pull traditional dugout canoes to shore

With Ix Chel’s blessing, Gonzalo was welcomed as a villager and reunited with the princess. Guerrero forsake his allegiance to the crown, marrying Zazil Há and becoming the Chief of the town of Chetumal, helping to defend the Mayan people against his born countrymen. The first Spaniard to fall in love with a Mayan, he fathered three mestizo children, and is considered the father of Mexico.

Every year has a different story,” pointed out Xcaret’s Chief Communications Officer, Iliana Rodríguez. “This year we’re honoring 500 years since Gonzalo Guerrero came to the Mayan people. Next year we will tell another story.”


Next year’s Sacred Mayan Journey will be May 17-21, 2012. My bet is on the asking of Ix Chel to deliver the Mayan people safely into the 14th baktun (long count calendar cycle), proudly celebrating that it is not, in fact, the end of the world.


Waiting Boats

Gonzalo and Zazil

Gonzalo and Zazil dancing

Gonzalo and Zazil

Gonzalo and Zazil dancing


Gonzalo and Zazil reunited


Ix Chel


Triumphant paddlers return

All Lined Up

Mayan dugout canoes lined up on the shore of Xaman Há

Smiling Woman

A canoeist smiles after returning home


The Mayan King sanctifies the space with burning copal incense

Praying King

The Mayan King says a prayer

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Exploring the Yucatan

Posted by Ted on May 3, 2011 in Activities, Events, Travel

In just a couple of weeks, I will be participating in the 5th Annual Sacred Mayan Journey, hosted by Xcaret and the Riviera Maya Destination Marketing office.Yucatan

The Sacred Mayan Journey recreates the Mayan pilgrimage from the Ppole port (now Xcaret). The ancient Mayans would row across the ocean towards Cuzamil (now Cozumel) to hear the oracle predictions from goddess Ix Chel. The rowers would then cross the ocean once again to arrive at Xamanha (Playa del Carmen).

Not one to be satisfied with just a few days in a new place, I will also spend some time driving around the Yucatán, exploring ruins, passing through small villages, and diving in a cenote.

Curious about my whirlwind itinerary through Mayan history?

Every day has some driving, with the last being 5+ hours of driving from Merida to Cancun. However, like the sacred journey of the seven villages, it’s about the voyage, not about the destination. Although, I do expect a hot tub at the end.

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Memories of Japan

Posted by Ted on Mar 30, 2011 in Events, Memories, Photography, Travel

At 2:46pm on Friday, March 11th, 2011, a massive 8.9 earthquake shook the island of Honshu, 230 miles north of Tokyo, 45 miles offshore where the Pacific tectonic plate thrusts underneath the North American plate. Colossal 30 foot waves washed over seawalls, bringing boats inland and leveling everything in its wake. The wave traveled as far as our East Bay home, over 5000 miles away. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the three weeks since have been filled with the growing tension surrounding the increasing levels of radiation coming from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With relatives in and friends visiting Japan, and the tsunami wave and diluted radioactive cloud reaching the Bay Area, the catastrophe hit home. I had also seen the devastation in Haiti only a year ago. Thankfully, the Japanese have building codes, and loss of life has been thankfully minimal. Every day, the news of the struggle to contain the nuclear emergency overshadows all other after-effects of the catastrophe. The world waits as brave Tokyo Electric workers pump seawater into damaged reactors and try to restore power to the facility.

With all of this press that focuses on the tragedy, I would like to take a moment to step back and remember what makes Japan beautiful. I was lucky enough to travel to the land of the Rising Sun just over 10 years ago, when I was working for UUNET. We had been acquired by Worldcom, and were expanding into the Asia-Pacific region, and I was responsible for training the local teams how to connect businesses up to our global infrastructure. Here are a few of my favorite memories.

The offices were based in Tokyo, but I had taken a long weekend and gone down to Kyoto via Shinkansen. It was cherry blossom season, this year’s being not long from now, and they were in bloom and beautiful. One of the most magical moments was walking around the Imperial Palace when there was a light rain and the conditions were just right such that when the sun went behind the clouds, the temperature dropped just enough that the rain turned to snow, falling through blooming cherry trees.

Also in Kyoto, I stopped along a side street to act as a dark counterpoint for two beautiful white-faced Geisha.

Having already seen the recreation at the Japanese Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, I sought out the Torii gate submerged in Lake Ashinoko, near Hakone. That was a wonderful weekend, having taken the Shinkansen down to Odawara, and then ridden trains, gondolas, and pirate ships around the region.

However, my favorite memory of all was as I left Tokyo the first time, bound for Hong Kong. Only a couple of years before 9/11, air travel was a bit more lax. On this particular occasion, I was in business class, and the stewardess excitedly came into the cabin and invited the handful of us into the cockpit to see a view that few see. There are thousands, perhaps even millions of pictures and paintings of Mt. Fuji from the ground, but we were able to look down on it from above.

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